The making of a tyrant (The Indian Express)

11 10 2007

The making of a tyrant

Aurangzeb dictated himself through his edicts. French journalist Francois Gautier depicts the shrewd Mughal emperor pictorially with an exhibition that started in Pune on Tuesday

LAXMI BIRAJDAR

W HEN Francois Gautier began writing books on India over a decade ago, he realised that a lot of rethinking would be required before extolling about one prominent historical figure – Aurangzeb. So, the French journalist embarked on a threeyear research on the Mughal emperor that resulted in an elaborate, 65-painting exhibition highlighting Aurangzeb’s dark side. The exhibition was inaugu rated on October 9 at the Balgandharva Kala Dalan.
“Aurangzeb was a pious Muslim, no doubt but he also poisoned his own father, emperor Shah Jahan and ordered the beheading of his elder brother, Dara Shikoh,” points out Gautier.
Presented by Foundation Against Continuing Terrorism (FACT), an organisation he started in 2003, the acrylic paintings show Aurangzeb according to his own documents and firmans (edicts) written in Persian. He copied the Quran himself, stitched Muslim skullcaps and enforced strict laws against the Hindus. His insistence on forced conversion to Islam, ruthlessness towards Hindus, the cruel execution of of Dara Shikoh and Raja Sambhaji, Chhatrapati Shivaji’s son, the reinforcement of the humiliating jizyah tax and ordering the destruction of temples–all make for more than impactful depictions. “Aurangzeb had his own ideology of life. His strong beliefs, fundamentalist and tyrannical in nature, made him enact Draconian laws,” says Gautier.
The shrewd Mughal emperor al lowed only Muslims to enter his court and the musicians who performed for him had to convert themselves to Islam. Apparently, Aurangzeb even ended up banning music from his court. A painting in the exhibition shows the musicians disposing of their musical instruments through a burial procession. Bury it so deep that no sound or echo of it may rise again, wrote Aurangzeb.
V S Bhatnagar, professor of history at Jaipur University conducted the research that involved referencing Aurangzeb’s original documents still preserved in Indian museums, such as the Bikaner archives, and paintings done by six Jaipur-based artists. Organised with a budget of Rs seven lakhs, the exhibition debuted in Delhi a few months ago.
Gautier is inspired by the need to put history in the right perspective and feels that Aurangzeb is very much relevent even today. In fact Gautier, likens him to the modern day terroroist Osama Bin Laden. “Westerners think Aurangzeb was a patron of art and culture. This isn’t true. He misled the Indian Muslims and this has manifested in the religious upheavels in India, today,” adds Gautier.
He remembers witnessing the burning of the last Sufi shrine, Chrar-e- Sharif in J & K in 1995. Reference of the same with Aurangzeb’s ideology become strikingly familiar. “At one point of time, Hindus and Muslims used to pray here together. But now the religious harmony is almost non-extinct,” says Gautier.
Next on FACT’s agenda is an exhibition on Dara Shikoh and Chhatrapati Shivaji. “Dara Shikoh embraced non-Mus lims, translated the Upan ishads. He also wrote sev eral books on Sufism. We would have had a more tolerant Islam today if Dara Shikoh had succeeded Shah Jahan, instead of Aurangzeb,” concludes Gautier.
(The exhibition on Aurangzeb continues at Balgandharva Kala Dalan till October 17 and then from October 18 to 26 at Yashwantrao Chavan auditorium, Kothrud)
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