A one-dimensional view of history
Balbir Punj (‘Cheating on the Past ‘, IE, October 2) essentially opposed the understanding of the history of the leader of the RSS, Mohan Bhagwat – Bhagwat strove to create harmony between Hindus and Muslims. Punj does not believe in forgetting the past and says the role of Islamic invaders cannot be glossed over. I have great respect for Punj’s scholarship, but he ignored my statement that “the true ruling elite of all religions also oppressed the peasants, looting and sometimes for political reasons alone, destroying religious places ”.
There are historical facts that cannot be denied, but history is not one-dimensional. The RSS leader was right to blame the British because Sir Henry M. Elliot in his Bibliographic Index of Historians of India by Muhammedan (1850) deliberately presented Muslim rulers as oppressive to justify the British takeover, which , in his opinion, brought the so-called “full light of European truth, gentleness and fairness”. How the British destroyed our economy and our trade was admitted even by Punj. Who can dispute Dadabhai Naoroji’s thesis on the “flight of wealth”? Unlike the British, the Muslim rulers made India their home.
Let’s talk about temple attacks first – Punj specifically mentioned Somnath. Royal temples were seen as political institutions and an integral part of the king’s sovereignty and, therefore, an attack on them had political and rather than religious motivations. King Chalukya Somesyara III said it in so many words when he himself recorded that the enemy’s capital, including palaces and temples, must be burned down. Three years before the attack on Somnath, King Chola Rajendra I in 1022 ordered his army to travel over 1,500 km to defeat King Pala Mahipala. The bronze image of Siva was removed from the temple and transported to Thanjavur, the capital of the Cholas. Likewise of King Kalinga of Odisha, in addition to the precious stones, the idols of Bhairava, Bhairavi and Kali were taken by force. Several Jain temples were also looted in Gujarat by the kings of Parmara. King Harsha of Kashmir had institutionalized such plunder. Indra III of the Rashtrakuta dynasty had demolished the temples of the Pratiharas.
The Somnath expedition was undertaken in 1025. The presiding deity here too was Siva. Mahmood Ghazni was indeed a ruthless looter who attacked temples to get rich and that is why he spared thousands of temples during his 1,600 km journey to Somnath. Regarding these attacks as routine, no Sanskrit source recorded by the local population has given a detailed account of the highly condemnable and absolutely anti-Islamic attack on Somnath. Life in the neighboring places has remained normal. Sanskrit texts did not mention the religious identity of the invaders but referred to them by their ethnic identity – Turushkas or Turks. The King of Goa who visited Somnath in 1037 said nothing about Mahmood’s attack. In 1216 the temple was fortified to save it from the Hindu kings of Malwa.
The leader of the RSS is right because it was after about eight centuries that the British presented it as an attack on Hinduism with the clear intention of creating animosity between Hindus and Muslims. Of course, a few Persian sources glorified such shameful attacks on temples. But Mahmood also appointed a Hindu military general for his army stationed in Lahore in 1033. Hindus who emigrated from India and settled in Ghazni were allowed to build their temples. The kings of Ghaznavid even issued coins that included the Nandi bull of Siva, although the pictorial representation of living beings is prohibited in Islam.
In addition, ordinary Muslims were really unhappy with the attacks on temples. As a result, when Sultan Masood, the son and successor of Mahmood sent a camel laden with riches to a mystical saint with a letter indicating that this wealth had been acquired by his father during his Indian conquests, the saint returned it saying that ‘he was aware of how these expeditions were made.
Punj should know that Mahmood and Muhammad Ghauri also attacked several Muslim kings. In 1150, the ruler of Ghaur, Bahram Shah, burned the entire city of Ghazni, including the library of Ibn Sina, and even destroyed mosques. True Ghauri destroyed several Hindu temples as they were considered the most visible signs of the rulers’ sovereignty. But then Ghauri also restored Prithviraj Chauhan’s son to Ajmer’s kingship. Likewise, after the defeat in 1196, King Parihara of Gwalior and King Gahadavala of Banaras were restored as tributary kings. King Solanki of Gujarat has also been restored.
