Clearing dust off Aurangzeb’s image

By Prof. M.H. Jawahirullah

(In this piece, Prof. M.H. Jawahirullah, President of Tamilnadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam (TMMK), counters claims by artist Francois Gautier about his exhibition on Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb held at Chennai.)

To begin with: Tamilnadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam (TMMK) strongly condemns Francois Gautier for his lies, innuendos and calumnies regarding his exhibition held at Chennai.

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Gautier alleges that the Prince of Arcot Nawab Abdul Ali sent a group of goons from TMMK to disturb the exhibition. He also describes TMMK volunteers as the Prince’s ‘henchmen’. This is his sheer imagination and fantasy and portrays his sick mind. The Prince of Arcot neither contacted us regarding the virulent exhibition of Gautier nor would we send our volunteers at the beck and call of the Nawab.

There is a Tamil proverb which says that a single rice is enough to judge the quality of a pot full of cooked rice. Similarly, Gautier’s allegation against the Nawab and TMMK is enough to judge his sincerity and honesty in reporting history. When Gautier cannot report a contemporary event faithfully and truthfully one can very easily judge the veracity of his version of Mughal history depicted in his exhibition.

A galaxy of Hindu historians whose faithfulness are not stained as that of Gautier have strongly refuted the version of Mughal history as depicted by the likes of Gautier. The famous historian Babu Nagendranath Banerjee rejected the accusation of forced conversion of Hindus by Muslim rulers by stating that if that was their intention then in India today there would not be nearly four times as many Hindus as compared to Muslims, despite the fact that Muslims had ruled for nearly a thousand years. Banerjee challenged the Hindu hypothesis that Aurangzeb was anti-Hindu by reasoning that if the latter were truly guilty of such bigotry, how could he appoint a Hindu as his military commander-in-chief? Surely, he could have afforded to appoint a competent Muslim general in that position. Banerjee further stated: “No one should accuse Aurangzeb of being communal minded. In his administration, the state policy was formulated by Hindus. Two Hindus held the highest position in the State Treasury. Some prejudiced Muslims even questioned the merit of his decision to appoint non-Muslims to such high offices. The Emperor refuted that by stating that he had been following the dictates of the Shariah (Islamic Law) which demands appointing right persons in right positions.”

Gautier claims that he organised the exhibition on Aurangzeb to show “Aurangzeb as he was according to his own records.” However, in his exhibition hosted at Lalit Kala Academy in Chennai, there was not a single exhibit to show that during Aurangzeb’s long reign of fifty years, many Hindus, notably Jaswant Singh, Raja Rajrup, Kabir Singh, Arghanath Singh, Prem Dev Singh, Dilip Roy, and Rasik Lal Crory, held very high administrative positions. Further, we could not see an exhibit depicting two of the highest ranked generals in Aurangzeb’s administration, Jaswant Singh and Jaya Singh who were Hindus. Other notable Hindu generals who commanded a garrison of two to five thousand soldiers were Raja Vim Singh of Udaypur, Indra Singh, Achalaji and Arjuji. One wonders if Aurangzeb was hostile to Hindus, why would he position all these Hindus to high positions of authority, especially in the military, who could have mutinied against him and removed him from his throne?

Aurangzeb had 148 Hindu high officials in his court. (Sharma: Mughal History). We could have appreciated Gautier as a faithful historian if he had an exhibit depicting this fact. Alas, he was serving His Master’s viz., the Sangh Parivar’s sentiments.

Aurangzeb Mosque [Photo from]

Gautier in his exhibits has depicted Aurangzeb as the person who ordered demolishing of Hindu temples. However, he himself in his write-up (“Freedom Gagged,” New Indian Express, 10th March 2008) has given Aurangzeb the certificate of being a true, pious, Muslim. He further adds strength to his statement by stating that Aurangzeb copied the Holy Quran himself and stiched Muslim caps. When this is the fact how can a saintly man indulge in vandalism as alleged by Gautier? The Quran prohibits any Muslim to impose his will on a non-Muslim by stating that “There is no compulsion in religion.” (surah al-Baqarah 2:256). Another verse states: “To you is your religion and to me is mine.” It would be totally unbecoming of a learned scholar of Islam of his calibre, as Aurangzeb was known to be, to do things that are contrary to the dictates of the Quran.

Interestingly, the 1946 edition of the history textbook “Etihas Parichaya” (Introduction to History) used in Bengal for the 5th and 6th graders states: “If Aurangzeb had the intention of demolishing temples to make way for mosques, there would not have been a single temple standing erect in India. On the contrary, Aurangzeb donated huge estates for use as temple sites and support thereof in Banares, Kashmir and elsewhere. The official documentations for these land grants are still extant.”

A stone inscription in the historic Balaji or Vishnu Temple, located north of Chitrakut Balaghat, still shows that it was commissioned by the Emperor himself. The proof of Aurangzeb’s land grant for famous Hindu religious sites in Kasi, Varanasi can easily be verified from the deed records extant at those sites. The same textbook reads: “During the fifty year reign of Aurangzeb, not a single Hindu was forced to embrace Islam. He did not interfere with any Hindu religious activities.” (p. 138) Alexander Hamilton, a British historian, toured India towards the end of Aurangzeb’s fifty year reign and observed that every one was free to serve and worship God in his own way.

