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Debunking Myths

Shivaji and Aurangzeb

Facts and Fiction

By Maqbool Ahmed Siraj

Deification and demonization of historical personalities is fraught with risks.

Communal historians had their objectives well defined ever since the dawn of independence. They engaged themselves in constructing the ‘other’ as malignant, as enemy, as a threat and sinister. Lumpen elements aided by communal parties translated the acknowledged prejudices into violence to ultimately reap the electoral harvest.

It is the persona of Aurangzeb Alamgir which has borne the ire of certain historians engaged in nationalizing history as imagined by the Hindutva politicians. This has led to two parallel efforts: to make a patriotic projection of Maratha hero Shivaji and vilify last of the great Mughal rulers Aurangzeb. And the power tug-of-war between the two came to be interpreted as Hindu-Muslim tussle. It was not. The adversarial relationship between Shivaji and Aurangzeb revolved round the question of power wielding in the Deccan plateau. Shivaji had become as much a threat to Adil Shahi kingdom in the South as was he for the Mughals in the North. Narratives about Shivaji gathered the nationalist overtones during the freedom struggle in Maharashtra when Congress leader Bal Gangadhar Tilak found Shivaji an ideal figure from the history to be projected as a hero in 1896-97. Nationalism today assumes that the members of the ‘imagined community’ participate in the cultural traditions. Much of what is national and cultural interest, got blended into the heroic tales during the last two centuries, mainly at the hands of historian M. S. Ranade1. Similarly, Aurangzeb has been liberally tarred with a black brush to fit into the enemy picture. He has been projected principally as a Hindu-hater. In order to gather more support, instances of bias against certain other communities too were co-opted. Tags like enemy of culture and opponent of Shias fall in this category. Aurangzeb’s individual piety therefore gets transmuted into rigid observance of Islamic mores in public life.

Though Shivaji constantly harassed the Mughals, serious losses induced him to make peace with Aurangzeb. He appeared at Aurangzeb’s court who treated him with contempt. Historians write that seldom was the political sagacity more at fault. The highlander escaped in disguise and turned into a menace.

Shivaji’s constant conflict did not deter him from adopting several mores associated with the Islamic rule. He wore an Islamic flowing robe (as he is depicted in most photographs today), accepting Salams and visiting mausoleums. A Muslim historian has conceded the fact that Shivaji was never disrespectful of Muslims and protected the honour of women and children whenever they fell into his hand. Practice of polygamy is generally associated with Muslims. But as many as eight queens have been named in the case of Shivaji2. Though the personal rivalry between Aurangzeb and Shivaji ended in killing of Rajaram (Shivaji’s son) at the hands of the Mughal forces, grandsons of Shivaji (daughters of Rajaram and Sambhaji) were raised as princes in Aurangzeb’s court and married to daughters of Mughal nobles3. One of them, Shahuji returned to Maharashtra (Satara to be specific) to rule with full support of successors of Aurangzeb.4 All that can be said about Shivaji’s Hindu credentials is that he wanted to be an independent Hindu ruler and patronize Hindu religious traditions. He also passionately followed the objective of protecting cows and honoured ascetics and saints. All those heroic deeds like killing Afzal Khan and punishing Shaista Khan got wedded to his desire for sovereign rule, first to eulogize him as a Maratha hero and then a champion of Hindu state. Literary accretions kept growing and spun a legend out of him much later.

Shivaji’s constant conflict did not deter him from adopting several mores associated with the Islamic rule. He wore an Islamic flowing robe (as he is depicted in most photographs today), accepting Salams and visiting mausoleums. A Muslim historian has conceded the fact that Shivaji was never disrespectful of Muslims and protected the honour of women.

Similarly, Aurangzeb was no champion of Islam. However, he led an austere life, making sparing use of resources for his own self. It has received a mention by historians and travelers like Khafi Khan, Ovington, Bernier, and Dr. Careri.
Beyond this, he was ruthless suppressor of dissent and dealt with rebels severely. He married Rajput women. Among his wives was daughter of Rajauri Raja who took the title of Nawab Bai after entering the palace of Aurangzeb. His other wives were Udaipuri Mahal, Bairabai and Chhattar Bai.

Aurangzeb did not detest local culture

Aurangzeb is held to be enemy of culture, music and literature. Facts speak to the contrary. He used to write poetry in Hindi. One of his couplet is:

Baithi raho qarar se, man me rakho dheer
Sahab se vinti karo, jo bahuren alamgir.

