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Armaan Thapar

Aurangzeb Alamgir, the successor of Shah Jahan, who ruled the Indian subcontinent for 49 years from July 1658 to March 1707, is one of the most infamous rulers in the history of India. The popular narrative is that Aurangzeb destroyed India socially, politically and culturally by always behaving as an Islamist and by being unjust to his other subjects.

The popular story goes that when Aurangzeb failed to convert Hindus to Islam, he ordered the slaughtering of millions of Hindus. This has resulted in Aurangzeb’s image as a bigot and harsh ruler to grow. He is accused of innumerous atrocities and of disintegrating the secularism in India. This paper aims to explore these allegations against the ruler to show that almost all of them that have been made senselessly and are baseless in nature. History tends to be polarized in nature. This paper attempts to un-polarize it by contextualizing and providing both sides of the story.

In order to better understand Aurangzeb and his policies, we need to understand the period in which he ruled. During the 17th century, it would have been normal, and in fact expected, to discriminate on the basis of race, religion, gender, or sexuality.

Early Life:

Primogeniture, the right of succession belonging to the firstborn, was never a practice followed by the Mughals or the Muslims. Thus, in order to succeed to the throne, all one could do was kill his competition – in this case, his brothers – or be killed by them. They believed in the harsh Persian saying, “Ya takht, ya tabut”, which literally translates to “Either the throne or the grave”. This meant that only the strongest and smartest would succeed to the throne and therefore, the most deserving. It was, in a way of its own, the survival of the fittest. As a result, when his father fell seriously ill in 1657, Aurangzeb used strategic measures to kill his brothers and succeed to the throne.

The topic of killing his own brothers became a huge issue, as the so-called Hindutva activists used it to try to malign Aurangzeb. But what they often overlook is how common this practice was. As a matter of fact, even one of the most beloved rulers in Indian history, the great Ashoka, is said to have killed all 99 of his brothers, sparing none in order to succeed to the throne.

However, as soon as Aurangzeb was about to succeed to the throne, his father, Shah Jahan, made an unexpected recovery. By this time, Aurangzeb had grown stronger and therefore, inherited the throne. He put his father on house arrest from the July of 1658 till he died in January of 1666. For doing so, the Sharif of Mecca said that Aurangzeb was an illegitimate ruler and not a true Muslim as usurping your father for the throne was forbidden in the Quran.

Middle Life:

One of the most controversial steps taken by Aurangzeb was the plundering of Hindu temples, which contributed to his public identity as a Muslim extremist. This, in fact, doesn’t even have a shred of truth in it. As a ruler, he felt responsible for all those who were under him and wanted to protect all their interest. After conquering most of the northern part of current India, Aurangzeb wanted to expand to the south. When Aurangzeb faced resistance, he attacked the temples in the south. Now, the temples back in those days were the richest public spots. Stones, jewelry and the like could be found at the temples.

There were two motives to destroy a temple: one, it would be a great revenue inflow which would add to the national treasury and two, the temple was a place of frequent visitation, where the local public often goes. Upon seeing such a landmark destroyed, the public would raise questions and thus it would increase the pressure on the local rulers to either give up or join hands with the bigger ruler. Also, this strategic move of destroying temples wasn’t something that was invented or inaugurated by the Mughals or Aurangzeb.

Even before Aurangzeb, rulers plundered temples as it was of great economic and political benefit. For example, the Rashtrakutas (725 – 985), destroyed various temples for their personal gain, Cholas not only plundered temples but also threw statues of other Hindu Gods such as Vishnu into the ocean without having any political or economic gain from it. Even after Aurangzeb, rulers such as Sachidananda Bharathi went on to loot temples such as the Sringeri Shankaracharya temple.

Later Life:

As mentioned earlier, Aurangzeb felt it was his duty to look after everyone in his kingdom and he took stern measures if members of his court failed to deliver results. He even went so far as to demote his own son, Azam Shah, for not dealing with highway robbery effectively. Upon finding out that his other son, Akbar, helped the Rajputs with their revolt against the Mughals, he drove Akbar out of the country and forced him to stay there.

