Some Controversial and Discriminatory Measures of Aurangzeb: Music “Ban”, imposition of Jizya and Attitude towards Temples

There are three very controversial and disputed measures initiated by Aurangzeb during his five decade rule: the Imposition of Jizya, a discriminatory tax on Hindus, the demolition of temples and the ban of music which was considered “un-Islamic”.

Let us here analyse these three measures of Aurangzeb.

All these three measures were discriminatory and aimed to humiliate the non-Muslims.


It has been points out that it was 22 years after his ascent to the throne that Aurangzeb decided to impose the jizya on the Hindus, and this may have actually been a response to the outbreak of rebellions of the Marathas, Sikhs, Jats and others. Certain classes of Hindus, including government officials, were exempted from the jizya, while, at the same time, Aurangzeb made arrangements for the zakat to be collected from Muslims. ML Bhatia in his book writes that “It is also stated that long before jizya was imposed, Aurangzeb had ordered the abolition of a number of unauthorized taxes which placed heavy burden on the Hindus” (p. 52). He admits that one of the aims of imposing the jizya, as the court ulema saw it, was to degrade the Hindus, and this naturally caused considerable ill-will and resentment among them. That the financial aspect of the jizya was not seen by the ulema as equally important as its symbolism is reflected in the fact that the total collection from the jizya was only slightly more than the money spent on collect- ing it, with much of the money collected going into the pockets of corrupt officials. And as for the resumption of tax-free land grants to Hindu priests and yogis, this was only a temporary measure in the wake of Hindu-led rebellions and that when these subsided the edict was allowed, for all practical purposes, to lapse.

Jizya was a discriminatory tax, alright. And of course it was humiliative, but then the Rajputs were exempted, the Brahmins were exempted and all those who were in the Mughal service were exempted! In terms of collection, the jizya was graded: the richest man was to pay Rs.12/= per annum, while the less prosperous was supposed to pay Rs.8/= per annum. According to Jadunath Sarkar, it was ` 3 ¼ , 6 2/3 and 3 1/3 per annum for the three classes.

The most pinching aspect of the Jizya was that it was a tax on the poor, who had to pay an average of one month’s salary as tax.

Temple Destruction:

As early as 1669 orders were issued (says JN Sarkar) to demolish all the schools and temples of the ‘infidels’. Thus for example, the Maasir-i Alamgiri notes, the Temple of Malarna in Jaipur was demolished.

When the Rathor Rebellion was on the verge of breaking out and Aurangzeb had decided to award the tika to Inder Singh, the widow of late Jaswant Singh vehemently protested and through a letter written to Aurangzeb, reproduced by the Waqai Ajmer in Bikaner Archives, offered to break every temple in the Jodhpur region if Aurangzeb agreed to award tika to her candidate and not to Indar Singh. Aurangzeb refused. However this letter does reveal that it was widely believed that the emperor would be please by vandalising the temples. Aurangzeb’s refusal however reveals that he resorted to temple destruction only in certain situations.

It was, however in 1679 itself, only after the Rathores had revolted, that the orders for the destruction of temples were given. Probably these orders were partly in retaliation of the Rathore rebellion, for a number of temples were demolished in Jodhpur. Some of the most famous shrines demolished were the Somnath (Gujarat), the Vashvanath (Varanasi) and the Keshava Rai (Mathura). In January 1680 Aurangzeb ordered the demolition of three temples standing on the edge of Udai Sagar. If we believe SR Sharma, at Udaipur 172 temples were broken. In Chitor the number stood at 63.

Contrarily we also have well-documented evidences of Aurangzeb’s patronage of various Hindu religious institutions, namely temples, maths, grants to Brahmins and pujaris:

Land grants were renewed to the temples at Mathura, Banaras, Gaya, Gauhati, and others, while the emperor is known to have donated ghee for the navadeep in a few temples, including the Mahabateshwar temple at Agra;

Gifts were offered to the Sikh gurudwara at Dehradun;

Madad-i ma’ash grants, as listed in the Rajasthan documents, were continued to a math of Nathpanthi yogis in parganaDidwana, sarkar Nagor;

Grants were also made to Ganesh Bharti faqir and his successors in pargana Siwana with the instructions that the faqir should not be disturbed so he could ‘pray for this sultanat’.

The Vrindavan document of 1704 referred to a parwana which sanctioned the rights of Chaitanya gosains who had founded Vrindavan and established pilgrimages in Braj Bhumi, and recognised the right of Brajanand Gosain to receive a fee from the followers of the sect on account of kharj sadir o warid, that is, expenses on guests and travellers from each village. In effect, it was a government levy for the benefit of Brajanand Gosain and his Vaishnavite followers.

