October 26, 2016

Emperor Aurangzeb's Grave, Khuldabad, Maharashtra

“I am grown very old and weak. I know not who I am or what I have been doing. I have not done well for the country or its people. My years have gone by profitless. God has been in my heart; yet my darkened eyes have not recognized His light. Every torment I have inflicted, every sin I have committed, I carry the consequence with me. Strange that I came with nothing into the world, and now go away with this stupendous caravan of sin! Alas, life is transient, and the lost moment never comes back. There is no hope for me in the future, and I know not what punishment be in store for me to suffer. Though my trust be in the mercy of God I deplore my sins. Come what will, I have launched my bark upon the waters! Farewell! Farewell! Farewell!”
– Emperor Aurangzeb’s last letter to his son Azam

In the middle of nowhere

The unchallenged reign of Emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir (AD 1658-1707) stands forth as such an unprecedented epoch in the annals of Indian history that his own life story practically mirrors the chronicle of the enormous subcontinent for 50 years. 300 years later, he unarguably remains the most despised sovereign, especially for the saffron brigade, so much so that an arterial road in the national capital was rechristened recently in an endeavor to erase his life and times.

And why shouldn’t it be so?

His deliberate reversal of his predecessors’ religious policies towards his non-Muslim and unorthodox Muslim subjects, and his fiercely bigoted discrimination in matters of religious co-existence and taxation and revenue collection remains uncontested. Not only that, he prohibited by royal decree the celebration of Holi and Diwali and the marking of Muharram.

In his famous “Benaras Firman” of AD 1659, he decreed that though no long-standing, legally authorized temple henceforth be demolished or desecrated nor the inhabitant Brahmins be disturbed or persecuted in any way, new temples should not be allowed to be constructed without permission nor should Hindu religious education be disseminated from any shrine. Several temples in Benaras, Sindh and Multan were thus destroyed and Brahmins imprisoned and punished for using them for purposes of instruction.

In AD 1665, he ordered officials in Gujarat to demolish all those shrines, including the famed Somnath temple, which the Governor had previously devastated but Hindus had had renovated or reconstructed. The beautiful stone railings of Keshav Deo temple of Mathura were dismantled the next year since the same were financed by Dara Shukoh. In AD 1669, the Governor of Orissa was obliged to destroy all Hindu shrines that fell in his dominions. Vishwanath and Gopinath temples in Benaras and Keshav Rai temple in Mathura were also totally devastated the same year and mosques raised at their sites.

The ninth Sikh spiritual preceptor Guru Tegh Bahadur and his closest associates were imprisoned, barbarically tortured and decapitated in AD 1675 for refusing to convert to Islam and protesting the anti-Hindu barbarities.

In AD 1679, over 300 temples were destroyed in Udaipur, Jodhpur, Jaipur and Amber – Rajputs resisting the same were brutally slaughtered. Numerous Hindu shrines were also destroyed in Dwarka, Ayodhya and Haridwar.

Not relenting yet, a special “Daroga-i-Beldar” (“Superintendent of Laborers”) was appointed to the armies to oversee the razing to ground of all Hindu shrines encountered on the march through Deccan, Maharashtra, Golconda and Bijapur.

In an unpretentious compound

Though his disastrous religious policy is generally held responsible for the swift downfall of the empire, for the Emperor however it wasn’t merely a matter of personal caprice or earthly gains, but consideration of the Quran's orthodox interpretations which exhort every pious Muslim to exert him/herself to wage Jihad against non-Muslim countries (“Dar-ul-Harb”) to transform them into realms of faith (“Dar-ul-Islam”). To him, the religion of the great majority of his subjects was an abomination and a mischief which he fervently abhorred and considered his sovereign and personal duty before heaven to persecute and, if possible, stamp out through iconoclastic sacrilege, judicial persecution, economic repression, forced conversions and restriction of worship.

But did he ever regret his decisions and proclamations? We know not.

