Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Toynbee: Hinduism and Aurangzeb’s Politics

The Planned Structure 

of the Ram Temple

In his book One World and India (Azad Memorial Lectures), historian Sir Arnold Toynbee notes that Aurangzeb’s purpose in building the three mosques—Ayodhya, Kashi and Mathura—was political, not religious. He says that by building these mosques, Aurangzeb was trying to proclaim to the world that Islam was “reigning supreme.” 

Toynbee compares Aurangzeb’s act of building the three mosques with the Russian act of building an Orthodox Church in the center of Warsaw when they occupied Poland in 1914-15. As soon as the Russian army withdrew and Poland became independent, the Poles pulled down the Russian Church. 

Here’s an excerpt from Toynbee’s book: 

“Some vivid visual memories have been flashing up in the mind’s eye. One of these is the picture of the principal square in the Polish city of Warsaw sometime in the late nineteen twenties. In the course of the first Russian occupation of Warsaw (1914-1915), the Russians had built an Eastern Orthodox Christian cathedral on this central spot in the city that had been the capital of the once independent Roman Catholic Christian country Poland. The Russians had done this to give the Poles a continuous ocular demonstration that the Russians were their masters. After re-establishment of Poland’s independence in 1918, the Poles pulled this cathedral down. The demolition had been completed just before the date of my visit. I do not greatly blame the Polish government for having pulled down that Russian church. The purpose for which the Russians had built it had been not religious but political, and the purpose had also been intentionally offensive…”

“Aurangzeb’s purpose in building those three mosques (Ayodhya, Kashi and Mathura) was the same intentionally offensive political purpose that moved the Russians to build their Orthodox cathedral in the city centre at Warsaw. Those mosques were intended to signify that an Islamic government was reigning supreme, even over Hinduism’s holiest of holy places. I must say that Aurangzeb had a veritable genius for picking out provocative sites. Aurangzeb and Philip II of Spain are a pair. They are incarnations of the gloomily fanatical vein in the Christian-Muslim-Jewish family of religions. Aurangzeb – poor wretched misguided bad man – spent a lifetime of hard labour in raising massive monuments to his own discredit. Perhaps the Poles were really kinder in destroying the Russians’  self-discrediting monument in Warsaw than you have been in sparing Aurangzeb’s mosques.”

Toynbee died in 1975. He had a good knowledge of India’s history and ancient culture. He believed that the moral and spiritual values of Hinduism were the finest. Had he been living today, then, like V. S. Naipaul, he would have cheered the building of the Ram Temple, at Ram Janmabhoomi in Ayodhya, as a sign of Hinduism finally asserting itself in the land where this religion was founded more than 4000 years ago.

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