Delhi at the start of 1857 was a picturesque town of decay and ruins less than half the size of Lucknow and a fraction of the size of Calcutta. Delhi smelled of rot and sandalwood and stench and rosewater. The British even had to create the Bridge of Boats across the river and complete the crucial canal to bring fresh water which Akbar started but no other Mughal bothered to complete.The city was segregated with strict apartheid to placate prickly religious and racial elite castes who religiously and ritually could not endure contact even upwind by degraded racial and religious inferiors. Jobs also created segregation. Westerners were expected to obey segregation and apartheid which was both religiously enforced by the Vedas of Varna Caste and sharia law as well as culture and unspoken understanding. The Westerners tended to cluster in districts around banks and mostly clustered outside the British built city walls on the ‘Ridge’ or high rise of land where they built bunglaows and georgian cottages and follies. Cricket greens and polo fields were in this area. The British rebuilt city wall was some 30 feet tall, plus a dry moat, and narrow bridges under bastions with artillery. In 1857 the British would ironically besiege their own rebuilt walls and artillery guns. Delhi reflected the irony of Mughal Rule which never invested in infrastructure other than forts and palaces and the British who brought infrastructure, metalic (tarmac) roads, steel bridges, canals, and offers to build sewers (rejected by the Delhiwallahs). Delhi knew that by 1818 it’s economy was bust and since 1818 the British brought money, income, and the scary promise of a railroad to Delhi in 1859 to link Delhi to Calcutta. Delhi was torn between nostalgia for the Mughals who ruined Delhi and the new rich who wanted Western modernization and global trade to kick-start Delhi.
The bungalows of the Ridge were smallish and low laying, draped with grass woven mats kept sodden with water to cool the dark interiors in summer and also deep cool rooms dug deep underground. The British tried to recreate the cool greenness of their home but Delhi was a hot and extreme climate, clammy and foggy in winter, and up to 120 in summer with monsoon rains for two months in between. The Ridge was burned on the first day of the arrival of the Rebels but the Rebels fatally failed to realize that the Ridge was the high ground and in any battle the winner usually plants his bony rump on the high ground. Too late, Mirza Mughal tried to haul cannon and soldiers to the Ridge as early battles with the British caused a rout — with royals leading the retreat back into Delhi. Meerut Moronas occupied the Ridge for a month just to keep the Rebels off it. Thus, John Nicholson’s Mobile Column and Siege Train could arrive to the high ground to start the siege of Delhi. The failure of the Rebels to take the Ridge for a month when they could would prove fatal.
Delhi was once an imperial Mughal city and routinely saw royal parades of royals on their elephants. In India the elephant was the ‘Rolls Royce’ . Poor Prince Dara was paraded through Delhi by Aurangzeb The Terrible before being executed, dressed in bloody rags, chained, humiliated, before being tortured and beheaded with the head sent to adore the prison cell of Shah Jahan ( of the Taj Mahal). Later Aurangzeb unleashed war elephants to stampede the people of Delhi when they protested the imposing of abusive jizya taxes and pilgrim taxes. During the siege corpses of elephants, camels, horses, donkeys, and people littered Delhi’s stinking dirt streets. By the end of the siege ordinary and elite Delhiwallahs alike were starving. Ironically, they were starving despite the fact the British deliberately refused to sever the Bridge of Boats and far Gates. Lawlessness, anarchy, and the black markets garrotted Delhi. Fields of food was carelessly looted by rebels and released criminals and then the black markets took control of the remaining farmers and roads while the bazaar markets were looted resulting in businessmen big and small going underground in a black economic zone’ controlled by the black market. What supplies of foodstuffs were not stolen by the Rebels were hoarded so war famine commenced despite the fact Delhi was never ever surrounded and cut off.
The Grand Mosque of Delhi was the imperial symbol of the Mughals. Aurangzeb used to burn down temples and haul idols and talismans here to cement them into the front steps so the Muslim faithful could defile them with their slippers coming and going to mosque. In 1857 the mosques were filled by munitions and Wahhabists waving green flags of jihad while enlisting the faithful to become jihad holy warriors. Suicide ghazi holy warriors used mosques as barracks. The mosques became the famous poem: Our mosques are our barracks, the domes of our mosques are our helmets, our minarets are our spears, our Korans are our shields, and the call of the faithful is the call to jihad. In this mosque the 100 plus who’s who of Wahahbists put their stamps to the official fatwa declaring 1857 Holy Jihad. After the war that fatwa was used to indict the same mullahs for sedition and treason as bankers and merchants (Hindu or Sikh) persecuted and tortured during the siege by Rebels and Wahahbists offered bids as if an auction to buy the Grand Mosque — to destroy it. Sikhs used it as a barracks and horse stables. Canning had to wait out the lust for vengeance before he could give the disputed place to Nawab Sikandar of Bhopal to save it.
Delhi’s merchants were mostly Hindu, Sikh, Jain, with the odds of sods of Europeans and Jews. The richest merchants and bankers on the high street bazaars were not Muslim. It came down to who was better at modern economics and the Muslims were handicapped by sharia law that forbade modern finance. During the siege of Delhi the Rebels attacked and looted the bazaars and then attacked and looted the merchants and bankers. Many were killed. Many were tortured. Some were threatened with being blown from cannon. Some were put in prison. The economy went underground in a black zone beyond the reach of the Rebels so later in the siege there was no food or medicine or luxuries or necessities to access except by yet more looting and confiscation and imperial degrees of seizure. It became a vicious cycle. The Rebels faced the Battle of Delhi without food, medicine, needful things, munitions, anything because they overindulged in looting at the start and then failed to restore law and order or balm over the terrors of the haves while have-nots ravaged the city. So the Rebels were increasingly seen as freedom fighters liberating people from their possessions and badmash raping and ravishing for lootmaar. Merchants and bankers and businessmen in the port cities of Madras, Bombay, and Calcutta heard about this and naturally were scared. Ditto the rich and elite. Ditto the middle class. So the Rebels were tarred by the infamy of poorbia behaving badly and the rebellion lost crucial support.
The ruins of a Delhi bank after 1857. Banks were a key invention of the West and started in Venice and Florence Italy during the Renaissance when Global Trade and the Financial Revolution procreated the Great Divergence. Italy was the richest nation in the world for a century and soared ahead of India and China and the Islamic countries. When the West brought the Financial Revolution to India Hindus, Sikhs, Jews of Bombay, and Jain eagerly joined and embraced modern banking, capital accumulation, corporations, consortiums, stocks and bonds, enterprise investments, global trade, and insurance. They soared ahead. Muslim businessmen were hamstrung by Sharia Law that forbade all of the above. A Muslim businessman spinning a series of small deals: one harvest, one ship, one shop, one deal, minus capital accumulation, without insurance against disaster, unable to ‘trust paper’ ie the concept of business entittes that trumped personal business on a hand shake basis, unable to exploit contracts (Sharia Law requires two witnesses to certify any business deal because no contract can stand up in court on it’s own merits) could not keep up with the Jones of Progress. So by 1857 the Muslims of Delhi were either economically stagnant, living on stipends from better times, or poor while Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Bengalis, Jewish, British, and Western business took over. There was huge economic resentment by Muslims. Likewise, the Brahmins of the Bengal Army were iliterate and poor. So two ex-Master Races and ex-Master Castes were now economically resentful and envious of uppity inferiors who were now their economic superiors. This led to a shattering free for all in the first week of Delhi being taken by the Rebels. Poor Delhiwallahs joined in as copycats. Anyone with money was targeted. For the rest of the ‘siege’ there were continuious reports of homes being smashed into after bazaars were smashed and banks were smashed. Muslims especially saw non-Muslim bankers and merchants and businessmen as parasites ripping off Muslims because of kafir interest. But the extent of the targeting — everyone with money who was not Muslim — and the viciousness of the attacks all bespoke of economic envy by have-nots who used to be the haves.
