Monday, 26 October 2015

The Cārvākas against Caste and Gender Discrimination

Ramkrishna Bhattacharya

[This is Part II of "Facets of Materialism in India: A Historical Outline". Part I is here]

The Carvakas against Caste Discrimination

Let us now see what these two arch-opponents of materialism say regarding the materialists’ (or, to be more specific, of the new materialists,’ i.e., the Cārvākas’) views on caste and women. 

In Kṛṣṇamiśra’s (eleventh century) allegorical play, Rise of Moon-like Intellect (Prabodhacandrodaya), Mahāmoha (Great Delusion), an avowed materialist, declares:   
tulyatve vapuṣāṃ mukhādyavayavair varṇakramaḥ kīdṛśo…| 2.18ab
If the bodies are alike in their different parts, the mouth, etc., how can there be a hierarchy of castes? (Trans. by S.K. Nambiar)
A heretic in Śrīharṣa’s (twelfth century) Naiṣadhacarita (Life of Naiṣadha) throws a challenge to the forces of status quo ante:
śuddhir vaṃśa dvayī śuddhau pitroryadekaśaḥ | 
tadanantakulādopādadoṣā jātirasti kā || 17.40

īrṣyayā rakṣato nārīrdhikulasthitidāmbhikān | 
smarāndhatvāviśeṣe’pi tathā naramarakṣataḥ || 17.42

tṛṇānīva ghṛṇāvādān vidhūnaya vadhūranu | 
tavāpi tādṛśasyaiva kā ciraṃ janavañcanā ||  17.58 

Since purity of caste is possible only in the case of purity on each side of both families of the grandparents, what caste is pure by the purity of limitless generations?

Fie on those who boast of family dignity! They hold women in check out of jealousy; but do not likewise restrain men, though the blindness of passion is common to both!

Spurn all censorious statements about women as not worth a straw. Why dost thou constantly cheat people when thou, too, art as bad as women?(Trans. by K.K. Handiqui) 
Both the authors intended to depict the Cārvākas as heretics and non-believers. Defiance of the caste system was considered a heretical idea and hence deserved censure.

Is there any truth in labelling the Cārvākas as opposed to the caste system? I think there is. Two oft-quoted genuine aphorisms attributed to the Cārvākas say that the human body is a combination of four natural elements, namely, earth, air, fire and water (I.2-3).[1] Apparently the Cārvākas gave no credence to the late Vedic idea that the Brahmaṇas, Rājanyas (warriors), Vaiśyas (agriculturists and traders), and Śūdras (manual workers) were different parts of the supreme person called puruṣa (Ṛgveda 10.90.11-12): 
yat puruṣaṃ viadadhuḥ, katidhā vi akalpayan? 
mukhaṃ kim asya? kau bāhu? kā ῡrῡ pādā ucyete?

brāhmaṇo ‘sya mukham āsīd, bāhu rājaniaḥ kṛtaḥ; 
ῡrῡ tad asya yad vaiśyaḥ padbhyāṃ śῡdro ajāyata. 

When they divided Puruṣa, into how many parts did they dispose him? What (did) his mouth (become)? What are his two arms, his too thighs, his two feet called? 

His mouth was the Brāhaman [Brāhamaṇa], his two arms were made the warrior, his two thighs the Vaiśya; from his two feet the Śῡdra was born. (transA.A. Macdonell, pp.200-01) 
This was a convenient way of explaining why acceptance and observance of the hierarchy of castes was obligatory. The law books insist on the preservation and continuation of the caste system. The Cārvākas cared nothing for these sacred texts. Hence it is quite probable that the Cārvākas had no faith in the so-called divine origin of castes and did not observe caste rules in social life. A verse attributed to the Cārvākas runs as follows:  
na svarga nāpavargo vā naivātmā pāralaukikaḥ | 
naiva varṇāśramādīnāṃ kriyāśca phaladāyikāḥ ||  

There is no heaven, no final liberation, nor any soul inthe other-world. 
Nor do the actions of the four castes, orders, etc. produce any real effect.[2] 

