Religious policies of Jahangir and Shahjahan

Religious policies of Jahangir and Shahjahan

Jahangir’s Religious Policy:

  • The liberal character of the state instituted by Akbar was maintained during the first half of the 17th century, though with a few lapses under Jahangir, and with some modifications by Shah Jahan. At the outset of Jahangir’s reign, there was an expectation in orthodox circles that Akbar’s policy of sulhi-kul and religious eclecticism would be abandoned, and the supremacy of the sharia restored. The hopes of the orthodox sections were raised by some actions of Jahangir immediately after his accession. Thus, he had asked the ulama and the learned men of Islam to collect distinctive appelations of God which were easy to remember so that he might repeat them while using his rosary.
  • On Fridays he associated with learned and pious men and dervishes and saints. At the Ramzan Id which followed his first accession, he went to the Idgah, and several lacs of dams were distributed in charity. However, there was nothing unusual in these actions, and the orthodox elements were soon disabused of their expectations. Neither by temperament nor by training was Jahangir orthodox. Apart from his own fondness of drinking which he sometimes carried to excess—he tells us that by the time of his accession he had reduced his intake of wine from twenty cups of double distilled spirit (brandy) to five, and that, too, only at night. Jahangir felt free to invite his nobles and others to join him in wine drinking. When he visited the grave of Babur at Kabul he found a basin which could contain two Hindustani maunds of wine. Jahangir ordered another such a basin to be built, and every day he ordered to fill both the basins with wine and gave it to the servants who were present there. There was an accompaniment of dance and music. There are frequent references in his Memoirs to such parties to which nobles were invited.
  • In the Ordinances which Jahangir issued at the time of his accession, for two days in a week, Thursday, the day of his accession, and Sunday, the day of Akbar’s birthday and because “it was dedicated to the Sun and also the day on which creation began” (according to the Christians), there was to be no killing or slaughter of animals for food. Shortly, afterwards, in what were called the Ain-i-Jahangiri or Jahangiri rules, forcible conversion to Islam was forbidden.
  • Jahangir’s attitude towards Akbar’s policy of sulh-i-kul, and of giving respect and freedom to all religions is manifest from his Memoirs. Praising Akbar, he says: “The professors of various faiths had room in the broad expanse of his innumerable sway. This was different from the practice of other realms, for in Persia there is room for Shias only, and in Turkey, India and Turan there is room for Sunnis only.” He goes on to say how in his dominions, “there was room for the professors of opposite religions, and for beliefs, good and bad, and the road to altercation was closed. Sunnis and Shias met in one mosque, and the Europeans (Firangi) and Jews in one church, and observed their own forms of worship”.
  • Not only did Jahangir follow Akbar’s policy of sulh-i-kul, he continued Akbar’s policy of enrolling murids (disciples) and giving each of them a token, or shast, and shabi or likeness of the emper or. At the time of initiation, the disciples were advised to avoid sectarian quarrels, and to follow the rule of universal peace with regard to religion. They were also advised not to kill any living creature with their own hands, honour the luminaries (Sun, light etc.) which are manifestations of God, and to dwell constantly on God. However, the devise of discipleship which was meant to bind the nobles closely with the Emperor seems to have fallen into disuse after some time.
  • Jahangir also continued to celebrate the various Hindu festivals, Diwali, Holi, Dashera, Rakhi, Shivratri etc. at his court. Jahangir himself participated in them, as also many of the nobles. We are told that during the celebration of Diwali, Jahangir himself took part in a bout of gambling that continued for three nights. Jahangir also banned cow slaughter in the Punjab, and perhaps extended it to Gujarat. Nauroz, which was an old Central Asian festival as also the festival of the Parsis, was celebrated for nineteen days with music and festivity. The Christians, too, were allowed to celebrate Easter, Christmas and other festivals.
  • These practices were a public declaration of a policy of religious freedom to all. They also provided opportunity for greater social interaction between the ruler and his officials with people of various religious persuations.
