Episodes from an Oppressive Era: How Hindus Preserved their Dharma Under Shah Jahan’s Tyranny
Beginning with this essay, The Dharma Dispatch will sporadically publish unknown or obscure episodes from the history of the prolonged medieval Muslim period that show how Hindus preserved their ancient Dharma in face of cruel and oppressive odds.
It took just two generations for the darkness to re-dawn upon Bharatavarsha. Akbar who was a semi-redeeming and lone exception to the pervasive religious tyranny known as medieval Muslim rule in India, had to give way to Jahangir who wasted no time in destroying Hindu temples and painfully torturing the venerable Sikh Guru Arjan Dev to death. The fanatical Islamic Ulema which had to grit its teeth in frustration during Akbar’s period found a debauched pawn in Jahangir. It was during his rule that the zealot Mujaddid-i Alf-i Thânî, hailing from the infamous Naqshbandi School declared himself to be the “second redeemer and revivalist of Islam in the second millennium.” We have noted his heinous exposition of the doctrine of Jizya in a previous essay.
This venomous Islamic “revivalism” bore fruit during the reign of the ultra-debauch and the sadist Mughal sultan, Shah Jahan who reintroduced Jizya, the pilgrim tax against Hindus, only to revoke it. The thrilling story of what made him revoke it forms the subject of this series. The story has been calculatedly omitted from the Muslim chronicles for obvious reasons. Thankfully, it has been preserved by a host of Hindu writers, which is also the reason it doesn’t find any mention in modern history textbooks.
An Exquisite Hoax of History
Unarguably, the first thing that comes to mind when Shah Jahan’s name is mentioned is the opulent marble grave, a bigoted despot’s monument to a woman who he treated slightly better than a 24/7 sex machine, a conveyor belt that spat out babies at frequent intervals. True to character of how royal succession was decided in the Muslim world, Prince Shahab-ud-din Muhammad Khurram or Shah Jahan rebelled against his father, Jahangir. His wife, Mumtaz kept him company throughout the time he fled from place to place to escape his father’s wrath: in dense jungles, treacherous crevices, and mountain passes. It was a dangerous run for dear life. From the wilderness of Telangana to the murderous marshes of Bengal and inhospitable terrain of South Bihar. Despite such mortal threats confronting him at every step, the fecund Mumtaz delivered Murad Baksh at Rohtas and Aurangzeb at Dohad near Ujjain. Small wonder that the overworked conveyor belt snapped to a dead halt at the young age of 39. But the story doesn’t end there but rather begins. With Mumtaz Mahal’s death, Shah Jahan’s libido became wholly unhinged and the most polite way of describing it is to quote the historian Smith’s words:
We need to view the celebrated grave of royal romance, the Taj Mahal, in this complete historical context. Indeed, the Taj Mahal offers a cruel illusion of romance. To the Sanatana ethos and spirit, romance, love and other tender emotions are living, throbbing springs of life and not something that requires a monument built for the dead. The Sanatana spirit builds a Brindavana with life-giving Tulasi atop and around it. To this spirit, building an expensive graveyard using the blood, sweat and tears of thousands of nameless, faceless and unacknowledged slaves is not only revolting, it’s a crime against the divine within. The Taj Mahal is one of the more enduring, exquisite hoaxes of history.
A survey of most literature about Shah Jahan—both historical and contemporary—only reveals different facets of the same hoax, a reflection of what V.A. Smith describes eloquently. (Emphasis added)
Shahjahan has received from most modern historians…treatment unduly favourable. The magnificence of his court, the extent and wealth of his empire…and the unique beauty of his architectural masterpiece, the Taj, have combined to dazzle the vision of his modern biographers, most of whom have slurred over his many crimes and exaggerated such virtues as he possessed.
Let’s briefly look at these aspects in no particular order.