Delhi’s bazaars were attacked the first day and were continuiously attacked thereafter. There were later scenes of mobs of Delhiwallahs fighting each other when a beleaguered bazaar shop tried to reopen to sell perhaps 50 semi-rotten vegetables. At one point Mirza Mughal rode his elephant through the high streets of Delhi ordering the businesses to reopen and sell again or be blown from cannon. He clearly failed to understand the concept of economics. Bazaars went underground into a black economy. India is very good at this. Even today some people guesstimate that almost half of India’s economy is a black economy, hidden, not taxed, not regulated, not policed, secreted away to caches in Switzerland.
The Bridge of Boats was built by the British. It was a deliberate policy of John Nicholson to leave the bridge along with the outer gates uncut. He called it the ‘golden bridge’ after a Jewish combat policy of always allowing a way to escape for the enemy so the enemy won’t be forced to fight to the death. At no time was Delhi actually ‘besieged’ as in surrounded and cut off. Ironicially, the Rebels could have besieged and severed the crucial supply tether to the Loyalists on the Ridge who were besieged by the Rebels. They crucially failed to do so. Loyalists in Meerut (which never fell to the Rebels ) easily supplied the beleaguered Ridge with food and munitions and later a leisurely moving siege train of huge cannons and tons of munitions and the Rebels never seriously attempted to cut either. When John Nicholson arrived he quickly secured the Ridge and the countryside and took control but allowed the ‘Golden Bridge’ of escape. The Rebels of the Bengal Army, once almost 95,000 strong, melted away to 30,000 by the time of the actual battle. But Muslim jihadists made up the difference, another 30,000, and fanatic true believers do not believe in golden bridges of escape.
The ruins of Flagstaff Tower and a part of Delhi taken after the battle. The artillery battle before the actual battle leveled huge parts of Delhi which was mostly adobe and wood and so vulnerable to fire. But even before John Nicholson arrived Delhi was on fire. The Rebels started fires as they looted. The anarchy scared away police and fire departments . The Rebels never seriously attempted to restore law and order ,or stop fires, or clean up the corpses in the streets , or organize water brigades, or take control of the countryside, or organize feeding of the poor,or set up hospitals, or prepare for the arrival of the British. There was this general belief that on the anniversary of Plassey the British and everything Western would magically vanish, that Allah would provide, that the Persian Army would magically arrive, that the Russian Liaisons would arrive, that Britain would magically sink under the water like Atlantis, the British Navy would sink, and all of India would rally to the Rebel cause. So fatalistic, the Rebels did nothing but loot and party and squander time and gunpowder shooting off guns while yelling ‘Allah Akbar’ and waving green flags of jihad and attending powwows of hoity toity holies to prepare a fatwa declaring 1857 a Holy Jihad. “Allah willing”. They failed to take the human footsteps to make the miracle happen.
Kashmir Gate and the ruins along one city wall left by battle. The Rebels faced a siege unprepared. They squandered one of the larges supplies of munitions in the Punjab and faced famine even before the guns fell silent. They had already lost most of their mobile field artillery as well. Over half of the Bengal Army (the Hindu part) had deserted. Thousands of Delhiwallahs were fleeing across the Bridge of Boats, shoving guards who had kept them inside the city as de facto prisoners or human shields. Some Delhiwallahs were even attacking the Rebels in fury. But retreating out of Delhi to allow Delhi to surrender before the guns fall silent and the first forlorn hope raced through the breach (which meant a siege to the death and sacking and card blanche looting) was never seriously entertained despite the fact the British had spies in the Red Fort openly negotiating the surrender of the Royal Family. Retreat to allow Delhi to surrender was never entertained by the Rebels even if the Delhiwallahs were desperate to escape. Mirza Mughal tried to negotiate to surrender the city. The Red Queen of the Red Fort negotiated with the British to save herself and her son while asking the British to kill the other royal princes so her son would still be emperor (apparently assuming Zafar would be conveniently executed). Baqar who ran the Muslim newspaper negotiated to save his life while pleading that he tried to talk Zafar into surrendering Delhi to no avail. So why should he die? Key Wahhabists fled during the openly volleys of the guns. Delhi was thus destroyed like Troy.
