Shah Jahan's Central Asian Campaign, 1645-1647

Discussion in 'Military History' started by civfanatic, Jul 28, 2013.

  1. civfanatic

    civfanatic Retired Moderator

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    This is my narrative and analysis of the little-known war waged by the Mughals against the Uzbeks in Central Asia between 1645 and 1647. This military campaign was notable for being the only time, in all of recorded history, that an India-based power sought to annex Central Asian territory, and went on the offensive across the Hindu Kush for that purpose. The entire war was fought north of the Hindu Kush mountains, with the main Mughal base of operations being located at Balkh, and the Uzbek capital being located at Bukhara. Shah Jahan himself had personally moved to Kabul with his court to better oversee the campaign. The Mughals ultimately failed to achieve their objectives, and the war ended with a status quo ante bellum, with the Hindu Kush continuing to form the northwest boundary of the Mughal Empire. By examining the ill-fated campaign, one can better answer the long-standing question of why invasions between Central Asia and India have historically been so one-sided, and why few other Indian states before or since have carried out similar campaigns.


    Background:

    Southern Central Asia in the 17th century was dominated by the Khanate of Bukhara, ruled by the Janid dynasty (also known as the Ashtrakhanids, as they originated from Ashtrakhan). From 1611 to 1642, the Khanate was ruled by Imam Quli Khan, whose reign was generally a stable one. His younger brother, Nadr Mohammed, ruled the provinces of Balkh and Badakhshan in what is now northern Afghanistan as a de facto independent ruler.

    In 1622, Imam Quli Khan sent an offer of alliance to Mughal emperor Jahangir, proposing a joint offensive against the Safavids in Khurasan. However, the Mughal Empire at the time was embroiled in campaigns in the Deccan, and was not particularly interested in diverting forces away from that front. That same year, Shah Abbas of Persia launched an invasion of Mughal Afghanistan, and succeeded in capturing Kandahar. The failure of the Mughals to retake Kandahar from the Persians was interpreted by the Uzbeks as an indicator of Mughal weakness, and they soon forgot about their alliance proposal, choosing instead to attack the Mughals and profit as the Persians had. The Uzbeks attacked in 1625 and again in 1626, but were repulsed on both occasions. On 19 May 1628, Nadr Mohammed launched a large-scale invasion of Mughal territory with the intention of capturing Kabul. The Uzbek army advanced up to Lamghan, ravaging the countryside along the way, and laid siege to Kabul in early June. The Mughal response to the invasion was swift; an army led by Mahabat Khan, the governor of Peshawar, and Rao Surat Singh was dispatched with 20,000 men to relieve the besieged city. The Uzbeks were routed and withdrew in defeat, with the Mughals holding a triumphal parade in Kabul on 14 September. This, coincidentally, was the first recorded military victory of Shah Jahan's reign, which began that same year.

    The 1630s saw no further Uzbek invasions, and also saw the conclusion of the Mughal campaigns in the Deccan. Kandahar, which had been lost to the Persians the previous decade, came back under Mughal control in 1638. The Empire was at the peak of its power and prosperity, and the Mughal position in the northwest was as strong as it ever had been. Shah Jahan, at this point, became interested in pursuing his cherished dream of restoring Mughal rule to his ancestral homelands in Central Asia. The perfect opportunity to do so seemed to arise with the abdication of Imam Quli Khan in 1642, who had grown blind with age, and his succession by Nadr Mohammed. Unlike his older brother, who was content with letting the subordinate chiefs of Uzbekistan manage their own affairs with little interference, Nadr Mohammed was determined to strengthen his authority as Khan. He pursued a policy of transferring and redistributing the offices and titles of subordinate chiefs, leading to widespread discontent and rebellion among them. The country fell into civil war, and Nadr Mohammed was ultimately overthrown by his son, Abdul Aziz, who was proclaimed Khan of Bukhara in April 1645. However, Nadr Mohammed managed to retain his territories in Balkh and Badakhshan, which were under his possession even before he became Khan.


