The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

May 6, 2011

Jahangir the Cruel

The usual story is that the first three great Mughal Emperors were kindly souls - well, kindly by the standards of the time - and the next two were dissolute, and Aurangzeb was the absolute nadir, the pits, the cruellest and most ruthless of the lot. It turns out that Shah Jahan, his father, was no slouch in the cruelty department, and even Jahangir, famously addled addict to wine and opium, had his moments of barbarity.

Not even high-ranked nobility was safe from Jahangir's fury. There's a story that his chamberlain broke one of his favourite Chinese porcelain dishes. In a panic, the chamberlain sent a servant to scour China for a replacement. Two years later, the servant still wasn't back, and Jahangir asked to see the dish. Quaking, the chamberlain informed him that it was broken, whereupon the Emperor exploded in rage. He ordered the guard to lash the poor man a hundred and twenty times with a corded whip, as he watched, and then told his porters to beat him with cudgels until those broke. As the English traveller William Hawkins (who was the imperial court at the time) reports
At least twenty men were beating him, till the poore man was thought to be dead, and then he was hauled out by the heels and commanded to prison.
The next day, Jahangir was informed that the chamberlain was still alive, whereupon he was sentenced to life imprisonment. One of the royal princes rescued him from gaol and nursed him back to health. Still, the Emperor seethed; summoning the man before him, he ordered him 'never to come again before him until he had found such a like dish, and that he travel through China to seek it.'

The chamberlain journeyed across China for fourteen months, it is said, to no avail. Eventually he learned that the King of Persia owned a similar dish, who sent it to him out of pity.

(From Giles Milton's Nathaniel's Nutmeg: How One Man's Courage Changed the Course of History)


km said...

He ordered the guard to lash the poor man a hundred and twenty times with a corded whip

Yeah, it's good to be king.

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