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Monday, August 03, 2009

Aurangzeb's Treatment of His Hindu Subjects



Aurangzeb's Treatment of His Hindu Subjects

by Mohammed Ayub Khan


The Mughal emperor Aurangzeb is a highly contentious figure in Indian history and is widely reviled as a bigoted tyrant in academic literature as well as in popular imagination. He is accused of persecuting Hindus and Sikhs, destroying temples, imposing exclusive taxes on non-Muslims, and stifling all forms of religious freedoms. This paper will analyze these charges by surveying historical accounts on Aurangzeb's relationship with his Hindu subjects with special concentration on temple desecrations.  It will be shown that Aurangzeb's behavior towards the non-Muslims was no different than other rulers of the age and that most of his negative engagements with non-Muslims were not guided by religious policy but were a result of calculated political and economic considerations. This will be done by first, briefly analyzing instances of temple desecration by warring Hindu rulers. This will show that the policy of destroying temples pre-dates the arrival of Muslim rulers. Second, the behavior of earlier Muslim rulers in India towards the non-Muslims from the beginnings of the Delhi Sultanate to the reign of Shahjahan will be discussed. Third, this paper will explore Aurangzeb's alleged tyrannical behavior towards Hindus by examining his banning of Hindu festivals and customs, his re-introduction of jizya and the reasons behind its implementation, and his involvement in temple desecrations. Fourth, examples of Aurangzeb's friendly attitudes towards the Hindus will be provided in detail to show that there are enough historical evidences which reveal that the last great Mughal was not the tyrant that he is usually made out to be. I will then conclude with observations on the materials presented in this paper.

To begin with it should be stated that Medieval Indian history is a contentious and controversial field. Looking at texts from a single framework restricts one from arriving at correct conclusions. The historical texts, especially the court chronicles, had a special agenda of praising the ruler and offer exaggerated accounts of their protagonists. Modern writers like Romila Thapar contend that the Turko-Persian accounts were often "fanciful and exaggerated." [1] To complicate the matters it should also be noted that most of the translations of such texts into English were done by British colonial administrators who were hostile towards Muslims and whose intention was to create a schism in the Indian society.  In order to arrive at a clearer picture this writer has attempted his best to tread with caution while utilizing these sources.

            Temple desecration has been a common feature in India which predates the arrival of Islam.  The deity of each temple was rooted in the local mindset and was considered a popular symbol of political power. Any harm or insult to the temple was considered to be an insult of the kingdom. Beginning in 6th century there are several examples of Hindu victors desecrating the temples of the defeated. For instance, in 642 AD the Pallava King Narasemhavan I looted the image of Ganesha from the Chalukyan capital of Vatapi.  The exploits of Chola king Rajendra were so prolific that he decorated his capital with idols looted from a number of neighboring kingdoms. Kashmiri king Harsha reportedly raised the looting of temples to an institutionalized activity. Similarly, Hindu rulers attacked Buddhist monasteries and pillaged them[2]

            The Muslim rule in India was consolidated in India in 1192 AD. The rulers at this time did not engage in any overt forms of discrimination like forced conversions or indiscriminate slaughter.  Once order was restored and their power consolidated the Muslim rulers left the Hindus masses to themselves. Before that, however, continuing in the time honored Indian tradition they too indulged in temple desecration as part of their expansion initiative. From 1192-1393 AD Eaton lists a total of 23 desecrations by the armies of the Delhi Sultanate.[3] Towards the end of the Delhi Sultanate, orthodox Muslim jurists advised Sikandar Lodi, the ruler  of Delhi, that "it is not lawful to lay waste ancient idol temples, and it does not rest with you to prohibit ablution in a reservoir which has been customary from ancient times."[4]  The Sultans generally did not interfere or tinker with the personal laws or sought any revolutionary change in the dominant and oppressive caste system.

            After gaining stability the Sultans followed a liberal policy and not only protected temples but even allowed new ones to be constructed. They did, however, impose the jizyah (the poll tax levied on non-Muslims) but were for the most part tolerant. Hindus and Muslims mingled to such an extent that religious identity labels were not used. To quote historian N.E. Balaram:

Any careful examination will show that there were no Hindu and Muslim labels till the thirteenth century. They were two different faiths and they did not quarrel. The term Hindu was used by the Muslim rulers in early days to denote the zamindars, landlords and the Brahmin priests. The common people were not referred to as Hindus. Officers under the Delhi Sultanate in 14th century called the zamindars Hindus to denote more their aristocracy than their religion. Ziauddin Barani, a historian of the period in his book Fatwa-i-Jahandari uses the term Hindu in several places, mostly to desirable zamindars. The Hindu-Muslim identity came only gradually.[5]


This implies that there wasn't any overt form of discrimination against the Hindu community under the reign of the Delhi Sultanate and that they were well integrated into  the new political order. This does not negate the fact, however, that there were caste and class differences and the Muslims society also acquired a hint of such classifications.

