Orthodoxy and Bigotry of Aurangzeb

Aurangzeb, the third son of Shah Jahan, captured and ascended the throne of Delhi on 21 July 1658 after defeating all his rival brothers in the war of succession. He was an orthodox Sunni Muslim. As a pious Muslim, he considered it his sacred duty to carry out jihad against the infidel non-Muslims and convert them to Islam for turning India, a dar-ul-harb, into a dar-ul-Islam or Islamic country. One of his ploys was to hurt the sentiment of the Hindus and demean Hindu heritage. In 1659 he issued a number of ordinances aiming to implement the dictates of Sariah law as contained. He forbade the building of new Hindu temples. In 1664 he went further to forbid them from repairing old temples. He undertook a campaign of mass demolition of Hindu temples and schools. Over 200 Hindu temples were destroyed in the year 1679 alone. The famous Viswanath temple in Benaras, the Kesav Dev temple in Mathura and the Somnath temple at Patan were among the victims of Aurangzeb’s temple demolition campaign.

He re-imposed jizya on the Hindus in 1679 with the object of spreading Islam. Jizya not only hurt the poor Hindus economically, its payment by the Hindus was to accompany a very degrading treatment of them. He also imposed a custom duty of 5% on imported commodities on non-Muslim traders, while abolishing the reduced rate (2.5%) that Muslim traders used to pay. These factors forced many Hindus to embrace Islam.

Aurangzeb’s anti-Hindu policies and Hindu reactions

Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb

Early in Aurangzeb's reign, insurgent Sikh groups were increasingly engaged in bloody battles with the Mughal troops. Aurangzeb ignored all these protests and displeasures of the non-Muslims and went on implementing jizya and other oppressive measures in order to implement the Sharia. He felt gratified when many Hindus and other non-Muslims had to embrace Islam after failing to bear the burden and humiliation of jizya and other repressive and exploitive Islamic laws.

In 1671, he implemented an ordinance dismissing all Hindu clerks and accountants employed in the Mughal tax collection offices to be replaced with Muslims. Those who agreed to embrace Islam were allowed to stay in their job. In 1668, he implemented a law prohibiting Hindu religious fairs. In 1695, he implemented another law forbidding non-Muslims from riding on horses, elephants and palanquins. He also forbade non-Muslims from carrying arms, exempting only the defiant Rajputs.

The first major Hindu revolts against Aurangzeb’s oppressive discriminatory policies took place in Mathura in 1669. The sturdy Jat peasantry of that district, led by valorous Gokla Tilpat, took up arms and killed Abd-un-Nabi, the cruel tax collector of Mathura. This unfurled a wave of rebellion that spread to the neighbouring districts of Agra. Aurangzeb sent a strong army under the command of Radandaz Khan to put down the rebellion, which suffered a defeat. Then Aurangzeb himself proceeded to Agra with a huge royal army. A 20,000 strong Gokla regiment fought valiantly but was eventually overpowered by Mughal commander Hassan Ali Khan of Mathura. Gokla Tilpat was put to death and the life of his family members was spared on the pain of conversion to Islam.

Another uprising took place in 1672 by the Satnamis in the districts of Narnaul and Mewat. Satnamis won victory over the Mughal army in many battles and took possession of the towns and the district of Narnaul. Then a large force was sent under the command of Radandaz Khan. A severe battle took place and 20,000 Satnami fighters valiantly sacrificed their lives.

Guru Tegh Bahadur

Guru-Tegh bahadur
Guru Tegbahadur Ji

During the above-mentioned turmoil, Guru Tegh Bahadur became the 9th Sikh Guru in 1665, succeeding his grand-nephew Guru Har Krishan. The oppressive and intolerant policies of Aurangzeb and his persecution of the non-Muslims naturally aroused anger among the Sikhs. Particularly Aurangzeb’s order for the demolition of Sikh temples and expulsion of the followers the Sikh Guru’s from the cities aroused them to take up arms under the leadership of Guru Tegh Bahadur. Also at this time, Aurangzeb was running a policy of forced mass conversion of the Hindus to Islam in Kashmiri. And Kashmiri Pundits approached Guru Tegh Bahadur for his intervention against the forcible conversion in Kashmir.

These led Guru Tegh Bahadur to direct his followers to oppose the oppression of the Mughal Emperor, thus turning the Sikhs into a bitter enemy of the Mughal government. Amidst rising popularity of Guru Tegh Bahadur because of his anti-Mughal stance, Aurangzeb executed him in 1670 infuriating the Sikh community further. Guru Tegh Bahadur's son and successor Guru Gobind Singh further militarized his followers, starting with the establishment of Khalsa Panth in 1699, eight years before Aurangzeb's death which we hope to discuss in due course.

