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Nehru and his view of Timur Lang

Vinod Kumar

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, whether one agrees with him or not, is undoubtedly an important and dominating figure in the history of India; and not only the contemporary but the future history also. He has molded the minds of several generations of Indians and founded a dynasty -- a dynasty in a democracy -- and left a legacy that still haunts India.

Nehru was not only a politician but a writer also and that too of no mean repute. Beside his politics, his books too have an indelible impression on the young minds of the nation. He is regarded not only as a social progressive communism oriented thinker, philosopher and a world statesman but also a historian. It is his historical writing that I shall contend with today.

Nehru put his own twist on history. He had his own convoluted way of looking at it. These are very strong words but let me show you why I say these and not some ambiguous and innocuous words. There are many historical episodes of history which Nehru got wrong. It will be difficult to deal with all of them in a short article so I will deal today with his treatment of Timur Lang.

"Late in the fourteenth century, Timur, the Turk or Turco-Mongol, came down from the north in India; he came to Delhi and went back. But all along his route he created a wilderness adorned with pyramids of skulls of those he had slain; and Delhi itself became a city of the dead. Fortunately he did not go far and only some parts of the Punjab and Delhi had to suffer this terrible affliction.": wrote Nehru in his "Discovery Of India".

Describing Timur's savagery, Nehru goes on to write in "Glimpses of World History" : "wherever he went he went he spread desolation and pestilence and utter misery. His chief pleasure was the erection of enormous pyramids of skulls. But Timur was much worse. He stands apart for wanton and fiendish cruelty. In one place, it is said, he erected a tower of 2000 live men and covered them up with brick and mortar."

In describing the savagery of Timur, Nehru is quite accurate but we shall not concern ourselves with Timur's savagery which is well documented and well known to all. Let us deal with Timur's motivation for invading India and what he did there.

In describing Timur's motivation to invade India, Nehru wrote in "Glimpses of world History": "The wealth of India attracted this savage. He had some difficulty in inducing his generals and nobles to agree to his proposal to invade India. There was a great council in Samarkand, and the nobles objected to going to India because of the great heat there. Ultimately Timur promised that he would not stay in India. he would just plunder and destroy and return. He kept his word." He also goes on to write: "So when Timur came with an army of Mongols there was not much resistance and he went on gaily with his massacres and pyramids. Both Hindus and Muslims were slain. No distinction seems to have been made. The prisoners becoming a burden, he ordered all of them killed and 100,000 were massacred."

People have a tendency to believe everything Nehru writes -- great leader, thinker and statesman as he is regarded to be. Let us now look at what motivated Timur to come to India and how he "seems to have made no distinction between the killing of Hindus and Muslims" in his (Timur's) own words.

Timur conscious of his "achievements and place in history" dictated his memoirs (entitled "Malfuzat-I-Timuri" or "Tuzak-I-Timuri" translated in "History of India as told by its own Historians" by Elliot and Dawson) and it is to these memoirs that we turn to look into his motivations for invading India.

The following are taken from 'History of India' written by AV Williams Jackson (London 1906) who quotes from the work by Elliot and Dawson. Timur in his memoirs recorded:

"About the year 800 AH (1398 CE) there arose in my heart the desire to lead an expedition against the infidels and to become a champion of the faith, for it had reached my ears that the slayer of the infidels is a champion and if he is slain, he becomes a martyr. It was for this reason that I formed my resolution but I was undetermined in my mind whether I should direct my expedition against the infidels of China or against the infidels and polytheists of India. In this matter I sought an omen from the Koran and the verse to which I opened was this: 'O Prophet, make war upon the infidels and unbelievers, and treat them with severity."

He asked the amirs and the leaders to be assembled before him and asked whether he should direct his expedition against Hindustan or China. Some amirs told him about the four defences of Hindustan -- the first of these being the five large rivers, the second the woods, forests and trees with interweaving stems and branches rending it extremely difficult to penetrate the country, the third is the soldiery, and the landholders and princes and rajas dwell there like wild beasts. The fourth the elephants which they put in the van of their army and they have trained to them to such a degree that with their trunks they lift a horse with its rider and whirling him in the air, they dash him to the ground.

Then some of the amirs replied that Sultan Mahmud Sabuktagin had conquered the country with thirty thousand horse and talked about the many thousand loads of gold and silver and jewels from that country besides subjecting it to a regular tribute. Sultan Shahrukh and Prince Mohammad Sultan were in favor of expedition to Hindustan but most nobles were against it.

Timur pleaded with his nobles: "My object in the invasion of Hindustan is to lead an expedition against the infidels that, according to the law of Mohammad (upon whom and his family be the blessing and peace of God). We may convert the people of that country to the true faith and purify the land itself from infidelity and polytheism, and that we may overthrow their temples and idols and become conquerors and crusaders before God." The nobles gave unwilling consent and Timur placed no reliance upon them.