We have a farman of Aurangzeb which he issued to Balaji temple of Chitrakut. It begins with the symbolic Allah-o-Akbar (Allah is great) incantation. Below the invocation is the royal seal of Aurangzeb, whose orders saw the destruction of several Hindu shrines. And then comes the farmaan (regal notice), extending royal patronage to the Balaji temple and its erstwhile priest. Mahant Balak Das, Penned on the 19th day of Ramzaan in the 35th year of Aurangzeb’s tenure (June 16, 1691), the farmaan is now a part of Chitrakoot’s folklore.

From the above description, Aurangzeb’s patronage to temples appears without doubt. And yet some temples were attacked, while others were spared. This aberration in the emperor’s attitude can be explained by only one rationale: it was not iconoclasm, but reprisal for rebellion or political misconduct or disloyalty to the emperor.

This exposition can be applied to understand the attack on the Vishwanath temple at Kashi, the Keshav Dev temple at Mathura, and several prominent temples in Rajasthan. In 1669, during a zamindar revolt in Banaras, it was suspected that some of them had assisted Shivaji in his escape from imperial detention. It was also believed that Shivaji’s escape was initially facilitated by Jai Singh, the great-grandson of Raja Man Singh, who had built the Vishwanath temple. It was against this background that Aurangzeb ordered the destruction of that temple in September 1669.

Around the same time, in a Jat rebellion that had erupted in the neighbouring regions of Mathura, a patron of the local congregational mosque was killed, leading to Aurangzeb’s order in 1670 to attack the Keshav Dev temple at Mathura. Temples in Marwar and Mewar were also attacked following the death of Maharaja Jaswant Singh to reprimand and crush the Rathor rebellion and the development of a Sisodia– Rathor alliance. These included temples in Khandela patronised by rebel chieftains; temples in Jodhpur maintained by a former supporter of Dara Shukoh; and the royal temples in Udaipur and Chittor patronised by Rana Raj Singh after the Rana entered into an alliance with the Rathors that signalled the withdrawal of loyalty to the Mughal State. It may be observed that the Rathor rebellion was not a reaction or a protest against the re-imposition of jizya. Instead, this re-imposition, as Abu’l Fazl Ma’muri observed in the context of the suppression of the Satnami revolt and prior to the emperor’s expedition to Ajmer, was meant for ‘the affliction of the rebellious unbelievers’.

Farman of Aurangzeb and Balaji Temple of Chitrakoot

Jizya and temple destruction were both discriminatory policies. But then we have evidence of grants to the temples as well. A number of documents published in the Journal of the Bombay Historical Society as well as the Pakistan Historical Society mention a number of such grants to hindu temples by Aurangzeb. These documents testify to a number of villages being sanctioned for the upkeep of the temples.[eg. The Vrindavan temples and the ‘Nonidhara Temple at Bahraich].

A Contradictory Policy?

So was there a contradiction in the personality of Aurangzeb? It was not. There was a contradiction in the situation which reflected in the policies of Aurangzeb. Nothing can stay static and yet survive. Aurangzeb knew that change was called for. However, he committed the mistake that he forgot that the religious revival was not the solution for the Mughal problems.

Let us take contemporary evidence. Bhimsen is the author of Nuskha-i Dilkusha. His is an eye-witness account of the military expedition in the Deccan. He was the peshkar of Dalpat Rao Bundela, an outstanding officer of Aurangzeb and is extremely critical of Aurangzeb’s Deccan policy. According to him Aurangzeb followed a policy of qila’ giri while the Marathas controlled the lands. Because of this policy, the area from where formerly gold coins were realized, now not even copper was forthcoming. Thus Bhimsen was quite critical of Aurangzeb, but then what is important to mark is that never does he criticize Aurangzeb on religious ground. He mentions the imposition of jizya but without any rancour.

No Hindu writer of Aurangzeb’s period, whether it is Bhimsen, or Isardas Nagar, the author of Futuhat-i Alamgiri or Sujan Rai Bhandari are critical of Aurangzeb on the grounds of the re-imposition of jizya or the destruction of the temples. These contemporary historians are infact silent on the religious policy of Aurangzeb and from their rading it appears that neither the line taken by Hindu communal historians, headed by Sir Jadunath Sarkar, and followed by S.R.Sarma, and Ashirbadilal Srivastava, nor the line taken by Muslim communal historians headed by Shibli and followed by I.H.Qureshi and others satisfactorily explains the religious policy of Aurangzeb and the stresses and strains to which the Indian Society was subjected to during the second half of the 17th Century.

