The Decline of The Mughal Tower


The great Aurungzeb lay dying. Before the walls of the city of Ahmednugger, whence twenty years before he had set forth with all the pomp of war to the conquest of the south, the end had come. Worn out with his long campaigns, the old Emperor realised at last that his days were numbered. It was a pathetic scene. Death faced him, and the enemy went as yet unconquered. At the age of ninety-one he looked back upon his life’s w T ork still undone and his highest aspirations unfulfilled. The iron had entered deep into the soul of this last great Emperor of Hindustan, and as at length he recognised that his last fight was fought there took possession of him a vast remorse. Alone he faced death; and as he waited the coming of the great conqueror the memories of many years rose up before him and accused him. The faces of those whom he had ruthlessly swept aside to push his way to empire seemed to hover threateningly about his bedside. Fifty years of stern, just rule counted as nothing in his distorted mind against such crimes as these. In his efforts to prevent his sons wading their way through each other’s blood to empire as he had done, he had sent them far from him. Brave and an emperor till the end, he would face death alone. Heartbroken, he wrote burning words to his sons, eloquent with pathos and appeal. ‘Many stood around me when I came into the world. Alone I go hence. What am I, or for what good purpose came I into the world? I cannot tell. I bewail the moments that I have spent forgetful of God’s worship. I have not done well by my country or my people. My years have gone by profitless. God has been in my heart, yet my darkened eyes have not seen his glorious light. The army is confounded and without heart or help, even as I am apart from God, with no rest for my heart. Nothing brought I into this world, but I carry away with me the burden of my sins. Though my trust is in the mercy and goodness of God, yet I fear to think of what I have done. Yet, come what may, I have launched my barque upon the waters. Farewell, farewell, farewell ! ‘He had often expressed the wish that he might die on a Friday, and this small desire of his was granted. He died on Friday, March 4, 1707, and his simple yet dignified burial was carried out according to his last wishes. ‘Carry this creature of dust to the nearest spot, and there commit him to the earth with no useless coffin.’

With Aurungzeb died the greatness of the Mughal Empire. Kapidly, during the years that followed, it sank into a decline from which there was no awakening. Over Bengal, its fairest province, it had already relaxed its hold. Within the next sixty years it was doomed to see it slip completely from its grasp.

The century that had dawned so inauspiciously for the English Company in Bengal with worthless promises and fruitless negotiations, and in the midst of alarms from the anger of Aurungzeb and his Viceroys, was destined to see a wonderful transformation before its close. The eighteenth century was the critical period in the history of the English in India. It saw the gradual abandonment of their first timorous attitude as merely a Company for trade, and the gradual forced adoption of a new position of political supremacy. The small company of Englishmen who, beset with danger, gathered on the banks of the Hooghly and in the out-stations of Dacca, Patna, and Cossimbazaar at the beginning of the century, had acquired before its close, thanks to the victories of Clive and the leadership of Warren Hastings, the supreme control of the vast territories of Bengal, Behar, and Orissa, while the Mughal princes who had so often threatened their extermination survived only as effete puppets living on their bounty.