We do however know that until his demise at the ripe old age of 89 years, he remained distinguished for his religious dedication, personal chastity and public austerity. So much so that he willed to be interred not in Aurangabad where rests in eternal repose his beloved queen Rabia-ul-Daurani, but in nearby Khuldabad (“Abode of Eternity”) close to the hallowed mausoleums of 1,500 Sufi philosopher-dervishes including the illustrious 14th-century saints Hazrat Zainuddin Saiyyid Shirazi and Hazrat Burhanuddin Garib (disciple of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya of Delhi, refer Pixelated Memories - Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah). Not only that, he also refused to appropriate royal funds for personal expenditures, and paid the Rs 14.75 due for the minuscule space where his grave is located from the proceeds of the sale of the prayer caps he hand-stitched and had sold anonymously! Not unsurprisingly, though he also had assimilated Rs 350 from the sale of the calligraphic Qurans he copied, he forbade the use of this money for any personal purpose, simply stating that he’d be answerable to Allah if he had committed any mistakes in the copied renditions and profited from the same.

Such was the unadorned and uncovered grave's austerity that it stunned Governor-General Lord Curzon (officiated 1899-1905) so much so that he immediately requested the then Nizam of Hyderabad to have it enclosed with a delicate marble lattice screen. Vis-à-vis the monumentally magnificent mausoleums of his predecessors, the grave still retains its heartrending simplicity, unpretentiously shrouded only by a scanty layer of grass and stunted herbs like his sister Jahanara Begum’s unembellished tomb in Delhi (refer Pixelated Memories - Jahanara Begum's Tomb). That this is how the exceedingly powerful master of India’s unparalleled wealth, the man whose empire extending from Ghazni to Chittagong and from Kashmir to Karnataka yielded Rs 3 billion annually in revenues (in AD 1700!), decided to be buried is certainly bewildering!

“Though under Earth and throneless now I be, Yet, while I lived, all Earth was under me!”
– C.S. Lewis, “The Chronicles of Narnia”

In an austere grave, rests “the dervish clad in imperial purples”

Stepping through the massive whitewashed gateway and exploring the colossal courtyard of the adjoining mosque, one cannot help feel overwhelmed by the impermeable silences, the terrifying solitariness. Neither birds flutter overhead, nor do the ubiquitous palm fronds whisper their frighteningly eerie secrets. Time, ceaseless elsewhere, seems to have come to an unheralded standstill. In Delhi, the saffron brigade might be restlessly deleting the signs of the Emperor’s existence, but here he appears to have already been irretrievably forgotten! Wonder what he would have made of that!

Location: Khuldabad is located 27 kilometers (an hour by car) from Aurangabad. One can hire a private taxi for 12 hours (costs approx. Rs 1,500-2,000) and explore the nearby located fortress-citadel of Daualatabad and the rock-cut caves at Ellora as well on the same day. The highway connecting Khuldabad and Aurangabad is exceptionally well-maintained, however expect vehicular congestion and human overpopulation within Khuldabad itself.
Open: All days, sunrise to sunset
Entrance fees: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 30 min (though the whole of the Khuldabad funerary zone will take considerably more)
Suggested reading -
Mausoleums of Emperor Aurangzeb's siblings and other Mughal sovereigns -
  1. Pixelated Memories - Humayun's Tomb complex, Delhi (where is interred Dara Shukoh as well)
  2. Pixelated Memories - Jahanara Begum's Tomb, Delhi
  3. Pixelated Memories - Moti Masjid, Delhi (where is interred Emperor Bahadur Shah “Zafar” II)
Other monuments/landmarks in Maharashtra -
  1. Pixelated Memories - Pataleshwar Temple, Pune
  2. Pixelated Memories - Vishrambaug Wada and Shaniwar Wada, Pune
Relevant links -
  1. Aulia-e-hind.com - Tomb of Great Moghal Emperor Aurangzeb
  2. Double-dolphin.blogspot.in - Aurangzeb's Tomb, Khuldabad
  3. Scroll.in - Article "Was Aurangzeb the most evil ruler India has ever had?" (dated Sep 02, 2015) by Shoaib Daniyal
  4. Wikipedia.org - Aurangzeb
  5. Wikipedia.org - Khuldabad