Most mangoes carry Persian names. But two varieties presented to Aurangzeb by Prince Azam were named as ‘sudharas’ and ‘sitabilas’.

His court had two musicians, Faqeerullah Saif Khan who took lessons from Mansingh Gwaliari and translated Sanskrit work Manak Sohal into Persian and titled as Rag Darpan. One of this manuscript is with Darul Musanniffeen, Azamgarh. Second musician is Syed Nizamuddin Bilgrami who wrote Nad Chandrika and Madhunaik Singar.


Aurangzeb’s killing of his brothers is cited in proof of his brutality. It serves the marginal purpose of showing the Muslim emperors in unkindly light. It is of course true that he got all three of his brothers killed because they were challengers to his throne. But he was not alone to indulge in fratricide. Ashoka killed his brother to usurp the throne. Jehangir’s eldest son Khusru also rebelled against his father and was defeated in a war and imprisoned for life. Shah Jehan also rebelled against Jehangir, fought a war, defeated and surrendered and had to seek peace by giving as hostages two of his sons Dara and Aurangzeb to Agra. Even Aurangzeb upon becoming King, imprisoned his father Shah Jehan in Agra Fort and granted him all enjoyment except liberty.

Aurangzeb also imprisoned his eldest son for life and kept his second son in captivity for six years upon a mere suspicion of disloyalty. Historians attribute all this revolts and rebellions to absence of specific convention for appointing a successor.5

One of his sons, Akbar rebelled against Aurangzeb and joined Shivaji’s side in Deccan Plateau. He was defeated and he eventually sailed for Persia in 1681 never to return to the realm of his father. The principle that is lost sight of while debating the lives of the great men is that they are great because of their great public deeds. Not because of grand or pious private lives.

One reason why Aurangzeb took upon Shivaji is that he perceived the secret arrangement between Adil Shahis and Shivaji under which Shivaji sent a 6,000 strong army to help the Adil Shahis to fight against Mughals.

But later Adil Shahis developed mistrust of Shivaji and sought Mughal help to fight against Marhattas. Even Qutb Shahi kingdom had allied with Shivaji and threw a grand reception in his honour in 1677 and gave him one lakh Hun in the ceremony. This angered Aurangzeb. Just as these instances explain reasons for Aurangzeb’s enmity against Shivaji, they also etch to relief the power equations between rulers regardless of the faith of the ruler.

Was Aurangzeb anti-Shia?

It was British trained historian Jadunath Sarkar who concocted the theory of Aurangzeb being anti-Shia while interpreting his assault on Deccani Muslim kingdoms.

Aurangzeb was born to Mumtaz Mahal, a Shia wife of Shah Jehan. His uncle (mamoo) Shayasta Khan was Shia and a very important commander of army. His another notable commander Mir Jumla was also Shia. Other important Shia commanders such as Ruhullah Bakshi al Mumalik and Mir Atish belonged to the Iranian Safavi family.

Aurangzeb married his son Azam Shah with Princess Shehar Bano of Bijapur Kingdom. She was a Shia. Aurangzeb’s eldest son Mohammad Sultan was married to princess of Qutb Shahi king who was also a Shia. With such intertwining kinship ties with Shias, it is inconceivable that Aurangzeb could think of taking upon certain kingdom merely because they were headed by Shias.

It all boils down to the fact that Aurangzeb’s assault on Deccan Muslim kingdoms was motivated by political reasons rather than any enmity with Shias.

Notes and references

1. James W. Laine, Shivaji, Hindu King in Islamic India, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2003

2. Historian Sabhasad lists eight queens: Saibai, Putlabai, Soyerbai, Lakshmibai, Sakwar-bai, Kashibai, Sagunabai and Gunvantbai. Shivaji married them between 1640 and 1657 when he was reportedly of the age of 13 to 30.

3. Muasir e Alamgiri, page 46

4. Shivaji died in 1680 and the tug of war in the Deccan plateau shifted to between Aurangzeb led Mughal forces and Sambhaji. Sambhaji was captured in 1689 and was put to death at the emperor’s order.

5. A. V. William Jackson (ed.), History of India, Vol. Iv, The Grolier Society Publishers, London, Baroda Edition 1903, page 148.

(The writer can be reached at and

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