Religious policy of the Mughul emperors, from Babur to Aurangzeb, has provided an ideal for the ruling class of India, viz., the ruling class of India should pursue a policy of religious toleration and equality. Babur and Humayun had no time to pursue a clear-cut religious policy.
Akbar followed the policy of religious toleration and also attempted for the cultural unity of India. His policy won him the favour of the majority of his subjects. He, therefore, succeeded in strengthening the Mughul empire.
Jahangir and Shah Jahan pursued the same religious policy in principle though sometimes differing in details. Aurangzeb reversed the policy of Akbar and tried to establish the supremacy of Islam in India. He failed in his attempt.
The failure of his religious policy contributed towards his failure and disintegration of the Mughul empire after his death. This provides a lesson to the Indian ruling class that religious intolerance is against the religious spirit, culture and way of life of the majority of the Indians. Therefore, the policy of religious intolerance can never bring about successful result in India.
Babur was a Sunni Muslim. He had complete faith in God but he was not a bigot. He had agreed to propagate Shia sect among his subjects when he had entered into a treaty with Shah Ismail of Persia. Certainly Babur exhibited intolerance in India on several occasions.
He declared wars against Rana Sanga and Medini Rai as Jihads (holy wars), assumed the title of Ghazi (slayer of infidels), abolished stamp-tax on the Muslims and built a mosque in Ayodhya. Yet, his aim was not religious but political. He took these measures only during the course of wars in order to inspire his followers.
Dr A.L. Srivastava writes:
“. . . his attitude towards his new subjects in this country was not as bad as that of most of the rulers of the Sultanate period.” Dr S.R. Sharma also writes- “There is no evidence of his ever having destroyed a Hindu temple or otherwise persecuted the Hindus on account of their religion.”
Dr R.P. Tripathi is even more inclined in his favour. He says that in fact it was Babur who started the policy of religious tolerance in India and emphasized on cultural integration through the administration. Thus, the majority of historians accept that Babur was not a bigot though he was true to his faith.
Humayun was also a Sunni Muslim and followed the principles of his faith in his personal life. But his policy was also tolerant. He was very much tolerant towards the Shias. His wife Hamida Banu Begum and his chief noble, Bairam Khan, were Shias. He was inclined towards Sufism also. Towards Hindus, of course, he became illiberal during the course of wars and even destroyed Hindu temples, yet he adopted no measure against them in times of peace.
Sher Shah was an Afghan ruler. Historians have differed regarding his religious policy. Dr K.R. Qanungo says that his treatment of the Hindus was respectful. Dr A.L. Srivastava writes- “Sher Shah’s personal feelings and views apart, he was, on the whole, a tolerant ruler and did think it wise to follow a policy of religious persecution. He left Hindus undisturbed and allowed them to follow their own religion without let or hindrance.”
Contrary to these views, Dr S.R. Sharma has expressed:
“Sher Shah was only a product of his own age as far as his religious policy was concerned. Like Feroz Shah before him, he combined administrative zeal with religious intolerance. His place in history does not depend upon his initiating a policy of religious toleration or neutrality.”
Personally Sher Shah practised the principles of Islam and, at times, tried to raise the prestige of Islam. He declared Jihad against Puran Mal of Raisin and butchered the Rajputs by treachery. He destroyed the Hindu temple at Jodhpur and raised a mosque in its place.
But, again, these instances are examples when he was fighting against the Hindus. In times of peace, he adopted no such measure. Therefore, mostly it is accepted that he did not engage himself in religious persecution.
The religious policy of Akbar was that of complete toleration. His policy was based on the principle of Suleh-i-kul (universal peace). Akbar was the first among the emperors of Delhi who pursued such a policy.
Dr R.P. Tripathi writes:
“A policy of enlightened and active sympathy for, and help to, all truly religious and spiritual movements had sometimes been attempted in provincial kingdoms, but never by the rulers of Delhi and Agra. It was Akbar, who, from the very beginning of his reign, gradually accepted a policy of dynamic toleration and active sympathy for religious and spiritual movements.”
Various factors were responsible for the liberal views and policy of religious toleration of Akbar. His father was Sunni while his mother and his protector, Bairam Khan were Shias. His tutor, Abdul Latif had so much liberal religious views that he was regarded a Sunni in Persia and a Shia in northern India. His career in India began in Punjab where saints like Guru Nanak had preached equality of Islam and Hinduism.
Therefore, Akbar grew up in liberal surroundings which affected his personal views. Besides, sixteenth century has been regarded as the century of religious revival in the world. India also did not remain behind and saints of Bhakti-cult and the Sufis preached religious toleration.
