FAMINES IN THE INDIAN SUBCONTINENT, 1500 to 1767
|1661 (a): heart of the Mughal Empire|
|Documented causes: drought|
|Documented effects: voluntary slavery; major official relief effort|
|C.E.R. Girdlestone, "Report on Past Famines in the North-Western Provinces" (1868)|
|p6: "We know also that the events connected with the famine of 1661 made a great impression on Aurungzebe, and that he personally superintended the relief of his subjects, one of his plans having been to bring grain on a large scale from Bengal and the Punjab- a circumstance which shows that those provinces were unhurt. It is reasonable, therefore, to infer that the scene of the famine lay about Delhi and the upper half of the Doab. Several things tend to prove that the calamity was severe. The Emperor opened his treasury and granted money without stint. He gave every encouragement to the importation of corn, and either sold it at reduced prices, or distributed it gratuitously among those who were too poor to pay. He also promptly acknowledged the necessity of remitting the rents of the cultivators, and relieved them for the time being from the burden of other taxes. Economical himself in his personal expenses, he had always inculcated the folly of extravagance amongst his courtiers; and so, when the hour of need came, he had large means at his command. The vernacular chroniclers of the period attribute the salvation of millions of lives and the preservation of many provinces to his strenuous exertions. Even when a margin has been left for manifest exaggeration, there can be little doubt that Aurungzebe's foresight and administrative ability caused the area of this famine to be much less extensive than was the tract of that which had devastated the country thirty years previously."|
|Firishtah et al. (trans. Alexander Dow), "History of Hindostan" (1st ed. 1772)|
|p340 [1661- AH 1071]: "A prodigious famine, occasioned by the uncommon drought of the season which burnt up the harvest, prevailed in different parts of India. The emperor ... remitted the taxes that were due; he employed those already collected in the purchase of corn, which was distributed among the poorer sort. He even expended immense sums out of the treasury, in conveying grain by land as well as by water into the interior provinces, from Bengal and the countries which lie on the five branches of the Indus, as having suffered less on account of the great rivers by which they are watered. The grain so conveyed was purchased, at any price, with the public money; and it was resold at a very moderate rate. The poorer sort were supplied, at fixed places, with a certain quantity, without any consideration whatever. The activity of the emperor, and his wise regulations, carried relief through every corner of his dominions. Whole provinces were delivered from destruction, and many millions of lives were saved.|
This humane attention to the safety of his subjects obliterated from their minds all objections to his former conduct. He even began to be virtuous. The ambition which made him wade through blood to the throne, inclined him to the pursuit of fame, which can only be acquired by virtue."
|H.M. Elliot (comp.) "The history of India, as told by its own historians. The Muhammadan period." (vol 7, 1877)|
|p263 (from Khafi Khan "Muntakhabu-l Lubab"): [events of the third year of Emperor Aurangzeb's reign; 1660-61 CE, last item of the year- compare the opening of Elliot's quotation from Khafi Khan under 1658] "Unfavourable seasons and want of rain, combined with war and movements of armies, had made grain very scarce and dear. Many districts lay entirely waste, and crowds of people from all parts made their way to the capital. Every street and bázár of the city was choked with poor helpless people, so that it was difficult for the inhabitants to move about. An Imperial order was issued, that in addition to the regular bulghúr-khánas, where raw and cooked grain was given away, ten more langar-khánas (free houses of entertainment) should be opened in the city, and twelve bulghúr-khánas in the suburbs and among the tombs, and careful men were appointed to superintend them. Instructions were also issued for the amirs to make provision for langar distributions, and orders were given for the remission of taxes on (the transport of) grain, with the view of favouring the gathering of stores."|
|Saqi Must'ad Khan (trans. Sir Jadunath Sarkar), "Maasir-i-Alamgiri" (1947)|
|p20: [events of the third year of Emperor Aurangzeb's reign; 1660-61 CE, last item of the year] "As famine appeared in many places of the Empire, it was ordered that in addition to the permanent alms-houses ten more should be opened in Delhi and twelve others in the parganahs around it for the relief of the poor. Similar arrangements were made in Lahore. In addition to the amounts customarily spent in the months of Muharram, Rajab, Sha'ban, Ramzan, Rabi-ul-awwal, and Zilhijj, this year double the amount was distributed. Orders were issued to the grandees down to commanders of a thousand that, they should practise charity on their own account, and this alms-giving continued until the scarcity was turned into plenty. "|
