Primary Source Analysis


Shivaji. Letter to Alamgir, 1679. In Shivaji and his times by Jadunath Sarkar. London: Longmans Green and Co., 1919.

This is a translation of a letter written by the Marathi ruler Shivaji to the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, who is addressed by his imperial title “Alamgir.” Here it has been reproduced in a book by the eminent Indian historian and translator Sir Jadunath Sarkar. The original of this document was produced in late seventeenth century India. It may have been dictated by Shivaji, or written by the monarch himself. This letter offers several potential uses for the historian, while also coming with some limitations. Shivaji employs skillful rhetoric, using numerous metaphors and analogies while making a clear and consistent point. The purpose of this letter was to persuade the emperor that the reintroduction of the jaziya tax was a bad idea, but beyond this particular issue the letter has a great number of potential uses as a primary source.
The letter uses numerous titles and Islamic terms and refers to time in lunar rather than solar years. The work mentions several other figures in addition to Shivaji himself and his recipient, Aurangzeb. These include Aurangzeb’s father Shah Jahan, his grandfather Jahangir, and his great-grandfather Akbar, as well as a king referred to as “the head of the Hindus,” Rana Raj Singh. The work also quotes a set of verses; the source of these quotations is not obvious, they appear to be proverbs of some sort.
Shivaji clearly wrote this letter in order to convince Emperor Alamgir (Aurangzeb) that the reintroduction of the jaziya tax would have negative effects for everyone. The jaziya, also transliterated jizya, is a traditional tax levied upon non-Muslims in an Islamic society. Shivaji employs a number of rhetorical techniques to make his point. He frequently uses flattery, while also making references to the successful policies of Alamgir’s predecessors, particularly Akbar, who as Shivaji points out was the first Mughal ruler to abolish the jaziya. He also refers to the Timurids, the medieval ancestors of the Mughal Dynasty. He also appeals to Aurangzeb’s humanity, attempting to provoke in him pity for those who will suffer as a result of the tax, and also appeals to religion, referring to the Qur’an for Aurangzeb’s benefit, as Shivaji himself was a Hindu. He also goes as far as to use threats, which plays interestingly into his overall polite and flattering tone.
This source is surprising in how modern many of the ideas expressed sound, with Shivaji claiming, “Verily, Islam and Hinduism are terms of contrast. They are used by the true Divine Painter for blending the colours and filling the outlines … to show bigotry for any man’s creed and practices is equivalent to altering the words of the Holy Book.” This sort of pluralistic and tolerant attitude is not one that modern readers typically expect from a nearly four hundred year old document, but it offers insights into how religious politics at that time in India differed from those of the west.
There are certain limitations as to what this letter can show. Whatever Aurangzeb’s reaction was, if he even bothered reading it, is not at all clear. Nor is it evident who actually physically wrote the letter, if Shivaji himself truly composed the whole thing himself, or who may have been helping him in writing it. It is not immediately clear exactly where Shivaji wrote it, nor where Aurangzeb received it, if he did receive it. Whatever the reception may have been, the letter can demonstrate that Shivaji was ultimately ineffective in his goal, as the jaziya tax continued despite his efforts.
There are numerous potential uses for this letter as a primary source document. This gives major insight into the character of Shivaji, and could be used as a source to investigate his policies and ideas and more broadly the policies and ideas of the Marathi rulers. It could also be used to research the policies and ideas of the Mughals, and the wider reception of Indians to these policies. It would be important in reflecting upon the historical relationship between Hindus and Muslims in India generally. The original document could also give insights into rhetorical techniques and writing styles of seventeenth century India, particularly those of educated Hindu classes, as well as study the influence of Muslim writing on Hindu writing.
In order to discover further insights the letter can give, it would be necessary to figure out the exact year the letter was written and what reception it may have had, and if there was a reply from Aurangzeb or from anyone else. It would also be useful to know if any other Indian leaders wrote similar appeals to the reintroduction of the jaziya. Shivaji’s letter’s initial purpose of getting the jaziya repealed may not have been successful, but his letter does represent a useful source of information for historians interested in this topic.