            In 1526 Babur defeated Ibrahim Lodi at the historic battle of Panipat and laid the foundations of the Mughal Empire. According to the authenticated text of his will   he advised his son Humayun the following:

My son take note of the following: do not harbor religious prejudice in your heart. You should dispense justice while taking note of the people's religious sensitivities, and rites. Avoid slaughtering cows in order that you could gain a place in the heart of natives. This will take you nearer to the people.

Do not demolish or damage places of worship of any faith and dispense full justice to all, to ensure peace in the country. Islam can better be preached by the sword of love and affection, rather than the sword of tyranny and persecution. Avoid the differences between the Shias and Sunnis. Look at the
various characteristics of your people just as characteristics of various seasons.[6]


As is evident the founder of the Mughal Empire knew well that in order to rule he has to take the non-Muslim majority of India into confidence and that it cannot be done through force or coercion. There is no evidence of Babur ordering the destruction of any temple.[7]This policy of religious tolerance was more or less followed by his successors. This reached its zenith during the reign of Babur's grandson Akbar who showed great interest in Hinduism and religious syncreticism. He initiated the practice of marrying Hindu Rajput princesses, outlawed cow slaughter, and abolished jizya. In his zeal for communal harmony he even went to the extent of banning prayers in mosques for a period of time.[8]

            However, this doesn't mean that this policy was uniformly applied throughout the life span of the Mughal Empire. There is documented evidence of Jahangir and Shah Jahan being involved in twenty two and sixteen instances of temple desecration respectively.[9] Despite such occasional aberrations it is fair to say that the Mughal rule in India was tolerant of the non-Muslims when seen in the context of medieval times. Most scholars agree that until the time of Shahjahan this was indeed the case. Such scholarly consensus does not converge with regards to the religious policies of Aurangzeb to whose rule we now turn.

            Those who claim that Aurangzeb was a religious fundamentalist who harbored anti-Hindu sentiments tend to cast him in such an image from the time of his youth itself.  While it is true that Aurangzeb was extremely pious and observant of religious obligations he wasn't as dry or colorless as he is made out to be.  This assertion can be substantiated by the fact that he was madly in love with a singer named Hira Bai.[10] He had at least two Hindu wives Nawab Bai, daughter of Kashmir's Raja Raju, and Udaipuri Mahal. These marriages were performed in his youth and there is no evidence to suggest that they converted to Islam.  It may be suggested here that Aurangzeb had married these women under the pressure from his father. But this is countered by the fact that Aurangzeb himself arranged the marriage of his son Prince Muazzam to the daughter of  Hindu Raja Roop Singh. Both his wife.[11]  He had many Hindu friends and loyalists throughout his lifetime. He even pleaded with his father for the appointment of a Hindu to the post of a mansabdar despite the fact that Shahjahan wasn't favorably disposed towards the person. Giving further credence to the claim of Aurangzeb's youthful liberalism was his fondness for music. He was reportedly very proficient in playing stringed instruments like veena and sitar. [12]

            Aurangzeb ascended to the throne in 1658 AD after a bloody war of succession which saw him face off with his father and brothers. He was able to grab the power by defeating, and later on killing,  his elder brother Dara Shikoh at the battle of Samugarh and imprisoning his ailing father. Contrary to popular perceptions this war of succession wasn't a struggle between religious orthodoxy and liberalism. Hindu and Muslim nobility, as well as the Shias, were equally divided between the two claimants to the throne.[13] Within one year of his succession Aurangzeb issued some orders which were overtly religious and were considered to be his initiation of Islamic orthodoxy. Some historians claim that Aurangzeb was influenced by the writings of the orthodox Muslim reformer Shaikh Ahmed Sirhindi. But such a claim is negated by the fact that Aurangzeb proscribed the Shaikh's writings.

Aurangzeb's religiously oriented orders include the formation of religious police, ban on the Hindu festivals of 'Holi and Diwali,' prohibition of the Hindu custom of widow burning, and the discontinuation of the Hindu custom of accepting offerings called 'Jharoka Darshan.'[14] He also prohibited the practice of 'tuladan' were a person was weighed in gold or other precious metals which were later on distributed to the poor.  However, a closer look reveals that these orders were not borne out of any religious intolerance but had administrative and financial motives.

