The Chinese Invasion of India I

It was not entirely unexpected that the Chinese would attack. The Indians had observed a massive build-up across the border and there had been several encounters between the Indian Army and the Chinese PLA in the days before the main attack, including bombardment of Dhola and Khenzemane on 19 October 1962. But the ferocity and the sheer co-ordination of the Chinese attacks on 20 October 1962 and the days that followed stunned the Indian security establishment as well as international observers. At daybreak on that day, artillery guns and mortars began intense bombardments across the Thagla Ridge.

According to Brigadier John Dalvi,

At exactly 5 on the morning of 20th October 1962, the Chinese Opposite Bridge III fired two Verey lights. This signal was followed by a cannonade of over 150 guns and heavy mortars, exposed on the forward slopes of Thagla…this was a moment of truth. Thagla Ridge was no longer, at that moment, a piece of ground. It was the crucible to test, weigh and purify India’s foreign defence policies.

Dalvi called it ‘The Day of Reckoning—20th October 1962’. The all-out assault on Indian positions north of Tawang was on.

On the western front in Aksai Chin, the fighting was spread out over a swathe of land from north to south, covering a distance of approximately 600 kilometres. But the thrust of the Chinese towards the south was confined to a relatively narrow area, which measured approximately 20 kilometres from west to east. Most of the attacks by the PLA seemed to be confined to dislodging Indian troops from the outposts that had been established as a result of the government’s Forward Policy rather than for capturing territory. According to Indian military analysts, ‘In the Western sector, [the] Chinese had a limited aim. They were already in occupation of most of the Aksai Chin plateau through which they had constructed the Western Highway connecting Tibet and Xinjiang. In this war, their aim was to remove the Indian posts which they perceived were across their 1960 Claim Line.’ They had no intention to move forward deep into Indian territory, as they did in NEFA.

The Aksai Chin plateau was and still is virtually unpopulated; this had made it possible for the Chinese to build their highway there in the mid-1950s without the Indians finding out about it until a year after it had been completed. The name Aksai Chin means ‘the desert of white stones’, and the altitude varies between 4,300 and 6,900 metres above sea level. In the past, some Ladakhi villagers used the area for summer grazing and made it part of the Cashmere wool trade, but otherwise there has been no commercial activity worth mentioning in the area. Whatever ancient trade routes that existed were secondary, and the only valley, if it may be called such, is along the River Chip Chap that flows from Xinjiang to Jammu and Kashmir. During the 1962 War, the Chinese captured several Indian positions in the valley and have since controlled most of the area.

During the weeks of fighting in this western sector of the theatre of the 1962 War, it became obvious that the Chinese knew exactly where the Indians were, how many there were at each position, and what kind of weaponry they had. As was the case in the NEFA in the east, pre-war intelligence gathering had been carried out in the Aksai Chin area by small teams of surveyors who could move freely and, presumably, undetected on the barren plateau.

A contentious issue on the eastern front was the location of the Indian outpost at Dhola in the River Namka Chu gorge, where the borders of India, Bhutan, and Tibet intersect northwest of Tawang. The post was created on 24 February 1962 and, according to the Henderson Brooks–Bhagat Report, the site ‘was established north of the McMahon Line as shown on maps prior to October/November 1962 edition. It is believed that the old edition was given to the Chinese by our External Affairs Ministry to indicate the McMahon Line. It is also learnt that we tried to clarify the error in our maps, but the Chinese did not accept our contention.’ The Chinese, in any case, would not have paid much attention to Indian maps. Their objective was entirely different: to teach India a lesson.

This remark in the Henderson Brooks–Bhagat Report is anyway a far cry from the claim by Neville Maxwell and others that the establishment of the Dhola outpost triggered the 1962 War and that India was the aggressor. Chinese troops had crossed the Namka Chu on 8 September, surrounded an Indian outpost in the gorge, and destroyed two bridges on the river. The nearby Dhola Post was reinforced and firing from both sides continued in the area throughout September. Three Indian soldiers were wounded when the Chinese threw hand grenades at their position, but otherwise, there were no casualties.

When the final attack came on 20 October, the Indians found that the Chinese had cut all their telephone lines the night before. In preparation for the assault, the Chinese had also taken up positions on higher ground behind Indian defences and were thus able to attack downhill on the morning of the attack. After the Chinese artillery barrage from the Thagla Ridge overlooking the Namka Chu, the PLA destroyed all Indian artillery positions and surrounding fortifications. The Indian border posts as well as Dhola and Khenzemane were overrun by ground forces within hours, and their defenders either lay dead or were captured alive. The strength of the Chinese attacking force was estimated at 2,000, while the Indians at those outposts numbered only 600.

Simultaneous attacks were launched on other positions, and the 2nd Rajput Regiment, which was also in the area, suffered horrendously. Of the 513 members of all ranks, 282 were killed that day, 81 were wounded and captured alive, and 90 were captured unwounded. Only 60 men, mostly rear elements got away. A Gurkha regiment, also in the area, lost 80 men, with a further 44 wounded, and 102 taken prisoner by the Chinese. The 7th Brigade lost a total of 493 men that fateful morning of 20 October.8 The total strength of the PLA units that were deployed for the operation on the Dhola and Thagla front was at least 10,000, supported by heavy artillery and more sophisticated weaponry than the Indians had in their arsenal.

After the Indian defences were crushed, the 7th Brigade commander, Brigadier John Dalvi, who remained a prisoner of war in China for almost seven months, described with a large degree of bitterness and in great detail how the chain of command had broken down, and how undersupplied his troops were. He quotes a fellow Indian Army officer as saying that their ‘mission was the defence of a political instead of a tactical position. The troops slaughtered along the Namka Chu River were spread out in a thin line, difficult to supply and impossible to defend.’

Apart from observing the camps that had been built by the Chinese for him and the other Indian prisoners of war, Dalvi also concludes that the ‘Chinese preparations began in earnest from May 1962’, so well before the incidents at the Dhola post. The emphasis here should be on ‘in earnest’; all available evidence points to the fact that intelligence gathering and construction projects began in the mid-1950s, when China wanted to challenge India’s role as the leading voice of the newly independent countries in Asia and Africa. The Dalai Lama’s flight to India in 1959 prompted the Chinese to switch from contemplating the possibility of a war with India to putting their ruminations into concrete action.

Dalvi also quotes, and ridicules, the Chinese version of events,

The Chinese told the world that: ‘At 7 o’clock (Peking time) in the morning of 20th October the aggressive Indian forces, under cover of fierce artillery fire, launched massive attacks against the Chinese Frontier Guards all along the Kachileng River and in the Khenzemane area.’ The poor Chinese were driven to self-defence by the fire of two out-ranged para-guns with 400 rounds of ammunition!

Maxwell is not as extreme as the Chinese in his version of events, but his pro-Chinese account of what happened in 1962 would nevertheless have been equally dismissible if it had not been accepted as the truth and often referred to in writings about the war and the border dispute, even by former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger himself.

The war on the eastern front in the NEFA was going to be very different from that in Ladakh. While the Chinese may not have encountered many civilians on the Ladakh front, interacting with the local population became an important issue for them in the NEFA, where they occupied several towns and villages. Once the road down from Bumla had been constructed by the Chinese, and Tawang was secured as a supply base, it became clear that not only had scouts been sent in advance by the PLA to collect crucial intelligence, but its soldiers and officers had also been trained in psychological warfare.

Most local people in Tawang, whether Monpas or Tibetans, had fled when the Chinese began attacking the border. They had heard from relatives and traders about the atrocities the PLA had committed inside Tibet and were, naturally, afraid. But there were always two sides to the PLA. As an ideologically motivated communist force, it tolerated no dissent or opposition to the rule that it imposed on local people anywhere. But, as a ‘people’s army’, it was supposed to behave gently towards ‘the oppressed masses’. According to the Maoist doctrine of the Eight Points of Behaviour, communist soldiers were ordered ‘not to steal so much as a single needle or thread from the people’.

British missionary and writer George N. Patterson observed that in some areas the Chinese soldiers who took part in the occupation of Tibet were also ‘scrupulous in their behaviour, keeping to themselves and not oppressing the Tibetan population in any way. Heavy penalties were imposed on any Chinese soldier who was known to have made use of even a Tibetan prostitute. One Chinese soldier, accused by a Tibetan woman of raping her, was shot by his superior officer.’ In certain areas in Tibet, clinics and schools, where lessons were held in Tibetan as well as in Chinese, were built.

But there was a hidden agenda behind that kind of benevolent behaviour towards some of the Tibetans. According to Patterson,

With all the beneficent and necessary reforms being introduced one ominous factor emerged, that the innovations were not being made on a national scale but were limited strictly to the cities, towns and villages on the main route through Tibet to India. In effect, they were merely supplementary to the thrust to the Indian border; there was no attempt to develop the country outside the main arteries.

That development began a year or two after the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1950, indicating that China was prepared for action along the border even before Deng Xiaoping and Mao Zedong, in March 1959, pledged to ‘settle accounts’ with the Indians.

Significantly, according to Patterson, ‘in East Tibet their approach was more often on the accepted Communist pattern’. That would inevitably mean harassment of local people and the execution of ‘reactionaries’ opposed to the new order. East Tibet was the home of the Khampas, where the first armed resistance against Chinese occupation broke out in the mid-1950s. When, in 1958, the Chinese authorities began forcing Tibetans in the central provinces to become collectivized in ‘people’s communes’, the relations between the occupiers and the occupied deteriorated even further.

The Chinese military historian Li Xiaobing, interviewing Li Weiheng, a PLA radio operator, describes the hostile reception the Chinese soldiers encountered when they entered Tibet, especially after the 1959 uprising, ‘Sergeant Li Weiheng recalled that he and his comrades felt as if they were entering a foreign country when they went to Tibet. Religious and linguistic barriers, separatist propaganda, and a backward economy had created a seemingly irreparable rift between the troops and local Tibetans.’ The sergeant told Li Xiaobing that one of the regulations for the PLA troops in Tibet was to refrain from talking to the Tibetan people without permission, ‘Any communication between the village and the radar company had to be conducted by…the company commander through the village chiefs, one of whom spoke Chinese’.

During his first six months of service in Tibet, sergeant Li Weiheng visited the village only twice. On the first visit, he and his comrades went there to see a local medicine man who had refused to come to the Chinese camp and insisted he would meet the PLA soldiers if they came to the village. Li ‘could feel the hostility around them. Children vanished into their homes…no women could be seen. Several Tibetan men sat in front of the house with knives in their hands, staring at Li without saying a word. Li felt lucky that all firearms had been collected from the Tibetans after their rebellion in 1959. Nobody could legally have a gun.’

Sergeant Li Weiheng’s second visit to the village was different. It was during the 1962 War and when a temporary camp for the Indian prisoners of war (POW) had been built at the bottom of the hill below the village. ‘Indian prisoners of war arrived in large numbers, more than the camp guard unit could handle…[Li] was surprised to see many Tibetan villagers visiting the Indian prisoners, bringing water, food and milk…Li even saw the old medicine man visiting sick and wounded Indian soldiers.’ Li and his platoon complained to the camp commander, who had been instructed not to let any Tibetans have contact with the Indian soldiers, ‘but he had difficulty feeding the large number of prisoners. As a compromise, he had decided to allow Tibetan women and children to visit the Indian prisoners.’

Despite being surrounded by an evidently hostile population, the PLA seems to have had no problem recruiting and educating enough Tibetan spies and interpreters for the campaign against India. It is often forgotten, particularly in the West, that some Tibetans, who were opposed to their country’s medieval feudal system, did side with the Chinese, at least at the beginning of the occupation. A group of young intellectuals led by Bapa Phuntso Wangye had even set up a small Tibetan Communist Party in 1939. But, like several other progressive Tibetans, he became disillusioned with developments in the 1950s, and, consequently, the Chinese became suspicious of him. Bapa Phuntso Wangye was detained in 1958 and imprisoned in 1960. Other Tibetans, however, worked for the Chinese and were fluent in their language. The thousands of porters, who the PLA mobilized during the months before the attack on 20 October, belonged to other segments of society. They were peasants who had been conscripted at gunpoint from villages all over southern Tibet.

In Tawang, the PLA quite naturally decided on adopting a ‘benevolent’ approach so as not to antagonize those who had remained in the town when almost the entire population had fled and the Indian soldiers had evacuated the area. There, the Chinese soldiers interacted with the local people and did their utmost to be friendly, according to Singye, a local Tibetan who was among the few who stayed behind. Tawang was not in Tibet proper, but it was here that the sixth Dalai Lama, a Monpa, was born in 1683. He became the Dalai Lama in 1697 and reigned until he disappeared in 1706, presumably killed by an ally of the Chinese Kangxi emperor. Tawang, therefore, was a special place for followers of Tibetan Buddhism and the Chinese had to behave exemplarily.

According to Singye, Tawang’s famous monastery was not destroyed or looted by the Chinese, as some rumours would have it. The PLA protected the monastery and gave one of the senior monks a rifle so that he could defend the monastery against looters, who were roaming the town after the Indian soldiers and most of the locals had departed. They even brought in a lama from the Rethang monastery in Tibet to lead and take part in religious ceremonies at Tawang. Private houses, which were empty because their owners had fled, were locked by the Chinese to prevent looting. Food that had been dropped from Indian aeroplanes and had fallen into Chinese hands was distributed to the locals. ‘A gift from us to you,’ the Chinese officers said.

The Chinese also had other, cruder ways of showing that they, and not the Indian soldiers and administrators from the plains, were the ones the local population should trust and identify themselves with. Residents in the border areas recall that Chinese officers showed them photographs of a bearded Sikh in a turban, saying, ‘Is this man or I your brother?’ A Chinese, of course, looks more like a local person in Tawang than a Punjabi ever would.

But those who stayed behind were still relatively few. Tens of thousands of local people had fled south towards the plains or across the border to Bhutan in the east. After the Chinese had broken through the Indian defences at the Sela Pass south of Tawang on 18 November 1962, there was panic everywhere. A day later, when a PLA unit, in a flanking manoeuvre, reached the town of Bomdila, many Indians expected the Chinese to advance south and occupy Assam.

One of those who fled was Dorjee Khandu Thongdok from Rupa, a small town near Bomdila. He and his family trekked over the mountains for days with little more to eat than Tibetan tsampa, a porridge-like dish made from barley flour and mixed with butter tea. Once in the plains, they were taken by truck to makeshift refugee camps in the Brahmaputra Valley. Three such camps were built, at Barampur, Diphu, and Dansiri, where the refugees were housed in huts and barracks.

Most local people in Bomdila and Rupa are Sherdukpens, who are related to the Monpas but still somewhat different. Consequently, they speak a dialect related to Tibetan as well. And, significantly, the PLA halted there because they would be lost further south, where they would not be able to communicate with any remaining locals through their Tibetan interpreters, and, more importantly, where the PLA’s spies had not been able to gather intelligence during the years leading up to the 1962 War. The PLA troops could now benefit from those human intelligence operations, as it was clear that their knowledge of the terrain was remarkable in all the areas into which they intruded, in the west as well as in the east, in October and November 1962. Colonel Gurdial Singh, who was taken prisoner at Rupa, recalls that the Chinese kept asking him where the foothills were. Bhalukpong, at the very foothills of the NEFA, was abandoned but never occupied.

The Indian Army was gone from all its former positions in the battle zones, and no less than two-thirds of the population of the garrison town of Tezpur on the banks of the Brahmaputra had fled by 20 November. Trains and trucks were full of people with baggage heading west, away from what they thought was an impending Chinese invasion. Prisons and hospitals were opened and patients and inmates were left to fend for themselves. This became a problem, as Tezpur had a major mental hospital, and suddenly severely mentally ill people were seen roaming about and staggering along the town’s streets. Banks were closed after they had burnt their currency notes.

But the panic was misguided. Because the PLA had no intention of occupying Assam, the same pattern as in western NEFA could be seen in the east. The attack on Kibihtoo right on the border on 22 October was probably meant to push all the Indian troops back to Walong, the main Indian base in the area located some 20 kilometres to the south. The final attack on Walong, which fell on 16 November, was also made possible because the Chinese possessed vital intelligence of the area and its terrain. Walong was attacked from all sides, even from the rear. Significantly, the local people there are the Meyor, who speak a dialect related to Tibetan and practise Tibetan Buddhism.

