Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Bikaner-Aurangabad connection

In the city of Aurangabad, Maharashtra, lies a temple of Karni Mata. The more famous temple of this deity is located in Deshnoke, Rajasthan, near the city of Bikaner——Karni Mata has been the tutelary Goddess of the old ruling family of the Bikaner Princely State. The temple in Aurangabad receives an annual grant from the state government of Rajasthan, which prior to independence, was paid by the Bikaner Princely State. Interestingly, up until 1904, the Bikaner State even owned three suburbs of Aurangabad along with the temple!

These were Karanpura, Padampura, and Kesrisinghpura, which also included the nearby village of Kokanwadi——in 1904 these were handed over to the British government for cantonment purposes. These suburbs were named after members of the Rathore Rajput family that founded and ruled Bikaner in the medieval era. The more remarkable fact is that these had been in the possession of the Bikaner State from as far back as 1667!

Raja Karan Singh
Karanpura is named after Raja Karan Singh (1631-1669) and it was his contingent’s camping ground when he was a general serving the Mughal prince Aurangzeb, the Viceroy of the Deccan (Aurangabad was the capital of the Mughal Deccan and the Sultanantes of Bijapur and Golconda formed the remaining portions of that plateau region). Karan led an independent campaign in the hills of Maharasthra where he subdued the state of Jawhar without any fighting but at most other times served directly under Aurangzeb.

Some incidents involving Raja Karan

Incidents from the Mughal records are in blue and from the Bikaner records are in crimson:

In 1652 Aurangzeb recommended Raja Karan Singh for an administrative post to his father Shah Jahan. Jadunath Sarkar in his “History of Aurangzeb” gives the reason for this act thus: It was during his second rule over the Deccan that Aurangzib clearly unfolded not only his administrative skill and energy, but also the limitations of his character which finally blighted his fame and wrecked his empire. We have already seen him boasting how he had destroyed the temple on a hill six miles south of Aurangabad. He is taxed by Shah Jahan with being unfriendly to Rajputs, and tries to answer the charge by recommending a Rajput captain, Raja Karan, for an administrative post. Evidently there was no love lost between him and the Rajputs already.

While Karan Singh was loyal to Dara Shukoh he sent his sons to join Aurangzeb after all trace of Dara was lost in Sindh. In the Battle of Khajwa (1659) the Bikaner princes Padam Singh and Kesri Singh took part and fought ferociously in defeating Shuja. As a measure of their importance Aurangzeb dusted Kesri Singh’s armor with his own hands and presented him a gold sword, which can be seen today in the Bikaner museum.

In the Mughal War of Succession (1657-59) Aurangzeb’s elder brother Dara Shukoh summoned all loyal chieftains to his bed-ridden father Shah Jahan’s side. This order was obeyed by Raja Chhatrasal of Bundi and Mahabat Khan but Karan being directly under Aurangzeb had to accompany him to Dharmat. The Raja did not take part in the battle and instead went to Bikaner without taking Aurangzeb’s permission. Even after Aurangzeb captured the Mughal capitals Agra and Delhi, Karan continued to remain defiant and in constant communications with Dara Shukoh. After the latter’s capture and murder by order of Aurangzeb an army was sent to invade Bikaner (1660) and bring Raja Karan to heel. But this was achieved without any fighting——Aurangzeb diplomatically hailed Karan as the “Jangalpat Badshah” (ruler of the desert region: see jangaldesh) to win his loyalty.

Aurangzeb prepared for an invasion of Iran and sent a large army across the Indus (1666). But at Attock a passing faqir warned the Rajput princes that Aurangzeb intended to convert them to Islam once they were across the river [1]. The chiefs decided in a body that they would allow the Muslim section of the army to cross over and then destroy the boats on the river. At that time news came of the passing away of the Jaipur Raja’s mother and the chiefs delayed crossing the Indus for the twelve days of mourning. When Aurangzeb demanded their presence across the river the chiefs approached Raja Karan to lead the task of boat destruction, since his territories were least open to a Mughal invasion [2] . Karan agreed but demanded that all the Rajput chiefs acknowledge his supremacy——an impromptu throne was constructed and the assembled hailed Karan as the “Jangaldhar Badshah”.

Karan and his younger sons, Padam, Kesari, and Mohan, went to serve in the Deccan Wars——his eldest son Anup remained behind as his father’s representative at the Mughal court. In 1667 Anup Singh persuaded Aurangzeb to transfer the Bikaner Raj to him. Karan and his other sons were disinherited and forbidden to return to Bikaner. Deprived of the state’s income Karan and his soldiers engaged in plunder and disturbances in the Mughal dominions of the Deccan——Aurangzeb ordered his local commander Dilir Khan to arrest Karan. The Afghan came to the Raja one morning with his soldiers and invited him to join in a hunt, planning to arrest him once they were at a safe distance from the Rajput camp. But Aurangzeb’s order had been learnt by the court secretary of another Rajput chief, Rao Bhao Singh of Bundi, who was also serving in the same army. Learning of Dilir’s advance to Karan’s camp Bhao Singh reached the spot with his men, brushed aside the opposition of Dilir’s soldiers, and carried off his brother Hindu chief to safety. Then the two Rajput armies separated from the Mughals until Karan and his sons were compensated with the grant of estates near Aurangabad.