Timur, Nadir Shah and Ahmad Shah Abdali were certainly invaders, but they waged wars against the Muslim rulers of India and therefore these wars were territorial and not religious. Even Babur had captured Delhi by defeating Sultan Ibrahim Lodhi. Nadir Shah called Indian Muslims hindooane kalmago – Hindu Muslims. This is what Bhagwat has always said.
The political nature of temple attacks can also be understood by looking at a few examples. As prince Mohammad Bin Tughlaq in 1326 had destroyed the temple of Siva at Warrangal, but after becoming sultan in 1329 he ordered the repair of the temple of Siva at Kalyan as it was now in his kingdom. Even Aurangzeb supported the temples with grants and money. He heavily attacked state officials who harassed the Brahmins of Banaras. But just like Tughlaq, the temples of enemies or those that served as a refuge for state rebels or facilitated Shivaji’s flight were destroyed by him.
Regarding the conversion, Punj has not cited any authentic contemporary sources on his state sponsored large-scale forced conversion claim. Nizamuddin Aulia himself had opposed conversion when a Muslim disciple brought his Hindu brother to Nizamuddin in the hope of achieving conversion. In 1317, Nizamuddin even refused to ask a Hindu to convert to Islam. In fact, Sufi saints had great respect for Hindu religious beliefs. Nizamuddin was walking along the Yamuna bank one day in Delhi with Amir Khusro, they saw Hindu women bathing in the river and offering prayers in the sun, Nizamuddin said, “Khusro, these women also pray to Allah. They have their own way of praying. Shahjahan in 1634 issued a formal decree on the Madan Mohan temple in Brindavan and called the Hindu cult Ibadate Ilahi (divine cult). Akbar and Jahangir also opposed conversions. Thomas Coryat, a Briton who spent two years at Jahangir’s court, says the emperor had an aversion to changing his religion.
Muslims have even adopted several Hindu customs including jauhar. In 1301, Muhammad Shah, a former Mongolian convert to Islam, killed his entire family as Alauddin Khalji was about to seize the fort of Ranthambhor. In 1617, a certain Qasim Khan, who had been governor of Bengal, also preferred jauhar to the capture of women.
Imposition of discrimination jazia was the exception rather than the rule, and it was rarely collected, except in the last decades of Aurangzeb’s reign, primarily to support wars in the south and to please religious fanatics. It was an exemption from military service and was imposed on able-bodied men. Hindus who served in the Imperial Army were exempt. Surprisingly, the tax officials once arrived in Nizamuddin to collect jazia.
Systematic religious persecution in the modern sense has not taken place. Akbar forbade the killing not only of cows but even of peacocks. No one was executed for blasphemy. When a Brahmin is sentenced to death by a kazi, the emperor becomes angry and sends the judge in exile to Mecca. Muslim rulers married Hindu women. Jahangir and Shahjahan’s mothers were Hindus. Syed Ali Nadeem Rizvi says that Hindu and Muslim nobles lived with their havelis near Agra Fort and Holi and Muharram were celebrated together. Even Hindus attended Muslim schools. Thus Balkrishnan Brahman during Shahjahan was sent to the maktab of Abdul Majid in Hisar. Likewise, Muslims attended Hindu schools in Banaras, Thatta and Multan. Hindu and Muslim merchants jointly owned the cargo and ships laden with merchandise in Surat and in 1666 they even jointly protested against the kazis.
Punj disparaged the Hindu representation in Mughal nobility by comparing it to the recruitment of Indians by the British. But he failed to understand that so few Englishmen were available in India, large numbers of Muslims were available to Muslim rulers. Isn’t it surprising that Mughal Emperor Babur was surprised in 1526 to find that all tax officials were Hindus despite 300 years of Muslim rule?
Indeed, the Muslim rulers did a lot of things that by modern standards were absolutely wrong. But should we judge medieval rulers by today’s standards, especially when we refuse to judge today’s democratic governments by the mandate of our Constitution and its liberal and enlightened view?
The author is Vice-Chancellor of NALSAR Law University, Hyderabad. Views are personal