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Correcting the distortion of Indian medieval history about Aurangzeb and Dara Shikoh

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Conferences like the one held at IGNCA on Aurangzeb and Dara Shikoh are significant in not only correcting the distortion of history but also in helping India make the transition from the pseudo-secular to the secular

The Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts in New Delhi recently played host to a unique conference organised by the Foundation Against Continuing Terrorism (FACT) on  Aurangzeb and Dara Shikoh — The Tale of two Brothers and also an exhibition on the lives of these two individuals. This was the first such event which aimed at correcting a major distortion in our understanding of medieval history.

The conference and exhibition brought out the huge divergence in the lives of these two sons of Shah Jahan and sought to drive home the point that some course-correction was necessary in our understanding of these two medieval characters. The pseudo-secular environment that prevailed in the country since Independence had ensured that the tyrannical Aurangzeb was remembered and even glorified while Dara Shikoh, who was a serious student of religions and a promoter of secular values and an eclectic philosophy, was condemned to obscurity.

The conference dwelt on the distinct life styles of the brothers and the sharp difference in their approach to Islam and Hinduism. As regards to Aurangzeb, the following points were highlighted: Aurangzeb issued an order to his Governors on April 9, 1669, to demolish the schools and temples of the Hindus leading to the destruction of hundreds of temples, including the Kashi Vishwanath temple at Benaras, the Krishna Temple at Mathura and the Somnath Temple. Following the destruction of the temple at Mathura, he built a lofty Masjid at that site. The idols were brought to Agra and buried under the steps of the mosque of begum sahib “in order to be continually trodden upon”.

Ten years later, on April 2, 1679, he imposed jizya — a tax that the Hindus had to pay in order to continue to practice their faith. The list is endless, but here are a few more nuggets from the life of this man which have remained hidden: He offered Government jobs and commutation of prison terms for those who converted to Islam; in April, 1665, he fixed different rates of customs duty for imported goods for Muslims (2.5 per cent) and Hindu merchants (five per cent); in 1668, he prohibited all Hindu fairs; in 1671, he dismissed all Hindu head-clerks and accountants and hired Muslims in their place.

Aurangzeb was most vengeful when he dealt with the Sikhs. He ordered the destruction of Sikh places of worship, imprisoned Guru Tegh Bahadur and beheaded him after torturing him for many days because he refused to convert to Islam. He continued the assault on Sikhism during the tenure of Guru Gobind Singh and killed four of his sons. Historian Jadunath Sarkar has chronicled these decisions and actions taken by Aurangzeb.

Now, let us take a look at Aurangzeb’s brother, Dara Shikoh. Dara was an ardent student of religion. He studied the Talmud and the New Testament, the Hindu Vedanta and the writings of the Muslim Sufis. He took the help of Hindu pundits and wrote a Persian version of the Upanishads. It is said that he was keen to find a common ground between Hinduism and Islam and the universal truths that are common to all religions.

He learnt at the feet of Lal Das, a Hindu yogi and a Muslim teacher called Faqir Sarmad to develop his philosophy. One of his works was titled Majmua-ul- Bahrain (the mingling of two oceans) and it aimed at finding a meeting point between Hinduism and Islam. Jadunath Sarkar talks of how Dara Shikoh was branded a heretic before being murdered by Aurangzeb: “The pliant theologians in the emperor’s pay signed a decree that Dara deserved death on the ground of infidelity and deviation from Islamic orthodoxy”. The official history published under Aurangzeb’s authority justified this act of political murder thus: “The pillars of the canonical law and faith apprehended many kinds of disturbance from his life. So, the emperor, both out of necessity to protect the faith and holy law, and also for reasons of state, considered it unlawful to allow Dara to remain alive any longer as a destroyer of the public peace”.

These pointers provide us a basic outline of the lives of these two individuals. Everything Aurangzeb stood for militates against the core values of our Constitution. On the other hand, Dara Shikoh’s scholarly and philosophical pursuits match well with our Constitutional goal of ensuring equity and equality and unity in diversity.  Given these facts, how could secular, democratic India glorify a despot like Aurangzeb and dump Dara Shikoh in the dustbin of history?

The Nehruvian political leadership and the intellectuals who hovered around it went so far in their anti-secular enterprise that they even named a major arterial road in Delhi after Aurangzeb. This distortion was corrected a couple of years ago when this road was re-named as APJ Abdul Kalam Road. However, such is the mindset of the pseudo-secular school, which has made the establishment hostage to it for over six decades, that many adherents of this school sprang to Aurangzeb’s defence when his name was struck off the map.

Actually, the name change represents the advance of a nation from the vestiges of medieval barbarism to the most democratic and modern ideas that someone like Kalam stood for. Those who opposed the renaming of Aurangzeb road, argued that this was an attempt to obliterate history. This is a specious argument on two counts.

First, no such argument was ever advanced when dozens of roads and landmarks in Delhi, which were named after the British, were renamed over the last 50 years. Second, how can one wipe out the cruelty and violence unleashed by Aurangzeb on his Hindu subjects merely by removing his name from an arterial road in Delhi?

The question, therefore, is not why Aurangzeb Road is now named APJ Abdul Kalam Road. The question we must put to ourselves is: Why did the Indian state glorify such a cruel and rabid Muslim communalist like Aurangzeb all these years? Who was behind this horrendous idea and why was this atrocity committed on the nation’s plural, democratic fabric and allowed to continue for six decades after the adoption of a constitution with the most cherished secular and democratic values?

The conference and exhibition organized by Francios Gautier, the force behind FACT, constitute yet another important step in India’s transition from the pseudo-secular to the secular and from the medieval to the modern.

By A Surya Prakash

(The writer is Chairman, Prasar Bharati)

Courtesy: Daily Pioneer

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