a historical perspective on the Indian situation today

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a historical perspective on the Indian situation today

Post  Guest on Tue May 13, 2014 3:32 am

in the 16th century the mughal emperor Akbar initiated a set of long lasting reforms that were designed to bridge the hindu-muslim divide in his kingdom. these included abolishing the jaziya or special tax on non-muslims, and also abolishing the pilgrim tax on hindus. it must be appreciated that these two reforms were at a cost to the treasury but Akbar rightly foresaw that bringing people together would generate more wealth and revenue in the long term than temporarily filling the treasury coffers through unfair taxes. Akbar's efforts to bridge the communal divide have been praised by his contemporaries, by people who appeared on the Indian political scene not long after he had died, and by various people in all walks of life in modern times. Two special people who have praised Akbar's efforts in this direction have been the Maratha ruler Shivaji and in more recent times India's first Prime Minister Pandit Nehru.

Shivaji had written a letter to Aurangzeb criticizing the mughal king for reimposing the jaziya that had been abolished by his great grandfather Akbar. In this letter Shivaji also praises Akbar (and also Akbar's son Jahangir and his grandson Shah Jahan) for ensuring communal harmony in the country. And Nehru, a student of history, had expressed his respectful admiration for Akbar's foresight in being the first in India to ensure long lasting reforms which had a positive impact on the problem of maintaining communal harmony in the country.

We have several contemporary accounts of Akbar's rule available to us today. These include the letters and memoirs of the jesuit missionaries who had visited Akbar's court at Akbar's invitation and had stayed in Akbar's kingdom with full freedom sanctioned by the emperor to make converts. The jesuits had several personal interactions with Akbar, and in fact Akbar had given his second son Murad to the jesuits for being educated by them (perhaps as a kind of experiment). The jesuits made Murad say a prayer praising Jesus before his daily lessons and another similar prayer after his daily lessons with the full knowledge of Akbar. On one occasion Akbar had visited the chapel they had constructed for themselves and Akbar had prostrated himself before the image of Jesus and prayed in the way of the christians, the way of the muslims, and the way of the hindus explaining to the jesuits that he believed God should be worshipped and revered in every kind of way.

Another source of contemporary information about Akbar's rule is the accounts left behind by court historians of the contemporary kings of present day South India.

A third source of contemporary information about Akbar's rule are historical accounts left behind by courtiers in Akbar's court. Chiefly there are two such accounts. One by Abul Fazl, the court historian, and the other by Badaoni, who was an orthodox mullah, who wrote a diary in secret, giving information about Akbar's rule. The difference in the two accounts is that in Abul Fazl's writings Akbar can do no wrong, while in Badaoni's writings he is guilty of many sins.
Abul Fazl was the son of Shekh Mubarak and the brother of the poet Faizi. All three of these gentlemen were liberals, and all of them had supported Akbar when he had issued the promulgation known as 'Mazhar' in which Akbar sought to clip the wings of the muslim clerics of his time who he felt were going a little haywire (one of the clerics, for instance, issuing a fatwa against Akbar himself; while another issuing a death sentence for blasphemy which was against the Emperor's specific request in this case). After the promulgation of the Mazhar, it was the emperor who was the final arbiter in all religious disputes; prior to this, the clerics were the final arbiters in this matter and the emperor had no say on matters involving religion.
Badaoni was in many ways the anti-thesis of Abul Fazl. He was orthodox, conservative, and crotchety. Perhaps to indulge his sense of humor and partly also perhaps to broaden Badaoni's mindset, Akbar ordered Badaoni to translate the Ramayana and the Mahabharata into persian. I forget now whether Badaoni knew sanskrit or whether he had some sanskrit pandits to help him or whether he was ordered to learn sanskrit as well before doing the translation. But in his diary, Badaoni bemoans the work handed out to him and claims he is quite miserable performing the duty assigned to him.
Now, the difference between Abul Fazl and Badaoni became more distinct in their approach towards Akbar's religious reforms. Abul Fazl was full of enthusiasm for them (the cynical view is that he was a boot licker of Akbar, as a persian classmate in a mughal history course once told me); while Badaoni considered Akbar's reforms blasphemous and levels the accusation that Akbar had ceased to be a muslim based on several pieces of evidence including Badaoni's claim that he had seen Akbar chanting sanskrit mantras, that Akbar had started worshipping the rising sun (and not facing Mecca), that he would sleep with his head facing the direction of the rising sun, that he had allowed a wine shop to be opened on the palace premises (with instruction that alcohol could be purchased only on doctor's prescription), and so on.
Akbar's son Jahangir was a liberal like his father, and so were Jahangir's son Shah Jahan and Shah Jahan's elder son Dara Shikoh. But Shah Jahan's other son Aurangzeb had, what seems to be approaching the mindset of Badaoni. When Aurangzeb became king he reimposed jaziya midway between his reign (jaziya was abolished again after Aurangzeb's death) and unlike his ancestors he was not a patron of music or paintings since he considered them blasphemous or approaching blasphemy. Defenders of Aurangzeb say he gave grants for the maintainance of temples, and even gave funding for new temples. It is explained that some temples like the one at Varanasi was demolished because the state temple was representative of state power and if any local king rebelled then the state temple representing the state power was quickly demolished to serve to crush the morale of the rebels. So doing this was a political act, not a religious act. It is said even in pre-muslim India the practice was followed with the caveat that usually the main deity of the state temple of the rebel or rival king was looted but there have been incidents of state temples of rival or rebel kings being destroyed by hindu kings as well. They say jaziya was imposed because Aurangzeb needed new funds for his military campaigns in the deccan, that jaziya was imposed on young men and not on children, elderly or women. But clearly the reimposition of jaziya, no matter how one explains or defends it, sharpened the communal divide and served to enhance religious tensions. This explains Shivaji's letter to Aurangzeb protesting against the imposition of jaziya. Critics of Aurangzeb say that Aurangzeb had been educated by the mullahs who had spent a lot of time with him and had managed to indoctrinate him to some extent. This explains why he was perhaps the only member of his family to have orthodox and conservative views on the subject of religion.
An intellectual living in the reign of Aurangzeb, and having a knowledge about the views of Abul Fazl and Badaoni, may have thought that Badaoni's ideology had in the long run won.

(to be continued)

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