After the Chinese had captured Walong, India’s defences in the easternmost corner of the NEFA were obliterated. According to one Indian writer, ‘The fall of Walong would mean the fall of Haiyuliang, and there after Tezu as well. From Tezu, it was the Brahmaputra Valley. After Tezu would be Tinsukia.’ But nothing like that happened. The Chinese did not advance beyond the River Yapuk, immediately south of Walong. That was as far as the Chinese had surveyed the area. South of the Yapuk is Mishmi country, where the people speak an entirely different dialect.

The Chinese Invasion of India II

The Chinese incursion into Subansiri and Siang in the central NEFA commenced on 21 October, with a main offensive being launched on 16 November. The Indian defences, as understaffed and poorly equipped as elsewhere in the NEFA, put up a stiff resistance but, in the end, proved to be no match for the more heavily armed Chinese troops. This area forms part of Pemako, which today straddles the border with a major section located on the Indian side. Tibetan tax collectors were active here well into the 1950s, so intelligence was not a problem for the PLA.31 But the Chinese did not capture any territory beyond it. The tribes in the areas south of Pemako would be Nyishis and Apatanis, whose languages are distantly related to Tibetan, but not close enough to be mutually intelligible.

The similarities between the Tibetan language and some of the local dialects had enabled Chinese agents to collect intelligence about the areas that had been selected for temporary occupation and, judging from the precision and swiftness of the operation, it is clear that this was done well before the PLA swung into action in October 1962. While the vast majority of the local population fled to the southern plains once the PLA had entered those areas, it was also important from a purely operational point of view that its officers could rely on their Tibetan-speaking interpreters to communicate with the few who had stayed behind.

After the unilateral ceasefire that the Chinese announced on 21 November, the withdrawal began and people could return home. Singye remembers how the Chinese soldiers packed up and marched single file along the road they had built from Bumla to Tawang. Chinese army trucks carried their equipment. Forty-nine days of occupation were over. The Chinese returned to their camps and bases north of the McMahon Line.

Dorjee Khandu Thongdok and his family were now able to return to Rupa. On the way from the Assam plains to their home in the hills, they saw burnt-out tanks and vehicles, and ammunition belts, mortars, rifles, and helmets left behind by soldiers who had died or retreated during the war. Once they reached their village, there was an eerie silence. Empty houses awaited them, and it was weeks before life returned to normal. Thongdok notes wryly that, before the war, a portrait of the two countries’ respective prime ministers, Jawaharlal Nehru and Zhou Enlai, had hung on the wall in the local school.

But the end of the Chinese invasion of some carefully selected parts of the NEFA did not mean that anything had really changed on the ground. The McMahon Line became what the Chinese like to call the Line of Actual Control, while the Indians continue to refer to it as ‘the traditional boundary’. But India was shattered and its pride lay in tatters. No one wanted to mention the Forward Policy and Nehru himself never recovered from the humiliation and what he and many others perceived as a betrayal by the Chinese.

Nehru felt that he was grossly misunderstood. Others would argue that Nehru had placed too much trust in sweet talk by Zhou Enlai who had hoodwinked him into believing that China was a friend of India, while the Chinese, as early as 1949, had denounced him as ‘a running dog of imperialism’ and a Chiang Kai-shek-like ‘loyal slave’ of the enemies of the revolution.

To be fair to Nehru, he appears to have been unaware of what the Chinese were saying about him behind his back in the 1940s and 1950s. His Forward Policy was never meant to provoke the Chinese but to reassert what the Indians considered to be the traditional boundary and to check the continuing Chinese advance by connecting all the gaps and plugging the holes along the frontier by establishing new outposts and sending out patrols even to the remotest parts of Ladakh and the NEFA. Action was to be taken only if there were any new Chinese army camps south of where the Indians had decided that the McMahon Line should be.

Lieutenant Colonel Gurdip Singh Kler, an Indian Army officer who fought at the Sela Pass during the 1962 War, wrote after the events, ‘Many of us compared the Forward Policy with police action whereby we could push the Chinese out of our territory. The action, we thought, would not lead to war.’ The officer also remarked that although some new army units were proposed to be raised—and some were—‘insufficient funds were allotted to the Armed Forces for weapons, equipment and ammunition’. He found it ‘strange’ that in this state of affairs ‘we had to confront with one of the world’s strongest countries’.

As the Chinese had been strengthening their positions in the mountains along the frontier in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Indians decided to launch a military operation codenamed ‘LEGHORN’ on 8 October 1962 to secure its territorial claims. A bridgehead was established at Tsengjong, north of River Namka Chu, which was attacked by the PLA on 10 October. The Indians withdrew, but they were terribly undersupplied. Air-drops of supplies were landing in the wrong places; only a few days of rations were available for the troops; and many of the soldiers had only 50 rounds of ammunition each. Mortars and mortar ammunition were still in transit somewhere when the Chinese attacked across the Thagla Ridge 10 days later. It is not certain exactly how many troops the PLA had in the area at this stage, but they vastly outnumbered those at the scattered Indian outposts along the McMahon Line.

In retrospect, much has been written about intelligence failures on the Indian side, that the government was not aware of the massive build-up the Chinese had been engaged in along the border since 1959. But Nehru’s chief of intelligence, Bhola Nath Mullik, had actually repeatedly warned the government of Chinese manoeuvres along and across the border, ‘In September 1960, we sent another report of widespread Chinese activities all along the frontier in Tibet and many instances of fresh intrusions. We also mentioned that new Chinese activities had been noticed in the area bordering South-East Ladakh, which had remained quiet until then.’

But nor did Mullik entirely escape blame. The Henderson Brooks–Bhagat Report quotes ‘the Director of the Intelligence Bureau’, obviously Mullik, as saying that ‘the Chinese would not react to our establishing new posts and that they were not likely to use force against any of our posts even if they were in a position to do so’. That was obviously a gross miscalculation.

In the east, the Chinese had already advanced up to and even through the ‘gaps’ that the Indians wanted to connect—and that was long before Nehru announced his Forward Policy. The problem was that Nehru refused to believe that the Chinese were actually preparing for war against India. His firm belief in the friendship between India and China had even led him to dismiss reports of unrest in Tibet in the late 1950s. On 17 March 1959, Patterson, who was close to the Tibetans, was warned by Nehru himself in a speech in the Lok Sabha, the Lower House of the Indian Parliament, that he ‘had accepted bazaar rumour for a fact’. Patterson was guilty of sending ‘misleading and exaggerated reports’41 about the situation in Tibet, and was threatened with expulsion from India.

As Nehru was accusing Patterson of spreading falsehoods, revolt had already broken out in Lhasa. The heartbroken prime minister then had to admit in another speech in the Lok Sabha on 19 March that the revolt was real—and that Chinese bullets had struck the Indian Consulate-General in Lhasa. The Chinese, who apparently thought that the Indians were somehow involved in the uprising, ordered the diplomats to remain inside the Consulate until further notice. Patterson noted, ‘Whatever India may have thought of China’s friendship and good faith it became obvious that China placed very little value on India’s goodwill’. Even so, Nehru added in his speech that, ‘India has no intention of interfering in the internal affairs of China, with whom, we have friendly relations’.

Following the Dalai Lama’s escape to India after the March 1959 uprising, Nehru was forced to re-evaluate that friendship. The Chinese authorities now began to openly accuse India of being behind the revolt. The official, state-controlled Chinese media published reports saying that ‘Indian expansionists and British imperialists have not given up their ambition to invade Tibet and enslave its people’. The ‘commanding centre’ for this grand conspiracy was the northern West Bengal town of Kalimpong, where the British imperialists and Indian expansionists were supposed to have connived with a ‘traitorous clique’ in Tibet to conduct ‘a series of traitorous and subversive activities’.

It is hardly any secret that the Tibetans, in collaboration with the Americans, were collecting intelligence from Kalimpong, and that some Tibetan resistance fighters had been trained and were supported by the American CIA, but, judging from Nehru’s statements at the time, it is extremely doubtful that he was aware of these shenanigans. More alarmingly, although Nehru decided to grant the Dalai Lama asylum in India, he still believed that China was, in fact, a friendly neighbour and whatever problems there were between the two countries could be settled amicably. It was only at the eleventh hour that he took reports of massive build-ups of Chinese troops across the border seriously and then decided on a half-hearted, and many would argue, ill-conceived Forward Policy to counter China’s advances. Whatever that policy was aimed to achieve, the tools and wherewithal were simply not available.

The Henderson Brooks–Bhagat Report, which Maxwell bewilderingly uses to ‘prove’ that India was the aggressor in 1962, stated that, ‘it is obvious that politically the “Forward Policy” was desirable and presumably the eviction of the Chinese from Ladakh must always be the eventual aim. For this, there can be no argument, but what is pertinent is whether we were militarily in a position at that time to implement this policy.’ The still-classified report goes on to mention that

the Chinese build-up in Tibet by the end of 1960 had substantially increased and was brought out in the Military Intelligence Review 1959–60. This required a fresh reappraisal of our forces and tasks … [and] at the outbreak of hostilities if a coordinated plan had been made to meet the Chinese offensive our troops would perhaps have been more balanced and there would not have been any question of plugging holes at the last moment.

It is also astonishing to note how many Western writers, not only Maxwell and Alastair Lamb, have decided to accept China’s crude propaganda and fanciful interpretations of the border conflict and related issues such as the reason for the war in 1962. This could be because Lamb and the others who accept the Chinese view do indeed present the issues in ‘much clearer and persuasive terms than the Beijing Government’, to quote the Berkeley professor Leo E. Rose. In other words, they present the general Chinese view minus crazed outbursts about ‘Indian expansionists’, ‘British imperialists’, and ‘traitorous and subversive Tibetan cliques’.

The claim that Indian troop movements around the Dhola Post and some skirmishes between the Indians and the Chinese in mid-October determined the timing of the attack is part of this twisted interpretation of the causes of the 1962 War. A much more plausible explanation is that an event that was taking place far from the Indian subcontinent made the Chinese decide that 20 October would be the most appropriate day to launch an attack and that, of course, was the Cuban missile crisis, which lasted from 22 to 28 October.

From the Chinese point of view, it was a masterstroke to decide to wage war on India at the same time that the American President John F. Kennedy was preoccupied by such an immediate threat to national security. A direct American intervention supporting India in the war would be out of the question, but if it did happen, it would force India to compromise its commitment to non-alignment. On 26 October, as war was raging in the Himalayas, Nehru made an unprecedented appeal for international sympathy and support.

Three days later, when the Cuban missile crisis was essentially over, the United States did decide to send military aid after Ambassador John K. Galbraith had had a private meeting with Nehru. The Soviets had agreed to withdraw their ballistic missiles from Cuba after a secret agreement had been reached according to which the United States would dismantle its missile bases in eastern Turkey, a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) ally of the US.

The message was conveyed through Galbraith that Kennedy had agreed to send arms to India ‘without strings and the terms would be settled later’. Nehru is also reported to have requested American warplanes, and, on 19 November, India sought full defensive intervention by the United States. That did not happen, but a US aircraft carrier had already set course for the Bay of Bengal, and a squadron of transport planes had arrived in India. It is believed that Kennedy sanctioned supplies of a million machine-gun rounds, 40,000 land mines, and 100,000 mortar rounds to India, while Time magazine at the time reported that shipments had been even more substantial and were complete with US crews and maintenance teams. But it was too little, and too late. The Chinese had already achieved their objectives by the time Western military assistance arrived.

China did not miss the opportunity to denounce Nehru as ‘a lackey of US imperialism’ and ‘a pawn in the international anti-China campaign’. The tone and content of the 15,000-word vitriolic article in the official party paper the People’s Daily on 27 October was, according to British analyst Roderick MacFarquhar, ‘consonant with that of Beijing’s anti-Soviet polemics of 1960 and prefigured in its anti-Soviet polemics of 1963–64, thus marking it as a weapon in the ideological struggle with Moscow rather than in the military struggle with India’.

Apart from condemning Nehru for seeking military aid from the United States, China also wanted to hit out at the Soviet Union, which had been closer to India than any other Western power before the conflict began—and the Soviet Union was China’s main rival for control over what it termed ‘The Third World’. The rivalry had begun in the 1950s and first came out in the open when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and Peng Zhen, a leading member of the Politburo of the CCP, had an argument at the congress of Romania’s ruling communist party in 1960. Khrushchev branded Mao ‘a nationalist, an adventurist, and a deviationist’, while the Chinese denounced Khrushchev as ‘patriarchal, arbitrary and tyrannical’, and, eventually, as a ‘revisionist renegade’ who had betrayed true Marxism-Leninism. Khrushchev responded by withdrawing 1,400 Soviet experts and technicians from China and cancelling more than 200 projects in the world’s most populous communist country.

In the beginning of the conflict between India and China, the Soviet Union had been cautious. Although Khrushchev’s sympathies were with India, he could not afford to get too tough with China. On the other hand, India’s defence minister, Vengalil Krishnan Krishna Menon, who was known for his pro-Soviet leanings, was forced to resign on 31 October, after being held responsible for India’s lack of preparedness for the 1962 War. In the midst of the crisis, Nehru himself temporarily took over the defence portfolio. The Soviets, who had provided India with defence equipment long before the war, found themselves in a severe dilemma. According to Mohan Ram, an Indian journalist and a specialist on Sino-Indian relations, the Soviets had begged the Chinese to stop their military operations and offered mediation, for which India was ready. ‘They tried hard to prevent India from looking to the United States and Britain. Thus, years of striving for India’s neutrality went to waste and capitalists were supplying arms to India thanks to the Chinese aggression.’

Another disclosure, according to Ram, was the Soviet concern over the ouster of Menon from the Indian government. Ram quotes a rejoinder from the Soviets saying that ‘Chinese aggression also had the consequences that we lost one of our most faithful friends among the Indian leaders, and that because he relied on our help’.

Khrushchev had remained neutral during the skirmishes along the Sino-Indian border in 1959, which had angered the Chinese. As tension between India and China was brewing in 1962, the Chinese called upon the leaders of the Soviet Union to ‘denounce the Indian bourgeoisie as a lackey of imperialism’—which they refused to do. Instead, on 12 December, when the war was over, Khrushchev came out in support of India, saying ‘we absolutely disallow the thought India wanted to start war with China’. Thus, China managed to force India to seek help from the United States, and also put the Soviet Union in the same anti-Chinese camp. It was a masterstroke that placed China as the leader of the Third World.

According to MacFarquhar, ‘Nehru’s appeal for Western aid in his hour of need dented, if it did not destroy, India’s image as a non-aligned nation, thus diminishing its status both in the Communist bloc and the Third World…Beijing had also demonstrated to a deaf Moscow the unwisdom of choosing India over China as an ally.’ But, most importantly, MacFarquhar states that rising tension with India even in early and mid-1962, which eventually led to outbreak of hostilities in October, ‘had signalled to its erstwhile communist partner that the banner of militant Marxism-Leninism had once more been unfurled over Beijing’. The year of 1962 saw China, with Mao back at the helm, successfully challenging both India and the Soviet Union and, in the end, becoming the leader of the Third World’s progressive and revolutionary forces.

There has been much speculation among scholars and analysts as to why the Chinese decided to declare a unilateral ceasefire on 21 November and then withdraw to its former positions behind the McMahon Line. Some have suggested that the American decision to intervene was a factor, others that the Soviet Union had threatened to take action unless the Chinese halted their advance into Indian territory. Indian military analysts have pointed to that the fact that winter was approaching in the high Himalayas, making it impossible to maintain long and vulnerable supply lines from forward bases in Tibet.

But none of these explanations are consistent with the broader picture of China’s overall policies and strategic ambitions at the time of the war. It was a limited action aimed at punishing India, dethroning it from its leadership position in the non-aligned movement, and at forcing the Soviets to take sides in the wider conflict that had been raging within the international communist movement since 1960. There is nothing to indicate that the Chinese ever intended to hold the territory it had captured in October and November 1962. China wanted to demonstrate its military might and superiority and, by withdrawing, it had showed its ‘goodwill’ towards its neighbours and the rest of the world, demonstrating that it was not an aggressive power bent on capturing land from other countries. It was against the backdrop of these events that China emerged as the winner and the road now lay open for China to become the leader of the Third World.

The Cuban missile crisis may help explain why the Chinese decided to attack India on that precise date, 20 October, putting into action a plan that had been on the drawing board since 1959. But there were also other, domestic, factors which made them hasten the decision to launch their blitzkrieg against India. After the dismal failure of the Great Leap Forward in the late 1950s, Mao was plotting to regain his former position as the undisputed leader of the Chinese communists.

His rivals in the Party would have to be sidelined, neutralized—or won over. Among those critical of Mao’s policies were President Liu Shaoqi, Premier Zhou Enlai, and, most importantly, the powerful Defence Minister Peng Dehuai, a hero of the Chinese Revolution as well as the Korean War in the early 1950s who, wise from his experiences during the latter conflict, wanted to reform the PLA and make it more professional, along the lines of the armed forces of the Soviet Union. This ran contrary to Mao’s doctrine of an ideologically motivated ‘people’s army’ that would be indoctrinated by studying the writings of the Great Chairman. Mao’s vision of a good soldier was to be embodied in Lei Feng, the fictitious character created later; the loyal fighter who wanted to be ‘a stainless-steel screw for the Party’.

The ideological aspect of the 1962 War and that it was part and parcel of power struggles within the CCP at the time have been highlighted by MacFarquhar in his study of China in the 1950s and 1960s, ‘The question that remains unanswerable is: if Mao had still been in retirement, would Liu Shaoqi and Zhou Enlai have chosen to teach Mr Nehru a lesson in quite so brutal a fashion? Probably not, in the light of their support for san he yi shao.’

’San he yi shao’ was a notion advanced by Wang Jiaxiang, an erstwhile comrade-in-arms of Mao and a former Chinese ambassador to the Soviet Union. It can be translated as ‘three peaceful acts and one reduction’ and referred to his proposed conciliation with the imperialists (the United States), the revisionists (the Soviet Union), and the reactionaries (India), while reducing aid to the world’s revolutionary forces.

According to Sergey Radchenko, a specialist on Sino-Soviet relations, Mao was fiercely opposed to this idea.

Mao talked about national security and national pride. He wanted the world to know that China could not be intimidated, and that Beijing’s stern warnings to India were not a bluff. He knew that the People’s Liberation Army was in a position to inflict a shattering blow to the Indian Army and so assert China’s claim to regional hegemony. National security concerns and illusions of grandeur were very good reasons for a war with India.

The Chinese Invasion of India III

India had been identified by everyone in the top leadership of the CCP as the main regional enemy as early as 1959, and could therefore serve as a unifying factor as well as a pretext for purging the Party of ‘revisionists’ and other ‘undesirable elements’. At the time India was facing a highly disciplined and brilliantly efficient war machine in the Himalayas, it was not known that China was barely recovering from one of the worst famines in its history, a manmade disaster created by Mao’s own disastrous policies.

Following the Communist takeover of China in 1949, big and small landlords had their land confiscated and distributed among poorer peasants. Collectivization of land had to wait because there would have been widespread opposition to it. It was not until the mid-1950s that the policy changed, and peasants were forced into agricultural co-operatives. By 1958, private ownership of land had been abolished altogether, eventually leading to the birth of China’s hallmark people’s communes, where thousands of farmers were expected to work together to achieve often unrealistic production quotas. Even before that happened on a massive scale, the CCP decided to replace old religious beliefs with communist ideology, which meant that old temples were abandoned and fell into disrepair, traditional festivals were banned, and old icons in people’s homes had to be replaced with pictures of Mao, Zhu De, and other communist leaders.

There was widespread opposition to these measures and criticism of the new economic policies even from within the Party even during those early days of communist rule. In very basic terms, the state was unable to take care of the harvests and make sure that people had enough to eat. Mao’s response was to launch a campaign to let a ‘Hundred Flowers Bloom’. Criticism was not only allowed, it was encouraged. In retrospect it seems that Mao wanted to let the flowers bloom in order to cut them down. Now, when the critics had made themselves known, they were arrested under a follow-up drive called ‘The Anti-Rightist Campaign’, which was launched in June 1957. At least half a million people suffered as a result. The lucky ones just lost their jobs or homes, those who were unlucky ended up in prison or were executed.

But Mao had grander plans for transforming life in China’s rural communities and purging the critics opposed to his radical initiatives. He wanted China to become a modern, industrialized nation. The origins of these policies can be traced to the mid-1950s, when Mao began to advocate rapid industrial growth similar to what the Soviet Union had achieved under Stalin in the 1930s. This was in contrast to the modest, step-by-step industrialization and comprehensive balance as advocated by Chen Yun, a leading economist who tried—in vain—to moderate the Chairman’s wild plans for later became termed as ‘the Great Leap Forward’ and turned out to be one of the worst man-made disasters in modern history.

Mao refused to listen. In November 1957, he visited the Soviet Union and encouraged by Sputnik’s recent launch into space, he declaimed, ‘The east wind is now prevailing over the west wind’. Mao was also impressed with the Soviet Union’s massive steel production and Khrushchev’s pledge to overtake the United States and Britain in economic production in 15 years. Mao wished to see this emulated in China, and, in a People’s Daily editorial on 13 November, the slogan ‘Great Leap Forward’ was actually now used for the first time. Mao wanted to be even bolder than the Soviet Union and during the second Session of the 8th CCP Congress in May 1958 it was stated that China was to be ‘going all out, aiming high, and achieving more, faster, better, and more economic results in economic construction’.68 The goal was to overtake Britain in seven years and reach American levels in 15.

Millions of people all over the country were mobilized to turn China into the world’s most modern and industrialized nation. Steelmaking was given top priority, but in the absence of raw steel, everything from tools and metal sheets to nails and doorknobs were melted down to meet the targets. At the same time wasteful irrigation projects were launched to increase agricultural production and the state-controlled media published fanciful reports of massive progress everywhere in the country.

The Henan Province became the vanguard of the Great Leap Forward policies for the supposedly marvellous progress it had achieved. In Shangqiu Prefecture alone, a million people were employed in home workshops under the slogan, ‘Every household a factory, every home ringing with a ding-dong sound’. The province’s 38,473 collectives had been converted into 1,355 bigger people’s communes with an average of 7,200 households each. Grain production, pig farming, and irrigation projects were booming, according to the state media. In October 1958, the provincial authorities announced that Henan also had 5.77 million people working at more than 220,000 smelting furnaces.

Similar, though not quite as impressive strides forward were reported from other provinces as well. China was on the threshold of becoming the industrialized nation envisaged by Mao and summarized by the slogan ‘Three Red Banners’, i.e., ‘go all out, aim high, and build socialism with greater, faster, better, and more economical results’. But it was all pure fantasy. The people’s communes were built on land previously owned by individual farmers who saw little or no reason to toil for the state and the Party in exchange for rations and handouts from the authorities. Millions of farmers who had been mobilized to make steel no longer worked in the fields. Not surprisingly, the production of grain in Henan actually declined during the Great Leap Forward. Old food distribution networks also broke down under the weight of Mao’s mass mobilization of people to industrialize the country, which was still a backward peasant society. The vast majority of the population lived off the land, even in the co-operatives that had been established after the communist victory in 1949.

In early 1959, the central authorities in Beijing received reports from the model province of Henan that many people there were ‘stricken with edema or had died of starvation’.73 One such letter, dated 20 January 1959, and sent by the masses north and south of the Liudiquan train station, is especially moving and graphic:

On the day of the Spring Festival [the lunar New Year] people covered the grasslands of Xiayi and Yucheng searching for wild plants to eat, but there was nothing left. People have died of starvation in all of the villages on the border between the two counties. Some dropped dead while waiting in line to buy food; others perished while seeking wild herbs in the fields.

The pattern was the same, or worse, all over China. People were dying from starvation everywhere, and there were frequent reports of cannibalism. In Xinyang prefecture in Henan alone, there were at least 20 cases of people eating human flesh. An 18-year-old girl drowned her five-year-old cousin and ate him. The boy’s 14-year-old elder sister was also driven by hunger and ate her brother’s flesh. In Anhui Province there were 63 cases of cannibalism between 1959 and 1960. A couple strangled their eight-year-old son, and then cooked and ate him. In the same province, a man dug up a corpse, ate some of it, and sold a kilo as pork. Those were not isolated incidents. Similar incidents were recorded in most of China’s provinces, although it is only in recent years that the full scale of the disaster has come to light. There were also sporadic rebellions in some parts of the country, but those were quickly quelled and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of rebels and their ringleaders were executed by the police and the PLA.

The drive to turn China into an industrialized country also failed miserably. The steel that the furnaces turned out was useless, and the irrigation canals, dykes, and dams that had been built in rural areas to modernize China’s agriculture were of poor standard. Frank Dikötter, a professor at the University of Hong Kong who has written extensively about the Great Leap Forward, states that, ‘more detailed reports by investigation teams confirmed that materials, tools and machinery were neglected or even deliberately damaged. In the Shijiazhuang Iron and Steel Company, for instance, half of the engines broke down frequently.’ Dikötter concludes that ‘a culture of waste developed. In Luoyang, three factories alone had accumulated more than 2,500 tonnes of scrap metal that went nowhere. In Shenyang, sloppy streamlets of molten copper and nickel solution ran between heaps of scrap metal.’

It was on 25 March 1959, in the midst of all this chaos, that the expanded Politburo of the CCP met in Shanghai. The issue that topped the agenda of the meeting was, naturally, the Great Leap Forward. But the Tibetan revolt had just been crushed, and the Dalai Lama had fled to India. So, that topic was also raised. Already before the conference, Zhou Enlai had accused both Britain and the United States of having provided support for the uprising. India, as a frontline state, must have been involved as well, according to Zhou.

At the Shanghai meeting, Deng Xiaoping reiterated what Zhou had stated, but argued that the time was not yet ripe for Beijing to condemn India openly. While it was not yet clear exactly when China was going to ‘settle accounts’ with the Indians, this was an issue where everyone was in complete agreement. Deng, along with Liu Shaoqi, belonged to those who were advocating more realistic economic policies than those implemented by Mao. But Deng was as much a hardliner as Mao when it came to dealing with Tibet and what the Communist leaders considered to be national security issues. The question was only when India should be ‘taught a lesson’.

Despite the consensus on issues relating to Tibet and India, Mao was still in trouble. The failures of the Great Leap Forward had shaken his leadership position and the Shanghai meeting endorsed his retirement from his post as the Chairman of the People’s Republic, or the de facto head of state. That post was given to the much more moderate Liu Shaoqi. But Mao stayed on as Chairman of the Party and, to the best of his ability, continued to manipulate events from behind the scenes.

A major problem for everyone in the top leadership was that they could not trust their underlings in the provinces. To conceal the disastrous outcome of the Great Leap Forward, and perhaps in an attempt to avoid being punished for failures, production figures in all fields were falsified in reports sent to the centre in Beijing. But the figures were so gross and exaggerated that even Mao disbelieved them. In April 1959, after the Shanghai meeting, he sent a circular letter to the Party cadres denouncing ‘mere bragging’ and demanding production targets to be based on reality.

The well-educated Zhou Enlai, who had no difficulty in understanding what was happening, had actually been one of the first to initiate a campaign against Mao’s concept of ‘rash advance’ as early as 1956. But Zhou, perhaps feeling that his position in the top leadership was no longer secure as Mao steamrolled his policies through the CCP’s Central Committee, soon turned around. In March 1958, he even undertook ‘self-criticism’ for opposing Mao’s notions of rapid industrialization. ‘I take the main responsibility for submitting the report opposing rash advance, in effect dashing cold water on the upsurge among the masses…at the time I lacked perception, and it was only later that I gradually came to understand that this was a directional error on the issue of socialist construction.’

Here was the supposedly sophisticated statesman who had made such an impression on the public during his visits to India in the 1950s humiliating himself in front of the Party’s inquisitors. Zhou was no doubt still critical of Mao’s plans for a rapid industrialization of China, but, at the same time, he was an opportunist who had to survive in the increasingly bitter power struggles that emerged during and in the wake of the Great Leap Forward. This became obvious when the CCP convened a meeting of its Politburo and a plenum of the Central Committee at Lushan, a mountain resort in Jiangxi Province in July 1959.

Yang Jisheng, a Chinese writer and researcher, says, ‘Obliged to defend the Three Red Banners and their consequences, Zhou felt deeply conflicted. This was manifested in his schizophrenic performance at the Lushan Conference as he exerted great effort to resolve practical issues while pandering to Mao at every opportunity.’ In retrospect, it seems implausible that Indian policymakers would have got anything sensible out of Zhou when he, at the very same time, was communicating with Nehru about the border and other outstanding issues China had with India.

Zhou’s opportunism made it possible for him to survive the purges that Mao unleashed at the Lushan Conference. The most prominent leader to be ousted was Peng Dehuai, who, on 13 and 14 July, had written a private letter criticizing the Great Leap Forward. Although extremely cautiously worded, and saying that the ‘accomplishments of 1958 Great Leap Forward are absolutely undeniable’, Mao took it as an attack on himself and his policies. But Mao also made the mistake of circulating Peng’s letter, which meant that other critical voices were raised. Zheng Wentian, a party veteran and Politburo member, was outspoken in his criticism—or, rather, as outspoken as anyone could be in the CCP.

Mao’s response was fierce and swift. Peng, Zheng, and others who were associated with them were branded ‘rightists’ and ‘counter-revolutionaries’ and were purged during and immediately after the Lushan Conference. Zheng was accused of having ‘illicit relations with a foreign country’, which, presumably meant the Soviet Union, and buckets of sewage water were poured over his head as he was ordered to confess his ‘wrongdoings’.85 In September, Peng was replaced as defence minister by Lin Biao, a Mao crony who himself would be purged later. Mao appeared to have emerged victorious in the power struggle, but even so, his position was not yet secure.

There was widespread dissatisfaction with him and his rule. The Great Leap Forward had led to famine on a scale not seen before in Chinese history. The exact number of deaths is difficult to determine. Dikötter believes that 45 million people died ‘unnecessarily’ between 1958 and 1962. Yang quotes Jiang Zhenghua, a Chinese researcher, who puts the figure considerably lower at 17 million. Whatever the exact number of deaths from starvation during the Great Leap Forward, it was a disaster of unprecedented magnitude. By comparison, approximately three million people died during the Bengal famine in 1943, the worst disaster that has affected India within the twentieth century.

Even with his main rivals out of the way, and Zhou licking his wounds and now following the Party line, Mao was disturbed by the opposition that he had had to face before and during the Lushan Conference. How many ‘rightists’ and ‘revisionists’ were there still in the Party? Who could he trust? The meeting was hardly over before Mao launched yet another vigorous ‘anti-rightist’ campaign to silence his remaining critics. Even the old marshal Zhu De, the real founder of the PLA, had tried to protect Peng at Lushan by criticizing him only mildly. That was enough for Mao, who had expected Zhu to denounce Peng. Zhu was dismissed from his post as vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission, but was allowed to retain some other, less important posts in the state and Party hierarchy.

It is plausible that it was at this time that Mao also decided to use the Tibet issue and the border dispute with India to enhance his still shaky position within the Party and the state. The Lushan Conference ended on 16 August, and on 25 August, a PLA unit launched a surprise attack on an Indian position at Longju on the NEFA border. Then came the firefight at Kongka La in Ladakh on 21 October. Lin Biao, the man Mao had put in charge of the military, was obviously doing his job. It is doubtful whether any of those attacks would have happened if the more professional, veteran officer Peng had still been in command of the PLA. On the other hand, China’s battlefield achievements in 1959 as well as in Myanmar in 1961, and, especially, the victory in the 1962 War were made possible because the PLA had benefitted from initiatives taken by Peng to professionalize the officer corps and make the command structure of the armed forces more efficient. These were to be reversed under Lin Biao. It was under him that the Lei Feng concept was promoted and for political and ideological reasons turned into a nation-wide cult, which survives to this day.

Mao’s gradual climb back to a position of absolute power had begun. By 1961, the Great Leap Forward was buried along with all the people who had died during the three years it had lasted. Apart from the millions who had died from starvation, there were others who had been beaten to death by Party zealots or had been executed on accusations of sabotage and other imagined crimes. It was over, and the political legacy of the Great Leap Forward was that Mao decided to replace the old principles of collective leadership of the Party with his own rule, which was not to be disputed or even challenged. He would, from now on, not tolerate any criticism of his rule or of his person.

But his struggle for a political comeback was not yet over. So, how safe was he from plots and intrigues within the Party? Dr Li Zhisui, Mao’s personal physician and confidante, wrote much later in his biography of the Chairman that his support within the Party was waning even after the Great Leap Forward. Mao was ‘depressed over the agricultural crisis and angry with the party elite, upon whom he was less able now to work his will. Mao was in temporary eclipse, spending most of his time in bed.

But then came 1962. According to Dr Li, ‘Nineteen sixty-two was a political turning point for Mao. In January, when he convened another expanded Central Committee work conference to discuss the continuing disaster, his support within the party was at its lowest.’ At the meeting, President Liu Shaoqi openly blamed the famine on ‘man-made disasters’. Liu wanted to bring back the leaders who had been purged for opposing the Great Leap Forward, which made Mao furious.

The sycophantic Lin Biao praised Mao, and the Chairman himself began counterattacking his enemies more vigorously by arguing that ‘classes continue to exist even under socialism’. The ‘class struggle’ had to be carried on and the notorious hardliner and spymaster Kang Sheng was put in charge of carrying out more purges of ‘revisionist’, i.e., anti-Mao elements within the CCP. Kang was almost inseparable from Jiang Qing, the former actress who in 1938 became Mao’s fourth wife. Together with Lin Biao, they became instrumental in bringing Mao back to power and propagating his unique brand of Communism as well as the personality cult that was advanced in the mid-1960s.

The border dispute with India proved to be a useful distraction from the power struggle and an issue that would either silence Mao’s rivals and critics or bring them back them into the fold. And that helps explain why the final preparations for a war with India began in early 1962. Lin Biao was put in charge of the operation and that alliance between Mao and his loyal de facto chief of the PLA made the attack on India possible. With China’s ultimate victory in the war, Mao’s ultra-leftist line had won in China; whatever critical voices that were left in the Party after all the purges fell silent.

By now there was also no doubt that Mao’s vision and ambitions went beyond China’s borders. He wanted to become the leader not only of China but also of all the revolutionary movements in the world. And that became a reality after the victory over India in 1962. Two years later, Nehru died, humiliated by the Chinese, a broken man. Brigadier Dalvi noted this in his account of the 1962 War and its aftermath, ‘Without a Nehru India ceased to be the moral leader of the non-aligned world. Whereas prior to 1962 she wielded immense power and influence despite her poverty and lack of military power, after the Chinese attack she was “cut to size” in the words of one unfriendly critic of Nehru.’

China was encouraged by the victory over India, and, once again, united behind Mao. A more belligerent China also emerged from the ashes of the battlefields in the Himalayas. Bombastic revolutionary phraseology was nothing new in broadcasts by Radio Beijing and articles in the People’s Daily, but the rhetoric in the Chinese media now became even more militant than ever before. And the message was directed at revolutionaries in the parts of the world Mao wanted to have on his side in the struggle against ‘the imperialists’, ‘the revisionists’, and ‘the reactionaries’.

Mohan Ram argues in his excellent study of events before and after the 1962 War that, by mid-1967, China ‘thought the revolutionary situation had turned “excellent” amidst sharpening international class struggle’ and with revolutionary flames being lit all over ‘The Third World’. Ram refers to an article in the People’s Daily, which contained a fierce attack on the Soviet Union’s then premier, Alexei Kosygin, and his call for ‘an end to war’ as well as a condemnation of ‘the greater United States-Soviet collusion against revolutionary struggles’. The People’s Daily concluded that ‘the world is full of the smell of gun powder…to hell with the theory of “dying out” of wars!’

Southern India in the age of Vijayanagara, 1350–1550 Part I

The rise of the Delhi Sultanate, although it brought many changes to north India, had little direct impact on the lands south of the Narmada river. Only from around 1300, when the Delhi Sultanate began sending armies down into the peninsula, did the histories of these two parts of the subcontinent start to converge. The military successes of the Delhi Sultanate gave a north Indian state control over portions of south India for the first time in many centuries. Although the Delhi Sultanate did not retain this control for long, its intervention into the affairs of the peninsula was to have long-lasting repercussions. Because a separate state headed by Central Asian Muslim warriors known as the Bahmanis was founded in the Deccan in 1347, the Islamic religion and culture that had taken root in the Deccan under the Tughluq sultans of Delhi continued to flourish in subsequent times. Another significant result of Delhi’s military expeditions was the destruction of the existing regional kingdoms of the south. This paved the way for the emergence of Vijayanagara, a new state ruled by indigenous warriors that shaped the society and culture of south India for centuries thereafter. The empire of Vijayanagara is often credited with preserving a distinctly Hindu way of life in south India that had been lost in the north, a misconception that overlooks both the creativity and cosmopolitan nature of the Vijayanagara elite. By 1550, south India was a considerably more diverse and complex place than it had been in 1300.

Rise and decline of the Vijayanagara kingdom

The origins of the Vijayanagara kingdom have been a subject of intense debate. We know that its first rulers were two brothers belonging to the Sangama family, but opinions on where they came from and what they did prior to becoming independent lords differ greatly. For much of the twentieth century, it was thought that the Sangama brothers were warriors of a local king defeated by the Delhi sultan whose service they then entered, converting to Islam in the process. Only after they had been sent from Delhi to the Karnataka region of south India as the sultan’s representatives did the Sangamas return to the Hindu fold and set up their own independent kingdom, with the help of a Hindu sage, according to this line of thinking. Implicit in this narrative is the conception of Vijayanagara as an overtly Hindu state, originating from a rejection of the Islamic religion and a Muslim overlord. Scholars also disagreed on whether the Sangamas were warriors initially from the Karnataka region or from the Andhra region to its east, since both regions wished to claim them as sons of the soil.

More recent scholarship, particularly by Hermann Kulke and Phillip Wagoner, has presented a radically different interpretation of the events leading to the founding of Vijayanagara. While the Sangama brothers were probably local warriors from Karnataka who first served in the army of the Hoysala king, they neither converted to Islam nor were they affiliated with a Hindu sage. Instead, they appear to have voluntarily given political allegiance to Muhammad Tughluq during the years when he was based at Daulatabad. Once Tughluq power waned in the Deccan, the Sangamas sought to establish their own state and held a major ceremony in 1346 to celebrate their conquests up to that time; this probably marks the true commencement of their kingdom, rather than the traditional date of 1336. Because the Sangamas were but the first of four ruling dynasties, we call the kingdom not after the kings but after the new name coined for the capital, Vijayanagara or “City of Victory.” Today the site is known both as Vijayanagara and also as Hampi, a variation on the name of the goddess, Pampa Devi, long associated with the region.

Although the Vijayanagara kingdom was to eventually become the largest state ever created in south India, its expansion occurred quite slowly. In its first decades, the various members of the extended Sangama family ruled in a semi-autonomous fashion the different provinces of the small kingdom, extending only from central and southern Karnataka into the interior portion of southern Andhra. In the first half of the fifteenth century, the state finally began to grow after power was consolidated within one lineage of the Sangamas. Under Devaraya II (r. 1432–46), generally considered to be the greatest of the Sangama dynasty of rulers, Vijayanagara controlled both the eastern and western coasts of the Deccan and was the pre-eminent state of the peninsula.

Vijayanagara’s chief rival during its first century of existence was the Bahmani Sultanate, established as an independent state in 1347 after a revolt among the officers of the Delhi Sultanate stationed in the Deccan. The Bahmani capital was soon moved from Daulatabad to the more centrally located Gulbarga and then during the 1420s to Bidar. The Bahmanis held sway in the western Deccan north of the Krishna river, while Vijayanagara was dominant in the western Deccan south of the Tungabhadra river. The alluvial zone in between those rivers, known as the Raichur doab, was hotly contested by the two states; both also tried to extend their influence into the fertile Krishna-Godavari river delta of the Andhra region to the east. A third area of conflict between the two states was the western coast, which would confer direct access to the maritime routes of Indian Ocean trade and thus to the most important military supplies of the time: war horses imported from Arabia, Persia, and Central Asia.

Initially, Vijayanagara troops could not prevail over the smaller army of the Bahmani sultan. The sultan’s advantage was in cavalry and so he was known as the Ashvapati or Lord of Horses, in contrast to the Vijayanagara king who was called the Lord of Men or Infantry (Narapati). Only after the borrowing of both military personnel and technologies from the Bahmani Sultanate was the Vijayanagara kingdom able to expand its sphere of influence. Devaraya II (r. 1432–46) was largely responsible for narrowing the military gap, welcoming Muslims, highly respected for their martial skills, to the state. Significantly, Muslims were defined not in religious terms but by ethnic labels such as Turk. Devaraya II reputedly enlisted 200 Muslims at the officer rank, as well as many more at lower levels – up to 10,000, according to a probably exaggerated claim. As early as 1439, one of these officers had a mosque constructed in the section of the capital city that became a Muslim quarter. A number of Muslim tombs dot the surrounding area, indicating an elite Muslim presence. The adoption of advanced military techniques and the importation of war-horses contributed considerably to the success of Devaraya II’s military ambitions.

A second major competitor for power from Devaraya II’s reign onward was the Hindu dynasty of the Gajapatis, who had usurped the throne of northeastern Andhra and southern Orissa in the 1430s. Ruling a humid and forested region where elephants were still plentiful, the title “Lord of the Elephants” or Gajapati was given to these Orissa kings by their contemporaries, in admiration of their supply of war-elephants. After Devaraya II’s death in 1446, his less capable successors could not contain Gajapati power and the Gajapatis began to overrun Vijayanagara’s eastern lands, eventually reaching as far south as the Kaveri delta in the central Tamil country. They also wrested portions of northern Andhra away from Bahmani control. By the 1480s, the Vijayanagara kingdom had lost so much territory to the Gajapatis and the Bahmanis, who had overrun much of the west coast, that it was scarcely larger than it had been at its inception. This led Saluva Narasimha, the most active general in the struggle against Vijayanagara’s enemies, to usurp the throne in 1485. The short-lived Saluva dynasty was ousted in turn in 1505 when another general, this time from the Tuluva family, seized power. Under the Tuluvas, the third royal dynasty of Vijayanagara, the kingdom not only regained its strength but went on to achieve its greatest glory.

Krishnadeva Raya (r. 1509–29), the second of Vijayanagara’s Tuluva rulers, is largely responsible for making Vijayanagara the paramount polity in the peninsula. Ascending the throne while in his twenties, Krishnadeva Raya pursued a vigorous policy of consolidating Vijayanagara power from the outset. He is best known for the aggressive campaign against the Gajapatis initiated in 1513 which led to the recovery within two years of important sites situated to the south of the Krishna river. Vijayanagara forces kept pressing northward until they reached Cuttack, the Gajapati capital in southern Orissa, in 1517. The Gajapati king eventually surrendered and offered his daughter in marriage to Krishnadeva, who in turn gave all the coastal territory north of the Krishna river back to the Gajapatis. Krishnadeva Raya’s Orissa campaign has been called “one of the most brilliant military episodes in the history of sixteenth-century India.”

Partly because of his many military successes, Krishnadeva Raya was the most celebrated Vijayanagara king among later generations of south Indians. Even Domingo Paes, a foreign visitor to Vijayanagara city during the period when Krishnadeva Raya was king, praises him as “a great ruler and a man of much justice.” In physical appearance, however, Krishnadeva Raya was not impressive, for Paes describes him as “of medium height, and of fair complexion and good figure, rather fat than thin, he has on his face signs of small-pox.”2 Krishnadeva Raya was reputedly quite hospitable to foreigners who came to his capital seeking trade, although Paes, as a minor member of a Portuguese delegation from Goa, had little direct contact with him. Nonetheless, Paes witnessed much of the city’s public life and left behind a travel account that is valuable both for its many details and because it is the only foreign testimony contemporary to Krishnadeva’s reign.

Vijayanagara was able to become dominant in the early sixteenth century not only because of the military abilities of kings like Krishnadeva Raya but also because its second important rival, the Bahmani Sultanate, had begun to disintegrate into smaller segments. The Bahmanis could not contain the long-term factionalism between the Deccanis, who were mainly descendants of settlers from north India and saw themselves as the old nobility, and new immigrants known as Afaqis, from Iran and Central Asia. The provincial governors of Bijapur and Ahmadnagar were independent by 1500 for all practical purposes, while the separate states of Golkonda, Berar, and Bidar emerged over the next few decades from what was left of the Bahmani Sultanate. Krishnadeva Raya had little trouble establishing Vijayanagara supremacy over the armies of the Bahmanis and their now virtually autonomous governors in 1509. He also brought the southern territories more firmly under control. With growing numbers of Vijayanagara nayakas or warrior lords settled in the various localities of the Tamil country, the mantle of Vijayanagara rule came to rest more heavily on the far south.

During Krishnadeva Raya’s reign, the Vijayanagara kingdom attained its largest size and its greatest degree of centralization, although small tributary states under the rule of their own kings lingered on in portions of southern Karnataka, southern Tamil Nadu, and along the western seaboard. Command over the outlying territories was entrusted to elite Vijayanagara warriors, often men with the title nayaka who carried out both military and civilian duties. With increasing frequency from the late fifteenth century on, members of the ruling class were rewarded with the assignment of nayamkara territories – villages, districts, or even entire provinces over which they had the right to retain certain revenues. Taxes on agricultural produce and the selling or transport of goods as well as the fee on grazing animals, that would otherwise be owed to the king, were instead given to the man who held the nayamkara assignment. The expectation was that the assigned revenues would be used to maintain troops in readiness for the overlord’s military needs. The king had the right to revoke a nayamkara assignment or switch the land included in a nayamkara, so that no subordinate could build up his own local power base and pose a challenge to the king.

Some of the duties and privileges of Vijayanagara’s nayaka lords are described by Paes, in the following passage:

These captains whom he [the king] has over these troops of his are the nobles of his kingdom; they are lords, and they hold the city, and the towns and villages of the kingdom; there are captains amongst them who have a revenue of a million and a million & half of pardaos, others a hundred thousand pardaos, others two hundred, three hundred or five hundred thousand pardaos, and as each one has revenue so the king fixes for him the number of troops he must maintain, in foot, horse, and elephants . . . Besides maintaining these troops, each captain has to make his annual payments to the king . . . Whenever a son happens to be born to this king, or a daughter, all the nobles of the kingdom offer him great presents of money and jewels of price, and so they do to him every year on the day of his birth.

The Vijayanagara lords were, in other words, required to maintain a stipulated number of troops and to make annual revenue payments to the king, depending on the size of the nayamkara territory they were assigned. In addition, they were expected to give the king gifts on special occasions. Other evidence indicates that lords who did not fulfill their obligations had their nayamkara assignments taken away.

Two Tuluva rulers followed Krishnadeva Raya on the Vijayanagara throne, but internal struggles at court and the increasing independence of the major lords led to a weakening of the king’s position. From the 1540s on, Rama Raya of the powerful Aravidu family acted in the name of the king and wielded the actual power. For more than twenty years, Rama Raya ruthlessly repressed all opposition at court and in the southern territories. He also kept the Deccan states that had emerged from the Bahmani Sultanate’s demise at bay through skillfully playing one off against another. His brilliant, if deceitful, strategy eventually backfired – their distrust of Vijayanagara grew so strong over the years that the rulers of Ahmadnagar, Bijapur, and Golkonda overcame their own mutual hostility and banded together to attack Vijayanagara forces. At the fateful battle of Talikota in 1565, Rama Raya was killed and the city of Vijayanagara left defenseless. Rama Raya’s brother Tirumala soon abandoned the capital and retrenched in southern Andhra, where he became the first member of the Vijayanagara’s final royal dynasty, the Aravidus. Although the Vijayanagara kingdom, now based in Andhra and much smaller in size, remained in existence for another century, its days of greatness were gone after 1565.

Southern India in the age of Vijayanagara, 1350–1550 Part II

Vijayanagara’s militarism

Vijayanagara is widely acknowledged to be the most militarized of the non-Muslim states of south India. Much of this militaristic orientation was a result of its origins as a polity created by an upwardly mobile warrior lineage in the Deccan. The semi-arid environment of the peninsular interior had long hosted peoples engaged in slash-and-burn agriculture, herding, and trade. The upland economy was precarious, encouraging the development of martial skills and the emergence of warlords. Since the late twelfth century, warriors from the semi-arid zone had become politically dominant throughout the peninsula. Facilitating their dominance were improvements in horse-riding equipment that had disseminated from the northwest into the Deccan during the century or two prior to the establishment of the Vijayanagara state. The innovations included the foot-stirrup providing greater support for the rider, better harnesses allowing more control over the horse, high saddles with pommels, and nailed horseshoes. These changes in horse-riding technology enhanced the destructive capabilities of cavalry and made it the decisive factor in an army’s success in battle. The availability of quality horses, which had also contributed to the Ghurid and Delhi Sultanate’s military successes, was another factor leading to greater militancy in the peninsula in the period immediately before the founding of Vijayanagara.

