LONG, long ago in Central Asia there existed a great race known as Mongols, who in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries by their conquests swept all before them and under their great leader Ghengiz Khan founded an Empire which extended from one end of Asia to the other. They had no prejudice against Christianity and preferred it at first to Islam. The Church, however, lost a great opportunity of winning them for Christ, for as H. G. Wells tells us that at that time "Christianity was in a phase of moral and intellectual insolvency without any collective faith or energy. When at last the Church was reunited and necessary energy returned with the foundation of the order of Jesuits, the day of opportunity was over. The possibility of a world-wide moral unification had passed away. The Mongols in China and Central Asia turned to Buddhism. In South Russia and Turkestan they embraced Islam."
These Mongols of Turkestan, known also as Moghals, crossed the borders of Afghanistan and founded the great Moghal Empire in India which lasted for over two hundred years. When this great Empire had declined and was breathing its last, the Prince Jehandar Shah, the eldest son of Emperor Shah Alam, was appointed a regent by Ahmad Shah Abdali, the Afghan invader of the country in 1761 A. D., and he administered the remains of the Empire until his
father's restoration in 1771 A. D. Prince Jehandar Shah, in 1784 A. D., on account of the unsettled affairs of his father, made his escape with a number of courtiers and officers of the kingdom from Delhi and repaired to Lucknow, where the British Governor of Bengal, Warren Hastings, had arrived to regulate the concerns between the Nawab Wazir, Asafud-dawlab and the East India Company. Prince Jehandar Shah accompanied Warren Hastings to Benares, which place he chose for his residence. The spot thus selected in the sacred city of the Hindus, by the Prince for himself and for them who had accompanied him from Delhi came to be known as Oudh Mahal, because they had come more recently from Oudh.
It is learnt from our family tradition that my ancestors, who themselves were Moghals by race, held hereditary office in the Court of Moghal Emperors from the very early times of the founding of the Empire, and that during the turbulent days of the Emperor Shah Alam, virtually the last of the Moghal Emperors, they threw in their lot with his heir, the Prince Jehandar Shah, and came to Benares under the circumstances already described. It was thus that Oudh Mahal in Benares came to be my ancestral home. The old graveyard of Oudh Mahal, the last resting place of my ancestors down to that of my grandfather, Ghulam Ghaus, under the changing circumstances and the encroachments on the property which the owners, because of the evil days that had befallen them, could not retain as their own, has almost disappeared. Such are the vicissitudes of time that even the name of the old Moghal residential quarters are now known as Mohalla Shivala, the place of the temple Shiva!
In 1857 A.D. came the great rising in India known as the Mutiny, and then its subsequent suppression by the British when those who had taken part in India's armed struggle to re-establish the National Government in India were hunted up and down the country and were punished. My ancestors because of their old connection with the Moghal throne and their great loyalty to it, were strongly suspected of being among them who had actively attempted the resuscitation of the Moghal dynasty. Harrowing tales of house searching, summary trials and hangings have come down to us from our grandparents who had the misfortune of going through the terrible experience. Some were hanged while others succeeded in dodging the Government by changing their occupation and their usual mode of life, and by destroying every indication which would show their connection with the Moghal Court. The tokens of favour bestowed upon my ancestors from time to time by the Moghal Court, such as, sanads, khil'at, etc., which were greatly treasured in the family, were considered as dangerous possessions and were destroyed. My grandfather, Ghulani Ghaus, posed as a tradesman. My father, Hafiz Allah Bakhsh after going through a religious education and learning the Quran by heart and thus earning the title of Hafiz, under a kind and good workman learnt the art of gold embroidery, and in course of time became so skilled in his art that his workmanship and designs drew the attention of the wealthy citizens and traders. Later, allured by the fame of Calcutta, as a city where arts were valued, he settled there. He gathered round himself other gold embroiderers from Benares, whom he had persuaded to join him in the great metropolis with a promise of better prospects. He opened a
work-shop, almost the first of its kind in the city, and thus became the
recognised pioneer of this art, called karchobi, in Bengal.
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