Dr H.N. Sinha writes:
“The sixteenth century is a century of religious revival in the history of the world. The grand currents of the reformation compare favourably with the staging up of a new life in India. India experienced an awakening that quickened her progress and vitalized her national life. The dominant note of this awakening was love and liberalism— love that united man to God and therefore to his brother man, and liberalism, born of this love that levelled down the barriers of caste and creed, and took its stand on the bed-rock of human existence and essence of all religions— Universal Brotherhood. With glorious ideals, it inspired the Hindu and Muslim alike and they forgot for a time the trivialities of their creed. To the Muslim as to the Hindu, it heralded the dawn of a new era, to the Muslim with the birth of the promised Mahdi, to the Hindu with the realization of the all-absorbing love of God.”
Akbar was certainly influenced by that spirit of his age. He became very liberal while he was quite young and even felt the necessity of acquiring spiritual knowledge. In the beginning of his reign, therefore, he abolished slave- trade in 1562 A.D., pilgrim-tax from the Hindus in 1563 A.D. and the Jizya in 1564 A.D.
Akbar was keen to know the truth of religion. He used to remember God, came in contact with saints and went on pilgrimage to Ajmer several times at the mausoleum of Sufi saint Shaikh Muin-ud-din Chishti. He also respected very much Shaikh Salim Chishti of Fatehpur Sikri.
In 1575 A.D., he constructed Ibadat Khana (House of worship) at Fatehpur Sikri in which regular discussions were held on Thursday evenings. In the beginning, only Muslim scholars were allowed to participate in discussions but when Akbar realised that there was no unanimity even among the Muslims regarding principles of Islam, he allowed scholars of all other faiths to participate in the discussions.
Akbar listened to discourses from scholars of all faiths including Hindus, Parsis, Jains, and Christians. He invited Christian missionaries at Goa thrice to his court and, thus, came in contact with Christianity. The Christian missionaries failed to influence Akbar in any way, yet, they were permitted to establish churches at Cambay, Lahore, Hugli and Agra. Jain scholars like Hira Vijay Suri, Jinchandra Suri, Vijaysen, Shantichandra etc. were also invited at the court. Akbar was deeply influenced by the principle of non-violence of Jainism.
In 1581 A.D., he prohibited the slaughter of sheep and horses; himself stopped taking meat for nine months in a year; stopped hunting which was his favourite pastime; and, in 1587 A.D. prohibited slaughter of animals for nearly six months in a year.
Dasturji Meharji, scholar of Persia was also invited by him who developed Akbar’s interest in the Parsi religion. Because of its influence Akbar started respecting Sun and fire. Fire was kept burning for twenty-four hours in his palace. He also participated in the festivals of the Parsis.
Hindu scholars, Purshottam and Devi constantly gave him discourses on Hinduism. By coming in their contact, Akbar developed faith in the Hindu principles of Karma and transmigration of soul. Thus, by coming in contact with scholars of all religions, Akbar realised that there was truth in every religion.
Akbar’s friends and relatives were also liberal. Abul Fazal and Faizi, his close friends were men of extreme liberal dispositions while his Rajput wives too must have participated in liberalising his views. Besides, his religious policy, no doubt, was also the result of his political motives. Some revolts of Muslims in beginning of his reign convinced him of the necessity of finding loyal allies elsewhere. Rajputs became his relatives. He was impressed by their loyalty and chivalry.
He attempted to befriend them so as to convert them as loyal servants of the throne. Therefore, it became necessary for him to respect Hinduism. Thus, the necessity of gaining sympathy of the majority of the subjects, viz., Hindus and that of winning the loyalty of chivalrous Rajputs which, put together, helped him in extension and consolidation of his empire, also convinced Akbar to pursue a liberal religious policy.
The policy of Akbar was based on equality of all religions, respect to all of them and faith in truth. This policy of Akbar evolved gradually. It began with abolition of some unjust laws, framing of a few others with a view to put people of all faith on equality and then gradually resulting in the construction of the Ibadat Khana and declaration of the so-called Infallibility Decree, ultimately, culminated in organisation of Tauhid-i-Ilahi or Din-i-llahi.
V.A. Smith explained the aim of Akbar’s religious policy in his own words thus:
“For an empire ruled by one head, it was a bad thing to have the members divided among themselves, at variance one with the other. . . . We ought, therefore, to bring them all into one, but in such fashion that they should be one and with the great advantage of not losing what is good in any one religion, while gaining whatever is better in another. In that way honour would be rendered to God, peace would be given to the people and security to the Empire.” Akbar attempted to achieve this aim right from the beginning of his reign. His abolition of pilgrim-tax and the Jizya, construction of the Ibadat Khana etc. were all done with this object in view.