But there were sixty years of disorder and unrest to come in Eastern Bengal before the beginning of the peace and order that slowly began to descend upon it under British rule. With the departure of Farrukh Siyar on his way to ascend the imperial throne, Dacca fell finally from its high estate. Handed over to a Deputy or Naib Nazim, who governed under the control of the Viceroy at Murshidabad or Bajmahal, it was no longer a city of the first importance. Yet its governorship was still one of the prizes of the imperial service. A huge province stretching from the Garo Hills on the north to the Bay of Bengal on the south, from Tipperah and Chittagong on the east to Orissa on the west, it comprised an area of more than fifteen thousand square miles. It was considered the first and most lucrative appointment under the Nizamut, the jurisdiction being the largest and the province the richest. Such a post Murshid Kuli Khan, now Viceroy of Bengal, was not likely to allow to pass out of his own family, and he bestowed it upon Mirza Lutfullah, who had married his granddaughter. All power during the long rule of this prince centred in the hands of Mir Hubbeeb, a native of Shiraz, in Persia, one of the many keen[1] witted adventurers who had come east in search of fortune and found it. It is reported of him that he could neither read nor write, yet that he possessed great activity of mind and expertness in business. It was he to whom fell the honour of adding new conquests to the Mughal Empire in its declining days. Tipperah, which had hitherto lain outside the sphere of Mughal influence, was now first definitely incorporated with Bengal. It was a wild country, with huge stretches of jungle, the home of elephants, where Buktyar Khiliji and Mir Jumla and many other Muslim generals had penetrated and returned with the spoils of war, but leaving behind them no permanent sign of conquest. It was a quarrel in the Raja of Tipperah’ s own family which gave the Mughal Naib Nazim at Dacca his opportunity. The nephew of the Raja, having displeased his uncle, fled the country and took refuge with a Muslim zemindar, Aka Sadik, who, being a friend of Mir Hubbeeb, brought his guest’s case to the minister’s notice. Mir Hubbeeb was not slow to see the advantage that might be gained. Obtaining &pemvana from Mirza Lutfullah, he set out with all the troops available in Dacca and, crossing the Meghna, marched straight upon the capital of the country, guided by the Raja’s nephew. Surprised at the suddenness of the attack, the Raja fled to the mountains, and his nephew, with various conditions that made him completely subordinate to the Mughal power at Dacca, was seated on the gacli. Muslim troops were left in the country, and the name of Tipperah was changed by the Naib Nazim to Eoshenabad, the Land of Light, being the most easterly portion of the Mughal Empire on which the sun first shone in its daily course.

Shuja Addin Khan, who had married Zynetun-Nissa the daughter of Murshid Kuli Khan, now ruled at Murshidabad as Viceroy, and after the success of his deputy in Tipperah he determined to send him to Orissa, another province on the outskirts of the empire where the strong hand was still more necessary. In his place he appointed his own son, Serferaz Khan, Naib Nazim of Eastern Bengal. But Zynet-un-Nissa, the imperious lady who, as the heiress of Murshid Kuli Khan, regarded herself as his successor in political influence, refused to part with her only son, and he remained at Murshidabad, two deputies being sent to Dacca in the persons of Juswunt Boy, who was to be Dewan and to have the active direction of affairs, and Syed Ghalib Ali Khan, who was associated in the government with him. Juswunt Koy, who had been one of the ministers of Murshid Kuli Khan, was a wise ruler and an eminent financier. Abolishing the monopolies imposed by Mir Hubbeeb,[2] he did everything in his power to foster trade. Under the joint rule of these two deputies, Dacca enjoyed again a brief spell of peace and prosperity such as it had not known since the days of Shaista Khan. It was during this time that rice again fell to 320 seers to the rupee, and the western gate of the city, which Shaista Khan had closed on his departure forty-six years before, was once more opened with much ceremony and great rejoicing.

But the spell of prosperity was brief. Again Serferaz Khan, away at Murshidabad, allowed a woman to influence him. His sister Nuffessa Begum, imperious and self-willed, true daughter of Zynet-un-Nissa and granddaughter of Murshid Kuli Khan, persuaded him to recall Ghalib AH Khan from Dacca and appoint his own son-in-law, Murad Ali, to succeed him. Murad Ali brought with him to Dacca, as his right-hand man, one Rajbullub, and together they commenced a rule of oppression and injustice that quickly reduced the city from its former prosperous condition to a state of poverty and distress. Juswunt Eoy, the Dewan, powerless to prevent this ruin of his labours, resigned, and all power fell into the hands of Murad Ali and his satellite.