The Carvakas against Gender Discrimination

As to the defence of women and treating them as equal to men, the Cārvākas apparently were very much anti-sexist. They did not believe, as Manu did, that women in general were basically untrustworthy, were not entitled to study the Vedas, and were never to earn freedom but should always be under their fathers’, husbands’ and sons’ protection and surveillance (Manusmṛti, 9.10-20). The Cārvākas’ claim of the equality of the sexes quite logically follows from their basic anti-śāstric stance. Being freethinkers, they could also very well be free from all prejudices against women that are rampant in the law books of ancient India. They did not admit word (śabda), that is, verbal testimony, as a valid instrument of cognition (pramāṇa). So they were not under any compulsion to accept what the Brahmaṇcal law books declared as something sacrosanct. This is why Sāyaṇa-Mādhava could make them say: ”[T]here is no more reason for believing on another’s word that smoke and fire are connected, than for our receiving the ipse dixit of Manu, &c.” dhῡmadhῡma-dhvajayor avinābhāvo ’stīti vacanamātre manvādivad viśvāsābhāvāc ca. [3] 

To sum up then: materialism in India, particularly the Cārvāka/Lokāyata,  appeared heretical to the powers that be, not only in respect of its ontology but also because of its social outlook. This is why two Vedantin poets considered it necessary to present it in poor light, as an enemy of the established order which is founded on the varṇa system and patriarchy. 

One word more. Eli Franco once suggested perceptively: “[A]ll the Lokayātikas were fighting for… was ultimately to found social and political institutions independently of religious dogma…”.[4] He might have had in his mind Frauwallner’s view that materialism in India was created for the Realpolitikers. I do not think so, as I have shown elsewhere.[5] I would, however, heartily agree with Franco’s suggestion. The Cārvākas did have a vision of an ideal society in which organised religion would have no room, and there would be no varṇa and gender discriminations. Their approach was thoroughly rational and they denounced such discriminations as impediments to founding a society based on equality of rights and opportunities. In this sense the social outlook of the Cārvākas was essentially democratic.

Appendix A 

Ajita Kesakambal's 'worldview'

O King, there is no (consequence to) alms-giving, sacrifice or oblation. A good or bad action produces no result. This world does not exist, nor does the other world.  There is no mother, no father. There is no rebirth of beings after death. In this world, there are no samanas [Śramaṇas] or brāhmaṇas established in the Noble Path and accomplished in good practice, who, through direct knowledge (i.e., magga insight) acquired by their own efforts, can expound on this world and the other world. This being is but a compound of the four great primary elements; after death, the earth-element (or element of extension) returns and goes back to the body of the earth, the water-element (or element of cohesion) returns and goes back to the body of water, the fire-element (or element of thermal energy) returns and goes back to the body of fire, and the air-element (or element of motion) returns and goes back to the body of air, while the mental faculties pass on into space. The four pall-bearers and the bier (constituting the fifth) carry the corpse. The remains of the dead can be seen up to the cemetery where bare bones lie graying like the colour of the pigeons. All alms-giving ends in ashes. Fools prescribe alms-giving; and some assert that there is such a thing as merit in alms-giving; but their words are empty, false and nonsensical. Both the fool and the wise are annihilated and destroyed after death and dissolution of their bodies. Nothing exists after death.’ (Ten Suttas, p.83, translation slightly modified.) 

Acknowledgements: Amitava Bhattacharyya, Sourav Basak, Sunish Kumar Deb, and Krishna Del Toso. The usual disclaimers apply.

