Hinduism Under Mughal Empire: Relationship & Influence

Hindus under Mughal Rule

      This period had examples on both sides of following contemporary Hindu practices with full earnest on one extreme and complete hate and disrespect for everything Hindu on the other extreme. Some of the rulers considered Hindu practices as completely blasphemous while some other had shown complete dedication for the same. Mughal is Persian form of Mongols and some people also call them Mogul that is generally used to denote a person with extravagant wealth and power. Mughals, in continuation of the other rulers coming from Central Asia and Mongolia, have been known for inflicting cruel injuries on their enemies which included blinding people by piercing rods in eyes, putting molten metal in mouth etc. for scaring the repeat by others. They are also known for killing their own family members to get the crown. And they are also known for their addictions as many remained drunk or stoned for most part of their times. But in spite of all other weaknesses, Mughals were always known for their extraordinary bravery in wars and their love for luxuries in many forms.

Mughal Empire ruled India for around three hundred years starting with Babur defeating Ibrahim Lodhi in the battle of Panipat. All said and done, Mughal Sultanat made spectacular contribution to the culture of India. Trade and industry again flourished under their rule. They introduced luxury and costumiers, perfumes, jewelry ivory carving, gunsmith, central Asian architecture, civil engineering, stone carving, etc. in India at a scale like never before. Unlike most other aggressors from Arab, Mongol and Turkey, Mughals decided to make India their home and that allowed them to have a different focus that was long term.
Mughal Empire

      Mughal Empire ruled India for around three hundred years starting with Babur defeating Ibrahim Lodhi in the battle of Panipat. All said and done, Mughal Sultanat made spectacular contribution to the culture of India. Trade and industry again flourished under their rule. They introduced luxury and costumiers, perfumes, jewelry ivory carving, gunsmith, central Asian architecture, civil engineering, stone carving, etc. in India at a scale like never before. Unlike most other aggressors from Arab, Mongol and Turkey, Mughals decided to make India their home and that allowed them to have a different focus that was long term.

      Mughal Emperor Akbar was most wonderful for Hindus and respected them better than many Hindu kings while Aurangzeb was most horrid. In general most of them were a bit of both with the proportions varying from one side to another. Let us look at each one of them in some details.

      Babur, the person responsible for starting the atrocity on Hindu civilization and building the Mughal Dynasty in India, had blood of Genghis Khan from his mother side and that of Timur from his father's side. Born in Ferghana, central Asian Mountains in 1484, Babur (meaning Tiger) got educated in Turkey and adopted a deadly mix of elegance and cruelty. He is known for constructing many great gardens and knocking down many temples, killing many Hindus, constructing many Mosques on the same place where Hindu temples stood. He has written his life memoirs by the name of Baburnama that shows that he came after India having failed to win over Samarkand.

      Like many others who take pride in everything in their own culture and are intolerant for contents of other's culture, he had very low opinion for most Indian things and complained that there is no charm, there is no beauty in Indian people, no grace in social interactions, no poetic talent, no etiquettes. He was not happy with India not having good horses, grapes, meat, public baths and madrassa. The only good thing he saw in India was that it was a big country with lots of gold and money. It appears that he had his complete fixation of Turkish luxury and held the view that everything else was just a waste.

      Babur was not a hardcore religious fanatic as he was more dedicated to his army, more than religion. Nonetheless, he considered himself a holy warrior and, due to his Islamic background, looked at Hindus as infidels. He enjoyed wines, women, composing poetry, music, flowers, gardens and enjoyed his weakness of remaining intoxicated at odd hours on regular basis. Baburnama is full with many references of such instances. Finally, in 1530, he prayed for transfer of his karma to the credit of his son Humayun. As the story goes, Humayun came out healthy from his serious ailment while Babur died soon losing his great health over very few days.