These were the days of the invasion of the Persian usurper, Nadir Shah, and the central authority at Delhi was tottering to its fall. Its hold over this province of the furthest East had already become practically non-existent, and Serferaz Khan, who seized the viceroyalty on his father’s death in 1739, appears never to have been confirmed in office by the Emperor. Bengal, left entirely to itself, quickly became a prey to rival factions. The battle was to the strong, and Serferaz Khan, completely under feminine influence, was not the man for the moment. His rule was brief, and in the following year he fell slain in battle near Murshidabad, and his rival, Ali Verdi Khan, governor of Behar, seized the viceroyalty. He immediately despatched his nephew and sonin-law, Shamut Jung Nowarish Mahomed, to be his Deputy at Dacca, and with strange clemency in the days when even fratricide in the case of newly succeeded monarchs was scarce accounted a crime, sent under his charge the widow and two sons of his rival Serferaz Khan to reside in honourable confinement in the eastern capital. For many years they lived peaceful lives, untouched by the stirring politics of the day, in the Zanjira palace, a beautiful building raised by Ibrahim Khan on the right bank of the Buriganga. Thither the haughty Nuffessa Begum, sister of Serferaz Khan, was also permitted to retire. So devoted was she to her late brother’s family that the story goes that she offered to undertake ‘the office of superintendent of Nowarish Mahomed’s seraglio ‘if she was allowed to adopt as her heir a posthumous son of her brother named Aga Baba. It was an extraordinary position for the haughty Nuffessa Begum; but she excused the degradation on the ground of her devotion to her brother’s family. Yet her pride was not dead, and it is related that so scrupulous was she in her conduct that she was never seen by Nowarish, who used to converse with her on business through a curtain. The infant for whom she sacrificed so much was destined in afteryears to rouse an equal devotion in another, one Kahim Allah Khan of the Punjaub, reputed ‘the best archer and the stoutest man ‘throughout the whole army, who for devotion to the cause of Aga Baba suffered imprisonment at the hands of Mir Kassim Khan.

But, like Serferaz Khan, Nowarish Mahomed resided for the most part at Murshidabad, and the glimpses of the Eastern Capital during his long rule by deputy are few and brief. Two years before his death, however, yet another of those dramatic scenes that so constantly recur in Oriental history took place in Dacca, and another act of treachery was added to the long list that fills the city’s annals. Ali Verdi Khan, the old Nawab of Bengal, exhausted with his struggle against the Mahrattas, was spending his last days in his beautiful palace at Murshidabad. Infatuated with the evil youth, his grandson Surajudowlah, and regardless of the welfare of the province, he had nominated him his successor as Viceroy of the three Subahs of Bengal, Behar, and Orissa. But Nowarish Mahomed, married to Ghesetti Begum, Ali Verdi’s own daughter, was a formidable rival whom Surajudowlah eyed askance. The air was thick with intrigues that spread and ramified as Ali Verdi Khan approached his eightieth year and grew daily more infirm. In the midst of them chance suddenly threw in Surajudowlah ‘s way an opportunity to injure his rival that he was not slow to take. Nowarish had appointed Hossain Kuli Khan his minister at Murshidabad, and the latter’s nephew, Hossain Addin Khan, as his deputy at Dacca. With the latter, one Aga Sadoc, the son of a zemindar in the Backergunj district, had come into violent collision. Enraged at a decision of the deputy’s, Aga Sadoc had journeyed to Murshidabad to appeal to Nowarish Khan himself. But there he met with scant success, and was thrown into prison by the all-powerful minister, the uncle of Hossain Addin Khan. Enraged still further at this treatment, he eagerly threw himself into the hands of Surajudowlah, who promised to make him Naib in place of Hossain Addin Khan when the latter had been satisfactorily disposed of. ‘Effecting his escape with the help of Surajudowlah, he returned to Dacca, and with his father, Mahomed Bakhar, conspired against Hossain Addin Khan. At the dead of night, with an armed band, they broke secretly into the palace by the riverside and murdered Hossain Addin as he slept, ignorant of the danger that threatened. But Aga Sadoc had reckoned without the people of Dacca. Hossain Addin Khan had ruled them with justice and impartiality, and vague rumours of the excesses and oppressions of Surajudowlah had already reached them. When morning came and they heard of the murder of their chief, they rose in a body and surrounded the palace, where Aga Sadoc and his father, who intended to assume the governorship of the city, had remained. When asked by the people to produce his sunnud of appointment as deputy governor of the city, he pointed significantly to the sword that was still stained with the blood of Hossain Addin. But the populace surged angrily round the palace, and with shouts and cries rushed up the steps and, seizing Mahomed Bakhar, killed him on the spot, while Aga Sadoc, his son, barely succeeded in escaping with his life. So failed, owing to the loyalty of the populace to their dead chief, one of the last attempts in Muslim annals to seize the government of Dacca by force.

