ಕೆರೆಯಂ ಕಟ್ಟಿಸು ಬಾವಿಯಮ್ ಸವೆಸು
Kereyaṁ kaṭṭisu bāviyam savesu
dēvagāraṁ māḍi ||
Build lakes, dig wells
Construct temples and
Rescue and protect the orphans
Imprisoned by the enemy ||
Until the cult of Leftist and Muslim distorians poisoned the well of Indian history, this verse used to be on the lips of both the educated and illiterate masses in Karnataka. This verse used to be engraved on almost every royal inscription hailing from the Vijayangara Era onwards. Typically, these inscriptions relate to works of public welfare—like building lakes, tanks, temples, hospitals, rest houses—done by the king and the general public. The history of this verse is equally profound: the wife of an eminent warrior or scholar who flourished during the reign of Bukkaraya whispered this lullaby into the tender ears of her infant son. And the simple virtue embedded in the verse quickly spread throughout the kingdom like the fragrance of sandalwood, and was eventually immortalized in inscriptions.
This is just a slice of a slice of the core character of the people who inhabited the Sanatana aristocracy. Needless, it was eminently consonant with the vision and practice of our ancients.
Likewise, when we note just a slice of a slice of the Muslim aristocracy, we do not see merely the polar opposite of the Hindu aristocracy, we notice the shameless celebration of everything that is considered base, vile, revolting, perverse and depraved.
The first aspect is lifestyle. All-encompassing, vulgar ostentation was a central theme of this lifestyle. As Manucci says, the Muslim aristocracy “lived with such ostentation that it was not to be seen elsewhere in the world, and the most sumptuous of European courts cannot compare in richness and magnificence with the lustre beheld in Indian courts.”
After Delhi became firmly established as the seat of imperial Muslim power throughout northern India and until the downfall of the Mughal Empire, the physical geography of the region itself changed, in a manner of speaking. Every new Sultan who replaced an earlier Muslim dynasty was compelled to outdo his predecessor in extravagance and waste. A major expression of this extravagance was to expand the frontiers of Delhi through a simple device: by clearing greater tracts of land and populating it with massive buildings: palaces, Mahals, and Havelis. Needless, all these wasteful buildings had a single goal: to emphatically stamp the Sultan’s prestige and wealth. Quite naturally, the Sultan’s aristocrats and courtiers followed their master’s lead and built their own Mahals, Havelis and bungalows, some of them the size of an entire village.
According to one estimate, these magnificent mansions costed on average, between four to six thousand gold dinars. All of these were built purely for private indulgence and had absolutely no redeeming feature. Equally, all these Mahals were uniformly distinguished by the existence of the Zenana (the harem) which occupied the largest area in the Mahal’s premises. As a sample, here is a description of the Mahal of Asaf Khan, Jahangir’s Prime Minister:
Asaf Khan’s palace had a fair Diwan Khana which was flanked by diverse lodgings for his women neatly contrived with galleries and walks. Asaf Khan’s palace was exceedingly handsome and costly, but the others were equally elegant. The basic pattern of the mansions of the nobles was the same. One portion of the building was the Diwan Khana or the men’s quarters but the greater portion was occupied by their ladies and was called Zenan Khana. In the houses of the nobles the women’s apartments are in the centre, and it is generally necessary to traverse two or three large courts and a garden or two before reaching there… they were spacious and along with courtyards, gardens, trees, basins of water, small fountains in the hall or at the entrance, and handsome subterraneous apartments which are furnished with large fans.
And then there’s the small matter of cost, maintenance and related details. Apart from the aristocrat marrying four wives according to the Islamic sanction, he had an unquenchable hunger to add greater numbers of women to his harem—some of these women were acquired as spoils of war and others were kidnapped or were added because the woman was too poor to pay the extortionate taxes levied under a typical Muslim regime. Some of these concubines were tiny islands of power and intrigue by themselves. And they imbibed the character, manners, lifestyle and excesses of their master. The legally-wedded Begums had large, private apartments to themselves. Depending on her hold over the aristocrat, she had about ten, twenty, thirty, and even hundred dedicated slaves. Each wife was also given a monthly cash allowance and if the master was in a good mood, he lavished expensive clothes and jewelry from time to time. Ordinary metal would not do. The wives ate their food and drank their drinks in gold and silver utensils. Their bedsteads and bathtubs were made with gold.
Throughout the medieval times the Muslim nobility indulged in hugely expensive recreations including but not limited to women, wine, music, drugs and gambling. Opium especially, was the favoured choice of drug. Chess and Chausar were favourites for gambling. Hunting was in great demand. Polo was considered as a sport of the elite. Taming and flying birds, and the cruel sport of setting tigers and lions fight against each other in an enclosed arena was also relished. Naturally, these created immense job opportunities, so to speak. Skilled falconers, pigeon-boys, horse-attendants, paan-makers, and even teenagers and eunuchs became specialists as the holders of spittoons.
Indeed, it is a cruel mirror to the abyss that an ancient and sacred civilization had sunk under Muslim rule when we observe the fact that the most highly paid professions were that of a pimp, the chief of a seraglio, Madams of brothels, physicians who were skilled at making aphrodisiacs, clowns, jesters, and crafty eunuchs. At varying points in time, members of the aristocracy cultivated these people who commanded an influence in the royal court far greater than that of the aristocrats themselves.
Then there is the largely-forgotten horrid gift, an original “contribution” of Muslim rule in India: the debauched institution of the Kotha or brothel. Wherever Muslim power was supreme, the Kotha was its ubiquitous accomplice because its chief patrons included the selfsame Muslim aristocracy. The Kotha was one of their most favoured destinations upon which they bestowed extraordinary largesse—this, when the nobles had already stuffed their harems with hundreds of women. Indeed, the historical Kotha system is something that the Muslim aristocracy has perfected to an art form. It has withstood the ravages of time and has today transformed itself as Bollywood.
This is not culture, it is the depraved celebration of its absence.
Material and manpower go hand-in-hand. As we have already seen so far, this level of empire-wide extravagance could only be sustained by entire armies of people. In this context, “manpower” is a euphemism for “slave.” No matter their specific service or profession, each employee serving these aristocrats was a slave: men, women, and especially, eunuchs, captured in war or ordinary peasants and citizens who could no longer pay the extortionate taxes were put into lifelong indentured labour. Lakhs of them, when we consider the extent and spread of large Muslim empires. This whopping amount of manpower over so many centuries was dedicated purely to and wasted entirely on the slavery of debauched sultans and their courtiers.
Under a saner and normal political system, human resources of this scale and timespan would have been used for creative, constructive and nation-building purposes. Instead, it was enslaved for the untrammelled debauchery of a select class of arch-degenerates. And so, the next time someone talks about the “great” Mughal (or Muslim) economy of medieval India, this vital data point will serve as an effective counter-slap. Small wonder that in the eight hundred-year-long Muslim rule, Bharatavarsha, once the greatest global centre of learning, scholarship, art, music, dance, sculpture and culture decayed into a syphilic wasteland. It generated no new knowledge, added little to the existing body of knowledge and produced no new universities where once stood the magnificent Takshashila, Nalanda, and Vikramashila.
If Europe awakened from a millennium of Christian Darkness and began making advances in science and literature, India stagnated during the same period precisely because it was languishing under Muslim rule, and the aristocracy, instead of engaging in real, constructive all-round development of its dominions was busy debasing itself by getting drunk in whorehouses.
This is the real contribution of Muslim rule and specifically, its aristocracy. This is the bestial reality of the so-called “syncretic culture.”
To be continued
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