    The Campaign:

    The Mughals, taking advantage of the political turmoil and divisions in Central Asia, now commenced their opening attacks. In August 1645, a Mughal army under Asalat Khan was sent north to occupy Badakhshan. Two months later, on 15 October, a force under Raja Jagat Singh was dispatched from Kabul and captured Khost. A fort was built between Sarab and Andarab in modern Baghlan province, and a Rajput garrison was placed there. Raja Jagat Singh returned to Kabul on 4 November, via the Panjshir Valley.

    The main Mughal offensive had to wait until the next year. In June 1646, Prince Murad Baksh, a son of Shah Jahan, advanced from Kabul with an army of 50,000 cavalry and 10,000 infantry, including musketeers, rocketmen, and gunners. Kahmard, Ghori, and Qunduz were all conquered by the Mughals, with the main army arriving in Balkh on 2 July. As far as we know, the army of Murad Baksh faced no major opposition during this military action. Nadr Mohammed, having lost his territories, fled to Persia, leaving his treasure to be plundered by the Mughals.

    However, the young Murad Baksh soon came to tire of the unpleasant climate and foreign customs of Balkh, and desired to return to Hindustan. According to the Badshahnama, "many of the amirs and mansabdars , who were with the prince concurred with this unreasonable desire [to leave Balkh]. A natural love of home, a preference for the people and manners of Hindustan, and the rigours of the climate, all conduced to this desire". With the Mughal commanders indifferent to the course of the campaign and desirous to leave as soon as possible, the soldiers became unruly and lost their discipline, and began plundering the local inhabitants. An angry Shah Jahan, upon receiving news of his son's abandonment of his position, sent his vizier Sadullah Khan to take the place of Murad Baksh. He arrived in Balkh on 10 August, and began reorganizing the despondent Mughal army. Shah Jahan himself had also moved from Lahore to Kabul, to be closer to the front. Prince Murad Baksh was disgraced for his failure to carry out his duties, and was deprived of his mansab. As winter approached, the Mughals garrisoned key outposts in southern Central Asia, including Termez, Qunduz, Rostaq, Taleqan, and Maimana. However, bands of Uzbeks began infiltrating into the Mughal territory and surrounded these frontier outposts, leaving them in a state of siege throughout the winter of 1646-47. The Mughals were unable to inflict decisive defeats on the Uzbek bands, who avoided open conflict; at the same point, the harsh climate and logistic difficulties prevented further Mughal offensives.

    As the next campaigning season dawned, Shah Jahan appointed Prince Aurangzeb, then serving as the governor of Gujarat, to lead operations in Central Asia. Aurangzeb arrived in Kabul on 3 April 1647. Four days later, on 7 April, he set out for Balkh to reinforce the Mughal forward positions and expand the campaign. The Mughal army under his command had a strength of 35,000 men, the majority of whom would have been heavy cavalry, supported by musket infantry, elephants, and artillery. The Uzbeks opposing them had amassed a total of 120,000 men, the majority of whom would have been light cavalry. Granted, the Uzbeks lacked the centralized leadership of the Mughals, and also lacked the heavy shock troops and gunpowder weaponry needed to inflict decisive defeats on an enemy, but they possessed the crucial advantages of numbers, mobility, and knowledge of terrain. The Uzbeks, led by a chieftain named Qutlugh Mohammed, attacked the Mughals as they were passing through the Dera-i-Gaz valley. The Uzbeks were repulsed by the Rajput vanguard of the Mughal army, but not decisively so. The Uzbeks regrouped and, on 21 May, launched another attack against the Mughals. However, the Uzbeks this time made a tactical error by attacking the front of the Mughal army, rather than its rear or flanks. The Mughal wings were able to envelop and destroy the Uzbek force, and Balkh was reached on 25 May without any further fighting. The defence and custody of the city was handed over to Madhu Singh Hada.

    Abdul Aziz, the Uzbek khan, now sent a force under Beg Ughli across the Amu Darya to Aqcha. The Mughals too set out towards Aqcha, following a three days' stop at Balkh. The center of the Mughal army was commanded by Aurangzeb, the vanguard by Bahadur Khan, and the rear by Ali Mardan Khan. The Uzbeks initially launched frontal attacks against the Mughals, but these were successfully repulsed on 2 June 1647 by Mughal musket-fire. The Uzbeks then opted to skirmish against the Mughal columns, wearing them down slowly through attrition. Then, on 5 June, news of a large army advancing south from Bukhara to Balkh reached the Mughal camp. The Mughal commanders were forced to turn around to defend the vital city, which was their center of operations in the theater. On 7 June, the Uzbeks led by Subhan Quli, brother of Abdul Aziz Khan, attacked the moving Mughal army in full force. However, they were once again repulsed by the superior firepower of the Mughal musketry and artillery. The Mughals safely returned to Balkh on 11 June.

    By middle of 1647, both sides had suffered considerably from the back-and-forth fighting. Given the huge disparity in resources between the Indian empire of the Mughals and the Uzbeks, however, it is reasonable to assume that the latter were suffering much more than the former. The Uzbek armies, which had banded together largely because of the prospect of easy loot from the Mughals, began disintegrating when such financial rewards were not forthcoming. Some of the Uzbek cavalry were even said to have sold their horses to the Mughals (Central Asian horses were highly valued by Indians and fetched high prices), and then camped back across the Amu Darya! However, the Mughals for their part could not take advantage of this lack of discipline and organization among the Uzbeks and complete the conquest of Central Asia, for a couple pressing reasons. Firstly, there was a worry that, if the Mughals succeeded with the annexation of Central Asia, the Mughal troops and commanders would be permanently stationed there. Few of the Mughal commanders were interested in spending their careers in the region, as they all preferred the wealth, luxury, and familiarity of India. Indeed, some of the Mughal commanders, like Bahadur Khan, even secretly opposed Aurangzeb and the war effort, to avoid such a result. Secondly, and perhaps more pressingly, the Mughal army was faced with a serious shortage of food, caused by the ravaging effects of warfare on the countryside over the last couple years. There was great inflation in the prices of basic foodstuffs, with grain being sold at Rs.10 per maund at the Mughal camp. The Mughal difficulties were compounded by the fact that the country lacked proper winter accommodation for a large army, and that many of the Indian soldiers were not accustomed to the cold climate. In light of all these issues, the Mughals, as well as the Uzbeks, both sought to bring the war to a close.


    Peace Settlement and Withdrawal:

    In mid-June, shortly after Aurangzeb had returned to Balkh, negotiations were opened with Nadr Mohammed, the exiled ex-ruler of the territories occupied by the Mughals since 1645. The talks moved slowly, lasting over three months before a settlement was concluded by Nadr Mohammed's grandsons on 23 September 1647. On 1 October, Balkh was formally handed over to the grandsons, and the Mughals began the withdrawal to Kabul two days later, on 3 October. The Mughal army during the withdrawal was commanded in the following manner: the right wing under Ali Mardan Khan, the left wing under Raja Jai Singh, and the rear under Bahadur Khan. The Mughal army continued to be harassed by roving bands of Uzbeks during the retreat, with the crossing at Ghazniyak pass being particularly slow and painful. On 14 October, the Mughals reached Ghori fort. From there until Kabul, Hazara tribesmen replaced the Uzbeks in harassing the Mughal columns. An early and unusually severe winter added greatly to the suffering of the Mughal army. The Mughals were burdened by a load of 10 lakh rupees and a lack of pack animals, thousands of whom died during the winter passage through the Hindu Kush. Aurangzeb crossed the range on 24 October, and reached Kabul on 27 October. However, large components of the Mughal army were still several days behind, and were slowed down by the heavy sleet and snow in the mountain passes. The Mughal column under Raja Jai Singh, in particular, crossed the Hindu Kush in the midst of a brutal snowstorm, and suffered immensely. The last Mughal troops finally returned to Kabul on 10 November 1647, marking the end of the campaign.