Works Cited

Ācāraṅgasūtram and Sūtrakṛtāṅgasūtram  with Niryukti of Ācārya Bhadravāhu Svāmī and the Commentary of Śīlāṅkācārya. (1978). Ed. Ācārya Sarvanandājī Mahārāja. Re-ed. with Appendix by Muni Jambuvijayaji. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Indological Trust.
Bhattacharya, Ramkrishna. Studies on the Cārvāka/Lokāyata. Firenze: Società Editrice Fiorentina, 2009.
Bhattacharya, Ramkrishna. Development of Materialism in India: the Pre-Carvakas and the Carvakas, Esercizi Filosofici 8, 2013, pp. 1-12. (2013a). ISSN 1970-0164
Chattopadhyaya, Debiprasad. Knowledge and Intervention. Calcutta:  Firma KLM, 1985.
Cārvāka/Lokāyata. Edited by D. Chattopadhyaya and M. K. Gangopadhyaya. New Delhi: Indian Council of Philosophical Research, 1990.
Cowell, E. B. The Chārvāka System of Philosophy, Journal of the Asiatic Society (Bengal), 31(4), 1862, pp.371-90.
Dasgupta, S. N. A History of Indian Philosophy. Vols. 1-5. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass,1975 ( Reprint).
Del Toso, K., "tebhyaś caitanyaṃ : il 'sé' secondo il Materialismo indiano", in A. Cislaghi and K. Del Toso (ed. by), Intrecci filosofici. Pensare il Sé a Oriente e a Occidente, Milano-Udine: Mimesis, 2012, pp. 135-153.
Franco, Eli.“Paurandarasūtra” in M.A.Dhaky (ed.), Aspects of Jainology, Vol. III. Varanasi: Sagarmal Jain P.V. Research Institute,1991.
Feanco, Eli. Lokayata, in Brill Encyclopedia of Hinduism, vol.XI. Leiden; Brill, 2011.
Franco, Eli. Perception, Knowledge, Disbeilief / A Study on Jayarāśi’s Scepticism. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1994.
Franco,Eli and Karin Preisendanz. Materilism, Indian School of, in Edward Craig (General Editor). Routledge Enclopedia of Philosophy. Vol.6. London: Routledge, 1998.
Frawallner, Erich. History of Indian Philosophy. Vols. 1-2. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1971.
Gerschhiemer, Gerdi. Les ‘Six doctrines de spéculation’ (ṣaṭtarkī) – Sur la categorization variable des systems philosophiques dans l’Inde classique, in Expanding and Merging Horizons  (Wilhelm Halbfass Memorial Volume). Ed. Karin Preisendanz. Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences Press, 2007, pp.239-58.
Haribhadra. Samarāicca kahā. Ed. H.Jacobi, The Asiatic Society, Calcutta 1926.
Jayarāśibhaṭṭa.Tattvopaplavasiṃha of Jayarāśibhaṭṭa. Eds. Sukhlalji Sanghvi and Rasiklal Parikh. Baroda: Oriental Institute, 1940.
Jayarāśibhaṭṭa. Tattvopaplavasiṃha of Jayarāśibhaṭṭa. Trans. V. N. Jha. Ernakulam: Chinmaya International Foundation Shodha Sansthans, 2013.
Joshi, K. L. (ed.). Sāyaṇa-Mādhava. Sarvadarśanasaṃgraha. Trans. E. B. Cowell and A. E. Gough. Delhi: Parimal Publication, 1981.
Kṛṣṇa Miśra. Prabodha Candrodaya. Ed. and trans. Sita Krishna Nambiar. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1971.
Macdonell, A. A. A Vedic Reader for Students. Madras: Oxford University Press (reprint), 1978.
Maninekalai. Trans. Prema Nandakumar. Thanjavur:Tamil University, 1989.
Manusmṛti with nine commentaries. Vols.1-6. Ed. J. H. Dave. Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1972-84.
Padmapurāṇa. Sṛṣṭikhaṇḍa. Ed. and trans. into Bangla by Tarakanta Devsarmma and others. Kalikata: Vangavasi, 1310 Bangla Sal [1903-04].
Radhakrishnan, S. and C. A. Moore. A Source Book in Indian Philosophy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957.
Ruben, Walter. Uddālaka and Yājñavalkya. Materialism and Idealism, Indian Studies Past and Present, Vol. 3 No. 3, April-June 1962, pp.345-54, reprinted in his Studies in Ancient Indian History, Calcutta: Indian Studies Past and Present, 1966.
Sarup, Lakshman (ed.). The Nighaṇṭu and the Nirukta. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1984 reprint.
Sāyaṇa-Mādhava. Sarvadarśanasaṃgraha. See Joshi, K.L. (ed.).
Shastri, D. R. A Short History of Indian Materialism, Sensationalism and Hedonism (1930). Calcutta: Bookland, 1957.
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Ten Suttas from Dīgha Nikāya. Varanasi: Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, 1987.
Vanamamalai, N. Materialist Thought in Early Tamil Literature, in: Social Scientist, 2:4, November 1973, pp.25-41 (available in JSTOR archive).
Varāhamihira. Bṛhatsaṃhitā with [Saṃhitā-]Vivṛti by Utpalabhaṭṭa. Ed. Avadha Vihari Tripathi. Varanasi: Sampurnanand Sanskrit Vishvavidyalaya, 1968.

