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Demolishing the Aurangzeb Apologist Cabal

Recently, a number of “scholars” have been decrying the vilification of Aurangzeb. Audrey Truschke, a post-doc at Stanford, for example, gave an interview to The Hindu recently wherein she claimed that Aurangzeb wasn’t as bad as he is made out to be.

It is only the first time when selling your principles is hard. After that, the mind needs no convincing. After all, the world isn’t exactly full of people of integrity and character. Therefore, making a mockery of historical evidence and also the suffering of people not so long ago, hardly seems like a compromise.

Hear this story to get a glimpse of Aurangzeb’s cruelty to begin with.

When Aurangzeb captured Sambhaji, the son of Shivaji, along with Kavi Kalash, they were offered to embrace Islam. In return, the story says, they hurled abuse to the Emperor. Aurangzeb ordered cutting the tongues of both Sambhaji and Kavi. Following this, for days they were tortured by cutting their eyes, their limbs and eventually were put to death.” (Sources: Mughal Rule in India, Edwardes and Garret, p149, Ibid, Advanced study in the history of modern India, J L Mehta, p50, History of India, D. Sinclair, p97, Muntakhab-ul-Lubab, E & D, Vol 7,p.341)

Was this a political murder? Most definitely. But was there not a religious angle to it? One is hard pressed to say a no. But even more importantly, how do you asses a person’s character? Would Osama bin Laden not have a single virtue? It is the sum total of a man’s deeds that he is judged by after all. Even in case of Aurangzeb one can most certainly come up with stories that show him in great light. For example, Aurangzeb lived a simple pious and austere life. Before his death he had issued instructions that there shouldn’t be any extravagant celebration at his funeral and the expenses of his burial should be taken from his savings from his own earnings. Imagine a king of his stature saying this in 1707!! Aurangzeb had also given instructions that the sum of three hundred rupees that he had saved by making copies of the Koran, be distributed amongst the poor.  For this story, of course, I am not going to require references but but those interested can consult Mughal Rule in India, Edwardes and Garrett, p154 for example.

Yet, Aurangzeb, is perhaps the ruler that destroyed the Idea of India. From killing his brother Dara and serving his head to his imprisoned father, enumerating Aurangzeb’s crime would keep a researcher busy for decades. However, one person, Mr.Richard Eaton, perhaps the king of the “Aurangzeb apologist cabal”, as I call it, despite spending years researching Aurangzeb, seems to be either unable or unwilling to see the forest for the trees.If he’s unable then there’s a serious problem of analytical abilities. The chances are, however, that it’s the latter.

Let’s get into some details of Mr.Eaton’s “scholarship”. At a broad level, there are three major issues that emerge about Mr.Eaton’s commentary on this issue.

1. In making a case for Aurangzeb, Mr.Eaton’s argument has to be taken with a leap of faith as the logic behind the sequence of most events does not match with the interpretation. Since history is mostly about interpretation, this is crucial.

2. His translation of Aurangzeb’s crucial orders that establish his bigotry differ from other scholars. In diluting Aurangzeb’s bigotry his translation plays a key role and hence needs re-examination.

3. Omission of incidents that do not suit the grand narrative.

 Translation playing a crucial role –

Eaton says, in his Frontline essay, the following –

Considerable misunderstanding has arisen from a passage in the Ma’athir-i `Alamgiri concerning an order on the status of Hindu temples that Aurangzeb issued in April 1669, just months before his destruction of the Banaras and Mathura temples. The passage has been construed to mean that the emperor ordered the destruction not only of the Vishvanath temple at Banaras and the Keshava Deva temple at Mathura, but of all temples in the empire.13 The passage reads as follows:

Orders respecting Islamic affairs were issued to the governors of all the provinces that the schools and places of worship of the irreligious be subject to demolition and that with the utmost urgency the manner of teaching and the public practices of the sects of these misbelievers be suppressed.14

 The order did not state that schools or places of worship be demolished, but rather that they be subject to demolition, implying that local authorities were required to make investigations before taking action.