  • The position regarding religious freedom is set out clearly in one of the early drafts of the Tuzuk where Jahangir says, “I ordered that with this exception (prohibition of forcible sati), they (the Hindus) may follow whatever is their prescribed custom, and none should exercise force or compulsion or oppression over anyone.”
  • There was no ban on the Hindus building new temples. Apart from Bir Singh Deo Bundela building a magnificient temple at Mathura, a large number of new temples were built at Banaras. The Christians too, were given land and permission to build churches.
  • Jahangir continued Akbar’s policy of giving gifts and grants to brahmans and temples. In his first Regnal year (1605-06), when marching against Khusrau, he distributed large sums of money to faqirs and brahmans. Documents in the possession of the Vrindavan temples of the Chaitanya sect show how Jahangir went on adding grants to the temples and their votaries. Thus, between 1612-15, he made at least five grants to the followers of Chaitanya at Vrindavan.
  • In 1621, when going to Kangra, Jahangir went via Haridwar which, he noted, was “one of the established place of worship of the Hindus where brahmans and recluses retire in lovely places to worship God in their own way”. He gave gifts in cash and in kind to many of them.
  • Despite his liberalism, there were occasions when Jahangir displayed a narrow spirit, perhaps out of a desire to please the orthodox clerical elements who were powerful, or out of a desire to be seen by them as an orthodox Muslim ruler. Thus, he declared the war against Mewar to be a jihad, although there was little reason for doing so. During the campaign, many Hindu temples were destroyed which, again, was uncalled for because Jahangir had instructed Khurram to treat the Rana as a friend if he was prepared to submit. Again, in 1621, the Kangra campaign was declared a jihad, even though it was commanded by a Hindu, Raja Bikramajit. In the presence of theologians a bullock was slaughtered in the fort and a mosque ordered to be erected. From Kangra, Jahangir went to the Durga temple at Jwalamukhi. He found that apart from “infidels whose custom is the worship of idols, crowds on crowds of the people of Islam, traversing long distances, bring their offerings, and pray to the black (stone) image”. No attempt was made to put a stop to this practice. Earlier, while visiting Pushkar, Jahangir was shocked to find that the Hindus worshipped Vishnu in the form of a varaha (boar). He ordered the image to be broken noting that the Hindu theory of incarnation in ten forms was not acceptable to him since God could not be limited in this way. However, none of the other temples dedicated to Vishnu were harmed. At Ajmer, Jahangir granted in madadd-i-maash the entire village of Pushkar to the brahmans of that place.
  • In 1617, Jahangir issued an order in Gujarat that all Jain temples be closed and the Jain saints expelled from the empire because of moral reasons: wives and daughters of the devotees visited the Jain saints at the temples where they lived. But this order does not seem to have been implemented because we have inscriptional evidence from Gujarat supported by Jain sources that during the period when the order was issued, Jahangir continued to have good relations with Jain saints and also gave liberal grants for the construction of Jain temples.
  • There has been a good deal of controversy about Jahangir’s attitude towards the Sikhs, and his dealings with the Sikh Guru Arjun. In his Memoirs, Jahangir notes that at Gobindwal on the river Beas, Guru Arjun “posing as a religious guide and instructor” had enrolled as his followers a large number of Hindus and Muslims, that “They called him Guru, and from all sides came to him and expressed their absolute faith in him.” He goes on to say that this had continued for three or four generations. Denouncing the followers of the Guru as “fools and fraud-believers,” Jahangir declares that “Many times it occurred to me to put a stop to this vain affair or to bring him into the assembly of the people of Islam.” This statement occurs almost immediately after Jahangir’s accession, and in the context of Khusrau’s rebellion. It is not clear when precisely Jahangir had contemplated taking action against the Sikhs. If it was during Akbar’s reign, it is well known that Akbar had favoured Guru Angad and Guru Ramdas, and given them a grant of five hundred bighas of land and a pond around which the Harmandir and the city of Amritsar grew. If after accession, the period had to be very brief because Khusrau rebelled barely six months after his accession. Thus, this again appears to be an attempt on Jahangir’s part of trying to please the orthodox sections.
