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Aurangzeb's Governance and Its Impact on Hindus

Introduction

The second half of the seventeenth century marks the reign of Emperor Aurangzeb (Alamgir) in India, under whose almost half-century of imperial command, the Mughal empire reached the extent of its territorial expansion. The Mughal empire in the immediacy after Aurangzeb’s reign, also marks its period of deterioration.

It is generally considered, albeit without factual credibility, that Islam was strictly interpreted and implemented during Aurangzeb’s reign to the point of oppressing the other religions. Some even hold that the strict interpretation of Islam to the point of alienating the Hindu supporters of the empire, was also the reason for the ultimate demise of the strength of the Mughal empire. However, the complex question of decay of the Mughal empire cannot be answered with oversimplified responses. While the question as to the role of Islam in the decay of the empire is a legitimate enquiry, it does not form a part of this essay. This essay seeks to analyse the role of Islam in the guiding of state policy on important issues of governance. The purpose of writing this essay is to understand the extent of impact of Islamic principles in the making of law and policy by Aurangzeb. The essay argues that Aurangzeb was not anti-Hindu but his puranitical laws and policy were the most antagonising for the Hindus.

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There are conflicting thoughts on Aurangzeb’s position on temples, jizya and other areas which had direct impact on the Hindus. JN Sarkar has portrayed Aurangzeb as a bigoted despot who zealously destroyed temples, while others like Hamida Khatoon Naqvi and Satish Chandra have tried to depict him as a puranitical emperor who imposed strict Islamic law not only against the Hindus but also against Muslims as well.

Role of Islam under Aurangzeb’s reign

Aurangzeb is known for his strict adherence to Islamic norms and precepts even as a young prince, even earning the name ‘saint’ from his brother Dara Shukoh. He followed such precepts strictly and is known to stop in the middle of a battle to offer customary prayer (namaz). It is a matter of no surprise then that Aurangzeb’s reign saw a strict enforcement of religious principles and teachings in Aurangzeb’s court. However, it would be historically inaccurate to say that Aurangzeb’s reign saw the Islamic oppression against his non-Islamic subjects, as noted:

  1. Michael Fisher, A Short History of the Mughal Empire (London: LB Tauris, 2016) 186.
  2. Katherine Butler Brown, “Did Aurangzeb Ban Music? Questions for the Historiography of His Reign”, Modern Asian Studies (41) 2 (2007): 77-120.
  3. J.N. Sarkar, History of Aurangzeb (Calcutta, 1912).
  4. Hamida Khatoon Naqvi, “Aurangzeb's Policies and the Decline of the Mughal Empire”,
The Journal of Asian Studies (37) 1 (1977): 191-192.
  5. Jamshid Bilimoria (Translator), Letters of Aurangazebe (London: Luzac Press, 1908) 87.

“The very name of Aurangzeb seems to act in the popular imagination as a signifier of politico- religious bigotry and repression, regardless of historical accuracy.”

Aurangzeb is generally considered in popular historical accounts as the bigoted Sunni Muslim emperor who was violent towards the non-Muslims in India. Contrasts are also drawn between him and the actual heir apparent to Shah Jahan, Dara Shukoh who was known for his secular views on religion. Dara Shukoh was killed by Aurangzeb in the latter’s bid to depose all opposition to the throne. The last years of Shah Jahan’s reign were also marked by a political conflict between the secular forces (led by Dura Shukoh) and the conservative forces (led by Aurangzeb), only to be won by the conservatives. This has also contributed to the historical perspectives about Aurangzeb’s victory as the victory of rigid Islamic forces over secular forces. The fact that Dura Shukoh was sentenced to death for apostacy from Islam and idolatory also adds to the perception about Aurangzeb’s strong views on Islam. Specific charges against Dara made out by Aurangzeb include turning to Hinduism and Hindu yogis and sanyasis.

Although, it may not be historically accurate to subscribe to the viewpoint about Islam in Aurangzeb’s reign as a repressive factor, it is also a fact that Islam did play a very important role in the guiding of state policy on a number of important areas, including, sciences and arts, appointment of mansabdars and the imposition of taxes. An example of this approach by Aurangzeb is the banning of music by him.

  1. Michael Fisher, A Short History.
  2. Katherine Butler Brown, “Did Aurangzeb Ban Music?”, p.78.
  3. Tasadduq Husain, “The Spiritual Journey of Dara Shukoh”, Social Scientist (30) 7/8 (2002): 54-66.
  4. John F. Richards, The Mughal Empire. Vol. 5 (Cambridge University Press, 1995).
  5. Manohar Lal Bhatia, The Ulama, Islamic Ethics, and Courts Under the Mughals: Aurangzeb Revisited (New Delhi: Manak Publications, 2006).
  6. Aziz Ahmad, Studies in Islamic culture in the Indian environment (Oxford: Clarendon Press,1964) 195.
  7. Katherine Butler Brown, “Did Aurangzeb Ban Music?”.

However, contrary to popular notions, he did not enforce these precepts on his Mansabdars. At the same time, as this essay will discuss, Aurangzeb did enforce some Islamic precepts as against the non-Islamic subjects, which also made him an unpopular emperor. In this, his reign is contrasted with the reign of his predecessors, Akbar and Shah Jahan, who were considered to be liberal rulers with respect to non-Islamic subjects.

When Aurangzeb deposed his father, Emperor Shah Jahan and established himself on the throne, his illegal and un-Islamic usurpation of the throne was validated by the Chief Qazi himself who issued a fatwa to validate the usurpation of throne in the necessary interests of Islam and the Mughal Empire. Thus, the very beginning of Aurangzeb’s reign marks the strong connection between Islam and the state, which continued throughout his reign. In this, the Mughal empire in the second half of the seventeenth century holds a stark contrast to the previous reign of Aurangzeb’s predecessors, who had not demanded a strong connection between Islam and the state.

Aurangzeb imposed a strict Islamic decorum on the people within the court and as per this, courtiers were forbidden from wearing ostentatious and brightly coloured garments and mansabdars were asked to remove frills in the European
Style from their palanquins.10 The ritual of weighing themselves against gold and other precious substances on the solar and lunar anniversaries of coronations and births was banned in 1668. The famous Ibadat Khanah (Hall of Worship) which was established by Akbar to allow people from different faiths to discuss, debate and dispute on theosophical matters, was terminated by Aurangzeb and he himself was guided exclusively by the Sunni Ulema and Nashqbandi pirs. Astrological almanacs were ordered banned as un-Islamic in 1675 and Aurangzeb only patronised Islamic sciences. Within the court, Aurangzeb preferred to bring closer to himself only Muslim nobles, officers, theologians, official ulema who like him wanted to see the implementation of Islamic law in all state policies as in conformity with the Sharia. Thus, in matters that his predecessors had shown great liberalism in, Aurangzeb was rigid and unbending.

In military matters too, Aurangzeb took a different approach than his predecessors for the appointments of Hindu (Rajput) mansabdars. As a Sunni Muslim, Aurangzeb gave the most preference to Sunni Muslim mansabdars, and even converts and gave least preference to Rajput mansabdars.

  1. Michael Fisher, A Short History of the Mughal Empire, p.187.
  2. Ibid, p.191
  3. Ibid.
  4. John F. Richards, The Mughal Empire.

In social laws and policies, Aurangzeb reinstated the pilgrim tax for non-Muslim religious festivals and although he did give financial support to some Hindu temples, he cancelled revenue grants of many more temples and followed a policy of destruction of temples belonging to those who rebelled against his rule, although, this was in part motivated by the Hindu rebels destroying mosques. Moreover, there was an edict against the building of new temples, although the older temples could be repaired. It is also pointed out that Aurangzeb also destroyed temples not only as a military policy but also sometimes without military provocation. When Aurangzeb became the emperor he ordered the destruction of some temples that had earlier been ordered to be destroyed but had been repaired.

The policy followed by Aurangzeb towards Rajputs is still not understood that well. He considered Rajputs to be important allies and had in fact good relations with many Rajput kings in the early part of his reign. His only problem seems to have been with the Maharaja of Marwar. Aurengzeb’s interference with the Marwar succession after the death of the Maharaja Jaswant Singh Rathor of Marwar and the later brutal suppression of Marwar and Mewar rebellions, further alienated the powerful Rajputs, who until Shah Jahan’s time had provided the much important military support to the Mughal empire. In this manner, Aurangzeb led to the alienation of many of his Rajput allies, although, he did not target them because they were Hindus.

The office of the Qazi became a very important position during the time of Aurangzeb. Aurangzeb was influenced by the Chief Qazi even in matters of taxation and he sought the Qazi’s advice on the imposition of certain taxes not only against Hindus but also against Shia Muslims, such as the Bohra community of Gujarat. In 1679, Aurangzeb re-imposed the jizya tax to be paid by those who practiced a religion other than Islam. There were protests against this tax by the Hindus as the tax had been suspended during Akbar’s time and it was felt to be discriminatory. The payment of jizya tax is for the privilege of living under Muslim rule while not serving it, and consequently even after the imposition of the tax many Rajputs and other Hindus were still exempt from the tax as they were working for the empire. Aurangzeb ordered the imposition of a 5 percent customs duty on the Hindus for the merchandise, whereas for the Muslims the customs duty was 2.5 percent. However, the rationale for the discrepancy was that while Muslim traders also had to pay charity out of their profits (zakat) as per the Islamic law, the Hindu traders were under no such obligation. Accounts show that the policies made by Aurangzeb were more puranitical rather than discriminatory against a particular religion. He did impose the jijya, and also made Hindu traders pay higher customs duties, but these were in aid of the Islamic law. Similarly, he also passed laws against the drink and sale of wine that affected adversely many Muslims as well who drank wine. He passed regulations against prostitution and the use of dancing girls for entertainment. He banned the celebration of the Muslim event of Muhharam. These policies show that Aurangzeb was equally strict with the Muslims as he was with the Hindus with respect to the following of the Sharia within his empire.

  1. Michael Fisher, A Short History of The Mughal Empire, p.196.
  2. Zahiruddin Farooqi, Aurangzeb and His Times (Bombay: Taraporewalla, 1935).
  3. Ibid.
  4. Sri Ram Sharma, The Religious Policy of the Mughal Empire (Oxford University Press, 1940) 137.
  5. J.N. Sarkar, History of Aurangzeb, p.319.
  6. Satish Chandra, Historiography, religion.
  7. Michael Fisher, A Short History of the Mughal Empire.
  8. M.L. Bhatia, Administrative history of medieval India: a study of Muslim jurisprudence under Aurangzeb (Radha Publications, 1992), xi.
  9. Manohar Lal Bhatia, The Ulama, Islamic Ethics, p.113.
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Conclusion

Aurangzeb as an emperor was guided greatly by the Ulema and his pious attitude towards the Islamic law and Sharia led him to make many laws and policies from the religious point of view, which was a position contrary to that of his predecessors. He levied jizya, destroyed temples of rebels and charged higher taxes for Hindu traders. At the same time, he imposed strict Sharia law as against his Muslim subjects as well. Aurangzeb was greatly influenced by Islam, which played a prominent role in Mughal governance.

  1. Satish Chandra, Historiography, religion, and state in medieval India (Har-Anand Publications, 1996).
  2. Michael Fisher, A Short History of The Mughal Empire, p.197.
  3. Zahiruddin Farooqi, Aurangzeb and His Times, p.164.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Sri Ram Sharma, The Religious policy, 121.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid, p.127.

Bibliography

  • Ahmad, Aziz. Studies in Islamic culture in the Indian environment. Oxford: Clarendon Press,1964.
  • Bhatia, Manohar Lal. Administrative history of medieval India: a study of Muslim jurisprudence under Aurangzeb. Radha Publications, 1992.
  • Bhatia, Manohar Lal. The Ulama, Islamic Ethics, and Courts Under the Mughals: Aurangzeb Revisited. New Delhi: Manak Publications, 2006.
  • Bilimoria, Jamshid (Translator), Letters of Aurangazebe. London: Luzac Press, 1908.
  • Brown, Katherine Butler. “Did Aurangzeb Ban Music? Questions for the Historiography of His Reign.” Modern Asian Studies (41) 2 (2007): 77-120.
  • Chandra, Satish. Historiography, religion, and state in medieval India. Har-Anand Publications, 1996.
  • Farooqi, Zahiruddin. Aurangzeb and His Times. Bombay: Taraporewalla, 1935.
  • Fisher, Michael. A Short History of the Mughal Empire. London: LB Tauris, 2016.
  • Husain, Tasadduq. “The Spiritual Journey of Dara Shukoh.” Social Scientist (30) 7/8 (2002): 54-66.
  • Naqvi, Hamida Khatoon. “Aurangzeb's Policies and the Decline of the Mughal Empire.”
The Journal of Asian Studies (37) 1 (1977): 191-192.
  • Richards, John F. The Mughal Empire. Vol. 5. Cambridge University Press, 1995.
  • Sarkar, J.N. History of Aurangzeb. Calcutta, 1912.
  • Sharma, Sri Ram. The Religious Policy of the Mughal Empire. Oxford University Press, 1940.

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