In fact both the set of arguments are not supported by the contemporary accounts of Bhimsen or the others. Prof. M. Athar Ali deals with this problem in his book as well as in one of his papers.

According to his general assessment, in order to assess the results of Aurangzeb’s religious policy, one should imagine, not the India of the 19th Century with a new national as well as religious consciousness, motivating the various sections of the people, but of a period when vital loyalties to one’s caste or master superseded to a considerable degree other claims upon one’s conscience. In so far as Aurangzeb was careful to respect some privileges, e.g., exemption of the Rajputs from jizya or to exempt temples commanding great devotion (e.g., Puri or Thanjavur Temples) or temples built by loyal officials, he on his own part, recognized that there was a limit beyond which it was impolitic to go.

But above all, according to Athar Ali, one should remember that Aurangzeb’s policy could not be implemented as rigorously as it could be prescribed on paper. This was particularly true in relation to the temple destruction. A few prominent temples could not be saved; but local shrines were often a matter of adjustment with local officials, as the official news-reports from Ajmer testify.

On the whole, while one might deplore the long term effects of Aurangzeb’s Religious policy, specially the way it echoes poison and embitter modern minds. Its short term effects were probably not very significant. To a writer like Bhimsen, who though loyal to the Mughal cause, is also capable of being a friendly critic, the real problem with Aurangzeb was the increasing economic pressure on the peasantry, in which connection he lists the jizya, and the way Aurangzeb was concentrating on taking forts while leaving the country to the Marathas. He does not seem to think that Aurangzeb’s religious measures by themselves had any role in his difficulties. So also Manucci, whose long discourse on the ills of the Mughal Empire in the last years of Aurangzeb’s reign, does not even once brings in the question of any popular hostility aroused against Aurangzeb on account of his religious policy.

One may, on the whole, say that given Aurangzeb’s personal inclination, his religious policy was framed to win some sectional support in a period of political difficulty. The support he won on this basis was probably limited; the support he lost was perhaps even more limited. But the ills of the Mughal Empire were far more deep rooted than to be cured by such measures, or for that matter, be made much worse.

Aurangzeb and Music:

It is generally stressed that one of the worst sufferers during the reign of Aurangzeb was the art of Music. It has been argued that Aurangzeb being a bigot was against music which he banned soon after ascending the throne. There has been an overwhelming reliance on just two near contemporary sources, Manucci’s Storia do Mogor (begun 1699) and Khafi Khan’s Muntakhab al-Lubab (begun 1718). According to Manucci, he not only ‘banned’ music from the court but also arrested those from whose houses he heard its sound. He would also break the instruments. This resulted in a ‘great destruction of musical instruments as well.

However we have a different kind of information as well.

After the death and execution of Dara, we have evidence (cited by Jadunath, vol. III) that Aurangzeb demanded from Shahjahan women singers of Dara. Why? – ‘As there is no skilled songstress with me whose music may soothe my ears!’

Even after 1668 when the ban on music is said to have been imposed, we find that music still remained not only as part of court functions – the ensemble – but also within the haram. Manucci himself tells us that music remained allowed for queens and the princesses. Manucci also provides us with the names of 33 Superintendants in the haram who were ‘overseers of music’. They had Hindu names – Surosh Bai, Chanchal Bai, Dhyan Bai etc – who were however Muslims. Each had under her charge about 10 apprentices. Manucci further informs us that each queen had her own set of musicians.

In a letter reproduced both by Ruqqat-i Alamgiri and Rag Darpan, written to his son Muhammad A‘zam Shah around c.1690 Aurangzeb demonstrates that, at least in private, the exact opposite was the case. In praising his own father’s way of life, he wrote:

After sunset he retired from the ‘Divan-i-Am’, offered evening prayers and (then) entered his special private chamber. There were present sweet tongued historians, eloquent story-tellers, sweet-voiced musicians [qawwalani khush al-han]. . .In short, His Majesty passed, till midnight, the hours of day and night, in this manner, and (thus) did justice to life and sovereignty. As (my) paternal love regarding (my) son is from the heart (i.e. true) and not from the pen (i.e. false), I was obliged to write and inform (my) dear son what was good and valuable.

bherī or dhol, from the chapter on instruments. Ghunyat al-Munya (British Library IO Islamic 1863, f. 47v)

It conclusively demonstrates contrary to expectation that he considered the patronage and performance of music, at least in relation to the qawwals, to be essentially ‘good and valuable’. In this letter he strongly recommends Shah Jahan’s practice to his son. It is impossible to argue on this basis that Aurangzeb actively discouraged his subjects from listening to music.