On 22 June 1579 A.D., Akbar read his Khutba which ended with the word Allah-o-Akbar meaning that ‘God is great’. It never meant that Akbar, in any way, asserted Godhood for himself. After sometime in September, 1579 A.D., Akbar read Mahzar. It was prepared by Shaikh Mubarak, father of Abul Fazl and many respectable religious Muslims had signed it.
This Mahzar has been described by historians like V.A. Smith and Woolsely Haig as the Infallibility Decree of Akbar and they have commented that this meant that ‘Akbar desired to become emperor as well as Pope.’ But, their opinion is not accepted by the majority of historians. By this Khutba, Akbar simply took over the right to decide the cases of dispute regarding principles of Islam.
The decision, however, was not to be against the Koran. So far this right was enjoyed by Sadr- us-Sadur who was an officer of the Emperor. Therefore, it would be wrong to conclude that by taking over the right of one of his own officers to himself, Akbar had desired to become Pope or the religious head.
Akbar’s policy of religious toleration was based on his firm belief that there is truth in every religion.
To put into practice, he formed the following regulations:
1. People of all faiths i.e., Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Parsis, Jains were allowed to construct buildings for purpose of their worship, to propagate their faith peacefully and celebrate their religious fairs and festivals.
2. All these people who were forcibly converted to Islam were allowed to go back to their previous faith.
3. State services were thrown open to people of all faiths on merit.
4. Some religious texts of Hinduism like the Ramayana and the Mahabharat were translated into Persian.
5. Uniform taxation system was applied to all citizens.
6. No social distinction was to be observed among the people on the basis of differences of their religion and everybody was allowed to practise his social traditions and personal values.
7. Akbar personally observed certain practices. He started the practice of Jharokha Darshan and Tula-Dan and celebrated all festivals of the Hindus and the Muslims alike at the court. He stopped eating beef, reduced non-vegetarian diet, kept fire burning in the palace for twenty-four hours, stopped going on hunt, tried to stop unnecessary killing of birds and beasts and practised certain other measures as examples to others.
Thus, Akbar provided equal protection to all religions and the state made no distinction between its subjects in any field on ground of religion. He, of course, tried to check certain social practices i.e., allowed Hindu widows to remarry, stopped forcible sati and marriage among close relatives, fixed marriageable age for boys as sixteen and for the girls as fourteen, tried to check consumption of liquor and provided separate dwelling-places to prostitutes in cities. However, the purpose of these measures was not interference in matters of any religion but to check certain social evils.
The religious policy of Akbar has been criticised by historians like V.A. Smith and Woolseley Haig. They say that while Akbar tolerated every religion, he was intolerant towards Islam. They have formed this opinion because of the writings of the historian Badayuni and certain contemporary Christian missionaries. Badayuni had prepared a long list of all those acts of Akbar which, according to him, were done by him against Islam.
He charged that Akbar legalised muta-marriages; people were allowed to shave their beards in 1580 A.D.; those Mullas and Shaikhs who opposed Akbar were sent to Kandhar in 1581-82 A.D. and, in exchange, horses were procured; copies of the Koran were destroyed by Akbar, the study of Arabic was checked; the mosques were converted into stables for horses; pilgrimage for Haj was prohibited; Muslims were restrained from celebrating their religious festivals, etc.
However, these charges against Akbar have no evidences. Akbar never disrespected either the Koran or Prophet Mohammed, nor he prohibited celebrations of Muslim festivals. Pilgrimage to Mecca continued as before during his rule. Persian, of course, was made the court-language but it did not mean that the study of Arabic was deliberately neglected.
Probably, during the course of wars, vacant mosques were used as resting places by the soldiers but it did not mean that mosques were converted into stables for horses. Muslims kept beards during his rule and added Ahmad or Mohammad to their names. Therefore, there is no justification in accepting the charges of Badayuni against Akbar.
The fact is that Badayuni was one of those bigot Mullas who were dissatisfied with the liberal religious policy of Akbar. From his point of view, the greatest fault of Akbar was that he neither observed strictly the principles of Islam nor tried to establish the supremacy of Islam in India.
The same way, Christian missionaries expected that Akbar, probably, would accept Christianity. But when they failed in their efforts they tried to prove that he was a hypocrite and a non-believer in Islam with a view to defame him.
There is another controversy among historians regarding Akbar. Whether Akbar remained a Muslim throughout his life or not? Dr A.L. Srivastava has opined, “Akbar had left Islam . . . . It was, of course, difficult to repudiate completely all elements of Muslim culture in which he had his birth and early training.”
He argues that as Akbar did not believe in the five fundamentals of Islam, namely, faith in Kalma, five daily prayers, fast of Ramzan, Zakat and Haj, had accepted many Hindu practices and believed in theories of Karma and transmigration of soul of Hinduism, he cannot be regarded a Muslim.
