Monday, September 30, 2013
What Ifs of Indian History - Hemu & The Taj Mahal
When one takes in the tumultuous sweep of medieval Indian history one rarely speaks about or even acknowledges Hemu or Hemachandra, the greengrocer from Alwar in Rajasthan. This is such a surprise because he almost ensured that the Mughal dynasty, one of the better-known ones in India, was not even established.
Originally from Rewari in Mewat Hemu came to the notice of Sultan Islam Shah (better known as the son of Sher Shah) who promoted him by and by to the post of Daroga-i-Dak-Chauki. Now, I know what you folks are thinking. Dak Chauki? Really? So he got to sort and deliver mail, such as it was, in those times? How exciting is that? I won’t blame you if you did think that. However, this Daroga thingy actually translates into Department of Posts & Intelligence. When one looks at the Intelligence angle of this posting the significance of it all emerges. A suspicious and homicidal Afghan tyrant did not give away this post all that lightly.
But then all good tyrannies come to an end and so did this one when Islam Shah died and his minor son ascended the throne. Adil Shah, in the time honoured regicidal tradition, duly killed his young nephew and ascended the throne himself. However, this little development did nothing to eclipse Hemu’s career growth because Adil Shah left almost the entire control of political and military affairs to Hemu. We will ignore the snide comments made by Badauni and Abul Fazl, the Moghul historians, that Hemu got into the good graces of Adil Shah through ignoble means. Those carping historians I am sure were just sucking up to their paymasters.
Hemu was then placed in charge of all military affairs in all the internecine battles among the Afghans and came up trumps each time. Grudging admiration for this came from both Abul Fazl and Badauni no friends of his.
Hardly had Hemu dealt with this internal menace that Humayun turned up in Hindustan once again in his own stumbling, disoriented way; fumbled his way hither and thither without making any political or military impact and finally tumbled out of this world by slipping down the steps of his library.
Once Humayun died, a very young Akbar was proclaimed the Padshah. It was around this time that Hemu captured both Agra and Delhi by soundly defeating their Moghul governors. According to Abul Fazl, Hemu’s “victories impressed him with evil ideas” and “his intoxication became madness”. In other words Hemu, already in possession of Agra and Delhi and in command of the army decided that he no longer wanted to serve Adil Shah and ascended the throne of Delhi and took the title of Vikramaditya.
So far, so good. But the Moghul menace had not fully gone away. Bairam Khan, the guardian of the minor king Akbar, disregarded his counselors’ advice and marched on Hemu.
The battle between the Moghuls and the Afghans led by Hemu was fought at Panipat on November 5th 1556. Hemu pulverized the right and left wings of the Moghul army and pressed into service “all his mountain like elephants” against the rapidly yielding Centre of the Moghul army. Just when everything was hunky dory an arrow, from the bow of some inconsequential soldier perhaps, struck Hemu in the eye and pierced his brain. This rendered him unconscious and his army, on the verge of victory, taking him for dead fled from the battlefield in sheer panic.
Hemu was captured in an unconscious state and the Moghuls concluded the elegant battle field rituals that they were known for – with Hemu’s head being sent to Kabul to be exposed and his trunk hung from one of the gates of Delhi.
What If Thought: What if that damned arrow had travelled a few inches to the left or right? For one, of course, Hemu would not have fallen unconscious and his army would not have run away like a pack of rats but for the other Hemu would have WON.
Historians are unanimous that had it not been for this arrow-out-of-nowhere, Hemu would have been the victor at the Second Battle of Panipat which might have meant, NO Moghul dynasty in Hindustan. NO Moghuls, No Akbar the Great. No Jehangir. No Shahjahan. Just imagine NO Shahjahan essentially means NO Taj Mahal!!!
Think about it… Just a few inches decided whether the Taj Mahal, the biggest icon of Indian tourism, would get built or not.
What if, indeed?