The creation of religious police force, the Muhtasib, had no impact on the Hindu population as it had no jurisdiction over non-Muslims and its activities were limited to keeping an eye on the morality of Muslim masses. Regarding the prohibition on Hindu fairs and festivals, historians like Jaiswal claim that he only issued reformative orders and did not ban them outright. He reportedly only outlawed the custom of stealing wood, drinking, gambling, and indulging in anti-social behavior during these festivals.[15] Similarly, he banned the fairs because there were violent skirmishes between rival groups which led to frequent disturbances and threatened the peace of the kingdom. Moreover, this ban was not just limited to Hindu fairs and processions but included the Shi'ite Muslim  processions in the month of Muharram.[16]

            Aurangzeb did indeed issue orders for the proscription of the custom of widow burning on the deceased husband's funeral pyre.This act can only be considered as laudable because it outlawed an oppressive custom.  The ban was an interference with the Hindu personal laws but as Manucci and other European travelers have mentioned, it was rarely implemented.[17] The Hindu custom of  'Jaharoka Darshan' were the king appeared on his balcony in the early morning hours to greet the masses, was abolished because it was burden on the masses and served no purpose. This practice even led to the creation of a cult whose members didn't eat or drink anything until they had seen the Emperor. The non-appearance of the king caused great discomfort to the followers of this cult who considered him to be an embodiment of God.[18] Additionally, it was also a cause of instability as the non-appearance of the King in the balcony led to rumors that the king had died which further caused frequent disturbances and rebellion.[19] The Hindu custom of 'Tuladan' was banned because it had degenerated into a vulgar display of wealth and power and the genuinely poor were not helped as had been originally intended. Despite the ban Aurangzeb himself  weighed his princes in gold and had it distributed to the poor.[20]

            One of the most prominent negative acts of Aurangzeb towards the Hindus was his reimposition of Jizyah which Akbar had abolished. This move according to historian Jadunath Sarkar was aimed at the establishment of a purely Islamic state (darul Islam) in India which implied 'the conversion of the entire population to Islam and the extinction of every form of dissent…"[21]  However, a closer look reveals that it wasn't as it is made out to be by his critics. He re-introduced it a full twenty two years after his ascension to the throne in 1679 AD and it wasn't universal.[22] The payment rate was 48 dirhams for the rich (those earning more than 10000 dirhams per year), 24 for the middle-class and 12 for the poor (those earning less than 200 dirhams).[23] Those who were unable to work due to poor health, the unemployed, women and children were exempt from the tax.

 In the Al-Fatawa al-Alamgiriyyah, which set the rules of religious administration during Aurangzeb's time, it is clearly mentioned:

It is mentioned in al-Idah that if a dhimmi is ill for the entire year such that he cannot work and he is well off, he is not obligated to pay the jizyah, and likewise if he is sick for half of the year or more…and no jizyah  is imposed upon their women, children, ill persons or the blind, or likewise on the paraplegic, the very old, or on the unemployed poor, as is stated in al-Hidayah.[24]


In addition, he also suspended it during the time of crop-failure. In 1704 AD, Aurangzeb suspended jizyah for the duration of the war in South India. Historians contend that since the end to his war with the Marathas was nowhere in sight, it was tantamount to its abolition.[25] It was finally abolished in totality in 1712 AD at the insistence by Asad Khan and Zulfiqar Khan, two prominent nobles.[26] Moreover, he did not impose this on Hindus alone. Jews and Christians in his realm were also ordered to pay the tax.[27]This shows that he wasn't particularly interested in targeting the Hindus.  He went even further by trying to impose Jizya on the fellow Muslim kingdoms of Bijapur and Golconda whom he considered to be heretical.[28]

There is another interesting economic point which is often missed by historians. The above rates of jizya when taken as a whole give us a figure 2.5 % for the whole jizya-paying community. This figure is remarkably similar to the zakat payment rate for Muslims. From this we can infer that Hindu and Muslim citizens under Aurangzeb's reign paid almost the same amount of taxes and that it would be wrong to call it an exclusive tax. It was the same tax which was collected under different categories.[29] The Hindu population which actually paid this tax did not exceed more than ten per cent at any time.[30]

From the above discussion it appears that the imposition of Jizyah had more to do with administrative and expansionary motives than with any real religious reasons. Despite such claims the fact remains that there is no evidence of  any systematic or large-scale attempts at forced conversion during his reign.  This is further substantiated by research which reveals that privately Aurangzeb complained of 'the boastfulness and lack of manners of some of the new converts.'[31] If indeed his motive was simply to gain new converts he wouldn't have displayed such irritability because of the behavior of the neophytes. The individual incidences of conversions which do exist show that that many of the converts had non-religious motivations behind their move and were initiated by themselves and not by the ruler. For instance, in April 1667 AD four Hindu judicial employees were suspended from service for indulging in usury. In order to escape the punishment they converted to Islam. In 1681 AD Raja Islam Khan converted to Islam so that his mansab of 250 soldiers can be raised to that of 400. The son of a mansabdar from Rampur converted to Islam in order to obtain a jagir.[32]

The inference that Aurangzeb levied the tax because of financial constraints also cannot be sustained. The proponents of this theory claim that he was oppressing the Hindus in order to run his state machinery. Contrary to such claims Aurangzeb had been facing financial difficulties from the beginning and would have implemented the tax in the year of his ascension and not twenty two years later. More importantly the amounts collected as jizya were not deposited in the imperial treasury but in a special separate  treasury called 'khazana-e-jizya.' These amounts were mostly used for charitable purposes like the support of mostly Hindu orphans and widows.[33] This shows that the amounts weren't utilized to boost up the imperial treasury but served only as a  charitable venture.

            Now we turn to the alleged involvement of Aurangzeb in Hindu temple desecrations. Aurangzeb's vociferous critics like Koenraad Elst claim he had "thousands of temples destroyed."[34] But they offer little direct evidence in support for their outlandish assertions. To support their claims they refer to certain passages from his court chronicles like the Ma'athir-i- Alamgiri and other exaggerated and laudatory accounts. Below are representative examples of such accounts which are often cited by a section of right wing Hindu historians:

a.       Aurangzeb's court chronicler writes, "All the worshipping places of infidels and great temples of these infamous people have been torn down and destroyed in a manner which excites astonishment at the successful completion of such a difficult task." (Mir'at-e-Alam)

b.       "In 1661 AD Aurangzeb in his zeal to uphold the law of Islam sent orders to his viceroy in Bihar, Daud Khan, to conquer Palamau. In the military operations that followed many temples were destroyed." (Alamgir Nama)

c.       "When the imperial army was encamping at Mathura, a holy city of  the Hindus, the state of affairs with regard to temples of Mathura was brought to the notice of His Majesty. Thus, Aurangzeb, ordered the commander of the city, Abdul Nabi Khan, to raze to the ground every temple and to construct big mosques." (Futuhat-e-Alamgiri)

d.       In a letter to the governor of the Maratha region he wrote, "The hatchet-men of the government in the course of my marching do not get sufficient strength and power to destroy and raze the temples of the infidels that meet the eye on the way. You should appoint an orthodox inspector who may destroy them at leisure and dig up their foundations."[35]


When read out of context these passages appear as though Aurangzeb ordered the wanton destruction of temples in his realm.  But the fact that thousands of temples from his times exist to this day is a reminder that such orders were rarely followed or implemented and was only part of imperial rhetoric. More often than not there were other motives behind these instances of desecrations. To further illustrate this point I cite another passage which is again used as punching bag for Aurangzeb. This order issued in April 1669 apparently ordered the demolition of all temples in the empire. It reads:

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.[36]


When taken out of context this imperial order does indeed support Elst's claims but a closer reading reveals that it was a limited order. In the opinion of Eaton it does not state that all schools or places of worship be demolished, but rather that they be subjected to demolition, implying that local authorities were required to make investigations before taking action. Eaton further elaborates:

More importantly, the sentence immediately preceding this passage provides the context in which we may find the order's overall intent. On April 8, 1669, Aurangzeb's court received reports that in Thatta, Multan, and especially in Banaras, Brahmins in "established schools" had been engaged in teaching "false books" and that both Hindu and Muslim "admirers and students" had been travelling over great distances to study the "ominous sciences" taught by this "deviant group." We do not know what sort of teaching or "false books" were involved here, or why both Muslims and Hindus were attracted to them, though these are intriguing questions. What is clear is that the court was primarily concerned, indeed exclusively concerned, with curbing the influence of a certain "mode" or "manner" of teaching within the imperial domain. Far from being, then, a general order for the destruction of all temples in the empire, the order was in response to specific reports of an educational nature and was targeted at investigating those institutions where a certain kind of teaching had been taking place.[37]

The above mentioned "false" books and teachings according to Shibli Numani were propagated by a certain cult from the time of Shah Jahan.  Emboldened by Dara Shikoh's religious syncreticism these schools actively sought out Muslim students and taught un-Islamic teachings. These schools often operated from or were attached to their temples. It was only to curb such activities, which an observant Muslim ruler could not tolerate, that he issued an order for their closure and destruction. It was in no way a general order. Only the temples and schools of this particular order were subjected to it and other Hindu groups were exempt.[38]

When taken in their proper context the imperial records do not reveal that Aurangzeb ever ordered a general destruction of temples. But this still leaves open the question as to how many temples he destroyed and why he destroyed them.

