Indology Articles

Why You Cannot Whitewash The Truth About The Tyranny And Bigotry Of Aurangzeb

by @TlinExile and @iamdimplekaul

This article is repost-archive of Dimple Kaul's blog linked here

Why You Cannot Whitewash The Truth About The Tyranny And Bigotry Of Aurangzeb

Intrigued by an online article titled ‘Why Aurangzeb’s Reputation As A Tyrant And Bigot Doesn’t Stand The Test Of History’, we read it with anticipation only to be hugely disappointed, for, it seemed to be straight out of the publicity kit for a book with no evidence to substantiate the title.

We decided to undertake a thorough examination of the article and share our observation, for, unless responded to, the plethora of such research, considered as fringe half a century ago, might end up becoming mainstream and that would be a grave injustice to India – the land and its people. For reading convenience, the original article has been kept in red and our response is given in black.

It’s no big news that contemporary India is brazenly partisan about its national heroes, especially the ones who tower over the subcontinent’s history..

Every country in the world is proud to the extent of being brazenly partisan about its national heroes. It is surprising that the article would fault contemporary India for the same.

But few figures have elicited as much contempt from a section of the public as well as the political class as the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb

These remarks are based on the book (Aurangzeb: The Man and the Myth, 2017 by Audrey Truschke) which the article praises. We have read the book  and it claims that Aurangzeb’s image as a bigot was a British colonial construction

Such ideas filtered to society at large via textbooks and mass media, and several generations have continued to eat up and regurgitate the colonial notion that Aurangzeb was a tyrant driven by religious fanaticism [1]

This claim does not hold true in the light of contemporary testimonies which reveal that the fear and disgust for Aurangzeb is not a modern phenomenon. Let us examine how a ‘section of the public’ perceived Aurangzeb in the pre- colonial period.

1) Pranami (Sant) tradition’s Aurangzeb

Pranamis follow a syncretic tradition and go beyond sectarian identities such as Hindu and Muslim. This sect honours both Gita and Quran in its temples and freely quotes from Quran, Bible and Gita. Mahatma Gandhi, whose mother belonged to this sect, and who himself was possibly influenced by these ideas, said this, about Pranamis, in his autobiography 

Pranami is a sect deriving the best of both the Quran and Gita, in search of one goal – God

According to the 17th century Bitak Sahitya composed by Pranamis, Aurangzeb was a typical bigot who tortured Hindus, slaughtered cows and destroyed temples. Pran Nath, the founder of the sect, stayed in Delhi for sixteen months to meet Aurangzeb. He tried to reason that both the Hindu and Muslim scriptures had the same essence and led to the same truth. However, Aurangzeb declined to pay any heed to such appeals and refused any interview with him. He also imprisoned Pran Nath’s disciples and laid down the condition that they would be released only if they surrendered to Shariat [2].

The contemporary Pranami sects viewed Aurangzeb as a bigot who persecuted Hindus

2) Nek Rai’s Aurangzeb

This Persian poet of Aurangzeb’s time was a disciple of the Chishti Sufi order and made frequent pilgrimages to the hospice of Bakhtiyar Kaki. He has described how Aurangzeb broke the temple at Mathura and replaced it with a mosque. He disapproved of Aurangzeb’s bigotry and said this in a verse

Look at the miracle of my Idol House O shaikh That when it was ruined it became house of God

Nek Rai also said that looking beyond bigotry was the need of the hour as both Hindu and Muslim scriptures speak the same truth.

This clearly shows that Aurangzeb’s bigotry was looked down upon even by those people deeply connected to Indo Persianate world following Sufi traditions.

3) Shah Abdul Aziz Dehlavi’s Aurangzeb

He was one of the greatest Islamic scholars of Hadith in the 18th century. Writing in c.1780, he tells us about an event that occurred in Delhi during Aurangzeb’s time. The Shias of Delhi made Panja Sahib a place of pilgrimage.When Aurangzeb came to know about it, he immediately issued orders for the demolition of the place.

 Shah Dehlavi clearly saw Aurangzeb as a Sunni puritan who destroyed Shia places of worship.

4) Aurangzeb in Dasam Granth

Bachitar Natak of Dasam Granth written (c.1690) describes how Aurangzeb dealt with civilians who had come to pay respects to the Sikh Guru.

Their houses were plundered, wealth destroyed, their heads shaven, urinated upon, publicly paraded, jeered upon, beaten with shoes and finally sent to death [3].

Pre-colonial Sikh tradition (Sri Guru Panth Prakash) ascribes the “martyrdom” of Tegh Bahadur to the bigotry and religious persecution of Aurangzeb. This scripture was written in the early nineteenth century when there were no English institutions in Punjab which was ruled by Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

This tradition was current among Sikhs even before the British took over Punjab, irrespective of whether this episode finds any mention in Persian primary sources or not

5) Nirvani view of Aurangzeb

The Nirvana Akhara of Benares, have in their records an incident, that in 1664 Aurangzeb sent an Army to destroy the Vishveshwar temple. The Nirvanis fought and defeated them, thus protecting the temple which was later demolished by him in 1669.

Gyanvapi Mosque built in 1669 CE by Aurangzeb on top of the great Vishveshwar temple

6) Shia view of Aurangzeb

Shia traditions of the sub-continent have seen Aurangzeb as a bigot. We illustrate this fact by examining the traditions of northern and southern encompassing ends of Indo Shia world- Ladakh and Hyderabad, where Aurangzeb is a byword for Sunni persecutions [4].

In Kashmir, Aurangzeb’s reign saw Shia persecution. Hasanabad, a Shia colony, was torched. Aurangzeb executed a Kashmiri Shia Husayn Malik on charges of blasphemy as he was alleged to have insulted companions of prophet. A song has been sung ever since by Kashmiri Shias commemorating this event

Because of the atrocities of Yazid’s community,

Husayn son of Haydar has been martyred again

In Hyderabad, Aurangzeb is notorious for converting Shia Royal Ashurkhana (chamber for Shia prayers and ritual) into a garage.

                                      Royal Ashurkhana

The Shia historian Sadiq Naqvi asks

Explain to me about when Awrangzîb attacked the Deccani sultanates, when he ordered the Shîcî shrines to be destroyed! I can show you the firmân [official order]! For what crime were these shrines destroyed? But the modern period of history is not very different in this respect. Who are the enemies? In this time, the same things are being repeated as in the earlier period [5]

7) Benaras Hindu’s view of Aurangzeb

In 1809, before English educational institutions were established in Benaras, there were Hindu-Muslim riots after the pillar of Lat Bhairav was demolished. The Hindus of Benaras submitted a petition to the British wherein they blamed Aurangzeb for fomenting communal strife in the city by destroying temples and converting them to mosques.

All had been well in Banaras, until the Emperor Aurangzeb had destroyed the harmony between the communities by demolishing a temple; but the Emperor was so powerful that the Hindus had ‘necessarily submitted with patience’.

This episode again elucidates how Hindus of the pre-colonial and early colonial age viewed Aurangzeb.

8) Kashmir Hindu’s view of Aurangzeb

Hindu historian Bahadur Singh’s account of the history of Kashmir (c. 1824) based on earlier texts in addition to his own sources, recounts many examples of the rape and murder of Kashmiri Hindus by Muslim soldiers and gangs of insurgents over the centuries. Under Aurangzeb, he says,

‘ten seers’ (twenty pounds) weight of sacred threads (the symbol of high caste status) were collected from forcibly converted Hindus, many of whom were later to ‘reconvert’ to Hinduism[6]

This book was written three decades before colonialism found its way to Kashmir.