The website Royal Ark, which summarizes the history of princely families, gives the date of the boat-breaking incident as January 11, 1667. It also concludes that Karan was deprived of the Bikaner Raj for this dereliction of duty. However the only Raja of Jaipur contemporary to Raja Karan was Jai Singh I and he was at that time engaged in the invasion of the Sultanate of Bijapur. In fact the Mughal records do mention the sending of an army to the northwest to guard against a threatened invasion by the Shah of Iran in 1666 [3] . Aurangzeb did not lead that army, which was instead led by his son Muazzam and Maharaja Jaswant Singh, and in any case the army returned once the invasion threat blew over.

The only other occasion for a trans-Indus campaign in the lifetime of Raja Karan was in 1659 during the chase of the defeated Dara Shukoh. In Sindh it is recorded that Jai Singh, who was leading that pursuit, halted his forces on the right bank of the River Indus while Dara escaped into Baluchistan. The Italian artillerist in Aurangzeb’s army, Nicolao Manucci, asserts that Jai Singh, even though serving Aurangzeb, deliberately allowed Dara to escape so that he would not be killed by his vindictive brother [4] . The Indus in the Sindh of those days was a broad and deep river, crossed with the aid of boats, and if the boat-breaking incident is true then it must have happened on this occasion. This is confirmed by the presence of the Jaipur Raja in that army and by the fact that Bikaner was invaded immediately after this incident in 1660.

Secondly since Karan’s sons were part of Aurangzeb’s army at the Battle of Khajwa, he may also have joined the usurping emperor before the final defeat of Dara. Thus he may have been part of the army that chased Dara up to the Indus——in view of his old loyalty to Dara, and the reluctance of Jai Singh to capture the elder Mughal prince, Karan may have destroyed the boats on the Indus to allow Dara to escape into Persia. The statement in the Mughal records that Bikaner was invaded in 1660 because Raja Karan had not submitted to Emperor Aurangzeb is difficult to believe——for after Dara’s capture and murder why would the Bikaner chief needlessly defy Aurangzeb on his own?

The boat-breaking incident on the Indus is thus probably true although it was done to enable Dara Shukoh’s escape by the Rajput chiefs and not to prevent their own conversion to Islam.

Padam Singh’s sword

Raja Karan Singh died in 1669 according to both the Mughal and the Bikaner records. This was during the campaign in Gondwana under Dilir Khan. Subsequently Anup Singh was recognized as the Raja of Bikaner and sent to serve in the Deccan in his father’s old post in 1671. For his services against the Sultanate of Bijapur Anup was raised to the rank of Maharaja by Aurangzeb and this title was borne by all subsequent rulers of Bikaner. Anup’s brothers served alongside him and there was no record of any discord between them——this negates the statement in the Mughal records that it was at the prodding of Anup that his father was deprived of the Bikaner Raj.

So what was the real reason for disinheriting Raja Karan Singh and his younger sons?

There is yet another incident involving the Rathore brothers, which besides the Bikaner records, is also mentioned in Ferishta’s History of the Deccan:

Raja Karan’s youngest son Mohan Singh had a dispute with Shahzada Muazzam’s brother-in-law over the possession of a captured fawn in Muazzam’s court at Aurangabad. Mohan was stabbed in the back by the Mughal officer and died——the fracas was reported to his elder brother Padam Singh who rushed to the spot. Seeing his teenage brother’s body drenched in blood, the infuriated Rajput pulled out his sword and went after the murderer while the other courtiers made their escape. The latter defended himself but Padam delivered a blow that cut through the Mughal and killed him on the spot. The blow was so powerful that the huge sword [5] even left a mark on one of the many stone pillars of the court!

Padam Singh then picked up Mohan’s body and retired to his camp, none daring to stop him. Later the Bikaner chieftain gathered the other Rajput chiefs and demanded that they take revenge for this insult to their race. So all the Rajput contingents separated from Muazzam’s side and retired from Aurangabad. Then Shahzada Muazzam came after them, profusely apologized for the crime, and urged them to forgive and forget. It was only after this that Padam Singh and the other chieftains returned to Aurangabad [6].

It is significant that in the estates at Aurangabad there was none named after Karan’s youngest son Mohan Singh. It is obvious then that this prince was killed before his father’s disinheritance by Aurangzeb in 1667. This fact and the confirmation of the story by Ferishta strengthen the claim of this Bikaner story being true. The separation of the Rajput contingents echoes the story in the Mughal records of the attempt to arrest Raja Karan Singh.

But was the killing of Muazzam’s brother-in-law the reason that Aurangzeb decided to punish the entire family, apart from Anup Singh who was present in Delhi? Or was it a combination of all the incidents involving the Bikaner ruler?

The remaining brothers Padam Singh and Kesari Singh continued to live in their Aurangabad estates and served in Aurangzeb’s army. However they seem to have continued Raja Karan’s mixed attitude towards the Mughals. For in 1679, