Book Review - History of Aurangzib by Jadunath Sarkar

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  1. ashdoc

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    Book Review by: SPN'er ashdoc (Name?)

    This book , written by legendary bengali historian Jadunath Sarkar , was written during british rule , and is arguably the largest and the finest detail account of the life and times of India's most controversial emperor--Aurangzeb . Originally running into four volumes , it has now been abridged , and put together in one volume by Orient Blackswain.

    The book dwells in short on his early life--how he had a inborn trait of suspicion . Once , he and his brothers and father are supposed to enter a underground room . He refuses , saying that somebody could murder them there.....

    The stellar part of the book is of course the way in which he won the throne , murdering all his brothers in the process , and imprisoning his father , the emperor Shahjahan after a series of epic battles . The book also makes it clear that he had no choice in the process ; his own brother declares about his own ambition for the throne-- ' Ya takht ya tabut !! ' ( either the throne or the grave !! ) , meaning that he himself would kill Aurangzeb and his brothers if he won....or himself get killed. Such is the brutal tradition of Mughal emperors . Aurangzeb's own father Shahjahan has killed his brother before ascending the throne......

    This tradition is forever in Aurangzeb's mind , for during his rule , he is forever plagued by suspicion that one of his sons would imprison him in a similar manner and humiliate him as he daily humiliated his father Shahjahan--so Aurangzeb keeps a close watch on his sons , and imprisons them many a times .

    Coming back to the battles for the throne , Jadunath Sarkar describes the battles ( like the battle of Dharmat between Aurangzeb's oldest brother Dara Shukoh and him )in detail , showing great mastery of the art of creating the picture of the battlefield in our mind. The tragedy of the hapless prince Dara Shukoh is well brought out , as he is hunted down from pillar to post as he escapes from the battle , and is eventually captured and sentenced to death by learned kazis . His crime--he was too tolerant to hindus......

    Having ascended the throne in this manner , Aurangzeb kills even all his bothers' sons , so that they do not form a future threat to his kingship . Most of them are drugged daily to convert them into idiots until they die a slow death .

    Having destroyed all threats to his kingship , Aurangzeb lays his lecherous hand on the wives of the defeated--but here destiny thwarts him , for the one he is most angling for , Dara's most beautiful wife slashes her face with a knife to destroy her charms , and make herself unworthy of his bed , thereby showing a shining example of love and loyalty to her husband......

    After winning the throne in this fashion , Aurangzeb does not spare his friends , those who helped him win the throne either--for who knows , one day these brave people might become too powerful , threatening the throne.....

    --Mir Jumla , the commandant of his artillery , is sent to fight in the malarious jungles of Assam , where as expected , malaria overcomes him .

    --Maharajah Jaswant Singh of marwar is sent on a campaign in Afghanistan ,where afghans in Aurangzeb's pay kill him.

    --Maharajah Mirza Raje Jai singh , who helps him control the marathas is kiiled by poisoning. His success against the marathas has made him too powerful....

    The killing of the last two is especially important , as they are hindu nobles who might form the main impediment to a project that Aurangzeb Alamgir ( thats the title he has given himself )has long been considering , a project that indeed is his dream......the total islamisation of the subcontinent.......

    And it is for the realisation of this project that he unleashes the jizya tax on hindus--something that his great grandfather Akbar had banished long ago .
    The hindus protest of course , carrying out huge anti-jizya rallies right upto the mughal court , but Aurangzeb orders his troops to attack and kill the protestors--he is unrelenting......

    Having done this , Aurangzeb makes peace with Iran , which has held Kandahar in afghanistan , long cherished by the mughals and orders his army ( 170, 000 strong ) to invade south India to complete another project of his--bringing the whole subcontinent under the mughal banner , right form Kashmir to Kanyakumari......

    By force and bribes ( actually more by bribes ) he manages to conquer the muslim kingdoms of the deccan as his armies move south , levying tax as far as tiruchirapalli in tamil nadu . Above all , his troops capture alive maratha king Sambhaji , who is blinded by buring hot pincers put in his eyes , his skin is torn from his body while still alive , he is cut limb to limb and then fed to the dogs . Such mind-blowing cruelty !!

    Aurangzeb has reached the pinnacle of his ambition , and seemingly achieved his dreams--or has he ?? For he soon discovers that his armies have yet to overawe the hardy inhabitants of the sahyadri ranges , those followers of Shivaji , whose impregnable fortresses elude capture by the mughals and whose armies disappear and appear at will , utterly confounding the slow mughals . Aurangzebs unwieldy army is unfit to fight against well motivated guerillas in mountainous jungle country , and his soldiers are reduced to hapless onlookers as the marathas wreak havoc in mughal territory .

    The almighty mughals have met their match , but one man prevents them from retreating--Aurangzeb himself....
    For an astonishing two decades and a half , the army is forced to fight an unwinnable fight in the hills of maharashtra as the treasury is depleted , the other provinces of the empire are neglected , and an entire new generation of children reach their youth in camp--they have never seen the big city.....

    All his officers and men now want Aurangzeb to die so that the war would end , but his life is unusually prolonged . Aurangzeb laughs derisively at his sons who he knows are waiting for him to die , so that they can fight for the throne in time-honoured mughal fashion , but the old man simply refuses to croak off.......

    But Aurangzeb is really sad at the end of his life , as he realises the enormous mistake that he has done , and asks his sons to not fight after his death for the throne , though he knows nobody will heed his call......

    As far as the marathas who brought him to this pitiable condition-- they are given their fair share in this book , and the entire life and campaigns of both Shivaji and Sambhaji along with other warriors like Santaji Ghorpade is articulated . Of particular interest will be Shivaji's dramatic confrontation with the emperor at agra and his more dramatic escape .

    All the ordinances that Aurangzeb brought out to enforce islam on an unwilling people are described in detail . Personally he led a simple life , stitching caps for a living .Fittingly , when died , he preferred burial in a simple tomb in Khuldabad in Maharashtra--'' the deccan became the grave of his ambitions as well as his body '' !!

    Verdict about the book---masterpiece.......
     
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