Once defeated, the Mughals would invite the defeated ruler and ask him whether he would like to rule his kingdom again but this time in alliance with the Mughals. As happened with Shivaji, however, after his defeat, Shivaji refused Aurangzeb’s offer and fled, thereby disrespecting Aurangzeb. Later on, when his son, Sambhaji Bhosale was caught, he was punished for continuing his father’s fight against the Mughals.

Debunking The Myths:

Throughout his life, there were also several other myths surrounding Aurangzeb’s life and actions. Some such myths were that he:

“Called for the execution of the ninth Guru, Tegh Bahadur, because he refused to convert.”

The ninth Guru, Tegh Bahadur, caused unrest in the Mughal ruled Punjab region and was, thus, dealt with like the others who challenged the emperor’s rule. Executions like this were so common that this isn’t even mentioned in many Mughal scripts. Even if he had been asked to convert, and had the Guru agreed, it would still have not saved him from execution as the unrest he had caused had many negative repercussions for the Mughal empire.

“Spent his entire life trying to convert Hindus to Islam and when he failed to do so, he went on a rampage against the Hindus.”

This is, completely and utterly, a fabrication. As mentioned, innumerous times in this paper, Aurangzeb always wanted the best for those he ruled and allowed people to believe in their own faith. During the first half of his reign, twenty percent of the nobility was constituted by the Hindus. This number rose to fifty percent in the second half of his reign.

“Recalled the endowed lands given to Hindus in 1672 all over the empire to spread Islam.”

This again is merely a figment of people’s imagination. Firstly, the recall of the endowed lands was not enacted throughout the empire, but only in some parts. Also, the granting of endowed lands accelerated in Bengal during this time.

Secondly, if Aurangzeb did want to promote Islam through these means, he would’ve recalled the lands throughout his empire and not just in some parts which would have a better response to increasing the number of people converted.

“Killed his brother, Dara Shukoh, because he was the eldest brother and the throne would have been passed on to him”

As mentioned earlier, the Mughals did not believe in primogeniture and thus, this reason to kill Shukoh is absolutely invalid. However, Aurangzeb was also much more experienced than Shukoh as he was asked to run the empire at the tender age of 16 and spent his next 22 years away from home. While Aurangzeb gauged how the empire was running practically, Shukoh spent his time learning the same thing, but only in theory. Therefore, it was clear that Shukoh could not be the prevailing prince after the war of succession.

“Only wanted Islam to prevail over any other religion and did not believe in syncretism.”

Aurangzeb, on the contrary, allowed his subjects to follow and practice whatever faith they wanted. Furthermore, he went against Islamic ideas if they interfered with the proper administration of the state. For example, during the Bijapur siege, a delegation of theologians asked Aurangzeb to end the war as it is unjust to engage in war with a fellow Muslim. He remained unstirred and carried out the siege.

“The “Rajput rebellion” was a result of the Hindu hostility towards the Mughals for all the atrocities committed by the Mughal towards the Hindus.”

Prince Akbar, Aurangzeb’s son, was assigned to suppress the Rathor-Sisodia uprising in Rajasthan. After defeating the duo, Akbar sensed an opportunity and decided to lead the amalgamation of the armies against the Mughal ruler. This, in fact, cannot be termed as the “Rajput rebellion” as a Muslim himself led the war, while the Rathor and Sisodia armies merely acted as pawns.

In today’s day and age, people present the facts along with their viewpoint. Not only does this lead us on to believe in the viewpoint and the fact as we have been told, but it also blinds us from the various other possible conclusions. Some ‘facts’ aren’t even accurate and are stated simply for political or personal gains or agendas. To reiterate, I would like to conclude by saying that even though measures taken by Aurangzeb would be considered atrocious today, they had much more value and meaning back in the day. Instead of being regarded as one of the harshest and gruesome rulers of ‘India’, he should be regarded as one of the finest rulers India has seen in its history.