[1] R. Bhattacharya 2009, pp.78-79, 86. 
[2] Qtd. Sāyaṇa-Mādhava in Joshi 1981, p.12. Emphasis added. The verse occurs in the Padmapurāṇa, Sṛṣṭikhaṇḍa 13.323. For other sources see R. Bhattacharya 2009, pp.84, 91.  
[3] Sāyaṇa-Mādhava in Joshi 1981, p.9. 
[4] Franco 1991, p.160. 
[5] Bhattacharya 2009, pp.21-32.

Prof Ramkrishna Bhattacharya taught English at Unversity of Calcutta, Kolkota and was an Emeritus Fellow of University Grants Commission. He isnow a Fellow of Pavlov Institute, Kolkota


Worshipping Cow: Killing Humanity

Ram Puniyani

Just over a decade ago (2002) in Dulina village of Jhajjar in Haryana a mob of over a thousand people lynched five dalits who were skinning a dead cow to sell the hide. A few months ago in Malegaon Mahahrashtra police arrested three Muslims on the charge of storing beef. On the back of this come the news from Bisara that a Muslim was killed and his son injured seriously on the charges of storing-eating beef.
In the context of Dulina lynching VHP’s Acharya Giriraj Kishore in a press conference stated that "the life of a cow is more precious than that of a human being." The recent incidents, the above quoted may be a sampler of what is happening, this is becoming a ‘new normal’ after the new Government at Center has taken charge. States with BJP ruled Governments beginning with Maharashtra have been bringing in legislations banning storage of beef.

For Hindu nationalist politics identity issues have been the hallmark and they pursue it to divide the society and polarize the communities along religious lines. Today the insecurity amongst minority is going through the roof, making their life very difficult. For implementing the polarizing agenda, so far Ram Temple issue was the core one. Over a period of time as it has played its role; now lately Holy cow, ‘cow as mother’ is the major tool. As such ‘Cow as mother’ was the ploy used by Hindu communalism all through from late nineteenth century. At that time, there was a matching slogan of ‘pig as an object of hate’ from Muslim communalism on the battleground. As classic serial Tamas (Bhism Sanhi) showed the use of pig being thrown in a mosque to instigate the riots was running parallel to beef in the temple, such incidents leading to communal violence and boosting communal politics in turn.

After independence the ‘pig in the mosque’ is heard of less often. Occasionally one did hear of beef in the temple being put in by Bajrang Dal elements. But not too many casualties were heard on this ground. On subconscious level the issue of beef has been kept very much alive and now this issue has become more important one as far as communal polarization keeping in mind electoral arithmetic is concerned. It has added to the worsening scenario as far as communal harmony is concerned.

It is remarkable that in our country to begin with cow could be presented as ‘mother’ and then used as a tool of communal propaganda and action. Talking at economic level cow has been an important part of the agricultural economy. The old bullocks and cows being used for food by large sections of society has been the norm. Apart from Adivasis, large sections of dalits, Muslims, Christians and even upper caste Hindus consumed beef, as a cheap and rich source of protein. Being a large country with big cattle strength, India is also the major exporter of beef.

Historically; it is interesting to note that beef was part of food habits from Vedic times. Cow got transformed in to mother hood and a major tool of identity politics later. Bhimrao Ambedkar in his celebrated essay “Did Hindus never eat beef?” demonstrates this very well. At popular level Swami Vivekananda confirms the findings of historians like Prof D.N.Jha, who traces the history of beef consumption in Vedic times. Swamiji points out, “You will be astonished if I tell you that, according to old ceremonials, he is not a good Hindu who does not eat beef. On certain occasions he must sacrifice a bull and eat it.” [Vivekananda speaking at the Shakespeare Club, Pasadena, California, USA (2 February 1900) on the theme of ‘Buddhistic India’, cited in Swami Vivekananda, The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol 3 (Calcutta: Advaita Ashram, 1997), p. 536.]