    Conclusion and Analysis:

    The Mughal campaign was, by all standards, a strategic failure. No territory was gained, no changes in ruling dynasty were made, and nothing of tangible benefit was acquired. The Mughals suffered 5,000 casualties during the campaign, the vast majority of whom died from the brutal weather, and also lost a similar number of animals (including horses, elephants, camels, etc.). The cost of the campaign was immense, amounting to some 4 crore rupees in total; to put this into perspective, the Mughals were able to collect only 22 lakh rupees in revenue from the conquered territories in Central Asia, during the brief imperial occupation.

    Despite the failure of the Mughals to achieve their strategic objectives, the tactical performance of the imperial army was not terrible. In fact, although the Mughals can be said to have lost the war, they did not lose a single battle. The Mughals invariably repulsed every direct Uzbek attack, but they were unable to inflict decisive defeats on the enemy and break their back. The Uzbeks practiced a far more mobile style of warfare (which, ironically, was quite similar to the original Mughal style of warfare, practiced in the days of Babur), while the Mughals, although possessing far more firepower than the Uzbeks, were also more cumbersome and less able to maneuver effectively. The Mughal army, replete with heavy cavalry, musketeers, elephants, artillery, and all the pomp and pageantry of great imperial militaries, was more than capable of inspiring awe among the natives of Central Asia, but less capable of actually delivering decisive military results. This became especially apparent when the Mughals were pitted against a decentralized, militarized society like the Uzbeks, where every man was a cavalryman and a fighter, and "conquest" proved far easier than sustained military occupation.

    Other reasons for the Mughal strategic failure have been alluded to earlier in the narrative. The distaste of both Mughal commanders and the average soldiers for Central Asia led to their lack of enthusiasm in completing the conquest and annexation of the country. As mentioned before, some Mughal commanders who were deputed to serve in the region, like Bahadur Khan, were secretly opposed to the war effort, and not particularly keen in seeing the task through. The difficulties posed to the Mughals by the harsh climate, as well as the logistic issues (especially in terms of food shortages), were also important factors in explaining the Mughal failure.

    The failure of Shah Jahan's Central Asian campaign can be said to mark the beginning of the decline of Mughal power in the region. The Safavids of Persia, who had earlier pledged neutrality during the Mughal campaign (in early 1647, an Indian embassy had been sent to Isfahan, the Persian capital, for this purpose), took advantage of the Mughal defeat to pursue their own interests in the region. In the summer of 1648, Shah Abbas II of Persia set out to Afghanistan with an army of 40,000, and captured Kandahar from the Mughals on 22 February 1649. Despite repeated attempts in subsequent years, the Mughals failed each time to recapture Kandahar, indicating deep structural issues within the Mughal military. Kabul remained under Mughal control for the duration of Aurangzeb's long reign, but it remained a neglected frontier. A few decades after Aurangzeb's death, foreign armies once again crossed the Hindu Kush, but this time in the far more usual, opposite direction -- from Persia/Central Asia into the Indian subcontinent. Nader Shah Afsharid and Ahmad Shah Durrani were the two most famous conquerors of the 18th century who made a fortune plundering the once-proud heart of the Mughal Empire.

    However, no one who was familiar with history should have been surprised by such events. As the great Abu'l Fazl, close friend and adviser to Emperor Akbar, once said, "intelligent men of the past have considered Kabul and Kandahar as the twin gates of Hindustan, one (Kandahar) for the passage to Iran, and the other (Kabul) for that to Turan. By guarding these two places, Hindustan obtains peace from the raider and global traffic by these two routes can prosper." Indeed, the invasions of India in the 18th century, following the collapse of central Mughal authority, were merely a return to the long-standing historical norm of a highly unstable northwestern frontier and a jumble of weak, decentralized Indian states. To the historian, such cyclical trends are fascinating in themselves, but what are even more fascinating are the exceptions to the trends - the astonishing actions of powerful and ambitious men, which go against the currents of precedent and tradition. The Mughal campaign in Central Asia was precisely such an action, and it will be interesting if, or when, this particular history will repeat itself.
    ..............................................................................................................................................................