He further writes- “Had the Hindu pandits and princes been broad-minded enough to accept him as a member of our faith and had they made an attempt to rid Hinduism of idolatry and our society of caste-system, Akbar would probably have embraced Hinduism.” Contrary to this view, Dr S.R. Sharma says that “Akbar remained the follower of Islam till his death.” He argues that when prince Salim revolted against his father he could not charge him of blasphemy.
Even Badayuni who was very much against Akbar wrote that till 1598 A.D. whosoever disrespected Prophet Mohammad in any way was punished by death. Thus, Dr Sharma is nearer the truth. Akbar, of course, did not follow principles of Islam strictly, yet he never felt the necessity of accepting any other religion. He was a liberal man and therefore, was tolerant towards every faith. Yet, he remained a Muslim, rather, a good Muslim throughout his life.
In 1582 A.D., Akbar formed the order of Tauhid-i-Ilahi alias Din-i-Ilahi. It was the logical result of the declaration of Khutba in 1579 A.D. Dr K.S. Lal observes- “Since now the Emperor was supreme in religious matters also, he must give spiritual guidance to his people.”
He further writes- “His (Akbar’s) problem was how he could bring together into one fold people who believed in his philosophy of Suleh Kul (peace with all), and his answer was Din-i-Ilahi.” Abul Fazl became the chief priest of this organisation.
The man who desired to become the member of this order could meet the Emperor on any Sunday and place his turban at his feet. Akbar then used to give him a Shast upon which the name of the God and the phrase Allah-o-Akbar were engraved. He was thus accepted as a member of the order by the Emperor himself.
The member of this order observed certain following rules:
(i) They saluted each other with the words Allah-o-Akbar and Jall-e-Jalal- e-Hu.
(ii) They gave a dinner in their life-time as against the old practice of giving dinner after one’s death.
(iii) They were expected to give a party on their birthday and to practise charity.
(iv) They had to abstain from eating meat as far as possible.
(v) They were not to marry old women or minor girls.
(vi) They were expected to try for salvation by leaving worldly desires, and observing good conduct and purity.
(vii) They were expected to sacrifice property, life, honour and religion in the service of the emperor. The sacrifice of these things determined the grade of a member within the order. Whosoever sacrificed all the four of them belonged to the first grade; who sacrificed three of them belonged to the second grade; who sacrificed two of them was of the third grade; and who sacrificed only one of them belonged to the fourth or the last grade. The sacrifice of these simply meant that the Emperor was the sole arbiter of making use of the thing that was surrendered to him.
The number of members of Din-i-Ilahi remained limited only to some thousands. Among them only a few were prominent persons. Among the Hindu nobles Raja Birbal became a member of this order while Raja Bhagwan Das and Raja Man Singh refused it. Akbar has been criticized bitterly by some historians on account of establishing the Din-i-Ilahi. Bartoli described it as the result of “Akbar’s Astute and Knavish Policy.”
V.A. Smith commented:
“The Divine Faith was a monument of Akbar’s folly, not of his wisdom.” But, such criticisms have not been accepted genuine by the majority of historians. In fact, Din-i-Ilahi was not a religious order. It did not have even the basic necessities of a religion, viz., a prophet, a place of worship, a religious text or a priestly class.
Abul Fazl, the chief priest of this order, himself did not accept it as a religious order. Akbar never tried to increase its membership. On the contrary, according to Abul Fazl, he was hesitant to accept new members within the order. In no way Akbar felt displeased with Raja Bhagwan Das and Raja Man Singh who had refused to become its members.
Therefore, Din-i-Ilahi can be accepted only as a social order whose members desired to share their common views, meet with each other for this purpose and cooperate each other in their social life. Besides, the attitude of Akbar was national. He desired that his subjects who belonged to different faiths should learn to live with cooperation and tolerance with each other.
The object of establishing Din-i-Ilahi was simply that one. He, therefore, remained liberal in its propagation. Din-i-Ilahi, of course, failed but Akbar was not responsible for it. The responsibility of its failure went to reactionary attitude of the people of that age.
Dr K.S. Lal has beautifully summed up the case of Akbar thus:
“He lived and died a good Muslim, but some books and many articles say that it was Aurangzeb who was a good Muslim, and Akbar was not, and whatever good or bad Aurangzeb did was due to his religious piety. Now who was a good Muslim one who thought of breaking temples, imposing the Jizya and carrying on war on people of other faiths, or one who thought of uniting people of different faiths in one fraternity? If the former, then it has to be remembered that as love begets love, hate begets hate and good Muslims like Aurangzeb will always produce good Hindus and good Sikhs and good Christians who will answer hate with hate. This is the lesson of medieval Indian history. It was Akbar, a believer in peace with all, that was a good Muslim in the true sense of the word.”