This brutal murder of Hossain Addin Khan together with that of his uncle, Hossain Kuli Khan, which occurred shortly afterwards, seems to have stood out in Surajudowlah’s mind, and to have been impressed upon his conscience, beyond all his other misdeeds. It was little more than a year later that, fleeing from the battle-ground of Plassey, and betrayed by a fakir and brought back a prisoner to Murshidabad, he was murdered in his own palace by order of Mir Meerun, his own general’s son. When his murderer came into the room in which he was confined it is reported that Surajudowlah cried out ‘I must die to atone for the murder of Hossain Kuli Khan ! ‘Then the murderer slew him in cold blood with his sabre, and the wretched youth of scarce twenty years fell exclaiming ‘Hossain Kuli is at last avenged ! ‘

Eajbullub, who had been in charge of the Fleet Department, was appointed by Nowarish Mahomed to administer the government, and he at once took the opportunity of confiscating all the property of the conspirators, appropriating to himself the big zemindari of Kajnaghur. Eajbullub was not the man to let opportunities slip, and during the short time he was in command he is said to have amassed two crores of rupees. But his patron died in January 1756, and three months later the death of the old Viceroy Ali Verdi Khan put supreme control into the irresponsible hands of Surajudowlah, who was no friend to Eajbullub, his rival’s nominee. He at once demanded from him a large sum of money as the price of his remaining deputy governor of Dacca. Eajbullub, frightened for the safety of his hoarded wealth, conveyed it out of the town secretly under charge of his son, who set out ostensibly for the temple of Juggemath, but with the intention of seeking an asylum for his wealth within the ramparts of Fort William at Calcutta. It is significant of the strong part the English had already come to play in the politics of Bengal that Eajbullub should have chosen them as the guardians of his wealth. It was partly because the English in Fort William refused to deliver up the son of Eajbullub and his wealth that Surajudowlah set out on the expedition against them which ended in the Black Hole, and finally led to his own undoing and their triumphant ascendency in Bengal. Those were exciting days for the little company of Englishmen in Dacca, during the hot weather and rains of 1756. They were absolutely at the mercy of the local Muslim authorities. A mere handful of men, the Nawab Jusserat Khan could have overwhelmed them by sheer force of numbers and disposed of them as he pleased. Calcutta itself was far from safe, as events were shortly to prove, and how great was the risk run by the Company’s agents in an out-station like Dacca, eleven days’ journey distant, may be easily judged. Courage and tact of no mean order were necessary to meet the dangers that beset them. If it came to a question of actual force they were helpless and there was little to protect them but the prestige which attached to the European name. Yet so potent was that prestige that even Surajudowlah, in the hour of his triumph, forbore to take the extreme measures which, at least for the moment, would have freed him completely from the rivalry of the English in Bengal. In Dacca, the Company’s staff seems extraordinarily small considering the immense trade interests it possessed there. Mr. Eichard Becher was the chief of the factory, and under him were Mr. William Sumner, second in Council, who was absent at this time in Calcutta. Messrs. Luke Scrafton, Thomas Hyndman, Samuel Waller, Mr. John Cartier, a factor of one year’s standing and Mr. John Johnstone, an assistant ‘just commencing.’ Lieutenant John Cudmore was in charge of the garrison and Mr. Nathaniel Wilson was the Company’s surgeon. In addition, there were at least three English ladies living in Dacca at the time, Mrs. Becher, wife of the chief of the factory, with her child, a Mrs. Warwick and a Miss Harding. The factory itself, ‘little better than a common house, surrounded with a thin brick wall, one half of it not above nine foot high,’ offered but poor protection, while the garrison under Lieutenant Cudmore consisted of only ‘four sergeants, three corporals, and nineteen European soldiers, beside thirty-four black Christians and sixty Buxerries,’ the last named probably being Portuguese half-castes.

There could be no question of resistance, and on June 9 advices were received from the Council in Calcutta warning its agents in Dacca to collect the Company’s goods and be prepared to seek safety in flight if the danger increased. Anxiously the Englishmen in the far-off out-station awaited further news of the fate of Calcutta, on which so largely depended their own safety and the very existence of all the English factories in Bengal. At length on June 27, news, confirming their worst fears, came in the form of a message from the Nawab Jusserat Khan, announcing the fall of Calcutta and the flight of Governor Drake. Intimation was also sent at the same time of the order of Surajudowlah that the English factory in Dacca should be seized and all the Company’s servants thrown into prison.

Astounded at such ill news, the Dacca Council refused for the moment to believe in it, suspicious that it was only a trick on the part of the local authorities to induce their submission. Mr. Sorafton, third in Council, was at once directed to write to M. Courtin, chief of the French factory in Dacca, asking if he had received any confirmation of the news. Letters had already been received from Chandernagore, and these M. Courtin sent across to the English factory for its information. There could be no longer any doubt that the news was true, and, hopeless of assistance from without now that Calcutta had fallen, there was no choice but submission. The French, however, for the time being, were in favour with Surajudowlah, and the English Council in Dacca determined to appeal to M. Courtin to obtain the best terms possible for the Company from the local governor, Jusserat Khan. The French proved true friends in the hour of need. ‘Their conduct everywhere to us on this melancholy occasion,’ wrote the English Council in putting on record its sense of indebtedness, ‘has been such as to merit the grateful acknowledgment of our nation.’ Not only did M. Courtin induce the Nawab to forgo any active measures against them, but he even obtained permission for them all to take refuge in the French factory, he himself standing surety for them that they should there peacefully await the orders of Surajudowlah concerning them. All the Company’s property, however, to the value, it is said, of 1,400,000 rupees, was at once seized, and so careful was Jusserat Khan that nothing of value should escape his clutches that he refused to allow them to take with them into the French factory anything except the clothes they were actually wearing. Thus for all the necessaries of life they were entirely dependent upon the French, who treated them with the greatest generosity and consideration. Little did the latter foresee that within less than a year the destitute English Company which they were so gallantly befriending would have seized their factory and driven them out of Dacca. It was one of those crises in the affairs of nations when events move with startling rapidity.