9) Kumaon Hindu view of Aurangzeb

Bahadur Singh also claimed that the females of Kumaon, on the mountainous northern borders of the Empire, were regularly consigned to brothels when their men failed to pay revenue.

10) Bijapur Sufi’s view of Aurangzeb

Aurangzeb’s self-proclaimed Jihad against Bijapur had disastrous consequences. Many Deccani Muslim poets lamented the bad state of incomes and the economy in Bijapur and Golconda in the troubled times following their fall. A pre-colonial Sufi writing attributes the cholera epidemic that struck the Bijapur plateau as

bud waba’ az Mughal — “the cholera came from the Mughals[7].”

A census of Bijapur taken on behalf of Aurangzeb showed that the city had lost over half of its former population in the few years after his conquest. The Bijapuri Sufi Ansari, who fled Bijapur to his native place Gogi, noted that if he were to return to Bijapur, he would be put to death. The Sufi Bahri wrote, in his own account, about how the Mughals officers inspected and persecuted him, on the allegations of heterodoxy.[8]

11) Gujarat Astrologers’ view of Aurangzeb

Aurangzeb became extremely unpopular after the introduction of Jaziya, so much so, that earthquakes were attributed to him. In 1684 ,astrologers of Gujarat predicted the demise of Aurangzeb following a series of earthquakes.

Such a prediction would, in all likelihood, not have been made about a loved and admired king.

12) Agra Jains’ view of Aurangzeb

In a contemporary Jain work written in Agra c.1676 CE, “Aurangzeb was not accepted as king”. The historian who examined this manuscript observes

Aurangzeb was reigning in 1676, his name has NOT been mentioned as the ruling king. Though dead, Shãh Jehãn was still deemed to be the real sovereign (‘ Chakravartin’) of the country. This shows that the ‘ Chakravartin’ status, granted by the native intellectuals to Akbar, Jehãngir and Shãh Jehãn, was discontinued, and that Aurangzeb was not accepted as such by them, obviously, owing to his iconoclastic measures against the ‘ Dharma ‘. It was regal derision or reproach, like the modern Parliamentary reprimand and an intellectual refutal of the Kingship of Aurangzeb [9]

In her book, Audrey quotes laudatory descriptions of Aurangzeb in  vernacular Jain works to show that he ensured the well being of all his subjects[10]. At this juncture, we would simply like to submit that many contemporary subjects wrote favourably of Stalin and Hitler, as well!

13) Shambhaji’s Aurangzeb

In a private letter to Raja Ram Singh of Jaipur, Shambhaji expressed hope that the capture of Aurangzeb was imminent and that Hindus would be able to rebuild their temples.

This letter shows that  Aurangzeb,  his Persian chronicles and Sambhaji, are all in agreement that he was anti-Hindu and destroyed temples to trample Hindus. It also shows  that contemporary Hindu elites from Jaipur to Maharashtra perceived Aurangzeb as a suppressor of Hinduism. Had that not been the case, Shambhaji would  not have had any need to write this letter.

14) Surat Englishmen’s Aurangzeb

Garry, the President of a Surat Factory, in his letter to Lord Arlington,  wrote that Shivaji was up in arms against Aurangzeb who, out of his fanaticism, had pulled down Hindu temples and forced many Hindus to become Muslims.

Thus, even contemporary Englishmen saw Aurangzeb as a bigot 

Aurangzeb’s legacy, in the popular imagination, is one of unmitigated tyranny — reviled as the destroyer of Hindu temples, executioner of Sikh guru Teg Bahadur, and an austere Muslim ruler, who imposed unpopular taxes and curbed expressions of liberal Islam.

A Pew research report based on Manucci’s account of Aurangzeb’s reign has found him to be responsible for the genocide of 4.6 Mn Indians. Audrey answers this charge by downplaying Manucci who, she claims , should be read critically and with caution even as he remains a useful source. We don’t know what to make of a scholar discrediting her own source.

Ignoring the corroboration by Dutch records, she alleges that the Marathas bore blame for their scorched earth policy. This policy was implemented to defend their own land from Aurangzeb’s invasion.We are yet to ascertain the scholarly merit of blaming an owner defending his house against thieves.

Adolf Hitler is looked down upon with contempt and rightly so; why should Aurangzeb be excused?

In 2015, amid a raging controversy, the ruling government acceded to an extraordinary request from the New Delhi Municipal Corporation to have the name of Aurangzeb Road in the national capital changed to APJ Abdul Kalam Road. The idea was to remove the association of evil, represented by Aurangzeb, from the name of the street and replace it with the name of the former president of India, who, presumably, embodied goodness.

What exactly did the ruling government do to merit an uproar, one wonders! Nobody in India has desecrated his grave or destroyed his tomb. Aurangzeb himself changed the name of many sacred places of Hindus. Mathura and Chittagong both became Islamabad, Varanasi was renamed as Mohammadabad and Khirki was changed to Aurangabad, to cite a few examples. The controversy, might therefore, appear contrived to those who are aware of the facts.

The article finds no substantiation for Dr Kalam’s ‘goodness’ despite his personal and professional conduct being well recorded and not so far back in the past.

And ironically, at the same time, it uses unsubstantiated rhetoric to claim that Aurangzeb was not a Tyrant and a Bigot that his actions, recorded in documents from the past, clearly reveal him to be.

The hatred for Aurangzeb also comes through in his denunciation by the Shiv Sena and other groups that admire his arch-rival, the Maratha warrior, Shivaji. In 2004, a biography of Shivaji by James Laine was banned in Maharashtra because it had dared to raise questions deemed unseemly by his fans. In 2015, a Shiv Sena MP abused an officer on duty on camera by calling him “Aurangzeb ki aulad” (a descendant of Aurangzeb), after he razed some temples during a demolition drive sanctioned by the district collector in Aurangabad, based on high court orders.

We have already established that Aurangzeb was a reviled figure, not because of some propaganda by any political party. The admiration for Shivaji is also not a new found 21st century phenomenon! He was admired even back in the 19th century Colonial Bengal where Shivaji Jayanti used to be conducted every year.

Historian Audrey Truschke took it upon herself to write a biography of Aurangzeb for the common reader to disabuse them of the many misconceptions around the Mughal king. At a little over 100 pages, without the paraphernalia of footnotes, it is as accessible as a complex historical narrative can get, without losing its essential core of erudition.

Considering that not a single new source has been used in the book, one cannot call it pioneering work. All the sources cited in the book have been known for years. All that the book seems to do, is reinterpret existing sources in a contrarian manner, to fit the theory or narrative where Aurangzeb is expected to be remembered as a mango loving, cap selling devout Muslim instead of the perpetrator of killings of 4.6 million of Indians!

As Truschke says in the Preface, the idea for the book, fittingly, came to her in an exchange on Twitter, a minefield for peddling divisive political agenda by interested groups and individuals. The spirit of the book, with its crisp prose and controlled polemics, hits out at the easy generalisations of social media.

Dr Koenraad Elst, a historian and scholar of repute, has written about how Academia is dominated with scholars who label anyone not agreeing with their left leaning ideology as ‘having some agenda’. This background makes the above section appear more like a left liberal SJW complaining about the equal freedom of speech that Social Media offers to everyone without fear or favour.

Aurangzeb’s life, widely misrepresented by the Hindutva brigade as that of a cardboard despot’s, was far more complex, as anyone with common sense would expect, as well as riddled with many contradictions. Those who are familiar with politics should not be surprised by the persistence of the latter either.

The last of the so-called ‘Grand Mughals,’ Aurungzeb, tried to put back the clock, and in this attempt stopped it and broke it up.

