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.
The basement room is cool and dark, and it’s whitewashed walls are bare. The only light in the room comes from the passage leading to the room and an overhead lamp, hung directly above a marble sarcophagus placed in the centre of the chamber. The simplicity of the sarcophagus, and the bare unadorned room belies the achievements and greatness of the person buried there — Jalal-ud-din Mohammad Akbar, the third Mughal Emperor.
I am in the burial chamber of Akbar’s Mausoleum at Sikandra. The fragrance of incense and marigold flowers is pleasant, and instead of the claustrophobia one would associate with underground and enclosed spaces, I feel only peace here. There is nobody in the room, save the caretaker who offers to say a prayer on my behalf, and soon a sonorous prayer fills the room, a prayer that continues to echo in my mind for a long time afterwards.
Akbar’s Mausoleum is in Sikandra, a suburb of Agra. Today, it has become so synonymous with the town’s name, that it is called Sikandra.
Located on the busy and perennially jammed, historical Grand Trunk Road or the NH2, “Sikandra” is about 10 km from Agra city. It was nearly 9 in the morning when I arrived at Sikandra, guide in tow, following a visit to the Taj Mahal and after negotiating horrendous traffic and road rage incidents.