The early fourteenth-century incursions of the Khalji and Tughluq armies, by dislodging indigenous warrior lineages from their positions of power, further promoted the growth of militarism in the peninsula. In the power vacuum that resulted from the disruption of earlier political networks, there was plenty of scope for military adventurism for those with sufficient martial skills and motivation. The Sangama founders of Vijayanagara came out of this turbulent and competitive milieu and were successful in carving out a territory at the expense of numerous others who similarly aspired to kingship. The Bahmani Sultanate, with its more sophisticated cavalry techniques, was a persistent opponent to Vijayanagara’s expansionist ambitions and this forced Vijayanagara to commit more resources to building up its army.

But Vijayanagara’s militaristic character cannot be attributed to the presence of Muslim states in its vicinity, for this was an era when the scale and lethal capacity of armed force was escalating not only throughout the subcontinent but also throughout most of the Eurasian landmass. Armies were increasing in size, new weapons were being introduced, and more massive fortifications were being erected to defend the centers of political power. Gunpowder was introduced into thirteenth-century India by the Mongols, who learned about it from the Chinese. Gunpowder was first used to create burning projectiles or exploding devices that were used primarily during siege warfare. By the second half of the fifteenth century, gunpowder also came to be used in cannons, to propel a ball through the metal tube. According to one text, as many as 2,300 cannon and many smaller guns were deployed by the Vijayanagara army at the battle of Talikota in 1565.

The Vijayanagara capital was a massive site, the largest surviving in South Asia today, the defensive walls of which were intended to fend off invaders physically and at the same time overwhelm viewers by their awesome scale. Abd al-Razzaq, an emissary who arrived in the city in 1443 from Herat, was clearly impressed by the surrounding walls, for he notes that there were seven concentric walls, although in reality there are fewer. Huge earth-packed and stone-faced walls surrounded the suburbs and nearby villages. These walls were commenced with the city’s founding and as the state became increasingly militaristic in nature, the importance of having massive walls grew. Recent work indicates that some 650 square kilometers were encircled by these huge walls, manned by soldiers who monitored from ramparts, watch posts, and bastions the broad roads that ran in and out of the city. The walls also served daily needs, for catchment basins and reservoirs were part of the protective walls. The ground between the various walled areas of the greater Vijayanagara metropolitan area was often filled with large boulders known as horse-stones that would guarantee an invading foot soldier or cavalry unit difficulty in traversing the terrain. The inner city, consisting of roughly two parts divided along an east–west axis, which today are referred to as the sacred and royal centers, was also walled. Within the city’s perimeter were more walled compounds, but their walls often were designed to ensure privacy rather than for defensive purposes.

Public rituals in the capital city highlighted the state’s military prowess. A case in point is the nine-day Mahanavami festival associated with veneration of the goddess Durga. All the great nayaka lords and their armies were required to attend the festival, after which a general muster of the troops was held outside the city proper. Witnessing the vastness of the assembled forces about 1522, the Portuguese traveler Domingo Paes was so overwhelmed that he reported “it seemed as if what I saw was a vision.” During the festival itself, the goddess was worshipped by the king both privately and publicly; the two sometimes also shared the Mahanavami Dibba, the large platform upon which the king displayed himself to his lords and in turn was paid homage by them.

The great platform as it stands today was built in four successive stages, the last one by Krishnadeva Raya in celebration of his victorious campaign in Orissa. While Paes observed the Mahanavami festival, carvings on the platform showing courtly figures throwing water indicate that the spring festival, also a nine-day event, was celebrated there as well. Given the prominence of this tiered structure in the heart of the royal center next to ritual baths and the important Ramachandra temple, it must have been the focal point for multiple royal ceremonies. All these festivals, while essentially religious, were in fact a celebration of the regime’s success in the economic and political realms. This multi-tiered platform dominates the skyline of the royal center. That aspect of it is visible from a considerable distance; however, it is only on close scrutiny that the sculpted carvings on every tier are noted. Here we see no religious themes whatsoever, but only those depicting the ruler, the military, and the endless processions essential to these royal celebrations, thus providing an important insight into the concept of kingship under the Vijayanagara rulers.

The royal center at Vijayanagara remained in use until the capital was abandoned in 1565, even when new complexes were built outside the city limits. So, for example, we know from the testimony of foreign travelers that Krishnadeva Raya continued to conduct the public ceremonial of the state in the royal center, although he actually dwelt in a fortified suburb built supposedly for the benefit of his beloved queen, Chinnadevi, a former courtesan who had been his mistress before he became king. This stands in sharp contrast to the practice in Delhi, where kings often had entirely new walled complexes, encompassing both residential and ceremonial functions, constructed at some distance from previous centers. Another difference is that the built environment of the Vijayanagara capital has undergone few changes since 1565, due to the dispersal of its population following the city’s fall from power. Delhi, on the other hand, was not only an urban locality comprised of a whole series of royal complexes but also one that continued to serve as a capital or major center for over 700 years, during which time its urban fabrics were constantly being rebuilt and expanded. The modern visitor to Vijayanagara’s extensive remains built over a 200 year period and to those of Delhi today, a city occupied by kings since about 1200, might therefore believe that Vijayanagara was the larger and more urban setting. This impression would be erroneous, for travelers such as Ibn Battuta had declared Delhi to be the greatest city of the Persian-speaking world, and its position as a major crossroads of trade and communications should not be underestimated. For peninsular India, however, Vijayanagara city was undoubtedly both the largest and most important of all urban centers in the precolonial era.

Vijayanagara kings as exemplary Hindu rulers

Since the early twentieth century, Vijayanagara has often been described as a state established in order to halt the advance of Muslim power in the peninsula. According to this view, the kingdom was born out of a desire to protect Hindu religion and culture, and so its militarism was a direct response to the threat posed by the Muslim presence, that is, the Bahmani Sultanate and its successor states. Vijayanagara allegedly stood as a bulwark against the burgeoning tide of Muslim conquest and thus became the savior of the south Indian people. This interpretation, which sees the Vijayanagara kingdom as inspired by and imbued with a deep sense of Hindu nationalism, is clearly anachronistic – a case of projecting a present-day situation back into the past.

A hundred years later, the flaws in the earlier depiction of Vijayanagara as a nation whose mission was the defense of Hinduism against Islam are readily apparent. For one thing, the concept of a unified Hindu religion did not exist in the fourteenth century, nor did that of a nation composed of all the peoples within a state’s borders. Vijayanagara’s militarism was largely a result of indigenous developments, although it was intensified by competition with more technologically advanced states in an age of escalating warfare worldwide. And the Vijayanagara state’s greatest rival for power was not the Bahmani Sultanate but the Gajapati kingdom of Orissa, a state headed by rulers who were Hindu. Continuing research on the material culture of Vijayanagara has, moreover, uncovered increasing evidence that it was strongly influenced by the states of the Deccan and the wider civilization of Islam.

The Vijayanagara kings did not see themselves as engaged in mortal combat for the survival of Hinduism and south Indian society. However, the rulers of Vijayanagara did attempt to act as righteous kings behaving according to dharma, that is, who lived up to traditional Indic expectations of rulers. An important aspect of kingly duties in classical Indian thought was the protection of the social order and most particularly the upholding of Brahmin privilege. Hence, the Vijayanagara kings sought to portray themselves as champions of the ideal hierarchical society envisioned in Brahmin law books by claiming the title “upholders of varnashrama dharma” (the moral duties of class and stage of life). The early Vijayanagara rulers also sponsored Brahmin scholarship, including a series of commentaries on Vedic literature. Throughout the Vijayanagara era, Brahmins continued to be employed by the court in considerable numbers, and Brahmin lands received preferential tax treatment, not unlike the manner in which the sultanates favored Muslim theologians and institutions. Increasingly from the early medieval period onward, however, notions of royal legitimacy came to rest on linkages with temple deities rather than with Brahmins. It was in the combined role of servant and patron of the gods that the Vijayanagara kings excelled.

Almost simultaneously with their decision to settle in Hampi, the site of the capital city, the Sangamas adopted as their family deity the god Virupaksha, a form of Shiva, who was the most celebrated deity in that locality. In deference to the greatness of the deity they had chosen to be the protector of their family, capital, and kingdom, the Sangamas typically signed the name of Virupaksha to royal decrees rather than their own, suggesting that he was the true lord of the realm. Later Vijayanagara kings continued to engrave Virupaksha’s name on the copper-plate records of their religious grants, well after the capital had been abandoned in 1565. Another acknowledgment of Virupaksha’s pre-eminent status was the practice of announcing all religious endowments made throughout the kingdom in his temple. Virupaksha was thus informed of the meritorious behavior of the donors of religious gifts and, as a witness to their intentions, could safeguard the endowments they had made.

The Vijayanagara rulers honored Virupaksha in more concrete terms as well. Numerous grants of land and villages were made by the kings, their relatives, and their high officials in order to supply the material goods and labor required for the daily worship services dedicated to Virupaksha in his Hampi temple. This temple commenced as a small shrine, essentially a pilgrimage site, prior to the rulers taking over the locality. Extensive construction and renovation of the buildings in the temple complex had begun by the late fourteenth century. One of the most generous benefactors of the temple was Krishnadeva Raya. On the occasion of his coronation in 1509–10, he had a large pillared hall built, along with an enormous towered gateway (gopura). Increasingly, since the fifteenth century, temples in territory ruled by Vijayanagara diverged from the local style common to the Telugu and Kannada-speaking areas. Temples in the local style, such as the earliest temples found at Vijayanagara city, are small with no sense of height or grandeur. Later kings and lords of Vijayanagara chose to build temples that evoked the monumental style of the imperial Cholas, who ruled much of south India until the twelfth century. Thus, the large pillared hall provided by Krishnadeva Raya at the Virupaksha temple, as well as the towering entrances added to this temple and others, were intended to visually rank the Vijayanagara rulers on par with the legendary Cholas, whose temples reflected a sense of the rulers’ extraordinary military feats and their support of dharma.

Virupaksha was not the only god favored by the Vijayanagara kings. A temple to Rama, an incarnation of the god Vishnu, was constructed in the early fifteenth century, most probably by King Devaraya I (r. 1406–22). It was situated in the middle of the city’s royal zone, at some distance from the Virupaksha and other earlier temples. Because Vishnu was thought to have repeatedly rescued the earth and its people from evil demons, he and his various incarnations had long been popular with Indian kings who sought to cast themselves similarly as saviors of their kingdoms. The association of Rama with this site dates back as far as the eleventh century, and the whole region is often identified with Kishkindha, the realm of the monkeys whose help the god-king Rama enlisted in the search for his abducted wife, Sita. Malyavanta Hill is where Rama is said to have spent a rainy season while monkey scouts scoured the peninsula for signs of Sita. Earlier Matanga Hill, the highest spot in the locality, had been the refuge of Rama’s monkey allies, Hanuman and Sugriva, when they were hiding from the wrath of a deposed monkey king.

The importance of Rama to the Vijayanagara kings is evident from the centrality given to the Ramachandra temple in the overall plan of the capital city as it evolved in the first half of the fifteenth century. The temple is both literally and figuratively at the heart of the buildings and public spaces utilized by the court, and it divides this royal zone into two sections. To the west of the temple is the area where the royal family resided; to the temple’s east is the area including the great Mahanavami platform where the public activities of the court were conducted. Further accentuating the centrality of the Ramachandra temple were a series of roads that radiated out from the enclosure in front of the temple toward the north, northeast, and other directions. A different set of roads that circle the metropolitan area have the royal zone, and its Ramachandra temple, at their center.

The link between Rama’s life-story and the city is emphasized by the placement of the Ramachandra temple in relation to the hills associated with Rama’s monkey helpers. The temple’s inner shrine is aligned directly south of Matanga Hill, and both Matanga and Malyavanta Hills can be seen from within the temple complex. Sculptures narrating the Ramayana epic are located both on the exterior walls of the principal shrine and on the inner face of the walls enclosing the temple complex, visibly reminding the visitor of the god’s significance. On the outer face of the enclosure walls, in contrast, there are numerous scenes of court life at the capital, including depictions of elephants and war-horses, military parades, and female dancers. A complementarity, perhaps even a correspondence, between the king of the city and the god Rama is suggested by this distribution of sculptures, with Rama’s sphere internal to the temple and the king’s sphere external to it.

Patronage of Virupaksha’s temple, the major pilgrimage site in their locality, and the construction of new temples like that of Ramachandra in their urban center were important means by which the Vijayanagara kings sought to show themselves as exemplary Indic rulers. But it was not enough to act as a patron of temples within the capital, the locus of royal power, for the king’s righteousness had to be evident throughout the kingdom. Outside of their capitals or home bases, medieval south Indian kings were most likely to endow temples in areas that had recently come under their control. By commissioning buildings or making lavish presents to temples in outlying or frontier territories, kings not only displayed their piety but also visibly demonstrated their ability to allocate resources in that locality.

Krishnadeva Raya, the greatest of all Vijayanagara kings, was a master at this type of symbolic statement made through the medium of religious patronage. At various stages in his long campaign against the Gajapati kings of Orissa, Krishnadeva gave lavish donations to major temple complexes in the territories that had just been conquered. After the successful siege of Udayagiri, a well-fortified stronghold in southern Andhra, for instance, the king and his queens made a triumphant visit to the Shri Venkateshvara temple at Tirupati, then as now the pre-eminent Vishnu temple of the Andhra region, donating jewels and life-size copper images of himself flanked by his two queens, Tirumaladevi and Chinnadevi. (Tirumaladevi was the daughter of one of Vijayanagara’s tributary kings and thus became the chief queen, but Chinnadevi, a former courtesan, was elevated to the status of queen only because of the king’s great love for her.) The images of the king and his wives were installed so that they would permanently be paying homage to the deity. When the second major fort in Andhra, Kondavidu, was captured in 1515, the king, again accompanied by his two queens, made a pilgrimage to the renowned Shiva temples at Amaravati and Shrisailam in the general vicinity of Kondavidu. Once the war was finally won, Krishnadeva Raya embarked on a victory tour of his southern territories. He stopped at the premier temple complexes along the way – at Tirupati and Kalahasti in southernmost Andhra, at Kanchipuram in northern Tamil Nadu, and at Tiruvannamalai and Chidambaram in the central Tamil country – and at each place he gave valuables to the deities, commissioned temple buildings and monumental gateways, or ordered other improvements to the facilities. Following each military victory, the king thus expressed his gratitude to a major god of the newly subjugated area, but at the same time publicized the power he possessed and the good favor shown to him by the gods.

Islamicate influence at Vijayanagara

Although the Vijayanagara kings were personally devoted to certain Hindu gods and dedicated substantial resources to the support of Hindu temples, this does not mean that they or their people were hostile to other religions and cultures. Indeed, Vijayanagara’s ability to flourish for over 200 years owes much to the kingdom’s willingness to adopt new technologies of control that were introduced into the peninsula by the Deccan Sultanates. This is most true in the military sphere, where Turkic cavalry and archery techniques were quickly assimilated. Skilled personnel who were Muslims were also hired into the Vijayanagara army, something the Hoysala rulers had also done in the early fourteenth century. The awarding of nayamkara assignments in return for military service may also have been modeled on the medieval Islamic practice of giving iqtas, which was introduced to India by the Delhi Sultanate. Earlier Indian warrior chiefs had acquired land through inheritance or conquest and thus were lords in their own right, whereas nayamkara, like iqta, was granted to an elite warrior by his overlord and could be revoked at the overlord’s pleasure. The many Perso-Arabic words relating to revenue collection and other administrative procedures that were absorbed into the regional languages of the Deccan – Marathi, Kannada, and Telugu – beginning in the mid fifteenth century suggest that there was considerable borrowing in this realm as well.

It is easy to see the practical value of adopting new military techniques and administrative systems, but less utilitarian aspects of Islamic culture in India were also embraced by the Vijayanagara ruling class. The most visible manifestation of Islamic influence is in the secular architecture of the Vijayanagara capital. While the function of much of Vijayanagara’s secular architecture is not altogether certain, pavilions used for administrative purposes, such as private audience halls and council chambers, or to enclose water, feature arches, domes, vaulting, and delicate stucco ornamentation similar to that seen on the architecture of the Bahmani Sultanate. These structures at the capital city, for example, the Lotus Mahal, the Elephant Stables, and the Queen’s Bath (all modern names), use architectural and decorative components of Islamic architecture, but they are combined in a highly creative manner unique to the Vijayanagara kingdom.

