Last updated on 9th Nov. 2015
I would like to first say that I believe in Shirdi Sai Baba's teaching of "Sabka Maalik Ek" (The master of all is ONE). In other words, I believe in ONE GOD with various religions including Islam being various paths/ways to worship and merge in that ONE GOD. Specifically, I am not against Islam, and am actually supportive of it, so long as it does not interfere in the right of others (like me, a Hindu) to practise their faiths which are different from Islam (e.g. Hinduism, Christianity, Sikhism, Jainism, Buddhism, Judaism). Shirdi Sai Baba used to say "Allah Maalik" (Allah/God is the master) very often; I revere the same Shirdi Sai Baba, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sai_Baba_of_Shirdi, and try to follow His teachings.Today's (14th Sept. 2015) The Hindu carried an email interview of Audrey Truschke, Mellon postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Religious Studies at Stanford University, in the context of her forthcoming book (Feb. 2016), "Culture of Encounters: Sanskrit at the Mughal Court". I am so glad to know of scholar Audrey Truschke (did not know about her earlier to reading this article) who is researching and writing on such Indian history matters. Great! Here's more about her: http://web.stanford.edu/~truschke/audrey-truschke.html and http://stanford.academia.edu/AudreyTruschke/CurriculumVitae. She has a B.A. from University of Chicago and M.A., M.Phil and Ph.D. from Columbia University.
The interview article is titled, ‘Aurangzeb is a severely misunderstood figure’, http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/interview/scholar-audrey-truschke-aurangzeb-is-a-severely-misunderstood-figure/article7648723.ece. Aurangzeb is a HUGELY CONTROVERSIAL figure in India.
I felt it appropriate to first share some information about Aurangzeb from his wiki page, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aurangzeb:
Abul Muzaffar Muhi-ud-Din Muhammad Aurangzeb (14 October 1618 – 20 February 1707), commonly known as Aurangzeb Alamgir and by his imperial title Alamgir ("world-seizer" or "universe-seizer") and simply referred to as Aurangzeb was the sixth Mughal Emperor and ruled over most of the Indian subcontinent. His reign lasted for 49 years from 1658 until his death in 1707.
Aurangzeb was a notable expansionist and during his reign, the Mughal Empire temporarily reached its greatest extent. During his lifetime, victories in the south expanded the Mughal Empire to more than 3.2 million square kilometres and he ruled over a population estimated as being in the range of 100–150 million subjects, with an annual yearly tribute of £38,624,680 in 1690 (the highest in the world at that time).
Aurangzeb's policies partly abandoned the legacy of pluralism, which remains a very controversial aspect of his reign. Rebellions and wars led to the exhaustion of the imperial Mughal treasury and army. He was a strong-handed authoritarian ruler, and following his death the expansionary period of the Mughal Empire came to an end, and centralized control of the empire declined rapidly.
---end extract from wiki ---
Ravi: About how Aurangzeb, in his successful attempt to become Mughal emperor, RUTHLESSLY plotted and eliminated his other brothers, including Dara Shikoh the preferred heir of Shahjahan, their father and Mughal emperor (Ref: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aurangzeb#War_of_Succession):
1) Aurangzeb broke his agreement with brother Murad Baksh to partition empire between themselves, imprisoned Murad Baksh and then abetted in the execution Murad Baksh on 4th December 1661 (under Sharia law (retribution) for alleged murder of diwan of Gujarat).
2) Aurangzeb fought with his brother Shah Shuja who was expanding territory under his control, defeated him and forced him to flee to Arakan in today's Myanmaar (Burma), where he was executed by local rulers.
3) Then Aurangzeb went after his eldest brother Dara Shikoh who was chosen heir by father & emperor Shah Jahan.
[A little about Dara Shikoh. Dara Shikoh was a scholar and was appreciative of various religions including Hinduism and was a follower of Sufism. He tried to understand the common mystical aspects of Islam and Hinduism! In 1657 he got completed translation of 50 (odd) Upanishads from Sanskrit to Persian so that Muslim scholars could read them. "His most famous work, Majma-ul-Bahrain ("The Confluence of the Two Seas"), was also devoted to a revelation of the mystical and pluralistic affinities between Sufic and Vedantic speculation." Ref: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dara_Shikoh#Intellectual_pursuits. Dara Shikoh was a follower of some Sufis and mystics including Sarmad Kashani, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarmad_Kashani. For more about Dara Shikoh you may visit my blog post, "The champion of Unity of Being (Unity in Sufism & Vedanta): 17th century Mughal Prince Dara Shikoh", http://ravisiyer.blogspot.in/2015/09/the-champion-of-unity-of-being-unity-in.html]Aurangzeb seems to have been a greater warrior and military strategist than his elder brother Dara Shikoh.