—Jawaharlal Nehru

Seeds of Partition were sown when Aurangzeb triumphed over [his brother] Dara Shikoh. – Shahid Nadeem, Pakistani Playwright

Even Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the father of Pakistan, observed that

Aurangzeb presided over a conquest state where Hindus had to submit to his rule most unwillingly[11]

 None of these individuals would qualify to be a part of the Hindutva brigade. Thus, this attribution of Aurangzeb’s portrayal in popular memory, as something misrepresented by the Hindutva brigade, is unsubstantiated.

It is also ironic that Audrey Truschke’s tutors and seniors, in her own academic circles, differ with her views on Aurangzeb. Her undergraduate advisor Wendy Doniger , who she holds in high regard, is renowned as one of the greatest critics of Hindutva. 

She has said this about Aurangzeb

The Hindus suffered most under Aurangzeb. In 1679, he reimposed the jizya on all castes (even the Brahmins, who were usually exempt) and the tax on Hindu pilgrims that Akbar had lifted. He rescinded endowments to temples and to Brahmins, placed heavier duties on Hindu merchants, and replaced Hindus in administration with Muslims. When a large crowd rioted in protests the jizya, he sent in the troops—more precisely, the elephants—to trample them. He put pressure on the Hindus to convert[12].

Does Doniger’s statement also amount to “misrepresentation by Hindutva brigade”?

A successful statesman must act expediently, even though their actions may not always square with their professed political ideologies. (Consider the Bharatiya Janata Party’s stance on beef, for instance, which seems to keep changing according to populist demands in different parts of the country.)

We are unsure as to why would a piece on Medieval History include a comment on a political organisation.

Aurangzeb, who took on the title of Alamgir (“the seizer of the world”), was no exception. His actions were in accordance with what he imagined to be that of an effective and equitable ruler’s. His understanding of justice was never meant to live up to postmodern notions of human rights. To impose on him the standards of the modern world is to thus make a grave historical error. He remained a truly Machiavellian ruler in the classic sense of the term, drawing on The Prince, a treatise by the Italian diplomat Niccolò Machiavelli who advised rulers to imbibe cunning in their personal conduct and art of statecraft.

Aurangzeb’s actions were not merely in accordance with what he imagined to be that of an effective and equitable ruler’s. These were completely aligned with his idea of a true Muslim. We agree that his understanding of justice is not expected to live up to the postmodern notions of human rights. But he does not appear to have acted even like the earlier Mughal emperors. 

It is an established fact that his standards of justice took a complete break from his predecessors such as Akbar who implemented Sulh-e-Kul. Even his son Prince Akbar fares better than him, and is supposed to have written to his father

On the Hindu community [firqa] two calamities have descended, the exaction of jiziya in the towns and the oppression of the enemy in the country[13].

Looking at his contemporaries, we find that he did not even show the same characteristics as Shivaji. The deplorable condition of natives under Mughal invaders and their descendants is documented in various sources. And it is in complete contrast with how Shivaji treated his subjects. Kavi Bhushan, a Bundela poet from North India, was an admirer of Shivaji. He mentions how Shivaji uplifted enslaved Hindus and  considered him to be the uplifter of suppressed Hindus. This itself makes for an interesting case, for, according to Audrey, there was no Hindu identity in pre-colonial age. Had there been no Hindu identity, why would a person from UP praise Shivaji, a Maratha, as the uplifter of Hindus?

Even if we ignore the writing of a native such as Kavi Bhushan, we have Aurangzeb’s biographers expressing admiration for Shivaji.

Khafi Khan, a rival of Shivaji, who called Hindus dogs said

But he (Shivaji) made it a rule that whenever his followers were plundering, they should not do harm to the mosques, the Book of God (Quran), or the women of anyone[14]

Aurangzeb presided over the creation of Fatawa-i-Alamgiri , the most important source book for Muslim law in India which has the following rules about manumission of slaves

Manumission can be done orally or in writing, but it has to be done in accordance with rules and in proper form and proper words. Captured slaves, if kafirs, could not be freed.6 To be kafir is a disqualification (aib) both in ghulam (male slave) and bandi (female slave). The Muslim detests the company of kafirs because the object, in the purchase of a female slave, is cohabitation and generation of children

Once a slave converts, there is provision for his freedom. If a slave apostatizes, he cannot be freed until he returns to Islam. An exposition of the faith is to be laid before an apostate; who, if he repent not within three days is put to death. A female slave or free woman who apostatizes is not to be killed, but she must be daily beaten with severity until she return to the faith.  A Musalman slave, purchased by an infidel, becomes free after entering an infidel territory. The slave of an infidel, upon becoming Musalman, acquires the right to freedom[15].

Aurangzeb put this law code to practice when he prevailed upon Portuguese pirates to release captured Muslim slaves but approved capture of Hindu slaves.

By contrast, Shivaji implemented a strong prohibition against slavery of anyone irrespective of religion within his jurisdiction. The records of Contemporary Dutch, who were no friends of Shivaji, admit this fact

“ [he] has established [as] a fundamental rule of his government, that none of his subjects may be made into slaves, let alone be sold or transported, in order not to lack any inhabitants, with which these new conquests are sparsely enough provided, even though this tyrannical rule has already made many of the best inhabitants leave”.

Aurangzeb threatened his generals that he would gangrape their wives. Aurangzeb wrote to Tahawwur Khan, the right hand man of his son Akbar who had rebelled against Aurangzeb. Aurangzeb, intending to wean him away, wrote a letter through his father-in -law promising pardon with a threat that “his women would be publicly outraged and his sons sold into slavery at the price of dogs”. Tahawwur Khan succumbed to this threat and reached the camp of Aurangzeb. But soon as he reached the camp “numbers fell him, he was soon killed and his head cut off”

By contrast,  Shivaji implemented a rule that women should not be harmed when his soldiers went plundering.

Aurangzeb demolished temples whereas Shivaji refrained from destroying places of worship of people from other faiths. He even donated to the Dargah of Muslim Sufi of Baba Yakut.

Aurangzeb levied discriminatory taxes including Jaziya taxes on non-muslims. The trade tax for Muslims was 2.5% as against  5% for Hindus. Shivaji did not discriminate.

A snapshot comparing the two is given below.

Common sense and basic humanity suggests that killing 4.6 Mn people is Macabre and not Machiavellian.

Just as it is true that Aurangzeb imposed the oppressive jizya tax on non-Muslims (in spite of opposition from within the court and the royal family), he also elevated Hindu officials to positions of eminence in his court. While he did destroy temples during his reign, the number was probably no more than a dozen.

Jiziya is unarguably one of the most humiliating acts against the human spirit. Aurangzeb followed it, for, he believed that it was prescribed in Islam. His biographer Khafi Khan wrote this some time after Aurangzeb’s reign had ended,

the imposition of the tax was done, “with a view to suppress the infidels, and make clear the distinction between the dar ul-harb en de muti‘ ul-Islam,” that is between the rebellious areas and the areas that were muti‘, obedient or submissive, to Islam.

Now let us examine the statement which claims that ” he also elevated Hindu officials to positions of eminence in his court”, which is based on this statement from Audrey’s book which reads that Aurangzeb employed more Hindus in his administration than any prior Mughal ruler by a substantial margin[16].

The number of Hindu Mansabdars grew in Aurangzeb’s time, apparently, on account of the rise of Hindu scribal groups and the need to include locals, familiar with the lay of the land, who had deserted the Marathas. This step, taken by him out of desperation, for, he was not able to make gains on his own, was resented by orthodox Muslims who cursed him to hell. It is to be noted that similar growth in Hindu scribal groups was also witnessed in the Islamic Deccan kingdoms of Golconda and Bijapur.

