This Day in History (23-Dec-1912) – In Delhi, agitation continues as British Viceroy Lord Hardinge is wounded by a bomb explosion

At a revolutionary conclave in Chandan Nagar, the suggestion for an attack on Hardinge emanated from Shreesh Ghosh, a dare-devil friend of Rash Behari. Rash Behari informed that he was ready and resolute but laid two conditions – that he should be supplied with powerful bombs and that he should have a young man of unimpeachable revolutionary character. Both were obtained and the first rehearsal was made on Diwali of 1911, amidst sound of crackers all round.

The young man who came from Chandan Nagar was one Basant Biswas, a handsome boy of 16 years. He could easily be dressed up as a girl and get mixed up with other women sitting on the spacious terrace of a building in Chandni Chowk. All were eagerly waiting for the procession on occasion of shifting India’s capital from culcutta to Delhi. The bombs had to be hurled by Basant on the target. He had actually practised it for months in the garden of Raja PN Tagore at Dehradun. On the previous day Rash Behari took his young ‘girl friend’ in a Tonga and had a ride through the roads of Chandni Chowk, which was to be the venue the next day.

It was the 23rd December 1912. The Viceroy couple was on the elephant back. Ladies were excitedly waiting for the procession to arrive. Basant (dressed as a girl) was one amongst them. The point chosen was the Clock-tower in Chandni Chowk, near the Punjab National Bank. Awadh Bihari was standing just opposite, to throw the bombs if Basant somehow failed. The atmosphere was electrifying, when it just occurred to Rash Behari that the practice of bomb throwing in cigarette tins at Dehrudun would be of no avail. It was from the ground to the imaginary height of the target on an elephant back. He just rushed in and asked Basant to enter the bathroom and quickly change his Sari to male clothes which he was carrying. He came down and got mixed up with the crowd on the foot path. But the bombs were not thrown by him but probably by Awadh Bihari. The Viceroy was seriously injured and was taken to a famous doctor, A.C. Sen, nearby. Awadh Bihari was later hanged but Rash Behari could not be touched. He returned to Dehradun by the night train and joined the office the next day as though nothing had happened.


This Day in History (18-Nov-1727) – Maharaja Jai Singh-II of Amber laid the stone of pink city of Jaipur

Jai Singh II, a child prodigy, came to the Rajput throne in 1699. The young lad quickly impressed the 71-year-old Aurangzeb who awarded him the title ‘Sawai’, meaning one-and-a-quarter. Jai Singh II, having proved his soldiering ability further enriched his coffers and fulfilled his other passions – the arts and sciences. The impressive giant stone instruments which he devised for the open-air observatories at Jaipur, Delhi, Ujjain and Varanasi stand testimony to his scientific prowess. After ascending the throne, he shifted the capital from Amer. He studied the architecture of several European cities and drew up plans for constructing a larger and well-planned city.

After building close bonds with the Mughals and sure that there could be no danger to his throne, Sawai Jai Singh, envisioned his dream project, the building of Jaipur. The foundation stone was laid by him in 1727 and an eminent architect from Bengal, Vidyadhar Bhattacharaya, was asked to design the city. Vidhyadhar Bhattacharya, following the principles of Shilpa Shastra, and referencing the ancient Indian knowledge on astronomy, further developed and discussed the plan with Jai Singh. It is said that the foundation of the city was laid down on 18th November 1727 by Jai Singh himself. It took minutely planned strategies and 4 years for the city to come to form. The city was named Jaipur as ‘Jai’ means victory and was also the ruler’s first name. That it was later chosen as the capital of Rajasthan formed from the amalgamation of various kingdoms, was a tribute to both Jai Singh and Bhattacharya.

The city was planned in a grid system of seven blocks of buildings with wide straight avenues lined with trees, with the palace set on the north side. Surrounding it are high walls pieced with ten gates. The site of the shops were chosen after careful planning and they are arranged in nine rectangular city sectors (chokris). Jaipur was the first sizable city in north India to be built from scratch, though the famous pink colour symbolizing welcome, came later when Ram Singh II received the Prince of Wales in 1876. The colour was chosen after several experiments to cut down the intense glare from the reflection of the blazing rays of the sun. To this day, the buildings are uniformly rose pink.


This Day in History (13-Oct-1240) – Razia Sultan, first lady ruler of Delhi throne, passed away in a battle

Razia Sultan, a brave sultan belonged to slave dynasty was the first mulim women to rule India and only women to occupy the throne of Delhi. She was talented, wise, brave, excellent administrator, and a great warrior. Once Razia’s father, Iltutmish was busy with the siege of the Gwalior fort, he had entrusted the government in Delhi to Razia, and on his return was so impressed with her performance that he decided to appoint her as his successor. One of Iltutmish sons, Rukn-ud-din Firuz occupied the throne after father’s death. He ruled Delhi for about seven months. In 1236, Razia Sultana defeated her brother.

Being an efficient ruler Razia Sultana set up proper and complete law and order in her in his empire. During three years of her ruling, she tried to improve the infrastructure of the country by encouraging trade, building roads, digging wells. And also she established schools, academies, centers for research, and public libraries that included the works of ancient philosophers along with the Quran and the traditions of Muhammad. Hindu works in the sciences, philosophy, astronomy, and literature were reportedly studied in schools.