"With Shuja and Murad disposed of, and with his father immured in Agra, Aurangzeb pursued Dara Shikoh, chasing him across the north-western bounds of the empire. Aurangzeb claimed that Dara was no longer a Muslim and accused him of poisoning the Mughal Grand Vizier Saadullah Khan. Both of these statements however lacked any evidence. After a series of battles, defeats and retreats, Dara was betrayed by one of his generals, who arrested and bound him. In 1658, Aurangzeb arranged his formal coronation in Delhi. He had Dara Shikoh openly marched in chains seated on filthy elephants back to Delhi where he had him executed in front of his son Suleiman Shikoh on arrival on 30 August 1659."
Aurangzeb was such a butcher that he even went after one of the mystic teachers of Dara Shikoh, above mentioned Sarmad Kashani, tried him for heresy, and had him executed. To know more including the courageous willingness to die for his beliefs and how he chanted some of his verses on the execution stand, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarmad_Kashani.
4) Aurangzeb imprisoned his father Shahjahan who was then cared for by his daughter, and died in 1666.
Ravi: So this man, Aurangzeb, cannot, by any stretch of imagination, be considered a nice guy. He was a power monger who was ready to eliminate his own brothers and imprison his own father, in his successful bid to become Mughal emperor. Yes, I think one has to accept that he was a great warrior and military strategist. But then, so were Hitler and the Nazis.
Some extracts from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aurangzeb#Establishment_of_Islamic_law
As emperor, Aurangzeb enforced morals and banned the consumption, usage and practices of: alcoholism, gambling, castration, servitude, eunuchs, music, nautch and narcotics in the Mughal Empire. He learnt that at Sindh, Multan, Thatta and particularly at Varanasi, the Hindu Brahmins attracted large numbers of indigenous local Muslims to their discourses. He ordered the Subahdars of these provinces to demolish the schools and the temples of non-Muslims. Aurangzeb also ordered Subahdars to punish Muslims who dressed like non-Muslims, regardless of their ethnic backgrounds. The executions of the antinomian Sufi mystic Sarmad Kashani and the ninth Sikh Guru Tegh Bahadur bear testimony to Aurangzeb's religious intolerance; the former was beheaded on multiple accounts of heresy, the latter because he objected to Aurangzeb's forced conversions.
[Ravi: So Aurangzeb acted violently against teachers of Hindu religion (Brahmins) who attracted large numbers of Muslims!!! Besides the Sufi mystic being executed, which I had mentioned earlier, he also executed one of the Sikh Gurus!!! How can one not view this monstrous ruler as being religiously intolerant and a tyrant. Yes, that may have served his political and domination of subjects aims but then that's what tyrants do and not what benevolent kings do.]
Another instance of Aurangzeb's notoriety was his policy of temple destruction, for which figures vary wildly from 80 to 60,000. Indian historian Harbans Mukhia wrote that "In the end, as recently recorded in Richard Eaton's careful tabulation, some 80 temples were demolished between 1192 and 1760 (15 in Aurangzeb's reign) and he compares this figure with the claim of 60,000 demolitions, advanced rather nonchalantly by 'Hindu nationalist' propagandists,' although even in that camp professional historians are slightly more moderate." Among the Hindu temples he demolished were the three most sacred: the Kashi Vishwanath temple, Kesava Deo temple and Somnath temple. He built large mosques in their place. In 1679, he ordered destruction of several prominent temples that had become associated with his enemies: these included the temples of Khandela, Udaipur, Chittor and Jodhpur. Historian Richard Eaton believes the overall understanding of temples to be flawed. As early as the sixth century, temples became vital political landmarks as well as religious ones. He writes that not only was temple desecration widely practised and accepted, it was a necessary part of political struggle.
