Afghan Atrocities in India – circa 1757
By AIF Staff
The following article is an account of the plunder and the atrocities committed by Afghan army under Abdali when they raided India in 1757. Account excerpts from Jadunath’s Sarkar “Fall of The Mughal Empire” published in 1912. (Pseudo)-Secularists and Marxist historians may conveniently note down this incident.
…..In the silence of the night the garrison (including Jawahir Singh) slipped out and escaped by the Jamuna side (3 March.) The Afghans broke the gates open, and put all the inmates to the sword. The spoils taken included Rs 12,000 in cash, pots of silver and copper, gilt idols, 14 horses, 11 camels and a great store of grain and clothing.
Here the Shah halted for two days more. Meantime, as early as the night of 26-27 Feb., he had detached Jahan Khan and Najib with 20,000 men, telling them, “Move into the boundaries of the accursed Jat, and in every town and district held by him slay and plunder. The city of Mathura is a holy place of the Hindus ;… let it be put entirely to the edge of the sword. Up to Agra leave not a single place standing.” The Shah also conveyed a general order to the army to plunder and slay at every place they reached.
Any booty they acquired was made a free gift to them. Any person cutting off and bringing in heads of infidels should throw them down before the tent of the chief minister, wherewith to build a high tower. Five Eupees for each enemy head would be paid from the Government funds. [Samin, in Ind. Ant.y 51.]
The alien generalissimo and the Ruhela soldier of fortune carried out their dread master’s command to the letter. They first swooped down upon Mathura. But the fabled birth-place of the Divine Preserver was not to fall without a struggle. True, the Marathas, after sucking the Delhi-Agra region and the Doab on the other bank dry for three years, had fled away. Not a single Maratha bled in defence of the holiest of Vaishnav shrines; their pan-Indian suzerainty (Hindupad Padshahi) did not involve the duty to protect. But the Jat peasantry were determined that it was only over their corpses that the ravager should enter the sacred capital of Braja.
Outside the village of Chaumuha, eight miles north of Mathura, Jawahir Singh barred the invader’s path with less than 10,000 men and offered a desperate resistance (28th February.) From sunrise the battle raged for nine hours, and at the end of it “ten to twelve thousand infantry lay dead on the two sides taken together ; the wounded were beyond count,” and the broken remnant of the Jat army took the road to their homes.
Afghans sack and massacre at Mathura.
The Hindu Bethlehem now lay utterly prostrate before the invaders. Early at dawn on 1st March the Aurangabad, “A Jat force of 5,000 came out of Mathura and fought Abdali’s army stoutly, but was defeated by superior numbew. Three thousand Jats fell and 2,000 fled away.”
Afghan cavalry burst into the unwalled and unsuspecting city of Mathura, and neither by their master’s orders nor from the severe handling they had received in yesterday’s fight, were they in a mood to show mercy. For four hours there was an indiscriminate massacre and rape of the unresisting Hindu population,—all of them non-combatants and many of them priests. Even the few Muslim residents could not always save themselves by taking their trousers off and showing that they were really followers of the Prophet. “Idols were broken and kicked about like polo-balls by the Islamic heroes.” [Htisain Shahi, 39. | Houses were demolished in search of plunder and then wantonly set on fire. Glutted with the blood of 3,000 men, Jahan Khan laid a contribution of one lakh on what remained of the population and marched away from the smoking ruins the same night.
After the tiger came the jackal. "When after the massacre Ahmad Shah's troops marched onward from Mathura, Najib and his army remained there for three days, plundered much money and buried treasure, and carried off many beautiful females as captives."( Inur-ud-din Hasan, 156. J) The blue waves of the Jamuna gave eternal repose to such of her daughters as could flee to her outstretched arms ; some other happy women found a nearer refuge from dishonour in the dark depths of their household wells. But for those of their sisters who survived there was no escape from a fate worse than death. A Muslim eye-witness thus describes the scene in the ruined city a fortnight later : "Everywhere in lane and bazar lay the headless trunks of the slain, and the whole city was burning. Many buildings had been knocked down. The water of the Jamuna flowing past was of a yellowish colour, as if polluted by blood. The man [a Muslim jeweller of the city, robbed of his all and fasting for several days] said that for seven days following the general slaughter the water flowed of a blood-red colour and then the water had turned yellow….
Issuing from the ruins of Mathura, Jahan Khan roamed the country round, slaying and plundering everywhere as directed. Vrindavan, seven miles north of Mathura, could not escape, as its wealth was indicated by its many temples. Here another general massacre was practised upon the inoffensive monks of the most pacific order of Vishnu’s worshippers, (c. 6 March.) As the same Muhammadan diarist records after a visit to Vrindavan, “Wherever you gazed you beheld heaps of slain ; you could only pick your way with difficulty, owing to the quantity of bodies lying about and the amount of blood spilt. At one place that we reached we saw about 200 dead children lying in a heap. Not one of the dead bodies had a head . . . The stench and effluvium in the air were such that it was painful to open your mouth or even to draw breath.”