For over two months the French extended their hospitality to their English guests, and it was only then, very largely owing to their intercession through M. Law, chief of the French factory at Cossimbazaar, that an order permitting them to join their ships was obtained from Surajudowlah. How great their danger had been may be judged from M. Law’s memoir, in which he left on record the story of these eventful days. Writing of the difficulty he experienced in obtaining the order from the Nawab, he adds significantly: ‘Surajudowlah, being informed that there were two or three very charming English ladies there, was strongly tempted to adorn his harem with them.’ But though the English in Dacca escaped the worst that might have befallen them, all their personal property had been confiscated, and nothing was restored to them. They were still entirely dependent on M. Courtin, and it was to him they owed the means of joining their fellow-countrymen at Fulta, where they arrived in a French sloop on August 26. It must have been a dispirited remnant of the members of the Calcutta factory that Mr. Becher and his companions found encamped at Fulta. But brighter days were near at hand, and with the coming of Colonel Clive and Admiral Watson from Madras hope again revived for the English in Bengal. On January 2, 1757, just over six months since it had fallen, the English flag once more floated over the ramparts of Fort William, and the English Company, though doubtful and hesitating still, had finally made good its footing in the province. Measures for the recovery of the Dacca factory were promptly undertaken. ‘The expedition to Dacca is in great forwardness, which is to be carried on by four hundred sailors in boats under the command of Captain Speke,’ wrote Clive on January 28 to the Select Committee at Madras. ‘The surprise of this place may be of great consequence to the Company’s affairs.’ Less than six weeks later the expedition, on March 8, arrived in Dacca, and retook possession of the English factory. It was not, however, without some opposition that Messrs. Sumner and Waller, who returned to take over charge, resumed the Company’s trade. On March 23 they wrote to Calcutta that the Nawab Jusserat Khan refused to accede to their demands to restore the factory cannon or to allow their trade without a new l^erwana from Surajudowlah. So engrossed was the Council in taking measures for its own security, and so uncertain as to the turn affairs would take, that it could offer little immediate help; and although the new jperwana was obtained, it wrote to its agents in Dacca warning them to look to their own safety in case of need. All the assistance it could render was to send an armed sloop to Luckipore to cover their retreat in the event of its again becoming necessary to quit Dacca. Messrs. Sumner and Waller, fearing the worst, at once hurried down the river all the valuable goods then in the factory and placed them in safety on the sloop. They themselves, anxiously awaiting further news, prepared to follow if need arose. Outwardly, however, they maintained a bold front, carrying on their trade with unabated vigour, and as the days passed and no ill news came confidence was gradually restored. Finally the news of Clive’s victory at Plassey on June 23, which quickly reached Dacca, assured them that the danger they had so long feared was safely past for all time.

Meanwhile the French factory had fallen on evil days. The declaration of war between England and France had become known in India early in the year, and it was on March 13 that Clive sent his famous summons to the Governor of Chandernagore to surrender in the King’s name. Ten days later the fort had fallen into the hands of the English, and orders had been received by the Company’s agents in Dacca to pursue a similar course with regard to the French possessions there. This was an embarrassing duty for the newly returned English agents, whose predecessors had so recently sought shelter in the French factory and received so much kindness at M. Courtin’s hands. For a considerable time they apparently took no action beyond communicating to the French the orders they had received, and it was not until June 22 that M. Courtin and his followers finally left Dacca. The English agents were not unmindful of past services, and extended every courtesy to their rivals in their day of distress. They even offered to secure to M. Courtin all his private effects on condition that he made over to them the French factory and all that belonged to the Company, and himself departed for Pondicherry within a given time. Even though he rejected this offer as inconsistent with his personal honour, he was apparently allowed to leave Dacca unmolested, taking with him what he would.

The departure of the French was not the least interesting and momentous of the maiTy scenes that the Eastern Capital had witnessed. Their factory was on the river bank, and from there they set sail in a fleet of thirty-five boats on June 22, 1757. On board, besides M. Courtin, were MM. Chevalier, Brayer, Gourlade, the surgeon, an Augustine Father, chaplain of the factory, eight European soldiers, seventeen gunners, four or five servants, and some twenty or thirty peons. Their object was to join M. Law, the chief of their factory at Cossimbazaar; but a few days after setting sail from Dacca news reached them of the battle of Plassey, and for the next eight months they were wanderers in Northern Bengal, building Fort Bourgogne, contending against hostility and treachery on the part of local zemindars, and waiting with diminishing hope for the longexpected help from Pondicherry, which was destined never to reach them. It was not until March 1758 that they finally gave up the struggle and threw themselves upon the mercy of the English at Murshidabad. One is glad to learn that M. Courtin was treated by the English there as honourably and courteously as he had treated their fellow-countrymen in Dacca two years before. He was not even detained as a prisoner of war, and Clive, in writing to him on July 15, 1758, granting him permission to retire to Pondicherry, concludes by paying him this tribute: ‘I am at this moment sending an order to the captain-commandant of our troops to restore to you your two guns. I am charmed at this opportunity of showing you my appreciation of the way in which you have always behaved to the English, and my own regard for your merit.’

