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Row Over Aurangzeb Revived Kashmir’s Muslim Rule
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Row Over Aurangzeb Revived Kashmir’s Muslim Rule

Amid the blatant and blind hatred for a Mughal emperor for being a “ruthless iconoclast”, Kashmir’s Muslim-ruled past resurfaced in debates and discussions.

Amid farmer protests, a spiteful salvo on Muslim rule in India resurfaced recently when the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) faced an RTI query for stating that Mughal emperor Aurangzeb gave grants to rebuild Hindu temples.

In its reply, NCERT said it had no information to back its history textbook account.

“All Mughal emperors gave grants to support the building and maintenance of places of worship,” NCERT’s Class XII textbook says: “Even when temples were destroyed during the war, grants were later issued for their repair – as we know from the reigns of Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb.”

Once flagged, the paragraph created renewed ruckus in the rightwing academic and activist circles of India. The “partisan intelligentsia” considered it as an image-correction bid for “a fanatic Sunni Mussalman who ordered the destruction of several Hindu temples”.

Amidst this row, many spared and spread stray comments on the Muslim rule in Kashmir. Among other things, Aurangzeb and other Muslim rulers were denounced as “marauders” in the valley and elsewhere. But an objective peek into Kashmir history tells a different story.

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Mughal Emperor, Aurangzeb / web archives

Throughout its 5000 years of recorded history, Kashmir has attracted scholars, seekers, and spiritual leaders from across the world. Being a pre-Vedic cultural place, the valley embraced Islam in the 13th century and was ruled by the independent Muslim monarchy between 1326 and 1585.

The fountainhead of this rule is said to be Shah Mir. Before becoming the first Muslim ruler of Kashmir, this Turkish-origin man was King Ramachandra’s chief of affairs. When Mir’s emperor was defeated by Anandadeva, he and other Muslim courtiers were removed from the royal durbar. This ouster sparked Mir and his supporters for the subsequent revolt routing Anandadeva in 1326 — thus ushering a period of the glorious Shah Mir era, still being recalled in Kashmir with nostalgia.

Mir’s decade-long reign (1339-49) made him a popular king whose kindness set Kashmiris free from taxes. At the fag-end of his crownship, he passed the baton to his two sons—Jamshed and Sher Ali—who soon locked horns over the sovereignty.

After defeating his sibling in the power game, Jamshed ruled Kashmir as Alauddin till his death in 1363. Sher Ali replaced him and governed as Shahbuddin. His victory against a king of Sindh is considered his crown’s major feat.

Shahbuddin’s eventful rule ended in 1386 and ensued an ‘unruffled’ period of his son, Qutubuddin. Ten years later, his grandson Sikandar’s rule saved Kashmir from Timur’s invasion with a thoughtful treaty. His death in 1416 paved a way for his son Amir Khan. And soon after that, Kashmir saw a rise of its benevolent and beloved king, Zain-ul-Abidin, aka Budshah.

Kashmir’s just king, Budshah / web archives

During Budshah’s reign, Kashmir flourished in art, literature and poetry. Besides laying a network of immaculate waterways, the king restored temples and allowed freedom of religion in the region. His death in 1472 cleared decks for Haji Khan. Within a year, Khan was succeeded by his son, Hasan—whose 13-year-old rule ended with the handing over of the kingdom to his minor son, Muhammad.

But soon, Budshah’s grandson, Fateh Khan, toppled Hasan’s successor’s crown, and sought support from Sikandar Lodi—then Sultan of Delhi—to keep him at bay. After Khan’s demise, Muhammad was back to his rightful seat. His death in 1535 sent Kashmir into half a century long chaos.

The last independent Muslim rulers of Kashmir—the Chak dynasty—ruled in this chaos, before Mughal Emperor Akbar laid the foundation of the foreign rule in the valley.

Historian say Akbar’s Mughal Durbar laid the foundation of foreign rule in Kashmir. / web archives

But as Kashmir became part of the expanding Mughal Empire, art and architecture flourished—the signs of which are still glaring in the form of the heritage signposts and symbols across the valley. The subsequent Afghan period left its own footprints in the form of some imposing monuments before Kashmir became the treacherous territory of Sikh and Dogra rule.

Apart from infightings, bloody feuds and mayhems in the game of throne, the Muslim period largely upheld the spirit of a syncretic culture in the valley. Despite what contemporary historians say, the majority of Muslim monarchs ruled sans subjecting the minority to inconvenience.



Be it Shah Mir’s generous or Budshah’s just rule, Kashmiris recall their Muslim monarchs with regard and reverence. History textbooks might be lacking chapters on the legend of these rulers of Kashmir, but the folktales and storytellers are acting as conveyor belts for the glorious past of the valley.

Upholding and propagating such narratives is significant when certain media-peddled debates and social-media-driven discourses are denouncing these Muslim rulers as “invaders” and “raiders”. Much of the vitriol is being directed at Aurangzeb, who in the words of historian Audrey Truschke, “protected more Hindu temples than he destroyed”.

(This Essay was published in the March 2021 print issue of the Mountain Ink.)

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