Islamic rulers and Indic big merchants – Partnerships and Collaborations

This is part 2 of the series on Indic Mercantile collaborations. Here is part 1 of the series.

The Muslim regime in India was a colonial structure and therefore, naturally exploitative of the indigenous populace. The principal dynasties all arrived from well outside India:  1) Sindh was conquered by the Arabs in the eighth century; 2) Turkoscri-Afghan dynasties ruled large parts of India, starting from the late ninth to the sixteenth centuries; 3) subsequently, they were replaced by the Central Asian Moghul dynasty, which continued ruling large parts of India along with its tributaries up to the mid nineteenth century.  As an evidence of the colonial characteristic of the Muslim regimes, we note that roughly 70 to 80 percent of the mansabdars employed by the Mughals and ranked 500 dhat or above were Muslims and, at least during the reign of Aurangzeb, nearly 50% of the total number of Mughal nobles ranked thousand or about were foreigners or descendants of foreigners. As per the figures provided in the Padshahnama in 1647-48, 23.3% of the mansabdars over 500 dhat were Turanis and 28.4% were from Iran. pp. 18-19, [2]. 

Such long durations of colonisation would not have been possible without large scale internal collaboration.  As Karen Leonard articulates, ``A ruler's authority was strongest where the political order was closely interwoven with the cosmic, religious, and cultural order, that is, where political legitimacy was based on the maintenance of that traditional order.  In Mughal India, with a ruling class which was largely Muslim and initially drawn from outside, economic and political alliances were extremely important to maintenance of the state.’’ [9]. Note that the statement applies for any colonial regime, which is not rooted in the culture of the land, and therefore includes almost the entire Muslim regime (almost none of the major sovereigns or their tributaries were even converted Muslims of Indian origin, Bengal Nawab Murshid Quli Khan whom we cite below was born a Brahmin in the Deccan, but was raised in Iran, pp. 399-400, [4]).  In other words, a colonial regime cannot last long unless it allies with internal powerful socio-economic groups. 

The wealthy and influential Indic mercantile groups constituted as one of the allies of the Muslim rulers. It is implicit in this statement that the alliance would involve the top layer of the mercantile communities, as the lower layers, like the owners of the neighbourhood grocery stores had very little say. The alliance involved the following broad services provided by the Indic merchants: a) Funding the campaigns of the invaders against native kingdoms via loans and contributions b) Enabling the functioning of the Islamic state by funding its rulers and its nobility and managing its finances c) Enabling slavery of Indics and financing slave trade d) Intelligence gathering for the invaders and undermining public morale against them e) Negotiating on behalf of the invaders with others.  We denote the above as collusions or collaborations. We will point out other context-specific collaborations as we proceed further in the series.

In this article, we trace the historical role of the transnational and domestic traders in enabling the invaders, dwelling on a), b) and d) here. We will elaborate on e) when we discuss specific collusions of individual mercantile communities.   In general, from the first Arab invaders in Sindh, through the Delhi sultanate, and the Mughals to the post-Mughal Muslim invaders and kingdoms like Bengal Nawabs, Pindaris, Ahmad Shah Abdali, Nizams of Hyderabad, the Islamists like the Muslim league, the Indic big businesses have served as a fifth column for the invaders and Islamists, funded their campaigns and managed their finances. Relatively fewer evidences have survived from the periods of the Arab invasion of Sindh and the Delhi Sultanate, evidence becomes substantive from the days of Akbar.

Consolidating their rule in India with the services provided by the leading Indic merchants, the Muslim rulers perpetrated atrocious atrocities on the indigenous Indics, including economic exploitation of the Indic underclass, institutionalized slavery, forcible and incentivized conversions to Islam and temple destructions. While the bulk of the guilt for the atrocities lies on the perpetrating rulers, it must be emphasised that they could not have perpetrated them effectively without the collusion of the big business classes. This in turn renders the involved Indic merchants as accomplices to the same atrocities. We will describe these atrocities in the next few articles, which is also where we will dwell on c). We naturally observe that the Indic merchants were largely exempted from the atrocities, until the respective states turned significant Muslim majority, which means there were no Indic commons left to exploit.

Section A: Enabling the Arab invaders in Sindh

The first foothold that Islamic invaders obtained on Indian soil was through the Arab conquest of Sindh in the eighth century. We show that the conquest was enabled through mercantile influence.   It is related in Chachnamah [31], that the Buddhists of Nerun went to the Islamic invaders out of fear and offered submission for safety of their persons and property.  Chachnamah narrates that, `` It is related on the authority of Abdurrahmán son of Abdríh, that when Bazíl [an Arab invader of Sindh ] was killed, the people of Nerún became restless with the fear that the Arab army, bound as it was to take revenge, would, when passing by Nerún, swoop down on them and destroy them. At that time a Samani was the governor of Nerún. (The Samani was frightened) for he sent men in his confidence to Hajjáj to seek his pardon for what had happened, and he fixed a tribute on himself, and undertook to send it regularly. Hajjáj, the governor of the Khalífah sent a letter of pardon, and cheered him with solemn promises.” [31]. 

