"Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet."
The wonderful story of England's conquest of India reads, even to-day, like some fairy legend of the Old World.
It is the story of how one small island, away in the Northern seas, conquered an empire ten times its own size, at a distance of 6000 miles. In the ages of long ago, when the Egyptians were building their pyramids, when the Phœnicians were sailing to the Pillars of Hercules, when the Greeks were adorning Athens and the Romans were spreading their empire far and wide, this England was still sleeping on the waves of the boundless sea.
It was not till after the Roman Empire had fallen, not till the Portuguese had found their way across the Sea of Darkness to India, not till the Spaniards had discovered the New World, that England awoke to a sense of the great possibilities that lay before her. Slowly and surely, from this time onwards, she stretched forth her arms over the broad seas that had once been her barriers, until, by her untiring energy, she won for herself an empire "on which the sun never sets."
Her first great conquest was that of India or Hindostan—the land of the Hindoos. It is a country cut off from Asia by a lofty range of mountains known as the Hima-laya, or snow abode. Here are some of the highest peaks in the world, never scaled by man. Here, too, rise the largest rivers in India—the Indus and the Ganges, on which most of the large towns are built. Most of the country lies within the tropics. Hence it is a land of wondrous starlight and moonlight, a land of whirlwind and tempest, of pitiless sun and scorching heat. Here to-day, as of old, are men with dark faces and long beards, dressed in turbans and flowing robes—men for the most part Mohammedans, praying at intervals throughout the day, with their faces toward Mecca.
At the time that Alexander the Great entered India,—327 years before the birth of Christ,—the land was parcelled out into a number of small kingdoms, each under the government of its own Raja. Each Raja had a council known as the Durbar. When a Raja conquered other Rajas he was known as a Maha-raja or Great Raja, and all these words are used in India to-day.
In the sixteenth century a race of Mongols or Moguls swept into India from Central Asia and founded an empire in the north. Marco Polo had heard a great deal about these Mongols when he was at the court of the Great Khan. The first of the Mogul emperors was called Baber, or the Tiger; but he was succeeded by a yet more famous grandson called Akbar, whose power is spoken of still in India to-day. Akbar added to the Mogul Empire until it became the most extensive and splendid empire in the world. In no European kingdom was so large a population subject to a single ruler, or so large a revenue poured into the treasury. The beauty and magnificence of the buildings, the huge retinues and gorgeous decorations, dazzled the eyes of those accustomed to the pomps of Versailles.
The Great Mogul.
But under the Great Mogul Aurangzeb, the "Conqueror of the Universe," the empire reached the height of its glory. He had usurped the throne, put his father into prison, and murdered his three brothers. His crown was uneasy, but secure. At Delhi he held his magnificent court. Here was the palace of the Great Mogul, built on the river Jumna, a tributary of the Ganges. The magnificent gateway of the palace was guarded by two huge elephants of stone, each bearing the colossal statue of a Raja warrior on his back. Here too was the grand hall of audience, where the Durbar was held. The ceiling was of white marble, supported by thirty marble columns, bearing an inscription in gold: "If there be a Paradise on earth, it is this." The throne was in a recess at the back of the hall, and over the throne was a peacock made of gold and jewels, valued at a million pounds.
One day Aurangzeb was sitting on his throne at a Durbar at Delhi, when his old tutor appeared before him. The Great Mogul had suddenly stopped his pension, and he had come to know the reason. Aurangzeb gave him the explanation in public.
"This tutor," he cried, "taught me the Koran (Mohammedan Bible) and wearied me with rules of Arabic grammar, but he told me nothing at all of foreign countries. I learnt nothing of the Ottoman Empire in Africa. I was made to believe that Holland was a great empire, and that England was bigger than France."
When his birthday came round the Great Mogul was weighed in state, and if he was found to weigh more than on the preceding year there were great public rejoicings. All the chief people in the empire came to make their offerings: precious stones, gold and silver, rich carpets, camels, horses, and elephants were presented to him. He had tents of red velvet embroidered in gold. He had seven splendid thrones,—one covered with diamonds, one with rubies, one with pearls, one with emeralds, though the Peacock Throne was the most valuable. While the Great Mogul was on his throne, fifteen horses stood ready on either side, their bridles enriched with precious stones. Elephants were trained to kneel down before the throne and do reverence with their trunks. The Emperor's favourite elephant was fed on good meat, with plenty of sugar and brandy.
Aurangzeb himself was nearly one hundred years old when he died. Suspicion lest his sons should subject him to the fate which he had inflicted on his own father left him a solitary old man. As death approached terror and remorse seized him. "Come what may," he cried desperately at the last, "I have launched my vessel on the waves. Farewell! farewell! farewell!"
So passed the last of the Great Moguls who ruled for over two hundred years in India. The empire was soon after broken up, and the way left clear for England to found her great Eastern Empire beyond the seas.