India, the land of spirituality, is the birthplace of Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism. Intricately designed temples found across the country continue to attract both worshippers and architectural enthusiasts. Centuries ago temples, along with being a place of worship, played a vital role in maintaining socio-political stability of society. They functioned as landholders, employers, promoters of industries, and regulators of trade and the guild system. Today these temples have less economic power, but they are still widely revered for their spiritual significance. They are also a reminder of a traumatic past of a civilization that has endured multiple invasions. One example is the Kashi Vishwanatha Temple in Banaras, India. [Banaras is also referred to as Kashi or Varanasi].
The Kashi Vishwanatha Temple is home to one of the twelve jyothirlingas, which are believed to have self-originated and represent the Hindu God Shiva. The jyothirlingas are believed to be located at astronomically and geographically significant points that results in the creation of powerful spaces that can lead to one’s spiritual advancement. There are 64 jyothrilingas, but twelve are very sacred, and Kashi Vishwanath is one of them. It is believed that one can attain salvation at this place and that is the reason many come here during their last days.
English Journalist Edwin Arnold in his book “India Revisited,” originally published in 1889, described the emotion of the people he observed taking a dip in Banaras:”Some are old and feeble, weary with long journeys of life, emaciated by maladies, saddened from losses and troubles, and the morning air blows sharp, the river wave chilly. Yet they stand, breast deep in the cold water, with dripping cotton garments clinging to their thin or aged limbs, visibly shuddering under the shock of the water, and their lips blue and quivering, while they eagerly mutter their invocations. None of them hesitate; into the Ganga they plunge, ill or well, robust or sickly. Source: Banaras, City of Lights.
Due to its significance to India’s indigenous culture, Kashi Vishwanatha has been the source of multiple destructions by invaders. The temple was first defiled by Qutb-ud-din-Aibak in 1194 AD after the defeat of the Raja of Kannauj. But it was perhaps in the 49 year rule of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb (1658-1707) that the temple witnessed a significant desecration.
As Peter Booth in his book Spirituality Without God: A Global History of Thought and Perspective states, ” [Mughal Emperor] Aurengzeb forced unbelievers to pay a special tax, executed the Sikh Guru Tegh Bahadur, and destroyed many Hindu temples, including the famous Kashi Vishwanatha Temple.” (156). In particular, Aurangzeb built the Gyanvapi Mosque in place of the Kashi Vishwanath temple. The remnants of the former temple can be seen within the foundation and the columns of the mosque (see below).
Remnants of the original Kashi Vishwanath temple forming a wall of the Gyan vapi mosque.
Aurangzeb was known to be resolute in his mission to “establish Dar-al-Islam” with the goal of creating “one empire, one rule, and one religion” throughout India. In his zeal to spread Islam, he implemented policies that led to a “large number of forced conversions to Islam’, as mentioned in official reports (see below).
Aurangzeb restoring the office of qanungship (expounders of laws) to Hindu officials who were forced to become ‘Musalman’. As seen in Rajasthan State Archives, Bikaner.
However, Parvez Alam, a research scholar at Banaras Hindu University, claims that “a distorted view about the religious policy of Mughal emperors especially of Aurangzeb has been made by imperialist and some nationalist historians.”
Contrary to Alam’s view, we argue that history must not be looked at through sentimental stories or labelling someone as “nationalist historians,” but rather through facts, such as the state archives from the Mughal Rule and the archeological evidence. Furthermore, when looking at history, the truth should neither be compromised for political correctness nor used to discriminate against any community in the present. Whitewashing the atrocities that Hindus suffered under Aurangzeb in the name of political correctness is both disingenuous and a huge disservice to the people of the subcontinent.
Therefore, in face of glaring archeological and literary evidence, it is disingenuous to suggest that Aurangzeb was, as Alam suggests, “very eager for protection of Hindus and Brahmins and maintaining peace among his subjects.” In contrast, Aurangzeb imposed jizya on Hindus, which was a naked attempt at asserting the dominance of Islam in a religiously heterogeneous empire through the state’s power of taxation.
Aurangzeb also gave cash prizes or esteemed positions in his court to those who converted to Islam. These institutionalized policies are recorded in the Mughal archives known as the Akhbarats, which are official accounts of court orders and acts of the Mughal Empire. Certain historians have tried to justify that Aurangzeb imposed the jizya in order to recover from economic losses and also to please the Islamic theologians who held a powerful position in the Mughal court. To go deeper, Chandra argues Aurangzeb tried to please the theologians who considered the payment of jizya necessary to show the inferior and dependent status of Hindus. Irrespective of Aurangzeb’s reason to reimpose jizya on Hindus, it is quite clear that Hindus were subjugated and discriminated through this faith-based taxation.