This is corroborated by other research works sponsored by the Ramakrishna Mission established by Swami Vivekananda himself. One of these reads: The Vedic Aryans, including the Brahmans, ate fish, meat and even beef. A distinguished guest was honoured with beef served at a meal. Although the Vedic Aryans ate beef, milch cows were not killed. One of the words that designated cow was aghnya (what shall not be killed). But a guest was a goghna (one for whom a cow is killed). It is only bulls, barren cows and calves that were killed.” [C. Kunhan Raja, ‘Vedic Culture’, cited in the series, Suniti Kumar Chatterji and others (eds.), The Cultural Heritage of India, Vol 1 (Calcutta: The Ramakrishna Mission, 1993), 217.]

It is not that society cannot resolve the issue of contrasting food habits and faith in an amicable way. Gandhi shows the way and one wishes that we he has to say on the issue of beef eating, “…beef is not their (Muslims, added) ordinary food. Their ordinary food is the same as that of the millions. What is true is that there are very few Muslims who are vegetarians from religious motive. Therefore, they will take meat, including beef, when they can get it. But during the greater part of the years, millions of Muslims, owing to poverty, go without meat of any kind. These are facts. But the theoretical question demands a clear answer. As a Hindu, a confirmed vegetarian, and a worshipper of the cow whom I regard with the same veneration as I regard my mother (alas, no more on this earth!) I maintain that Muslims should have full freedom to slaughter cows, if they wish, subject of course to hygienic restrictions and in a manner not to wound the susceptibilities of their Hindu neighbours. Fullest recognition of freedom to the Muslims to slaughter cows is indispensable of communal harmony, and is the only way of saving cow. (

Assault on Syncretic Traditions

Ram Puniyani

The country is undergoing a regressive attack in different fields of life. Apart from the political undermining of secularism, pluralism and Indian nationalism, the cultural pluralism and valued syncretic traditions are also under severe attack. The intensity is increasing. On the back of the murders of dissenting rationalists (Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and M M Kalburgi), the bans on food,, a literary siege is being erected. The writers steeped in a multicultural, plural milieu are under attack on sectarian grounds.

From Kerala known for the culture which has kept the identity of different religions and has also led to their intermixing, comes the news that the renowned literary critic and Malayalam scholar, Dr. M.M. Basheer was threatened and told to stop his column on Ramayana, Ramayana Jeevithasaramritham. There have been major non Hindu writers like Thomas Mathew, poet and popular lyricist, the late Yusuf Ali Kecheri who have contributed to such themes which so far have looked beyond the religious divide. Basheer got abusive phone calls as to how a Muslim like him has any right to criticize the Hindu God. He was just commenting on Valmiki’s criticism of Lord Ram to call Sita for Agni Pariksha(trial by fire). Basheer, a practicing Muslim, for the first time was made to feel that he is a Muslim. Unable to bear the barrage of aggression of Sangh Parivar elements, Hanuman Sena in particular, he stopped his series. As such he has contributed over 50 articles on the theme. 

MM Kalburgi

There are two major points which are very disturbing in the ongoing assault on plural ethos of the country. The first one is that there are innumerable literary people and saints, who irrespective of their own faith have contributed to the cultural aspects of religion in the sub continent. The legendary classic contributions of Rahim and Raskhan on the life of Lord Krishna cannot be eroded from the literary history of the sub continent. Who can forget the contributions of Dara Shikoh’ in translating the Upanishads into Persian. The Nawab of Bijapur had number of Veena players in his court for invocation of Goddess Saraswati. Even a decade ago we enjoyed the richness of Bismillah Khan’s shehnai, many of his compositions are dedicated to deities.

Shiekh Mohammad a saint from Maharashtra has been the major figure in the Warkari tradition, built his work around god Vithoba (God standing on brick), which is the major part of Bhakti tradition in Maharashtra. Saints like him and others like Ramdev Pir, Satya Pir stand tall in synthesizing the trends of cultural integration. We have Miyan Mir, another Pir in Punjab who was invited to lay the foundation of Golden temple. Even today villages and towns of different parts of India have Sufi shrines and Bhakti saint memorials, where people from all religions throng and pay their respects.