Neither the Samani nor the people of Nerun supposedly restless with fear were lay Buddhists, since:  a) they knew who the invaders were and their conquests. b) They were sufficiently well received in the Arab courts that they could send a letter to Ibn Hajjaj, the Arab Governor of Persia, and receive a favourable hearing from him.  In fact, the above indicates that they were most likely transnational traders, as the Buddhists were often wont to be. Buddhism itself spread through trade routes and Buddhism’s association with transnational trade is ancient. p. 26, [32]. Many Buddhist Viharas along the Silk route doubled as trade stations with minting facilities available in them, and Buddhism was so closely tied to transnational trade that Buddha is often depicted as `Mahasarthavaha’ (great caravan leader), with famous stories about Buddha rescuing merchants in distress finding expression in both Buddhist literature and art. pp. 31-33, [32].  Many Buddhist symbols were created using low volume/high value goods [the seven gems, for example], usually available only via long distance trade, highlighting their degree of intertwining. p. 26, [32]. Wealthy traders often served as heads of religious sects in Buddhism and Jainism, eg, wealthy traders like Shantidas Jhaveri and the Jagat Seths were also heads of Oswal Jain sects p. 247, [6], [30].   Thus, the Buddhists who went to offer submission to Ibn Hajjaj were most likely Buddhist long distance traders. Note that earlier Buddhists cozied up to invaders to protect their trade networks and routes, as their behaviour towards the Greek invader, Menander, indicates in Milindapanha.  p. 26, [32]. 

Further, when the Arabs had invaded, the local Buddhist religious gentry again played a treacherous role.  The Chachnamah again relates, ``The Samaní, who was the ruler of the place and headman of the people, had gone to Dáhar, and Muhammad Kásim became very anxious owing to the paucity of provisions for the army, especially of forage for animals. But, after 5 or 6 days, when the Samaní returned, he sent two lead­ing men with a letter from Hajjáj. He also sent provi­sions for men and horses to the Arab camp. Through those two men, he sent verbal messages to the Arab General, saying:—`I myself and all my men are subjects of the Khalífah, and we hold this place subject to the command and in accordance with the terms of the letter of Hajjáj. In fact we owe our permanent position to his help and patronage and encouragement, but as I was absent, the people became afraid and closed the gates.’  Then the Samaní opened the gates of the fort, and the natives began to make bargains and have dealings with the soldiers. Muhammad Kásim was thereupon so much pleased that he wrote a letter to Hajjáj, acknow­ledging, with thanks, the services rendered by the Samaní and informing him of the faithfulness and friendship of the people of Nerún.’’ [31].  Not content with directly collaborating with the invaders, the Buddhists also tried to undermine the morale of their fellow countrymen, encouraging them to commit treason, as the Chachnamah narrates, ``When Muhammad Kásim had completely settled the affairs at Nerún, he prepared to go to Síwistán, and he, accompanied by the Samaní, started for that place. He travelled, stage by stage, till he arrived at a town called Maój, about 30 leagues from Nerún.  In that town, there was a Samaní, who was a chief among the people. The ruler of that fortified town was a cousin of Dáhar Chach, by name Bachehrá son of Chandar. On the approach of the Arabs, the Samaní party assembled, and sent a message to Bachehrá, saying:—“We people are a priestly class (Násiks), our religion is peace and our creed is good will (to all). According to our faith, fighting and slaughtering are not allowable. We will never be in favour of shedding blood. You are sitting quite safe in a lofty palace; we are afraid that this horde will come and, taking us to be your followers and dependents, will deprive us of our life and property. We have come to know that Amír Hajjáj has, under the order of the Khalífah, instructed them to grant pardon to those who ask for it. So when an opportunity offers, and when we consider it expedient, we shall enter into a solemn treaty and binding covenant with them. The Arabs are said to be faithful to their word. Whatever they say they act up to and do not deviate from.” Bachehrá refused to accept this advice, and paid no attention to what they said.’’ [31].  When they found their countrymen refusing to join them in treason, the Buddhist religious gentry perpetrated yet more treason, as the Chachnamah relates, ``Muhammad Kásim ordered the battering rams to be put in working order, and the fight then commenced. The Samaní party reprimanded Bachehrá and forbade him to fight, saying:—“This army is very strong and powerful; you cannot stand against them. We do not wish that, through your obstinacy, our life and property should be endangered.” As he still rejected their counsel, the Samaní clique sent a message to Muhammad Kásim, telling him: “All the people, whether agriculturists, artisans, merchants or other common folk, have left Bachehrá's side and do not (now) acknowledge allegiance to him, and Bachehrá has not sufficient men and materials of war, and can never stand against you in an open field, or in a struggle with you.” On receiving this message, the army of Islám became over-zealous, and Muhammad Kásim ordered the assault to be continued steadily night and day.’’  [31]. In return for the repeated treason of the Buddhists, the Arab invaders gave him a robe of honour [31].  

Subsequent to the Islamic conquest of Sindh and other parts of the Silk Road, the Buddhists rapidly converted, and the Viharas stopped to function. For example prominent Buddhist traders and nobles along the Silk Road including the Barmakids converted quickly to Islam and served the Abbasid Caliphate [12]. The trans-national trade however continued. This tells us that the Buddhist religious gentry was seeking to preserve their trade interests, and not their religion, through their collusion with the Muslim invaders. 


