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Aurangzeb: The Myth and The Man- Review

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Title: Aurangzeb: The Myth and The Man

Author: Audrey Truschke

Publication: Penguin Viking


Pages: 189

Price: Rs. 399

Aurangzeb Alamgir was the Emperor of Hindustan from 1658 to 1707. He is perceived as Hindu hater, murder and a religious zealot. The Hindu Nationalists came to power with a massive mandate in the 21st century. They renamed Aurangzeb Road in Lutyen’s Delhi after Dr A. P. J. Kalam, former President of India.

History is an objective and scientific study of the past. It is a modern concept, originated in Western Europe, thanks to the cultural revolutions—renaissance and enlightenment. The world became man-centric and to be more precise—Euro-centric as the history of enlightenment is intertwine with the colonialism.  For the most of the non-European world history was the past and colonialism impacted the way non-European societies and communities remember their past. India is no exception. Indian intellectuals right from the first modern Indian Historian, Sir Jadunath Sarkar to Jawaharlal Nehru, believed that Aurangzeb was an aberration to Indian syncretic cultural. Audrey Truschke argues that the Aurangzeb storyline is peddled by colonial era intellectuals and it has been influenced by the colonial strategy of ‘Divide and Rule”.  In a brilliant biography of Aurangzeb, the sixth emperor of Hindustan, she says, “As discussed, two visions of Aurangzeb feature in public discourse: Aurangzeb, the Bigot and Aurangzeb the Pious. Especially misleading – and, at times, destructive—is the former image of Aurangzeb as a fanatic bent on destroying Hindus and Hinduism. Politicians and other in India deploy this notion in order to stir up anti-Muslim sentiments and brand Muslims as dangerous traitors.” Indians are very much familiar with labels like “Babur Ki Aulad” popularised by the Hindu Nationalists during their campaign for the replacement of Babri Mosque with Ram Janmabhoomi Mandir in Ayodhya. After the Mosque in Ayodhya, Hindu nationalists are targeting Aurangzeb. It appears that they are following the agenda of the colonialism.

“My narrative of Aurangzeb revolves around his attempts to pursue these core values, above all justice and includes instances in which he forfeited his ideals in the hunt for raw power”, explains the author. The fact sheet tells that Aurangzeb never sponsored forced conversions of Hindus, during his reign the number of Hindu Nobles in Mughal administration increased from 21.6 to 31. 6 percent. The biography also discusses in detail the desecration of Hindu Temples and shrines during Aurangzeb’s reign. The Sixth Mughal emperor demolished only a dozens of Hindu temples while sponsoring hundreds of temples and priests. He issued dozens of orders that directed officials to shield temples from unwanted interferences, granted land to Hindu communities and provided a stipend to Hindu spiritual figures. In 1672 Aurangzeb issued an order recalling all endowed lands given to Hindus and reserving all such future grants for Muslims. Interestingly, this order was not followed anywhere in the empire except in select areas such as Punjab.

Mughal Emperor though Muslim adopted several Hindu customs like weighing themselves in gold and silver and distributing that wealth to the poor. It was Akbar, who started this and it was followed by Jahangir, Shaha Janha and Aurangzeb as well. Later, Aurangzeb discontinued this annual ritual but in the fag end of his life, he realised the utility of this custom.  He was not a cross-cultural pioneer on par with Akbar but he supported large-scale intellectual projects such as the Fatawa-I Alamgiri and was the dedicatee for multiple Persian Ramayana. He was not a monumental builder like Shah Jahan but he was not far off either as he built Lahore’s Badshahi Masjid that holds 60,000 people. He was not sorry for murdering his brothers to claim the throne but the guilt of imprisoning his own father, Shah Janha haunted him during his lifetime.  Unlike his predecessors, who rested in monumental tombs, Aurangzeb wished that his remains to be buried at an obscure place called Khuldabad and the grave should be open to the sky.

The book demystifies the 6th Emperor of Hindustan and is lucid and captivating. It is meant for the general readers as there are not footnotes, though the author has offered chapter-wise bibliography at the end. Each and every statement or observation is supported by documentary evidence and inferences have been reasoned carefully. Audrey Truschke is an assistant professor of South Asian history at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey. Her first book, Culture of Encounters: Sanskrit at the Mughal Court investigates the literary, social and political roles of Sanskrit as it thrived in the Persian-speaking Mughal courts. Aurangzeb: The Myth and The Man, started with a Twitter when somebody suggested her to write the biography of Aurangzeb.