The Mughal Influence on Vaisnavism, Part 59


Jahangir Converses with Gosain Jadrup
Leaf from Jahangir-nama, c. 1620
[ Click for larger version ]

Sep 28, 2010 — CANADA (SUN) — A serial presentation of the Mughal effect on Vaisnava society.

In 1617, just three years after destroying Lord Varaha's temple, Jahangir began to engage in a series of discussions with a Hindu sannyasi named Gosain Jadrup. Their meetings continued over the course of two years. This pastime is often pointed to by historians who are trying to make the case that Jahangir's sentiments drastically changed, and he became a benevolent friend to the Hindus, just as his father had been. Of course, in the case of Akbar, we have already laid that myth to rest.

The sangas with Jadrup lasted from the winter of 1617 into the fall of 1619. The nature of their relationship was characterized by Jahangir: "…he spoke well, so much so as to make a great impression on me. My society also suited him."

In an earlier segment, we mentioned that Jahangir's father, Akbar, had also visited Jagat Gosain, in Mathura and Ujjain. By the time Jahangir began his visits, Jadrup had left his place in Ujjain and moved on to a corner of the desert to engage in his spiritual practice. The circumstances of their meetings are described in Nur Jahan, Empress of Mughal India by E.B. Findly:

    "Jahangir reported that Jadrup at that time lived in a hole in the side of a hill whose entrance was so small that it was difficult even for a very thin person to use. Jadrup, apparently, bathed twice a day and went once a day into Ujjain for alms where, Jahangir said, he accepted five mouthfuls of food which he swallowed without chewing.

    The two conversed for long periods at a time during these two years, usually "in the retirement of his cell" [pictured above], and from Jadrup Jahangir learned much of what he reported on Hindu caste, family custom, and ritual. By Jahangir's own accounting, Jadrup had "thoroughly mastered the science of the Vedanta" but how much of "the science of Sufism" – which Jahangir claimed was the same as Vedanta – Jadrup knew is not clear.

    Jahangir's attraction to Jadrup was probably not due strictly to doctrine anyway, however, but rather to some lived spiritual ideal he perceived in the saint. Jadrup had, in 1618, been an ascetic living "in the garment of nakedness" for thirty-eight years, after taking this vow against external attachments when he was twenty-two. Jahangir clearly admired the sannyasi's tenacity and the consistency with which he maintained his austerities, as well as the modesty with which he taught, and it is fair to say that Jadrup's appeal for the emperor lay primarily in his saintly posture more than anything else.

    Jahangir's last account of the sannyasi, in fact, before he said good-bye in 1619, was of Jadrup's temperament: "[a man whose] heart [was] free from the attachments of the world." The hedonistic and sensuous emperor, then, had found a spiritual comrade in someone who had put aside all that he himself had claimed. Again, it seems that Jahangir's choice was an aesthetic one: of a companion and mentor whose lifestyle was so authentically stark and uncompromised that its cleanness far outstripped the beauty Jahangir thought he had in his own colorful yet cluttered existence.

    After the interviews with Jadrup, Jahangir's approach to Hinduism was substantially more open and forgiving. In 1620, for example, on the way to Kashmir, he came across merchants from the apple-growing village of Baramula, but even when he learned that their district was named for the boar incarnation of Vishnu, he showed none of the vehement disgust he had earlier during the incident of the black Varaha image in Ajmer. [Other reports put the Varaha temple incident at Pushkar.]

    Moreover, he continued to take an interest in Hindu theories of men and women as well as in that culminating act of marital unity, the creation of the sati, although in late 1620 he became so overcome by the practice of sati and of female infanticide among the Rajaur women, who "ally themselves with Hindus," that he prohibited any such acts of violence against women. He continued to extend kindnesses to holy men and to converse with learned brahmans on issues of theology and Hindu custom, and at the beginning of 1622, he became so fascinated with a sannyasi's powers of renunciation and persistence that he had the man brought to court and tested, successfully, with a drink of double-strength spirits."

As we noted in yesterday's segment, the approach taken by author Ellison Banks Findly in recounting Jahangir's pastimes leaves something to be desired. We see similar inconsistencies in today's excerpt, although Findly also provides some interesting historical anecdotes.

Jahangir's comments that the sadhu Jadrup also found Jahangir's 'society', or company suited him gives us much to consider. Would a Vaisnava think a man was good association if he knew that he'd recently desecrated the Lord's temple, destroying the Deity? We can assume that Jadrup knew little about Jahangir's militaristic pastimes, else why would he have given him affectionate audience? But even without hearing the news, one would expect a highly advanced sadhu to have been able to sense that Jahangir had been engaging in so much demoniac activity. That he didn't leaves us to wonder if the meetings were simply political, or the sadhu was actually not very realized.

Findly reports that by the time Jahangir began his visits with Jadrup, the sadhu had left Ujjain, but later he reports Jahangir saying the sadhu went daily to Ujjain for food. Similarly, Findly describes Jahangir as having been able to ascertain that Jadrup had mastered Vedanta, yet Jahangir concluded Vedanta and Sufism were the same. So again, we have to take into account Jahangir's obvious lack of knowledge, and how he applied it when characterizing who the Gosain was. Jahangir's character is also demonstrated in his pastime of testing a sannyasi's power of renunciation by plying him with "a drink of double-strength spirits" – hardly the actions of a man who was respectful of the Hindus and their religion.

Emperor Jahangir, Triumphing Over Poverty, c. 1625


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