Religion under Aurangzeb: Some Early Measures

There were a number of early measures initiated by Aurangzeb which have been interpreted as ‘religious measures’. Were they taken in order to pamper the Turani Hanafi Sunni Muslim orthodox elements? For example such practices as tuladan (weighing against gold & silver) as well as jharokha darshan were stopped. Khafi Khan informs that Aurangzeb ‘gave up sitting at the jharokha and ordered people not to assemble for the ceremony’. Prohibition was imposed on the consumption of wine. The usual way of saluting (the chahar taslim) was also discouraged. The science of astrology was also banned and the patronage to the astrologers was withdrawn: no almanacs were to be made heretofore.

Then in 1664, Surat was sacked by Shivaji. Around the same time, Aurangzeb ordered that the custom duties on goods imported by the Muslims should be half as compared to the duty levied on the goods imported by the non-Muslims. This enhancement of duty by100% on goods imported by non-Muslims as compared to their Muslim counter-parts was apparently a discriminatory action of Aurangzeb. But some historians have tried to give and extended interpretation to this obviously discriminatory measure: a compensation for the lack of Muslim commerce!            

After this measure, the Muslims started importing goods belonging to the Hindu merchants in their own name and divided the surplus customs duty. This resulted in a loss to exchequer. Ultimately Aurangzeb withdrew the customs duty from the Muslims altogether.

Just after the accession, Aurangzeb ordered that the nobles should not wear the coloured garments: colours which were prohibited in Islam. Then he banned music which was considered un-Islamic. Musicians protested against this, and when Aurangzeb was going to offer prayers riding an elephant, musicians carried a fake funeral, all the time weeping. When asked, Aurangzeb was told that music had died and they were carrying its bier. Aurangzeb retorted bury it so deep that it never comes out again!

Sir Jadunath is of the opinion that it was banned because of religious considerations. But RP Tripathi is of the opinion, that in the same year in which the music was banned, the allowances of the princes and princesses were also curtailed. As we have already discussed that the early years of Aurangzeb were marked with a financial crisis. Thus to Tripathi, ban on music was an economic device curtailing unproductive matters.

 But one of the most important and relevant action taken by Aurangzeb in this connection was the liberal attitude towards the madad-i ma’ash holders (revenue free grantees). Madad-i ma’ash was maintenance grant to ulema and mashaikh so that they may pray for the long life of the emperor and the prosperity of the empire without concern for their maintenance. 90% of the recipients of such grants were Muslims. Sole justification for this was only that they should concentrate undisturbed in their academic pursuits. This grant was only in the form of land; rozina or daily cash allowance was very rare. In 1670’s and 80’s, Aurangzeb was having political problems with the zamindars: as has been argued, the Jat rebellion, the Rathore rebellion, etc were all zamindar uprisings. Ninety percent of the zamindars were Hindus; and by and large (i.e., around 70%) of the Jagirdars were Muslims. That is why Sir Jadunath Sarkar defined it as a ‘Hindu Reaction’. Secondly, the zamindars were concentrated in the villages. What Aurangzeb did was that to counteract the growing influence of the zamindars in the rural areas, he (a) created Muslim zamindars at the village levels to counteract the growing influence of the Hindu zamindars; and (b) He made madad-i ma’ash holders permanent and in some places, hereditary – just at par with the zamindari rights.   

We have the evidence from Tarikh-i Aurangzeb of Abul Fazl Mamuri. Mamuri says that before his departure from Deccan (before 1681), Aurangzeb was faced with a Jagirdari crisis. Mamuri used the phrase: hama ālam bējāgīr mand.

Before his departure for the Deccan, Mamuri says, Aurangzeb exercised care and caution in granting promotions or fresh appointments to the Rajputs. And the jagis so saved, by placing restrictions on promotions and appointments to Rajputs, became loaves and fishes which Aurangzeb gave to the Muslims to consolidate them behind the throne. It appears that Aurangzeb succeeded in his plans.

We have seen that the institution of the monarchy had been weakened by the way Aurangzeb ascended the throne. A new prestige had to be added to the institution of the monarchy if the same process was to be avoided: and that is why Aurangzeb made a deliberate attempt to attach religious sanctity to the institution of the monarchy. That is why Aurangzeb chose to be known as Alamgir and zindapir. He made a determined and deliberate attempt to prove his vigour and to emerge as a vigorous king by sanctioning military expeditions. He failed as natural geographical barriers had been reached during the reign of Shahjahan. And when he failed on the political front and a chain reaction started, he tried to conceal his failures behind the shield of emphasising on Shariat. Ultimately, the die was cast and the day of all precautionary measures dawned when in 1679, his youngest son Prince Akbar revolted and wrote a very nasty letter to his father in which he pointed out that ‘you are responsible for the death of Shah Shuja, Dara and so forth, and now it is you who are teaching morality…’. But the fiasco, with which the rebellion of Akbar ended with his flight to Persia, is the conclusive evidence that Aurangzeb had succeeded in binding the Muslim aristocracy behind the Mughal throne by emphasising the Shariat laws. It was in the same year that Jizya was imposed. Why did Aurangzeb not impose the jizya from 1658 to 1679? What was the sudden need now?

• Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi