A name-game has started with the onset of New Year. This time, there's a concerted and consolidated effort to rename Aurangabad in Maharashtra as Sambhaji Nagar. In fact, hardcore Shiv Sainiks have been using the name Sambhaji Nagar in lieu of Aurangabad for nearly two decades because their party founder Bal Thackeray had 'renamed' it Sambhaji Nagar (after the name of Shivaji's son) a quarter of a century ago. Now the question is: Was Aurangzeb so bad and vicious as to be condemned as the 'Worst Mughal', to quote Indian (precisely, Hindu) historians Sacchidanand Sinha and Ishwari Prasad?
In her seminal tome, 'Culture of Encounters: Sanskrit at the Mughal Court,' the Stanford Post-Doctoral researcher Audrey Truschke is of the view that Aurangzeb was the most misunderstood Mughal because his certain alleged atrocities were amplified by the later-day historians, who called him a bigot of the first order and 'a humourless drybone' (to quote the late Akhilesh Mishra, the amateur but highly popular pop-historian of The Asian Age).
But that doesn't mean that he was a man without flaws. As a human and that too as a supreme ruler of the subcontinent, he committed certain blood-curdling atrocities -- incarcerating his father, executing his elder brother Dara Shikoh, who was to become the emperor, imposing Jaziya tax on Hindus and non-Muslims and converting legions of Hindus to Islam, torturing the ninth Sikh Guru Tegh Bahadur and executing him, also executing Shivaji's son Sambhaji who refused to embrace Islam. The list of his atrocities is quite long.
But to quote the legendary British historian Sir Arnold Toynbee and ancient Roman historians Pliny the Jr. and Catullus, "A ruler's good-deeds and misdeeds must be juxtaposed to strike a perfect balance and then come to a conclusion whether he was indeed good or vile." So very true. The great Roman emperor Julius Caesar was pathologically against the Neo-Pagans and was a confirmed rapist, who did not spare even the mother of his dearest friend Brutus (yes, he raped Brutus's mother and made her his concubine; read 'Rise and Fall of Roman Empire' by Sir Edward Gibbon and 'Rome, the Dome ' by Sir Collingwood). Brutus killed his friend Caesar not because he was concerned about Rome and the Senate. He was fuming that his friend and emperor had raped his mother and made her a concubine in his seraglio. But Caesar is considered to be a great and even just (!) emperor by most historians and students of Wikipedia and WhatsApp University.
Aurangzeb wasn't an archetypical anti-Hindu. Granted, he was a strict Muslim, who offered namaz nine times (yes, there're nine namaz in Islam, five are mandatory, 4 are optional) a day, he didn't take any action when his two trusted courtiers Eram Khan and Raqsool Usman accepted Hinduism and became Dhaniram and Raichand. They remained with Aurangzeb till they breathed their last. He didn't punish or banish his favourite erstwhile Muslim courtiers.
He was against music not because music is haram or prohibited in Islam, but because he considered music to be 'Inguzeer-ul-khwam' (Arabic for a frivolous pastime or an unnecessary indulgence). He had indeed made it prohibitory or haram for his Muslim subjects but Hindus could sing bhajan and keertan. Read his Arabic treatise 'Fatwa-ul-Alamgir' (The edicts of Aurangzeb; only two copies are left, one at Al-Azhar, Cairo, and another one at the Archives of Oxford University). He clearly mentioned that ' Mausiqi bin halaal ul but-parastaan, deeham az'zeega'r haram un-Momin' (Music is acceptable to the idol-worshippers, but completely unacceptable to Momin or a true Muslim).
A polyglot emperor (Aurangzeb was extremely fond of learning new languages and already knew Persian, Arabic, Rekhta, the earliest form of today's Urdu, Khari Boli Hindi), he was a patron of Braj Kaavya written in Braj, spoken in Bharatpur, Mathura, Deeg and Vrindavan. It was Aurangzeb who promoted Rekhta as a lingua franca and could write early Hindi in Devanagari script and in old Shaurseni (read Rahul Sankrityayan's out-of-print, 'Aurangzeb: Pahloo-dar-pahloo').
Though he was against Shivaji and Marathas and was here in the Deccan for nearly 40 years to thwart the juggernaut of Shivaji's army, Maratha court historian Kanhoji Phadnis mentioned that he was all praise for Shivaji's command of Persian. If he demolished 836 temples, he also constructed 423 new ones.
If Aurangzeb executed Dara Shikoh, he also had his allied brother, Murad Baksh, held for murder, judged and then decapitated in public. Mind you, Murad had killed a Hindu courtesan.
He was a just emperor who didn't like ostentation. It was Aurangzeb who sternly stopped his indulgent father Shah Jahan to build yet another Taj Mahal in black marble stone across Yamuna. Aurangzeb's logic was, because of his father's whims, the exchequer was already empty and now the New Taj in Black Stone would invite black days for the poor people. You can see at India House, London, his hand-written letter to his father Shah Jahan, admonishing for wasting public money for his whims and vagaries.
And yes, it was Aurangzeb, who stopped his father from chopping off the hands of all the artisans involved in the building of a masterpiece called Taj Mahal. Shah Jahan indeed wanted to cut the hands of the artisans so that they could never create a replica of it anywhere in the world but was stopped in his sanguinary design by his most infamous and utterly 'heartless' son, Aurangzeb.
So, readers, you had better judge whether Aurangzeb was really as execrable a character as projected by biased and ignorant historians? Let posterity dispassionately evaluate the man who's so vilified in the collective consciousness of all Hindus and Indians on the subcontinent.
Lastly, if at all we must change the name of a place, it's Bakhtiyarpur in Patna district in Bihar, named after the Turkish invader Bakhtiyar Khilji, who incinerated the famed Nalanda University in 1200 CE and massacred the monks, teachers and students.
The writer is an advanced research scholar of Semitic languages, civilisations and cultures.