THE fifteenth century of the Christian era was a period of singular mental and political activity. Both in Europe and India men shook off the torpor of ages, and their minds awoke to the consciousness of intellectual responsibility. For this result, it is true, important preparations had been made in the fourteenth century, when the Christian reformers, Walter Lollard and John Huss, preached and suffered death for their opinions; when the poetical literature of England assumed a tangible form from the genius of Chaucer and Gower; when the Musalmans in Europe penetrated into Thrace and Hungary; and when, after the overthrow and expulsion of Budhism from India by the astute and powerful Brahmans, there flourished the great exponents of Indian monotheism, the saint Kabir, and the enlightened Ramanand.
But it was reserved for the fifteenth century to bear the full fruits of the mental awakening of the fourteenth. In England the ancient language of Greece began to be studied; a further impulse was given to the reformation of the Christian religion; and villenage disappeared as a political institution. In France the Government was consolidated by the union of the great fiefs to the crown; and the daring monarch Charles VII made his successful expedition against the picturesque capital of Southern Italy. In Germany occurred the birth of Luther, and the revival and development of the invaluable art of printing in movable types. In Italy there was a marvellous resuscitation of the fine arts, and
[1. Lollard and Huss were burned for heresy. Wickliffe would have suffered the same fate had not a paralytic attack anticipated the executioner.
2. Block printing was known in China before the Christian era.]
then were born the renowned navigators Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci, the great masters Michael Angelo, Raphael, and Leonardo da Vinci, and the illustrious patron of letters Lorenzo di Medici.
In Spain Ferdinand and Isabella, though they organized the inquisition in their intemperate religious zeal against the Saracens and Jews, were yet conspicuous for a worldly liberality which deserves the acknowledgement of posterity. In Portugal was born Vasco da Gama, who under the enterprising King Emanuel discovered the maritime route by the Cape of Storms to India. The Musalmans in Europe conquered Turkey and Greece, and seized on the ancient Italian city of Otranto. And in Asia, Taimur extended his victorious arms from Siberia on the north to the Arabian Sea on the south, and from the Ganges on the east to the Hellespont on the west.
There is a wonderful analogy between the spiritual condition of Europe and India during the dark ages. In Europe most religious works were written in Latin, in India they were in Sanskrit. In both continents all learning was in the hands of the priesthood, and this admittedly led to serious abuses. A great cyclic wave of reformation then overspread both continents. During the very period that Luther and Calvin in Europe were warning men of the errors that had crept into Christianity, several Indian saints were denouncing priestcraft, hypocrisy, and idolatry, and with very considerable success. Several of those great men who led the crusade against superstition, founded sects which still survive; but the most numerous and powerful of all is the great Sikh sect founded by Guru Nanak, which already forms a considerable section of the population of the Panjab, and which is scattered in greater or less numbers not only throughout the whole of India but Kabul, Kandahar, China, and Southern Asia.
A cognate cause is frequently assigned for the establishment of new religions, namely, that they appear at periods of great political or social depression, when it becomes necessary for men to have recourse to the superhuman for
guidance and consolation. Then when the hour is darkest some prophet is born, perhaps in a lowly hamlet, to solace the heavy-laden and lift their thoughts to a brighter and happier world. A signal instance has been remarked by historians. Judaea was smarting from the tyranny and cruelty of Herod when he whom the most advanced races of the world call the Messiah was born.
The Gurus too appear to have been of the opinion that God sends a divine guide whenever required by the condition of the age and country. Guru Amar Das, the third Guru, wrote:--
When the world is in distress, it heartily prayeth.
The True One attentively listeneth and with His kind disposition granteth consolation.
He giveth orders to the Cloud and the rain falleth in torrents.
That is, the Guru comes by God's order and gives abundant instruction to all who may be prepared to receive it.
Indeed several events occurred during the Muhammadan conquests of India in the Middle Ages to force the Hindus to consider life in a serious aspect. Though many of the followers of Vishnu, Shiv, and the other gods of the Hindu dispensation adopted during that period the faith of the Arabian prophet, as the result of force or with a view to worldly advantages, yet others whose minds were powerfully directed to religious speculation sought safety from persecution and death in the loneliness of the desert or the retirement of the forest, and lived single-minded investigators of religious truth as in the primitive golden age of their country.
We shall here give, from the written accounts of Muhammadan historians, some examples of the treatment of Hindus by Muhammadan conquerors of India.
Shahab-ul-Din, King of Ghazni, the virtual founder of the Muhammadan Empire in India (1170-1206), put Prithwi Raja, King of Ajmer and Dihli, to death in cold blood.
[1. The l is generally silent in such combinations.]
He massacred thousands of the inhabitants of Ajmer Who had opposed him, reserving the remainder for slavery. After his victory over the King of Banaras the slaughter of the Hindus is described as immense. None were spared except women and children, and the carnage of the men was carried on until, as it has been said, the earth grew weary of the monotony.
In the Taj-ul-Ma'asir by Hasan Nizam-i-Naishapuri it is stated that when Qutb-ul-Din Aibak (A.D. 1194-1210) conquered Merath he demolished all the Hindu temples of the city and erected mosques on their sites. In the city of Koil, now called Aligarh, he converted Hindu inhabitants to Islam by the sword and beheaded all who adhered to their religion. In the city of Kalinjar he destroyed one hundred and thirteen Hindu temples, built mosques on their sites, massacred over one hundred thousand Hindus, and m