The reason behind end of her was her unacceptable love. Jamal-ud-Din Yaqut, an African Siddi slave turned nobleman who was a close confidante to her and was speculated to be her lover. Though it happened behind many veils and doors, their relationship was no secret in the Delhi court. Malik Ikhtiar-ud-din Altunia, the governor of Bhatinda, was against such relationship of Razia. The story goes that Altunia and Raziya were childhood friends. As they grew up together, he fell in love with Raziya and the rebellion was simply a way of getting back Raziya. When she was trying to curb a rebellion, the Turkish nobles who were against such female throne, took advantage of her absence at Delhi and dethroned her. Her brother Bahram was crowned.

Yaqut was murdered and Altunia imprisoned Raziya. To save her own head, Raziya sensibly decided to marry Altunia, the governor of Batinda and marched towards Delhi with her husband. On October 13, 1240, she was defeated by Bahram and the unfortunate couple was put to death the very next day.


This Day in History (14-Apr-1659) – Aurangzeb defeated his brother Dara Shukoh to capture the throne of Delhi

Dara Shikoh was the eldest son and the heir-apparent of the fifth Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. He was favoured as a successor by his father and his sister Princess Jahanara Begum Sahib. In September 1657, the illness of emperor Shah Jahan triggered a desperate struggle for power among the four Mughal princes, though realistically only Dara and Aurangzeb had a chance of emerging victorious.

Despite strong support from Shah Jahan, who had recovered enough from his illness to remain a strong factor in the struggle for supremacy, and the victory of his army led by his eldest son Sulaiman Shikoh over his brother Shah Shuja in the battle of Bahadurpur, Dara was defeated by Aurangzeb and and brother Murad during the Battle of Samugarh, 13 km from Agra. Subsequently Aurangzeb took over Agra fort and deposed emperor Shah Jahan.

After this defeat Dara fled to Sindh and sought refuge under Malik Jiwan, an Afghan chieftain, whose life he had saved on more than one from the wrath of Shah Jahan. However, Malik betrayed Dara and turned him over to Aurangzeb’s army. Dara was brought to Delhi, placed on a filthy elephant and paraded through the streets of the capital in chains. Aurangzeb declared him a threat to the public peace and an apostate from Islam. He was assassinated and was beheaded, and his head was served to his father, Shah Jahan on a platter.

Dara had a deep interest in Sufism, and also attempted to find common language between Islam and Hinduism. Not able to find the answers he was looking for, Dara went on to study the Hindu Upanishads. The Mughal prince came to the conclusion that the “hidden book” mentioned in the Quran was none other than the Upanishads and believed that in order to understand the Quran, one needed to study the Hindu text. Dara even drew an equation between Adam and Brahma — a view which, according to historians, branded him as a heretic and ultimately led to his execution. Had Dara prevailed over Aurangzeb, the course of the history of the Indian subcontinent would have been different.


This Day in History (22-Mar-1739) – Nadir Shah’s persian forces onslaught Delhi

Aurangzeb’s death had created a void in the Mughal empire which none of his successors were able to fill. Nadir Shah, who from being a chief of dacoits had become the king of Persia, saw the weak empire as an opportunity. In 1738, Nadir Shah proceeded to invade India. He overran the western frontiers of Mughal empire capturing Ghazni, Kabul and Lahore in 1739. Soon Nadir Shah stormed Punjab. Muhammad Shah lead the forces himself against Nadir shah. On 13 February, the battle of Karnal was fought. Emperor Muhammad Shah had a force of over a hundred thousand against Nadir Shah’s 55,000 men but was still decisively defeated. the Emperor himself met Nadir Shah in his camp and abdicated, thirteen days after the battle of Karnal. He handed over the keys of the Delhi gate and entered Delhi with him.

At first everything was cordial between the two emperors. However rumours spread throughout Delhi that Nadir Shah had been assassinated. The masses attacked the Persian force and slaughtered 900 Persian soldiers. As Nadir Shah heard of this he straightaway rode into the city, in the city he saw the corpses of Persian soldiers lying on the streets. He was enraged, he ordered a general massacre at all those localities where the bodies of Persian soldiers were found. Consequently on 11th of march 1739 citizens of Delhi were plundered and slaughtered. The massacre continued and at least 30,000 people died on 22nd March 1739. The Emperor went to Nadir Shah to plead for mercy and thus he stopped the massacre and turned to looting the Mughal treasury. The famous Peacock throne, the Darya-e-Noor diamond and unimaginable wealth was looted.

Muhammad Shah was crowned as emperor by Nadir Shah himself on 12 May, and Muhammad Shah ceded the area west of the Indus to Nadir Shah. They both switched crowns according to the Persian tradition of friendship and the Koh-i-Noor diamond was also lost. Nadir Shah’s invasion did a irreparable damage to the Mughal empire. Mughal provinces across the Indus were seceded to the Persians. Later on inspired by the antics of Nadir Shah his successor Ahmad Shah Abdali too invaded India several times between 1748 and 1767 and plundered Delhi.