 Devious isn’t it? “Subject to demolition” isn’t ordering demolition? Really? In fact, if there really was supposed to be an investigation about malpractices why only the irreligious? And in terms of how research is done, the burden of proof of there having been such investigations prior to demolitions is on Eaton! When he is the one making assertions that fall flat in the face of what the order seems to say and what happened thereafter, it’s his responsibility to demonstrate that there’s a reason to suspect that he has a point. So far, all the “evidence” that Eaton provides is in terms of the chronology of events and no explicit investigation records from Aurangzeb’s court.

It is even more important that Eaton provides ample evidence on this one because the famous chronicles on India’s history, Elliot and Dowson, in their volume 7 on page 184 note the following – pic - 1

The Director of Faithconsequently issued orders to all governors of provinces to destroy with a willing hand the schools and temples of the infidels; and they were strictly enjoined to put an entire stop to the teaching and practicing of idolatrous forms of worship.

Note that there isn’t a mention of “subject to demolition” here. While I don’t believe that there’s any qualitative difference between subject to demolition and destroy in this context, Eaton relies heavily in defending Aurangzeb’s motives using this phrase and hence he must provide a justification for both, the translation that mysteriously differs from others and also the “investigations about temples” that he mentioned thereafter.

A grand narrative being setup with a leap of logic.

Even granting Eaton all the slack on his lack of rigour, one is hard pressed to not find a religious motive in an order that says that practices and teaching of infidels be stopped. Note here too Eaton is changing the word infidelsfor sects which again comes out of nowhere. If there was indeed a purely political motive, or if the temples were indeed understood to be blessing a dynastic realm they were located in, what can justify Aurangzeb ordering an end to all the practices of the infidels? Even worse, sample this – pic - 2

..richly jeweled idols taken from pagan temples were transferred to Agra, and there placed beneath the steps leading to the Nawab Begam Sahibs mosque, in order that they might ever be pressed under foot by the true believers(Elliot and Dowson, vol vii, p 185)

I just wonder for a moment if Eaton would see a non-religious motive if someone were to destroy a Mecca today and placed its pieces under the Churches of Vatican. Yet, for Eaton this act by Aurangzeb doesn’t merit attention.

In fact, Aurangzeb’s bigotry can be seen very early in his career. Sample this excerpt for example. (Mughal Empire in India: A Systematic Study Including Source Material, Volume 2, p 469)

pic - 3

Stories of two temple destructions that bear no evidence of a political angle that Eaton claims.

 Eaton has, in fact, nearly built his career on giving a political interpretation to temple destructions. That is, often destructions would be of temples under the control of Rajputs who were formerly loyal to the empire and then turned rebellious. Since it is impossible to get into the details of every temple destruction to establish that it was largely religious and not political, I will just give two examples. Let’s first start with the Vishwanath temple.

 To quote Mr.Eaton,

It was also believed that Shivaji’s escape had been initially facilitated by Jai Singh, the great grandson of Raja Man Singh, who almost certainly built Banaras’ great Vishvanath temple. It was against this background that the emperor ordered the destruction of that temple in September, 1669 (no. 69).

This is rather embarrassing! To see why, first understand that it wasn’t Jai Singh who was believed to have facilitated Shivaji’s escape. It was Jai Singh’s son Ram Singh. In fact, Jai Singh, upon hearing about the allegations about Ram Singh, said “May God give death to the man who cherishes the very thought of such an act of faithlessness”. (Shivaji – J.Sarkar, p 168-169). Considering this stark contrast between the father and the son, Eaton’s confusion between the two is alarming for his lack of rigor. Of course, for not-so-careful a reader this is entirely possible but Eaton doesn’t profess to be one.

But while Eaton can be forgiven for this minor mix-up, what he cannot evade is some effort to think logically before cobbling up random incidents to construct a story. To see why, this is how the timeline of Eaton’s version reads-

1. Shivaji escapes Agra on 17 August, 1666.

2. Aurangzeb learns about this and suspects Ram Singh’s complicity, for he had pledged their honor for Shivaji’s safety. Ram Singh is demoted in ranks immediately.

3. Ram Singh fell out of Aurangzeb’s favor around this time. Jai Singh dies in 1667. Ram Singh becomes the new king. He is then sent to Assam on December 27, 1667.