The religious policy of Akbar brought out useful results. Only a small minority of his subjects was dissatisfied with it. It constituted of those bigots who expected from Akbar that he would try to establish the supremacy of Islam in India. They propagated against him and charged that Akbar had left Islam.
It resulted in a serious revolt in Bengal and Bihar in 1581-82 A.D. and Mirza Hakim, Akbar’s step-brother invaded India in expectation of getting success. But these attempts against Akbar failed miserably. Some Christian missionaries who failed to convert Akbar to Christianity also criticised him but with no serious adverse conquence to him. The majority of his subjects welcomed his policy and Akbar received loyalty from them.
The policy of Akbar, therefore, participated in the extension of the empire and also in providing stability to it. Akbar freed the majority of his subjects from the tyranny of the minority and got the credit of being called as the national king.
Dr S.R. Sharma observes:
“Among the rulers of India he occupies a very high place. . . among other things—his having attempted to bring Hindus and Muslims together with some success. If he did not get success in creating a nation, it was because he could not hurry the march of events. It is worth remembering that at a time when Europe was plunged into strife of warring sects, when Roman Catholics were burning Protestants at the stake, and Protestants were executing Roman Catholics, Akbar guaranteed peace not only to ‘warring sects’ but to different religions. In the modern age, he was the first and almost the greatest experimentor in the field of religious toleration if the scope of his toleration, the races to which it was applied, and the contemporary conditions be taken into account.”
Regarding his religious policy, Jahangir has been placed between his father, Akbar and his son, Shah Jahan. He had faith in God and observed principles of Islam in a normal way. But, he was not a religious man. He did not practise principles of Islam strictly. He came in contact with people of all faiths which liberalised his views. He believed in the unity of God.
He mostly pursued the religious policy of Akbar and gave equal facilities to all his subjects without discriminating between them on grounds of religion. The Hindus were not burdened by additional taxation and received services in the state according to merit. However, there are certain instances which prove that, at times, Jahangir favoured Islam.
He punished the Hindus of Rajauri in the state of Kashmir because they used to marry Muslim girls and convert them to Hinduism. The same way, he got a cow killed after his conquest of the fort of Kangra, threw away the idol of Varaha at Ajmer into a pond and closed Christian churches when he was at war with the Portuguese.
One reason of punishing the Sikh Guru, Arjun was certainly the religious views of the Guru which he disliked. He also ordered for the expulsion of all Jains from Gujarat when he felt dissatisfied with them. But, these instances are examples of his occasional frenzy. Jahangir did not pursue a policy of religious persecution against any sect.
He punished Guru Arjun because of the financial help which he gave to the rebel prince Khusrav. And, when we find that he punished even Muslim preachers like Shaikh Rahim, Qazi Nurulla, Shaikh Ahmad Sarhindi, etc. when he felt unhappy with them then there remains no reason to charge him for fanaticism against the Sikhs, the Hindus, the Jains or the Christians. Mostly, Jahangir maintained the spirit of religious toleration towards all his subjects and no change was brought about by him in the policy of Akbar.
As compared to his father, Jahangir, Shah Jahan certainly favoured Islam. He was a Sunni Muslim, dressed in Muslim fashion, did not permit the Hindus to wear Muslim dress, kept beard, used alcohol in a restrained manner and was regular in his prayers and keeping fasts of Ramzan.
During early years of his reign, he exhibited fanaticism also. He stopped the practice of Sizda (saluting the emperor by lying down on the earth), disallowed the Hindus to keep Muslim slaves, imposed pilgrim-tax on the Hindus though removed it afterwards very shortly, and stopped celebration of Hindu festivals at the court. Temples in Banaras, Allahabad, Gujarat and Kashmir were broken during his reign.
Prince Aurangzeb destroyed the temples in Orcha, built mosques in their places and forced the relatives of Jujhar Singh to accept Islam. When there was a war against the Portuguese, churches at Agra were destroyed. The Hindus and the Christians were disallowed to get converts from other faiths. The Hindus of Rajauri and Bhimbar who had married Muslim girls were forced to leave them and all such girls were returned to their parents.
In the seventh year of his reign, Shah Jahan had ordered that those Hindus who would embrace Islam would get their share from the property of their father immediately. Shah Jahan encouraged conversion to Islam throughout his reign.
The war-captives were converted to Islam, culprits who accepted Islam were left free, Hindu women were forced to accept Islam before their marriage to Muslims and those who disrespected either Koran or Prophet Mohammad were punished by death.
He created a separate department for conversion of people of other faiths to Islam. He sent presents to Mullas at Mecca regularly. Thus, it is clear that he set aside the policy of religious toleration of Akbar and believed in the supremacy of Islam.