[Ravi: Yes, I can understand that some Hindu temples would have become a rallying centre for some Hindu opponents of Aurangzeb. But so would have been the case with Muslim mosques being rallying centres for Muslim leaders in that period. That Aurangzeb was willing to destroy the temples (including the very iconic temples of Kashi Vishwanath and Somnath) and build mosques in their place, in my view, seals my opinion of him as being anti-Hindu. He could have had muslims in control of these temples to prevent any political meetings there and limit these temples to religious matters. Why did he not do that? He just wanted to CRUSH Hindu opposition and show them how powerful he was by demolishing their cherished sacred icons (famous temples) and build mosques in their place!!!
BTW both Kashi Vishwanath and Somnath temples were rebuilt but on adjacent sites, and are flourishing and iconic Hindu temples today. So Aurangzeb's efforts to CRUSH Hindu faith by destroying these famous temples, was completely defeated by Hindus over time. I salute the (majority of) Hindus for how they stuck to their religion despite the lure of conversion to Islam by some of the then Islamic rulers and despite the destruction of their iconic temples, and, over time, completely reversed the negative impact on Hindu religion by Islamic rulers like Aurangzeb. [Disclosure: I am a Hindu :-).]
From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kashi_Vishwanath_Temple: "Kashi Vishvanath Temple is one of the most famous Hindu temples and is dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is located in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India, the holiest existing place of Hindus. The temple stands on the western bank of the holy river Ganga, and is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas, the holiest of Shiva temples. The main deity is known by the name Vishvanatha or Vishveshvara meaning Ruler of The Universe. The Varanasi city is also called Kashi, and hence the temple is popularly called Kashi Vishvanath Temple.
The Temple has been referred to in Hindu Scriptures for a very long time and as a central part of worship in the Shaiva philosophy. It has been destroyed and re-constructed a number of times in the history. The last structure was demolished by Aurangzeb, who constructed the Gyanvapi Mosque on its site. The current structure was built on an adjacent site by the Maratha monarch, Ahilya Bai Holkar of Indore in 1780."
From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Somnath: "The Somnath temple located in Prabhas Patan near Veraval in Saurashtra on the western coast of Gujarat, India, is the first among the twelve Jyotirlinga shrines of Shiva. It is an important pilgrimage and tourist spot for pilgrims and tourists. The temple is considered sacred due to the various legends connected to it. Somnath means "Lord of the Soma", an epithet of Shiva.
Somnath Temple is known as "the Shrine Eternal". This legendary temple has been destroyed and rebuilt several times by Islamic kings and Hindu kings respectively. Most recently it was rebuilt in November 1947, when Vallabhbhai Patel visited the area for the integration of Junagadh and mooted a plan for restoration. After Patel's death, the rebuilding continued under Kanaiyalal Maneklal Munshi, another minister of the Government of India.
By 1665, the temple, one of many, was once again ordered destroyed by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. Later the temple was rebuilt to its same glory adjacent to the ruined one. Later on a joint effort of Peshwa of Pune, Raja Bhonsle of Nagpur, Chhatrapati Bhonsle of Kolhapur, Queen Ahilyabai Holkar of Indore & Shrimant Patilbuwa Shinde of Gwalior rebuilt the temple in 1783 at a site adjacent to the ruined temple."]
Francois Bernier, who traveled and chronicled Mughal India during the War of Succession, notes the distaste of both Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb for Christians. This led to the demolition of Christian settlements near the European factories and enslavement of Christian converts by Shah Jahan. Furthermore, Aurangzeb stopped all the aid to Christian missionaries (Frankish Padres) that had been initiated by Akbar and Jahangir.
[Ravi: So Aurangzeb did not spare the Christians either!!!]
Ram Puniyani states that Aurangzeb was not always fanatically anti-Hindu, and kept changing his policies depending on the needs of the situation. He banned the construction of new temples, but permitted the repair and maintenance of existing temples. He also made generous donations of jagirs to several temples to win the sympathies of his Hindu subjects. There are several firmans (orders) in his name, supporting temples and gurudwaras, including Mahakaleshwar temple of Ujjain, Balaji temple of Chitrakoot, Umananda Temple of Guwahati and the Shatrunjaya Jain temples.