Section B: Enabling the Delhi Sultanate

During the era of the Delhi Sultanate,   Indian Merchant money-lenders, most of whom were Hindu, maintained an important role in the financial affairs of the Delhi sultanate p.  198, [2]. In the early 14th century Zia Al Din Barani described the Multani merchants (who were mostly Khatris and other Hindus pp. 106, 107, [2]) as important financiers and trans-regional commercial agents for the Delhi Sultanate p. 98 [2] The Delhi Sultans valued them as a convenient reserve of capital in times of need, among other things p-36, [24].  Hindu merchants also heavily financed the Muslim nobility during this time. Barani has written: "The maliks and the khans and the nobles of those days were constantly in debt, owing to their excessive generosity, expenditures, and beneficence. Except in their public halls no gold or silver could be found, and they had no savings on account of their excessive liberality. The wealth and riches of the Multani merchants and the shahs [money lenders] were from the interest realized from the old maliks and nobles of Delhi, who borrowed money from them to the maximum limit, and repaid their debts along with additional gifts from their [lands]. Whenever a malik or a khan held a banquet and invited notables, his agents would rush to the Multanis and shahs, sign documents, and borrow money with interest." p.109, [29]. As Ashraf writes “A whole of class of people from both communities [Multanis and Gujarati Banias] began to thrive on the business of lending money. These Sahus and mahajans as money lenders and bankers were called were extremely popular with all the upper classes whose extravagance and constant demand for money were proverbial”p.140 [36]

Ala ud Din Khilji, who taxed the (then mostly Hindu) peasants half their produce and was known for his religious bigotry, extended to the wealthy (mostly Hindu) Multani merchants two  million Tanga (the currency of the time) from his treasury to subsidize their trade in textiles throughout the Sultanate  p.  98, [2]. The question that remains is why he would be so generous to a particular section of Hindus, given his deep contempt for the rest. Obviously he trusted them, but why? Were they offering additional services that have escaped documentation?   They were deep into trans-national trade, and the routes passed through the territories controlled by the Turko-Afghans, namely the Ghoris, whose incursions into India led to the Delhi Sultanate. Were they offering services to the rulers of these regions to allow the infidels like them to continue with their trades? It is well-known that the invaders had close knowledge of Indian geography, deployments and the strengths and the weaknesses of the Hindu rulers they defeated. Some clues emerge centuries later. There is documentary evidence that the British rulers of India were using the trans-national  traders from Shikharpur of Sindh  to provide them intelligence about Central Asia in the days of the great game with Russia pp. 218-219, [20]. More clues emerge from Marwari history. Taknet has written:  "When the Marwaris settled in Assam they found it more profitable to work with the British. The British traders trusted them and utilized their services in many ways, and conferred upon them the title of ' secret intelligence'. ‘’ p. 69, [1] It stands to reason that the practice of employing transnational or newly settling traders, as agents for spying on the local populace or rulers, did not start with the British, it was a long standing tradition that cemented the Muslim-Indic mercantile alliance at the inception of the Muslim regime.

Section C: Enabling the Mughal rulers

Let us now examine what the Indic merchants were bringing to the table for their alliance with the Mughals. In words of Karen Leonard, `` … the Mughals depended upon urban merchants and bankers for the provision of goods and commodities and cash, the latter for direct spending and payment for services.  Given the geographic scope of the Mughal Empire, the decentralized military forces and their employment in expansionist ventures, these financial resources had to be accessible and flexible.  Since there was a monetized market economy and a highly developed system of credit in Mughal India, conditions of political stability encouraged the alliance of the Mughals and indigenous bankers and ensured a continuous flow of trade goods and notes of credit … The rulers had a constant need to mobilize extensive resources for military expansion.’’ [9]. Thus they depended critically on the banking firms for short term loans.  Particularly crucial were the bankers' roles as state treasurers.  Specific banking firms were frequently appointed by a ruler to provide cash and credit for the payment of salaries and other expenses on a regular basis.  The credit was also indispensable for the financing of the construction of public edifices in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries-mosques, tombs, pleasure gardens, which was a major capital expenditure by the Mughal state [9].  All these financial operations were extremely profitable ventures, both economically and politically for the merchants.  As a result, indigenous banking firms became indispensable allies of the Mughal state [9]. We list a few eminent examples next.

During the Mughal regime, shortly after the Amber state surrendered its sovereignty to Akbar, its Rajput prince, Man Singh, led the Mughal military expedition, in the year 1564 AD, to bring Bengal, Bihar and Odisha under Mughal control.  These areas were, then, ruled by Muslim sultans whose power was on the wane.  Hindu tributaries like Pratapaditya of Jessore were asserting themselves and were approaching positions of strength that could have potentially challenged and replaced the Muslim Sultans.  Man Singh led Mughal expeditions that subjugated Pratapaditya and some other Hindu rebel kings pp. 256-257, [38].  His expedition into eastern India turned out to be hugely beneficial for the merchants of his region.  Multiple researchers have informed us that the Marwari merchants migrated from Rajputana to the rest of northern India, including Bengal, Bihar, and Odisha, in the trail of the Mughal-Rajput expeditions into these regions, starting with Man Singh but continuing well beyond  pp. 5-6, [5], p. 108, [2] , p. 24, p. 468,  [1],    p. 156, [15], [30]. An important reason why the Marwari traders followed the Mughal-Rajput armies and their rulers is the following.  They traditionally acted as the bankers of the Rajput princes, and subsequently, of the Mughal rulers as they came in closer contact with the Mughals through the Rajput intermediaries.  Part of the banking transactions involved funding of military feuds. pp. 14-15, [5].  Whenever the military expeditions succeeded, they could recover the amount lent with substantial interest, and also secure, political patronage of the conquerors to establish their business houses in the conquered areas. Thus, they accompanied Mughal-Rajput armies to all regions they conquered.  Once ensconced in the newly conquered territories, they continued to fund Mughal military expeditions that consolidated the conquest, eg, p. 157, [15]

