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The uncalled for fascination with Aurangzeb

Note: Recently, author William Dalrymple has condemned Penguin's removal of Wendy Doniger's anti-Hindu book 'The Hindus: An Alternative History' from circulation in India. (http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/feb/13/penguin-withdrawal-hindus-arundhati-roy-neil-gaiman) For those of us who don't know Dalrymple, let us learn a bit about him here...

We all admire William Dalrymple for his writing style, knowledge of India and for making Delhi his home. Yet, his fascination for the Mughals, which already made him write the ‘The Last Mughal’ and ‘White Mughals’, is bizarre, to say the least, as the Mughals were the biggest perpetrators of human rights abuses of their time, not only against Hindus and Sikhs, but even against their own kin.

It seems Dalrymple now wants to embark upon a new book about one of India’s most controversial historical figures, Aurangzeb, whom he considers “absolutely fascinating” and “very self aware, very Shakespearean”.

Speaking about the richest Mughal emperor who also had the second-longest reign after Akbar, Dalrymple says: “By the end of it, he does becomes a monster of myths, but his final letters are full of regret and awareness about how much he destroyed of what he had inherited.”

And he adds: “What is little spoken is that he was an extremely generous donor of various ashrams and maths. Just the sheer data that can be gathered about his donations to Hindu monasteries is extraordinary…”

Now is that true? Aurangzeb (1658-1707) was neither the eldest, nor the favourite son of his father Shah Jahan. To ascend the throne, he killed his two brothers, dispatched his father to jail, and subsequently murdered him by sending him poisoned massage oil. He later imprisoned his son (in his will, he admonished: “Never trust your sons”). He was also very cruel to the Hindus, ordering temples destroyed and making sure that the idols of Hindu gods and goddesses were buried under the steps of the mosques (like the Jama Masjid in Delhi) so that future generations of Muslims will trample upon them.

Aurangzeb built a number of mosques on destroyed temples, including Kashi Vishwanath, one of the most sacred places for Hindus. Other Hindu sacred places within his reach too suffered destruction with mosques built on them. A few examples: Krishna’s birth temple in Mathura, the rebuilt Somnath temple on the coast of Gujarat, the Vishnu temple replaced with the Alamgir mosque now overlooking Benares, and the Treta-ke-Thakur temple in Ayodhya. The number of temples destroyed by Aurangzeb is counted in four, if not five, figures. Aurangzeb did not stop at destroying temples; their users were also wiped out.

Muslims suffered as much as Hindus: 90% of today’s Indian Muslims should know that their forefathers were converted by force under Aurangzeb. Even his own brother, Dara Shukoh, was executed for taking an interest in Hindu religion.

The shadow of Aurangzeb still floats upon India: in Kashmir, where 4,00,000 Hindus were made to flee their homeland. India looks like sometimes it is forsaking its Sufi inheritance and letting Aurangzeb’s spirit take hold of it. What will happen once the army goes? Aurangzeb is not only present in Kashmir, his very name still triggers passion on both sides of the Hindu and the Muslim community. Yet, one has just to go through Aurangzeb’s own firmans (edicts), which are still preserved in the Bikaner archives, to know what kind of man he was.

One is also surprised that the Sikh community, particularly the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, has kept quiet. Have they forgotten what Aurangzeb did to them?

Guru Tegh Bahadur was beheaded because he objected to Aurangzeb’s forced conversions. Aurangzeb, who had never forgiven the Sikhs for having supported his brother Dara, persecuted the Sikhs viciously. In response, Guru Gobind Singh transformed the Sikh community into a military community. Many perceive Guru Gobind Singh as no a warlord with no religious credentials; yet, he was a powerful military general who transformed the Sikhs into a militaristic society.

The Sikh community should debate whether they want to make Aurangzeb a hero or remain close to the Hindus? Why do not the Sikhs in Delhi lobby so that Aurangzeb Road in New Delhi is renamed after one of their gurus?

Indian Muslims too have to make a crucial choice: do they want Aurangzeb’s inheritance to prevail upon Islam in India, or will they invoke Dara Shukoh’s spirit and bring the greatness of Sufism back into India?

As for Dalrymple, let him dwell upon his fantasies. Western Indology is still mired in its olds prejudices and cliches, which make Aurangzeb a hero and Guru Gobind Singh or Shivaji Maharaj mere petty chieftains.

- By Francois Gautier

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