[Ravi: Well, it seems to me that Aurangzeb would have liked to make all of India muslim. But he would have realized that it was not possible to do so, and that he needed the produce (from agriculture and small scale industry) provided by Hindu subjects and perhaps the tribute provided by some Hindu feudal chiefs who accepted him as emperor. I find it hard to accept that it was benevolence towards Hindus & Jains that led him to make such grants to temples. Note that he banned the construction of new temples (but surely would have allowed construction of new mosques).]
--- end wiki extracts of Aurangzeb ---
Ravi: Now I would like to go back to Audrey Truschke intereview, ‘Aurangzeb is a severely misunderstood figure’, http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/interview/scholar-audrey-truschke-aurangzeb-is-a-severely-misunderstood-figure/article7648723.ece.
Truschke wrote, "There are two main reasons why Sanskrit ceased to be a major part of Mughal imperial life during Aurangzeb’s rule. One, during the 17th century, Sanskrit was slowly giving way to Hindi. This was a wider literary shift in the subcontinent, and even under Shah Jahan we begin to see imperial attention directed towards Hindi-language intellectuals at the expense of Sanskrit. Aurangzeb’s reign simply happen to coincide with the waning of Sanskrit and the rise of literary Hindi.
Second, as most Indians know, Aurangzeb beat out Dara Shikoh for the Mughal throne. Dara Shikoh had been engaged in a series of cross-cultural exchanges involving Sanskrit during the 1640s and 1650s. Thus, from Aurangzeb’s perspective, breaking Mughal ties with the Sanskrit cultural world was a way to distinguish his idioms of rule from those of the previous heir apparent. In short, Aurangzeb decided to move away from what little remained of the Mughal interest in Sanskrit as a political decision, rather than as a cultural or religious judgment."
Ravi: Aurangzeb's reign simply happened to coincide with waning of Sanskrit and rise of Hindi!!! I cannot accept this view based on what I have given above about Aurangzeb. He surely would have associated Sanskrit with Hindu Brahmins and Hindu religion and so viewed it as an enemy which should be finished off (like demolishing Kashi Vishwanath and Somnath temples). Cutting off state support for Hindu Sanskrit philosophy (and instead providing more state support for Islamic philosophy) was what he seems to have done. Viewing it as just a way to distinguish his idioms of rule from those of heir-apparent Dara Shikoh, is disingenuous at best, and, in my view, unacceptable. This man, Aurangzeb, was out to tyrannize the majority of his Hindu subjects, and by demolishing the two biggest iconic temples of North and West India, Kashi Vishwanath and Somnath, and banning construction of new temples (but allowing new mosques to be constructed, I am sure) showed that he was clearly anti-Hindu.
Update on 16th Sept. 2015
My blog post, Very interesting anti-terrorism article by young Indian Islamic scholar Ghulam Rasool Dehlavi, http://ravisiyer.blogspot.in/2015/09/very-interesting-anti-terrorism-article.html, dated Sept. 16th 2015, has small extracts from an article (link provided), and links to other articles by the same author, which is a wonderful reflection of how far Indian inter-faith tolerance (if not harmony) and even inter-Islamic-sect tolerance (if not harmony) has come today as compared to Aurangzeb's times.
Update on 19th Sept. 2015
I had sent the main contents of the above blog post to the correspondent of The Hindu who authored the interview-article, Ms. Anuradha Raman. She responded over email on Sep. 15th 2015 as follows:
Take your point, sir. Thank you. History is about facts and research.
--- end response ----
Given below is the relevant part of my response to her:
Thanks for your response, madam. If you do get the time to point out any fiction (not fact) in my blog post (mailed to you), which heavily draws from wikipedia (where inaccuracies are not uncommon) I would be greatly obliged if you could let me know.
--- end my response (part) ---
[Please note that I mailed Ms. Raman about four days ago that I plan to share her response publicly and that I presume she has no objection. She did not respond to that and so I went ahead with making her response public. As the article was a public article in a newspaper I consider it ethical to share mail responses of the article author on my public blog (and Facebook pages).]
[I thank Wikipedia and The Hindu and have presumed that they will not have any objections to me sharing the above extracts (only a small extract from The Hindu) from their website on this post which is freely viewable by all, and does not have any financial profit motive whatsoever.]