From a garden of the Mughals to a ghost city of ruins. The Mughals loved to draw portraits of themselves planting gardens. But Delhi’s withered gardens did not bloom until 1818 when the British finished the canal to supply Delhi with crucial water. Delhi was turned into a garden of ruins and corpses as the various members of the Mughal Royal Family negotiated with Loyalist spies to save their own lives.
The Mughal Royal Family of Delhi. The Mughals spent between 1/3 to 1/2 of the national GNP on forts, palaces, gigantic tombs (despite the Muslim taboo against tombs), luxuries, gems, gold, silk, concubines, eunuches, slaves, drugs, wine, and decadence along with perpetual war to conquer all of India and render it Dar ul Islam: Land of Islam Triumphant. The Mughals imposed the 50% land taxes on peasants, the most regressive taxes in history, plus the jizya tax and pilgrim taxes for non Muslims to be allowed to worship at such holy places as the Muslims did not bother to destroy, and other assorted taxes plus ‘rites of humiliation’ to ‘feel subdued’ . By 1700 India was left all but bankrupt, suffering hypo inflation ( a bullock selling for 500% more than 50 years before), even the Great Trunk Road (Built by Buddhists before the Mughals) in ruins and choked by jungle, outlaws running amok, the Mughal port of Surat decayed, Wootz Steel vanishing, Indian Textiles tattered, the agriculture in a shambles, and war famines devastating the population. A biographer of Shah Jahan boasted the starving Hindu were grinding up bones to eat like flour and devouring their own children. Perhaps that was where the Muslims later got the idea for the rumor of bones in flour and sugar. By the death of Aurangzeb The Terrible things were even worse. But today Muslims say they were good insofar as they waged war to transform India into Dar ul Islam so that is all that matters. And Sharia Law is not obligated to feed starving non Muslims. The sole point is Islam. Is Islam conquering the world? Or at least India?
Delhi’s pastimes were many but usually segregated by caste, race, sex, religion, and income level. However, Polo was soon embraced by the British with a passion that crossed military lines and bonded the Loyalist Army. Cricket was also adopted by Indians and it also was shared across military lines. Holi became popular with everyone and Holi was considered a sort of ‘time of distress’ when caste and religious taboos could be crossed. But Wahhabists violently hated Holi along with cricket, polo, chess, kite flying, music, singing, dancing, and theater. One of the last fatwas that Bakat Khan ordered imposed on Delhi was the outlawing of music and kites.
Delhi Red Fort was the royal palace of the Mughals. It dated from the original rules of Delhi– Rajputs. Shah Jahan remodeled it and claimed he built it. Rajput decor can be seen all over it. The year he became emperor he entertain the ambassador of Persia in the Red Fort so unless he was an amazing builder indeed he inherited the fort which Islamic histories refer to as a Rajput fort captured in triumph by Islam. A great deal of the ancient fort was ruined by the siege and later more was demolished by Canning but the key historic parts were kept. The British had a history of preserving key historical buildings in India and restoring them. By 1857 most of the Mughal royal properties were semi ruined from decades of neglect. The solid silver ceilings and gem adored walls of the Red Fort had long ago been stripped and hocked.
