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And while the extent of India is so vast, the climate is equally diversified. It would be a great mistake to speak of all India as a tropical country. Little more than half of it lies in the torrid zone. There are some parts of it where snow is never absent, as well as others where snow is never seen. The word “ Himmalaya," the name of the mountain range which bounds India on the north, means literally “the dwelling-place of snow;" and the dazzling white peaks preserve their purity all the year round. From that mountain-range the river Indus takes its rise, and flows west and south into the Arabian Sea; and from the same range the Ganges gushes out, and flows east and south into the Bay of Bengal. By far the greater part of India lies between these two great rivers. But there are all descriptions of surface and scenery between them. Bengal and the upper country, watered by the Ganges, is one vast fertile plain. You may travel over scores of thousands of square miles in it, and not meet with a single hillock. This is the country of rice, sugar, opium, and indigo; one level, luxuriant field. On the contrary, if you sail from Surat down the western coast of the peninsula, you run for several hundreds of miles parallel to a chain of lofty hills, with but a very scanty margin between them and the sea. These are known as the Western Ghauts; and their summits are crowned with stately groves and fragrant shrubs, producing pepper and betel, sago and cocoa, as well as the most valuable timber. Then, if you climb these Ghauts, you have before you, not an immediate descent, but table land stretching away for hundreds of miles, slightly inclined, however, towards the Bay of Bengal, into which all the streams, born in this elevated region, find their way. This is one of the great cotton districts; and may yet supply with this material all Asia and Europe too. And, as if to complete the diversity, there is in the north-west of India, between the valleys watered by the tributaries of the Ganges and the Indus, a great desert, 600 miles long by 300 broad, which, although there is some population scattered over it, looks as dreary and unattractive as the African Sahara.
All this immense and diversified territory we call HINDUSTAN. The name no doubt came from the river Indus, which the nations of the West, travelling to India, met as the boundary on that side. The name of the river was for. merly Sind—a word which means dark," alluding to the colour of that deep stream. The termination stan simply means “a settlement or station :" as in Afghanistan, the station of the Afghans ; Beloochistan, of the Beloochis; Kurdistan, of the Koords. And here I may remark, in passing, that the etymology of the names of places in India, as elsewhere, is not only interesting, but often a great aid to memory:. We have all lately (for example) heard much of the Punjab; and it has helped our identifying the position of that district to know that the word means " the five rivers,” the district lying between the five streams which swell the volume of the Indus. So the Dooûb (the two rivers) is the district between the Jumna and Ganges before their confluence; like Mesopotamia, between the Tigris and Euphrates. So the word Deccan means literally “the south;" it does not include, indeed, the southernmost part of the peninsula, but by far the largest part of it; the district lying directly south of the most famous, the historical, region around the valley of the Ganges.
But let us now take a rapid glance at the history of India.
1. In the opening of the book of Esther we read, “ This is Ahasuerus which reigned from India even unto Ethiopia.” This little incidental notice belongs to the earliest part of the authentic history of India. Ahasuerus is supposed by many to be the same with Darius Hystaspes; and we have an account of the expedition of this Darius to India in the pages of the father of history, Herodotus. It is clear, however, from this historian, that Darius extended his empire over but a very small portion of India. He says that this country was bounded on the east by sandy deserts, forming on that side the limit of the known world. Darius, therefore, had not got beyond the Punjab, to the east of which is the Great Desert to which we have referred. He determined however to trace the course of the Indus, supposing it to be one of the feeders of the Nile ! and accordingly sent Scylax, the most distinguished naval commander of the age, down the stream. Scylax sailed down it into the broad ocean, and in two years and a half arrived in Egypt,-a wonderful achievement for that day. Darius also made one interesting discovery. It was of a kind of wool, growing on trees like fruit, more beautiful and valuable than that produced from sheep, and, like it, used for clothing. This important vegetable --of which Lancashire has heard something since—was at that time, 500 years B. C., unknown in Europe.
But the Persian gave way to the Grecian. Alexander, the he-goat of Daniel, pushed his way to the eastern limits of the empire of Darius; and the renowned Bucephalus drank of the waters of the Sind. Having routed a large Indian army commanded by Porus at Hydaspes, one of the Punjab rivers, Alexander pressed on to Hyphasis, the modern Sutledj ; and (who can doubt :) would soon have reached the glorious valley of the Ganges; but his soldiers, afraid to cross the desert, mutinied, and he was obliged to retrace his steps to Babylon. At the death of Alexander, Seleucus, who obtained Syria for his share of the empire, claimed all the East as an appendage! But he found a serious obstacle to the prosecution of his claim in the army of an Indian prince named Sandracottus, or in the language of the country. Chandragupta ; and at length made a treaty with him, resigning all the provinces eastward of the Indus ; in other words, all India. But he sent an embassy to the metropolis of this monarch, who returned with a splendid account both of his kingdom and capital. His army amounted to 400,000 men, including 20,000 cavalry, and 2,000 chariots. The name of the chief city was Palibothra, which some think is the modern Patna, others the inodern Boglipoor: it was ten miles in length, two in breadth, defended by more than 500 towers, and entered by sixty gates. This is the first distinct account we have of any kingdom on the Ganges. The date is the third century before the Christian era. At that date our British ancestors were roaming, naked and painted, through the forests; as gross savages as any South Sea islanders of our own day.