As far as the number of temples destroyed or desecrated by Aurangzeb is concerned there is considerable disagreement. Eaton cites five such instances. Shibli claims that he was involved with the desecration of fourteen temples.[39] Even if we take the higher figure into account that still leaves him short of his predecessors (Shahajahan and Jehangir)'s exploits. Instead of labeling him as the great temple desecrator it should instead be applied to his father and grandfather.

 The two most prominent examples of Aurangzeb's involvement in temple desecrations  are the Kashi  Vishwanath of Benares and the Keshavrai of Mathura.  One popular theory regarding the desecration of the Kashi Vishwanath is that once Aurangzeb was travelling to Bengal along with his courtiers and the entourage included Hindu nobleman and their wives. When they reached near Benares, his Hindu nobleman requested that the caravan halt for a day and that their wives be allowed to proceed to the holy city to perform their puja. Aurangzeb agreed to the request and provided an armed escort for the pilgrims. At the end of the day all of them returned except one Rani. After an intense search she was discovered in a concealed basement under the Kashi Vishwanath temple. She claimed that she was molested and robbed by a priest of the temple.  When Aurangzeb discovered this he reportedly ordered the statute of the chief deity of the temple to be removed to another place and that the temple be razed to the ground as it had been despoiled.[40] At the insistence of the victim he built a mosque on the ruins. While being popular this theory fails the historical test as it is not found in the contemporary records. There is also no evidence of Aurangzeb ever going to Bengal or that a large number of his Hindu generals along with their wives were part of his entourage.

A more plausible theory is offered by Prof.K.N.Panikkar who observes that Aurangzeb had political motivations for the destruction. "It appears that a nexus between the sufi rebels and the pandits of the temple existed and it was primarily to smash this nexus that Aurangzeb ordered action against the temple," he writes.[41] This sounds like a more plausible theory as there was increased rebel activity in that area around the time the temple was desecrated.

Regarding the Keshavrai Temple of Mathura, historians contend that it was also a political and military move. It had become the headquarter of Jat rebels who were using it as an armoury and were planning to launch an attack on the capital from its premises. When these attacks became relentless Aurangzeb finally ordered his army to attack and bring down the temple. Even then he was careful enough to advise his armies not to molest the priest or destroy the statue of the chief deity. The statue was later on safely transported to and installed in Gujarat. If there were any religious motives behind this move he wouldn't have been so sensitive for the safety of the priest and the statue. For almost all cases of temple desecration political motivations can be attributed. For nine years after the destruction of the Keshavarai temple there were no other desecrations. This coincides with the relative peace in the kingdom. They were once again revived when rivalries with certain Rajput chiefs reached a violent stage. During this time Aurangzeb ordered the desecration of several temples in Rajasthan that had become associated with his military rivals. These included temples in Khandela; temples in Joshpur patronised by a former supporter of Dara Shikoh; and the royal temple in Udaipur and Chitor patronised by Rana Raj Singh after it was discovered that he had withdrawn his loyalty to the Mughal establishment.[42]

While destroying the  temples of his political Hindu rivals Aurangzeb wasn't forgiving towards his Muslim rivals as well who were using the sacred precincts for political and military purposes. When Aurangzeb learned that the Muslim ruler of Golconda hasn't paid his tribute to the Mughal Empire and instead hoarded it in an underground vault and built a mosque over it, he ordered its immediate destruction and the retrieval of buried wealth.[43]  It can be asked here as to why Aurangzeb did not destroy as many mosques as he did the temples. A simple explanation for this would be that contrary to the Hindu temples, the mosques were generally not associated with the power of the ruling sovereign. They were dedicated to the one God and their status was unaffected by the changing political constellations. In the occasional instances when they did acquire political or rebel identity Aurangzeb did not hesitate in destroying them as well.  

The charge that Aurangzeb was a temple destroyer can be further countered by the fact that Aurangzeb built more temples than he destroyed.[44] His orders granting lands, revenues, and  other grants for Hindu and Jain temples, and Sikh Gurudwaras exist from places as far as Allahabad in the North  to all the way in Guwahati on the east. Following is a representative selection of his grants to Hindu priests and temples: (1) In an imperial ordered dated 16th March 1660 he grants a stipend of three tinkas per day for the chief priest of Mahakaleshwar Mandir. (2) In 1693 he paid for the construction of a spiritual retreat for Jain monks at the insistence of one Lal Vijay Nagi. (3) In his tenth year of ascension he revived the stipend of thirty rupees and other facilities to the priest of Umanand Temple of Guwahati and his son. He also strictly ordered his administrators to not to levy any taxes on the priest or to trouble him in any manner. (4) In Dehradun he granted Jagirs for Sikh Gurudwaras despite the fact that he wasn't on good terms with them. (5) He granted a stipend of Rs.100 for Kalyan Das, priest of Tatlamai temple in Multan. (6) For the maintenance of  the retreat and temple of Baba Jagannath Gosain in Hissar district he gave a tax-free land grant. (7) For the upkeep of  the Sitapur temple he granted the revenues of several villages. (8) For the priest of  temples in Chitrakot he granted seven villages for his services in offering the daily bhog ritual. [45]

