by Jagriti Arora
The enemy was evil and blood thirsty. Braving the storms, our hero beat all odds. God sided with our hero; for the hero is benevolent. A hero never starts a war; heroes are often chosen to defend. Hero wins and writes history.
Epics are often woven around this central narrative; it’s his-story after all! It’s important to note that it is often the victors who get to write history. While, the history we read isn’t entirely fraudulent, it should certainly be taken with a pinch of salt since it is served to us on a platter. To learn from history, one needs multiple sources, multiple perspectives, a hero’s epic and a villain’s maudlin plea.
Why were the British invested in tarnishing Aurangzeb’s image?
Conceivably the wealthiest and the most powerful ruler of his time, Aurangzeb is not remembered fondly in Indian history. While some despise him for re-imposing Jizya on non-Muslims, some deplore his intolerance towards Hindus. If he were alive today, he may have tried to clear his name. It’s his-story after all. Unfortunately, his story reaches us through British scholars. For instance, in his book ‘Under Western Eyes – India from Milton to Macaulay’, Balachandra Rajan asserts that Dryden, in the play Aurang-zebe (1675), only appreciates Aurangzeb on surface. Rajan says “Mughal history is exemplary but the example is negative”. There have been many other scholars who have been censorious of India. James Mill, supposedly believed that India never had the grandeur we associate with it. Literature reveals that Mill had never set foot in India. Isn’t that enough to at least doubt our source of knowledge about Aurangzeb?
India needed a social, economic and political model; British probably established themselves as a model at the right time. Can we, thus, ignore the role of their literature in cultural (mis)representation? In a nutshell, it is quite plausible that the British wanted to look better in comparison to an Indian ruler to make colonialism seem less daunting.
What do accounts in Indic languages say about Aurangzeb?
Scholar Audrey Truschke, in an interview with The Hindu, shares that Sanskrit is a seminal tool to fully understand Mughal History. She points out, for instance, to Sanskrit accounts of Mughal times penned down by Jains that do not receive their share of attention. She also finds that in the 17th century, Sanskrit gradually made way for Hindi. This transition happens to coincide with Aurangzeb’s reign, leaving some scope for insufficient knowledge base. Moreover, Aurangzeb beat Dara Shikoh for the throne. Since Dara Shikoh was involved in Sanskrit cross-cultural exchanges, Aurangzeb decided to cut Mughal ties from the ways of his precedent in order to distinguish himself as a new ruler. Some sources suggest that Jains and Brahmins held high positions during Mughal rule and assisted them in astrology. Aurangzeb demolished temples but he also demolished mosques. While Aurangzeb shouldn’t necessarily be resurrected as a hero, his name shouldn’t be used as an insult either.
How Aurangzeb is referred to in modern-day political parlance
Some time ago, PM Modi tried to highlight the dynastic trend in Congress party by calling Rahul Gandhi’s election as ‘Aurangzeb Raj’. Keeping aside the political angle, one can call it an incorrect historical citation. On one hand Hindu-right tries to erase the Mughals from our history, on the other hand they repeatedly use Mughal references in a derogatory fashion. Many Indian state governments have revised their history syllabus to de-emphasize the Mughal history. Uttar Pradesh government, for instance, omitted the Taj Mahal from their tourism booklet! Delhi’s Aurangzeb road was renamed to Dr APJ Abdul Kalam road. With all due respect, any fresh road could have been dedicated to Dr Kalam. Current discourse does no good to Aurangzeb. Aurangzeb’s legacy was trivialized by the British in past and today it is further reduced to one-liners in political slur.
In this light it becomes imperative to clear Aurangzeb’s tarnished image by listing out the lessons one can learn from him. Aurangzeb lived a life of austerity. It has been said that he fed himself from the money he made by selling prayer caps which he embroidered in his leisure time. Doesn’t this narrative establish the possibility that Aurangzeb carried out his wrong-doings only in the interest of his state? Moreover, Aurangzeb, never used the royal treasury for himself, reserving it for the citizens of his empire. Purportedly, when Sheila Dixit was the CM of Delhi, her house had 31 air conditioners, 15 desert coolers, 16 air purifiers and 14 heaters. Mayawati spent 5919 crore INR to build Ambedkar Park while Aurangzeb lies buried in a humble tomb constructed solely with the money he had made from sewing skullcaps.
You know what they say: Those who fail to learn history are doomed to repeat it.
Jagriti Arora is a writing analyst at Qrius.
Stay updated with all the insights.
Navigate news, 1 email day.
Subscribe to Qrius