Why an exhibition on Aurangzeb, some may ask ? Firstly, I have been a close student of Indian history and one of its most controversial figures has been Aurangzeb (1658-1707). It is true that under him the Mughal Empire reached its zenith, but Aurangzeb was a very cruel ruler - some might even say monstrous. What are the facts? Aurangzeb did not just build an isolated mosque on a destroyed temple, he ordered all temples destroyed, among them the Kashi Vishvanath, one of the most sacred places of Hinduism and had mosques built on a number of cleared temples sites. All other Hindu sacred places within his reach equally suffered destruction, with mosques built on them. A few examples: Krishna's birth temple in Mathura, the rebuilt Somnath temple on the coast of Gujurat, the Vishnu temple replaced with the Alamgir mosque now overlooking Benares and the Treta-ka-Thakur temple in Ayodhya. The number of temples destroyed by Aurangzeb is counted in 4, if not 5 figures. Aurangzeb did not stop at destroying temples, their users were also wiped-out; even his own brother, Dara Shikoh, was executed for taking an interest in the Vedas & Upanishads and the Sikh Guru Tegh Bahadur was beheaded because he objected to Aurangzeb's forced conversions.
Thus we thought we should go at the root of the matter. History (like journalism) is about documentation and first hand experience. We decided to show Aurangzeb according to his own documents. There are an incredible number of farhans, or original edicts of Aurangzeb, hand-written in Persian in India's museums, particularly in Rajasthan, such as the Bikaner archives. It was not always easy to scan them, we encountered resistance, sometimes downright hostility and we had to go once to the CM to get permissions. Indeed the director of Bikaner archives told us that in 50 years, we were the first ones asking for these farhans dealing with Aurangzeb. Then we asked painters from Rajasthan to reproduce in the ancient Mughal style some of the edicts: the destruction of the Somnath temple, or the trampling of Hindus protesting jizya tax by Aurangzeb's elephants, or the order from Aurangzeb prohibiting Hindus to ride horses and palanquins, or the beheading of Guru Teg Bahadur and Dara Shikoh.
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