Let’s Get Rid of Communal Myths Falsely Spread as History


           As communal harmony has come under stress in recent years due to propagation of myths about excessive faith based hostility in historical times,   it is important to get rid of these myths so that the foundation of social harmony and inter-faith harmony in our country can be strengthened.

The long battle between Rana Pratap and Akbar is well known, but it is also important to recall that after both Pratap and Akbar had left for heavenly abode, their sons decided to stop fighting, Amar Singh and  Jahangir reached an  honourable agreement which appears to have satisfied both sides. At this stage the communal minded historians get caught in their own trap. Because in the earlier phase they have shown nothing but hatred for Mughal rulers, they are now forced to make at least mild criticism of Amar, while on a fair appraisal he comes out as a valiant warrior and a fine statesman, not afraid of struggle, yet not held back by sheer pride when the interests of his people demand this.

In the 1857 uprising against the British rule the Mughal king Bahadul Shah Zafar, despite his old age and weakness, became a symbol of freedom for Hindu and Muslim freedom fighters alike.

Most of the famous battles fought during the years of the Mughal rule have unfortunately been propagated by forces of communalism as  battles between Hindus and Muslims and people are surprised when told that Shivaji’s army had a significant number of Muslims  and that all through Aurangzeb’s prolonged fight with Shivaji several Maratha nobles continued to occupy an important place in the Mughal court and army. The names of these Maratha nobles in Aurangzeb’s court are available in historical documents and in fact historians have compiled a list of such names. It is surprising but true that the number of Maratha nobles in Aurangzeb’s court was higher than in the court of any other Mughal ruler before him. It was also common for several Hindu kings and chiefs to have Muslim nobles.

Earlier at Haldighati Hakim Sur and his Afghan soldiers had fought valiantly on the side of Rana Pratap. On the Mughal side there were a large number of Rajput soldiers led by Raja Man Singh. Still earlier at the battle of Khanwa, Mahmood Lodi  and Hasan Khan Mewati had fought on the side of Rana Sanga against the army of Babar.

From these examples it should be clearly known that the famous battles of the days of the Mughal rule were not battles between the  Hindus and the Muslims- instead the armies which fought each other were of a mixed composition. In fact there are even instances when Muslim fundamentalists had ganged up against Muslim rulers, and then the Mughal rulers had sent an army under the leadership of Hindu Rajas to quell such rebellions!

Describing this rebellion Prof. Satish Chandra writes, “The rebellion kept the empire distracted for almost two years (1580-81) and Akbar was faced with a very difficult and delicate situation. Due to the mishandling of the situation by local officials, Bengal and almost the whole of Bihar passed into the hands of the rebels who proclaimed Mirza Hakim as their ruler. They even got a religious divine to issue a Fatwa, calling on the faithful  to take the field against Akbar. Akbar did not lose his nerve. He despatched a force under Todar Mal against Bengal and Bihar and another under Raja Man Singh to check the expected attack by Mirza Hakim.”

When a Hindu king of Bikaner was defeated by a Hndu King of Marwar, his family sought refuge in the court of Shershah Suri. When Humayun was defeated by Shershah Suri, he sought refuge with the (Hindu) King of Amarkot. Akbar was born here. Later in Ayodhya, Nawal Rai died fighting for Nawab Safdarjung.

It is clear from the above examples that the history of Mughal India or of times after this  is not a history of fights between people of two religions.  Kings fought each other time and again, but generally there were mixed armies on both sides. Further heroes and villains did not exist in any one religion. On some occasions, the persons who showed great valour and large heartedness happened to be Hindus, on some other occasions they happened to be Muslims. In fact the biggest heroes of this age were those who rose above all sectarian considerations to spread the message of universal love and brotherhood – men like Sant Kabir and Guru Nanak.