There is an order of Aurangzeb in Maasir-i-Alamgiri forbidding the employment of Hindus in revenue department. But he had to give in after he replacements for Hindu revenue officers could not be found, for, Muslims preferred military careers over revenue. Aurangzeb even passed a general order (preserved in Kalimat-I-Tayyibat) forbidding the employment of Hindus anywhere in the government. But it was not possible to  rule over and extract revenue from  a vast empire, where the majority of the subjects were Hindus, without employing Hindu officers.

However, there was a clear “glass ceiling” to the rise of Hindu Mansabdars under Aurangzeb. When the Rajput Jai Singh was appointed as the deputy in Malwa in 1705, Aurangzeb wrote that a Hindu could not ordinarily be given the position of Governor or even that of Faujdar. It is to be noted that everyone had to pay Jaziya with the added humiliation of having to kneel to the Kazi while paying the same.

 When Aurangzeb ascended the throne, a Mansabdar with rank of 7,000 was the highest post for any subject outside imperial family. This was held by the  Hindu king  Raja Jaswant Singh of Marwar.  Another imperial revenue minister was a Hindu named Raghunath Rai. Hence, two of the top most positions were held by Hindus.  After Aurangzeb took over, however, no Hindu rose even to a position of a Faujdar. Further, all the Hindu houses in imperial service were demoted. Mewar was demoted from the rank of 6000 to 5000, Jaipur from 7000 to 2000, Nurpur from 3500 to 1000 and Banera from 5000 to 1000.

Regardless of Audrey’s obfuscation, we have primary testimony of John Ovington, the British Traveller and a contemporary of Aurangzeb, which speaks volumes about the condition and status of Hindus in Aurangzeb’s Muslim polity.

In the same vein, the author admits to destruction of Temples by Aurangzeb but claims that the number was probably “no more than a dozen”.

The fact is that Aurangzeb’s iconoclastic frenzy led to the destruction of thousands of Temples as can be seen from imperial records and historiographies (ref: Table below). And this is not all, for, epigraphical records also reveal instances of mosques built on temples during his reign . Examples are the Jami Masjid at Gwalior and Pattar ki Masjid at Patna. We are unsure of the number of Temples destroyed but unattested in epigraphy and historical records. All we know is that only a few Temples have survived Aurangzeb’s reign and most of north India was deprived of large Temples.

Hindu Reaction to Aurangzeb’s Iconoclasm

Here we examine the effect of Aurangzeb’s temple demolition on Hindu psyche through the reaction of Hindus to his spree of iconoclastic measures.

Temple legends Many Hindu temples were ruthlessly demolished during Aurangzeb’s reign.

The temples that survived, either fully or partially, were considered to possess miraculous powers, for, surviving Aurangzeb was no less than a miracle.

  • Prominent in this class of temples is Karmanghat Hanuman temple in Hyderabad. According to a Hindu legend, Aurangzeb sent his men to destroy this temple after conquering Golconda. When they tried to enter the temple, they were pushed back by some strong force and could not enter. Upon hearing of this incident, Aurangzeb himself came down to destroy this temple. He too could not enter the temple and he heard voices which said, “If you want to enter this temple, make your heart stronger(Karo-man-ghat)”. Aurangzeb asked the voice to prove its truthfulness, which resulted in lights all around with the appearance of the form of the lord. This is how the place came to be called as Karmanghat.
  • Another temple that has “miraculously” survived Aurangzeb’s iconoclasm is the Jeen Mata temple in Sikar, Rajasthan that Aurangzeb wanted to raze to the ground .Being invoked by her priests, the Mata let out its army of Bhairons (a species of fly family) which brought the Emperor and his soldiers to their knees. He sought pardon and the Kind hearted Mataji excused him from her anger.
  • Similarly, Sthal Purana of the Shiva temple at Jangamwadi states that Aurangzeb was put to flight by heavenly host of Lord
  • The Khandoba temple at Jejuri has a tradition that an attack on it by Aurangzeb was foiled by the deity. Similarly, K N sane in Varshik Itibritta (saka year 1838) records that the attack by Aurangzeb on Narsinghpur was foiled by snakes and scorpions

Temples that have partially survived Aurangzeb’s iconoclasm have also been attributed miracles.

  • There is a legend that when his soldiers wanted to destroy the Gaurishankar temple, they attacked the Shiva Linga with a spear. Fountains of blood appeared from the Shiva Linga, and the soldiers ran away, terrified. One can still see the mark of the spear on the Linga.
  • Chand Khedi temple in Kota(Rajasthan) has a legend that, during the time of the Mughal invasions, a blow from an invader’s axe damaged the toe of the Rishabhdev temple idol, resulting in a flow of milk which swept away the invaders and kept the temple safe.
  • According to Kedara Temple Sthal Purana, Aurangzeb’s troops approached the vicinity of the Kedāra Temple in Benares and were met by a Muslim holy man who warned them not to touch Kedāra. The commander paid not heed. He stormed into the Kedāra Temple and slashed with his sword at the image of the bull Nandin, kneeling before the doorway to the sanctum. Real blood, it is said, began to flow from the neck of the stone Nandin, and the Muslim assailants backed away in awe

Ruins of Chausath Yogini temple destroyed by Aurangzeb

Idols of Chausath Yogini temple destroyed by Aurangzeb

  • There is an interesting story behind the Chausath Yogini temple in Jabalpur. Aurangzeb once decided that he would kill anybody who did not make a sound when his sword was put on him. When he came to the Chausath Yogini temple, he put his sword on every Yogini idol and destroyed each , for, no sound was heard. In the end, he went to the idol of Lord Shiv-Shakti. As soon as he put his sword on Lord Shiva’s leg, he heard the sound of bees and flow of milk from his leg and decided not to damage the idol.

There are other temple traditions which attest to the iconoclasm of Aurangzeb. These traditions are about priests relocating idols to escape Aurangzeb’s Jihadi fury.

  • It is believed that the original linga of Varanasi was secretly smuggled to the Temple of Guptakashi in Uttarakhand.
  • According to a tradition, the temple of Bhavani Mandap at Kolhapur houses the image of Goddess Tulja Bhavani secretly smuggled to prevent demolition.
  • Srinathji was shifted from Mathura to safeguard it from, according to legend, the Mughal ruler and installed in a temple there under the rule and protection of the then Maharana Raj Singh of Mewar.

Other Hindus were defiant.

  •  An inscription from Ranganatha Swamy temple at Nirthadi states that the temple was rebuilt in 1698 by Baramappa Nayaka after its destruction by Aurangzeb in 1696[17].
  • When Aurangzeb ordered demolition of Laxmi Narayan temple of Chamba in 1678, Raja Chattra Singh, instead, gilded its pinnacles.
  • In 1671, a Muslim officer sent to demolish temples around Ujjain was killed by Rajputs along with his 121 men. He had succeeded in demolishing a few temples before being overpowered by them[18].

Whether we believe the legends etched into the Stahal Puranas of these temples, these instances do indicate that Aurangzeb’s iconoclasm led to huge destruction and resettlement of Hindu places of worship.

Until 1669, Aurangzeb was only upholding Hanafi law which was prevalent even in the days of Shahjahan, according to which all newly constructed Temples had to be demolished, and while older ones were not be demolished, these could not be repaired. But he did break this law as the table below shows.

