Delhi’s history is full with gory details of sacking, bloodshed, mayhem, treachery and what not. Walking along the old Delhi, especially Chandni Chowk, Red Fort anyone can realize the blood strewn history of the city. It has been a witness of death and destruction for ages, one such incident came in 1739. Though it may sound too long ago, the fact that 282 years ago in 1739 when Nadir Shah of Iran attacked Mughal ruler in Delhi on 20th March, the average Delhi resident would not have expected what was about to come the next day i.e. 21st March. As historians tell and what the contemporary writers or witnesses wrote or saw is nothing but ghastly in all manners. Reading through the details of the events of 21st March, 1739 makes us feel sad for the lives of Delhi residents as they were being ravaged mercilessly for the whole day of 21st March.

Already weakened Mughals were no force to reckon with and when Nadir Shah of Iran attacked the already declining empire, they had little to no resistance. As it happened the Battle of Karnal happened on 24 February 1739 where the Iranian ruler defeated the Mughals, the defeat was so massive for Muhammad Shah, often called ‘Rangila’ that he surrendered immediately and welcomed Nadir Shah with open arms. In fact, he had surrendered the keys of his capital and treasury and even allowed the Iranian ruler to sleep with his wives the imperial suite where Shahjahan used to sleep with his begums.

The Day of Mayhem and Death

Since Marathas who had just a couple of years ago attacked and had taken away most of the treasures and wealth from Mughal ruler, there was not much in his treasury. However, since Nadir Shah had come to loot India’s wealth he was not going to leave so easily. He persuaded Mohammad Shah Rangila to give everything that he had in his kitty. Meanwhile since he was still in the capital city having all the fun and fiesta since he was a de facto ruler of Delhi, something happened that would then cost thousands of deaths in the streets of Delhi.

Though it is still unknown who spread the rumor but probably it would have been Mughals that Nadir Shah was assassinated. It fueled the anger of already defeated soldiers of Mughal army and ordinary people of Delhi that they thought it was the opportunity to hit back Nadir and in that effort they butchered more than three thousand soldiers accompanying the Iranian king on 21st March.

Delhi Goes Nadir

English has ‘nadir’ as antonym for Zenith, whereas Zenith means higher stage or scale, nadir means the bottom and looks like the term came from Nadir Shah taking Delhi to bottom. As the historians tell as early as the morning of 22nd March, 1739 came, it brought Death and Destruction for Delhi locals as Nadir moved in the streets with his army ordered for the slaughtering of everyone and anyone, indiscriminately. His soldiers not just looted the wealth of the shop owners, money lenders in the areas like Chandni Chowk and Dariba Kalan, Fatehpuri, Faiz Bazar, Hauz Kazi, Johri Bazar and the Lahori, Ajmeri and Kabuli gates, etc. but also captured their women, especially younger ones and took them as sex slaves.

Reading through the writings of Anand Ram Mukhlis who was a personal representative at the Delhi imperial court for the prime minister and for the governor of Lahore and Multan provinces, we come to know that the violence or onslaught that started early in the morning of 22nd March, 1739 lasted till afternoon and stopped only after Mughal ruler pleaded for mercy. This is what Mukhlis wrote about the incident:

“Here and there some opposition was offered, but in most places people were butchered unresistingly. The Persians laid violent hands on everything and everybody. For a long time, streets remained strewn with corpses, as the walks of a garden with dead leaves and flowers. The town was reduced to ashes.”

Unprecedented Loot of India’s Wealth

According to the book ‘The History of Nadir Shah’ written by James Fraser nearly 70 crores of wealth was carried away by Nadir Shah from Delhi in hundreds of carts that included jewels from emperors and amirs worth 25 crores. The historian wrote that Nadir Shah was so greedy he even took utensils and handles of weapons set with jewels, with the Peacock Throne, etc. worth 9 crores. Mughals who had extracted wealth taxing and looting the ordinary Indians were wealthy rulers, they paid for their Karma as Nadir Shah also took away money coined in gold and silver coins worth 25 crores and gold and silver plates which he melted into coins equivalent to 5 crores.

Since Nadir Shah took away fine clothes and rich stuff, etc. worth 2 crores and household furniture and other commodities estimated to be around 3 crores, it appears he had a beggar’s mentality as these are not something that a victorious ruler would do.

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