That Aurangzeb’s orthodoxy and his dedication to his beliefs was personal rather than a matter for political interference is evident in his reactions and responses during the war of succession of 1658, a quadrangular conflict between Dara, Shuja, Aurangzeb, and Murad. Throughout the struggle, Aurangzeb was concerned about Dara’s political manoeuvres. Their individual feelings and religious outlook—which stood in sharp contrast—remained confined to the personal level. Aurangzeb referred to Dara as mushrik (heretic) while Dara called Aurangzeb kotah pyjama (narrow pants), a symbolic attribute of orthodoxy. Both attempted to rally public opinion, but never on religious grounds. In fact, the support that largely came for Aurangzeb was from the Rajputs, notably Rana Raj Singh of Mewar, Raja Jai Singh Kachwaha of Amber, and later, Maharaja Jaswant Singh of Marwar. In this context may be related an interesting nishan that Aurangzeb sent to Rana Raj Singh of Mewar, condemning such kings who practised intolerance that could become the cause of dispute, conflict, and harm to the people, and could ‘devastate the prosperous creations of God and destroy the foundations of the God-created fabric’. Such attitudes of kings, Aurangzeb ordained, deserve ‘to be rejected and cast off’. This document from the Udaipur records is a clear revelation of what Aurangzeb intended as his public policy. It further confirmed that Aurangzeb, in the struggle for succession, did not raise the cry of jihad or Islam in danger, nor did he promulgate a new religious policy contrary to that of his predecessors; neither did Dara claim to be the champion of liberal forces. The issue was not religious or ideological, or whether orthodoxy would triumph or liberalism. It was a question of personal vested interest, political in nature but free from religious connotations, that is: Who would be the emperor of India, Dara or Aurangzeb? It is in such a context that Aurangzeb deserves to be assessed.
Debating Aurangzeb’s leanings—religious orthodoxy or political pragmatism—one needs to ask: Did Aurangzeb really intend, as Jadunath Sarkar suggested, the establishment of dar-ul-Islam or a truly Islamic State in India, the conversion of the entire population to Islam, and the annihilation of dissenters? Or, as Ishtiyaq Husain Qureshi argued, was it rigid adherence to the shari’a and undoing the damage caused by Akbar; or the triumph of Muslim theology, as Shri Ram Sharma asserted? If this was really the case, then the emperor’s personal valour, military skills, and single-minded commitment to achieving territorial expansion and consolidation would stand negated. The biased ideological portrayal of the emperor, regardless of historical accuracy, makes it difficult to explain the increase in the number of Rajput mansabdars in Aurangzeb’s administration as compared to Akbar’s period, and their rise from 24 per cent under Shahjahan to 33 per cent in 1689. Nor can Raghunath Ray Kayastha’s dominance as diwan-i kul be understood rationally. Raghunath Ray not only supported Aurangzeb but also participated in several expeditions of the period. Aurangzeb honoured him with the title of Raja and when Raghunath Ray died in 1664, the emperor, in his obituary written in Ruqa’at-i Alamgiri, remembered him as the greatest administrator he had ever known.
There are well-documented evidences of Aurangzeb’s patronage of various Hindu religious institutions, namely temples, maths, grants to Brahmins and pujaris:
- Land grants were renewed to the temples at Mathura, Banaras, Gaya, Gauhati, and others, while the emperor is known to have donated ghee for the navadeep in a few temples, including the Mahabateshwar temple at Agra;
- Gifts were offered to the Sikh gurudwara at Dehradun;
- Madad-i ma’ash grants, as listed in the Rajasthan documents, were continued to a math of Nathpanthi yogis in pargana Didwana, sarkar Nagor;
- Grants were also made to Ganesh Bharti faqir and his successors in pargana Siwana with the instructions that the faqir should not be disturbed so he could ‘pray for this sultanat’.
- The Vrindavan document of 1704 referred to a parwana which sanctioned the rights of Chaitanya gosains who had founded Vrindavan and established pilgrimages in Braj Bhumi, and recognised the right of Brajanand Gosain to receive a fee from the followers of the sect on account of kharj sadir o warid, that is, expenses on guests and travellers from each village. In effect, it was a government levy for the benefit of Brajanand Gosain and his Vaishnavite followers.
From the above description, Aurangzeb’s patronage to temples appears without doubt. And yet some temples were attacked, while others were spared. This aberration in the emperor’s attitude can be explained by only one rationale: it was not iconoclasm, but reprisal for rebellion or political misconduct or disloyalty to the emperor. This exposition can be applied to understand the attack on the Vishwanath temple at Kashi, the Keshav Dev temple at Mathura, and several prominent temples in Rajasthan. In 1669, during a zamindar revolt in Banaras, it was suspected that some of them had assisted Shivaji in his escape from imperial detention. It was also believed that Shivaji’s escape was initially facilitated by Jai Singh, the great-grandson of Raja Man Singh, who had built the Vishwanath temple. It was against this background that Aurangzeb ordered the destruction of that temple in September 1669.
Around the same time, in a Jat rebellion that had erupted in the neighbouring regions of Mathura, a patron of the local congregational mosque was killed, leading to Aurangzeb’s order in 1670 to attack the Keshav Dev temple at Mathura. Temples in Marwar and Mewar were also attacked following the death of Maharaja Jaswant Singh to reprimand and crush the Rathor rebellion and the development of a Sisodia– Rathor alliance. These included temples in Khandela patronised by rebel chieftains; temples in Jodhpur maintained by a former supporter of Dara Shukoh; and the royal temples in Udaipur and Chittor patronised by Rana Raj Singh after the Rana entered into an alliance with the Rathors that signalled the withdrawal of loyalty to the Mughal State. It may be observed that the Rathor rebellion was not a reaction or a protest against the re-imposition of jizya. Instead, this re-imposition, as Abu’l Fazl Ma’muri observed in the context of the suppression of the Satnami revolt and prior to the emperor’s expedition to Ajmer, was meant for ‘the affliction of the rebellious unbelievers’.
This excerpt from Understanding Mughal India: Sixteenth to Eighteenth Centuries by Meena Bhargava has been published with permission from Orient BlackSwan.