Bankrupting the Mughal Economy
The aforementioned magnificence and architectural splendour came at an enormous cost. In a word, the credit for bankrupting the Mughal Empire at the height of its prosperity goes entirely to Shahjahan. From Bihar to Bengal to the Deccan, the core of the economy was in ruins while it kept up appearances of grandeur. The contemporary traveler, Bernier in his visit to Bengal applies a memorable Dutch proverb to it: “the kingdom of Bengal has a hundred gates open for entrance but not one for departure.” Parents would castrate their own young children, turn them into eunuchs and sell them off as slaves just so they could survive. Other eyewitness accounts, for example, of Manucci of even gorier stories make for queasy reading.
The Sadist Sultan
Inveterate, mindless, and sadistic cruelty is another area where Shah Jahan distinguished himself. Two representative samples suffice. The first is the savage execution of Muhammad Sa’id, the Kotwal of Delhi (or Agra). Let’s hear it in Manucci’s words. (Emphasis added)
[Shah Jahan] kept his eye on his officials, punishing them rigorously when they fell short in their duty. This was the reason that he kept at his court an official with several baskets full of poisonous snakes. He would order that in his presence they should be made to bite any official who had failed to administer justice, leaving the culprit lying in his presence till the breath left him.
Thus, as I saw, the (Kotwal) called Muhammad Sa'id. This man…took bribes. Therefore an order was given that he should be bitten in one hand in (Shah Jahan's) presence by a cobra capello, the most poisonous snake on earth. The official in charge of the snakes was asked how long the man could live. The official replied that he could not live more than an hour. The king remained seated until the Kotwal expired. He then ordered that the body should lie two days in front of his court-house. Others who had deserved death were ordered to be thrown to mad elephants, who tore them to pieces.
Here is the second.
On another occasion, a favourite slave, who had been instructed not to give away betel to the courtiers, was seen to disobey the order. He was punished by being beaten to death in the emperor's presence. Shahjahan, like his father, took a horrid pleasure in witnessing the shocking punishments inflicted at his caprice.
Visualize a person being beaten repeatedly till he or she dies.
Escalating Hindu Persecution
If this was the treatment Shah Jahan’s Muslim courtiers and employees received, one can only imagine the fate of the Hindus under his regime. In fact, Shah Jahan escalated the mindless Hindu persecution that Jahangir had inaugurated. Here is the bigoted hagiographer, Abdul Hamid Lahori writing in the Badshahnama:
It had been brought to the notice of His Majesty [Shah Jahan] that during the late reign many idol temples had been begun, but remained unfinished at Benares, the great stronghold of infidelism. The infidels were now desirous of completing them. His Majesty, the defender of the faith, gave orders that at Benares, and throughout all his dominions in every place, all temples that had been begun should be cast down. It was now reported from the province of Allahabad that 76 temples had been destroyed…
That was in 1631 CE. In 1635, Shah Jahan’s generals led an expedition into the Bundela heartland to punish the infidel Jujhar Singh. Jadunath Sarkar narrates what happened next. (Emphasis added)
Shah Jahan’s soldiers captured some ladies of the royal Bundela family… Mothers and daughters of kings, were robbed of their religion and forced to lead the infamous life of the Mughal harem. Shah Jahan himself made a triumphal entry into Orchha, the capital of the Bundelas, demolished the lofty and massive temple of Bir Singh Dev, and raised a mosque in its place.
This apart, he demolished a Sikh Gurudwara at Lahore, which trigged the first armed conflict led by the indomitable Guru Hargobind Singh who hadn’t forgotten what Jahangir had done to his father, Guru Arjan Dev. To his everlasting shame, Shah Jahan never succeeded in his encounters against this revered Sixth Nanak.
Re-imposition of the savage Jizya, the pilgrim tax was, quite naturally, an extension of Shah Jahan’s state policy of Hindu persecution. However, he rescinded it owing to the eloquent prowess of just one man.
His story will be narrated in the next and concluding part of this series.
To be continued
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