However, Shah Jahan did not pursue the policy of religious persecution. His zeal to support Islam slowly slackened and most of his regulations were not enforced during later period of his rule. Probably, this was the result of liberal views of his son Dara Shukoh and his daughter Jahan Ara.
The necessity of getting the loyalty of Hindu nobles too might have been another reason. Shah Jahan continued the Hindu practices of Jharokha Darshan and Tula Dan, put no burden of additional taxes on members of other faiths, destruction of Hindu temples was stopped during later period of his rule and conversion of Muslims to Hinduism and Sikhism overlooked.
Shah Jahan respected Hindu scholars. Kavindra Acharya Sarasvati, Sundar Das, Chintamani, etc. received patronage at his court. Some Sanskrit texts were translated into Persian under the patronage of prince Dara Shukoh. Shah Jahan permitted repairs of the temple of Chintamani at Ahmedabad and prohibited cow-slaughter in Cambay at the request of its citizens. The Hindus were given state services on merit.
Raja Jaswant Singh and Raja Jai Singh were well rewarded by him. He had rebuked prince Aurangzeb because of his ill-treatment of the Rajputs. Musicians, dancers, painters, etc. were patronized at his court. Thus, Shah Jahan did not persecute people of other faiths and whatever fanaticism he exhibited during early period of his rule was left during the later period.
Therefore, his period of rule cannot be regarded as the period of religious intolerance though this is quite clear that, certainly, his policy had inclined towards bigotry as compared to the policy of his father and grandfather.
Aurangzeb completely reversed the religious policy of Akbar. He adopted a policy of persecuting people of other faiths. He was a fanatic Sunni, Zinda (living) Pir for his Sunni subjects and observed the principles of Islam strictly. He was very much particular about his daily prayers and fast of Ramzan. He dressed very simply, never touched alcohol and did not keep more than four wives at a time.
From religious point of view, no Mughul emperor stands in comparison with him. But Aurangzeb was a bigot. Having staunch faith in Islam he refused to think that there could be truth in other religions as well. He believed that even Muslim Shias did not pursue true Islam.
Therefore, the theory of kingship of Aurangzeb was Islamic theory of kingship. He desired to convert this Dar-ul-harb (India) into the realm of Dar-ul-Islam. He never forgot this aim. Rather, he utilised the entire machinery of the state to fulfill this aim.
To fulfill this object, he imprisoned his father, killed his brothers, forced his son Akbar to lead the life of a fugitive and the Rajputs, the Sikhs, the Jats and the Marathas to revolt, destroyed the Shia states of Bijapur and Golkunda and imposed all sorts of economic, social, and religious liabilities on the majority of his subjects, i.e., the Hindus with a view to force them to accept Islam.
He believed that the greatest mistake which the Mughul rulers, prior to him, had committed was that they did not try to establish the supremacy of Islam. Therefore, he himself devoted his entire life to fulfill this object. But this aim limited the vision of Aurangzeb and narrowed the concept of his duties towards his subjects. He no more remained the emperor of the majority of his subjects.
It has also been opined that apart from his individual religious views, Aurangzeb was forced by circumstances to pursue the policy of religious orthodoxy. On the one hand, because of the religious policy pursued by Akbar, the Hindus and the Rajputs in particular had got the opportunity to increase their influence in society and politics and, on the other hand, the reactionary forces of Islam had become influential in the state during the reigns of Jahangir and Shah Jahan.
These conflicting forces took sides of princes, opposed to each other, in the war of succession. Aurangzeb got support from the reactionary forces of Islam while the Rajputs opposed him and favoured Dara Shukoh. Hence, after becoming the Emperor it was quite natural for Aurangzeb to support the reactionary forces of Islam and oppose the Rajputs. The view is logical. Yet, it cannot be denied that the primary cause of the orthodox religious policy of Aurangzeb was his own religious bigotry.
Aurangzeb began his reign with religious bigotry. He stopped engraving Kalma on the coins, celebration of festival of Naurauj, practices of Jharokha Darshan and Tula Dan and turned out astrologers, musicians and dancers from the court. He prohibited cultivation of Bhang, stopped drinking alcohol and gambling, tried to check the practice of Sati, ordered prostitutes either to leave his empire or get married and also stopped celebrating the festivals like Holi, Diwali, Basant, etc. at the court.
He appointed a new class of officers called Muhtasibs who were assigned the duty to observe that the Muslims practised their religion properly. They were authorized to punish guilty ones. Even Shias and Sufis were punished during the reign of Aurangzeb.
Aurangzeb persecuted the majority of his subjects, viz., the Hindus. He oppressed them from the very beginning of his reign and became still more severe with them after the death of Raja Jai Singh, Raja Raghunath (Diwan) and Raja Jaswant Singh respectively.