In 1669, he issued orders for general demolition of all Temples, including the holiest ones such as Vishvanath in Varanasi, Somanath in Prabhasa and Keshav Rai in Mathura. When Aurangzeb invaded Orissa, he demolished all other Temples but left Puri Jagannath intact because he thought it was a source of great revenue for Mughals. Similarly, Tirupati was spared.

An 1850 sketch of Somnath temple. Mosque elements (dome and minarets) piled clumsily on top of the ancient temple by Aurangzeb’s forces

Mosque built by Aurangzeb on top of Gobind Dev temple, Vrindavan. Sketch by James Fergusson

Year Location Aurangzeb’s Exploits
1645 Ahmedabad, Gujarat Aurangzeb destroyed Chintamani Parshvanath Jain temple and slaughtered a cow inside its premises. He later converted it into a mosque. 12 temples destroyed and some converted into mosques
1655 Bodhan, Telangana Aurangzeb destroyed temple and built a mosque
Early 17th century Satara, Maharastra Aurangzeb destroyed Khandoba temple
1661 Palamu (Conquest) Temples destroyed
Cooch Behar (Conquest) Temples destroyed and some converted into mosques
Orissa Temple of Baladeva in Orissa destroyed
1663 Orissa Kedarpur Temple destroyed
1664 Gwalior,Madhya Pradesh Temple of Siddha Gwali destroyed and converted to a mosque
1665 Gujarat Somnath and other temples destroyed and converted into mosques
1666 Pinjore, Haryana Bhima Devi temple destroyed and converted to Mughal Gardens
1667 Delhi Kalka Devi temple sacked
Akot, Maharastra Temple destroyed and mosque built on its ruins
1669 All India General orders of destruction of all temples issued
Orissa All new temples in Orissa destroyed
Ranathambore Malarna temple destroyed
Benaras Vishveshwara temple destroyed and converted to a Gyanvapi mosque. Bindu Madhava temple destroyed and converted to Alamgiri Mosque. Krittivasa temple destroyed and converted to Mosque.Lat Bhairav temple destoyed and converted to a mosque. Lat Bhairav pillar spared. Kedara temple partly destroyed. 500 temples destroyed
1670 Mathura Keshai Rai temple destroyed and converted to mosque.
Vrindavan Gobind Dev temple destoyed and converted to Idgah
Ujjain Temples demolished
1672 Dacca, Bangladesh Many temples destroyed
1675 Hubli, Karnataka 17 Mosques built on temple sites
1678 Marwar Many temples destroyed
Chand khedi temple desecrated
1679 Rajasthan Many temples destroyed in Mewar, Marwar, Ajmer, Jodhpur, Khandela and Sanula. Harshnath temple demolished.Gaurishankar temple partly demolished
1680 Rajasthan 172 temples destroyed in Udaipur, 63 in Chitor, 66 in Jaipur. Mandal temple destroyed and a mosque built in Mewar. Someshwara temple in Mewar destroyed.
1680 Punjab Temples destroyed
Karnataka Temples destroyed
Haryana Temples destroyed
1681 Mathura Temples destroyed
Ajmer Temples destroyed
Maharashtra Alora temple destroyed
Bundelkhand Temples converted to Mosque at Irach and Udaypur
1682 Charcika temple, Madhya Pradesh Converted into Bijamandal Mosque
1685 Gwalior All temples destroyed
Late 17th century Jabalpur Aurangzeb destroyed Chausath Yogini temple
Udaypur, MP Mosque built using Temple materials
Ayodhya,UP Mosues built on Swagadwara and Treta Ka Thakur temples
Ramtek, Maharastra Mosque built on destroyed temple site
Amaravati, Maharastra Mosque built on destroyed temple site
Late 17th century Maharastra Temples destoyed at Jejuri and Bhuleshwar
Uttar pradesh Sitaramji temple and Devipatan temple destroyed
1687 Hyderabad Large number of temples destroyed. Maisaram Masjid built by demolishing 200 temples and using its materials. Akkanna Madanna temple destroyed
1687 Machlipatnam Large number of temples destroyed
1692 Mathura Rasulpur temple destroyed
1693 Gujarat Hatkeshwar temple(vadnagar) destroyed
1694 Ajmer Temple destroyed
1695 Tadapatri,Andhra Pradesh Temple demolished and mosque built on its ruins
1696 Gujarat Temples destroyed in Surat
Karnataka Ranganatha Swamy temple destroyed
1705 Maharashtra Pandarpur temple destroyed

Table: A list of demolition and destruction of Temples carried out by Aurangzeb

Here are few more documented facts

  • One mosque at Benares was built by Aurangzeb on the site of the Bisheshwar Temple –a tall temple considered holy by Hindus. He constructed a lofty mosque on the site of the temple using the stones from the temple structure.
  • He also demolished Krittivasa and Bindu Madhava temples, raised mosques in their stead.
  • He built Alamgiri mosque on top of Beni Madhav temple.
  • Similarly, a pillar of old Lat Bhairav temple survives in the midst of a mosque. This pillar once stood in a Hindu temple complex, but in the time of Aurangzeb the temple was destroyed and the site became a Muslim tomb site. The pillar, however, was wisely left intact, as Indologist Sherring put it, “either as an ornament to the grounds, or under a wholesome dread of provoking to too great a pitch the indignation of his Hindu subjects.” Muslims continued to permit some access to the pillar and received part of the offerings in return. As a result, there is no major religious sanctuary in all Banāras that pre-dates the time of Aurangzeb in the seventeenth century.

In 1669 CE, Aurangeb destroyed Bindu Madhav temple and built Alamgiri Mosque on top of it

  • He built a mosque at Mathura on the site of the Gobind Dev Temple which was very strong and beautiful as well as exquisite.
  • Maisaram Masjid was built by Aurangzeb from the materials of 200 temples demolished after the fall of Golconda[19] • Masjid of Aurangzeb in Rohtasgarh, Shahabad District, Patna was a part of a temple converted
  • 17 Masjids were built by Aurangzeb in Hubli, Karnataka in 1675 on Temple sites
  • Masjid built by Aurangzeb in Udaypur, MP used Temple materials
  • A Persian inscription discovered in the Jãmi Masjid at Ritpur in the Amravati District of Maharashtra proclaims that the mosque which was originally built by Aurangzeb on the site of a Hindu temple, having become desolate through passage of time, was reconstructed in AH 1295 (AD 1878) with the help of contributions raised by the local Muslims[20]
  • Maqbara of Aurangzeb in Aurangabad is built on a Temple site
  • Masjid built in Aurangzeb’s reign in Ramtek, Nagpur District is a converted temple
  • Masjid built by Aurangzeb in Fyzabad District, Uttar Pradesh on Swargadvãra Temple site
  • Masjid built by Aurangzeb on Tretã-kã-Thãkur Temple site in Ayodhya
  • Jami Mosque at Tadpatri, Andhra Pradesh was constructed  during the reign of Aurangzeb on the site of a temple according to an inscription inside the mosque dating c.   1695 CE
  • An inscription on Alamgiri Masjid, Bodhan(Telangana) states that during the reign of Shahjahan, Prince Aurangzeb built the mosque previously occupied by “temple of infidels”. Inscription dated to c.1655 when Aurangzeb was Governor of Deccan
  • A temple in Gwalior dedicated to Siddha Gwali( whence the name Gwalior) was demolished and a mosque built on its site by Motamid Khan, Governor of Aurangzeb in 1664 CE
  • Inscription on Jami Masjid, Akot(Maharastra) dated c.1667 CE tells us that an official of Aurangzeb named Muhammad Ashraf built this mosque on the site of an extant temple after destroying it

In addition to the above, we have other instances where the dates are not definitely known.

