Mughals Empire, which was one of the largest empires in Indian history, is now been looked through the lens of various contrasting ideologies. But when it is certain that every human possesses different shades and traits throughout their life, how justified it would be to devote a specific and rigid outlook to the Mughal emperors?
Recently, Yogi Adityanath, the Chief Minister (CM) of Uttar Pradesh during renaming of the upcoming ‘Mughal Museum’ in Agra to that of Maratha king ‘Chatrapati Shivaji’, questioned in his address that how can Mughals be our heroes, along with stating them and the British as the real culprits behind the miserable condition of the country today. CM Yogi is not alone, but many with their right-winger ideology would not hesitate to term the Mughals emperors as barbaric invaders who were fanatic Muslim bigots, who saw Hindus and Hinduism as their enemy.
However, if we lift on the opposite side of the meter of ideologies, a surprising opposite is observed. A label of greatness is seen with the Mughal Emperors. The people who award them this title consider Mughals to be just and ‘secular’, giving ample examples from their history, especially of Emperor Akbar and Prince Dara Shikoh. The others who award them with title ‘great’ are the right-wing Islamic thinkers who consider them the true Muslims who took care of the Islamic beliefs and faith.
But while making any positive or negative perspective about the Mughals, it must be learned that first and foremost the Mughals, like all other rulers, had their actions reflected from the political and social environment of the period in which they ruled. Moreover, unlike the modern thinkers, they did not pursue any specific and rigid ideology like their haters and fans do today, but their actions evolved and changed according to the situations which were prevailing.
Thus, if we try to see the base of the ‘Islamic fanatic’ characteristic of the Mughal emperors, we will end up discovering that Mughals did use the shadow of Islam during their military campaigns, since the first Mughal Emperor Babur himself, in his autobiography Baburnama, referred the Battle of Khanwa in 1527 against Rajputs as the religious war or ‘Jihad’. Similar Islamic wars were announced by Babur’s descendants, including his ‘secular’ grandson Emperor Akbar and great-grandson Jahangir during the sieges of Chittorgarh in 1567-68 and Kangra Fort in 1620, respectively.
Jahangir in his memoir Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri boasts of celebrating a victory, which his army did by demolishing the temple of Hindu Goddess Durga in the fort and replacing it with a mosque. He also slaughtered a bull in the fort and carried out whatever was customary according to Islam. The similar shreds of evidence are recorded in Emperor Shah Jahan’s court chronicle, Shah Jahan Nama and later for Emperor Aurangzeb, who is infamous for his staunch image, mainly because it was during his reign that most of the Hindu temples were destroyed.
Through the aforementioned incidents, Mughals must be appearing as the Islamic fanatics, right? But if you just rub your eyes and look again, you may be able to find that all these campaigns were politically motivated than being of the religious nature in real sense. Whereas for Babur, the use of term Jihad not only legitimises his attack on India, but also gave a reason for his ‘escaping’ from his homeland. It motivated his army to fight the enemy which was much more powerful and huge in number.
However, for Akbar along with motivation, it helped him generate the support of ulemas, the religious leaders who till that time had a strong influence on the court. Likewise, Jahangir celebrated the victory at Kangra by being an Islamic ruler to overshadow his complex of not been much successful in his reign apart from few victories. There were many more temples located in Kangra fort at that time which were left untouched, including one dedicated to Goddess Bhawani just below the demolished temple. Even Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb at much extend were legitimising their rule to not only ulemas, but to their contemporary Iranian Safavids and Turkish Ottoman Empire.
As this political reason is being unveiled, let us find out how much Muslim, the Mughals were. For an ideal Muslim, the idea of even a monarchy should be considered un-Islamic, for in Prophet Muhammad’s model of governance, having show-off of wealth or absolute monarchy had no place. Even if we ignore this point, since the Ummayad Caliphate (661–750) itself did, we’ll find that not only Mughals but mostly every Muslim ruler kept themselves aside from this model.
