Perhaps the most compelling call for historians to re-examine our understanding of the last great Mughal ruler, Aurangzeb [Awrangzīb 'Ālamgīr (d. 1118/1707)], who is often accused of being a religious bigot and invariably the reason for Mughal decline (ultimately an intellectually lazy, if not sloppy argument), was Katherine Butler Brown's superb article in Modern Asian Studies [41/1 (2007), pp. 77–120] "Did Aurangzeb ban music? Questions for the historiography of his reign." In challenging the historical veracity of Aurangzeb's ban on music, Katherine Butler Schofield (née Brown), noted that historians of early modern South Asia need to seriously reconsider the received knowledge of the content and tenor of Aurangzeb's reign. Sajida S. Alvi, in her article "The Historians of Awangzeb: A Comparative Study of Three Primary Sources," [in Essays on Islamic Civilization Presented to Niyazi Berkes, Donald P. Little, ed., (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1976), pp. 57-73] has previously pointed out the function of rhetoric in Mughal chronicles written under Aurangzeb--a fact overlooked when historians have blithely read the sources to mine data. On the subject, the Indian historian Jnan Chandra has brought to light several documentary evidence that suggests that Aurangzeb was, if not tolerant, certainly a great deal more pragmatic.
The story of Aurangzeb is always contrasted with that of his brother, Dārā Shikoh who, as the narrative goes, was tolerant, syncretic and heir to the composite intellectual and religious tradition of his great-grandfather Akbar (whatever that was). Since, as Hayden White has said, all narrative needs to be emplotted, the one chosen for this particularly is tragedy: Had, in the battle of succession, Aurangzeb not won, Mughal India would have remained a tolerant empire where "Hindus" would not have revolted and Shi'is not felt ostracized (mind you, Shah Kalim Allah did not consider Aurangzeb's Sunni credentials and convictions to be particularly strong), and Mughal India would have continued on. Clearly they never met one Bhimsen.
Today's lecture is by Munis D. Faruqui, who looks more carefully at Dara Shikoh's "syncretic"and "tolerant" thought, given at Habib University in Karachi. Prof. Faruqui's work on Mirza Hakim and the first Nizam al-Mulk Asaf Jah have been some of the most insightful contributions on Mughal political history in quite some time. His eagerly awaited book is The Princes of the Mughal Empire, 1504-1719 (Cambridge 2012).
[I just realized that the youtube preview picture for the video is of audience members with comically blasé expressions, *sigh*, a constant reminder that no matter what historians do, people would rather watch a double bill of Game of Thrones and Spartacus.]
Part 2 & 3 after the break