This syncretism was deeply expressed by Kabir, Nanak and Tulsidas in particular. They reflected the synthetic trends and the influence of both religions in their lives and works. Nanak went on to pick up from Hinduism and Islam both, while Tulsidas mentions in his Kavitavali about living in a mosque. Kabir communicated with people in simple Hindi and reflected the ‘building of bridges’ between the two communities.

Communal politics in India, which began in the colonial period went on to associate culture and traditions exclusively with religion. Today the seeds of division have gone so deep that in recent times we saw the eminent painter M.F. Husain being hounded to the extent that he had to leave the country. His roots were in the village where there was a serious mix of Hindu-Muslim traditions and he regarded Hindu themes as part of his heritage. Interestingly his work did not come under attack till the decade of 1980s, when the communal cauldron started affecting different aspects of our society and vehemence of intolerant elements went on destroying the creations of people like Husain. Hindi film and TV world has the best of such traditions in likes of Shakeel Badayuni (Man Tarpat Haridarshan ko Aaj-Baiju Bawra) and Javed Akhtar (O Palanhare Nirgun aur Nyare-Lagan) writing beautiful devotional songs and Rahi Masoom Raza scripting B.R. Chopda mega serial Mahabharat.

Another aspect related to attacks on Basheer is also related to the interpretation of the Lord Ram story. In the subcontinent and even in the far East hundreds of versions of the Ram saga are prevalent. The Hindutva politics has picked up a version of Ram story which is that of Ramanand Sagar's serial. The classical essay of A. K. Ramanujan, ‘One hundred Ramayanas’, was forced out of the curricula in Delhi University. This brilliant essay narrates the beauty of the diverse telling of Ramayana. Ambedkar’s ‘Riddles of Hindusim’ criticising Ram for banishment of Sita and punishing Shambuk, also met with a hostile reception.

How do we restore the complex cultural, religious, literary pluralism of India is something which the social movements need to ponder over in times to come.

Looking at the Past: Jaundiced Views

Ram Puniyani

Using the jaundiced version of the past is one of the biggest tools of communal forces. The prevalence of hatred towards ‘other’ communities is rooted in the versions of past which are part carry over from the past legacy introduced by British and part constructed by the communalists, who in turn ‘select’ the incidents and distort it in such a way so as to fit in their scheme of things. The same incident may be interpreted from opposite angles by competing communal ideology. This view of past at one level glorifies the kings of one’s own religion while looks down upon the kings of other religion. So, for example, currently there is an assertion to call Rana Pratap as great. Why and how some king becomes great? The parameters differ.

Sometimes in the same region the interpretation of king varies with different castes and different religions, and this is so much true about Maharashtra’s Shivaji. For some he the one who is devoted to cows and Brahmins, for others he is the one concerned about welfare of rayyat (farmers). The most important distortion of presenting king in the identity of his religion is that the underlying system of authoritarianism and feudal exploitation gets undermined, hidden from the popular perception. Also the very concept that Kingdoms did not have the concept of citizenship and nation state also goes for the toss and the claim of origin of nationalism starts taking root from the first king of that religion, like Mohammad Bin Kasim being regarded as the founder of Islamic nationalism. Here Hindu communalists claim to be a nation state from the Anaadi Kal (Past beyond boundaries), irrespective of what might have been the pattern of social organization, tribe, clan, kingdom etc., at that time.

In this again; some kings become good and some bad. As such all of them are sitting on the top of system of exploitation of the peasantry and prevalence of all the norms like caste hierarchy and patriarchy, which cannot be accepted today. The construction of Hindu communalism roots itself on demonization of Muslim kings and Aurangzeb seems to be leading the pack of such villains in the perceptions prevailing in Indian part of the subcontinent. Guided by these unshakable perceptions; one BJP MP called for the change of name of Aurangzeb road in Delhi, to APJ Abdul Kalam Road.