|François Bernier, "Voyages de François Bernier et description des Etats du Grand Mogol" (vol. 2, 1699)|
|pp318-9: "Le Soleil est si fort & si violent dans les Indes toute l'année, & principalement pendant huit mois, qu'il brûleroit tout & rendsroit la terre stérile & inhabitable si la Providence n'y avoit pourveu particulerement, & disposé les choses d'une façon si admirable qu'au mois de Juillet, dans le plus fort de la chaleur, il survient reglement des pluyes qui durent trois mois de suite, tempérent la terre, la rendent trés-fertile & tempérent l'air, de sorte qu'il n'est pas insuportable; ces pluyes ne sont néanmoins pas si réglées qu'elles viennent précisement dans le même temps; j'en ay fait plusieurs Observations en differens endroits, & principalement à Dehli où j'ay demeuré long-temps, il en est de même aux autres Contrées, & il y a toûjours quelque difference d'une année à l'autre, car tantost elles commencent ou finissent quinze jours ou trois semaines plûtost, & tantost plus tard, & il est des années qu'elles ne sont pas si abondantes que les autres, jusques-là que deux années de suite il ne pleut presque point du tout, ce qui causa beaucoup de maladie, & une grande famine." [That would presumably be the 1661 famine. Bernier's description of the Indian climate continues with an analysis of rainfall patterns in different parts of the sub-continent.]|
|1661 (a-extra): Mewar|
|Documented causes: drought|
|Documented effects: heavy mortality; workfare reservoir construction|
|James Tod, "Annals and antiquities of Rajasthan" (vol. 1, 1920)|
|pp454-5: "ANNALS OF MEWAR: The Rajsamund Lake.- This great national work is twenty-five miles north of the capital … magnificent, costly, and useful as it is, it derives its chief beauty from the benevolent motive to which it owes its birth: to alleviate the miseries of a starving population, and make their employment conducive to national benefit, during one of those awful visitations of providence, famine and pestilence with which these states are sometimes afflicted.|
… It was in S. 1717 [A.D. 1661], only seven years after the accession of Raj Singh, that these combined evils reached Mewar, less subject to them, owing to its natural advantages, than any other State in India ...
[From the Raj Vilas, the chronicle of the reign of Raj Singh] 'The Rana went to implore favour at the temple of the 'four-armed'; for though Asarh was over, not a drop of rain fell from the heavens; and in like manner, the months of Sawan and Bhadon passed away [The three months of rain, termed the Barsat. Asarh is the month June to July ...] . For want of water the world was in despair, and people went mad with hunger. Things unknown as food were eaten. The husband abandoned his wife, the wife the husband- parents sold their children- time increased the evil; it spread far and wide: even the insects died: they had nothing to feed on. Thousands of all ages became victims to hunger. Those who procured food to-day, ate twice what nature required. The wind was from the west, a pestilential vapour. The constellations were always visible at night, nor was there a cloud in the sky by day, and thunder and lightning were unknown. Such portents filled mankind with dread. Rivers, lakes, and fountains were dried up. Men of wealth meted out the portions of food. The ministers of religion forgot their duties. There was no longer distinction of caste, and the Sudra and Brahman were undistinguishable. Strength, wisdom, caste, tribe, all were abandoned, and food alone was the object. The Charbaran [the four caste groups] threw away every symbol of separation; all was lost in hunger. Fruits, flowers, every vegetable thing, even trees were stripped of their bark, to appease the cravings of hunger: nay man ate man! Cities were depopulated. The seed of families was lost, the fishes were extinct, and the hope of all extinguished.
The chief of Mewar, deeply meditating on this extreme distress, determined to raise a monument, by which the wretched might be supported and his own name perpetuated. This was seven years in constructing …' " [order of text rearranged chronologically; also appears in 1829 edition, vol. 1, pp389-391]
[PS: Forced by Mughal attacks to live in the mountains of Mewar, Raj Singh's son Jai (or as Tod prefers, Jey) Singh also built a lake to ensure a good water supply, conceived about 1685 and completed in 1691. Named the Jai Samand (also known as the Dhebar lake, based on the earlier name of the location), this seems for many years to have been the largest artificial lake in the world.]