The Hindus were disallowed to repair their temples and in 1669 A.D., provincial governors and Muhtasibs were ordered to destroy all temples and schools of the Hindus. He established a separate department for this purpose.
However, the wholesale destruction of temples and schools was not possible. Yet, all important temples of northern India including the temples of Vishwanath of Banaras, Keshav Deo at Mathura and Somnath at Patan were destroyed at that time. The same was done in the territories of feudatory Hindu kings.
Mosques were raised at the sites of temples or building material and even the broken images of Hindu gods and goddesses were used for the construction of mosques or their stairs. In 1679 A.D., Aurangzeb imposed Jizya on the Hindus. All Hindu kings, Brahmanas and even the poor Hindus were asked to pay it which had no precedent. He asked his Hindu soldiers and officers also to pay Jizya.
For the purpose of collecting this tax, non-Muslims were divided into three categories. Those people whose yearly income was less than 200 Dirhams had to pay twelve Dirhams yearly to the state; those whose yearly income was between 200-10,000 Dirhams had to pay twenty-four Dirhams yearly; and those whose yearly income was more than 10,000 Dirhams had to pay forty-eight Dirhams yearly.
The labourers had to pay this tax only when they earned more than what they spent on their family expenses. Women, slaves, children less than fourteen years of age, beggars etc. were free from this tax. The Hindus were asked to pay pilgrim-tax as well.
While the Muslims remained free from the trade-tax, the Hindus were asked to pay five per cent of the cost of an article as trade-tax. The Hindus were turned out of services of the revenue department and no Hindu was given a high post in the army.
In 1688 A.D., restrictions were imposed on celebrating Hindu fairs and festivals and the Hindus except the Rajputs were disallowed to use good horses, palanquins, elephants and arms. Aurangzeb imposed all these political, social, economic and religious disabilities on the Hindus with a view to force them to accept Islam.
Besides, various temptations were also offered to the Hindus to embrace Islam. They were promised money, high offices, and freedom from punishment in case they agreed to accept Islam. The Sikh Guru Teg Bahadur, the Maratha king Shambuji and his minister Kavi Kalesh were promised immunity from punishment on condition of embracing Islam. It would be wrong to conclude that there were political and economic motives for these acts of Aurangzeb. It is nearer the truth that the primary motive of Aurangzeb was religious.
“For the first time in their history the Mughuls beheld a rigid Muslim in their Emperor a Muslim as sternly repressive of himself as of his people around him, a king who was prepared to stake his throne for the sake of his faith.”
Aurangzeb ascended the throne at the matured age of nearly forty years. He was a wise, practical and a shrewd diplomat. It is not possible that he could not realise the adverse results of his policy. Yet, he persisted in continuing his policy of religious bigotry till his death. The only cause of it was his religious zeal.
Lane-Poole has commented- “The flame of religious zeal blazed as hotly in his soul when he lay dying among the ruins of his Grand Army of the Deccan, an old man on the verge of ninety years of age, as when, in the same fatal province, but then a youth in the springtime of life, he had thrown off the purple of Viceregal state and adopted the mean garb of a mendicant fakir.”
Reviewing the acts of religious intolerance of Aurangzeb, Dr S.R. Sharma has commented- “These were not the acts of a righteous ruler or a constructive statesman, but the outbursts of fanaticism, unworthy of the great genius that Aurangzeb undoubtedly possessed in all other respects.” Dr A.L. Srivastava has also described Aurangzeb as a bigot.
The religious policy of Aurangzeb brought out serious consequences. It destroyed the unity, power, peace and prosperity of the empire and therefore, affected its fortune adversely. It resulted not only in the failure of Aurangzeb but also participated in the downfall of the empire itself. Directly, it was responsible for the revolts of the Jats, the Satnamis, the Sikhs and some others in Bundelkhand, Doab etc.
Indirectly, it induced long conflict between the Mughuls against the Rajputs and the Marathas. The first revolt was organised by Gokul Jat near Mathura. He was killed and so was the fate of their next leader Raja Ram. Yet, the revolt could not be subdued. The Jats succeeded in establishing the independent state of Bharatpur after the death of Aurangzeb.
The Satnamis revolted in the districts of Narnaul and Mewat. Their revolt could be suppressed after bitter fighting. Aurangzeb killed the Sikh Guru Teg Bahadur in prison. The next Guru, Govind Singh, therefore, took up arms against the murderer of his father.
He converted the Sikhs into a military sect and fought against Aurangzeb throughout his life. Two of his sons were killed in fighting and two others were buried alive in the wall. Yet, Guru Govind Singh continued fighting against the Mughuls.