This was done in a total violation of prevailing practice of how the roads are named. It was upheld by the self proclaimed messiah of anti corruption movement Arvind Kejrival. The name changing was supposed to be an exercise in righting the wrongs of history! What has been right in the history is another matter of infinite debate and the answer will depend on which side of social ideology one is. What is right from the point of view of poor farmers, or dalits or Adivasis or women is a million dollar question. Glorying of Kings; barring those who stood up to protect the social interests of downtrodden; is very questionable.

All said and done Aurangzeb has been demonized to the extent that very mention of his name sends a shock to most of those who have imbibed the prevalent notions about him. Can one shake off the perception about his being so power hungry and that he killed his own brother Dara Shikoh for sake of power? The simple fact is the same thing applies to many kings. Emperor Ashok killed many of his cousins for coming to power. As late as in recent times the killing of Birendra Singh by his brother King Gyanendra is on the same lines. The conspiracies in the royal families have been part of the power structure of kingdoms all over.

What about Aurangzeb’s goal of converting the people to Islam on the point of the sword. To begin with Islam did not spread due to the Muslim kings; mostly it was the caste structure to escape which many shudras embraced Islam. Swami Vivekanand in his collected works Volume VIII, Page330 points out that conversion to Islam was to escape the caste system’s atrocities.  Islam also spread due to social interaction as in Mewat and Malabar Coast. What about Guru Gobinds’ sons being beheaded by Aurangzeb, was it an attempt to conversion or an attempt to humiliate the defeated king? This example cited in this case is that of a king who was defeated in battle and so when he sought pardon; this insulting condition was put. Alexander Hamilton, a British historian, toured India towards the end of Aurangzeb’s fifty year’s reign & observed that everyone was free to serve & worship god in his own way.

If Aurangzeb and other Muslims kings were here for the goal of conversions, in the whole eight hundred years of their rule; most of the population would have become Muslims. And how come so many court officials in their courts, who are having high designations, continued to retain their Hindu faith? They would have been ideal subjects for conversions. What about the dreaded Jazia? As per Prof. Harbans Mukhia, scholar of medieval history, Aurangzeb imposed jazia in 1669, well 21 years after his coming to power. The taxation policies of different kings had been changing from time to time. While able bodied Hindu males were to pay jazia, zakat was the tax to be paid by Muslims. There were many other taxes which Aurangzeb had lifted also. Jazia has got stuck in popular perception as a sign of Aurangzeb being anti Hindu. Then; what about the destruction of Vishwanth temple and building of mosque on the top of that?

There are some temples which were destroyed by him and some others supported with grants. A stone inscription in the historic Balaji or Vishnu temple, located north of Chitrakut, Balaghat, still shows that it was commissioned by the emperor Aurangzeb himself. His administration made handsome donations to temple of Pandharpur the seat of deity Vithoba. The great temples of Mahakaleshwara, Ujjain, Balaji temple, Chitrakut, Umanand temple Gauhati, & the Jain temple of Shatrunjai and gurudwaras scattered over northern India also received his grants. These firmans (court orders) were issued from 1659 to 1685AD. Dr. Vishambharnath Pandey did collect number of firmans of Aurangzeb where he gives the grants to Hindu temples. So how does one explain the contradiction? It is simple; due to factors related to power some temples were destroyed. To keep the subjects in good humor temples were also supported and to eliminate the sources of rebellions concentrating in temples others were destroyed as well.

The British must be having the last laugh! The history writing which they introduced was giving the king only a single identity, that of religion. Hindu and Muslim communal streams picked it up and modified it to suit their political goals of polarization of communities around them. The additional factor was that the British also had to win over the loyalty of the subjects from the earlier rulers, the Muslim-Mughal kings. So the formulation that they have come here as liberators from the cruel Muslim rule. What this meant for the sub continent is too well known by now with Shahshi Tharoor’s Oxford lecture going viral and telling us the extent of plunder done by these liberators, who claim they came here as part of ‘civilizing mission of the east’.

Akbar and Aurangzeb are presented in contrasting colors, Dara Shikoh in yet another hue. All of them do represent the different shades of the personalities of the kings, but kings they were, primarily the head of the feudal system of society. The name changing game is part of the communal agenda of divisive nationalism, which feels the Emperor who ruled this part of the subcontinent for forty nine long years cannot have a road in his name.  


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