    References:

    Adle, Chahryar, et al. History of Civilizations of Central Asia. Vol. V. Paris: UNESCO, 2003.

    Khan, Inayat. Shah Jahan-nama.

    Lahori, Abdul Hamid. Badshahnama.

    Nicoll, Fergus. Shah Jahan. London: Haus, 2009.

    Sandhu, Gurcharn Singh. A Military History of Medieval India. New Delhi: Vision Books, 2003.

    Sarkar, Jadunath. History of Aurangzib. Vol. I. London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1920.
     
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  3. The Messiah

    The Messiah Bow Before Me! Elite Member

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    What would have been the present day repercussions if mughals had succeded ?

    Could we have laid claim to central asia chinese style ? :yey:
     
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  4. ashdoc

    ashdoc Senior Member Senior Member

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    the mughals were not able to cross the oxus ( amu darya ) river and enter true central asia .

    their army was outnumbered by the uzbeks who assembled no less than 120000 troops .

    had it not been for the bravery of prince aurangzeb ( who coolly sat down for namaz in the middle of battle ) the mughals would have suffered a disaster .
     
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  5. civfanatic

    civfanatic Retired Moderator

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    Should this article be placed on the front page? I am not sure if it is relevant enough for a forum based on modern defence discussion.
    @LurkerBaba @pmaitra @Singh @Yusuf @Virendra


    In theory, yes, we could. In practice, however, I doubt we would. Even now, we can lay claim to almost the whole Af-Pak region based on the extent of Mughal rule, but we have not done so, and probably never will.


    What is "true central asia"? The modern political boundaries of Afghanistan and Central Asian republics are artificial. Historically, the northern part of modern Afghanistan, including Balkh, has always been associated with Central Asia. Even today, the northern parts of Afghanistan are dominated by Central Asians (Uzbeks and Tajiks), not Pashtuns.

    [​IMG]
     
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  6. roma

    roma NRI in Europe Senior Member

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    (partial quote pls )
    i think having good relationships with them is today's concept - no more of that conquering as in the past - only ccp does that today and opens themselves to the reaction whihc may come decades later ( viz uk, scotland devolution ?)
     
  7. dhananjay1

    dhananjay1 Regular Member

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    There is a reason why not many India based kingdoms tried to annex parts of central Asia. Central asia had porous boundaries, little arable land, lack of water and a lot of warlike tribes. If one has fertile plains of India, there would be little incentive to lose money and men over central asia.
     
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  8. The Messiah

    The Messiah Bow Before Me! Elite Member

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    Why did persians invade central asia then before it overrun by turks ?
     
  9. pmaitra

    pmaitra Moderator Moderator

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    @civfanatic, it is a very well written article. While it is true it is not a modern event, it is still a military campaign and forms a part of the Indian military history. I do consider the Mughals as Indian rulers.
     
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  10. dhananjay1

    dhananjay1 Regular Member

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    Persians influence in central Asia was the result of cultural and tribal spread and not the result of any imperial campaign. A lot of it was before different Altaic tribes learned to use horses to their advantage.
     
  11. civfanatic

    civfanatic Retired Moderator

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    The Achaemenid Persians did lead imperial campaigns into Central Asia, and their rule extended up to the Syr Darya. I believe the Sassanids also led some campaigns into the region.