That his patronage was not simply a concession to court ceremonial is demonstrated by Bakhtawar Khan in the Mir’at-i ‘Alam, which describes Aurangzeb as possessing a ‘perfect expert’s knowledge’ of, and enjoying, the musical art. The high-ranking nobleman Faqirullah described Aurangzeb’s favourite singers and instrumentalists by name in 1666 in his musical treatise Rag Darpan, and noted the emperor’s enthusiastic enjoyment of their talents.

We have further evidence to show that music in fact was never buried deep!

More musical treatises in Persian were written during Aurangzeb’s reign than in the previous 500 years of Muslim rule in India, and all of them make significant references to current music making.

The two major Persian language works on music, the Rag Darpan and the Tuhfat ul Hind were written during Aurangzeb’s reign. Both works are very crucial for Hindustani music history. Rag Darpan was written in 1665 by Faqirullah, an expert of music recruited in Mughal service during the reign of Shahjahan. Under Aurangzeb he was not only bestowed a title, Saif Khan, but also elevated as the governor of three subas: Kashmir, Allahabad and Multan. The work is a translation of the famous treatise on music, Man Kautuhal originally written at Gwalior under Raja Man Singh Tomar (1486-1516).

Tuhfat ul Hind, on the other hand was written by a person known either as Mirza Jan / Mirza Khan / Mirza Muhammad. It is in five parts, of which one is totally devoted to music. One of its chapters deals with tala (musical metres). This work was written either for Aurangzeb or for his favourite son Prince Azam, a great patron of literature, poetry and music.

As Prince Azam was only fifteen years old in 1668, and died in the same year as his father, Katherine Butler Brown points out, his entire career as a patron coincided with the years of Aurangzeb’s supposed ‘ban’. A‘zam was famous for his superior musicianship. According to Bindraban Das, (Safina-i Khushgu), he was unequalled in his knowledge of the fundamentals of music and dance, and even the great masters asked his advice. He possessed a perfect command of many genres of Hindavi poetry, and he was above all famed for his excellent musical compositions.

Not only music continued to exist but it also actively evolved during this reign. this is demonstrated by the modern works of Bonnie C Wade and Katherine Butler Brown. Thus from a Sanskrit work – an important text on music – prepared during the same reign (1665) Sangitaparijata of Ahobala, we come to know that the tambur, a drone instrument, came to be indigenized and was available both in its fretted and unfretted version.

The reign of Aurangzeb was a reign of popularisation of music. The Mirzanama of Mirza Kamran, written no earlier than 1672, shows that musical patronage continued as customary amongst the Mughal amirs. The popular masnavi of Muhammad Akram Ghanimat, Nairang-i ‘Ishq, written in 1685, makes extensive (if partly allegorical) commentary on the presence of musicians and dancers at mehfils he attended, one of whom he famously fell in love with. A large number of Aurangzeb’s amirs are remembered as patrons of music during his reign, including many who were his close associates and relatives. The father of Aurangzeb’s principal wife, Shah Nawaz Khan Safavi, is described in the Ma’asir al-Umara’ as having ‘given his heart to rag. . . He gathered together singers and instrumentalists, the like of which were not to be found in any other place at that time’.


The above discussion brings out the fact that all these measures of Aurangzeb are not so simple to interpret. At the time of Rathor Rebellion Prince Akbar had written a letter to his father reminding him of the fact that he (Aurangzeb) could never have gained the thrown but for the support of the Rajputs. The fact that most Hindu nobles had kept supporting Aurangzeb is well established. So why was he imposing Jizya and demolishing temples? He took these measures only in face of rebellions against his rule. For 22 years he did not think of Jizya, as no revolt had occurred. He forbade Rani Hadi to demolish temples in Jodhpur inspite of her offer, simply because there was no need. No rebellion had occurred. And when an area became zor talab, he had no option.

Similarly the curtailment of music was also aimed as an economic measure. The music was never “buried”, it in fact flourish, and even percolated down to the masses. His son too was into music and dance!

Aurangzeb was nothing but a sovereign dictator whose policies were aimed at furthering his empire.

• Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi