In Aurangzeb’s Domain
He was a Muslim warrior, both pious himself and utterly unaccepting of impious behavior in others, and a Mughal emperor who ruthlessly consolidated control over all of India but in the end, was unable to stem the erosion of his empire. His name: Aurangzeb. Though he died more than 300 years ago, his capital, Aurangabad, still faces assault today, from relentless hordes of tourists who come to look at his works and – while some may despair – mostly just take pictures.
It is nearly a month ago now that Kim, Morgan and I traveled to Aurangabad. I’ve already posted about Ajanta and Ellora Caves, and on the conditions of drought we saw on our journey. I wanted to close out the record on that visit with a bit about the city, a bit more about some about a few other visits we made and, of course, pictures.
Aurangabad is called the City of Gates; in our time there we passed by or through 3 or 4. Here is an example:
These gates in Aurangzeb’s time were all part of a system of walls that protected the city. Today the walls are mostly gone, but the gates remain.
In a way Aurangabad encapsulates the story of today’s India. Westerners who come here quickly learn that across the country there are cities with names ending in “-bad”: Aurangabad, Hyderabad, and Ahmedabad are some of the largest, but there are many smaller such named cities. Almost all of these places were either established or re-named by the Mughals, the Persian/Muslim conquerors of Aryan/Hindu India, who ruled the subcontinent from the early 16th century to the mid 18th. For nearly two centuries the Mughal Empire was the richest in the world, but the death of Emperor Aurangzeb in 1707 marked the beginning of a swift decline.
One of the key forces at play in the downfall of the Mughals was the Maratha hero Shivaji. Born to a warrior clan he was raised into the family trade of being a mercenary. But Shivaji evolved a vision of freedom for his people and, after his fame and skill as a warrior grew, he began to confront the armies of the Mughals. In 1674 he established an independent Maratha Kingdom which persisted until 1818 when it became subservient to what would become the British Raj. Shivaji is a legend in Maharashtra – the Mumbai airport is named after him and school children here learn his life from comics like these (a gift from a work colleague):
This page relates the story of how Shivaji went in disguise to attack the Mughal ruler of Pune and to reclaim his childhood home, the Lal Mahal. But in addition to being a fierce and crafty warrior, Shivaji was also apparently an enlightened ruler. The Marathas of his time were a clan of Hindu warriors, but Shivaji brought many Muslims into his ranks, both as generals and as ministers.
And so it is with India today. Hindu and Muslim work together in numberless ways without any thought of religion, but the difference and the tension is always there, just beneath the surface – or sometimes above the surface, as seen in the terrorist attacks that have plagued India over the past decades, or the extreme nationalist rhetoric of politicians like Bal Thackeray.
A place that brought us closer to the conflicts of those long-ago times was Daulatabad Fort:
Kim posted about Daulatabad a few weeks ago. Side-note: See how almost all the people shown above visiting the fort are non-Indian? How can you tell? Hats. Indians never wear hats. Americans, Germans, Koreans, Russians, French: We all wear hats. On the day of our visit we encountered two large parties: one of Germans, and another of (we think) Koreans. The hawkers at these sites who sell fake ancient coins and other spurious artifacts should just switch to hats.
The northern half of India is very rocky and mountainous. For all of recorded history here military rulers have created forts on the many hilltops that define the terrain, and Daulatabad is a typical example. From the foot of the hill to the palace at the summit is several hundred meters; in many places are sheer walls with the only path a single meter wide. The entire way up is guarded by places where defending soldiers could fire projectiles or attack unexpectedly. Finally, there are two moats which make the ascent even more unlikely. This picture was taken about half way up:
To us a very interesting view was the remaining fortress walls that can be seen once you reach the top:
Aurangzeb, like overlords of the Deccan for centuries before, possessed Daulatabad. In his time the walls shown here encompassed a fortress town of soldiers, artisans and peasants. These are humbler versions of the kind of walls that must have girdled Aurangabad itself.
While Daulatabad was not built by Aurangzeb, on the last day of our trip we went to see something he had built: the Bibi Ka Maqbara, known hereabouts as the “mini Taj Mahal” – shown in the lead photo of this post. Aurangzeb built this as a memorial to his first wife, Dilras Banu. Here is an example of the massive marble carvings you find on this monument:
This carving above the main entranceway was easily 40 feet high by 40 feet wide. This pierced screen is also of marble:
While there are many and impressive ornaments here, we found particular interest in this:
This green parrot living atop one of the towers was like a tiny emerald set in a giant tablet of alabaster.
We westerners often think of India through simple images: Gandhi, Mountbatten, Slumdog Millionaire, Raj from BBT. Now in my list of images I have Aurangzeb He was an emperor, for his time arguably the richest and most powerful in all the world. His works and achievements were some austere, some beautiful, and some grim, and in the end what was important to him was swept away by an irresistible tide. He himself seemed to perceive this, for he is reputed to have said on his deathbed:
"I came alone and I go as a stranger. I do not know who I am, nor what I have been doing."
Such was our visit to Aurangzeb’s domain, where the remnants of old India’s wars and grandeur stay side by side, while the new India ponders the old emperor’s last words … were they lament, warning, or both?