Shivaji’s Remonstrance Against the Imposition of The Jaziya

This is the full text of the letter written by Chh. Shivaji to Aurangzeb, in 1657, regarding the imposition of Jaziya (Jizya) — a religiously required per capita tax levied by a Muslim state on non-Muslim subjects permanently residing in Muslim lands under Islamic law. [Wikipedia]. The letter is polite, but assertive in its tone and reveals Shivaji’s philosophy and reasoning.

The letter is an extract from “History of Aurangzib: Based on Persian Resources”, Volume III – North India: 1658-1681, by Sir Jadunath Sarkar. The book is available for online viewing at the Panjab Digital Library (free sign-up required). We have reproduced the letter as it appears in the book. Any errors or peculiarities of language belong to the author.

If you find something amiss, please let us know through the comments.

[Begin Reproduction]

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 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.

My excellent services and devotion to the welfare of the State are fully known to the princes, Khans, Amirs, Rajas and rais of India, to the rulers of Persia, Central Asia, Turkey and Syria, to the inhabitants of the seven climes of the globe, and to wayfarers on land and sea; and very likely their light has flashed on your Majesty’s capacious mind. So with a view to rendering good service and earning the imperial favour, I submit the following words in a spirit of devotion to the public welfare :—

It has recently come to my ears that, on the ground of the war with me having exhausted your wealth and emptied the imperial treasury, your Majesty has ordered that money under the name of jaziya should be collected from the Hindus and the imperial needs supplied with it. May it please your Majesty! That architect of the fabric of empire. [Jala-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 followers1, sky-worshippers (falakia2), malakias3, materialists (ansaria), atheists (daharia), Brahman 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 the World’s spiritual guide’ (Jagat Guru).

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 his hand to his work, and gained his desires. The Emperor Shah Jahan for 32 years cast his blessed shade on the head of the world and gathered the fruit of eternal life, — which is only another name 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 his august wish, Victory and Success advanced to welcome him on the way. In his reign many kingdoms and forts were conquered. The state and power of these emperors can be easily understood from the fact that Alamgir Padishah has failed and become bewildered 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 nature of 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 both 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 [in their reigns] 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 condition of the grandees and officers can be easily 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-time inflame their own cheeks by slapping them [in anguish]. How can the royal spirit permit you to add the hardship of the jaziya to this grievous state of things? The infamy will quickly spread from west to east and become recorded in books of history that the Emperor of Hindustan, coveting the beggars’ bowls, takes jaziya from Brahmans and Jain, 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 it 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 Hinduism are terms of contrast. They are [diverse pigments] used by the true Divine Painter for blending the colours and filling in the outlines [of His picture of the entire human species]. If it be a mosque, the call to 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 to find fault with the painter.

(Verses)

Lay not thy hand in disapproval on anything you see, be it good, be it bad,
To call the handiwork faulty is to find fault with the craftsman.

In strict justice the jaziya is not at all lawful. From the political point of view it can be allowed only if a beautiful woman wearing gold ornaments can pass from one country to another without fear or 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 terrorising 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 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 of your royalty continue to shine above the horizon of greatness!

~

[R. A. S. MS. 71 ascribes the authorship of this letter to Shivaji, A. S. B. MS, 56 to Shambhuji Orme’s Fragments, p. 252, to Jaswant Singh, and Tod, i. ch, 13 to Maharana Raj Singh, Now, Shambhuji and Jaswant are ruled out by the dates. The internal evidence and autobiographical details of the writer apply to Shivaji and not to Raj Singh R. A. S. MS. adds that the letter was drafted by Nila Prabhu, the Persian Secretary (Parasnis) of Shivaji, In the penultimate paragraph of the letter, Rajah Ram Singh is given for Rana Ram Singh by A. S. B. MS. and Orme but no Jaipur chieftain could have been “the head of the Hindus” I have critically discussed and annotated this letter in Modern Review, January, 1908, pp. 21-23].

[End of Reproduction]

Notes

  1. They were known as Dādu panthis (دادو پنتی). A Dādu panthi is “a follower of the religious sect of Dādu, a cotton cleaner of Ahmedabad, in the beginning of the seventeenth century, who endeavoured to establish a sort of monotheistical worship.” (Wilson’s Oriental Langiage Glossary of Terms, p. 117, col. 1).
  2. Shivaji seems to refer to the Parsees under this name. According to Steingass, filk (فلق) means “a fire-worshipper”. If we read the word (فلق) as falaq heaven, the falakia would mean heaven or sun-worshippers. In that sense also the word would apply to Parsees.
  3. The Sect of Malakites

Above notes, from “Asiatic Papers, Dr Jivanji Jamshedji Modi, Page 165″

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2 thoughts on “Shivaji’s Remonstrance Against the Imposition of The Jaziya

  1. In his most definitive book “Shivaji: His Life and Times”, historian Gajanan Bhaskar Mehendaley has devoted one full appendix to this letter where he concludes as follows.
    My conclusions, therefore, about the authorship of this document are:
    1. It could not have been written by, or at the behest of, Shivaji.
    2. In all probability it is a piece of fiction.
    3. If at all it is genuine, it was most probably written by Aurangzeb’s son Muhammad Akbar.

    Mr. Mehendaley has taken great pains unearthing various “versions” of this letter as appearing in books of historians, has looked at the time (a few decades after his escape from Agra) when it first surfaced, pointed out anomalies in the facts – before arriving to this conclusion.

    BTW – there is no denying the fact that Chh. Shivaji Maharaj was way ahead of times when it come to governance as well as inclusivity. He was extremely tolerant of other faiths. Mehendelay quotes one Muslim chronicler who has written that Shivaji used to respectfully preserve and hand over the copies of Quran acquired during raids to his Muslim servants. Do look at my blog https://abhaymitaan.wordpress.com/2013/01/18/can-we-ever-read-history-with-an-open-mind/ where I admit I have to revise a few observations,

    Like

    1. Hello Abhay, thank you for the comment. I have not read the book by GB Mehendaley, but will now look for it.

      According to “Aitihasik Patrabodh” published by Shri Samarth Prakashan (GS Sardesai), the original of this letter in Persian is in the British museum. Also, the same book, has another letter written by Muhammad Akbar to Aurangzeb. While there are similarities (especially relating to religious tolerance) they are definitely distinct letters.

      As more information becomes available, we’ll publish it.

      Like

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