One last tragic scene was enacted in Dacca under native rule before the firm hand of the English began to make itself felt. To the Zanjira palace, where, through the clemency of Ali Yerdi Khan, had long lived the wife and children of Serferaz Khan, there came after the battle of Plassey, less honoured and well dowered, the household of Surajudowlah, the proud daughters of Ali Verdi Khan himself. Both Ghesetti Begum and Amina Begum, in the days of their father’s rule, had played important parts and seen strange and chequered times. Ghesetti Begum the elder, wife of Nowarish Mahomed, who for sixteen years had ruled as deputy governor of Dacca, had lived in luxury in Murshidabad, and after her husband’s death had retired with her great wealth and her lover Mir Nuzur Ali to her splendid palace the Moti Jhil, the Pearl Lake, near Murshidabad, a stately pile, ornamented with pillars of black marble brought from the ruins of the ancient capital of Gaur. But she had spent scarcely four months in this luxurious retreat when her father died, and her nephew Surajudowlah assumed the viceroyalty. Now Ghesetti Begum during her husband’s lifetime had done her best to prevent her nephew’s accession, and one of the first acts of his reign was to send to his aunt a demand for the wealth of her late husband. But Ghesetti Begum was a woman of spirit, and she attempted to defend her palace of the Pearl Lake against her enemies. It was not until deserted by the last of her attendants in the hour of need, even by her lover Mir Nuzur Ali, who fled with fifteen lacs’ worth of jewels to Benares, that she submitted to the troops sent against her. Breaking into the Moti Jhil, they carried off vast quantities of treasure, and rudely drove her from the palace. Treated with little dignity, she was sent off with her women ‘huddled together into some bad boats,’ with none of the state which was due to her rank, on the long and tedious journey down the river to Dacca. There, ‘in the most disgraceful and shameless neglect,’ she joined the relatives of Serferaz Khan in the Zanjira palace.

It was but a few months later that Ghesetti Begum was followed into exile by her younger sister Amina Begum, from whom she had been so long estranged, and against whose son she bore so deep a grudge. Amina Begum had experienced vicissitudes amazing even in those stirring times. Cradled in luxury as a viceroy’s daughter, she had married her cousin Syud Ahmed, and spent prosperous days with him in Patna when he ruled as governor of Behar. She had seen the uprising of rebellion and the quartered body of Mustapha Khan hung on the four gates of Patna as evidence of her husband’s prowess. Then, the enemies of her house defeated, she set out to witness the marriages of her sons, celebrated with all the pomp and splendour that her soul loved in her father’s palace at Murshidabad. It was a scene of true Oriental luxury and magnificence. Illuminations that seemed ‘to have set both heaven and earth in a blaze,’ and the ‘splendid pageants and gorgeous processions of the bridegrooms ‘were spoken of throughout Bengal for years to come with wonder and delight. But it was the luxury that precedes the fall of empires, and it must have been a strange memory to Amina Begum amidst the grief and poverty that befell her later years. Dazzled by the attractions of the viceregal court she plotted with her husband to secure the throne, but treachery met with treachery, and the Afghan chiefs they had called in to their help fell upon Syud Ahmed and, brutally murdering him, carried off Amina Begum as a prisoner to their camp. For seventeen days she was forced to listen to the cries of her father-in-law, tortured by every horrible device known to Oriental cruelty, to reveal the place where his treasure lay hid. Then for well nigh a year she spent anxious days a prisoner in the enemy’s camp, waiting for the approach of her father’s army that tarried long upon the way. Eescued at last, she returned with Ali Verdi Khan to Murshidabad, and there for seven years set all her hopes upon her son Surajudowlah, scheming to secure for him the kingdom on her father’s death. Then, the victory won and Surajudowlah Viceroy of Bengal, she enjoyed her last brief days of splendour. Within a few months the end had come. From her palace windows she had looked down upon her son’s dead body carried with scant respect through the streets of Murshidabad, and, forgetful in her grief of all custom and tradition, she had fled out into the public gaze, and thrown herself upon his body in the midst of the crowd, only to be torn aside by the rude hands of the soldiery, denied even the consolation of her dead son’s corpse. Stricken with grief, she too was soon pursuing the long and tedious journey to Dacca, there to reside unhonoured and dispossessed of all her former wealth and luxury.