The extraordinary strong participation of Khatris in trade seems to have coincided with the rise and growth of Mughal power in India p. 107, [2]. Wealthy Khatri communities emerged in Bengal right after the Mughal conquest. Fray Sebastiao Manrique, has written about Dhaka in 1640 that, ``Many strange Nations, resort to this city on account of its vast trade and commerce in a great variety of commodities, which are produced in profusion in the rich and fertile land of the region. These have raised the city to an eminence of wealth which is actually stupefying, especially when one sees and considers the large quantities of money which lie principally in the houses of the Cataris (Khatris), in such quantities indeed that,  being difficult to count, it is usual commonly to be weighed.’’ p. 156, [15].  Many Khatris turned out to be influential bankers in the courts of the Bengal Nawabs. Nick Robins mentions the prominent roles played by Amirchand (Umichand) in Bengal politics during the period of the Bengal Nawabs.  ``Indeed Asian trading houses such as those headed by Jagat Seth (originally from Nagaur at the edge of Marwar and Shekhawati) and Amirchand (Umichand), were often far richer and better connected than the Company.’’ p. 70, [7] Robins described Amirchand as follows:  ``Originally from Agra, Amirchand was another of Bengal’s leading merchant princes, controlling much of the trade in opium and saltpetre.  He was also well known to the company, working as one of its dadni merchants from the early 1730s.’’  pp. 70-71, [7] Amir Chand was a Sikh Khatri p. 133, [21]. Amirchand became so powerful that he managed one third of the East India Company’s annual investment during the regime of the Bengal Nawabs. p. 71, [7].  In the 1770s, Hazari Mal, Omichand's brother-in-law, served as the East India Company's official banker p. 133, [21]. The founder of the Burdwan Raj family was a Hindu Khatri Kapur of Kotli in Lahore, Sangram Rai, who came to Bengal in the sixteenth century (exactly the period of Mughal invasion of Bengal), settled in a village near the town of burdwan, and devoted himself to commerce and money lending. His descendant Abu Rai was a merchant who supplied the Mughal troops with provisions at a critical time. In return, he was appointed Chaudhuri and Kotwal of Rakhabi bazar in the town. Subsequently, his descendants came to own pargana Burdwan, pargana Senpahari and a few other mahals. In 1689 Aurangzeb's firman honored   Abu Ray's great-grandson Krishnaram and confirmed him in the titles of Chaudhuri and Zamindar of the pargana of Burdwan. The family ruled for several subsequent generations pp. 130-131, 133-134, [21], pp. 62, 199, 255, [38].  So, very likely, Khatri financiers followed the Mughal armies to Bengal, whose conquests they funded as well; very likely both Sangram Rai and Abu Rai were among them.

The wealthiest merchants of Gujarat were Jains, Hindus or Muslims, the Hindus and Jains outranked the Muslims p. 25, [27] There were numerous Jain millionaires in Gujarat in the 16th century p. 27, [27]. In Surat, in the early 17th century, some of the richest merchants were Muslims, but the Hindus and Jains were far superior in number p. 103, [27]. Gujarat’s merchants of all hues regularly provided both capital and loans to Sultans and nobles throughout the Muslim rule p. 128, [27] Many nobles, as also the Sultan, and the emperor and their families, traded overseas in the ships of the merchants p. 128, [27] During the reign of Mughal emperors Jahangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb, Shantidas Jhaveri, a Jain, was the court jeweller and financier, who catered to the needs of the luxurious court at Agra and Delhi.   He had immense resources as a financier p. 129, [28]. During the war of succession at the end of Shah Jahan’s rule, the merchants of Surat lent Rs. 5, 00,000 to his youngest son, Murad Baksh, who was the subedar of Gujarat. Virji Vorah and another merchant advanced this sum to him on behalf of all other merchants’ p. 126-127, [27].  Murad Baksh also obtained a loan of Rs. 5000000, from the merchants of Ahmedabad, particularly, 5.5 lakhs from the sons and brothers of Shantidas Jhaveri p. 130, [28]. Some sources mention that Murad Baksh had extorted the above amount in Ahmedabad pp. 126-127, [27]. It is unclear if the merchants later reported a voluntary loan as extortion, as, soon after, Murad baksh lost in the battle of succession. Any event, Murad Baksh, had issued a firman, guaranteeing the repayment of the loan before his low p. 130, [28]. And when Aurangzeb captured the throne of Delhi after getting Murad killed, he accepted responsibility for the latter’s debts. In a firman, Aurangzeb promised Shantidas that he would repay the loan p. 126-127, [27]. Aurangzeb’s acceptance reveals that there existed a long tradition of merchants of Gujarat lending to Mughals. Incidentally, leading entrepreneur during the British times,  Kasturbhai Lalbhai, was a direct descendant of Shantidas Jhaveri p. 309, [19], Lalbhai was also an early sponsor of Gandhi p. 325, [19]. 

Jain sources mention that during the medieval times a large number of Jains served as moneylenders, advancing huge sums to traders as well as to rulers and officers of the state [30]. To understand where these collusions occurred, we note that by the end of the seventeenth century, they had ``a strong presence in Agra, the entrepot of north Indian trade. Besides, they were well-represented in two other important trade marts of north India, Lahore and Multan. One would not be wrong in assuming that from Lahore and Multan, the Jains took part in India's overland trade with Afghanistan, Iran and trans-Oxus region of Central Asia. From these places sometimes they moved on to the Russian empire.’’ [30]

The house of Jagat Seths, whose founder moved from Nagaur at the edge between Marwar and Shekhawati to Patna, and then to Dhaka in the seventeenth century, extended large loans to the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb.  Aurangzeb had personally honored their head, ManikChand, in acknowledgement. pp. I-xiii, 28-29, [6], [9]. 