As is evident from above Aurangzeb's generous acts towards Hindu temples are more numerous than his instances of temple desecration. While it is true that he had no intrinsic hatred towards the temples, it is also a fact that he did not allow the construction of new temples as a matter of  principle. Being an orthodox Muslim ruler he stated that while no new temples can be permitted to be built, old places of worship can be repaired because 'building cannot stand forever.'[46]  That said however it can be stated with confidence that  Aurangzeb's temple desecration policy wasn't guided by any religious motivations. All such instances were directly connected with rebel activity. If  the converse had been true than he would have destroyed several temples in Deccan. Despite the fact that he was in the region for twenty five years not a single temple was desecrated here.  In the area of Aurangabad, where Aurangzeb died, there are several ancient temples in Ajanta and Elora. These temples are intricately decorated with the images and statues of Hindu goddesses. Despite his closeness to the area and knowledge of these temples Aurangzeb did not harm them. The author of Ma'athir Alamgiri, who appears to have taken to much delight in narrating temple desecrations, describes the temples in an adoring manner.[47] What  is even more revealing is that Aurangzeb did not touch a single temple in the Deccan despite being in continued conflict with the Hindu Marathas. From the above discussion it can be decisively concluded that Aurangzeb viewed the preservation of prominent temples as a guarantee of a reciprocal good conduct from the Hindus. He went out of his way to please them. But when these places of worship began to be treated as launching pads of rebellion he wasn't shy of desecrating them.

Critics of Aurangzeb level the charge that as soon as he came to power he dismissed Hindus from prominent positions and always preferred Muslims over them. Some go as far as to say that he issued orders for the immediate dismissal of all Hindus from governmental services. Thus, we see Elphinstone  citing an imperial order to all officers stating  that no Hindus be appointed in the services under them and that active steps should be taken to recruit Muslim officers.[48] Numani says that this order wasn't general in nature and was limited to selected jobs. He reportedly issued the order  in 1082 AH after a series reports emerged about malpractices in the revenue department. It just so happened that the department was mostly populated by Hindus of the Kayasth caste about whom there was a prevailing stereotype that they indulged in bribery. Even this order couldn't be implemented  and it was later amended. For each Hindu revenue officer, an additional Muslim officer was also appointed. This way they could keep check on each other.[49]The order had nothing to do with religious discrimination but was purely an administrative matter.

As have been mentioned earlier that Aurangzeb always had a good number of Hindu friends and confidantes. Hindu military commanders and nobles had played an important role in his ascension to the throne. Even unsympathetic contemporary European observers admit to this fact. French traveller Francois Bernier who was in India between 1656-1668 AD made the following observation:

Who then can wonder that the Great Mogol, though a Mahometan, and as such an enemy to the Gentiles, always keeps in his service a large retinue of Rajas, treating them with the same consideration as his other Omaras, and appointing them to important commands in his armies?"[50]

This comment by Bernier is telling because he usually casts Aurangzeb as a religious bigot. That there should be truth in it becomes more apparent when we see that the number of Hindus in nobility during the second half of Aurangzeb's reign almost doubled forming about one third of the total. These numbers were certainly better than the reign of Shajahan. The following table based on Dr.Athar Ali's research would further illustrate this point:


Percentage of Hindu Nobles Under Shahjahan & Aurangzeb









5000 and above




















(Source: Athar Ali: Mughal Nobility Under Aurangzeb)[51]

That the numbers were comparatively low in the first half of Aurangzeb's reign is explained by the coincidence that there just happened to be more Hindus in his rival Dara Shikoh's camp. But once things stabilized their numbers once again rose significantly.      The Rajput community of the Hindus always had a prominent position in Aurangzeb's nobility. Known for their chivalry on the battlefield they occupied leading posts in Aurangzeb's army and were in the forefront in his wars against the Marathas who happened to be fellow Hindus.  In 1665 AD Mirza Raja Ajai Singh was appointed as the governor of Deccan. This was significant as until that time this position was usually filled by a senior prince. Ajai Singh played a leading role in the wars against Sivaji and was instrumental in forcing him to sign the Pirander peace pact. [52] Maharaja Jaswant Singh of Jodhpur was the second leading Rajput in Aurangzeb's nobility. Despite his treachery on several occasions Aurangzeb held him in high regard and gave him the prestigious mansab of seven thousand riders and seven thousand foot soldiers. He was twice granted the governorship of the prosperous province of Gujarat. The third prominent Rajput under Aurangzeb  was Maharana Raj Singh. Their relations were tense but they were always able to resolve them amicably until Raj Singh actively began to support the Rathore rebels.[53]