2. From this time down to the tenth century after the birth of Christ, we have no account of any invasion of India. Defended by the giant Himmalayas on the north, by the great desert on the west, and by the no less formidable ocean on the south, India reposed in peace for more than a millennium. But now her quiet was to be disturbed; never perhaps to be entirely regained till the millennium of the whole earth shall come !
The cry was heard on her north-western frontiers, “ There is no God but God; and Mohammed is his prophet.” And well might all India tremble at that cry!
First came Mahmoud the Great, whose father had reared a throne at Ghizni. An ardent follower of the Arabian prophet, and eager to open a passage for his doctrine with the sword, the rich land of the idolaters before him was a tempting prey. He invaded the Punjab, routed the combined armies of India, and marching to the fort of Bimé, where the treasures of the surrounding temples were deposited, took an immense sum in gold, silver, and precious stones. On he strode to Tarassar, a shrine of peculiar sacredness and priceless wealth; and, although besought by the Indian princes to be content with what he had already taken, stripped it of the accumulated treasure of ages. Next we find him at Kinnouj, the proudest of all Indian capitals. Then further south, at Muttra, where the temples were filled with idols of pure gold, having eyes of rubies. And at length he reaches a place which a recent event has made somewhat famous, the temple of SOMNAUT, on the shore of the Indian Sea. To the support of this temple 2,000 villages had been assigned; the statue of Somnaut, of pure gold, was washed every morning with water brought one thousand miles from the sacred Ganges. Other images of gold encircled the majestic hall of the temple ; Somnaut himself towering gigantic over all. The priests were secure. Other shrines had fallen because of their sins; but they, high in unspotted sanctity, might defy the Moslem! In fact the gods themselves had drawn the Mohammedans to this spot, that here they might expiate their impiety, with their blood ! But all in vain. The contest indeed was terrible: the Indian fought with desperation; and Mahmoud feared that his career was run.
The flames of war," says a Persian historian, “raged so fearful over the ensanguined field, and the stream of death flowed with such execution, that Time, trembling for his empire, wept.” And Mahmoud wept and prayed ! He threw himself upon the ground, called upon Allah, called upon the prophet, then rising, called upon his chiefs, and, heading them sword in hand, threw himself again upon the enemy. The shock was resistless : the Indians fled; the gates of the city were opened; Mahmoud advanced to the temple, smote the huge idol on the face with his sword, and, commanding it to be broken to pieces, found it filled within with rubies, pearls, and diamonds! This established Mohammedanism in all the north-western part of India.
The Ghizni dynasty lasted about a century. Then came the Ghawrs, who snatched their territory from them, and added to it the central part of Hindostan, and the province of Bengal. This dynasty also lasted a hundred years. Then came the Afghan princes : and then the time of the great Mogul. The limits of this lecture will not allow me to particularize at this part of Indian history. The chief figures that pass before us are— TAMERLANE, or Timur the Tartar, who overthrew the Afghan princes, although he founded no Indian empire for himself; then his descendant Sultan BABER, who, like Cæsar, combined the historian with the conqueror; then AKBAR, the greatest and wisest of all Indian emperors; and lastly AURUNGZEBE, who both extended and consolidated his dominion, and made his throne at Delhi the wonder of the world. With him ended the Mogul empire.
To assist the memory, these two points may be noticed. The first Mohammedan invasion of India took place about the time when the first Danish king ascended the throne of England. And the last Mohammedan emperor, Aurungzebe, finished his reign in India with the last of Stuarts in England.
3. But now other actors come upon the scene. Instead of turbans and flowing robes, we see the less picturesque costume of hats and coats. And instead of the Crescent we hear (faintly indeed and in strange connection) something of the Cross.
It will be hardly necessary to remind you that the Portuguese, who discovered the road to India round the Cape, established a factory, or agency, at Cochin near the southern point of India. From the neighbouring town Calicut they brought manufactured cotton, and called it calico. This was about the year 1500. But having discovered this path to India, they determined to keep it to themselves. They wrote, so to speak, on the Cape of Good Hope, “ no road this way except on sufferance.” But there were other parties to be consulted in the matter. The Dutch claimed and used the right of passage. And then the English-after they had tried to discover a north-east passage to India, then a way through Russia and Persia, then a north-west passage, and then had actually found a way by the south-west around the point of South America-eventually followed in the track of Vasco de Gama, and doubled the famous Cape.