  • It is clear that Jahangir took no action against the Sikhs as such, but only against Guru Arjun on a charge that he had blessed Khusrau by putting a tika on his head, and by giving him some money. According to Jahangir’s lights, this was treason. He, therefore, summoned him, handed over his houses, dwelling places and children to Murtaza Khan who was like a kotwal, confiscated the Guru’s property and commanded that he should be put to death.
  • It has been argued on the basis of Jesuit and other evidence, including Sikh traditions, that Jahangir had not ordered the Guru’s execution but only imposed a heavy fine on him which he refused to pay, and that it was due to the tortures inflicted on him to realize the fine that he died. However, this does not exonerate Jahangir from the charge of awarding excessive punishment to a highly respected saint for an inadvertent mistake. His also imprisoned the Guru’s son and successor, Guru Hargovind, five years later for realizing the arrears of the fine, and kept him in prison for two years.
  • It has been pointed out that Jahangir punished not only the Sikh Guru for token support to Khusrau but a sufi, Shaikh Nizam Thanesari, who had accompanied Khusrau for some distance. However, he was only banished to Mecca, and his road expenses paid.
  • Like Akbar, Jahangir was always eager to visit and to discourse with dervishes, saints and religious thinkers of various kinds, and to make grants to them.
  • In 1613, Jahangir had started the custom that deserving people and dervishes were brought before him every night so that, after personal enquiry into their condition, land or gold or clothes were bestowed on them. There is no reason to believe that these were confined to Muslims.
  • Jahangir continued Akbar’s practice of inviting religious divines for personal discussions. It seems that Jahangir’s main area of religious interest was monotheism. It was this which made him seek the company of Mian Mir, the famous Qadri sufi of Lahore and a friend of Guru Arjun. Jahangir was also devoted to Muinuddin Chishti, the patron saint of the Mughals. In 1613, when he visited Ajmer, he walked on foot for a kos before entering the shrine. He was hostile to Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi who denounced wahdat-al-wajud or monotheism. As Jahangir says, he kept him for some time in “the prison of correction until the heat of his temperament and the confusion in his brain were somewhat quenched, and the excitement of the people should also subside”.
  • The greatest satisfaction Jahangir found was among votaries of Vedanta which he calls “the science of Tasawwuf‘. (Tasawwuf is a branch of Islamic knowledge which focuses on the spiritual development of the Muslim.) In this search, he met Jadrup Gosain at Ujjain in the eleventh year of his reign (1616). During the next three years, he met Jadrup seven times. Jadrup lived in a hole on the side of a hill which had been dug out and a door made. Hearing of his reputation, Jahangir wanted to call him to Agra, but did not do so on account of the trouble it would cause him. Jahangir went one-eighth of a kos or two and a half furlong on foot to see him. Jadrup made a great impression on Jahangir by his knowledge and simplicity. Jahangir says “he (Jadrup) had thoroughly mastered the science of Vedanta”, and “God Almighty has given him unusual grace, a lofty understanding, an exalted nature and sharp intellectual power”. He was free from the attachment of the world, so that “putting behind him the world and all that was in it, he sits content in solitude and without want”. Subsequently, Jadrup shifted to Mathura where Jahangir visited him twice. When Hakim Beg, brother-in-law of Nur Jahan, who held charge of Mathura, ill-treated, Jadrup, Jahangir dismissed him from service.
  • We do not know much about Jahangir’s personal religious beliefs. He remained within the framework of Islam, but had a good knowledge of other religions, especially Hinduism and Christianity. Though continuing to follow many Hindu practices which had become common in India, he specifically rejected idol-worship and the theory of incarnation.
  • Jahangir had a very exalted opinion of kingly duties. Echoing Abul Fazl, he says that the just creator bestows sovereignty on him whom he considers fit for this glorious and exalted duty. It was therefore futile for the seditious and the short-sighted to try and deprive crown and dominion from one chosen by God the Crown-cherisher.