Aurangzeb's relationships with the Hindu Marathas were amicable despite his long drawn out wars with Sivaji. During the latter half of his reign he inducted a large number of them into his service. Of the ninety six Marathas who held ranks of one thousand  foot soldiers and above between 1679 and 1707 AD, sixteen held ranks between three thousand and four thousand and sixty two from one thousand to twenty seven hundred. As a collectivity their numbers surpassed those of the Rajputs.  Despite their increasing numbers they were not given sensitive posts due to the obvious ongoing war with Sivaji.  

Aurangzeb's conflict with Shivaji has attained legendary status with right wing historians trying to give it a communal tinge. But the fact remains that their war wasn't religious. While Aurangzeb's armies had many Hindus, Sivaji's camp was also staffed by a good number of Muslim soldiers. Even during the height his wars with Sivaji a large number of Hindus fought on Aurangzeb's side. An even more startling fact is the existence of close relatives of these Sivaji in Aurangzeb's camps. Thus, we find that Achlaji (son in law of Shivaji), and Arjuji (first cousin of Shivaji's father) occupying the mansabs of five thousand and two thousand respectively in Aurangzeb's army.[54] A large number of Hindu Rajputs, Marathas, and Jats continued to serve in Aurangzeb's army until his death.

From the above discussion it can be conclusively stated that Aurangzeb's relationship with his Hindu subjects was instrumental and realistic. He wasn't an oppressor or a chauvinistic tyrant. He wasn't a benevolent ruler either. He was a pragmatic ruler. His treatment of the Hindus, or for any other subject for that matter, was guided by strategic considerations. While it is true that he was puritanical in religious orientation his public policies weren't extra-ordinarily aimed against non-Muslims. For all the accusations the conditions of certain segments of the Hindu society, like the nobility, actually improved under his reign. In conclusion, far from being a bigot Aurangzeb appears to be himself being a victim of bigoted historians whose sole purpose remains to create division and discord between Hindus and Muslims. An Urdu couplet by an unknown poet admirably sums up the historical vilification of the last great Mughal:

Give and      take, this   much   we   remember from history;

That Aurangzeb was a tyrant, oppressor, and temple desecrator.


All the good deeds that he had done remain forgotten as though they never existed.











Al-Fatawa al-Alamgiriyyah = Al-Fatawa al-Hindiyyah fi Madhhab al-Imam al A'zam

Abi Hanifah al-Nu'man. Beirut: Dar al-Ma'rifah, 1973).  English translation @, (Accessed on March 22, 2008).


Bernier, Francois. Travels in the Mogul Empire, A.D. 1656-1688. Westminster:

Constable, 1891. (Accessed on March 12, 2008).


Chandra, Satish "Reassessing Aurangzeb," Seminar, no.364, (1989): 22-46.


Chandra, Satish Medieval India (Vol 2),  New Delhi: Har-Anand, 2008.


Eaton,Richard M.  "Temple Desecration and Indo-Muslim States,"

Frontline 2, no.26 (2000): 70-77.


Elst, Koenraad.  Decolonizing the Hindu Mind. New Delhi: Rupa, 2001.


Elst, Koenraad "Why did Aurangzeb Demolish the Kashi Vishvanath," (Accessed March 20, 2008).

Falahi, Masood Alam ہندوستاں میں زات پات اور مسلمان,, New Delhi:

Al Qazi, 2008.


Ghazi,Abidullah ed. Babri Masjid: After the Destruction. Chicago:

Indo-Islamic Foundation of America, 1992.


Goradia,Prafull. Hindu Masjids. New Delhi: Contemporary Targett Prafull, 2002.


Jaiswal, Akhilesh.  اورنگزیب کے ہندووں کے ساتھ تعلقات  . Patna:

Khuda Baksh Oriental Library, 1996.


Khan, Iqtidar Alam.  "Akbar's World View," Social Scientist 20, no.9/10 (1992): 16-30.


Metcalf, Barbara D.  Islamic Contestations. News Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004.


Pershad, Omprakash اورنگزیب عالمگیر. Lahore: Fiction House, 2000.


Shibli  Numani,, اورنگزیب عالمگیر. Lahore: Fiction House, 2000.


Thapar,Romila. Somnatah: The Many Voice of History.  New Delhi: Viking, 2004.






















[1] Romila Thapar, Somnatah: The Many Voice of History (New Delhi: Viking, 2004), 5-6.