Heritage of Inter-Faith Harmony and Respect in History

Mahatma Gandhi and Shahid Bhagat Singh, two very great freedom fighters of India,  were united in several ideals and in particular they were one in emphasizing the great importance of inter-faith unity and harmony in India. As communal forces have posed increasing threat to national unity in recent decades in India, it has become increasingly important  to highlight the strength and resilience of the country to resist and defeat such assaults on social harmony and secular constitution of the nation. It is even more important now than before to highlight the heritage of mutual respect, co-operation and assimilation among people of  various faiths and communities  in our country.

First Muslim scholars came to India before any Muslim rulers did, and they came with the spirit of learning and not conquering. They carried back from India several works of wisdom and these were then translated into Arabic. Acknowledging this intellectual gift, Arab author Yaquibi wrote in the year 895, “The Hindus are superior to all other nations in intelligence and thoughtfulness. They are more exact in astronomy and astrology than any other people. The Brahma Sidhanta is a good proof of their intellectual powers, by this book the Greeks and the Persians have also profited.”

Another Arab historian Qazi Said wrote, “The Hindus have always been considered by all other people as the custodians of learning and wisdom.”

Thus the very first contacts were favourable, and these were strengthened subsequently at the upper level by certain liberal policies initiated by Akbar and retained by several Muslim rulers of the smaller kingdoms such as Bijapur, Mysore and Oudh. More important, at the grassroots level,  these ties were strengthened by the Bhakri and Sufi movements which stressed the unity of God and religions and attracted millions of followers.

Akbar started many good traditions. He respected and listened to the views of learned men from several religions including not only Hindus and Muslims but also Sikhs, Christians and others. He gave liberal grants for maintenance of Hindu temples. He started a translation department to get the Ramayana , the Mahabharata and the Bible translated into Persian language.

In the Deccan kingdoms, a sixteenth century king Adil Shah followed a similar path. He established a very good library to look after which he appointed a Sanskrit scholar Vaman Pandit. His descendent Ibrahim Adil Shah was called the ‘friend of the poor’ and ‘world’s teacher’ due to his policies of benevolence and goodwill. In his songs he often pays respects to Saraswati, the Hindu Goddess of learning. He played an important role in the development of some Hindu religious places.

In Kashmir the 15th century king Zain-ul-Abdin was a scholar of Sanskrit as well as Persian, and played an important  role in translating parts of the Upanishads into Persian. He publicly participated in Hindu festivals and constructed temples.

In Bengal Pathan kings like Sultan Nazir Shah and Sultan Hussain Shah followed similar policies and arranged for the translation of Mahabharata and Bhagwat Puran into Bengali.

A governor of the Vijaynagar empire at Mangalore  committed some excesses and damaged four mosques. When this was made known to a higher officer called Baicheya Dannayaka and Emperor Devaraya II of the Vijaynagar empire, they ordered payment of compensation to the Muslims for repair of the four mosques.

King Jayasimha of the Solanki dynasty who ruled Gujarat in the first half of the 12th century was known for his sense of justice. When he came to know of the destruction of a mosque in Cambay then, having confirmed the news properly, he punished the culprits and gave 2,00,000 silver coins to the muslims of Cambay to rebuild the mosque.

The Portuguese visitor Barbosa who visited the Vijaynagar  empire between 1512-14 said, “The King allows such freedom that every man may come and go and live according  to his own creed without suffering any annoyance and without any enquiry, whether he is Christian, Jew, Moor or Heathen.”

Bahmani Sultan Alla-ud-Din II (1436-58) was devoted to Narasimha Saraswati, a great Hindu sage. Ibrahim II, the Adilshahi ruler of Bijapur  was also a devotee of Narasimha Saraswati. He built a small shrine near his palace in Bijapur  and placed the paduka (footwear) of the saint here.

But more important was the impact of the Bhakti and Sufi movements at the grassroots level. These poets and teachers spoke against the artificial and ritualistic divisions among religions and in favour of the essential unity of all religions. They emphasized basically the purity and depth of the relationship between God and the devotees. The strength of this relationship would render the various rituals and artificial impositions  as insignificant. They wrote devotional  songs and poems in the common man’s language, thereby eliminating the necessity of intermediaries in worship.

