History of Banaras – Part IV (Plunder and destruction by the Mughals)

It is difficult to ascertain the extent of damage inflicted by the Delhi Sultanate, but a fair number of mosques and tombs built on the sites of temples during this period using the stones of the temples demolished are still visible in the city. It has been documented that Razia Sultana had built a mosque on the site of Kashi Vishwanathji.


At the end of the 13th century, the Kashi Vishwanathji Temple was rebuilt by a zealous devotee only to be partially destroyed in the mid-15th century by the Sharqi Sultans of the Jaunpur Sultanate and completely demolished by Sikandar Lodi in 1490.


The site remained deserted for ninety years as per historians. Between the 13th to 16th century, there was a strong revival of classical Sanskrit in the form of poetic literature. This new wave of bhakti movement was advocated by Sri Vallabhacharya, Ramananda, Kabir Das, Tulsidas, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Guru Nanak and Sant Ravidas who came to Kashi to spread the message of love, faith and equality through their kirtans.


However, this period of bhakti renaissance was under constant threat from Muslim invaders. The reign of terror of Babur who defeated Ibrahim Lodi and established the Mughal rule began in 1526. Babur used unmentionable violent means to torment Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists of Akhanda Bharat, a point that has been described in detail in his own memoir and that of his nobles.


Humayun who succeeded Babur was known for his lack of critical thinking, poor judgement and weak mind. Relations between Hindus and the Muslim invaders did not improve during his rule. There is no mention of his visit to Kashi in the court records. Akbar who took over the reins of power after the demise of his father was extremely intelligent and found a very clever way to inveigle his way into the hearts of Hindus.


He outwardly professed religious tolerance by encouraging a closer alliance with Rajputs to cement his position as the undisputed ruler of Akhanda Bharat. Many Rajput women were forced to join his harem and converted to Islam. The roots of his lineage lay in radicalism and he never swerved from it even though he claimed that he wanted to create a harmonious environment for Muslims and Hindus that would bridge their ideological differences. There are innumerable instances in the memoirs of his mercurial temperament and disdain for non-Muslims that resulted in dictums to subjugate Hindus using any means possible.


He used Raja Man Singh I and Raja Todar Mal to create a positive perception of his religious views. The evidence of the same is seen in Kashi where they were instructed to renovate temples and ghats.


A series of rebellions against Akbar resulted in the city being plundered again. Akbar visited Banaras in 1566 to a lukewarm response. Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists were largely sceptical of his motives as rampant conversion to Islam was going on in many parts of Bharat.


Akbar visited the city again in 1567 but found the streets empty and all the doors locked. The residents had decided to ignore this visit as they had seen through his guise of alleged tolerance. Akbar felt deeply humiliated and commanded his army to loot the city.


He tried to make reparations by strengthening Panchaganga ghat and Manasarovar ghat with stone slabs but Hindus were suspicious of his motives and chose to stay away from his religious congregations. Jahangir who ascended the throne on the death of Akbar went about building new settlements meant exclusively for orthodox clerics and mosques on deserted sites.


Shah Jahan who was a hardcore fanatic and supporter of shariat, ordered that all temples recently built be razed to the ground. 76 temples under construction and 70 temples that had just been inaugurated were ruthlessly pulled down. He also issued a farman that all gifts, donations, jewels, precious stones and others offered to the temples of Banaras, including Vishweshwara be granted to him.


After murdering his two elder brothers and younger brother and imprisoning his father Shah Jahan, Aurangzeb grabbed hold of power. His tyranny even superseded that of his father’s and his deep roots in Islamic fundamentalism pushed him towards his main goal of converting the entire population of Akhanda Bharat to Islam and extinction of every form of dissent. He intended to establish an Islamic state of Bharat and went about this with clinical precision.


Written by Lakshmi Subramanian


* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)

* Information about History of Banaras is taken from archives

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