    In the case of the Persians, however, they had some economic incentives that Indians did not have. The Iranian plateau is not a very rich or fertile region, especially when compared to the Indian subcontinent. Even today, only about 12% of Iran's land is under cultivation, and less than 4% is irrigated; these numbers would have been even smaller in ancient times. Over one-third of Iran is barren wasteland (deserts, mountains, salt flats, etc.) while another one-third is semi-arid pastureland. In comparison, over one half of India's total land is arable, and India's alluvial plains are among the most fertile in the world. Given these facts, it should be of no surprise that the Persians were more willing than the Indians to pursue imperialism outside the geographic boundaries of their own region, including in Central Asia.
     
  12. Virendra

    Virendra Moderator Moderator

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    In the long term, it is mostly the nomadic guy who would go extra mile in search of greener pastures and he won't hesitate in taking big risks for the booty.
    The agrarian sedentary civilizations would do well as long as they're a) technically superior, b) have strong defensive infrastructure+tactics and c) closely monitor their periphery to keep un-infested.
    But the moment you remove those factors, your walls are waiting to collapse.

    Bears a testimony of what happens when the previously nomadic armies lose their styles, agility and begin fighting like the settled agrarians.
    The days of Babur were when Mughals were pushing into India, beating the "previously nomadic" Turks. A few centuries later in Balkh, did the history repeat itself ?

    Regards,
    Virendra
     
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  13. civfanatic

    civfanatic Retired Moderator

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    By article got published in the Historum Quarterly Journal of History. It is a compendium of online history articles written by forummers.

    Looks pretty cool, and the other articles are pretty top-class. You can download the journal here: HistorumQJH vol.2-No.3

    I'm on Page 62.
     
  14. The Messiah

    The Messiah Bow Before Me! Elite Member

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    :thumb: :thumb:
     
  15. Wilmerdon

    Wilmerdon New Member

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    We? The Moghuls weren't exactly "we"! They were just conquering their homeland which is Central Asia. If the Mughals had succeeded nothing would have happened. After the Mughals became weak what happened in Afghanistan or elsewhere would have happened.

    The Chinese were Chinese. The Mughals weren't Indians!!
     
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  16. Free Karma

    Free Karma Senior Member Senior Member

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    The later ones,post babur, were probably more Indian, due to hindu wives over generations.
     
  17. civfanatic

    civfanatic Retired Moderator

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    It's ironic that you mention this, because most of the current territorial claims of the Two Chinas (ROC has even more extravagant territorial claims than the PRC) are based on the extent of the Qing Dynasty, which was a not a native, Han Chinese dynasty, but of foreign, Manchu descent. Manchuria is a part of China today, but this is a comparatively modern development.

    The Manchus in fact had an apartheid policy with regards to the Han Chinese, aimed at preventing the "corruption" of their blood. Intermarriage was generally forbidden between the two groups. The Mughals and other Sultanates had no such policy with regards to the native Indians, and regularly intermarried with powerful Indian families.
     
  18. Virendra

    Virendra Moderator Moderator

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    Congratulations and thanks for sharing !!
     
  19. Virendra

    Virendra Moderator Moderator

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    But that was mostly one way. Native brides were taken in and Mughal/Muslim ones were not given out to natives.
     
  20. The Messiah

    The Messiah Bow Before Me! Elite Member

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    I read somewhere that mughals didn't marry there woman to pathans also because they considered them "rowdy" atleast earlier on ?
     
  21. civfanatic

    civfanatic Retired Moderator

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    There were some exceptions. Raja Chatrasal for example had a Muslim wife, and the Maratha Peshwa Baji Rao also had a Muslim wife named Mastani. I remember reading that Mastani's presence was viewed very negatively by Baji Rao's family, and such attitudes may be one reason why there weren't more of these kinds of marriages.


    They had a low opinion of Central Asians and Mongols as well, even though they themselves originated from Central Asia. The Mughals, who were more Persianized than the Persians, preferred to marry into Persian noble families. The most famous and influential Mughal empresses like Nur Jahan, Mumtaz Mahal, and Rabia-ud-Daurani were Persians.
     

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