Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj's letter of protest to Aurangzeb 'jaziya' - religious tax

My attempt is to capture in capsules the history of the glorious Maratha empire which still has impact on our lives without even us being aware of it.

Below is a 'one of its kind' letter written by Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj to Aurangzeb protesting the Jaziya tax applied on all non Muslims. This letter was written some years after his epic escape from Agra. There are some positive references to Akbar, Jehangir and Shah Jehan but I really doubt the good nature of these Kings. Their record is as dubious as Aurangzebs contrary to what we are taught in school. Shivaji Maharaj the shrewed statesman that he was used this opportunity to sarcastically prick Aurangzeb, alluding that unlike his ancestors who were good, compared to them he is a common criminal, a murderer of his own father and a usurper of the throne.

Shivaji’s letter on religious toleration to Aurangzeb
Shivaji sent to Aurangzeb a well-reasoned and spirited letter of protest against the jaziya polltax, which was drafted by Nila Prabhu in eloquent Persian translated here into English for the reader.

To the Emperor Alamgir –

“This firm and constant well-wisher Shivaji, after rendering thanks for the grace of God and the favours of the Emperor, - which are clearer than the Sun, -begs you to inform your Majesty that, although this well-wisher was led by his adverse Fate to come away from your august Presence without taking leave, yet he is ever ready to perform, to the fullest extent possible and proper, everything that duty as a servant and gratitude demand of him….
“It has recently come to my ears that, on the ground of the war with me having exhausted your wealth and emptied your treasury, your Majesty has ordered that money under the name of jaziya should be collected from the Hindus and imperial needs supplied with it. May it please your Majesty! That architect of the fabric of empire, [Jalal-ud-din] Akbar Padishah, reigned with full power for 52[lunar] years. He adopted the admirable policy of universal harmony (sulh-i-kul) in relation to all the various sects, such as Christians, Jews, Muslims, Dadu’s followers, sky-worshippers (falakia), malakia, heathens (ansaria), atheists (daharia), Brahmans and Jain priests. The aim of his liberal heart was to cherish and protect all the people. So, he became famous under the title of Jagat Guru, ‘the World’s spiritual guide.’

“Next, the Emperor Nur-ud-din Jahangir for 22 years spread his gracious shade on the head of the world and its dwellers, gave his heart to his friends and hi hand to his work, and gained his desires. The Emperor Shah Jahan for 32 years cast his blessed shadow on the head of the world and gathered the fruit of eternal life, - which is only a synonym for goodness and fair fame, - as the result of his happy time on earth. (Verses)

He who lives with a good name gains everlasting wealth, because after his death, the recital of his good deeds keeps his name alive.

“Through the auspicious effect of this sublime disposition, wherever he [Akbar] bent the glance of hi august wish, Victory and Success advanced to welcome him on the way. In his reign many kingdoms and forts were conquered [by him]. The state and powers of these Emperors can be easily understood from the fact that Alamgir Padishah has failed and become distracted in the attempt to merely follow their political system. They, too, had the power of levying the jaziya; but they did not give place to bigotry in their hearts, as they considered all men, high and low, created by God to be [living] examples of the diverse creeds and temperaments. Their kindness and benevolence endure on the pages of Time as their memorial, and so prayer and praise for these (three) pure souls will dwell for ever in the hearts and tongues of mankind, among great and small. Prosperity is the fruit of one’s intentions. Therefore, their wealth and good fortune continued to increase, as God’s creatures reposed in the cradle of peace and safety [under their rule], and their undertakings succeeded.

But in your Majesty’s reign, many of the forts and provinces have gone out of your possession, and the rest will soon do so too, because there will be no slackness on my part in ruining and devastating them. Your peasants are down-trodden; the yield of every village has declined, -in the place of one lakh [of Rupees] only one thousand, and in the place of a thousand only ten are collected and that too with difficulty. When Poverty and Beggary have made their homes in the palaces of the Emperor and the Princes, the conditions of the grandees and officers can easily be imagined. It is a reign in which the army is in a ferment, the merchants complain, the Muslims cry, the Hindus are grilled, most men lack bread at night and in the day inflame their own cheeks by slapping them [in anguish]. How can the royal spirit permit you to add the hardship of jaziya to this grievous state of things? The infamy will quickly spread from west to east and become recorded in books and history that the Emperor of Hindusthan, coveting the beggars’ bowls, takes jaziya from Brahmans and Jain monks, yogis, sannyasis, bairagis, paupers, mendicants, ruined wretches, and the famine-stricken, - that his valour is shown by attacks on the wallets of beggars, - that he dashes down to the ground the name and honour of the Timurids!

“May if please your Majesty! If you believe in the true Divine Book and Word of God (i.e., the Quran), you will find there [that God is styled] Rabb-ul-alamin, the Lord of all men and not Rabb-ul-musalmin, the Lord of the Muhammadans only. Verily, Islam and Hindusim are terms of contrast. They are [diverse pilgrims] used by the true Divine Painter for blending the colours and filling the outlines [of His picture of the entire human species]. If it be a mosque, the call of the prayer is chanted in remembrance of Him. If it be a temple, the bell is rung in yearning for Him only. To show bigotry for any man’s creed and practices is equivalent to altering the words of the Holy Book. To draw new lines on a picture is equivalent to finding fault with the painter….
“In strict justice the jaziya is not at all lawful. From the political point of view it can be allowable only if a beautiful woman wearing gold ornaments can pass from one province to another without fear of molestation. [But] in these days even the cities are being plundered, what shall I say of the open country? Apart from its injustice, this imposition of the jaziya is an innovation in India and inexpedient.

“If you imagine piety to consist in oppressing the people and terrorizing the Hindus, you ought first to levy the jaziya from Rana Raj Singh, who is the head of the Hindus. Then it will not be so very difficult to collect it from me, as I am at your service. But to oppress ants and flies is far from displaying your valour and spirit.

‘I wonder at the strange fidelity of your officers that they neglect to tell you of the true state of things, but cover a blazing fire with straw! May the Sun on your royalty continue to shine above the horizon of greatness!” 

[Sarkar, History of Aurangzib]


  1. I can imagine how this would be when understood in its original language. what a language and use of words. It fills me with so much honor and greatness to belong to this country. The followers and remnants of aurangazeb need to learn from their predecessor that such hard headed, witless demands and goals can never be fulfilled in this spiritual capital, the land of the hindu dharma.

  2. Is there a reference about the source of this amazing letter ?

  3. Thanks for your comment. This letter was taken from the book Life & Times of Shivaji by Prof Jadunath Sarkar. The original source is historical archives, I guess in London.

  4. Rana Raj Singh or Maharana Raj Singh was ruling Mewar at the time of Shivaji and his opposition to Aurang was well known, therefore Shivaji taunted Aurang to collect the Jaziya from him. Mewar tacitly supported Shivaji in his times.

  5. Is marathi text of this letter available ?

  6. No, the original was written in Persian by Shivaji Maharaj. Its is preserved in a museum in Jaipur