Aurangzeb: Myths vs. Facts

There are facts and historical facts. Facts are actualities which occurred; Historical facts are those actualities which had an effect, good or bad.

And then there are myths and half truths, some of which through sheer repetition over a long period of time attain the status of facts, even historical facts. At times they become so deeply ingrained in our psyche that we simply assume them to be true.

The stories circulating these days about Aurangzeb are some such mythologies paraded as historical facts. Here are some of them:

A) Aurangzeb was a temple breaker – a ‘butshikan’.

A half truth: Yes he demolished temples, but only of those regions or groups who opposed or fought him.

When Rani Hadi, the widow of Raja Jaswant Singh Rathor of Marwar wrote to him to given her the successorship (tīka) and that she was ready to break all the temples of the region, Aurangzeb refused.

And this information is from a contemporary source, Waqā’i Ajmer, maintained at the Marwar court!

Further, the temple grants, and grants given to priests under Aurangzeb were larger than the grants given ever before! And this is confirmed by a large number of contemporary documents. For example land grants given by Aurangzeb to the temples and priests at Vrindavan belonging to Sri Chaitanya sect are higher than those given by even Akbar!

Incidentally, Peter Mundy, a contemporary of Shivaji tells us that under Shivaji, the jails were full of ‘Brahmins’, who had been imprisoned for not paying their taxes!

B) Aurangzeb was anti-Hindu.

Totally wrong. He opposed anyone who could oppose him!

The Rajputs had been his major supporters from the time he started his revolt in 1657. His princely communication (nishān) to Rana Raj Singh of Mewar is indicative of his views. In his war against Dara he was supported by majority of Rajputs: Mirza Raja Jai Singh, Jaswant Singh etc etc.

A letter written by his own son, Akbar, reminds him that he had emerged victorious due to the support of the Rajputs! Dara lost as they did not support him!

After becoming the king some of the highest mansabs (ranks) in the empire -7000/7000, which could be given to a noble – were awarded to a number of Rajputs.

Crucially important states, like Gujarat, Bengal, Deccan etc which had been previously been reserved for princes, were given to Rajputs.

(C) Who worsted Shivaji at Purandhar and got him packed to Agra? Aurangzeb?

No. It was Mirza Raja Jai Singh. Shivaji was kept a prisoner in Agra in the house of Raja Ram Singh…

Yes Aurangzeb also imposed jizya, stressed Shari’at, preferred mullas and followed policies of discrimination. Many practices like jharokha were banned. None can deny that. But above facts are to be remembered too! He was not living in the modern age. There were no binaries.

D) Aurangzeb banned music.

Half Truth.

The same Manucci who informs us of the ban, also inform us about the lavish musical ensembles!

Most important musical texts were composed / translated under him. His own son was not only an accomplished musician but a dancer as well!

There is a letter which survives, written by Aurangzeb to one of his sons. In this he asks his son to follow the cultured practices of his grandfather: dance, music and poetry.

Aurangzeb himself was a good veena player!