A historical essay narrating the extraordinary eloquence of Acharya Kavindra in Shah Jahan's Court
When the Arab barbarian Tariq landed on the shores of Spain in 711 CE, he burned the ship that had carried his holy army of Islamic warriors. His rightly alarmed soldiers asked him how they would return. Tariq had no intention of returning. His response was wholly rooted in the core tenets of Islam:
You simply can't argue with this kind of "logic." Indeed, Tariq’s pithy response simply delineated a straightforward commentary on Jihad. Indeed, every Arab and Turkish Muslim invader from the earliest times has used a variant of Tariq’s dictum. From Mahmud of Ghazni’s infamous vow of “waging a Holy War against Hindustan every year” to Tipu Sultan’s bigoted letters to alien Muslim rulers like Zaman Shah inviting him to establish the empire of Islam in this Kaffir land, this pattern has been consistent.
From one perspective, majority of later Muslim theology and religious literature is simply a voluminous mass of Jihad justification. Let’s hear it from the mouth of the 14th century Islamic theologian Ibn Taymiyyah:
Read that again. And again. And again. Write it down. Think and contemplate on its complete implications.
But an investigation into the fundamentals reveals an even scarier fact. According to Muhammad the Prophet, every child is born in Islam but its parents make it non-Muslim. In his own words:
The approximate meaning of the word “Fitrah” in this context is “being born naturally as a Muslim.” The familiar Urdu word, "Fitrat" is derived from this. Think about how many times and in what contexts it has been used in Hindi cinema.
Now let’s look at a 21st century echo of the same diktat of Muhammad the Prophet.
That was Asaduddin Owaisi the contemporary avatar of Jinnah, speaking in circa 2015 CE. Think about the far-reaching implications of this seemingly innocuous statement about a religious tenet. In which case, the logical question arises and is answered about how these “natural” Muslims who have been led astray by their own parents must be treated. Your guess is correct. We’re on the subject of how Kaffirs are regarded and must be treated. Here is a partial list.
A Muslim slave is better than an idolater, howsoever good the latter appear to the Muslims. Remember the Mohammad Ali’s infamous words about Mohandas Gandhi: “Yes, according to my religion and creed, I do hold an adulterous and fallen Musalman to be better than Mr. Gandhi.”
The idolater’s body is so unclean that if an idolater put his hand into water, the water would become unclean: Imam Malik and Hasan Basari.
The whole body of a non-Muslim is unclean, even his hair, his nails, and all secretions of his body. A child below the age of puberty is unclean if his parents and grandparents are not Muslims: Ayatollah Khomeini.
The Quran forbids a true Muslim to take the Kaffirs for their friends and helpers: Al Imran, al-Maidah, et al.
Muslims must reside at such a far distance from the Kaffirs' colony that even the light from the Kaffir’s house remains invisible to the former: Shah Wali Allah.
Numerous essays on The Dharma Dispatch have revealed how such bigoted dictums have worked in real life under a “pure” Muslim rule in which Hindus were treated less than human and worse than animals, suffering the degraded status of a Dhimmi (or Zimmi). Among the other debilitating handicaps the Dhimmi suffered, Jizya or pilgrim tax ranks as the topmost. Like we mentioned elsewhere, Jizya is Jihad in peacetime, whose objective is to eventually force the Kaffir to convert to Islam, i.e. the selfsame “homecoming” mentioned first by Prophet Muhammad and echoed later by Asaduddin Owaisi.
Which is where we segue into this second and concluding part of how Hindus preserved their ancient Dharma under the oppressive regime of Shah Jahan, the seven-star debauch and pious bigot who demolished as many as seventy-six temples in Kashi alone. And reintroduced Jizya, the pilgrim tax. And rescinded it thanks to the magnificent eloquence of just one man. A sanyasi.
His name is Kavindra, the Indra Among Poets.
The fact that Hindus never gave up militarily fighting Muslim tyranny and their illegal occupation of the ancient Sanatana homeland is well-recorded and quite widely known. However, lesser known are the details of the thousands of tactics and methods and facets of their non-military resistance. Apart from the present one, future essays on The Dharma Dispatch will narrate some of these episodes. A major area of this resistance was in the field of art, literature, and broadly speaking, culture. The Bhakti movement apart from providing an extraordinary spiritual dimension to this resistance, also gave us innovative and creative expression in music, art, poetry, and literature.
Thus even in the late Mughal period of Shah Jahan’s reign, the Santana creative genius didn’t fully dry up. It gifted us with such extraordinary giants like Panditaraja Jagannatha, Appayya Dikshita (and later, Nilakanta Dikshita, his protégé), Behari Lal (Hindi poet), and the protagonist of our essay, Acharya Kavindra Saraswati Vidyanidhi.
Unfortunately, no comprehensive details of this great Sanatana savant are available. However, we do have some sketchy information about his life, which gives us a glimpse into the blazing prowess of the man.