An account of reimposition of Jizyah by Aurangzeb as found in the Mughal State Archives. Dated 2nd April 1679, it reads, ‘As all the aims of the religious Emperor were directed to the spreading of the law of Islam and the overthrow of the practices of the infidels, he issued orders to the high diwani officers that from Wednesday, the 2nd April 1679 / 1st Rabi I, in obedience to the Quranic injunction, ’till they pay commutation money (Jizyah) out of their hand and they be humbled’, and in agreement with the canonical tradition, Jizyah should be collected from the infidels (zimmis) of the capital and the provinces. Many of the honest scholars of the time were appointed to discharge the work (of collecting Jizyah). May God actuate him (Emperor Aurangzeb) to do that which He loves and is pleased with, and make his future life better than the present’. (Maasir-i-‘Alamgiri, p. 175, Tr. J.N. Sarkar). Source: Rajasthan State Archives
In addition to his religious policy including the discriminatory Jizya tax, Aurangzeb also ordered the destruction of numerous temples. We can find evidence for this in the Maasir-i-Alamgiri, a collection of works that were originally written in Persian by the Persian author Saqi Mustad Khan. It was translated in a condensed from by Sir Jadunath Sarkar to English in 1947. This collection of documentary evidence states that “It was reported that according to the Emperor’s command, his officers had demolished the Temple of Vishwanath at Kashi.”
Account of the demolition of Temple of Vishwanath from Mughal state archives. Dated August 1669 AD, it reads, “It was reported that, according to the Emperor’s command, his officers had demolish the Temple of Vishwanath at Kashi.” (Maasir-i-Alamgiri, pg 88) Source: Rajasthan State Archives, Bikaner.
Furthermore, another part of the Maasir-i-Alamgiri states that “On the 9th April 1669, Aurangzeb ‘[who was] eager to establish Islam, issued orders to the governors of all the provinces to demolish the schools and Temples of the infidels [Hindus], and, with the utmost urgency, put down the teaching and the public practice of the religion of these unbelievers [Hindus].” Like many other temples, the Kashi Vishwanatha Temple was also destroyed during Aurangzeb’s reign.
In the sketch above, the artist has shown the destruction of the Temples of Somanatha, Jagannatha (Puri), Kashi Vishwanatha (Banaras) and Keshava Rai (Mathura), which were all highly venerated shrines, as symbolic of Aurangzeb’s destruction of Hindu Temples. In the centre is a portion of the infamous order of the 9th April issued by him.
It is said that Lord Shiva came in the dream of Rani Ahilyabai Holkar of Indore and inspired her to rebuild the Kashi Vishwanatha Temple after it was destroyed. The construction of modern-day Kashi, as formed by Rani Holkar, was done adjacent to the mosque that was built was over the original temple site.
The Kashi Vishwanatha Temple boasts a series of intricate patterns and details. The temple itself is supported by a foundation of firm pillars and brickwork composed of the brightest red colors. In its complexity, the Kashi Vishwanatha Temple has a golden plating on its spine, providing a magnanimous view to individuals who see it. In its architectural grace, the windows are carved out of stone and support the firm and large size of Kashi Vishwanatha. Built on the banks of the Ganges River, the whole area exhibits multiple shrines and lingams, all encompassed through a meticulous maze made of smooth black stone over a solid silver foundation.
Currently, the Indian Government is renovating and reconstructing the Kashi Vishwanatha Temple in an attempt to protect and preserve its historical and spiritual significance.
The Indian Government plans to rebuild modern-day Kashi in three phases. This project is known as the Kashi Vishwanath Corridor Project. The first phase entails redeveloping the temple. In the second phase, the ghats (river banks) of the Ganges will be renovated to provide more immediate access to the Ganges from the temple. A 20 meter wide pathway from the Ganges will be constructed for those who wish to worship at Kashi. The third phase involves connecting the areas between the Nepali Temple, Lalita Ghat, Jalasen Ghat, Manikarnika Ghat, and the front of the Scindia Ghat. The renovation is expected to be completed by June 2021. The modern reconstruction of the Kashi Vishwanatha Temple is a magnanimous task, one that is likely to remind Indians of their civilization’s turbulent past and its resilience.
p style=”text-align: center;”>References
Heehs, Peter. Spirituality Without God: A Global History of Thought and Practice. United Kingdom, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2018.
Kulkarni, G. T. “DECCAN INVASION (1682-1707) AND A PSYCHO-RELIGIO ANALYSIS OF AURANGZEB.” Bulletin of the Deccan College Research Institute, vol. 37, no. 1/4, 1977, pp. 61–67. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/42936572. Accessed 4 July 2020.