Section D: Enabling the Post-Mughal Muslim Kingdoms

The Indic merchants continued to enable post-Mughal Muslim invaders, which spans the descendants of Aurangzeb, Bengal Nawabs, Ahmad Shah Abdali, Pindaris and the Nizams of Hyderabads.  

  • The house of Jagat Seths enjoyed a privileged relation with the descendants of Aurangzeb and the Bengal Nawabs for generations, starting from Murshid Quli Khan.  pp. I-xiii, 28-29, [6]. Manikchand, the leader of this house became a favourite of Murshid Quli Khan, while the latter was the Dewan of Bengal. Manik Chand accompanied Murshid Quli Khan when as deputy of the Subedar of Bengal, he transferred his headquarters to Makshudabad (to be renamed as Murshidabad); soon after Murshid Quli Khan became the Subedar of Bengal.    He was the right hand man of the Nawab [Murshid Quli] in all his financial reforms and in his private affairs pp. 28-29, [6]. His family served as court bankers and financiers for the Nawabs of Bengal for several generations.   After Manikchand’s death in 1714, his nephew Fatehchand succeeded him.  In 1717, Murshid Quli Khan placed Fatehchand in charge of his mint at Murshidabad.  pp. I-xiii, [6].  He was the treasurer of the government and the private hoards of the Nawab were deposited with him. pp. 28-29, [6].   He would regularly provide the Nawab’s government enormous sums of money. All government collections including the land revenue remitted by zamindars and amils, proceeded through the house of Jagat Seth.  The house was also entrusted the task of remitting the annual tribute to Delhi.  It was therefore, functioning as the State Bank of Bengal pp. I-xiii, [6]. Enabled by the above services, Murshid Quli Khan killed the Hindu zamindar of Rajshahi when he became powerful enough to defy his authority pp. 257-258, [38]. Murshid Quli also crushed the last independent Hindu ruler in Bengal, Sita Ram Roy of Bhusna, captured him and his entire family, destroyed his capital (Bankim Chandra Chatterjee later wrote a novel on Sitaram Roy) p. 172, [3]. He also destroyed many temples and forcibly converted many Hindu zamindars in Bengal. It was commonly said at the Nawab’s durbar, including by other eminent members such as Haji Ahmed, Alivardi’s brother, ``Fatehchand’s estate was deemed as the king’s treasure.’’ p. 64, [6]. This would in part be because the house regularly funded the military expeditions of the Bengal Nawabs. As one example, when the Marathas attacked Bengal, the then head of the house offered to fund Alivardi Khan to the tune of Rs. 60 lakhs. p. 44, [13].  The house enjoyed great prestige and exerted immense influence in the Mughal court up to 1767.  It was the financial assistance of Manikchand that enabled Mughal prince, Farrukh-siyar, to win in the battle of succession and become the Mughal emperor. p. 65, [1]. Farrukh-siyar also obtained a loan of 1 crore of rupees on the security of the empire from Jagat Seths kothi in Benares, as also other leading bankers of Benares  p. 26, [6]. Itb was Farrukh-siyar who tortured rebel Banda Bahadur and his followers to death as they refused to accept Islam to atone for their rebellion.
  • It is well-known that during his military expeditions in India, Ahmed Shah Abdali destroyed temples, plundered, raped, forcibly converted, enslaved the Hindus and Sikhs of Punjab, Delhi, Mathura and Brindaban (the latter being among the holiest shrines of the Hindus). pp. 142-144, [8] Afghan history tells us who funded his expeditions: ``Afghanistan's external trade was dominated by Hindus, Sikhs, Jews and Armenians. However with the decline of overland trade these communities diversified their professions. The Hindus and Sikhs, aside from trade, monopolized banking, goldsmithing and horticulture. Bankers from these communities rose to prominence in the Durrani Empire [18th century]. Originally they were [mostly Hindu] merchants from Shikarpoor [Sind] who had financed several of Ahmad Shah's [Ahmad Shah Abdali] military campaigns [bulk of these were in India]. In return they had received a percentage of the captured booty. In some instances this booty was left under their management. They, in turn, often sold the booty and put the money for the loot back into circulation. The Hindu merchants also provided the Durranis and other members of the nobility with necessary supplies as well as luxury items. These merchants sometimes made loans not only to the government but also to other officials, who at times committed the entire revenues of their provinces as collateral. Many of the Hindus and Sikhs also found employment with the state as treasurers, scribes, bookkeepers and secretaries. Gradually members of these communities amassed much capital and gained political power. G Forster notes that Timur Shah's [Ahmad Shah’s successor] income was managed by such merchants who were specially protected by the government. p 24 [22].  G. Forster was an Englishman who had travelled from Bengal to England through the northern part of India, Afghanistan and Persia, and into Russia, by the Caspian Sea. His travel accounts were published in 1798 in London p 48 [22] Russian history has recorded the same pp. 127-128, [23]. Specifically, Gankovsky has noted that Indian merchants were in charge of many aspects of the financial administration of Durrani Afghanistan: "they were also in charge of deliveries for the [Afghan] army and purchased, sold and resold military booty" p. 162, [2].  Claude Markovitz has similarly noted, citing  a Pashto source,  ``merchants from Shikarpur of Sindh  financed several of Ahmed Shah's military campaigns into the Punjab and Northern India and in payment received part of the loot. Consequently Hindus and Sikhs played a dominant role in the trade and finance of Afghanistan in the 19th and part of the 20th century. ‘’ p. 61, [20] so, who were these merchants of Shikarpur? Claude Markovitz writes, ``Shikarpur, as already mentioned, was a kind of bania 'Melting Pot', where merchants  from diverse regional and ethnic backgrounds congregated in the second half of the eighteenth Century to take advantage of opportunities offered by the rise of Durrani power. The Punjabi ethnic element was an important component of the Shikarpuri Mosaic, but, by the late 19th century, most merchants of Punjabi origin had adopted the Sindhi language and had, through intermarriage, become part of the so-called Bhaiband ‘caste’ [a Hindu caste group]. The only recognizable Punjabi elements were the Khatris, who accounted for only a small part of the Shikarpuri merchant population. They interacted and intermarried with members of the other two merchant castes of the town, the Bhaibands and the Bhatias. The same appears to have been true of Marwari merchants, whose origins are identifiable through onomastics, but who did not survive as a separate caste group in Shikarpur at the end of the 19th century.’’  p. 250, [20]. So, they were Hindus and Sikhs from different communities, like Bhatia, Khatri, Marwari, other Punjabi and Sindhi groups. The financial relations between the Hindu merchants and Muslim rulers of Afghanistan continued up to at least the middle of the nineteenth century. In the mid 1830s the Hindu merchants lend to the Afghan leader Dost Muhammad For his military p. 160 [2] In  Bukhara, during the medieval period,  the Hindu money lenders frequently lent to the soldiers in the Amir's Army p. 218, [2]