Gautier in his vituperative article has raised the question as to how Aurangzeb has become “a hero to the Nawab of Arcot and his henchmen”. It is not the question of whether Aurangzeb is a hero or not. We would like to point out that it is the question of depicting history faithfully to the present and future citizens of this country. In this connection Gautier has mentioned about the jizya tax imposed by Aurangzeb. It is true that jizya was lifted during the reign of Akbar and Jahangir and that Aurangzeb later reinstated this.

It is worthwhile to point out that jizya is nothing more than a war tax which was collected only from able-bodied young non-Muslim male citizens living in a Muslim country who did not want to volunteer for the defence of the country. That is, no such tax was collected from non-Muslims who volunteered to defend the country. This tax was not collected from women, and neither from immature males nor from disabled or old male citizens. In return of such taxes, it became incumbent upon the Muslim government to protect the life, property and wealth of its non-Muslim citizens. If for any reason the government failed to protect its citizens, especially during a war, the taxable amount was returned.

It should be pointed out here that zakat (2.5% of savings) and ushr (10% of agricultural products) were collected from all Muslims, who owned some wealth (beyond a certain minimum, called nisab). They also paid sadaqah, fitrah, and khums. None of these were collected from any non-Muslim. As a matter of fact, the per capita collection from Muslims was several folds than that of non-Muslims. Further to Aurangzeb’s credit is his abolition of a lot of taxes, although this fact is not usually mentioned. In his book Mughal Administration, Sir Jadunath Sarkar, foremost historian on the Mughal dynasty, mentions that during Aurangzeb’s reign in power, nearly sixty-five types of taxes were abolished, which resulted in a yearly revenue losses. Why is Gautier who claims that he was careful to show Aurangzeb according to his own documents failed to depict this fact.

The late scholar and historian, Dr. Bishma Narain Pande’s research efforts blasted myths on Aurangzeb’s rule. They also offer an excellent example of what history has to teach us if only we study it dispassionately. Dr. Pande had to deal with a land dispute between two temple priests. One of them had filed in evidence some firmans (royal orders) to prove that Aurangzeb had, besides cash, gifted the land in question for the maintenance of his temple. Might they not be fake, Dr. Pande thought, in view of Aurangzeb’s fanatically anti–Hindu image? He showed them to his friend, Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, a distinguished lawyer as well a great scholar of Arabic and Persian. He was also a Brahmin. Sapru examined the documents and declared they were genuine firmans issued by Aurangzeb. For Dr. Pande this was a ‘new image of Aurangzeb’; so he wrote to the chief priests of the various important temples, all over the country, requesting photocopies of any firman issued by Aurangzeb that they may have in their possession. The response was overwhelming; he got firmans from several principal Hindu and Jain temples, even from Sikh Gurudwaras in northern India. These firmans, issued between 1659 and 1685, related to grant of jagir (large parcel of agricultural lands) to support regular maintenance of these places of worship. Why is it that Gautier could not mention anything about these firmans in his exhibiton?

Dr Pande’s research showed that Aurangzeb was as solicitous of the rights and welfare of his non–Muslim subjects as he was of his Muslim subjects. Hindu plaintiffs received full justice against their Muslim respondents and, if guilty, Muslims were given punishment as necessary.

One of the greatest charges against Aurangzeb is of the demolition of Vishwanath Temple in Banaras (Varanasi). That was a fact, but Dr. Pande unravelled the reason for it. “While Aurangzeb was passing near Varanasi on his way to Bengal, the Hindu Rajas in his retinue requested that if the halt was made for a day, their Ranis may go to Varanasi, have a dip in the Ganges and pay their homage to Lord Vishwanath. Aurangzeb readily agreed.

“Army pickets were posted on the five mile route to Varanasi. The Ranis made journey on the palkis (palanquins). They took their dip in the Ganges and went to the Vishwanath Temple to pay their homage. After offering puja (worship) all the Ranis returned except one, the Maharani of Kutch. A thorough search was made of the temple precincts but the Rani was to be found nowhere. “When Aurangzeb came to know of this, he was very much enraged. He sent his senior officers to search for the Rani. Ultimately they found that statue of Ganesh which was fixed in the wall was a moveable one. When the statue was moved, they saw a flight of stairs that led to the basement. To their horror they found the missing Rani dishonoured and crying deprived of all her ornaments. The basement was just beneath Lord Vishwanath’s seat.”

The Rajas demanded salutary action, and “Aurangzeb ordered that as the sacred precincts have been despoiled, Lord Vishwanath may be moved to some other place, the temple be razed to the ground and the Mahant (head priest) be arrested and punished.” ( Pande, Bishma Narain, Islam and Indian Culture, Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Public Library, Patna, 1987).

Gautier claims that a lot of historical research was done for this exhibition. We can judge the standard of ‘historical research’ while viewing his partisan exhibition at Chennai.