It was thus a strange company that gathered within the walls of the Zanjira palace and looked out at the great city of Dacca across the Buriganga. The family of Serferaz Khan still inhabited the best apartments, living in luxury, though still prisoners, the youths growing up in idleness with all the indolence of the East. It must have been with something of revengeful joy that they watched the approach first of Ghesetti Begum, the elder daughter of their proud enemy Ali Verdi Khan, who had dispossessed them and theirs of their own, and then the younger daughter mourning the extinction of her dignity, with her widowed daughter-in-law by her side, a mere child, yet with a child of her own at her breast. The banks of the river, it is said, were crowded to see them arrive, the wife and mother and child of the man whose name had become a by-word throughout Bengal for cruelty, debauchery, and oppression. In the Zanjira palace they could have met with little welcome even from their own near relative Ghesetti Begum.

But even this refuge was not to be theirs for long. There is one last tragic scene. Mir Jaffir, who was married to the sister of Ali Verdi Khan and who had been placed upon the musnud by the English after Surajudowlah’s death, had grown old, and left the management of affairs in the hands of his son Mir Meerun, whose enormities soon caused to be well nigh forgotten even those of Surajudowlah himself. This monster, it is said, had already slain two of his own officers and cut off the heads of two women of his seraglio with his own hand for some trifling offence. On setting out for the defence of Patna, he entered in a notebook the names of three hundred persons who had offended him and whom he determined to put to death on his return. But before starting he sent orders to Jusserat Khan, the governor of Dacca, to put to death the mother, aunt, widow, and daughter of Surajudowlah. It was a cruel order, unprovoked, and with little object. Eobbed of all their wealth, these ladies, shut up in the Zanjira palace, could have given but little cause for alarm to Mir Meerun. The governor of Dacca, to his credit, refused to carry out the order. When the news of his refusal reached Meerun, the latter was so enraged that he added the governor’s name to the list of persons he had entered in his note-book to be put to death on his return from Patna. Determined that the relatives of Surajudowlah should not escape, he sent one of his own servants with orders to put them on board a vessel, with the pretence of taking them to Murshidabad, and to sink the boat on the way. So on an evening in the hot weather of 1760 the relatives of Surajudowlah embarked from the Zanjira palace on the Buriganga, unsuspicious of their fate. But they were scarcely out of sight of Dacca on the broader waters of the Dullasery, when their escort withdrew the plugs which had been carefully placed in the bottom of the boat, and, putting off in another craft, left the helpless women to their fate. The once haughty Ghesetti Begum, broken and cowed, took fright and shed tears, but Amina Begum cried out against her fate. ‘God Almighty,’ she is reported to have cried, ‘we are indeed all sinners and culprits, but we have committed no sin against Meerun; nay, rather to us he owes all that he has.’ Then their cries rang out across the stillness of the waters far into the night, but no help came, and they perished miserably as the boat slowly sank. So ended the once proud family of Ali Verdi Khan. But vengeance soon overtook their murderer, for from his campaign against the Emperor he never returned. In the neighborhood of Patna, Mir Meerun was struck dead by lightning as he lay in his tent in the midst of his camp on July 2, 1760, only a few days after the relatives of Surajudowlah had perished by his command.

[1] Photography: The Emperor Farrukh Siyar

[2] Photography: The Wife of The Emperor Farrukh Siyar


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