Delhi’s Religions were many and diverse. There was the Jain who predated the Aryan Bhat Brahmins. There were the Lingayats who were Hindu reformers. There were the Sikhs who kept rebuilding their temples when the Muslims tore them down over and over and over. There were a few Buddhists despite the fact Muslims mostly exterminated the Buddhists. There were some Jews. The Jews of Bombay were a famously old colony and Jews were few but all over India. There were wild gurus like ‘Flower Sahib’ who were mystics. There were Sufi who were a heretic Muslim cult persecuted in Islamic countries but precariously allowed to flourish in India despite Wahhabi lusts to kill them. There were Christian missions now that the EIC was no longer legally allowed to prevent missionaries coming (and they tried to prevent missionaries believe or not!). There were Hindus of the Vishnu and Shiva variety. There were converts to and from major religions to other religions. Doctor Lal was a recent notorious convert from Hinduism to Christianity. But a lot of Christians converted to Islam. Gordon, an artilleryman, was a notorious convert to Islam who was now fanatic in his newly found religion as all converts tended to be. There were new cults and old cults and every sort of cult. Under the Mughals only mainstream Islam (Sunni) was allowed to worship openly. Since Pax Britannia there was freedom of religion (curtailing only negative impact on other religions) and people were worshiping openly and freely. But Wahhabists protested that freedom of religion was a threat to Islam — as they defined Islam. They said the British was a threat to Islam despite the fact the British gave every Muslim the complete freedom to worship the Five Pillars of Islam and allowed Muslims among themselves to use Sharia Law. So why did the Wahahbists say Islam was in danger? Because freedom of religion was not part of Sharia Law. Other religions enjoying freedom of religion was just plain wrong. Not forcing every non Muslim to submit to Islam and Sharia Law and Jizya Taxes and Pilgrim Taxes was just plain wrong. Islam did not dominate and rule. Islam by it’s own definition was suppose to dominate and rule. Muslims rule and they are not ruled., Muslims dominate and they are not dominated. So despite the freedom to enjoy the Five Pillars in peace and security and respect, the Wahahbists declared India to be Dar ul Harb: Land at War with Islam requiring Holy Jihad.
Chinese tourists to the Mughal Court recorded chatty memoirs and said they never saw such riches as Delhi’s Red Fort or such shocking poverty. Later, European gem merchants recorded the same thing. India always suffered from 1% having everything and 99% having next to nothing. India had one of the largest populations of extremely poor people since history was recorded. By 1500 India had one of the historically lowest rates of wages in the world while Britain had one of the highest sterling wage rates in the world. India had so many poor businessmen could grind them down because it was cheaper to employ poor with a few crude tools and human muscle power than invest in machines or technology. In Britain wages were so expensive (in comparison to most of the world that is) that it was cheaper to invest in labor saving technology. India’s desperate poor ate up it’s GNP. So while Britain’s GNP showed they were investing in better workers, India’s GNP show they were investing in more workers — who were eating up it’s GNP. India had a Malthus Population Poverty Trap. Today it still is. And a Malthus Trap is very real bad news indeed!
The ruins of Skinner’s Church. James Sikander Skinner was an amazing Anglo Indian son of a Scot and a Rajput princess. Trapped on a battlefield, wounded, dying, he prayed to any god to save him. He lived! Hurray! But which god saved him? James did not know so he built holy places for every god in Delhi. When he built the Christian church (he was not Christian) he chided the builder for mis-spelling the initials of his name on the altar cloth. In 1857 Skinners were immediately attacked and in Delhi the Skinner plaques were yanked off the Hindu temples and the mosque and destroyed. The Skinner Church was targeted relentlessly by Rebels. During the Battle of Delhi the Loyalists were cornered at the church but on the second day of battle broke out and successfully advanced into Delhi.
The Islamic Victory Tower was erected when Muslims first attacked and took Delhi from the Rajputs. They ordered temples destroyed and the stones used to erect the symbol of Islamic victory — built by Hindus for their own conquerors. After 1857 many victims of the war tried to buy the tower to destroy it. Canning insisted the British always preserved historically important places and refused to destroy it. This differed from Muslim triumph where historically important places were routinely destroyed to prove the victory of Islam.