In contrast to secular architecture, traditional Indic architectural forms were retained for all religious structures, whether they were temples of any denomination (Jain, Shaiva or Vaishnava) or even mosques. A case in point is the mosque which a Muslim noble built in 1439 that, like Vijayanagara’s temples, uses only traditional Indic, that is, post and lintel construction. Likewise, the inscription on the mosque refers to the structure not as a mosque but as a dharmasale (hall of dharma or religion), employing Indic terminology. And, as in Indic traditions, the mosque / dharmasale was built to provide merit for the ruler. As Phillip Wagoner has argued, the patron was perfectly adept at code switching from an Indic to an Islamic idiom in any given situation. Wagoner has also pointed out that Vijayanagara rulers and courtiers made a similar distinction between Indic and Islamic styles when it came to clothing: they wore traditional south Indian garb when engaged in a Hindu religious activity or in a domestic setting, but opted for an Islamic style of dress for formal public audiences. The court was a place where the Vijayanagara elite might frequently meet and interact with Muslim visitors or guests, and so Islamic norms which stressed the covering of the body were observed. By wearing tunics, tall caps, and other articles of Islamic dress, the Vijayanagara ruling class was conforming to the fashions not only of the Muslim-ruled polities to their north but also of the larger Islamic civilizational sphere. The adoption of Islamic clothing in certain contexts and the choice of Islamic buildings for secular ceremony was a sign of the sophistication of the Vijayanagara court and its desire to participate in a cosmopolitan culture that extended far beyond the confines of south India.

Some scholars prefer the term “Islamicate” rather than “Islamic” to describe this cultural complex because it was created and carried by people who followed Islam but was not intrinsically related to the religion per se. Stitched clothing, true arches, and paper were all aspects of material culture that were introduced into India by Muslims but had nothing to do with the Islamic faith. The Vijayanagara kings incorporated many facets of Islamicate culture and practice in a dynamic synthesis that heralded a major break with the earlier cultural patterns of south India. The Vijayanagara kingdom may largely have been Hindu, but, contrary to what is often said, it was by no means the last gasp of the ancien régime or a mere continuation under heavy odds of the traditional ways of south India.

Southern India in the age of Vijayanagara, 1350–1550 Part III

Maritime trade

The Vijayanagara kings called themselves “Lords of the Eastern and Western Oceans,” a title that asserted hegemony over the Bay of Bengal to the east and the Arabian Sea to the west of the Indian peninsula. Domination over the coastal territories was one of Vijayanagara’s primary geo-political objectives and a frequent cause of conflict with other kingdoms. Krishnadeva Raya tells us why coasts were so important:

A king should improve the harbours of his country and so encourage its commerce that horses, elephants, precious gems, sandalwood, pearls and other articles are freely imported . . . Make the merchants of distant foreign countries who import elephants and good horses attached to yourself by providing them with villages and decent dwellings in the city, by affording them daily audience, presents and allowing decent profits. Then those articles will never go to your enemies.

Access to ports meant access to a range of coveted goods, including the essential war-horse. Other items like sandalwood, musk, and camphor were deeply embedded in the rituals and gift exchanges that pervaded court life and helped constitute the charisma of kings.

Despite the claim implicit in their title, the Vijayanagara kings seldom exercised direct control over the western seaboard, a narrow strip of land that was separated from the peninsular interior by the Western Ghats. The western littoral had for centuries been ruled by a multitude of small chiefs who might enter into tributary relations with the more powerful overlords of the interior but were nonetheless lords in their own right. One such lineage was the Jain chiefs of Bhatkal port, on the Kanara coast (of modern Karnataka state) to the southwest of the Vijayanagara capital. Shipments of war-horses came to Bhatkal from the Arabian peninsula and Iran and were sent overland to the Vijayanagara capital. Copper and gold were also imported to Bhatkal from the Middle East while pepper, sugar, and textiles were among the items exported. As these goods were moving into or out of Vijayanagara territory, they would be subject to various taxes, but the revenues from the commercial transactions that took place at international ports like Bhatkal went to local chiefs rather than to the Vijayanagara state.

The lords of Bhatkal and other western ports took active measures to encourage foreign merchants to come to their towns since revenues from maritime trade were virtually their only income. Consequently, Arab traders from all over the Middle East did business on the southwestern coast and communities of indigenous Muslims also emerged in places, as a result of conversion and/or intermarriage with local residents. The largest concentration of Muslim population was found around Calicut in northern Kerala, on what is known as the Malabar coast. Calicut became the greatest entrepôt or free port of the western seaboard during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries partly because of the policies of its rulers, the Zamorins. Unlike other lords on the western littoral, the Zamorins did not plunder ships seeking refuge from storms, nor did they claim shipwrecks as treasure; rather they provided security. So many Arab merchants were attracted to Calicut that Ma Huan, a Chinese visitor of the early fifteenth century, believed its entire population to be Muslim.

A community of indigenous Muslims known as Mappilas also flourished in the Calicut region. The Mappilas spoke the local language, Malayalam, and observed many local customs but were actively engaged in maritime commerce, unlike other local communities. While the Arab merchants dominated the overseas trade from the Malabar coast to the west, the Mappilas were mostly involved in commercial activities along India’s coast and also on the routes to Southeast Asia. According to an estimate by an early sixteenth-century Portuguese traveler, Mappilas comprised a fifth of the people within the Zamorins’ domain.

The Malabar coast, on which Calicut is situated, has a long history of international maritime trade going back to the era of the Roman empire. Its chief export to the western world was black pepper; other items produced in Malabar were ginger, cardamom, teak (a hard wood used in ship building), and the aromatic sandalwood. Because indigenous social groups were almost entirely preoccupied with local agrarian matters, maritime trade along the Malabar coast had always been in the hands of immigrant trading communities. Two of the immigrant communities were the Syrian Christians and the Jews, who had been resident in Kerala probably hundreds of years before their presence is definitively attested in copper-plate grants, from the ninth and late tenth centuries, respectively. Similarly, although the earliest proof of Muslim presence dates back only to the ninth century, Arab sailors must have come to the Malabar coast long before the advent of Islam. Hindu mercantile groups from other areas of India had joined the cosmopolitan society of the Malabar coast by the fifteenth century, among whom were Chettis from the southeastern coast and Baniyas from Gujarat in western India.

Calicut was such a bustling emporium that it was visited even by Chinese ships – Ibn Battuta witnessed thirteen of them upon his arrival in Calicut during the 1340s. The Chinese came to “the great country of the Western Ocean,” as Ma Huan described Calicut a century later, in order to acquire items like frankincense and myrrh from the Middle East as well as pepper, diamonds, pearls, and cotton cloth from India. In exchange, they sold Chinese silks and ceramics which were in high demand in both India and areas to its west. Establishing diplomatic relations with the Zamorin, which involved the exchange of trade items, was the main objective behind the first state-sponsored naval expedition to Calicut. Led by Admiral Cheng Ho (who was accompanied on later expeditions by Ma Huan, acting as translator), it included 317 ships and over 27,000 men. Calicut continued to be a major stop on Cheng Ho’s subsequent voyages, but he gradually journeyed farther west: to Hormuz, Aden, and eventually Mogadishu on the east coast of Africa.

Cheng Ho’s ships were exceptional in traversing the entire Indian Ocean from one end to the other; instead, most ships just sailed one segment of that expanse: from south China to Java or Malacca, from Malacca to Sri Lanka or India, and from the subcontinent to the Persian Gulf or the Red Sea, and then to destinations westward. The great appeal of the Malabar coast was the availability of goods from China, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and other areas of India, which were brought there for trans-shipment because of its geographical location as a midway point. When Vasco da Gama, sailing on behalf of the Portuguese crown, became the first European to find a direct sea route to Asia in 1498, it was to Calicut that he headed in search of pepper and fine spices.

Portuguese hostility toward the Muslim ships and traders who frequented the Malabar coast soon led to open conflict and introduced a new phenomenon to the Indian Ocean: the use of violence as a means of furthering commercial objectives. The artillery mounted on Portuguese ships, which were heavier than the indigenous vessels, gave them a decisive advantage and enabled them to rapidly seize a series of coastal sites including the Sri Lankan port of Colombo in 1505, the Malay port of Malacca in 1511, and the Persian Gulf port of Hormuz in 1515. With possession of this string of strategically located harbor cities, the Portuguese tried to control all sea trade in spices from Asia to Europe. They also profited from the maritime trade within Indian Ocean waters, through the requirement that local ships pay custom duties to them or face bombardment. The center of the maritime empire the Portuguese established was Goa, a port seized in 1510 which was further north on India’s west coast than the Malabar region. Portuguese Goa was in direct competition with Calicut, which declined in importance over the long run. The introduction of Roman Catholicism and the emergence of a mixed population through intermarriage between the Portuguese and local women were two of the most important consequences of the Portuguese arrival, adding even more to the cultural diversity of India’s west coast.

On India’s southeastern or Coromandel coast, Pulicat was the major port in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. Situated on the border between modern Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, Pulicat was part of Vijayanagara territory and was linked to the capital by a road. Textiles were the principal export from Pulicat to Southeast Asia, sent by Muslim and Hindu merchants from Coromandel and a diasporic community of Armenian traders. The imports included Indonesian spices (nutmeg, cloves, and mace) and non-precious metals. Pulicat also had an on-going coastal trade with Bengal, which supplied many foodstuffs to the Coromandel coast and Sri Lanka and possibly some of its better textiles. Bengal was renowned for the quality of its textiles, for Ma Huan names six different kinds of fine Bengal cloth, both cotton and silken.6 Bengal too had maritime links with Southeast Asia. Although ships and sailors from other parts of the world appear to have dominated the international trade, Indians had a greater role in the shipping within the waters of India and Sri Lanka and, to a lesser extent, to Southeast Asia.

Domestic economy

Little of what was being bought and sold in the ports of Calicut, Pulicat, Cambay in Gujarat, or Chittagong in Bangladesh was produced in their immediate vicinities. Most commodities were brought to these major emporia by boats engaged in coastal trading or overland by pack bullock. Since the thirteenth century, the volume of domestic trade in peninsular India had increased for reasons that had little to do with the international maritime trade. South India’s thriving networks of internal trade and production of marketable commodities certainly contributed to the success of India’s international port cities and, in turn, received an additional boost from international demand. Despite the greater attention paid by historians to the international commerce of this era, the domestic sector was much larger in scale and value.

Even before the Vijayanagara period, the peninsula’s agrarian economy had been growing due to construction of new irrigational facilities, large reservoirs that captured rainfall and the seasonal flows of small streams. The agricultural productivity of the semi-arid uplands was considerably enhanced by better water supplies and, as a result, the agrarian frontier was gradually pushed back into more marginal areas. Commercial agriculture – that is, the cultivation of crops for sale – increased, and different localities specialized in different products including cotton, indigo, and sugarcane. These commercial crops had to be hauled long distances, for sale in market towns, periodic fairs, and distribution points along the coasts. Long-distance trade during the Vijayanagara era was facilitated by the development of excellent roads linking the main urban centers and by the creation of roadside facilities for travelers.

At least eighty major trade centers are mentioned within Vijayanagara territory, a clear indication that urbanization was on the rise. The greatest of all was the Vijayanagara capital, with an estimated population of 300,000 to 400,000. It sprawled out over a huge area – the central city was an estimated 25 square kilometers in size, while the greater metropolitan area, encompassing the outermost fortifications as well as the city’s waterworks, covered as much as 650 square kilometers. The city’s people must have consumed massive quantities of food, while the demand for luxury goods from the kingdom’s ruling elite, who were congregated at the capital, was no doubt considerable. The extent to which trade networks were centered on the capital is clear from the rapid decline of Bhatkal and Pulicat ports after the city was abandoned. The much smaller kingdom that was left after the disastrous defeat at the Battle of Talikota in 1565 shifted its base to southern Andhra and thus away from the old supply routes. The activities of the Portuguese, who had arrived in India in 1498, were also a contributing factor, but the primary cause for the decay of Bhatkal and Pulicat was the loss of the Vijayanagara market, with its enormous consumer demand and purchasing power. Pulicat was supplanted by Masulipatnam, the chief entrepôt of the growing Golkonda kingdom, once again demonstrating the impact of political centers on the geographic patterning of trade.

Large temple complexes were also major consumers of goods and served as a stimulus to trade. Temples accumulated large quantities of land, livestock, and valuables like gems, precious metals, and coins from the donations of pious pilgrims. Much of this wealth was used to support daily rituals in worship of temple deities as well as for periodic festivals, both of which increased in number and in scale over the Vijayanagara period. Oils and incense were lighted for the gods’ pleasure, perfumes and flowers adorned their images, and offerings of foods were made several times a day. In addition to administrators, priests, cooks, gardeners, and guards, large temples also had musicians and dancers to entertain and honor the gods. Sculptors, metalworkers, and other artisans found employment in the towns that sprang up around large temples, as did merchants catering to the pilgrim trade.

The hundreds of inscriptions at the Shri Venkateshvara temple in Tirupati record the great expansion in ritual activities that occurred during the Vijayanagara period. According to Burton Stein, the temple received grants of over a hundred villages as well as large sums of cash from more than 300 donors. Most of the endowments, whether in the form of land or money, were meant to support ritual services, both on a daily basis and on special festive occasions. At Tirupati, as at other temples belonging to the Shri Vaishnava sect, food offerings were of particular centrality. While food given to the deity at Shiva temples was consumed only by priests, at Shri Vaishnava temples the food was redistributed to donors and pilgrims as a sacred substance (prasada). The volume of food provided to the god, and later to his devotees, reached a surprisingly high level; by one calculation, the Shri Venkateshvara temple had sufficient resources in 1504 to feed over 1,400 pilgrims on an ordinary day and about 3,800 on a festival day.

Tirupati was not a typical situation, for it was one of the largest centers of the Shri Vaishnava sect, whose influence had been gradually spreading northward from the Tamil country since the days of the famous theologian, Ramanuja, c. 1100. Ramanuja integrated the orthodox philosophy of the Sanskrit Vedanta, which emphasized a transcendent and universal absolute essence (brahman), with the emotional devotion to a personal god (bhakti) that had been characteristic of the Tamil region for centuries. The Shri Vaishnava movement developed around temple complexes that were favored by Vijayanagara kings and high officials, more than those of any other persuasion, from the late fifteenth century onward. Each of the forms of Vishnu enshrined in a Shri Vaishnava temple has a distinct life history and a different appeal, as is the case with all south Indian deities. Lord Venkateshvara of Tirupati, for instance, takes the shape of an unusually large image that supposedly manifested itself in an ant-hill. It is commonly believed that he is especially receptive to devotees who vow to shave their heads in return for a boon.

Records of donations to temples like Tirupati show that merchants and skilled artisans benefited from the growing prosperity of Vijayanagara India. So, for example, professional organizations of traders would agree to make voluntary contributions to a specific temple, usually assessed as a percentage of goods sold. Individual merchants might make donations of land or cash, as did some wealthy weavers and workers in precious metals. While merchant-traders had been occasional patrons of temples even earlier, it was only in the Vijayanagara period that skilled artisans became prosperous enough to do so. As their economic standing rose, weavers and other artisan communities began to demand more social recognition and sought prominent roles in temple ceremonies. Many artisans appear to have favored the Tengalai branch of the Shri Vaishnava sect, which used the vernacular Tamil language in its liturgy rather than Sanskrit and was thus more accessible to the non-Brahmin and non-elite elements of society. The Tamil community of weavers known as the Kaikkola are one example. They successfully attained positions of responsibility at the two major Tengalai temples, Shrirangam and Tirupati. At the latter, they were in charge of the important task of distributing consecrated food offerings to the worshippers.

The growing trade and urbanization of Vijayanagara India parallel trends that had occurred earlier in north India at the height of the Delhi Sultanate. During the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, south India became the most dynamic area of the subcontinent both economically and culturally. This was an age of physical mobility, social diversity, and cross-cultural borrowing all over the Indian peninsula. The reality that some ruling elites were Muslim while others were Hindu made a considerable difference in what institutions and individuals received the bulk of that state’s religious patronage. It also determined to a considerable degree what artistic styles and literary traditions would be prominent at a court. In countless other respects, however, ranging from revenue systems to military technologies to palace architecture, the large kingdoms of the peninsula were strikingly alike.