He went on to record. "At this time the wise men of Islam came before me, and a conversation began about the propriety of a war against the infidels and polytheists, whereupon they declared that it is the duty of Sultan of Islam and all those who profess that " there is no God but Allah, and Mohammad is the prophet of Allah," to exert their utmost endeavor for the suppression of the enemies of their faith, for the sake of preservation of their religion and strengthening their law. They likewise said it is the duty of every Moslem and true believer to use his utmost exertions in obedience to his ruler. When edifying words of the wise men reached the ears of the nobles, all their hearts were set upon a holy war in Hindustan, and throwing themselves on their knees, they repeated the chapter of Victory which opens the Koran."

He goes on to write: "When I girded up my loins for the expedition, I wrote to Hazrat Shaikh Zain-ad-din to the effect that I had determined on a holy war in Hindustan. He wrote back in the margin of the letter: "Be it known to Abu-l-Ghazi Timur that great prosperity in this world and the next will result from this undertaking, and that he will go and return safely." He also sent me a large sword which I made my scepter."

From Timur's own memoirs it is clear that his main motivation to invade India was to "convert the people of that country to the true faith and purify the land itself from infidelity and polytheism" and to overthrow "its temples and idols and become conquerors and crusaders before God".

It is needless for me to comment why Timur invaded India when he has recorded his motivation to do so in his own words. I wonder how Nehru knew more about Timur's motivation more than Timur himself!

Nehru also went on to write: " Both Hindus and Muslims were slain. No distinction seems to have been made."

It is true that on his way to India and in India many of the Sultans he fought with were Muslims but did he make distinction between Hindus and Muslims or not? Let us again see what Timur had to say about it.

The scene after his victory of Dipalpur is described by him in the following words:

"In a short space of time all the people in the fort were put to sword, and in the course of one hour the heads of 10,000 infidels were cut off. The sword of Islam was washed in the blood of the infidels, and all the goods and effects, the treasure and the grain which for many a long year had been stored in the fort became the spoil of my soldiers. They set fire to the houses and reduced them to ashes, and they razed the buildings and the fort to the ground."

It is difficult to name each and every act of Timur. We shall barely scratch the surface in such a small account just to show how "objective and truthful" Nehru is in his portrayal of the History of India.

On his capture of Loni, historians record: "Next day Timur crossed the river Yamuna and captured Loni on the other bank of the river. The people here were mostly Hindus. "Many of the Rajputs placed their wives and children in their houses and burned them, then they rushed to the battle and were killed" After this fort was captured, Timur gave orders "that the Mussalman prisoners should be separated and saved, but that the infidels should all be despatched to hell with the proselytising sword."

Let us now look at the probably the greatest gruesome act in the entire history of the world. Let me quote from the "History and Culture of the Indian People" written on the authority of Elliot and Dawson who, as written above, had translated Timur's memoirs:

"A grim tragedy, perhaps unparalleled in the history of the world, was an indirect consequence of this battle. There were at this time about 100,000 Hindu prisoners in the camp of Timur. Two amirs reported to Timur that "on the previous day, when the enemy's forces made the attack upon us, the prisoners made signs of rejoicing, uttered imprecations against us, and were ready to go and join the enemy, and to increase his numbers and strength." Timur having asked their advice, "they said that on the great day of battle these 100,000 prisoners could not be left with the baggage, and that it would be entirely opposed to the rules of war to set these idolaters and foes of Islam at liberty. In fact, no other course remained but that of making them all food for the sword". Timur thereupon resolved to put them to death. He proclaimed "throughout the camp that every man who has infidel prisoners was to put them to death, and whoever neglected to do so should himself be executed and his property given to the informer. When this order became known to the ghazis of Islam, they drew their swords and put their prisoners to death. 100,000 infidels, impious idolaters, were on that day slain. Maulana Nasir-ud-din Umar, a counselor and a man of learning, who, in all his life had never killed a sparrow, now, in execution of my order, slew with his sword fifteen idolatrous Hindus, who were his captives".

Let me close with the description of massacre in Delhi.

"On that day, Thursday, and all the night of Friday, nearly 15,000 Turks were engaged in slaying, plundering, and destroying. When morning broke on the Friday, all my army, no longer under control went off to the city and thought of nothing but killing, plundering, and making prisoners. All that day the sack was general. The following day, Saturday, the 17th (December 27), all passed in the same way, and the spoil was so great that each man secured from a fifty to a hundred prisoners, men, women, and children. There was no man who took less than twenty. The other booty was immense in rubies, diamonds, garnets, pearls, and other gems; jewels of gold and silver; ashrafis, tankas of gold and silver; and brocades and silks of great value. Gold and silver ornaments of the Hindu women were obtained in such quantities as to exceed all account. Excepting the quarter of saiyids, the ulama, and the other Musulmans, the whole city was sacked."

No doubt, it is true that Timur killed Muslims as well as Hindus but there is no basis for writing Timur "seems to have made no distinction between the killing of Hindus and Muslims".

There is a parallel to Timur in our modern times -- Hitler. Hitler in 'his dream of world conquest' killed or caused to be killed more Christians than the Jews. The distinction is that the Christians were killed only because they came in his way of world domination but the Jews were gassed as captives solely because they were Jews. In the same way Timur killed Muslims too, because these Muslims came in his way of conquests but he massacred Hindus because they were infidels and idolaters. Hitler fought in the belief of the "supremacy of the Aryan race", Timur in the belief of the "supremacy of the true faith of Mohammad".


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