Civilization is a term that is commonly taken for granted. The civilization of ‘Hind’, as Ethiopians still know us, is something to be proud of. The development of civilization has never been a one-shot process. Civilizational development is a day to day undertaking which when compiled together forms building blocks of any great civilization. This essay will consider the civilizational missions of Indian royalty, including Jalaluddin Mohammed Akbar, Aurangzeb, Ashoka, Lakshmi Bai, and Dara Shukoh. Contemporary society is the product of numerous events and processes from the past, which led to massive changes. These changes are still in progress.
The civilization of Hind represented a massive empire during the time of Akbar. Hind stretched from Afghanistan in the west to Bengal in the east. The administration of such a large empire was only possible with a large administrative machinery and dedicated public officials. The Daftar-e-Hindavi, for example, was responsible for the translation of Persian legal texts and official documents into Hindavi languages, including Braj Bhasha, and Maithili. Hindavi texts and documents were in turn translated into Persian and Turkic.
Consequently, governance has its roots in India’s historical past.
Emperor Ashoka also remains renowned for his remarkable system of governance. His foresightedness impressed me after studying the Mauryan system of imperial administration. Ashoka was an excellent communicator, who was also an astonishing administrator.
The Ashokan edicts revealed a new path for humanity. Emperor Ashoka was taken back by the battle of Patliputra. The emperor gave up his identity as a tyrant and preached Buddhism and non-violence. His words were disseminated in public and he himself involved himself in all public affairs. He passed down his words not only to his public but to his successors too. Ashoka sent his daughter Sanghamitra to Sri Lanka as his ambassador. This was an advanced and egalitarian step, as Mughal princesses and queens were isolated by the veil. Under the reign of Jahangir, times and social mores based on gender had changed. Sir Thomas and Hawkins visited India as the first British officials. Noor Jahan, Jahangir’s wife, the most intelligent queens of her times, dealt with these foreign guests and advised emperor Jahangir to allow them to establish trade in India.
This reminds me of a poem, I wrote after reading A thousand splendid suns by Khaled Hosseini. And it is called One Girl
I was determined to get into this world
my parents did not accept me though
I was not responsible, neither it was you, Mom
Dad, it was your ‘X’ that initiated it all,
Anyhow, Mommy, you managed to accept
People around, see me today and regret
it ain’t them, who lend me this air
Yet all worries gone, once you call me My Dear
I grew up and got to school
Even I had crushes, I ain’t-a mule
When I found my love. Everyone pointed
Again, mommy, it was you who defended
Then came these shitty days
Bleed I bleed thought my life was just a vain
Endless nights that kept me in pain
Again, mum, you helped me by strength regain.
I’m getting married, departing your home
That seemed full of people, though only one was known
I’ll go, give birth to my girl one day
Carry on the same throne.
Look, Mommy! That one girl is grown.
It is sad, but seeing newspapers every morning there is a feeling of disgust, shame, and insecurity. Is there any hope left that our daughters and sisters are safe in the gloomy blanket of a future, which is constantly getting thickened by all these evil deeds. Every cloud has a silver lining. We might be stagnant at this point but soon, this society will be dominated by us- ‘the youth’ of today, and may the winds of change blow again and our ideologies might bloom once more. The paradox of a very young population juxtaposed with an ancient and venerable civilization characterizes India of today. The latest census data from 2011 shows that around 41 percent of India’s population is below the age of 20 years. According to The Times of India, half of India’s population lies within the 20-59 demographic age group. We as the youth still hold the power, to uproot the social norms we are tied to. This is because, “one could not see the moons that shimmer on her roofs, or a thousand splendid suns that hide behind her bars .”
Indian history is peopled by women who stood up to patriarchy and male chauvinism. The queen of Jhansi, after her husband’s death, fought with the British all alone, and with her army dealt with her assassins until her last breath. She stood up and fought imperial hegemony. Women were no longer seen just to please their husbands anymore and were seen with equal dignity. I still pity to the fact that we have some people, even in 2017, who think of women as weak and suppressive. Yet one wonders whether India is civilized.
The Mughal Emperor Akbar remained illiterate but was also fanatically curious about everything one could think of. He standouts in the Mughal crowd. At the age of 18, this teenager took over the throne of Hind after his father died. He was a person, driven by knowledge and hence welcomed every new idea in his court. He conducted an infant experiment, by keeping all toddlers in a secret place with no human interaction just to understand the origin of the language. A man with immense thinking himself, Akbar encouraged scholars like Birbal and others in his court and held regular debates with religious leaders and foreign guests in his capital Fatehpur Sikri. As a ruler, Akbar was liberal to non-Muslims too. He invented the Indian concept of secularism. His taste in architecture was unique and is still alive with his monuments and gardens, in the same zeal and pride. He like Ashoka wanted harmony all around so he established the ‘Deen-e-Illahi’ to propagate the universal teaching of all religions.
Dara Shukoh, who would have succeeded him in future, was an epitome of humility. He had same views like that of Akbar’s. He commissioned the establishment of an observatory built in Srinagar, Kashmir, a place for scholars to come and discuss, research on stars and have more progressive talks on humanity. Alas, Aurangzeb, Dara’s brother, executed him. He conspired against his own siblings and imprisoned his own father. Aurangzeb was responsible for the state-sponsored bloodshed. As a result, Hind expanded to the south. I always feel pain, whenever I visit any Mughal monument. They were people like us, like you and me, who had families, children, old-young, everyone. After every conquest, the common people would suffer. I feel bad for the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar. His ancestors ruled this subcontinent even as Bahadur Shah was left to survive on leftovers from the British. My heart cries for the abrupt end of her highness, Zeenat Mahal, the last Mughal empress of Hind, who had nothing but grace alive in her eyes. The begum’s eyes, which could have played with the lives of people, were now downcast and common. The shame of the fallen monarchs represents an epic tragedy. It is also tragic when somebody is made to suffer because of the misdeeds of another. Perhaps contemporary India is back to square one. The poor from the north to the south are still dying on the roads. They still have no food to feed their families. Outrageously, just a fistful of people reserves the right to control the majority. Is this a part of being civilized, if yes then it is better to find a new definition of ‘Civilization.’
I have always thought of some superhero arriving and bringing about change. Suddenly, women and men would stand on the same pedestals. The works of Meera and Kabir would be properly acknowledged. Imagine romanticism in form of letters and poetry flourishing again. Imagine how beautiful the world would have been if Indian society properly acknowledged the statesmen, artists, poets, and thinkers of the historical past. Perhaps this would make Indian society more confident and less uncertain when faced with the future. A firm grasp of history would anchor India’s youth and provide a genuine sense of civilizational grandeur. Imagine how different India would have been; had the English ethically invested in India’s sustainable development, and had refrained from plundering her of her wealth. The Mughal aristocracy, submerged in luxury, was completely unaware of dynamic Europeans who cleverly found weak spots to invade, conquer and plunder. Perhaps the Mughal Empire’s aristocratic decadence and megalomania weakened India from within. Imagine if India was still ruled by a queen like Noor Jahan; and this society was less patriarchal. Consider what the character of Indian society would be like if Akbar’s and Dara Shukoh’s conception of civilization was still practiced. Then the children of today would not be committing suicide over their grades. What if the civilization, which could answer all these questions, actually existed.