Gawilghur and the End of the Second Anglo-Maratha War Part I

Arthur Wellesley

Gawilghur Fort

A resounding victory won at small cost solves many military problems. The war against the Mahrattas was going astonishingly well in Wellesley’s immediate theatre of operations. After the battle on 29 November 1803 both British armies were in fine physical and mental condition. The enemy was still numerous, but Mahratta morale was low.

Elsewhere in India there was more good news. On 1 November General Lake won decisively at Laswaree in a battle comparable to Assaye in viciousness and in what it achieved. Perron was utterly defeated. As we have seen, Scindia had lost in Guzerat also; Baroch had fallen. Colonel John Murray of the King’s 84th Foot had been engaged in a local conflict on behalf of the Gaikwar against a rival for the throne. Murray did better than expected and was able to consider an advance on Scindia’s capital at Ougein. Lieutenant-Colonel G. W. R. Harcourt of the King’s 12th Foot had conquered Berar’s entire province of Cuttack with a force of no more than 3,000. This campaign was complicated by weather and terrain, but it did not involve a great deal of fighting. For the first time British controlled territory extended along the coast from Madras to Calcutta. The Mahratta Confederacy no longer touched on the Bay of Bengal.

The two British armies that had won at Argaum moved by easy stages carrying their wounded towards Ellichpoor. On 3 December Wellesley camped only fifteen miles south of Gawilghur and reported to Stuart in Madras that from the plain ‘It does not appear to be as strong as many hill forts in Mysore taken by our troops.’ Even nowadays the resemblance to Nundydroog is remarkable when Gawilghur is observed from the south, though Gawilghur is much larger. The fortress town was thought to contain Berar’s treasure and some of his family. He also used it as a kind of fortified hot-weather retreat. But British armies in India usually had less trouble taking hill forts of all types than one would expect from looking at the places.

A hospital was established at Ellichpoor. Wellesley then apparently approached to within two miles of Gawilghur from the south south-east during a personal reconnaissance. The principal problem in attacking the fortress was one of getting close to it.

The approaches from the south consisted of two ‘roads’ leading to the fortress from the valley below. The easterly approach was so difficult that it would not even accommodate bullocks. It is still in use, but one must climb, not walk. The westerly road was narrow and steep, but moderately loaded carriage bullocks could go up. It was scarped on both sides at the top, however, and had the final disadvantage of passing for half a mile within point-blank range of the guns on the west wall of the Inner Fort.

If the fortress-town had been as inaccessible on all sides as it was from the south, the place might have been impregnable. Unfortunately for Berar’s garrison, the two rocky hills on which the fortress had been built were connected on the north by a narrow tongue of land to a whole low range of flattened mountains of similar elevation (about 3,600 feet) which extended east and west for many miles. Since the place could not be taken from the south, it had to be besieged from the north. At Ellichpoor, which was part of Hyderabad and in possession of the Nizam’s killadar, Wellesley learnt that the main approach to Gawilghur was from the north and lay along the narrow tongue of land.

The information available at Ellichpoor was meagre perhaps because Gawilghur, though only thirteen miles away as the crow flies, was in another country and much further by the only practical route which led through hilly jungle – a glorified path not wide enough for any wheeled vehicle. On the other hand, the jungle was not as impenetrable as that in India ‘below the ghauts’. Madras pioneers with strong working parties from the infantry should be able to help the bullocks and elephants pull and push the artillery up the hills and then west along the more or less flat crests. The total distance was about twenty miles.

Wellesley began his operations from Ellichpoor on 6 December 1803. He sent Chalmers and the 1/2 Madras from his own army to clear Deogaum and the valley four miles south of Gawilghur. From Stevenson’s army he sent Captain Alexander Maitland with the 1/6 Madras and two companies of the King’s 94th ‘to seize the fortified village of Damergaum which covers the entrance to the mountains’. Both these detachments succeeded in their missions, although Mahratta strength in the area was considerable. By this time Gawilghur was known to contain not only its normal garrison, but most of the survivors of Manoo Bappoo’s regular infantry. Enemy patrols were active in the foothills, so ample guards would have to be left at Ellichpoor for the hospital.

The two British armies moved out of Ellichpoor at sunrise on the 7th. Wellesley advanced only as far as the village of Deogaum, nine miles from his starting place and in a direct line between Ellichpoor and Gawilghur. A standard camp was established near the village. Stevenson’s army, temporarily reinforced by two of Wellesley’s iron 12-pounders and artillery and engineer personnel, had a much more difficult assignment. The troops began to climb the Gawilghur hills at Damergaum and continued into rugged country. They had to cut out trees and build roads with earth and rock, at one point filling in a chasm to save miles of additional road. After four days of exhausting work Stevenson’s army complete with its battering artillery and ammunition reached the village of Lobada on the ridge level with Gawilghur.

From this side the fortress was not so awe-inspiring. Although it was built on the summits of two hills with deep and precipitous slopes almost all round, a corridor about 400 yards broad led from the hills to the northern wall. The tongue of land was not open to the wall; two-thirds of it was protected by a tank or artificial lake nearly full of water. There remained, however, a ribbon of meadow about 120 yards wide which led up to the double northern wall with an extremely complicated entrance system.

Wellesley was at Lobada on the evening of 10 December because Stevenson’s health had not improved. For the next five days he was to divide his time almost evenly between the two armies. This involved a ride of just over twelve miles from Deogaum to Lobada over the rough new road, but he could probably cover the distance in about an hour and a half.

During the night of the nth a breaching battery was begun on the crest of a small rise overlooking the tank only 250 yards from the outermost wall. Fire was opened on the morning of the 12th from two 18-pounders and three iron 12-pounders. There was an enfilading battery of less powerful pieces – two such batteries later on – set further back and to the east to keep enemy personnel from repairing the walls or retrenching the breach.

The weather of India is hard on masonry. The stone used originally at Gawilghur was probably a by-product of scarping the hilltops on which the place was built, and was not good building stone. As at Ahmednuggur, the old solid-masonry walls appeared stronger than they actually were; 12-pounder and 18-pounder shot travelling at more than 1,200 feet per second caused extreme damage after a few hours. Almost every round brought down chunks of masonry. There were to be three breaches in all, a wide one in the lower wall and two in the upper structure.

The fortifications of Gawilghur still are quite complicated. They were built to fit the terrain rather than according to any regular plan. Gawilghur had, therefore, a weakness common to all fortresses of India design; it had little or no means of delivering flanking fire. The outer defences extended for more than six miles and varied in strength in accordance with the designers’ estimates of the inaccessibility to an enemy. In March 1968, for instance, I found one stretch of nearly a mile on the north-east side of the Inner Fort where I could see no trace of any fortifications. In 1803 there might have been a palisade or a trench of some sort, but nothing substantial since the slopes below were unclimbable from a military point of view. Such gaps in the fortifications did not constitute a physical weakness and did not contribute to the ultimate fall of Gawilghur. But they may have undermined the morale of the defenders.

The enemy had more than fifty pieces of artillery on the walls and in cavaliers, concentrated where targets were likely to appear. Some of the guns were large. One is still there, an enormous wrought-iron gun mounted on a small mamelon on the north side of the Inner Fort which could fire through nearly 180 degrees at any target that appeared on, or south of, the crest to the north. Another similar piece was mounted so as to fire into the valley to the south; its balls were said to carry for a distance of several miles, but accuracy would have been poor and a single plunging ball would have been most ineffective.

Stevenson’s army had only an imperfect knowledge of Gawilghur’s internal design. No accurate plan or sketch was available. The British did not understand the communications between the smaller, but slightly higher, Outer Fort on the north-western hill and the Inner Fort on the larger south-eastern hill which was unapproachable except by way of the Outer Fort. The two flat peaks were separated by an irregular ravine up to 300 feet deep, but it could not be clearly seen from any accessible point to the north. In addition to fortifications the Inner Fort contained a number of tanks and many solid buildings. It was at that time a considerable town.

In December 1803 Gawilghur had a garrison of 2,000–4,000 men under a Punjabi killadar, whose name may have been Beny Singh, and a civilian population of about 15,000–30,000. After Argaum Manoo Bappoo and some 4,000–6,000 of his regular infantry came in, accompanied undoubtedly by camp followers who in Mahratta armies were often semi-armed.1 Gawilghur was naturally strong, well fortified by Indian standards and amply garrisoned. Weapons, ammunition and military equipment were plentiful. The tanks were still reasonably full in spite of the poor monsoon and there was plenty of grain.

Throughout history, however, sieges have depended more on skill and morale than on walls and weapons. Wellesley’s engineers were well trained and veterans of similar operations in India. They had skilled pioneers to do their work. The gunners knew how to hit where their shot would be most effective and how to maintain their pieces in action efficiently. The assault would be led by active and courageous British officers who were exceptionally capable with their personal weapons.

By contrast, the Mahratta leaders had little knowledge or skill in the defence of their fortress. They did not try to prevent Stevenson’s army from approaching the ‘isthmus’ which was the only effective breaching ground. They made no effort to protect the wall with an earthen glacis or any form of outwork. They did not fire during the night of the nth at the place where the main battery had to be located.

We should look briefly at what had occurred south of Gawilghur. Between 6 and 8 December Wellesley had driven in all the Mahratta pickets, but he did not endeavour to invest the enormous fortress. He kept the bulk of his troops in camp at Deogaum four miles away, though he had a forward concentration post in the small village of Baury at the junction of ‘roads’ from the south and the north-west gates. British patrols pushed north on both tracks to within a musket shot of the walls. The difficult eastern route to the south gate of the Inner Fort was the only one that could possibly be used to get artillery within range of the fortifications. The other road was better in that it could accommodate draft animals, but was commanded by fire from the guns on the walls of the Inner Fort.

EIC engineers had much experience in moving guns over impossible terrain mainly by manpower. They attempted to get Wellesley’s two remaining iron 12-pounders up the eastern route on the night of the nth. The Indian and, perhaps, European pioneers were reinforced by working parties of muscular Scots from the 74th and 78th regiments. If the task was humanly possible, these men would accomplish it.

Early in the evening engineers, pioneers, artillerymen and working parties began their efforts. We should remember that they had to do their work without artificial illumination, and there was no possibility of dragging the pieces up complete with their carriages – the wheels would not roll over the small steep cliffs. Stripping the carriages was no problem, but each gun, in modern terminology the tube only, became a nine-foot fiend weighing 4,100 pounds (32 cwt) able to crush men with the smallest slip or roll. There was no way to secure tackle above, not even room for a team to pull from a distance. Elephants, which normally were used in all difficult gun movements, could not negotiate the terrain.

The job simply could not be done; the route was too steep and too uneven. After ten hours’ labour, the men buried the pieces under debris and retired as dawn was coming. On the night of the 12th they did manage to get forward two brass 12-pounders and two 5·5-inch howitzers, much lighter pieces, which they mounted in a battery within 400 yards of the south gateway, but about 450 feet below it. The brass 12-pounders had to fire at an elevation of almost thirty degrees and did no serious damage. Their shot are said to have rebounded back to the guns themselves and perhaps into the valley below. The battery was more like a sheepfold than a normal emplacement.

Stevenson’s battering pieces did far better on the northern side. They opened on the 12th, and by the morning of the 14th the breaches were thought practical: an armed man could climb into the fortress. Wellesley had a close look with a telescope and decided on an assault the next day. Stevenson was in no better health, so Wellesley continued to direct both armies, giving verbal orders and discussing all pertinent details with Stevenson’s corps commanders. He confirmed his instructions in writing later that day from his camp at Deogaum.

Wellesley knew from his own inspection that Stevenson’s breaches into Gawilghur were moderately difficult; if the garrison worked hard at repairing the defences on the night of the 14th, they might be un-negotiable the next morning. A skilful fortress commander would surely do this and perhaps place mines and other obstacles in the way of the assault. To discourage such measures, however, a large gun loaded with grape was discharged at the breaches every twenty minutes throughout the night.

A dawn assault had some advantage, but not enough to outweigh a few hours’ additional battering if it should be found necessary. Wellesley also wanted the enemy inside Gawilghur to see his two powerful British forces approaching from the south. The assault was set for 10 a.m.

Wellesley’s attack from the south had no hope of taking the place, but some of the Mahrattas inside had surely heard of the British escalade of the pettah at Ahmednuggur. Wellesley was still relying on audacity. If the Mahrattas had fought skilfully and courageously, Gawilghur could hardly have been taken at all, at least not on the 15th. But the image of British invincibility was already established. Even Hindoos who did not place such a high value on their lives as Europeans could fight effectively only in an atmosphere of some hope.

Stevenson’s attack through the northern breaches was to be led by Lieutenant-Colonel William Kenny of the 1/11 Madras with the grenadier company and two battalion companies of the King’s 94th and the flank companies of three EIC battalions – his own, the 2/11 and the 2/7 Madras. There were also small units of pioneers and artillery, making a total of about 1,000 men in all.

The force that would make the second assault through the breaches if the first should fail, or would follow into the Outer Fort if it succeeded, was commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Peter C. Desse of the 2/2 Madras; he had the light and two more battalion companies of the King’s 94th with the flank companies of the other three EIC battalions of Stevenson’s army – the 2/2, the 1/6, and the 2/9 Madras. Desse also had pioneers and artillery for a total of about 1,000 fighting men.

Behind these two forces Major James Campbell of the King’s 94th led the other four battalion companies of his corps, backed up by the battalion companies of the 2/7, the 1/11, and the 2/11 Madras under EIC Lieutenant-Colonel John Haliburton, who was senior to all officers except Stevenson in the army. We will hear more of Haliburton.

The assaults were to be pressed home regardless of cost; a total of about 4,600 first-quality fighting men were assembled in the four assault commands. Only EIC Lieutenant-Colonel H. Maclean with the other three EIC battalions less their flank companies was held in camp as a reserve.

Gawilghur and the End of the Second Anglo-Maratha War Part II

Wellesley’s two southern, essentially diversionary, assaults were commanded by Wallace and Chalmers. Wallace was to take the steep route to the southernmost gate and had his own under-strength King’s 74th, the right wing of the King’s 78th, and the ever-reliable 1/8 Madras; Chalmers was to ascend by the less difficult, though far from easy, road which led round the west side to the Outer Fort and was commanded by heavy guns on the west wall of the Inner Fort. He had the left wing of the King’s 78th and the 1/10 Madras.

Wallace and Chalmers began their movement on time, but the Mahratta killadar (Beny Singh?) apparently tried to negotiate for terms before the assault. Stevenson, in spite of his illness, was now at hand to take charge of such a situation. Nothing but surrender at discretion was acceptable and the Mahrattas were given only half an hour to decide. However, when the enemy was seen to be violating the truce Stevenson ordered Kenny forward before the time had elapsed.

Stevenson’s storming parties swept up the breach in the approved fashion of the time and apparently without serious difficulty. The Scots, followed by the sepoy flankers, went into Gawilghur covered by a storm of grape from all three British batteries which lifted only as they began to climb into the line of fire. A few brave Mahrattas rushed forward to contest the narrow passages at the top, but with shock weapons only. No effort had been made to retrench, or to close the breach with gambions. There were many cannons and scores of wall-pieces, but none had been shifted to sweep the breaches. The greater physical strength and discipline of the Highlanders were too much for the enemy in the close confines of the breach itself and the passages which lay beyond it. Their bayonets and clubbed muskets quickly killed almost every man that ventured to oppose them. A single Mahratta is said to have fought on equal terms with the assaulters for a time, but he too was killed.

Kenny’s party entered the Outer Fort with relatively minor casualties, but apparently then split up. Remember, no one in the British camp knew much about the lay-out of Gawilghur. One group which probably went through the right-hand upper breach moved slightly west of south pressing their enemies towards the gate Chalmers was approaching. This ‘north-west’ gate actually lay in the south wall of the Outer Fort. In an endeavour to escape from some of Kenny’s men, the garrison opened this gate and ran head on into Chalmers and the left wing of the 78th. These unfortunate men had just escaped from Scots in trews and were faced with more in kilts. They were caught literally between two fires. Those who had already emerged from the gate were on a narrow scarped causeway blocked by red giants behind viciously gleaming bayonets. The Highlanders’ blood was fired by the audacious ascent and the skirling pipes. The situation for the enemy, especially at the head of their narrow column, could hardly have been worse. Heavy bullets from Brown Bess muskets were ploughing into them, front and rear. The survivors had a choice between the bayonets and the jagged rocks below. This double-ended slaughter was soon over. Chalmers’ column from the valley below entered the Outer Fort.

