The Mughal Influence on Vaisnavism, Part 64


Aurangzeb's Court
Imperial Mughal Painting

Nov 03, 2010 — CANADA (SUN) — A serial presentation of the Mughal effect on Vaisnava society.

In our last segment of this series we briefly discussed the court of Shah Jahan, the son of Emperor Jahangir and his successor on the throne. Shah Jahan, like his family predecessors, was also defeated by a disloyal son, in this case the great demon Aurangzeb.

Aurangzeb was born in 1618 A.D., the son of Emperor Shah Jahan and mother Mumtaz Mahal. He took the throne after putting his father under house arrest, taking advantage of a period of illness his father experienced. Capturing the throne in 1658, he ruled with a cruel hand until his death in 1707.

The departure of Aurangzeb marked the end of the grand Mughal period, and the beginning what is known as the Late Mughal Period an era of long, slow decline ending in the eventual disappearance of Mughal rule in India. During the 49 years of Aurangzeb's rule, however, he brought the family's long violent legacy to a crescendo, destroying thousands of Vaisnava and Saivite temples, and taking the lives of countless Indian citizens. Aurangzeb's successors would not follow in his footsteps, thankfully, but instead led benign and increasingly impotent courts that eventually lost all power.

In the years before he took the throne, Aurangzeb served as governor in various regions, including Gujarat, Balkh and Badakshan (modern Afghanistan and Tajikastan), Multan and Sindh, and eventually the Deccan. From his Deccan post he attacked Golconda and Bijapur kingdoms, which increased his father's favor for him over his brothers.

In The Cambridge History of India by Sir E.D. Ross, we find this description, of Aurangzeb's mood and motive, both before he succeeded as emperor, and after:

"The most important feature of Aurangzeb's internal administration was his deliberate reversal of the policy of his predecessors towards his non-Muslim subjects and vassal princes, which change of policy is generally held to have caused the swift downfall of the empire after his death. But with him it was not a matter of personal caprice on earthly gain. According to the orthodox interpretation of the Quaranic law, it is the duty of every pious Muslim to "exert himself in the path of God", or, in other words, to wage holy wars (jihad) against non-Muslim countries (dar-ul-harb) till they are turned into realms of Islam (dar-ul-Islam). In theory the conquered infidel population is reduced to the status of slaves, but in practice even idol-worshippers were allowed to share in the modified form of protection which early Islam granted to the "People of the Book" (viz. Jews and Christians). [ ]

In his Benares farman [edict], granted on 10 March, 1659, before his throne was secure, Aurangzeb had declared that his religion forbade the building of new temples but did not enjoin the demolition of long-standing ones. But his own action both before and after his accession had not respected this distinction.

When acting as governor of Gujarat (1645), he had not only demolished the new temple of Chintaman (at Saraspur) but also several old ones. During his second viceroyalty of the Deccan he had pulled down the temple of Khande Rao on a hill south of Aurangabad.

His first step after his accession was to forbid old temples to be repaired (1664). A little later his iconoclastic zeal burst forth in full force. On 19 April, 1669, he issued a general order to "the governors of all the provinces to demolish the schools and temples of the infidels and put down their teaching and religious practices strongly."

Officers were sent to every pargana to demolish the local temples and the governor had to send the report of the execution of the order under the seal of the qazi and attested by pious Shaikhs of the locality.

The censors of public morals (Muhtasibs) appointed to every subdivision and city had it as their normal duty to go round and destroy Hindu places of worship within their jurisdiction. So large was the number of official temple-breakers that a darogha) (superintendent) had to be placed over them to guide and unite their activities.


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