By Sushil Kutty
Who hasn’t heard of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb? Those who did not are being fed a healthy diet of Aurangzeb these past few days, ever since the fate of the Gyanvapi Mosque of Kashi/Banaras/Varanasi became a subject of intense strife and discussion in a country where places of worship are bones of contention. History school books have at least one chapter on Aurangzeb, and there used to be an Aurangzeb Road in the heart of New Delhi till not long ago, but which now goes by another name.
There is a road in the name of Aurangzeb’s great grandfather ‘Akbar the Great’. Fact is, the Mughals were spoken of with awe in the days before Modi. Now, these days of Modi, the Mughals haven’t fared well. Akbar Road has been spared the fate of Aurangzeb Road but it remains in the twilight zone. Another couple of “appearances” of ‘Shivlings’ in assorted temples of medieval vintage across India and the day won’t be far off when “they” will be uprooting the Mughal Garden in Rashtrapati Bhavan with a pickaxe if nothing else!
Aurangzeb ruled “Hindustan” for 49 years, the longest any Mughal emperor did. School textbooks steered clear of Aurangzeb’s crusades against Hindu temples, their desecration as well as destruction. Early historians of independent India wrote of Aurangzeb’s military exploits, but they didn’t dwell on why Emperor Aurangzeb razed temples to good old earth, Come to think of it, most of them chose to leave Aurangzeb to his devices, like he was left to his own devices during the time he was alive.
Those days of yore, it was out of a healthy fear of Aurangzeb that he was left alone to commit some of the worst monstrosities. But what schoolchildren got to read of Aurangzeb was that he was pious, and an ascetic in life. That he kept a mighty sword, and that there still remain pictures of his curved dagger never travelled too far. Also, there is the fable of how Aurangzeb was almost crushed underfoot by a mad elephant who backed off when it felt the tip of Aurangzeb’s lance on its trunk.
Being a dyed-in-the-wool Muslim, questions shouldn’t be asked why he held a grudge against temples.. Aurangzeb also imposed the jiziya tax on the Hindus and his wars against the Marathas did not make him a friend of the Hindus though he had more Hindus in his bureaucracy than any of the other Mughal emperors.
The way things panned out it was clear that Aurangzeb had a thing against the Visvesvara Temple of Kashi. Rebuilt perhaps for the nth time, Aurangzeb invaded Benares in 1664 but Visvesvara was saved by a fierce band of the Dasanami Naga Sannyasis. Aurangzeb returned defeated, and repelled.
But for how long? Aurangzeb returned in 1669! This time there were no Naga sanyasis to the rescue. The temple was put to the sword with hatred to spare and the Gyanvapi Mosque was allegedly built in its place. Today, all that is left is the tussle over the antecedents and the future of the Gyanvapi Mosque. The descendants of the heathens living under Aurangzeb’s jiziya yoke can’t wait to reverse engineering!
The story goes that Aurangzeb couldn’t stomach reports that the Bráhmans of Benáres were teaching ‘wicked sciences’ to everybody who came under their spell, Hindu or convert. The destruction of the Visveswara Temple is recorded in the Maasir-i-Alamgiri. The temple was rebuilt by Rani Ahalyabai Holkar in 1777. By then Aurangzeb had passed on to the Apache’s happy hunting grounds.
Today, “they” and “them” are fighting over Aurangzeb, some against him, and some with him. The early historians of post-independent India had the opportunity to write history with an impartial pen, but they gave their own ideological slant to Aurangzeb’s legacy and what we have is a hybrid account of the life and times of Muhi-ud-Din Muhammad who went by the sobriquet Aurangzeb Alamgir—ornament of the throne, and conqueror of the world! He could as well have added ‘Gyanvapi’ to the grand royal title. (IPA Service)