[2] Richard M. Eaton,  "Temple Desecration and Indo-Muslim States," Frontline 2, no.26 (2000): 74.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid, 70.

[5] Cited in Prafull Goradia, Hindu Masjids (New Delhi: Contemporary Targett Prafull, 2002), 164.

[6] Abidullah Ghazi, ed., Babri Masjid: After the Destruction, (Chicago: Indo-Islamic Foundation of America, 1992), 54.

[7] Satish Chandra, Medieval India (Vol 2),  (New Delhi: Har-Anand, 2008), 44.

[8] Iqtidar Alam Khan, "Akbar's World View," Social Scientist 20, no.9/10 (1992): 26

[9] Akhilesh Jaiswal, اورنگزیب کے ہندووں کے ساتھ تعلقات  (Patna: Khua Baksh Oriental Library, 1996), 32.

[10] Ibid,13.

[11] Masood Alam Falahi, ہندوستاں میں زات پات اور مسلمان, (New Delhi: Al Qazi, 2008),225.

[12] Jaiswal, اورنگزیب کے ہندووں کے ساتھ تعلقات  16.

[13] Chandra, Medieval India, 271.

[14] Jaiswal, اورنگزیب کے ہندووں کے ساتھ تعلقات  , 17..

[15] Jaiswal, اورنگزیب کے ہندووں کے ساتھ تعلقات  ,18.

[16]Shibli  Numani, اورنگزیب عالمگیر,  (Lahore: Fiction House, 2000), 78.

[17] Ibid, 56

[18] Ibid, 78

[19] Jaiswal, اورنگزیب کے ہندووں کے ساتھ تعلقات  , 19.

[20] Jaiswal, اورنگزیب کے ہندووں کے ساتھ تعلقات  18.

[21] Jadunath Sarkar, History of Aurangzeb, (Calcutta: Signet Press) cited by Satish Chandra, "Reassessing Aurangzeb," Seminar, no.364: Mythifying History (December 1989), p.35.

[22] Chandra, Medieval India ,156

[23] Koenraad Elst,  Decolonizing the Hindu Mind (New Delhi: Rupa, 2001), 390.

[24] Al-Fatawa al-Alamgiriyyah = Al-Fatawa al-Hindiyyah fi Madhhab al-Imam al-A'zam Abi Hanifah al-Nu'man (Beirut: Dar al-Ma'rifah, 1973), 2:244-245. English translation available at, Accessed on March 22, 2008.

[25] Chandra, Medieval India, 284-285.

[26] Ibid,, 285

[27] Ibid

[28] Jaiswal, اورنگزیب کے ہندووں کے ساتھ تعلقات  , 38.

[29] Omprakash Pershad, اورنگزیب عالمگیر,  (Lahore: Fiction House, 2000), 208.

[30]Ibid, 204.

[31] Chandra, Medieval India, 283-84.

[32] Shibli, , اورنگزیب عالمگر 209.

[33] Pershad, , اورنگزیب عالمگر 208.

[34] Koenraad Elst, "Why did Aurangzeb Demolish the Kashi Vishvanath," (Accessed March 20, 2008).

[35]" Destruction of Hindu Temples by Aurangzeb," (Accessed March 20, 2008).

[36] Eaton, "Temple Desecration and Indo-Muslim States,"  74.

[37] Ibid

[38] Numani, , اورنگزیب عالمگیر,79

[39] Jaiswal, اورنگزیب کے ہندووں کے ساتھ تعلقات  ,32

[40] Jaiswal, اورنگزیب کے ہندووں کے ساتھ تعلقات  , 32-33

[41]Koenraad Elst, "Why did Aurangzeb Demolish the Kashi Vishvanath," (Accessed March 20, 2008).


[42] Eaton, "Temple Desecration and Indo-Muslim States,"  74.

[43] Jaiswal, اورنگزیب کے ہندووں کے ساتھ تعلقات  , 34.

[44] Barbara D. Metcalf, Islamic Contestations (News Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004) 213.

[45] Jaiswal, اورنگزیب کے ہندووں کے ساتھ تعلقات  ,33.

[46] Chandra, Medieval India ,155.

[47] Numani, , اورنگزیب عالمگیر,82-83.

[48] Numani, 74

[49] Ibid

[50]  Francois Bernier, Travels in the Mogul Empire, A.D. 1656-1688 (Westminster: Constable, 1891), 210. (Accessed on March 12, 2008).

[51] Cited in Chandra, Medieval India, 285.

[52] Jaiswal, اورنگزیب کے ہندووں کے ساتھ تعلقات  , 64

[53] Jaiswal, اورنگزیب کے ہندووں کے ساتھ تعلقات  , 67.

[54] Numani, , اورنگزیب عالمگیر, 76.



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