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The discovery of the Shivling in the Gyanvapi mosque complex, has again put the spotlight on emperor Aurangzeb. This is very welcome and absolutely necessary, as Aurangzeb’s reign and deeds have been for a long time a subject of controversy: those that love and respect him, like many of India’s older generation historians, such as Romila Thapar or Irffan Habib; and western ideologists, historian and writers: Michael Witzel of Harvard, Audrey Truschke of Rutgers university, famous for her book “Aurangzeb Life and legacy of Indias most controversial King” (2017 Stanford University Press), or Frenchman Christopher Jaffrelot, who also thinks that Aurangzeb is unfairly treated by ‘’Hindu Nationalists”.


The truth is that we need not get into these controversies, as Muhi-Al-Din Muhammad Aurangzeb, born on 3rd November 1618 in Malwa, was an extremely meticulous emperor, who recorded EACH of his orders (written in Farsi), often stamped them himself with the imperial seal and was able to carefully monitor when and how these orders were followed up, thanks to a remarkable system of government officials ( governors, deputy governors, envoys etc.) , scribes, spies and bureaucrats. The other extraordinary fact are these bulletins or Akhbarats, are all STILL preserved today, in the Rajasthan state archives of Bikaner. These archives are accessible to all, upon a simple request to the Secretary Culture, Government of Rajasthan. It is a mystery why, neither Audrey Truschke, nor Romila Thappar or William Dalrymple, cared to consult them. If they had, they would discover that Aurangzeb was an exceptionally cruel emperor, who desecrated not only the Kashi Vishwanath Temple but also the Somnath Temple, The Krishna Mathura shrine, the Keshava Rai Temple, the Jagannath temple and tens of thousands of others, upon which he built mosques and buried the murthies under the steps of the temples, so that generations and generations of Muslims would trample upon them.


There are indeed in the Bikaner archives, hundreds and hundreds of Akhbarats, or edicts of Temples to be destroyed, as well as reports of when they were. We will quote only three of them: “ Yesterday, Yakka Taz Khan and mimar (architect or mason) Hira brought before the Emperor the tarah of the temples built on the banks of Rana’s lake and submitted that at a distance of about 5 kos, there was another lake also. It was ordered by the Emperor that Hasan Ali Khan, Ruhullah Khan, Yakka Taz Khan, Ibadullah Khan and Tahavvara Khan should go ahead and destroy the Temples.”

Siyaha Akhbarat- i- Darbar-i- Mu’alla,

Julus 23, Zilqada 29/ 23rd December 1679

A report came soon after Ruhullah Khan and Ekkataz Khan went to demolish the great temple in front of the Rana’s palace, which was one of the rarest buildings of the age. “20 infidels were sitting in front of the temple and were slain. We then broke all the idols”. This is the great temple of Jagannath Rai built by Maharana Jagat Singh in 1652.


The Kalka temple, dedicated to Goddess kali, is a very old shrine then outside Delhi (and today opposite Nehru business centre and the Okhla railway station), dating back to Emperor Ashoka. Records show that it was frequented by a large number of pilgrims, coming as far as Maharashtra. Aurangzeb ordered its destruction on 3rdSeptember 1667: “The asylum of Shariat (Shariat Panah) has sent this arzi to the sublime court. He learnt that a large number of Hindus gather at Kalka temple, near Baharapule. Saiyid Faulah Khan was therefore ordered by the Emperor to send one hundred heldars to demolish the Kalka temple and other infidel structures in the neighborood. The report duly came back to the emperor nine days later: “Saiyad Fauladd Khan has reported that in compliance to his orders that the Kalka temple was demolished and a brahmin who opposed its destruction was killed “. Shortly after Aurangzeb’s death, the Kalka temple was rebuilt and still stands today. Funnily, Wikipedia does not mention its razing by Aurangzeb!

Of course we need to mention here the order pertaining to the destruction of the Kashi Vishwanath temple: “it was reported that according to the Emperor’s command, his officers have demolished the Temple of Vishwanath at Kashi” (Massir- I - Alamgiri) August 1669


There is a long lasting canard, that ‘brahmanical Hindus destroyed buddhist shrines” (and hence Buddhism). Very few people also know that Aurangzeb ordered the destruction of Lumbini, Buddha’s birth place. In 249 BC, when the Emperor Ashoka visited Lumbini, it was a flourishing village. Ashoka constructed four stupas and a stone pillar with a figure of a horse on top. 1895, Feuhrer, a famous German archaeologist, discovered the great Ashoka pillar while wandering about the foothills of the Churia range. Further exploration and excavation of the surrounding area revealed the existence of a brick temple and a sandstone sculpture within the temple itself, which depicts the scenes of Buddha’s birth. But there was great damage, which Feuhrer could not explain, except speculate that the place was once ransacked.And what about the Nalanda university, that was then predominantly buddhist and took three months to burn, at the hands of Bakhtiyar Khilji, a Turk.


The orders of Aurangzeb were extremely diverse. It goes from the execution of Sarmad, a Muslim saint who had the courage to declare;“ while the mullahs say that The Prophet ascended to heaven, I say that the heavens came down to the Prophet”. He meant that the higher state of bliss is attainable in this very life. He was put to death for Apostasy.


When Aurangzeb learnt that his brother Dara Shikoh, he who should have become the emperor instead of him(being Shah Jahan’s eldest son), had donated a stone railing to the temple of Keshava Rai at Mathura (which Aurangzeb later destroyed) he immediately issued another Akhbarat: “ in the religion of the Musulmans it is even improper to look at the temple and i have ordered for the railing to be immediately removed” (13th October 1666). Later ,Aurangzeb had his brother Dara Shikoh tried, beheaded and his head brought to him on a platter, while his headless corpse was placed on an elephant and paraded in the streets of Delhi (to the sorrow of the local population, who loved Dara).


Not only did Aurangzeb issue orders restricting the gathering of Hindus and Sikhs, and riding any horse, elephant or palanquin or imposed the humiliating Jizyah Tax, but he was extremely cruel to their leaders. Nobody has forgotten the martyrdom of Shri Guru Teg Bahadur, who was beheaded on 11th November 1675, after his three main disciples were tortured to death before his eyes, a martyrdom which led to the formation of the Khalsa, by his son Shri Guru Gobind Singh. But he also ordered frightful deaths on his enemies. For instance on Shivaji Maharaja’s son, Raja Shambhaji, who was captured by chance on the 15th of February 1689, along with his right hand general, Kavi Kailash and brought to the imperial court dressed as buffoon. Aurangzeb, in full darbar, told them that their lives would be spared if they converted to islam - both refused and that very night their eyes were gouged and their tongues cut out. Then they were tortured for 15 days and finally on 11th March 1689 their bodies were cut into pieces and fed to the dogs, while their severed heads, stuffed with straw, were paraded all over Maharashtra.


Often Historians praise Aurangzeb’s reign as a period when arts, painting, music, flourished. but one particular Akhbarat tells otherwise. In 1665 Aurangzeb issued a number of orders to enforce the strict following of the Shariat, such as the dismissal of court astronomers , poets, prohibition of Tazias, restriction on assembling of pilgrims- and particularly forbiddance of music at his court. One of his officials, Khalid Khan, wrote “ distinguished and well known musicians in the service of the court are hereby forbidden to perform and orders have also been issued for the ban of dancing.” In protest the musicians, who were all Hindus converted to islam, staged a mock burial of their instruments. When the emperor learnt about it, he said:  “ Bury them so deep that no sound or Echo may rise again”….


We, in the Shivaji Maharaj museum of Indian History, Pune, decided thus to portray Aurangzeb according to his own records: one Akhbarat along side with one painting, by our team of Jaipur miniature painters, curated by Professor V.S Bhatnagar from the Shimla School of Advanced studies. In this way, we created an exhibition, today permanently displayed in our museum, without any comment or condemnation on our part. We even showed Aurangzeb in his pious activities : he used for example to stitch himself Muslim skull caps, so as to sell them and donate the funds to the deprived; he also  carefully wrote his own will by hand. Our professor translated this will – and that makes for an interesting reading, it starts with a prayer, “ Praise be to God and blessings on those servants of Him who have become sanctified and have given satisfaction to Him. I have some instructions to leave as my last will and testament”. Follow the list of donations to the needy and instructions on how to bury him, but most interesting, among them are two clauses: the 11th one “ never trust your sons nor treat them during your lifetime in an intimate manner….” And the 12th: “ the main pillar of government is to be well informed in the news of the kingdom. Negligence for a single moment becomes a disgrace for long years. The escape of the wretch Shivaji Maharaj took place through carelessness and I have to labour hard against the Marathas to the end of my life as a result of it.”


We are happy to announce that the book “ Aurangzeb Iconoclasm” based on our exhibition, is to be released end of June by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi. We hope that this pioneering exhibition and book will help to set the record straight as to who Aurangzeb was and what he did, because as Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar famously said “ No nation can move forward unless it squarely faces its past. The courage to remember helps us not to repeat the same mistakes and to build a better future for our children”.


François Gautier

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