      Humayun, born in 1508 in Kabul dabbled in astrology and spiritual matters, blinded his brother Hindal and took over the crown. He died young in 1556 after tripping down from his makeshift observatory in Delhi and died leaving his son, Akbar who was just 13 at that time. Akbar is famous for his tolerance for all religions that has so few parallels in history. He was a fearless and tireless rider and ruled India for a long time. His career had a bad spot when he got over 20,000 people killed while taking over Me war's Chittor. Those killed included large number of civilians, women and children. He was apparently suffered from dyslexia as he could neither read nor write. We know his life details in much more clarity due to biographical books named 'Akbar Nama' and 'Ain-i-Akbari' by Abul Fazal who was one of the nine gems of his Darbar.

      Akbar was initially very impressed with Sufi Saint, Shaikh Salim Chisti. So much so that he got Fateh Pur Sikri built to live near the place of the Saint. Akbar even named his son after the great Saint. Akbar is also known for holding regular debates on religious concepts and invited people of all faiths without any clear preference as also for wandering amongst the general public incognito for seeking first hand feedback about people's issues with the state. Akbar was more like King Ashoka and believed in religion of Humanity rather than any particular faith. Like Ashoka's own Dhamma, Akbar started his own faith called 'Din-e-Ilahi' which also failed dismally.

      Akbar was first Mughal emperor born in India and was a great pluralist to the core. He was also the first foreign ruler who had Muslim enemies and Hindu friends. He married daughter of Raja Bharmal of Amer and made her Marium-uz-Zamani, the Queen Mother. This gesture, among other equal policies, brought Indians closer to the Emperor for the first time. He had Brahmin Birbal as one of his closest confidante and Kshatriya Todar Mai as his leading general. He dispensed with Zazia from Hindus and encouraged people to follow their religious practices without any fear. He was good to both Hindus and Hinduism and treated both with respect. Most matters of mathematics and management of state were left exclusively to Hindus by Akbar.

      Akbar and Jodha's son Salim (later name changed to Jahangir) is known more as an alcoholic. He readopted Islam as the state religion but continued the policy of religious tolerance. He got several religious leaders killed including Sikh Guru Arjan Das, Shi's Qadi Nurullah Shushtari and Abul Fazal. He got his own son blinded saying that there is no father or son to a sovereign. Inspite of being a son from a Hindu mother, he saw only darkness of spirits in Hindu traditions. He got many temples destroyed during his rule that ended in 1627 on his death. Another development worth mentioning of this period was that Urdu had taken full shape and was taken as the official language of the Empire. Urdu uses Arabian script, grammatical structure of Hindi and vocabulary that is mix of Persian and north Indian.

      Next Mughal, Shah Jahan was third son of Rajput Princess Manmati. He is known for his sever discrimination against non-Muslims. But he had liking for Sanskrit poetry and few other traditions of Hindu culture. He was influenced by Amir Khusro who himself was a son of Turkish father and Rajput mother. Shah Jahan was a great builder and got Fort at Agra, Fort at Delhi, Jama Maszid, Shalimar Gardens, White Marble Palace of Ajmer and finally the Taj Mahal at Agra built under his rule.

      Dara Shikoh was the eldest and favourite son of Shah Jahan and was heir designated. But Dara had too much deep liking for ancient Indian Systems and was disliked by Muslims dilemmas. Being proficient in both Sanskrit and Persian, he himself translated many Indian Scriptures, (including key Upanishads) in Persian and argued that basic essential nature of Hinduism and Islam are alike. He debated with Sufis, Muslims, Christians and even Jews. Poor guy was killed, cut into pieces, paraded on Agra streets by none other than his own brother, Aurangzeb who later came to be called the Zealot.

      An absolute orthodox Sunni, Aurangzeb hated the tolerant views of his predecessors and took on himself to repair them by undoing all the good things of past generations. He strongly believed that Akbar should have declared India as an Islamic country. He disrupted entire India and made best possible efforts to convert it into an Islamic State. He unleashed a twenty year long discrimination on Hindus, Sikhs.