The Pindaris, usually of Rohilla and Pathan origin, were notorious freebooters, who worked under the nominal aegis of the Maratha chieftains, particularly Scindia, Holkar and Bhonsle.  Besides sharing the loot, the Pindaris paid a tax called `Palpatti’ (permission to loot) to the Maratha chieftains for the right to plunder enemy territory staying in Maratha territory as a base. pp. 6-7, [33]. They plundered territories beyond the Maratha kingdom extensively, and caused massive havoc, so much that village women would often prefer to perish by setting fire to their own homes or starving to death in the hills and forests, than face the Pindaris. [33]. Among other crimes such as dacoity, murder and rape, the Pindaris also desecrated temples and converted the slaves they took during their raids to Islam. p. 25, [33] (Curiously, there is no record of Pindari vandalism on mosques). The Pindaris were also vastly helped by rich merchants advancing loans to enable them to buy horses and other necessities for their raids. To quote Roy, `` the payment of loans and advances received or contracted earlier was the next charge of the plunder.  Loans at high rates of interest were taken from rich merchants who used to reside in Pindari camps.’’ pp. 41-42, [33].  Further, many merchants arrived from distant fairs to buy the loot that the Pindaris had captured.  To buy particularly rich loot (the fruits of rape, loot and sacrilege), many rich merchants arrived from Ujjain, Kota and elsewhere and Pindaris often sent their bills to as far away as Calcutta and Benares pp. 42-43, [33].  Roy records that, at a time when the merchants of Nimawar were not sufficiently rich to buy a few articles obtained in a raid, that three sahukars arrived from outside to buy them.  According to Roy,  ``One of the three sahookars was a gomastah of Juggut Chand Seit, another of Chunnilal Bhagwandas of Ujjein’’ p. 52, [33] Leonard notes that the “Branches of a single Marwari firm served as bankers to the Nawab of Fatehpur, the Pindari Nawabs, and Ranjit Singh.” [9].

·         At the top of the Hindus in Hyderabad of Sindh  was a small aristocracy of bankers, who specialized in loans to the state and the mainly Baluchi courtiers who formed the core of the interior of the reigning Mirs, who ruled until middle of the nineteenth century p 111, [20] Interestingly, in 1782 when the Baluchi Talpurs moved their capital to Hyderabad of Sind, many Bankers moved to this capital pp. 38,  39, [20]


During the reign of the Nizam of Hyderabad, there were three main communities of bankers: Gujarati (Hindu, Jain, Parsee), Gosain (Hindu Vaishnavas) and Marwari (Hindus and Jains). Gujarati bankers had settled there by the seventeenth century, under the Qutb Shahi dynasty. Most Gosains came from Central India and the Hyderabad districts after the first Nizam became provincial governor for the Mughal empire (the early eighteenth cen-tury) [11].  In the middle of the 18th century, the Nizam of Hyderabad invited Marwari traders to settle in his kingdom.  By 1840, the Oswals and Maheshwaris become eminent bankers in Hyderabad. p. 468, [1].  Till 1851 the Gujaratis were the major suppliers of funds to the Hyderabad government, but since 1851 the Marwaris assumed this role [11].  In 1873, most of the bankers of the state were Marwaris p. 70, [1].  The treasury of the Nizam was handled by the Marwaris, who from time to time, also extended financial assistance to the state p. 84-85, [1].  The Prime Minister of the Nizam, Chandulal, himself a big banker and a descendant of Raja Todarmal (described in different places as an Aggarwal, Khatri or Kayastha) p. 232, [18].  The bankers became millionaires and lent millions of rupees to the state and financed the land revenue contractors.  They also extended loans to the nobles and to the Nizam himself [11].  Finally, when Hyderabad was resisting integration into the Indian Union in 1947, Messrs Allen Berry & Co., a firm owned by Seth Ramkrishna Dalmia agreed to supply a large number of military jeeps to the Nizam of Hyderabad. p. 102, [16]. Seth Dalmia was a Hindu Vaishnava from Shekhawati in Rajasthan.