Shah Jahan’s Religious Policy

  • There has been a controversy whether Shah Jahan continued the liberal policies of Akbar with some change in form, or whether he was “orthodox in his leanings as well as his beliefs and he took some measures to show that orthodoxy was back in power”. Thus, he exempted the theologians from sijda and zaminbos, the former implying prostration before the ruler, and the latter putting both the hands on the ground and touching them to the forehead. It might be mentioned that Jahangir had also exempted the high theologians from sijda.
  • Shah Jahan banned mixed marriages between Hindus and Muslims in Kashmir which had implied that Muslim girls embraced the religion of their Hindu husbands. Earlier, Jahangir had also banned this practice, but was unable to stop it.
  • Perhaps, the most significant step taken by Shah Jahan was that in the Sixth Regnal year (1633), he ordered that no temple whose foundation had been laid in Jahangir’s time but had not been completed would be allowed to be completed. Accordingly, 76 temples begun at Banaras were destroyed. Temples and churches were also destroyed during wars. Thus, during the Bundela rebellion, Bir Singh Deo’s temple at Orchha was destroyed and a mosque built in its place. Christian churches at Hugli were destroyed during the clash with the Portuguese there.
  • However, it does not seem that Shah Jahan tried to implement seriously the policy of not allowing new temples to be built. Thus, in 1629, he granted land to Shantidas, the leading Jain jeweller and banker at Ahmadabad, to build a resting place (poshala) for Jain saints. Shantidas also built a beautiful Jain temple near Ahmadabad to which no objection was made. In 1654, when Aurangzeb was governor of Gujarat, he converted this temple into a mosque by building a mihrab (niche) for prayer inside it. This was part of Aurangzeb’s policy of breaking newly built temples in Gujarat. However, on a complain from Shantidas, and a ruling from the noted scholar Mulla Abdul Hakim that Aurangzeb had flagrantly violated the sharia by usurping Shantidas’s property, and that, in consequence, the mosque had no sanctity, Shah Jahan ordered the mihrab to be blocked up, and the temple restored to Shantidas. The imperial farman also commanded that any material taken from the temple should be restored and compensation paid for any material lost. Likewise the magnificent temple built at Mathura by Bir Singh Deo Bundela during the reign of Jahangir was not interfered with.
  • That Shah Jahan’s ban on new temples was only a token. The measure was “more an assertion of a principle than an effective measure. It was more an effective declaration that Islam would again be treated as the dominant religion than an attempt at the suppression of Hinduism.
  • It has been argued that the building of many magnificient mosques, including the Jama Masjid at Delhi, and the Taj Mahal at Agra which was supposed to replicate the Muslim idea of Paradise, also demonstrate Shah Jahan’s new emphasis on the power and majesty of Islam. The building of such mosques was not unusual. That broad tolerance continued was also evident from his confirmation of the grants given to the Vaishnava temples at Vrindavan. Even more significant was his order that the time gong at the temple may be permitted to be sounded since “a large number of God worshipping Hindu mendicants are engaged in divine worship according to their own religion and custom”. This was an affirmation of Akbar’s policy of sulh-i-kul.
  • Shah Jahan came into conflict with the Sikh Guru Hargovind culminating in a furious battle at Kartarpur (1631), after which the Guru retreated to the Kashmir hills.
  • The Muslim orthodox sections rallied under Shaikh Abdul Haq of Delhi and Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi who was hailed as Mujaddid or renovator during the second millenium of Islam. Both of them were profound scholars of Muslim jurisprudence, theology etc., and laid great emphasis on the strict implementation of the sharia. The point to note here is that both of them had a political agenda which they tried to implement by winning over the leading nobles to their side by writing letters to them. They also enrolled students in their seminaries. From an analysis of their letters, it would appear that their main demands were:
  1.  the humiliation of the Hindus which implied breaking of temples, having no social intercourse with them and denying them public service, and if that was inescapable, not to trust them;
  2.  revival of the jizyah which was the mark of the superiority of the Muslims, and was meant to humiliate the kafirs, and
  3.  exclusion of all practices which were bidat i.e. not strictly within the ambit of the sharia, whether they applied to culture (ban on music and painting), morality (ban on wine etc.) or social practices (tuladan, jharoka darshan etc.)
  • Like Jahangir, Shah Jahan also rejected almost all these demands. Even the ban on construction of new temples was not implemented strictly, as Aurangzeb found when he was governor of Gujarat. The liberal elements came together under the slogan of wahdat-al-wajud or monism. The Chisti saints, and the Qadiri saint Mian Mir of Lahore, who was backed and supported by Dara and Jahanara, led this trend. Shah Jahan did not join either of these trends, even though some contemporary historians gave him the title of mujaddid or renovator of Islam. Nor did the nobles, as a whole, join either the liberal or the orthodox group, remaining eclectic in their approach.
  • We may conclude that Shah Jahan tried to effect a compromise. While formally declaring the state to be an Islamic one, showing respect to the sharia, and observing its injunctions in his personal life, he did not reject any of the liberal measures of Akbar, such as jharoka darshan, weighing himself for gifts (tula dan), etc.
  • Like all compromises, Shah Jahan’s compromise was based not on principle but on expediency. As such, it satisfied no party, and the orthodox elements, feeling themselves to be stronger than before, continuedthe demand of a state based  on a strict implementation of the sharia.

2 thoughts on “Religious policies of Jahangir and Shahjahan”

Leave a Reply