July 31 – a Seminal Day in the History of Hindustan

AurangzebYou have to go back to the year 1658 to learn that end-July the Indian subcontinent began an inexorable journey that led to the climax and then over the next century to the nadir of the Mughal Empire that held sway over most of Hindustan. And the pivotal figure was Aurangzeb, to many a strange mix of ferocious fighter and God-fearing ascetic.

With no succession by primogeniture in those days, it was dog-eat-dog when a ruler died or was incapacitated, and the last man left standing among his sons assumed the mantle.

And so it was with Aurangzeb when with the dispatch or riddance  of quarrelsome male siblings he assumed the Peacock Throne as the sixth Mughal Emperor. To give him his full name and title, Abdul Muzaffar Muhi-ud-Din Muhammad Aurangzeb, commonly known as Aurangzeb Alamgir and by his imperial title Alamgir (“world conqueror” or “conqueror of the universe”), reigned for 49 years from 1658 until his death in 1707. Aurangzeb was a notable expansionist and during his reign, the Mughal Empire attained its greatest reach.

Mughal EmpireDuring his lifetime, victories in the south expanded the Mughal Empire to more than 3.2 million square kilometres. In all,  Aurangzeb ruled over a population estimated as being in the range of 100–150 million subjects.

He was a strong-handed authoritarian ruler, and following his death the expansionary period of the Mughal Empire came to an end.

I draw a distinction between travelers and tourists, so when I urge my readers to take time off to  travel to such places as India, it is in the hope that they will imbibe much more about the cities and landmark sites and scenes on their own than as part of a hurried ‘tourist package’. Impractical? I don’t think so as I have discovered  when traveling to such out of the way spots as Gaucho habitats on the pampas of Argentina, and Gypsies encampments in the wilds of Romania.

If you do venture to India, think of using Bombay (now Mumbai) as your point of entry rather than the capital New Delhi. Then, instead of thinking Bollywood, travel by road, rail or air within the state of Maharashtra, to the city of Aurangabad, named after – you guessed it! – Emperor Aurangzeb.

Ahilyabai_Holkar_Chowk

That city is also your point of entry to getting to see the famous caves at Ajanta and Ellora. The latter is one of India’s most important Shiva pilgrimage temples (almost no foreigners know about it), and if the urge takes you, you may splurge on the high quality shimmering Paithan silk weaves on sale in Aurangabad. Its main ‘square’, Ahilyabai Holkar Chowk, is seen alongside.

European car manufacturers, including the German auto manufacturer, Audi, have zeroed in on Aurangabad, making the city the hub of their operations in India.  In the cantonment area, you’ll also find one of the finest private schools in the country – Nath Valley School, which attracts the best and the brightest from around the country and is worth visiting to see what good education means to India.

References: Wikipedia, The Great Moghuls by Bamber Gascoigne, Four miscellaneous miniatures of Mughal emperors – hotlink to a painting of Aurangzeb in his old age.

Note: The spelling Mughal or Moghul is acceptable East and West in literature.

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Copyright © 2016 Azim Lewis Mayadas

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