Moving a fortnight behind his vanguard, Abdali himself came upon the scene. He had stormed Ballabh- garh on 3rd March and halted there for two days. On the 15th he arrived near Mathura, and wisely avoiding that reeking human shambles crossed over to the eastern bank of the Jamuna and encamped at Mahavan, * six miles south-east of the city. Two miles to his west lay Gokul, the seat of the pontiff of the rich Vallabhacharya sect. Abdali’s policy of frightfulness had defeated his cupidity ; dead men could notbe held to ransom. The invader’s unsatisfied need of money was pressing him ; he sought the help of Imad’s local knowledge as to the most promising sources of booty. A detachment from his camp was sent to plunder G-okul. But here the monks were martial Naga sannyasis of Upper India and Hajputana. Four thousand of these naked ash-smeared warriors stood outside Gokul and fought the Afghans, till half of their own number was killed after slaying an equal force of the enemy. Then, at the entreaty of the Bengal subahdar’s envoy (Jugalkishor) and his assurance that a hermitage of faqirs could not contain any money, Abdali recalled the detachment. “All the Vairagis perished, but Gokulnath (the deity of the city) was saved,” as a Marathi newsletter puts it. [Raj. i. 63.]
Jahan Khan and Najib were now recalled to Abdali’s camp from their roving commission of raid and slaughter, and sent to levy contribution on Agra, thronged with the richest fugitives from the capital. The Afghan king’s plan was to advance from Agra as a base and capture the Jat forts or compel Suraj Mai to pay a large tribute. Jahan Khan at the head of 15,000 horse made a raid on Agra in the morning of 21st March. A deputation of bankers met him outside the gates and promised to ransom the city for five lakhs ; but it was impossible to collect the money promptly, and the Pathan losing patience entered the city and plundered four wards of it, up to the Blue Cupola. Some massacre took place here also, the victims being estimated at 2,000. But his progress was stopped by the walls of Akbar’s fort from which Mirza Saifullah (the son of the imperial qiladar) opened fire, thus preventing the invaders from showing their heads near it. Jahan Khan therefore halted for some days to exact the money from the bankers of the city. Only one lakh, out of the promised five lakhs, was raised by the local imperial officials (the qiladar, subahdar and city kotwal) from Samaldas the agent of Jagat Seth of Bengal, and paid, when Jahan Khan received a peremptory order to return to his master (23 March.) He set off at sunset and rejoined Abdali near Mathura on the 24th, and finally on the 28th the retreat to Afghanistan began.
This sudden change of plan needs explanation. We have seen how Ahmad Shah had reached Mahavan (opposite Mathura) about 15th March. His track had been marked by the same desolation and havoc*
Agra to Delhi not a man was left in any hamlet .. . Along the route by which Abdali has come and gone back not two seers of grainand fodder can be had.” [SPD. xxi. 99, lll.| The Muslim eye-witness thus describes the Afghan atrocities :—
"The Shah \c. 3 March J issued an order for slaying and plundering. His soldiers were assured that everyone would be allowed to keep whatever plunder he took and would be paid Rs. 5 for every enemy head [brought in.] It was midnight when the camp-followers went out to the attack. One horseman mounted a horse and took ten to twenty others, each attached to the tail of the horse preceding it, and drove them just like a string of camels. When it was one watch (3 hours) after sunrise I saw them come back. Every horseman had loaded up all his horses with the plundered property, and atop of it rode the girl-captives and the slaves. The severed heads were tied up in rugs like bundles of grain and placed on the heads of the captives. . . Then the heads were stuck upon lances and taken to the gate of the chief minister for payment. It was an extraordinary display ! Daily did this manner of slaughter and plundering proceed. And at night the shrieks of the women captives who were being ravished, deafened the ears of people. . . . All those heads that had been cut off were built into pillars, and the [captive] men upon whose heads those bloody bundles had been brought in, were made to grind corn, and then their heads too were cut off. These things went on all the way to the city of Agra, nor was any part of the country spared. In addition to all this, five thousand Ruhela foot-soldiers joined the army. Each man procured some thirty to forty buffaloes. The plundered goods, such as jewels and clothes, they loaded upon these buffaloes, and established a market of their own within the camp, where they sold all these things at low prices …. Copper and other vessels that had been broken up were strewed along the route of the army and no one stooped to pick them up. Excepting gold and silver nothing was carried away.”
Cholera epidemic in Abdali’s camp at Mahavan.
Such were the unspeakable sufferings of the harmless peasants and traders, whose only crime was their supposed wealth. Then outraged Nature rose up in wrath. Abdali had encamped at Mahavan 13 miles downstream of Vrindavan. The river, its level now very low at the height of the dry season, was choked with the half-burnt and unburnt bodies of suicides and slaughtered persons ; and in three weeks’ time the Indian sun did its work. The water reached Abdalfs camp after washing Vrindavan Mathura and other places, all upstream, which had been turned into slaughter-houses by his order. A cholera epidemic broke out at Mahavan and daily 150 of his soldiers began to die of it. There was no remedy, no medicine available ; “it cost Rs. 100 to buy a seer of tamarind, a drink made of tamarind being prescribed with benefit.” Surviving soldiers clamored for returning home. Abdali’s hands were forced. He wrote to the Emperor (on 26th March) that he was about to turn back, and he sent off fast riders to recall Jahan Khan and Najib from Agra.* These two rejoined him on the 24th.
A second domiciliary visit was paid to Vrindavan to realize the contribution laid on that city after the raid of the 6th. And in these four days a last despairing effort was made to get something out of Suraj Mai. He had promised a tribute of five lakhs to the Shah and a gift of two lakhs to his ministers, but, thanks to the unlooked for epidemic, he evaded “paying even a kauri” As Abdali’s real intentions were not finally known for some time, Suraj Mal’s envoys accompanied his camp parleying up to the north- western suburb of Delhi, and when from that place the Afghan army unmistakably set out for their home, fast camel-riders brought the happy news to Suraj Mal, and he unceremoniously turned out of his fort the two negotiators of tribute (Jugalkishor, and an Afghan officer) whom Abdali had left there….
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