In fact, Kavindra is simply a title and not his real life. He hailed from a place called Punyabhumi (unidentifiable now) in Maharashtra on the banks of the Godavari River and quickly distinguished himself for his prodigious intellect and capacity for mastering the Sastras. In his only extant work, Kavindra-Kalpadruma he provides a few autobiographical lines:
And so, the Sanyasi Kavindra migrated to Varanasi and quickly distinguished himself as a scholar and Sanyasi par excellence. He authored copious commentaries on various traditional Sanskrit texts that revealed his awesome grasp over Sankhya, Nyaya, Vedanta, Vyakarana and Jyotisha. He was also a great collector, compiler, and commentator of ancient manuscripts. Any edition of these manuscripts that bore his distinctive signature (Kavindra) was regarded as authoritative without question. It didn't take long for the scholarly community of Kashi to appoint him the head of Pandits. Acharya Kavindra was also an extraordinary teacher who provided both boarding and lodging facilities to generations of students. A graduation ceremony address by a student movingly calls Kavindra as the "embodiment of all learning and divine providence that has manifested itself in the sacred city of Kashi."
Roughly around this time, Shah Jahan’s innate bigotry fanned by all sorts of Sufis and pious clergymen spread its flames and resulted in the aforementioned spree of temple and Gurudwara destructions. He also issued an order prohibiting the building of new temples or renovating existing ones. Then he also issued the other Fatwa to more properly suppress the unclean Dhimmis: the bankrupting pilgrim tax.
The interesting fact is that no Muslim chronicle records this fact. In fact, given the psyche of the Muslim chronicler, Shah Jahan’s imposition of the pilgrim tax would’ve occupied several hoary passages extolling this pious service to Islam. On the contrary, what we find is absolute silence for a straightforward reason: because Shah Jahan abolished it in a relatively short period, a grave un-Islamic act. Any lenience on the part of the sultan—also the guardian of the Islamic faith—towards Kaffirs was regarded as a weakness. Hence the silence, another great trademark of the marked hypocrisy of Muslim chroniclers. Because Akbar was the most lenient sultan, traditional Muslim accounts reserve the choicest abuses for him.
Thankfully, this silence has been filled by the meagre Hindu accounts which celebrate the abolition of the pilgrim tax.
The distraught Hindu community in Benares and elsewhere approached Acharya Kavindra to do something about Shah Jahan’s relapse into unhinged bigotry. Accordingly, this great Sanyasin decided to take the battle directly to Shah Jahan himself. Indeed, even the very thought of approaching Shah Jahan was a hugely risky venture if one is well-versed in the realities of living as a Hindu under an all-out Muslim despotism.
Undeterred, Acharya Kavindra set out on the long journey from Benares to Agra with a large group of Hindus and sought an audience with Shah Jahan explicitly stating the objective for leading this delegation. Kavindra’s self-confidence must have impressed Shah Jahan who let him into the Diwan-i-Aam (Hall of Audience). The case was decided in the Hindu favour the moment Acharya Kavindra opened his mouth. His eloquence surged forth like the torrential flood of Ganga herself: majestic, unstoppable, pleasing, timeless, and all-embracing. When he was done, there was stunned, wondrous silence in the entire court. It was a spectacular performance in a court filled with hostile bigots right from Shah Jahan and his noblemen hailing from places like Iraq, Iran, Badakshan, Balkh, Sindh, Kashmir, Kabul, and Kandahar.
Shah Jahan, counselled by Dara Shikoh, agreed to rescind the pilgrim tax. Not just that, he bestowed the title Sarvavidyanidhana upon Acharya Kavindra.
The entire Hindu India erupted in celebration. Letters and messages of congratulations for this immortal service to Santana Dharma simply wouldn’t stop pouring in from all quarters of Bharatavarsha. In both prose and verse. Some were short and others were essay length. A single speech had acted like a sacred protective hand against further Turushka incursions and oppressions against Dharmic practices and traditions. Unfortunately Acharya Kavindra’s speech in Shah Jahan’s court has been lost or was not recorded.
A hundred of these eulogies were collected and compiled into a book fittingly titled Kavindra Chandrodaya or The Moonrise of Kavindra by Sri Krishna Upadhyaya, an inhabitant of Kashi. Here is one of the finest poems in it, authored by the said compiler.
नक्राच्छक्रानुजो गजम् |
nakrācchakrānujo gajam |
Using his cakra, Viṣṇu saved the elephant from the clutches of the crocodile
This is akin to Kavīndra saving the Prayāga-elephant from the tax-crocodile.
This among others is how Hindus narrated and preserved their history in extremely hostile times. The significance of the Kavindra Chandrodaya anthology is the fact that it has conserved for us the names of Kavindra’s contemporary writers and helps us fix dates and gives us the Hindu side of the story. The congratulatory poems that flowed into Kashi came from regions as diverse as Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Bihar, Bengal, and Andhra. What does that tell us?
And why is this great Sanyasin and protector of one of Santana Dharma’s sacred pillars, the Tirthayatra, not known or celebrated as widely as say Maharshi Vidyaranya, Samartha Ramadas or Swami Vivekananda?
But then this is a country which commemorated the fanatical father of the two-nation theory, Mohammad Iqbal with a postage stamp in 1988.
Jizya and the Spread of Islam: Harsh Narain
Kavindrachandrodaya: Edited by Pandit Har Dutt Sharma and M.M. Patankar
A Forgotten Event of Shah Jahan’s Reign: Pandit Har Dutt Sharma
History of the Dharmashastra: Vol 4: P.V. Kane
Indian Antiquary: Vol 41: Edited by Richard Temple
Stories Behind Verses: Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh. English translation by Arjun Bharadwaj and Shashi Kiran B.N.