Thus despite several adverse factors and problems, a certain integration and assimilation of Hindu and Muslim population was certainly taking place before the advent of the British rule.

Despite British efforts to divide and rule, the impact of this integration could be seen in the 1857 uprising against British rule in which Hindus united with the Muslims in an effort to oust the foreign rulers. This prompted the colonial rulers to initiate even more organized efforts to promote communal divides, but despite this glorious examples of communal harmony could be seen time and again in the Gandhian freedom movement, in the struggles led by Subhash Chandra Bose and  in the struggles led by revolutionaries like Shahid Bhagat Singh. It is this heritage of mutual respect, cooperation and assimilation which has faced increasing threat in recent times and so needs special efforts today for its protection and promotion.

When Muslim Rulers Helped and Protected Hindu Temples

The temple-mosque controversies raised by communal forces increasingly in recent decades tried to create a false image of life in  medieval  India. While a few wrong acts of intolerance may have taken place, and here we should not forget that some forces and persons of intolerance have been present in most stages of history in most places, the wider picture is one of a large number of temples being maintained or even built with the help of Hindu as well as Muslim rulers of medieval times. This has been pointed out repeatedly by several learned historians.

As example let us look at the policy of Mughal rulers towards the temples of Vrindavan- Mathura region. This Hindu pilgrimage was nearest to Delhi and Agra,  two most main centres of the Mughal rule and so it is of significance to know the relationship which the Mughal rulers had with the temples of Mathura and Vrindavan and with their priests and devotees. Dozens of documents of those days are available to reveal the policy of Akbar, Jahangir and Shahjahan towards these temples. These documents have been available in Vrindavan Research Institute and in some of the temples. These have been studied by Tarapada Mukerjee and Irfan Habib in the papers presented at the 48th and 49th session of Indian History Congress.

According to the study of Mukerjee and Habib, based on documents of Mughal days, Akbar enlarged and consolidated all grants to temples and temple- servants in the Mathura region by his farmaans (dated 27th August, 1598 and 11th September, 1598) in Vrindavan, Mathura and their environs. Jahangir not only continued these grants, he substantially added to these. Jahangir added at least two temples to the list of thirty five already supported by Akbar’s grant of 1598, In addition he provided 121 bighas of land for 5 families of temple sevaks. Jahangir also visited Vrindavan temples in 1620.

The documents mentioned also reveal that whenever temple priests had any serious problem, they approached Mughal rulers or their senior officials and generally the rulers/ their  officials took action to solve their problems. On one occasion the water supply to Radha Kund was stopped, in an another case a tax was imposed on the cattle kept by temples, in another case some trees around a temple were cut, in yet another case gardeners of temples were subjected to forced labour. In all these cases complaints were made by priests or others connected with these temples to Mughal rulers or their senior officials. And in all the above mentioned cases, prompt action was taken to solve the problems. The fact that the priests appealed to the rulers/ officials even for problems which were not very important indicates that they expected to get favorable verdicts from them.

In fact there are documents to show that even when there were disputes among two priests or other religious persons connected with temples, the intervention of Mughal rulers or their officials was sought to settle the dispute and the example of at least one such dispute between  Damodardas Radhaballabh and Kishan Chaitan is given in one of the documents.

The Nawabs of Oudh gave several grants to the temples of Ayodhya and provided them protection in other ways. The Diwan of Nawab Safdarjung built several temples in Ayodhya and arranged for the repair of other temples. Nawab Safdarjung  gave land for the construction of an important temple here. Asafadullah’s diwan gave further help for the construction of a temple.

It should be added that several Hindu kings, not only those who were subordinate to Mughals but also those who were independent, reciprocated this gesture. For example, Shivaji built a mosque in front of his palace in Raigad.

It is therefore important that our sense of history should not fall prey to communal propaganda, and the heritage of respecting each other’s religious places as revealed in the examples given above, should be continued.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Protect Earth Now. His recent books include When the Two Streams Met ( Freedom Movement of India) and Man Over Machine ( Ideas of Mahatma Gandhi for our times).

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