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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Letter of Shivaji Maharaj to Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb protesting RE-imposition of Jaziya | Mughal Emperors Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan & Rana Raj Singh of Mewar also mentioned

Many of you might be aware of the recent debate that raged regarding the 'secular' vs 'bigoted' credentials of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb after a road in Delhi, earlier named after him, was renamed after the visionary former President of India - the Late Abdul Kalam. Let's keep the debate of re-naming the road aside and focus on Aurangzeb and his personality.

Historians and researchers are at loggerheads in trying to categorize Aurangzeb, each side ready with some sets of historical references to strengthen their views.

I was following this debate very closely for a long time, and recently finished reading some of the contemporary, voluminous works on Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb & his farmans. His farmans and personal letters are also present in the Rajasthan state archives at Bikaner. We owe a lot to the tireless efforts of Late Mr. Khadgawat, former Director of Rajasthan State Archives who collected a lot of rare farmans lying unused in the private collections of the Rajas of various erstwhile princely states of Rajasthan. Very interesting perspectives about Aurangzeb emerge from those accounts. Let us reserve that story for another day.

During this reading process, my views about this Mughal Emperor oscillated a lot - one moment he appeared to be a devil who was hell bent at converting Hindustan into an Islamic state, the next moment some of his farmans were like a glimpse of sunshine in the darkness, as he had also given a FEW farmans for land grants to Hindu temples.

Confusing, isn't it? The man whose image is that of one who destroyed temples was also the one who issued some farmans giving land grants to temples! Some historians have given a reason for this - and the reason was political. According to them, he destroyed temples of his political enemies. However, one finds it difficult to agree with this (defence?) because this is ONLY one side of the coin. Even the temples of Amer were not spared. 66 temples were destroyed in Amer in a single day on his orders, though Amer was a long-time ally of the Mughal empire. Aurangzeb's own records mention a fight which took place to save a temple in Amer but the temple could not be saved. The temple was constructed in Amer during the reign of Mughal Emperor Akbar.

Readers may find it interesting to read an old blog article written about the personality of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb : Aurangzeb - Personality | Assessment

However, such a defence of any debated historical character is not new. For example, even Adolf Hitler is also "praised" by some scholars for some of his "good" acts. Surprised? Just Google for the "good acts of Hitler" and you will get countless such acts of Hitler praised by a section of media. Many of them go on to claim that the life of the German people during the Third Reiche was better than under any previous regime. This does not, in any way, alter my opinion about Hitler. He may have some good deeds to his credit but his evil deeds far outweigh the good ones. We need to take into account, all the aspects. The Holocaust still sends shivers down our spine.

Mughal Emperor Akbar is another complex personality who is hard to understand. His good deeds far exceed the brutal and bad ones. Ironically, just like praise for some of the 'good' acts of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb attracts criticism, similarly the criticism of some 'bad' deeds of Mughal Emperor Akbar is equated to blasphemy!

I believe these people cannot escape criticism or praise, albeit in a varying manner.

Finally, after a lot of brainstorming and taking into view the opinions of many scholars from various schools of thoughts, i have acquired a somewhat clear understanding of Aurangzeb. But, i wanted to know how someone from the 17th century viewed Aurangzeb. 

It was then that i stumbled upon a letter which was written by Shivaji to Aurangzeb. In this letter, Shivaji has registered his protest against the re-imposition of Jazia - a tax extracted from Non-Muslims. This tax was not extracted by the Mughal Emperors before Aurangzeb.

From this letter, we get to know a lot about many things of that era, including an insight into Aurangzeb's personality. It is important to mention that this is NOT the ONLY document by which we can summarize Aurangzeb in totality, but still this document is of exceptional historic value.

Apart from Aurangzeb, this letter also throws light on the character of Shivaji. He appears to be an astute diplomat. The letter was drafted in Persian by Shivaji's Persian secretary - Nila Prabhu and is written in very courteous language, yet, it "threatens" Aurangzeb of "dire consequences". Shivaji challenges Aurangzeb to FIRST extract Jazia from Rana Raj Singh of Mewar, and if he is successful, then Shivaji will also fall in line! This shows his unique skill of riling up his opponent even before the actual attack!

Without further wait, let us see the letter --

Shivaji talks about the event of escaping from Agra without taking leave from Aurangzeb, in his own unique fashion. Thereafter, he mentions about his services. It should be noted that Shivaji had made a pact with Aurangzeb and agreed to send his officer Sona Pandit with a contingent of 500 horses to Aurangzeb in September 1657, to which the latter agreed.
Shivaji's reminder to Aurangzeb - as the latter had spent most part of treasury in fighting. Shivaji reminds him to follow a tolerant policy and starts with the name of Mughal Emperor Akbar.

Shivaji also invokes name of Emperor Jahangir - as he also continued with the policies of his father. Shah Jahan is also mentioned as no Jazia was extracted during this time.

Shivaji condemns the bigotry of Aurangzeb

Shivaji warns Aurangzeb of more damage and highlights the crumbling state of the Mughal empire and the pathetic state of its citizens.

Shivaji tells Aurangzeb - the message of Quran

Shivaji underscores the message of the Quran and tells Aurangzeb that all men are equal in the eyes of God and should be treated with humanity.

Shivaji indirectly tells Aurangzeb that the latter is interfering in God's creation through his bigotry which is tantamount to finding fault with God's design. Shivaji tells him not to use his valour for oppressing the helpless people. Instead, he challenges Aurangzeb to collect jaziya from the Mewar Rana, as Mewar had been traditionally against the Mughal empire. 

Critically discussed and Annotated letter of Shivaji by Jadunath Sarkar
Modern Review, January 1908, Page-21-23

Thanks to Radhika for her valuable contribution.
Article Category : Mughals (Akbar) , Rajputs , Miscellaneous.

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