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Aurangzeb and Dalrymple

We all admire William Dalrymple for his writing style, knowledge of India and for making Delhi his home.

Yet his fascination for Aurangzeb,which already made him write the the Last Mughal andWhite Mughals, is bizarre, to say the least, as Mughals were the biggest perpetrators of Human Rights abuses of their time, not only against Hindus and Sikhs, but even against their own kin.

It seems now Dalrymple wants to embark upon a new book about one of India’s most controversial historical figures, Aurangzeb whom he considers “absolutely fascinating”.

Speaking about the about the richest Mughal emperor who was also the 2nd

longest reigning after Akbar, Dalrymple says: “by end of it he does becomes a monster of

myths, but his final letters are full of regret and awareness about how much

he destroyed of what he had inherited”. And he adds: “What is little spoken is that he was

an extremely generous donor of various ashrams and maths. Just the sheer

data that can be gathered about his donations to Hindu monasteries is


Now is that true? Aurangzeb (1658-1707) was a neither the eldest, nor the favorite son of his father Shah Jahan. To ascend the throne, he killed his two brothers, dispatched his father to jail and subsequently murdered him by sending him poisoned massage oil and later had his own son imprisoned (in his will, he admonished: “never trust your sons “). He was also very cruel to the majority of his subjects, the Hindus, ordering all temples destroyed, and making sure that the Hindu Gods and Goddesses were buried under the steps of the mosques (like the Jama Masjid in Delhi) so that future generations of Muslims will trample upon them. Aurangzeb did not just build an isolated mosque on a destroyed temple, he ordered all temples destroyed, among them the Kashi Vishvanath, one of the most sacred places of Hinduism and had mosques built on a number of cleared temples sites. All other Hindu sacred places within his reach equally suffered destruction, with mosques built on them. A few examples: Krishna’s birth temple in Mathura, the rebuilt Somnath temple on the coast of Gujurat,the Vishnu temple replaced with the Alamgir mosque now overlooking Benares and the Treta-ka-Thakur temple in Ayodhya. The number of temples destroyed by Aurangzeb is counted in 4, if not 5 figures. Aurangzeb did not stop at destroying temples, their users were also wiped-out; even his own brother, Dara Shikoh, was executed for taking an interest in Hindu religion.

Muslims suffered as much as Hindus:90%. Of today’s Indian Muslims should know that their great-great-great grandparents were converted by force under Aurangzeb. Even his own brother, Dara Shukoh, was executed for taking an interest in Hindu religion.

The shadow of Aurangzeb still floats upon India: in Kashmir, where 400.000 Hindus were made to flee their homeland . Even in Pakistan’s internal killings between Shias and Sunnis. India looks like sometimes it is forsaking its Sufi inheritance and letting Aurangzeb’s spirit take hold of it. What will happen once the army goes ?Aurangzeb is not only present in Kashmir, its very name still triggers passion on both sides of the Hindu and Muslim community. The 2008 show of paintings which FACT exhibited in the India Habitat Centre Delhi, attracted a thousand visitors, the article I wrote on Rediff was the most commented ever in the history of Rediff and its still going on.

One is also surprised that the Sikh community, particularly the SPG, has kept quiet when news of Darymple’s books praising Aurangzeb came out. Have they forgotten what Aurangzeb did to them? Not only the Sikh Guru Tegh Bahadur was beheaded because he objected to Aurangzeb’s forced conversions. But under the tenth and last Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, Aurangzeb, who had never forgiven Sikhs to have supported his brother Dara, persecuted viciously the Sikhs. In response, Gobind Singh transformed the Sikh community into a military community. For the Mughals and for Muslim historians, Gobind Singh was no better than a warlord with no religious credentials. Yet, he was a powerful military general with a profound vision of transforming Sikh society into a militaristic society—an absolute necessity for a community surrounded by a hostile and powerful empire. Gobind Singh established the fourth and last most important doctrine of Sikhism (the first three being the Name, the Word, and the Guru): this was the doctrine of Khalsa, or the “Brotherhood” of Sikhs. Even today the khalsa gives the community a deep sense of unity founded on symbolic acts.

The Sikh community should also start debating whether they want to make of Aurangzeb, the murderer of their Gurus a hero, just because of Blue Star, or remain close to the Hindus, their natural brothers and sisters, they whom they were created to defend and uphold? Why, for example is theShiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committe (SGPC), Amritsar keeping silent about Dalrymple’s proposed book on Aurangzeb? Why do the Sikhs in Delhi lobby so that one of the most prestigious streets of the Capital, Aurangzeb road, is not renamed after one of their Gurus?

Indian Muslims too, have to make a crucial choice today: do they want Aurangzeb’s shadow to prevail upon Islam, or will they invoke Dara Shukoh’s spirit and bring the greatness of Sufism back into India ? As for Dalrymple, let him dwell upon his fantasies. Western Indology is still mired in its olds prejudices and clichés, which make of Aurangzeb a hero and of the Guru Gobind Singh’s or Shivaji Maharaj’s, petty chieftains….

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