298 Proposal

History 298 Proposal
For nearly two centuries (1526-1707) the Indian Subcontinent was under the iron rule of the world-famous Mughal Dynasty. Though perhaps best-known for the architectural wonder the Taj Mahal, the effects of Mughal rule continue to be profoundly felt by the Indian Subcontinent’s 1.68 billion inhabitants (a figure which exceeds Africa’s entire population) as well as the various European and other Asian powers which encountered the Mughal Empire.
The aim of the proposed project is to investigate the crucial and controversial questions concerning Mughal politics which continue to carry heavy consequences to this day. It seeks to unravel what is undoubtedly one of the most pressing issues in South Asian historiography, the evolution of religious policies under the Mughal regime. Specifically, the goal will be to interpret the religious policies of the four Mughal emperors during the empire’s greatest territorial extent—Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb, whose reigns date from 1556-1707. Religious policies in the Mughal context refers to the implementation of the jizya tax, application of sharia, religious toleration, building and destruction of temples, religious motivations in warfare, and clashes between religious leaders, among other things. In order to follow through on the project’s goal, there will be a review of both classic and recent scholarship on the reign of Akbar and his motivations in addition to the primary sources, and continuing through the reigns of the subsequent two emperors, finishing with a thorough analysis of Aurangzeb. As Akbar and Aurangzeb are the most frequently contrasted in the literature, these two will merit the most study. Since the Mughal Empire was a foreign Islamic dynasty ruling a majority-Hindu realm, religion played a very direct and prominent role in the political system which governed tens of millions of people. The religious policies of the emperors varied widely to the extent that some historians go as far as to blame changes in religious policy for the fall of the empire. The most pressing issue in this area is the contrast between Akbar and his great-grandson Aurangzeb, with Akbar being traditionally cast as an enlightened, tolerant reformer and Aurangzeb as a tyrannical, intolerant bigot. Within the past decade or so this standard narrative has come under fire, to the point where attacking it has become nearly a new cliché, yet a more objective truth about the reigns of these two men has yet to surface beneath the weight of extreme positions on either end.
The need for such a project has arisen in light of the need to better understand and synthesize the exceptionally controversial historiography on this topic, which is deeply polarized and rooted in contemporary South Asian political concerns. With an increasingly globalized world, it is particularly necessary in the west to gain a much wider consciousness of the importance of Mughal religious policies, as this completely informs the complex contemporary relationship between politics and religion. Though scholarship in this area has historically been abundant, it has been muddied by bias, polemics and politics, the majority of which is rooted in colonialism and nationalism. More recent takes, often pitted in reaction to more classic arguments, are also in need of study and nuancing.
The ability to undertake this project is possible thanks to the wide variety of primary sources, which have the important advantage of blending the voices of both insiders and outsiders, with the official court historians of Abu’l Fazl and Abd al-Qadir offering perspectives which balance with those of European travelers such as the letters of Jesuits from the Mughal Court. The writings of the Mughal emperors themselves as well as rival rulers such as the Hindu Marathi king Shivaji also offer key insights into the inner world of Mughal religious politics. Different religious perspectives are also offered thanks to insights from Sufi writers, Sikh gurus and Hindu authorities. Finally, another vital primary source is Mughal artwork which underwent substantial changes over this period due in part to the politics of religion. In addition to the primary sources, scholarly insights and the scope of the debates on this issue will also be necessary to fully understand in the undertaking of this project, both from prominent western and South Asian scholars.
The importance, controversy and abundance of sources in this area offer an exciting research opportunity, with serious implications which relate directly to contemporary politics in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and beyond. The goal of this project will be to reconcile the widely varying perspectives of older and newer scholarship as well as that of different religious demographics into a synthesis which best represents all of the facts. A more nuanced understanding of the issues at stake will certainly be useful in a world which continues to be troubled daily by faith-related political issues, both in South Asia and around the world.

Primary Sources
Abdul Qadir Badayuni. Muntakhab At Tawarikh. Trans. George Ranking. Asiatic Society, Calcutta, 1884.
Abu’l Fazl. The Akbarnama. Trans. H. Beveridge. Asiatic Society, Calcutta, 1907.
Aurangzeb. Ruka’at-i-Alamgiri or Letters of Aurangzebe, with historical and explanatory notes. Trans. Jamshid H. Bilimoria. Cherag Printing Press, Bombay, 1908.
Correia-Afonso, John. Letters from the Mughal Court: the first Jesuit mission to Akbar, 1580-1583. Institute of Jesuit sources, St. Louis, 1981.
Secondary Sources
Ali, Asif. “Syncretic Architecture of Fatehpur Sikri: A Symbol of Composite Culture.” Journal of Islamic Architecture 2, no. 3 (December 2013), Directory of Open-Access Journals.
Brown, Katherine. “Did Aurangzeb Ban Music? Questions for the Historiography of his Reign.” Modern Asian Studies 41 (January 2007), ProQuest.
Dalmia, Vasudha and Munis Faruqui. Religious Interactions in Mughal India. London: Oxford University Press, 2014.
Eaton, Richard. “Temple desecration in pre-modern India.” Frontline, December 2000.
Egger, Vernono. “South Asia.” In A History of the Muslim World to 1750: The Making of a Civilization. New York: Routledge, 2018.
Eraly, Abraham. The Mughal Throne: The Saga of India’s Great Emperors. Phoenix: Orion Publishing Group, 2004.
Green, Nile. Making Space: Sufis and Settlers in Early Modern India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012.
Hallissey, Robert. The Rajput Rebellion Against Aurangzeb: A Study of the Mughal Empire in Seventeenth-Century India. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri, 1977.
Hawley, John. “The four sampradays: ordering the religious past in Mughal North India.” South Asian History and Culture 2, no. 2 (March 2011).
Karandikar, M.A. Islam in India’s Transition to Modernity. New Delhi: Orient Longmans, 1969.
Lal, Ruby. “Settled, Sacred and All-Powerful: Making of New Genealogies and Traditions of Empire under Akbar.” Economic and Political Weekly 36, no. 11 (March 2001), Archival Journals.
Muzaffar, Alam. “The debate within: a Sufi critique of religious law, tasawwuf and politics in Mughal India.” South Asian History and Culture 2, no. 2 (March 2011).
Neelakantan, Shailaja. “Mughal Politics, Religion Sifted.” India Abroad 23, no. 38 (June 1993), ProQuest LLC.
Singh, Patwant. The Sikhs. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.
Suyanta, Sri and Silfia Ikhlas. “Islamic Education at Mughal Kingdom in India (1526-1857.” Al-Ta’lim 23, no. 2 (July 2016).
Truschke, Audrey. Aurangzeb: The Life and Legacy of India’s Most Controversial King. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2017.
Welch, Stuart. The Art of Mughal India: Painting & Precious Objects. New York; The Asia Society, 1963.