One question that arises is if all the above funding was voluntary, or were they extorted through power of the state. It appears that the former is the case. This is because all the above leading merchants who funded the Islamic regimes wielded significant influence with the corresponding rulers. Often, they extracted significant economic and social concessions from the rulers by threatening economic strife or relocation en masse. Many of them served as intermediaries between Muslim regimes in India and powers outside India such as the Europeans.  They utilised their roles as negotiators to acquire benefits for the conflicting parties, but, most importantly, they sought to further their own economic interests, which included averting wars that were essential for the defence of the state, but might disrupt their trading activities.  In the process, they acquired significant influence with the Muslim rulers to the extent that they could enthrone and dethrone rulers and their deputies. In fact, towards the end the of the direct and indirect Mughal regime, the control of the merchants on the state was substantial. 

As Karen Leonard puts it, ``It is abundantly clear that by 1750 it was bankers who controlled access to the actual collection of land revenue, through provision of credit or cash. They, rather than officials of the Mughal or any other ruler, were the people to deal with. The amount of interest set and the securities demanded by bankers were more critical economic conditions than the revenue demand fixed by a territorial ruler. Most of the evidence for this state of affairs is from the eighteenth century and seemingly linked to the practice of revenue farming. Bankers provided the funds which enabled talukdars ('contractors') to gain their positions as tax farmers, and bankers sent their own agents into the countryside to collect from the land given to them as security or mortgage.’’ [9]. so, clearly the Hindu sponsors of the Muslim regimes had the liberty to refuse financing. They did refuse in specific instances they felt that the investment would not be profitable. For example, in 1702, when Aurangzeb’s rule appeared unstable, and he sought an interest-free loan of half a million rupees from the "sahukars of the Imperial camp", to enable him to pay the arrears of salary of his troops accompanying him in the Deccan, the usurers politely refused [14]. Even a despot like Aurangzeb was forced to accept their refusal. Then again, in the late eighteenth century, bankers (who in the Durrani regime were mostly Hindus) were not willing to finance Afghan ruler Shah Shuja's campaign unless he pledged valuable collateral p. 34, [22].   

Section E: Enabling Islamists during the British period

Indic businessmen continued to enable the Islamists even during the British regime. They funded Muslim league while it demanded partition from India. For example, three Hindu cotton magnates based in Kanpur, Sir Padampat Singhania, Sir Jwaalaprasad Srivastava and Ram Ratan Gupta generously funded the Muslim League for at least a decade prior to the Partition. The first was a Marwari from Shekhawati in Rajasthan, the second was a Kayastha and the third a Baniya from United Provinces p. 171, [17]. The context of the funding was as follows.  In 1937, in a labour dispute, the Pant ministry of the United Provinces asked cotton mill owners to make one major concession by recognising the Mazdoor Sabha.  In Kanpur, most of the cotton mills were British controlled, but had a lot of Indian capital invested in them.  

The cotton magnates resented the government move considerably, and never forgave the United Provinces government for siding with the workers.  A few years later, in the course of a private conversation, Sir JP Srivastava revealed that the Indian industrialists of Kanpur, all Hindus, became such bitter opponents of the Congress Ministry that they went to the length of subsidising the Muslim League in the province.  pp. 160-161, [17] On 30 November 1944, Lord Wavell wrote, ``Srivastava [a minister in the Wavell cabinet then] … told me that after the Congress success in the polls and assumption of office in the United Provinces in 1937, the leading industrialists – all, I think, Hindu – got together and decided to finance Jinnah and the Muslim League and also the Mahasabha, as extreme communal parties, to oppose the Congress who, they feared, might threaten their financial profits’’ p. 102, [25]. Next, Hindu Vaishnav Ramkrishna Dalmia was a personal friend of Jinnah, and bought his house in Delhi when the latter departed for Pakistan. . It appears that Dalmia had been willing to serve as a financier to an anti-Congress alliance led by the Muslim League. Jinnah's influence was so great with Dalmia that Dalmia took many funding decisions in consultation with him.  Ambedkar once pleaded with Jinnah to put in a good word on him with Dalmia: "I saw him today and placed before him my appeal for funds for the college. He has expressed his desire to do something but he said that he will consult you before he makes his decision. I was glad to hear from him that you had already spoken to him about the matter. I have to collect about 12 lakh rupees for the college. Out of this, I am expecting at least three lakh from Mr. Dalmia. I was glad to find that he has a great regard for you and also has great faith in your judgment. I have no doubt that if you put in a word, he will not hesitate to give the amount I have mentioned’’ [26]

