The truth about Aurangzeb
By Francois Gautier
Rediff.com - February 16, 2007
Thus, we thought we should get at the root of the matter. History (like journalism) is about documentation and first-hand experience. We decided to show Aurangzeb according to his own documents. There are an incredible number of farhans, original edicts of Aurangzeb hand-written in Persian, in India's museums, particularly in Rajasthan, such as the Bikaner archives. It was not always easy to scan them, we encountered resistance, sometimes downright hostility and we had to go once to the chief minister to get permission. Indeed, the director of Bikaner archives told us that in 50 years we were the first ones asking for the farhans dealing with Aurangzeb's destructive deeds. Then we asked painters from Rajasthan to reproduce in the ancient Mughal style some of the edicts: the destruction of Somnath temple; the trampling of Hindus protesting jaziya tax by Aurangzeb's elephants; or the order from Aurangzeb prohibiting Hindus to ride horses and palanquins; or the beheading of Teg Bahadur and Dara Shikoh.
People might say: 'OK, this is all true, Aurangzeb was indeed a monster, but why rake up the past, when we have tensions between Muslims and Hindus today?' There are two reasons for this exhibition. The first is that no nation can move forward unless its children are taught to look squarely at their own history, the good and the bad, the evil and the pure. The French, for instance, have many dark periods in their history, more recently some of the deeds they did during colonisation in North Africa or how they collaborated with the Nazis during the Second World War and handed over French Jews who died in concentration camps (the French are only now coming to terms with it).
The argument that looking at one's history will pit a community against the other does not hold either: French Catholics and Protestants, who share a very similar religion, fought each other bitterly. Catholics brutally murdered thousands of Protestants in the 18th century; yet today they live peacefully next to each other. France fought three wars with Germany in the last 150 years, yet they are great friends today.
Let Hindus and Muslims then come to terms with what happened under Aurangzeb, because Muslims suffered as much as Hindus.
The mosque of Aurungzebe and adjoining Ghats, Benares - 1865
Photograph of the Smaller Aurangzeb Mosque on the panchaganga ghat, Varanasi, taken by Samuel Bourne in the 1860s. Though the title refers to the Mosque as the Great Mosque of Aurangzeb this is the Smaller Mosque of Aurangzeb. The mosque was built by Aurangzeb (r.1658-1707), the ruler of the Mughal Empire. The mosque is on the site of an earlier Vishnu temple known as Bindu Madhav, this is probably why the mosque is known locally as Madho Rai Ki Masjid. Parts from the temple were used in the construction of the mosque. The minarets (seen in this view), were restored by James Prinsep in the 19th century and further shortened before they were finally pulled down by the government due to their instability.
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