4. Aurangzeb orders provincial Muslim governors to demolish temples on April 9th, 1669, shortly after Jai Singh’s death.

5. The order is carried out and temple of Keshava Rai temple was “secularized” into a mosque. Temple of Vishwanath was also “secularized” into Gyanvapi mosque, in late 1669.

So, roughly three years after Shivaji escaped Agra, Ram Singh was made to pay for his lapse through temple destruction? If it sounds believable, then there’s a minor issue. Ram Singh’s coronation ceremony that took place in 1667, a year after Shivaji’s escape and two years before the demolition of VIshwanath temple, was attended by Aurangzeb in which Aurangzeb put tika on his forehead, the last instance when this was done.

So essentially, Aurangzeb first gives a minor punishment to Ram Singh. Then later reinstates him and honours him. And then, after two years, for his past misdeeds, razes temples in Ram Singh’s area. Bear in mind, he does not kill Ram Singh, his family or anyone. He does not demolish Ram Singh’s palace. He does not attack Ram Singh’s city. He goes to a different city that is broadly under Ram Singh’s area and, there too, destroys a temple! Even granting that analytical reasoning isn’t Eaton’s suit, if someone can make sense of this I am willing to pay for it.

And bear in mind that the rampage after his 1669 decree was most certainly not limited to temples in Ram Singh’s areas. So, to link a possible feud of every Rajput with Aurangzeb to rationalize a bulk of demolitions that took place following the decree is a figment of imagination. Or maybe, like Krishna, Aurangzeb was counting the number of sins of all the Rajputs and in 1669 all of them suddenly hit the upper bound.

The second story is about the destruction of the temple of Mathura. Eaton connects the incidents relating Rajput rebels prior to the destruction of the temple, and argues, therefore had a political undertone. The problem, however, is that Saqi Must`ad Khan, an annal of the events which occurred during Aurangzeb’s reign, does not record the political angle while talking about the destruction. See the image of the translation of it by Elliot and Dowson, vol vii, p 184.

pic - 4 A quick word on where Aurangzeb stood on religious tolerance compared to his contemporaries.

Moving on, let’s suppose, for a moment that the destructions indeed had political motives. How can we test this? A reasonable point would be to expect at least one of the following two to happen during the same era. (For history majors, at least one means both of them can happen too).

1. Aurangzeb destroying mosques under control of other Muslim kings that he fought against.

2. Other kings destroying their opponents’ places of worship.

For the latter, the most notable contemporary of Aurangzeb, much to the chagrin of JNU types, would be Shivaji. This is what Edwardes and Garrett note –pic - 5

As to the private character and personal virtues of Shivaji the contemporary Muhammadan historian, Khafi Khan, though naturally inclined to paint him in unfavourable colours, makes the following comments: But he [Shivaji] made it a rule that wherever his followers went plundering, they should do no harm to the mosques, the Book of God, or the women of any one. Whenever a copy of the sacred Koran came into his hands, he treated it with respect , and gave it to some of his Musulman followers’ “ (Elliot and Dowson, vol vii, p 260.)

This should pretty much sum up point #2, as to where Aurangzeb stood in religious tolerance in comparison with his contemporaries.

As for point 1, I would be surprised if there are people who think it worth their time to investigate this. Feel free to correct me on the number of Sunni mosques that Aurangzeb ordered destroyed.

While one could go at length talking about Aurangzeb’s bigotry, what’s terribly upsetting is that an article like this one has to be written. Eaton and his pupils seem to be under the impression that when people criticize Aurangzeb they are attacking Islam, and hence resort to his defense. If they showed a slightly more nuanced understanding of history, they will not have to defend the indefensible. Given what they have demonstrated so far however, logic, nuance and reasoning aren’t their strongest suites.

So for now, I suggest Mr.Eaton concentrate on writing chronicles about the political motives behind ISIS’ destructions of temples and churches in Syria. He should focus on getting the religion out of ISIS’ motives. As in a couple of hundred years, another Eaton will need to build his career out of a thesis on the Tolerant practices of the Islamic State in Syria. Truth, after all, should not come in the way of a “scholarly work”.

( The Author is a researcher in a related field and chooses to maintain anonymity.)

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