      When some Muslims got reported to have joined Sikhism, he got infuriated and got Guru Tegh Bahadur killed. It was as this juncture that the 10th Guru Govind Singh converted Sikhism from a social and religious reform movement to a political and military force. Aurangzeb once again imposed Zazia even on Brahmins, rescinded all state endowments to Hindu Temples and Brahmins and even got all positions held by Hindus replaced with Muslim occupants to change the scale completely in favour of people from his religion. He hated every other faith and hated them hard. Hinduism, being the biggest of them all, was on the firing line so to say.

      Aurangzeb got Hyderabad Temples destroyed during his attack on Deccan. The iconic temples of faith for Hindus like Vishwanath Temple at Banaras and Keshava Deo Temple at Mathura got replaced with Mosques. He ordered for immediate destruction of all schools and temples and all places of teaching anything Indian. Had he access to weapons of mass destruction, Aurangzeb would not have hesitated to destroy everything Hindu in particular and Indian in general.

      He no longer allowed the Hindu community to live under their own laws but imposed Sharia Law over the whole Empire. His policies resulted in very unstable situations where large part of his subjects started opposing him and finally; he got reduced to be the last big Emperor of the Mughal Sultanate.

      This period also saw mass conversion from Hinduism to Islam that sew the seeds of faster growth of Muslim population on Indian soil. Some Hindus were converted for monetary allurements and inducements, some for marriage, most to avoid punishments and discriminations and very little who actually believed in Islam. Hinduism had never seen such an attack on its roots before.

Women under Mughals

      There were many women who did well under the Mughal period. They exercised great powers behind throne. Few of them had their own libraries and are known to achieve great literary accomplishments, mother of Akbar remained incharge of the administration for a good time as he was very young at the time of death of his father. Even Jodha Bai is known to lead Akbar to take much more favourable view of Hinduism and Hindu subjects. She was said to be taking active interest for advising Akbar on many issues of the state. Then we have Chand Bibi who as Regent of Bijapur is known for defending Ahmednagar against the Mughal forces of Emperor Akbar.

      Another important woman was Nur Jahan who virtually ruled the kingdom since Jahangir was happy with his addiction of opium and alcohol keeping him pre-occupied. She was strong, charismatic and well-educated woman and is to be considered as one of the most influential woman of the entire century for Mughal Empire. She made significant contributions to Indian culture, charity work and commercial trade and ruled with an iron fist. She was twentieth but favourite wife of Jahangir and enjoyed complete free hand to run the administration as she deemed fit. Later she got her relative Mumtaj Mahal married to Shah Jahan.

      The definition of right kind of women underwent change during Mughal Raj, at least for them. This can be finely captured, on a lighter note, from the writings of Mirza who was half brother to Akbar. He wrote;

"Every man should have four wives; a Persian for conversations; a woman from Khurusan for household work; a Hindu woman to have children and raising them under her watchful eye; and one transoxiana who can be beaten as a warning to all others."

Religious Fusion Around this Time

      The Sufism of Islam is not very far from Hindu idealism. It allowed many people to look at Hinduism and Sufism in an inextricable manner. This was of course, not liked by orthodox people on both sides. But considering the fact that most Muslims of India had been converted to Islam from original Hindu background, many continued to be Hindu by culture and Muslim by religion. This "Ganga Jamuna Tehzeeb" continues until this day to denote peaceful and loving co-existence of Hindus and Muslims on Indian soil sharing long common traditions and customs. Mughal rulers patronized Yoga while many Hindus started worshiping Sufi Peers like their own.

      Around this time, Bhakti movement of Hinduism and Sufi traditions of Islam got so much intertwined by each other that it is difficult to say which influenced whom to what extent. This period saw a lot of translation of scriptures from one side in the language of another. This facilitated lot of enrichment on both sides. Dara Shikoh translated Upanishads while Abul Fazl translated Mahabharata and Ramayana into Persian.

      A unique mix of languages took shape called Hindustani which when written in Devnagri came to be called Hindi and written in Arabic got known as Urdu. This simple development itself speaks of what kind of fusion would have taken place between Hinduism and Indian Islam. This fusion got reflected in many things including architecture. Fatehpur Sikri, for example has a distinct stamp of Persian, Hindu and Jain forms of building architecture.

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