Kenny himself and some of his men probably used the left-hand upper breach, went straight south and then east of south towards the Inner Fort. They soon received the support of Desse’s units which had cleared the breaches and moved in the same direction. For the first time the significance of the half-seen ravine between the two hills became apparent. The British columns had overwhelmed the Outer Fort, but they were as far from taking the larger and more powerful Inner Fort as on the day before. The most formidable defences in Gawilghur, the so-called ‘third wall’, lie south of the ravine. On this side the only entrance is through a series of five massive gates with long, steep and narrow angled passages between. The entire route was swept by fire from battlements along the top of each passage. This retreat route for the garrison in the Outer Fort was apparently prematurely closed which led to the slaughter at the ‘north-west’ gate.

The series of gates and passages from the Outer into the Inner Fort could probably have been forced by British infantry, perhaps with the aid of an artillery piece, but it would have been a long and costly fight. Fortunately, it was unnecessary. Kenny and Desse formed their twelve companies of sepoy flankers, or at least a major part of them, in line at the bottom of the ravine. They extended a distance of about 350 yards from east to west, filling most or all of the portion of the ravine between the Inner and Outer Forts. The sepoys were told to fire at any enemy heads appearing above the ‘third wall’ battlements. Kenny then led the three companies of Scots under his command at the succession of gates. He fell mortally wounded, but his units began to make some progress.

Meanwhile, there was another development. The ‘third wall’ along the north-west side of the Inner Fort is built along the top of a steep cliff. From the north-east – the only place from which much of it could be seen before the assault – this cliff seemed near impossible to climb. However, Captain Campbell1 of the light company of the King’s 94th had studied it and the wall above with a telescope, perhaps from well down in the chasm. He believed that it could be climbed and led his men up a route he had already chosen. They carried with them a single sturdy ladder, not more than fifteen feet long, and reached the base of the wall on the top of the cliff without being discovered. They were taking full advantage of the covering fire from Desse’s sepoys. Kenny’s assault on the series of gates and twisting passages undoubtedly occupied most of the garrison’s attention.

Campbell was the first man up the ladder and leapt down inside, sword in hand, followed quickly by his men. For a few seconds the Scots had to fight for their lives. Again physical strength, discipline and courage was on their side. Once all eighty of them were inside, the local opposition lost heart. Campbell led his men east behind the battlements to the head of the line of passages and gates and started opening them one at a time from the top. There were several short, bloody clashes, but the Mahrattas were always over borne.

Ten minutes later Campbell and his men admitted the rest of the British force into the Inner Fort. All organized resistance collapsed soon thereafter. Elphinstone tells us that he and a small party, haphazardly collected, opened the southern gate so that Wallace’s column could enter. The colours of Berar were replaced by those of the King’s 78th for which an even higher spot was found.

Elphinstone gives, perhaps unintentionally, an interesting picture of Wellesley’s own movements during the storm of Gawilghur. On the morning of the 15th, Stevenson asked the young civilian, ‘Will you go down from the fort to the valley below, or ride round by Damer-gaum, to tell the General what happens?’

‘Neither, Sir! We are going to meet inside.’

Wellesley was never again so far forward in action as at Sultanpetah Tope. He lost control of a whole situation there because he was leading in a physical sense, but he was not going to sit in his tent at Deogaum and wait for someone to bring him news of the assault on Gawilghur. He entered the Inner Fort with Wallace, probably between the right wing of the 78th and the 74th.

British casualties were light, a total of 126. The Mahrattas lost tragically. Wellesley was to write three weeks later that the loss of ‘the enemy was immense. The killadar, all the principal officers, and the greater part of the garrison were killed.’ The killadar atoned somewhat for his military inefficiency by dying sword in hand. So did Manoo Bapoo who had aimed so high and failed so ignominiously at Argaum. The fighting at the breaches and both inside and outside the ‘north-west’ gate was excessively bloody. There were some other spots of extreme resistance which led to severe enemy casualties. Quarter was not normally given when fortresses were stormed in India; the danger was too great that prisoners taken would return to the fight.

Some historians have assumed that practically the entire garrison of Gawilghur perished because they could not escape. I disagree; the walls were never high nor was the descent into the ravine unmanageable. In my opinion an active man with a turban of tough material that could be used as a rope could leave Gawilghur at almost any point and get away safely. There still is, for instance, a way out from the extreme eastern corner where a middle-aged American can get out and back again even without a turban. I believe there were at least 8,000 fighting men inside Gawilghur, of whom more than half got away.

Gawilghur contained fifty-two cannon, including the big wrought-iron pieces already mentioned, and 150 smaller wall-pieces which apparently were -pounders. The garrison had 2,000 new British Brown Bess muskets complete with bayonets, scabbards, belts and cartridge boxes. There were, of course, many other weapons, including matchlocks and bows and arrows, but Berar’s entire regular infantry had modern arms, most of them made in Agra probably after the French pattern.

There had been rumours in the British camps that Gawilghur contained treasure of gold and silver coin, plate and jewels belonging to the Rajah of Berar. The treasure was not discovered, although the British found tons of copper coins together with some silver bowls and dishes worth less than 300,000 rupees in all. No other coins and no gold vessels were discovered, nor were any jewels captured for the public treasury, although individual soldiers undoubtedly did obtain some loot. If the treasure ever had been kept in Gawilghur, and there seems to be little reason to doubt that some at least had been there, the Mah-rattas got it out in time. The British armies neither tried nor could possibly have succeeded in surrounding the place. It is also possible that the treasure was hidden and recovered later. Gawilghur was too large for an efficient search.

British soldiers, particularly the Light Company of the King’s 94th, performed superbly in the taking of Gawilghur. The routes from the valley below were extremely rough and steep. Had Chalmers not fortuitously found his gate open, the passages behind it appear defensible by boys with rocks. The same is true of the southern entrance to the Inner Fort.

Wellesley’s own contribution was as much physical as mental. He directed both armies, which meant an average of at least thirty-five miles of riding each day, much of it over a bad new road. He made no mistakes in the siege and assaults, but the victory depended in about equal parts on the professional skills of his armies, especially the engineers and artillerymen, and on the dominance of the Scottish infantry already established on the plain of Argaum and in the rolling country between the Kaitna and the Juah. Wellesley was able to retain the initiative and keep pressure on the enemy. He won with a combination of military expertise, fighting efficiency and audacity.

A military victory again solved problems. The Rajah of Berar was now nearly defenceless and his capital at Nagpoor lay open to an advance from Ellichpoor only eighty miles north-east. For once, a Mahratta chief had no desire for diplomatic manoeuvring. Berar wanted peace on any terms as quickly as possible. His vakels came the day after Gawilghur fell.

The Governor-General had given Wellesley command of all military forces and control of all British Residents in the Deccan; he had also granted him complete authority to negotiate with both Berar and Scindia. This appointment was of extreme consequence; Wellesley was authorized to deal with the two rulers not only over their territory in the Deccan, but in the rest of India as well. Nominally, Scindia had controlled territory far to the north around Delhi and Agra; Berar had ruled Cuttack (his littoral on the Bay of Bengal). Much of these areas had now been taken from them. In those days conquered territory was not often returned. But a peace treaty would have to state precisely each territorial gain for the EIC, the Peshwa and the Nizam, and every other condition in favour of the British and their allies. Wellesley was aware that the enemy was extremely capable at interpreting documents that were the least bit ambiguous in their interest. His military responsibility would cease with the restoring of peace, but the treaties he made might last for generations.

Few young professional soldiers have had such great political and diplomatic responsibility and none have handled it better. The Treaty of Deogaum was concluded with Berar three days after the fall of Gawilghur. The Rajah was to disband his army, to receive a British Resident, to give up all of Cuttack and to surrender to the EIC and its allies his domains to the west of the Werdah river. The treaty was extremely advantageous to the British administration in India, but left the State of Berar still in being. The Wellesleys did not want to destroy the old order completely, but just to mould it according to their own ideas. The Rajah would become a minor power within a few years, but his people would benefit from an imposed peace and what was likely to be a more comfortable and prosperous situation.

What appeared to be a simple, easily interpreted clause of the treaty gave rise to a problem. Wellesley had chosen the Werdah, a large and well defined stream, as a definite frontier between the territories of Hyderabad and Berar. As early as 24 October Wellesley wrote to the younger Kirkpatrick, who still was British Resident at Hyderabad, for a complete list of the Nizam’s districts and villages, but none was furnished. However, he was told by the Nizam’s chief representative in his camp, Rajah Mohiput Ram, that the Nizam had no territory east of the Werdah. After the treaty was signed, Wellesley discovered that the Nizam did in fact have three districts on that side of the river. Mohiput Ram had been disloyal to his master. On 9 January 1804 Wellesley wrote to the Governor-General, ‘It is scarcely possible to believe that Rajah Mohiput Ram did not know that the Soubah of the Deccan had territories on the left bank of the Wurda, but he told me upon more than one occasion that he had none. But supposing him to have had a knowledge of the extent of his master’s territories in that quarter, his conduct in deceiving me upon that subject is not more extraordinary than his having been the channel by which a present of five lacs of rupees was offered to me provided I would consent to make peace with the Rajah of Berar on condition of his ceding to the Company the province of Cuttack only.’ Treaty or no treaty, Wellesley had no intention of depriving the Nizam of territory that had been long in his possession, even though the new frontier became less workable.

Wellesley realized, of course, that a treaty signed by an Indian prince was valueless in itself. If Berar was not made to abide by the British interpretation of this instrument, he certainly would not do so. Stevenson was told to repair his gun carriages, return the men and material borrowed from Wellesley’s army and return to Ellichpoor from Gawilghur by the route that he went up. He was then to move east towards Nagpoor until Berar proved his sincerity, or at least complied because of his inability to do anything else.

Scindia was not personally involved in the siege and fall of Gawilghur. For reasons best known to himself he neither interfered with the British armies there nor tried to raid Poona or Hyderabad. Now he was even more anxious for peace than during the short-lived armistice before Argaum. Wellesley’s victory at Argaum followed by the capture of Gawilghur put the British in as superior a position to Scindia as they were to Berar. The former had already lost heavily in Guzerat and might lose his capital to British forces operating from there. As we have seen, Murray was ready to march on Ougein on receipt of Wellesley’s orders to do so.

By now Lake had defeated Perron completely. The area from south of Agra to north of Delhi was British; so was a considerable area to the south-east known as Bundelcund. With Berar and Perron defeated and Holkar neutral, Scindia was virtually helpless; British armies could attack his remaining territories in Hindostan from the south, west, east and north. Arthur could have dictated severe terms to Scindia, but the Wellesley policy was not to destroy Indian states, just to change them enough to make sure they fitted into their new concept of India. In many respects subsidiary treaties were better than extending the Company’s direct control.

The treaty with Scindia was signed on 30 December 1803. He was to receive an EIC subsidiary force similar to those at Hyderabad and Poona. He was to give up a great deal of territory in the north, some in Guzerat and all his possessions south of the Godavery, including the magnificent fortress at Ahmednuggur, except for hereditary holdings of sentimental but small actual consequence. These were to be held for revenue only and not to be occupied by military units of any type.

More humiliating, all disagreements between Scindia and the Nizam or the Peshwa were now to be arbitrated by the British. On the other hand, Wellesley refused to allow Mohiput Ram and his Hyderabad forces to keep some of Scindia’s towns and villages taken after Assaye and Argaum which were not confirmed to the Nizam in the treaty. Scindia conceivably might be as good an ally in future as the new Nizam. The French officers in Scindia’s Regular Battalions were eliminated – no foreigners unacceptable to the British were to be admitted to his territory.

At this time another political-military development was completed, the alliance between the British, the Peshwa and Amrut Rao. Amrut Rao joined Wellesley’s armies with a considerable body of cavalry on 22 December. Negotiations had been going on for months. Amrut, the Peshwa’s brother by adoption, had never completely gone over to Holkar. Whatever Amrut’s intentions might have been, Wellesley’s final rush for the Peshwa’s capital in April had prevented him from burning the city. He had wanted to come over to the British since Wellesley’s arrival at Poona. Loyalty to Bajee Rao was secondary to his desire to be on the winning side. Amrut Rao was abler than his adopted brother. Wellesley compared them in his dispatch to the Governor-General’s secretary of 26 January 1804. Having complained of the Peshwa he continues, ‘I do know that if I was to give the government over to Amrut Rao I should establish there a most able fellow, who, if he should prove treacherous, would be a worse thorn in the side of the British Government than the creature who is Peshwa at present can ever be.’

British prestige in India had never been so high. Half a dozen armies had won quickly and decisively, sometimes against nearly impossible odds. The Governor-General’s diplomacy had been extremely successful without sacrificing the reputation for fairness and honesty so coveted by all the Wellesleys. The change from the spring of 1798 to the beginning of 1804 is almost unbelievable. Shore had complied with his instructions from home and had allowed British prestige and power to decline. He refused to support his allies and quaked before potential enemies. The Wellesleys and their band of active young men had restored local dominance within the old British areas of influence around Calcutta, Madras and Bombay and carried the fight to their enemies. The French had been removed successively from Hyderabad, Mysore and the Mahratta countries. The Company’s territory had been more than doubled. Hyderabad, Mysore and Baroda had become prosperous and happy allies. During the winter of 1803–4 Britain appeared to have no serious rival in India at all. The future seemed secure.

There was still some fighting to be done after Wellesley concluded his treaties, some of it because of them. When Mahratta armies were defeated as at Assaye and Argaum, massive desertions were usually one result. Further, under the new treaties both Scindia and Berar were required to disband their forces. Not all their men could return to peaceful pursuits as there were too many of them. Some had either to plunder or starve; they formed themselves into bandit groups around leaders who were able to direct their joint activities productively. Berar and Scindia both covertly encouraged these bands, especially in territory they had surrendered, but the British armies which had won against regular foes won against these irregulars with comparatively little trouble.

First in point of time, EIC Major-General Dugald Campbell, Wellesley’s senior who commanded south of the Kistna only, pursued a new Dhoondiah Waugh who had appeared in his area and had a growing following. He was not, of course, the man whom Wellesley and his cavalry had finally caught and killed at Conaghul on 10 September 1800. The second Dhoondiah was really Mohamet Beg Khan, but he was trying to gain mystic strength from a name associated with the earlier leader.

Campbell began a rapid three-day pursuit on 28 December 1803 and caught the new King of Two Worlds on the 31st. Mohamet Beg Khan and about 3,000 of his followers were killed. Campbell was using the organization, strategy and tactics already evolved by Wellesley in his pursuit of the original Dhoondiah Waugh. British armies in India would never again move like vast slow pastoral migrations as Cornwallis’s and Harris’s had done towards Seringapatam.

Early in 1804 Wellesley ordered Malcolm to procure from Scindia a letter disavowing one of his lieutenants, Mulwa Dada, who had started to operate in Scindia’s name against territory belonging to Hyderabad, the EIC and the Peshwa. Once Wellesley had the letter, he informed Mulwa Dada ‘that he is little better than a common thief’ and threatened to hang him if he were captured. The message appears to have been enough for Mulwa Dada; we hear no more of him.

The killadar who surrendered Ahmednuggur and then removed most of the valuable public property in his private baggage was of a different stamp. He continued to operate as a freebooter after the treaties; Wellesley pursued him twice without success. But accurate and recent information about the killadar reached Wellesley during the evening of 3 February while he was bringing his army back towards Poona. Wellesley selected a special force consisting of all cavalrymen whose horses were in good shape, the complete King’s 74th, the whole 1/8 Madras (Wellesley’s own), and 100 screened volunteers from each of the other five EIC battalions. There were also twelve guns, those attached to the complete units selected.

This force began its march at 6 a.m. on 4 February and had covered eighteen miles by noon when they camped in accordance with Wellesley’s usual marching procedure. The enemy was not alarmed by the movement. At 10 p.m. the special force recommenced the march and covered forty-two more miles in the next fourteen hours. They came up with the former killadar and his forces and utterly destroyed them.

These sixty miles were covered in a total of 30 hours, twenty hours of marching time.1 Not a man dropped out. There were undoubtedly enough spare horses and bullocks to take care of any who fell lame. The physical condition and discipline of men and beasts must have been practically perfect. To march so far with a considerable proportion of the whole command infantry and then fight successfully, even against a disorganized enemy, is an almost incredible feat. It was a greater achievement than Wellesley’s dash for Poona the year before, which was completed with cavalry only.