Its result was that the Sikhs became a powerful force in the politics of Punjab during the very life-time of the Guru. When Aurangzeb died and war of succession ensued among his sons, Bahadur Shah, one among them sought the help of the Guru. The Rajputs were also forced to fight against Aurangzeb when once they realised that he was bent upon to wipe off the independent existence of their states.
When Jaswant Singh died in 1678 A.D., Aurangzeb occupied Marwar. But the Rathors resisted it under the leadership of Durga Das and, finally, succeeded in making Ajit Singh their ruler after the death of Aurangzeb. Mewar too sided with Marwar for some time though afterwards signed a treaty with the Mughuls.
In the south, Aurangzeb succeeded in annexing the Shia states of Bijapur and Golkunda and also in capturing Maharashtra. But the Marathas fought back to gain the independence of their kingdom. The Maratha-war of independence broke the backbone of the power of Aurangzeb and he died when his failure had become quite visible to him. Maharashtra regained its independence.
These revolts and wars, during the reign of Aurangzeb, destroyed the peace, unity, prosperity and military power of the Empire. Aurangzeb failed not only in his objective, he also ruined his empire. His bigotry narrowed his concept of duties of an emperor. He could not justify himself as a good ruler or an administrator. He failed to do any good to the majority of his subjects. He participated in weakening the Mughul empire.
“Even before the end of his reign Hindustan was in confusion and the sign of coming dissolution had appeared.” Dr J.N. Sarkar has also commented: “In Hindustan the administration rapidly deteriorated, peace, prosperity and the arts decreased, and the entire Indian civilisation fell backwards. The defence of the north-western frontier was neglected and the material resources of the empire dwindled till they ceased to suffice for its need.”
Aurangzeb lost the loyalty of the Hindus by reversing the policy of Akbar and followed by his father and grandfather. He forced the best fighting communities among them, i.e., the Rajputs, the Jats, the Sikhs, the Marathas to challenge the Mughul empire. It resulted in the beginning of the disruption of the empire.
Pringle Kennedy observes- “What Akbar had gained, what Jahangir and Shah Jahan with all their vices had retained, he (Aurangzeb) lost, viz., the affection of his Hindu subjects. . . . And no power that has not acquired the confidence of the Hindu community can be expected to last in India.”
Aurangzeb was intolerant towards the Shias, Bohras and other Muslim sects as well. Therefore, he could not get the services of talented persons from among them also. It also adversely affected the fate of the empire. Thus, the religious policy of Aurangzeb brought misfortune to himself as well as to his empire.
Some historians have tried to prove that the motivating factors of the policy of Aurangzeb were not religious but Aurangzeb desired to bring India under one rule and one administration. Therefore, he tried to conquer rest of the independent states in India. The same way, they argue that the cause of imposition of certain taxes on the Hindus was the increased economic needs of the empire.
Aurangzeb meant no harm to the Hindus. He destroyed only those temples which were raised at the sites of mosques. He even gave Jagirs to temples. However, it is difficult to agree with their arguments. Dr A.L. Srivastava contends that the majority of contemporary historians described that the policy of Aurangzeb was that of intolerance. Besides, we find that when Akbar ascended the throne, he also found the treasury empty.
Yet, he did not feel the necessity of continuing collection of Jizya, pilgrim-tax and trade-tax from the Hindus. On the contrary, he abolished them all. Akbar also desired the political and administrative unity of India. But he did not try to annex all Rajput states. Rather, he befriended the Rajputs and attempted for religious and cultural harmony among his subjects.
Now, who was a better emperor? When we answer this question we have to remember that while the policy of Akbar strengthened the empire, the policy of Aurangzeb weakened it. Therefore, the logical conclusion should be that Akbar was certainly a successful ruler. Aurangzeb’s greatest weakness was that he regarded his own religion as the only true one and tried to convert all others to his faith.
He was one of those persons who having faith in the righteousness of their conscience completely ignore the viewpoint of others and attempt to convert them to their ideals however defective these may be. Such a person can be a good religious preacher but can never be a good administrator or a ruler.
Therefore, Aurangzeb also could not become a good ruler. He either failed to understand the consequences of his religious policy or did not bother about them. His religious bigotry remained his primary weakness and one cause of his failure and weakness of his empire.
Lane-Poole has rightly commented:
“Aurangzeb could easily have become an ‘ornament of the throne,’ had he not spent his dynamic energy and genius in channels destructive to both himself and the empire that was his glorious heritage. Indeed, he set himself the vain task of becoming ‘Alamgir’ or ‘world grasper’ and was content to be ‘Zinda Pir’ or ‘living saint’ to his orthodox Muslim contemporaries. . . His glory is for himself alone. … To his great empire his devoted zeal was an unmitigated curse.”
The later Mughuls no more remained in a position to pursue the policy of religious bigotry and it was, therefore, abandoned.