Marathas Did Not Care About Hindus, Mughals Did Not Care About Muslims — History Is More Nuanced Than These Stupid Binaries

Dheeraj DeeKay
6 min readMar 27, 2024

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It took the British around 100 years to fully conquer India. And by India, I mean British India consisting of Myanmar, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and present-day India. And in this, they were helped and aided by all sorts of Indian kingdoms and people. Rajputs and Marathas were major forces that helped the British conquer the most difficult of kingdoms. For instance, Tipu Sultan who defeated the British in two battles was defeated and killed by the British army in the fourth Anglo-Mysore war with the help of Marathas and Nizam of Hyderabad. Otherwise, the British couldn’t defeat Tipu who had by then defeated their general who had defeated Napoleon in battle. The last battle was full of ironies, I mean, ironical considering the politics of today. For instance, Maratha Peshwas, in whom today’s Hindutva-nationalists take pride were collaborating with the British, Scindias of Gwalior too supported the British while a Mughal fought against the British.

This is not to say one is nationalist and another anti-national. It’s utter stupidity to pit one historical figure against another on these lines. We must not forget how the consciousness of India being one nation did not exist during this time.

Northern Rajputs kept the Muslim invaders at bay initially and Iltutmish and Allauddin Khilji kept Genghis Khan and his Mongol hordes at bay as well. Even the Mughals kept the English at bay. Even the Vijayanagara Empire kept Bahamanis at bay from the south of India.

Everyone was trying to keep the other from their sphere of influence. The other here was not decided by their gods but rather based on how threatening it was perceived to the interests of the state in question. And alliances were formed based on one’s chances of immediate survival.

Alright, but why are the Mughals overglorified in the NCERT textbooks?

One, they aren’t ‘over’ glorified. The current politics portrays it as being so. NCERT textbooks have all kingdoms mentioned in chronology. But the Mughals do have a large influence on Indian life — all spheres of life, from the food we eat to the clothes we wear to the languages we speak. They contributed massively to medieval India. They had the biggest empire in India for the longest time and immensely influenced Indian culture.

Unlike the Brits, they didn’t send the ‘loot’ back home. India was their home. While there should be no whitewashing of early Islamic invaders it’s equally wrong to claim that Mughals are wrongfully talked about at length in textbooks.

NCERT has no hidden agenda in this case. However, thinking there exists an ulterior motive or agenda does indeed help in fuelling the propaganda of the current regime.

While the Mughals ruled for an immense length, it is not the sole reason for their “greatness”. The degree to which they influenced Indian culture and society is why they are considered great. Mughal architecture can be found all the way north in Kabul and also all the way down south in Hyderabad. What architectural legacy did the Marathas leave behind outside of their homeland? All this talk about architecture doesn’t even touch upon the impact they made on our language, the reason why we have so many Persian loanwords is because of the proliferation of Persian in India due to it being their administrative language.

Peshwa is a Persian word. Hindu is a Persian word too. Chaddar (veil), zameen (land), dil (heart), chehra (face), zaroori (necessary), dewana (passionate), khoob (good), rang (color), narangi (orange), safed (white), hamesha (always), shayad (perhaps), kharab (bad), khali (empty), gae (cow), murghi (hen), charbi (fat) and many many more are all Persian words.

But the Economy was not thriving as much as it was under the Indian Kings.

Source? By the end of Akbar’s reign, his empire’s population accounted for about 20% of the world’s population while contributing to 22% of the world’s economy thereby having an outsized impact on the world economy. Before I go further, here I’d like to emphasize that I am no fan of Aurangzeb and I don’t support most of his policies, especially towards the treatment of non-Islamic people of India. Near the end of Aurangzeb’s reign, his empire was the most populous in the world and had the highest GDP, surpassing the Qing dynasty in China in both metrics.

A lot of nuance is lost by thinking of empires and monarchs as monolithic entities. No empire has a monopoly on virtue. Our discussions about the empires of the past should be a lot more detailed, instead of putting down an empire we dislike to make the one we favour look better, we should talk about both their atrocities and their achievements in the context of their time.

Someone can correct me on this but NCERT books don’t talk about the Maratha invasion of Bengal and the absolute brutality of these attacks.

In the 10 years that they plundered Bengal, their effect was devastating, causing great human hardship as well as economic deprivation. Contemporary Dutch sources believed that the Bargis killed 4 lakh Bengalis and a great many merchants in western Bengal, writes historian PJ Marshal, “were permanently crippled by losses and extractions”.

In the Maharashtra Purana, a poem in Bengali written by Gangaram, the poet describes the destruction caused by the raiders in great detail:

This time none escaped,
Brahmanas, and Vaisnavas, Sannyasis, and householders,
all had the same fate, and cows were massacred along with men.

So great was the terror of the Bargi that, in a Gabbar-esque twist, lullabies were composed in which mothers would use the fear of a Maratha raid to get their children to go to sleep. These poems are popular amongst Bengalis even today. One of them went something like this:

Chhele ghumalo, paada judaalo bargi elo deshe
Bulbulite dhaan kheyechhe, khaajnaa debo kishe?
Dhaan phurolo, paan phurolo, khaajnaar opay ki?
Aar kotaa din shobur koro, roshoon boonechhi

A very inelegant translation:

When the children fall asleep, silence sets in, the Bargis come to our country
Birds have eaten the grain, how shall I pay the tax (to the Bargi)?
All our food and drink is over, how shall I pay the tax?
Wait for a few days, I have sown garlic.

The above is from this column in scroll.in which further reads and this is important to remember.

Of course, as Aakar Patel points out in his column, this history of the Marathas is usually never given popular currency. The Marathas are often portrayed as a proto-national force, acting as agents of either India or Hindu nationalism. This is a common tendency and modern nations often construct myths where they extend themselves back into time. Many Pakistanis imagine that its Islamic nationalism existed during the time of Qutb-ud-din Aibak and many Indians think that a Hindu nationalism was furthered by the Marathas looking to set up a — to use Vinayak Savarkar’s term — “Hindu Pad Padshahi”.

Ironically, the very phrase “Hindu Pad Padshahi” is taken entirely from the Persian language, showing how seamless the transition was from the so-called Muslim Deccan sultanates and the Mughals to the so-called Hindu Marathas. And, of course, such a simplistic view of history must also leave out pillaging bands of Marathas attacking a predominantly “Hindu” West Bengal even as a “Muslim” Nawab struggles to push them out. Today’s India is so caught up with the binaries of “Hindu” and “Muslim” that it tends to see the past in those terms as well. But the past is a different country.

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Dheeraj DeeKay

I Listen. I Speak. I Write. I Do. And That’s Why I Am. Storyteller at large! Oh yeah, also a Programmer, Full Stack Developer when at desk.