During his childhood in Amritsar, Tegh Bahadur was brought up steeped in Sikh culture. He was trained in martial-arts, archery and horsemanship. He showed extraordinary valour in a battle against the Mughals, because of which his father Hargobind gave him the name Tegh Bahadur or Mighty of the Sword. Well-taught in old classics and scriptures, Guru Tegh Bahadur also contributed 115 hymns to the Guru Granth Sahib.

As mentioned earlier that the Sikhs had enabled themselves to run a separate state within the Mughal Empire. Amritsar was the capital of that Sikh state and centre of the Sikh faith. But in the 1640s, nearing his end, Guru Hargobind sent his wife Nanaki with son Tegh Bahadur and his family to his ancestral village of Bakala. Later on, Tegh Bahadur settled at Anandpur Sahib in Bakala where his followers began to refer to him as the Sacha Badshah (The true Emperor). Tegh Bahadur spent about twenty years (1644-1664) in prosperous and beautiful Bakala, living a strict and pious life, spending most of his time in meditation, while duly attending to family responsibilities.

Martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur

Execution of Guru Tegh Bahadur (Nov 24, 1675)

Emperor Aurangzeb dreamt of a completely Islamized India. And he was told that Pandits or Brahmins of Kashmir were the most stubborn obstacle in converting the Hindus, and if the Pandits could be converted, it would be easy to convert all the Hindus to Islam. This prompted orthodox Sunni Aurangzeb to apply all measures, including exemplary oppression, cruelty and blood-bath, to convert particularly the Brahmin Pundits of Kashmir. Amidst this forcible en masse conversion of the Hindus in Kashmir, as goes a story, a group of Kashmiri Pandits approached Guru Tegh Bahadur—the only military power in Northern India opposed to the Mughal oppression—for help. And the Guru advised them to tell the Mughal authorities that they would willingly embrace Islam if Guru Tegh Bahadur did the same.

This instigated Aurangzeb to instruct his viceroy of Kashmir to intensify further his policy of oppression and torture to convert the non-Muslims. As life of the Kashmiri Hindus became increasingly unbearable in the face of intensified Mughal oppression, Guru Tegh Bahadur encouraged the Kashmiri Hindus to put strong resistance to Aurangzeb’s barbaric policy of spreading Islam. When the Guru’s audacity came to the knowledge of Aurangzeb, the enraged emperor summoned the Guru to Delhi. At this situation, Guru Tegh Bahadur told his son Govind Singh that the situation demands martyrdom. Govind Singh replied: “Who could be a better martyr than you!”

After Aurangzeb ordered for the arrest of Guru Tegh Bahadur, he departed from Anandpur for Delhi to present himself before the emperor. Before departing, he nominated his son Gobind Rai (Guru Gobind Singh) as the next Sikh Guru.

He was arrested at Malikhpur on his way to Delhi along with some of his closest followers, namely Bhai Dayala, Bhai Mati Das and Bhai Sati Das in July 1675. Aurangzeb was busy putting down Pashtun rebellion at the time, and the Guru and his followers were kept in custody for over three months, locking in iron cage like animals.

They were taken to Delhi in November 1675 and Aurangzeb asked the Guru to embrace Islam. When the Guru flatly rejected the proposal, he was put in chains and ordered to be tortured until he would accept Islam. Whe  n he refused to abandon his faith to save himself in the face of extreme torture, he was asked to perform some miracles to prove his divinity. Guru Tegh Bahadur refused it. After that, Aurangzeb sentenced him to death. So, the Sikhs say, “Guru Ji sir diya, sar nehi diya” (Guru Ji gave his head, but not his faith). He was executed on Wednesday, November 24, 1675 in public at Chandni Chownk in Delhi.

Gurudwara Sis Gunj Sahib
Bhai Jaita carried Guru Teg Bahadur's severed head

It is important to note that Guru Tegh Bahadur sacrificed his life primarily for the sake of the Hindu religion, hoping to ensure that they were able to follow and practice their beliefs in freedom and liberty. In fact, he gave up his life for the sake of freedom of religion in general in India, so that the Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists were able to choose and practice their beliefs without hindrance or coercion. And duly the Guru is also called "Hind Di Chadar" or "The Shield of India", meaning that he gave up his life to protect the religious freedom of non-Muslims in Mughal India.

Later on, Gurdwara Sis Ganj Sahib in Chandni Chowk in Delhi was built on the place where the Guru was beheaded in commemoration of his sacrifice. After his beheading, a brave Sikh, named Bhai Jaita, fearlessly carried his decapitated head for handing it over to his son Guru Govind Singh.

The closest disciples, who were also arrested along with Guru Tegh Bahadur and brought to Delhi, were also executed with horrendous cruelty, which we like to describe in the next article.


(To be continued)

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