  • The Juma Masjid at Irach in Bundelkhand, built in his reign seems to have been built using material taken from a Hindu temple.
  • It is also said that he ordered the demolition of a Saiva temple which he saw while passing through Udaipur in Bundelkhand (about 1681). However, the order was later modified and the temple converted into a mosque.
  • The temples at Gayaspur near Bhilsa and the temple of Khaundai Rao in Gujarat were also destroyed on his orders.
  • Aurangzeb destroyed the temples at Mayapur (Haridwar) and Ayodhya.
  • He also stopped public worship at the Hindu temple of Dwaraka.

Ruins of Bhima Devi Temple

  •       Bhima Devi temple complex was destroyed by Aurangzeb’s foster brother who built Mughal         gardens in their stead in 1666 CE at Pinjore

                   Bhima Devi Temple

Mughal Garden, Pinjore

  • A newswriter of Ranathambore reported the destruction of a temple in the pargana of Bhagwant Garh in the state of Jaipur. • Bakhtawar Khan, who was in Aurangzeb’s court, says this in “Mir’at-i-Alam”

All the religious structures of infidels and great temples of these infam
ous people have been thrown down or destroyed in a manner which excites astonishment at the successful completion of so difficult a task. His Majesty (Aurangzeb) personally teaches the sacred kalima to many infidels with success. … All mosques in the empire are repaired at public expense… [21] 

  • Aurangzeb’s court records (Akhbarat-i-Darbar) talk about the destruction of hundreds of temples in Udaipur.
  • An undated order mentions the destruction of every temple built in the last 12 years and every  old temple repaired by “worthless,despicable infidels”. This order was issued to the governor of Orissa[22].
  • Aurangzeb also partially destroyed the temple of Sitaramji at Soron.

Sitaramji temple Soron;Destroyed by Aurangzeb

Aurangzeb’s soldiers destroyed the Devipatan temple in Gonda(UP) and slew the priests therein

Ruins of Harshnath temple destroyed by Aurangzeb in 1679

Ruins of Harshnath temple destroyed by Aurangzeb in 1679

Someshwar Temple(Rajasthan). Destroyed by Aurangzeb in 1680

Bhuleshwara temple ruined by Aurangzeb

Idgah mosque built by Aurangzeb over Keshav Rai temple in Krishnajanmabhoomi complex. Mathura, 1670

Vishnu excavated from Keshav Dev, Mathura

Alamgiri Mosque built by Aurangzeb after destroying Hanumangarhi temple of Ayodhya

Given the long list, it is no wonder that in her book Audrey talks of “few dozen temples[23]“ destroyed by Aurangzeb even as the Huffington post author stays stuck on “no more than a dozen”.

Th above facts clearly display that the statement ,”Aurangzeb destroyed a dozen temples”, is mythifying truth itself!

In most instances, he ordered the razing of religious sites or their desecration with the aim of teaching his subjects a lesson for transgression or inciting revolts. Any monarch, who wanted to ensure the continuance of his reign, was unlikely to have acted differently under the circumstances.

One wonders if we shall soon be reading similar research to explain away Hitler and the Holocaust as teaching the ‘subjects a lesson’!

This theory of political iconoclasm is unable to explain that if desecration and destruction of Hindu Temples was simply driven by politics, how is it that the mosques in the opponents’ lands escaped similar treatment?

The historian Richard Eaton has tried to put up a theory that Hindu temples were places of revolt while as Mosques were above politics. Now this theory is highly flimsy as reading Khutba in the name of the Emperor was a Friday ritual in the mosques.

As against this, there is no recorded evidence of a Hindu parallel for ‘Khutba like’ reading in a temple.

State religion and state politics were inseparable in Muslim rule.

As an example, we can talk about an incident that happened right after the death of Aurangzeb. When Bahadur Shah proposed some changes in the Khutba, people suspected that he had modified the prayers because he was sympathetic to Shias. The Lahore mosque refused to read this Khutba and acknowledge Bahadur Shah as the sovereign.

Now if the theory of political iconoclasm was correct, Bahadur shah should have destroyed this mosque right away. He even trained his guns at it. But he finally had to capitulate on the plea that destruction of mosques would incur him wrath. The very fact that a mosque could not be touched even when there was an open political rebellion within the same, against the imperial regime, shows that the theory of political iconoclasm holds no merit.

When Aurangzeb invaded Bijapur, the Khutba in the mosque was read in the name of King Sikandar Adil Shah. If the theory of political iconoclasm were correct, he should have destroyed this mosque but he did not. Instead he donated to this mosque and to others shrines such as the one at Gesu Daraz which had been associated with the polity of Bijapuri Adil Sahis.

It should be noted that Aurangzeb did not even spare the temples of his loyal subordinates like the Kachwa king of Jaipur. Aurangzeb  praised his ally and subordinate  Raja Ram Singh I of Jaipur for obeying Aurangzeb’s orders and demolishing Hindu temples within his   territory. As against this, Aurangzeb left the mosques of his enemies untouched. When Aurangzeb does not spare the Hindu temples of even his own political  allies and does not touch the Mosques of his political enemies, any attribution of Aurangzeb’s temple destruction to his political vendetta is absolute rubbish. If his motives were purely political he should have spared the Hindu temples of his allies and destroyed the Mosques of his enemies

The whole theory of political iconoclasm falls flat when one considers the case of Shantidas Zhaveri. Shantidas Zhaveri was a rich Jain merchant and a close associate of Mughals and dear to Shah Jehan. The non-violent Jain merchants of Gujarat were never known to foment violent political rebellions, in any case. The young prince Aurangzeb demolished Chintamani Parshvanath temple built by Shantidas Zhaveri in Ahmedabad. He slaughtered a cow inside its premises and converted it into a mosque. When Shahjahan came to know about this, he handed the temple back to Shantidas Zhaveri. But the Jains did not take back the temple, for, it had been desecrated. Later, Shantidas Zhaveri sponsored the campaign of Murad when he allied himself with Aurangzeb rebelling against Shahjahan and Dara Shikoh. After he became the king, Aurangzeb maintained friendly relations with Shantidas Zhaveri and assigned him some land in Shantrunjaya.

With this the statement that Aurangzebdestroyed temples as a lesson for revoltsfalls flat on its face. Clearly, Shantidas was not inciting any revolt and it was not the imperial policy to destroy his temple as Shahjahan’s reaction shows. Shantidas was a much sought after friend of both Shahjahan and later, Aurangzeb, and this action simply cannot be attributed to any politics. Aurangzeb did it out of pure religious bigotry. No sophistry can explain his action.

As if that was not enough, Aurangzeb in his last year (1707) ordered demolition of temple at Purandhar, in Maharashtra, simply because his own soldiers worshipped idols inside it! This was his own army, these were not rebels! No theory of political iconoclasm can explain this fact.

The fact is that Aurangzeb himself cited Islamic precedents for iconoclasm and sincerely believed that it was his duty as a pious Muslim to destroy idols. When demolishing Hindu Idol temples, Aurangzeb quoted “has the truth not come, has the falsehood not vanished”? (Quran 17.81). This saying is famously attributed on the authority of Hadith of Sahih Al Bukhari to Prophet Muhammad when he was breaking the idols inside mecca. When Aurangzeb’s official Muhammad Ashraf destroyed a temple and built a mosque on top of it, he did it not because they was any political rebellion. According to his own inscription, 

Muhammad Ashraf of god faith, saw a place where there was a temple. Like Khalîl (Prophet Abraham), he broke the temple at the command of God, and arranged for the construction of a very steadfast mosque[24]

This inscription shows that the motivation behind temple destruction was not any political rebellion. It is a simple religious exercise of imitating the great Islamic Prophet Ibrahim who broke the idols of his own father.

