Fanatic, religious zealot, intolerant, temple destroyer, orthodox, ruthless, insecure, unscrupulous, treacherous, impetuous, brother killer… are just some of the words that come to my mind for Abul Muzaffar Muhi-ud-Din Mohammad Aurangzeb, better known as Aurangzeb Alamgir, the 6th Mughal emperor, or just Aurangzeb.
As the Emperor of Mughal India, Aurangzeb ruled for nearly 50 years, much of it with public opinion against him due to many discriminatory measures against the Hindus, like imposition of the jizyah, differential taxation for Hindus, etc.. In fact, such display of Islāmic orthodoxy by Aurangzeb gave strength and purpose to the resistance movements of the Marathas, the Jats, the Bundelas and the Sikhs. His constant wars to consolidate or expand territory nearly bankrupted the royal treasuries. When he died in 1707, he left a crumbling empire, a corrupt and inefficient administration, a demoralised army, and alienated subjects.
Aurangzeb never used the Royal Treasury for his personal expenses. Instead, he used the money he earned from making caps (sold anonymously in the market) and copying the Quran. He saved the money earned from this to pay for an open-air grave at Khuldabad, located about 27 km from Aurangabad.
The grave I’m standing before on that December evening in 2013 with all these thoughts running around in my mind, and some more.
While I knew beforehand from reading this account of Aurangzeb’s tomb that it was not ostentatious, it still came as a surprise to see just how nondescript it was. The entrance is lost among shops selling knickknacks, flowers, incense, etc. A small board, with lettering so small that it can’t be read from the road, near the entrance indicates that this is the “Tomb of Aurangzeb”.
Äurangzeb is buried within the compound of the dargah of Sayyad Zain-ud-din Shirazi, a Muslim saint he revered, as per his wishes. On passing through the entrance doorway, you come to this large compound, which on that day, had a few curious visitors like me.
One of the instructions that Aurangzeb left was that his grave would be a simple grave with no enclosing structure built over it. And so it remained till Lord Curzon (Governor General and Viceroy of India from 1899–1905) visited the grave. I presume that he was so horrified or shocked by the simplicity of it all that he ordered the then Nizam of Hyderabad (who was the ruler of the region) to construct a marble screen around it. I know that I was shocked after having visited the mausoleums of his ancestors — Humayun, Akbar and Shah Jahan !
Standing in front of the simple, cloth-covered grave, I recall history lessons in school, of lectures on the Mughals, of books read, of conversations with Hindu priests at Varanasi (and as I write this post, the reaction of Mohammad my guide at Agra Fort). I don’t think any ruler in India is disliked, and perhaps even hated, so much as Aurangzeb.
And yet, his tomb and the explicit instructions he left for his grave and the way he raised money for his personal expenses reveal a side of him that is not talked about much about or perhaps known — simplicity.
The sun is setting when I leave the dargah and I am just as full of thoughts as I was when I came in. Thoughts as to who Aurangzeb really was and why was he the way he was.
Further reading: Aurangzeb, as he was according to Mughal Records