Most Mughal emperors practised un-Islamic practices, be it commissioning their portraits with the hallow at their back, or making it compulsory for everyone in their court to prostrate before, or whether being enormously fond of the wine, everything a devout Muslim would not ever think of. About Emperor Jahangir, whose ‘Islamic victory’, we have just discussed, had in turn being much fond of pork and wine, both banned in Islam, which he used to consume even in the Islamic holy month of Ramzan, as mentioned by historian Harbans Mukhia in his book, The Mughals of India (2004). Also, Mughal emperors: Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan proudly celebrated the Indic festivals like Dusshera, Holi and Basant.
Mughals are also known for a contrasting image of a just ruler, which ran along and along. Akbar, who initially began his empire in the name of Islam, with few early campaigns in the name of Jihad by the passing years evolved into a person who believed himself to be not only the king of Muslims but of the entire mankind, at least he believed so! On different stages, he not only removed the pilgrimage and jizya tax on non-Muslims but even ordered the reconversion of the mosques to temples at Nagarkot and Kurukshetra which earlier had been taken over by Muslims from Hindus.
After Akbar died in 1605, Jahangir came to the throne, and he made it clear to his amirs or religious leaders in the frontier regions to not to force Islam on subjects. If not as a gesture of secularism, then surely due to the fear of the rebellions in the areas far from empire’s core. It is even recorded that he punished many who forcefully converted Hindus to the fold of Islam.
Aurangzeb, who till now has been presented as a ‘bigot’, for converting many to Islam and demolishing several temples throughout his reign, ironically along with it, continued land grants for maintenance of several Hindu and Jain temples, a step which was a necessity to maintain cordial relations when necessary at important places. Moreover, in his court Aurangzeb exclaimed, “My heart burns with anger when I look at a kafir in prosperity.” It was he who employed most number of Hindu officers, some at the very high position in his reign.
It must be learned that many right-wingers today even question the nationalism of the Mughals. Although for the initial rulers of the dynasty like Babur this would somehow be true, as everywhere in history when there was a transfer of power, the bloodshed and instability were quite obvious. Babur didn’t seem to like his ‘new country’, because he was homesick, missing his home in Central Asia.
Babur’s descendants were quite Indianised, by developing relations with the Rajputs, assimilating Indian form of ornamentation, art and architecture with that of the Iranians, thus, coming out with a new and refined form. When Mughal prince Dara Shikoh’s wife Nadira Begum was dying in exile, her last plea to her husband was to bury her body in the soil of her ‘native’ Hindustan.
Also, till the time of last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar in 19th century, the Mughals had become too Indian, that not only their court developed the prototype of the modern-day Hindustani language, but in various paintings of him, Bahadur Shah Zafar could be seen sitting cross-legged just as any ordinary Indian would sit. Moreover, it can’t be forgotten that it was he, the Mughal Emperor under whose name the Indian sepoys were ready to launch the War of Independence of 1857. Against CM Yogi’s claim that Mughals destroyed Indian economy, Congress leader and historian Shashi Tharoor once remarked, “The Mughal India was the richest economy in during the 17th century and it contributed an impressive 27% to the world GDP”.
Now, after talking so much about Mughals, what should they be labelled: great, bigots, seculars, Islamists, invaders or Indians? Maybe, nothing, foremost like any monarch in history, their decisions were marked by the politics, thus, they presented different shades of them at different times. Today neither the Mughals Emperors are alive, nor are the people who witnessed their justice or extremism. But what is alive is their legacy in form of fancy monuments, their Mughlai cuisine and the innovations to the Indian costumes, music and dance that they introduced.
With their long rule expanding to more than three centuries and 17 monarchs, they created a huge part of the Indian history. If not as ideal, at least they can be considered a part of our heritage. So let us try to see them beyond any trait and cherish them as nothing but characters from history after whom a museum could be named in the country.
Aashish Kochhar is a student pursuing History from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Nuzhat Khan
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Jamia Review or its members.