Conclusion: happy coexistence of collusion and overt religiosity

Thus, the big business classes served as instruments of the oppressive Islamic imperialism. Yet, all the major protagonists expressed a great amount of outward religiosity, namely they constructed large temples, rigidly adhered to religious rituals and contemporary religious practices, simultaneously, along with enabling invaders in various different ways.  In fact outward religiosity coexisted with selfish profiteering in Indic mercantile groups since the pre-Islamic era. The Rajatarangini mentions very religious merchants who took deposits, then denied and thereby cheated and ruined people, and then performed extra religious demonstrative activities [35]. So, somewhere, Indic society became oblivious to the common wisdom that overt religiosity of individuals or social groups does not help sustain a religion if they enable regimes that ravage and forcibly convert common practitioners of the same religion.   The Buddhist traders of Nerun who perpetrated treason against the kings were religious heads too [31].   Shantidas Jhaveri was a religious head of the Jain community too [30]. He used his wealth and status to appoint his friend Rajsagarsuri as the Acharya of his sect despite the opposition of Vijayasensuri. On his part, Rajsagar, remained loyal to his patron and glorified him in several ways after attaining high religious position p.18, [37]. We observe almost an encore centuries later with the Jagat Seths, who became the leaders of the Oswal Jain community, and their priests were honoured above other priests. p. 247, [6].  Moving on to the twentieth century, the Singhania family was extremely religious and erected several temples pp. 80-93, [10]. Both Dalmia and Singhania supported cow protection enthusiastically.  In his book, Dalmia has spoken hyperbolically on the virtues of cow protection and the need to practise it pp. 69-70, [34].   Sir Padampat Singhania supported Prabhudutt Brahmachari, who contested against Nehru for failing to ban cow slaughter, but soon dissuaded Prabhudutt when the Prime Minister’s displeasure was made clear to him. pp. 92-93, [10].  Sir Jwalaprasad donated to Hindu Mahasabha too. p. 102, [25]. 

In this regard, it might be mentioned that the Pindaris also exhibited considerable religiosity.  They donated gold mohurs and spears to temples near Sidde and sent presents to Hans Bharati for his math. p. 25, [33].  Similarly, the Pindaris also practised cow protection and never killed and ate cows or bullocks p. 28, [33].  Finally, the Pindaris performed pooja to the river Narmada before setting out on their raids. p. 30, [33].  The industrialists mentioned above and the Pindaris had another major quality in common; they both aided or perpetrated acts that caused massive Hindu misery, as mentioned above.  Sadly, the encomiums showered on the merchants have not been bestowed on the Pindaris, despite their religiosity, though.


[1] DK Taknet, ``The Marwari Heritage’’

[2] Scott C. Levi, ``The Indian Diaspora in Central Asia and its Trade’’

[3] Irfan Habib, ``The Agrarian System of Mughal India’’

[3] RC Majumdar, ``History of Medieval Bengal’’

[4] Jadunath Sarkar, ``History of Bengal’’, Vol. 2.

[5] Timberg, ``Marwaris: From Jagat Seth to Birla’’

[6] JH Little, ``The House of Jagat Seth’’

[7] Nick Robins, ``The Corporation that Changed the World’’

[8] Khushwant Singh, ``History of the Sikhs’’, Vol. 1

[9] Karen Leonard, ``The 'Great Firm' Theory of the Decline of the Mughal Empire’’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 21(2), April 1979, pp. 151-167, Cambridge University Press

[10] Gaur Hari Singhania, ``Sir Padampat Singhania: A Man of All Seasons’’

[11] Karen Leonard, ``Banking Firms in Nineteenth-Century Hyderabad Politics’’, Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 15 (2) 1981, pp. 177-201 Cambridge University Press

[12] Sushil Chandra Dutta, ``North East and the Mughals’’

[13] Jadunath Sarkar, ``The Bengal Nawabs’’

[14] Irfan Habib, ``Usury in Medieval India’’

[15] Richard Eaton, ``The Bengal Frontier’’

[16] Letter from Baldev Singh to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, 13th October 1947

``Sardar Patel’s Correspondence, Compiled by Durga Das’’ vol. 7.

[17] Claude Markovits, ``Indian Business and Nationalist Politics 1931-1939’’

[18] Hastings Fraser, ``Our Faithful Ally, the Nizam’’

[19] Gita Piramal, ``Business Legends’’

[20] Claude Markovits, ``Global World of Indian Merchants’

[21] John R. Mclane, ``Land and local kingship in 18th century Bengal’’

[21] Sita Ram Goel, ``Story of Islamic Imperialism in India’’

[22] Zalmay Gulzad, ``External Influences and the Development of the Afghan State in the 19th Century’’

[23] W. Gankovsky, ``A History of Afghanistan’’

[24] Scott C. Levy, `` Multanis and Shikarpuris’’ in Global Indian diasporas

 Exploring trajectories of migration and Theory edited by Gijsbert Oonk

[25] P Moon, ``The Viceroy’s Journal’’

[26] Faisal Devji, ``Muslim Zion,‘’

[27] M. N. Pearson, ``Merchants and rulers in Gujarat-The Response to the Portuguese in the Sixteenth Century’’

[28] Monika Sharma, ``Socio-Cultural Life of Merchants in Mughal Gujarat’’

[29] S. M. Ikram , ``Muslim Civilization in India’’, edited by Ainslie T. Embree 


[31] Chachnamah – English Translation.

[32] Jason Neelis, `` Early Buddhist Transmission and Trade Networks’’

[33] Roy, ``Origin, Growth and Suppression of the Pindaris’’

[34] RK Dalmia, ``Some Notes and Reminiscences’’

[35] Kalhana, ``Rajatarangini’’, VIII Taranga, verses 123-160.

[36] K.M.Ashraf, ``Life and conditions of the people of Hindustan’’

[37] Makrand Mehta, `` Indian Merchants and Entrepreneurs in Historical Perspective’’

[38] Anjali Chatterjee, `` Bengal in the Reign of Aurangzeb’’

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