In 1707, when Emperor Aurangzeb went to his grave, the Mughal empire began to crack into a hundred fractured pieces. It was the lure of the Deccan that drained this conqueror’s energies, putting him on a course of collision with his most threatening adversaries.
After all, the Deccan was a land that inspired wonder. Its treasures were legendary, and its kings magnificent.
It was a horizon of rousing adventure, attracting talent from beyond oceans. A traveler here might encounter bands of European snipers available for military hire or forbidding fortresses where African nobles scaled the heights of power. Diamonds and pearls lay heaped in the Deccan’s bazaars, while in its courts thrived Persians and Marathas, Portuguese and Georgians, presiding over a world of drama and betrayal. A thousand fortunes were made in the Deccan, drawing the formidable envy of generations of Mughal emperors.
Histories of the Deccan often begin with the story of Shivaji. But in this course, Shivaji appears only at the end. In 1630, when the Maratha noblewoman Jijabai brought forth the second of her two sons, little did she imagine that the boy would grow up to shatter forever the might of the Mughal empire. But the Deccan into which Shivaji arrived was already a fascinating place, populated by remarkable men and women who all claimed for themselves the esteem of posterity. In that very century, for instance, it had seen the daughter of an African slave become queen to a local potentate, cheerfully conspiring to murder a more favored Persian wife.
got a horse,
and all I get
is a tiny
A few decades later, in another corner of the plateau, an ill-fated Brahmin minister curried favor with Aurangzeb, delivering to that emperor cartloads of mangoes, while plotting covertly to thwart His Majesty’s imperial designs. The Deccan was that land where a Muslim prince warded off hysterical interventions by the orthodoxy when it was discovered that he exalted Hindu gods over the teachings of the Prophet. Saints and divines too solicited their share in this world of fortune, worshippers of Shiva descending every year upon a celebrated Muslim shrine.
There were splendid palaces with golden thrones and forbidding fortresses with thunderous guns. Fine horses bred in Iraq trotted along the Deccan’s roads, even as the region’s elite succumbed to the sartorial fancies of their friends in Iran. Travelers from lands as diverse as Burma and France descended upon the Deccan’s dusty plains, while its harems bewildered European doctors who encountered begums with skin as pale as their own.
The Deccan, to the world, was uniquely Indian; to India, however, it was a mirror of the world.
Join us to learn about the land that became the envy of the early modern world and the object of many an emperor’s doomed desire!