Moreover, a politically shrewd man like Aurangzeb would definitely know that destroying temples would not curb any political revolution but foment one! When imperial agents were sent to destroy the Mahakaleshwara temple in Ujjain, the Rajputs rebelled and slew 121 men. Rather than mitigate political opposition, temple destruction actually legitimised the political revolt in the eyes of Hindu natives and elevated the status of every petty local revolt to that of a national struggle of Hindus. Had Aurangzeb’s considerations been only political, he would never have destroyed temples.

And the order for general demolition of temples in 1669 clearly bears it out.

The Lord Cherisher of the Faith learnt that in the provinces of Thatta, Multan and especially at Benaras, the Brahmin misbelievers used to teach their false books in their established schools, and their admirers and students, both Hindu and Muslim, used to come from great distances to these misguided men in order to acquire their vile learning. His Majesty, eager to establish Islam, issued orders to the governors of all the provinces to demolish the schools and temples of the infidels, and, with the utmost urgency, put down the teaching and the public practice of the religion of these unbelievers[25]”

The order talks of “establishing Islam” and is directed against religious Brahmin teachers, not political rebels. Richard Eaton has argued that this order was confined to Benares. But his words are proven wrong by the testimony of De Graaf, who was in Hoogly in 1670 and attests to the fact that Aurangzeb ordered destruction of temples everywhere in his reign.

“In the month of January [1670], all the governors and native officers received an order from the Great Mughal prohibiting the practice of Pagan religion throughout the country and closing down all the temples and sanctuaries of idol worshippers…in the hope that some Pagans would embrace the Muslim religion[26]”

Aurangzeb destroyed Charchika temple and converted it into Bijamandal mosque. C.1682 CE

Audrey and other apologists of Aurangzeb  insist that numerous temples survived Aurangzeb’s reign. It should be noted that India is a vast country and even an avowed iconoclast like Aurangzeb was not able to destroy all the temples across India. But the Mughal intention can be clearly seen from what they did to temples in Delhi, the imperial capital where Mughal power was the strongest.

This table enumerates the temples and mosques built in Delhi during the period 1637-1857. What is conspicuous is that  28 mosques were built in the imperial capital between 1637 and 1739, yet not a single temple! This despite the fact that the region had a substantial Hindu population consisting of soldiers, merchants, craftsmen, servants, laborers, and artists of the great households. At best, the temples which did exist, if at all, were insignificantly small, without any Shikhara and were located in inconspicuous corners – small and insignificant.

The very fact that the imperial capital of one of the greatest empires of its time, majority of whose subjects were Hindus, could not have a single Hindu temple tells us everything we need to know about temple policy of Aurangzeb!

Aurangzeb merely acted in line with the hallowed Mughal tradition of in-fighting, where brother didn’t hesitate killing brother in battles of succession, to come to power. In his case, he drove away one of his brothers from the empire, killed the other two, and kept his aged father, Shah Jahan, in house arrest. Had Aurangzeb not secured the kingdom for himself by such violent means, he’d have lost face among his contemporaries, and most probably his life in the hands of one of his brothers.

It is true that Mughals had the tradition of infighting but it was fratricidal. Aurangzeb took it to glorious heights by imprisoning his father which displeased the Sharif of Mecca so much that he refused to accept his gift. The Chief Kazi of Delhi refused to announce Aurangzeb’s coronation saying that it was illegal as his father was alive. Shah Suleiman of Iran mocked his reputation by saying that he usurped his father’s throne which he refused by lying that his father had abdicated it voluntarily.

When read in the context of Mughal history, much of the aura of a “cartoon bigot” that social media trolls and right-wing politicians have imposed on Aurangzeb seems to fade away, leaving behind the impression of a king who was as human and fallible as any other.

The facts put forth by us clearly emphasise that the aura of Aurangzeb is not something concocted by social media trolls and right wing politicians. It is a result of authentic findings from contemporary and later primary sources.

There are peculiarly contemporary resonances with his reign. Aurangzeb, too, for instance, tried to impose prohibition, which proved to be a disastrous policy. An admirer of music in his early years, he turned into a strictly religious man in his tastes later in life. He never lost his appetite for satirical verse though, letting his court poets compose lines that dared to lampoon him.

It is strange that the author would find contemporary resonances with Aurangzeb’s reign. Let us look at all that he prohibited 

  • He replaced the Persian Ilahi year with the Islamic Hijra year.
  • In his second year he discontinued the celebration of Nauroz as it was a pagan or heretic festival.
  • He dismissed singers from his court in his 11th year.
  • Music and dancing (including musical parties) were forbidden. Sheikh Yahyat Chisti, a Sufi of Ahmedabad refused to capitulate and he was troubled by imperial agents.
  • He discontinued the Hindu practices of Jharokha Darshan , Tula Dan.
  • He dismissed Hindu astrologers and replaced them with Muslim astrologers.
  • He imposed a ban on wine and if a wine seller was apprehended, he was whipped on the first offence and imprisoned on the second.
  • Aurangzeb proscribed the poem of Hafiz (Diwan-e-Hafiz) in schools because he believed that it encouraged wine drinking.
  • The allowable length of beard was fixed at 4 fingers. An army of men was mobilised which set out ascertaining the length of beards of people and cutting off the excess length.
  • Garments of gold were forbidden.

Although he diminished the presence of Sanskrit scholars at the Mughal court, he also wanted Brahmins to pray for the safety and continuation of the empire. The Hindus were too diverse anyway (a composite of the Brahmins, Marathas, Rajputs and other castes) to bear down on him with a united hostility.

The author talks about patronage of Brahmins. A good example of how and why he patronised Brahmins can be gleaned from the episode of Jwala Mukhi. When Aurangzeb attacked the temple of Jwala Mukhi, he tried to wall the flames worshiped therein with metal plates, for, he considered these to be Satan’s tongues. This plating led to fire breaking out with full force, elsewhere. Then, the frightened Emperor made offerings to the Brahmins and hurried away[27].

If such examples are used by scholars to show that Aurangzeb was tolerant and secular, it is extremely unfair and dishonest.

In spite of grounding her narrative in historical facts,

The evidence shared above does not corroborate this.

Truschke brings to life Aurangzeb the emperor in all his flaws and splendour.

Truschke also brings to life a mythical Aurangzeb who invokes Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh? In another article about her book , it is written

Aurangzeb composed a poem in Hindi in which he invokes the blessings of Vishnu, Brahma and Mahesh on his accession (see Manager Pandey, Mughal Badshahon ki Hindi Kavita). Clearly, the emperor Aurangzeb was too multifaceted to be reduced to a single personal/religious identity

This article refers to a book by Manager Pandey in which it is claimed that Aurangzeb invoked the Trinity!Surprisingly, her book does not include it at all!

The poem, we found out, comes from Sangita Raga Kalpa Druma by Nagendranath Basu, published in 1914, who supposedly republished Krishnananda Vyasa’s Sangita Ragakalpadruma, first Published in three editions in 1842, 1845 and 1849, respectively.

One may wonder as to how did Aurangzeb’s “Hindi” poems find their way into a book first published in the 19th century and nowhere earlier! Turns out that the author Krishnananda Vyas was a singer who toured most of north India to collect poems to compose this musical treatise. These were oral poems, as admitted by Manager Pandey himself , collected by Krishnananda Vyasa, from various folk singers. These poems did not exist in any document before 1842 and were just oral folk poems collected by a singer, and attributed to Aurangzeb, almost 200 years later. This leaves a gap of almost two centuries between Aurangzeb and the poems allegedly written by him. This makes us question the scholarly integrity of someone who seems to insist on contemporary sources but ignores such a huge gap when it seems to suit a specific theory.

This is not all! In 1889, the renowned British linguist George Grierson while writing his book on Hindi literature, looked for the book published by Krishnananda Vyas , he found that there was not a single copy available. The book available to us, is the one republished by Nagendranath Basu, a Bengali author, in three editions from 1914 to 1916. Thus, we cannot be certain about how much is Nagendranath Basu’s republication true to Krishnanand Vyasa’s original book. A serious doubt is cast by the fact that the third volume is in Bangla and not Hindi. It is likely that the copy or source available to Nagendranath Basu was interpolated or corrupted with regional poems. Therefore, going by the scholarship displayed by Manager Pandey and subsequently the author, the Mughal kings perhaps also wrote in Bengali!

But the story doesn’t end here! We found that Manager Pandey committed a huge blunder by attributing poems written by court poets to Mughal emperor.

He attributes the poems of Muhammad Shah Rangile to Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah when Muhammad Shah Rangile was the Mudra of his court poet Nemat Khan.

Similarly, the eleven Hindi poems attributed to Aurangzeb have actually been written by a person who seems to be a court poet . This is clear from the poems.

In the first poem, he praises the Mughal dynasty and says, “Oh master, I shall describe your glories O progeny of Babur” (54.1). It is extremely difficult to accept that these were Aurangzeb’s poems as they are addressed to Aurangzeb himself in vocative case.

In the second poem (55.2), he says, “Now my misery has gone, happiness has come, I have become a favourite of Aurangzeb, I have become rich”.

Aurangzeb was not a court poet to express happiness on alleviation of poverty by a patron.

In the third poem (55.3), he says, “May emperor Aurangzeb live a crore years”.

In the fourth poem,” Emperor Aurangzeb is the remover of all pains, he takes you across (the world ocean), he is the destroyer of misery and poverty” (55.4).

In the fifth, “Emperor Aurangzeb is master of my masters”, he is the most powerful and most intelligent”. This actually gives us the evidence that the poet did not belong to Aurangzeb’s court but to that of one of his Mansabdars.

Finally, (56.9) ” each particle of my body is delighted by the blessed vision of Aurangzeb”.

And as regards Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh, this is the poem

Uttam Lagan Shoba Sagun Gin Gin Brahma Vishnu Mahesh

Vyas Keeno Shah Aurangzeb Jasan  Takhat Baitho Aannandan

Shah Aurangzeb Jagat Peer Haran Lok Taare Nistare Fandehi

Rehat Dukh Daaridr Ke Ganjan

We have tried to roughly translate it

At the auspicious time and virtuous grace recounting Brahman, Vishnu,  Mahesh, Aurangzeb happily sat on his glorious throne..Shah Aurangzeb is the peer of the world. He is the one who carries the world across. He is the one who annihilates poverty and misery

It is, therefore, a travesty to ascribe the poems in Manager Pandey’s book to Aurangzeb!

At 88, as he lay dying, he was consumed by a longing for mangoes, she writes — a detail that stands out with an overwhelming sense of pathos and makes this re-telling of the emperor’s life richly rewarding.

Aurangzeb had one Qumir beheaded, for, he wrote a book with Christian tendencies that could not be refuted by Muslim divines. Audrey Truschke would say that Aurangzeb should not be judged by today’s moral standards, but  can she name one person who was beheaded for criticizing the Vedas? He had a Portuguese convert beheaded when he reverted to his original faith! These pathos filled accomplishments don’t find mention in his “richly rewarding life”.

Let us remember it is the same Aurangzeb  who trampled his own Hindu subjects under elephants when they very meekly requested him to revoke the Jaziya tax. 

Aurangzeb trampling his Hindu subjects, who had meekly requested the emperor to revoke Jaziya, under an elephant.1679

Let us also remember that it is the same Aurangzeb who forcibly converted  Hindu merchants of Surat. The persecuted merchants migrated in thousands from Surat to Bombay  and preferred the English over Aurangzeb. A letter written by the President at a Surat Factory to the Company mentions how  Hindus were forcibly converted to Islam. They left Surat and this impacted trade. The East India Company were great traders of their time and their observations on trade is, therefore, very important.

In no way does the narrative, being created through the book, seem to be grounded in historical facts! The book is devoid of complete historical evidence and tries to obfuscate facts. No honest scholar would falsify facts to paint outright religious bigotry as a political compulsion.

All the articles and posts being churned to market this book seem to be targeted at putting out an incorrect narrative through which revulsion for Aurangzeb’s conduct in the past is wrongly meant to be interpreted as revulsion for people of his own faith in the present.

This makes us wonder if those who have written posts on the book have read the book to find out if this mythification of Aurangzeb, under the ironical guise of debunking the myths related to the man, is fact or fiction. Reason enough for us to pen Aurangzeb – The Man And Her Myth?

References

  1. Truschke, Audrey. Aurangzeb: The Man and the Myth (2017)
  2. Hijri, Zulfikar. Diversity and Pluralism in Islam(2010)
  3. Dasam Granth , Bachitar Natak PP.169
  4. Pinault, D Horse of Karbala: Muslim Devotional Life in India(2001) PP.16
  5. Toby Howarth , The Twelver Shi’a as a Muslim Minority in India: Pulpit of Tears(2005) PP.158
  6. Bahadur Singh, Yadgar-I-Bahaduri Mss. 30,786
  7. Sahifat, Persian MS copy, P.252
  8. Waqiat I Mamlaqat I Bijapur Volume 3
  9. R Nath, Annals of The Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Vol. 83 (2002), PP. 211-214
  10. In her book, Audrey Truchke gloats over the fact that a few Darbari Jain flatterers praised Aurangzeb.  She says ” Given such actions, it is unsurprising that we find laudatory descriptions of the emperor in vernacular Jain works of this period, such as, “Aurangzeb Shah is a brave and powerful king” (mardano aur mahabali aurangasahi naranda)”.  Truschke, Audrey. Aurangzeb:The Man and the Myth(2017)
  11. Muslim Zion: Pakistan as a Political Idea By Faisal Devji PP.96
  12. Doniger, Wendy. The Hindus, An Alternate History(2009)
  13. Bhimsen. Ms.Or.23
  14. Khafi Khan,  Muntakhab al-lubab pp.260-261
  15. Fatawa-I-Alamgiri, Quoted by KS Lal(1994)
  16. Truschke, Audrey. Aurangzeb: The Man and the Myth (2017)
  17. B.L Rice, Epigraphia Carnatica Volume 11(1903) PP.6
  18. Akhbarat. 13th year, sheet 17
  19. Imperial Gazetteer of India(1886) pp.213
  20. Annual Report of Indian Epigraphy 1953-54, C-70 and C-71.
  21. Mirat-I-Alam, Trans by. Elliot and Dawson(7.159)
  22. Muraqat-i-Abul Hasan(completed c.1670 CE) P.202
  23. Epigraphia Indica – Arabic and Persian Supplement, 1963, p. 54.
  24. Truschke, Audrey. Aurangzeb: The Man and the Myth (2017)
  25. Maasir-I-Alamgiri, 81
  26. Orme’s Fragment, Notes 85, translated from the French
  27. Moorcroft Journal.  29 Mar, 1820

This article is repost-archive of Dimple Kaul's blog linked here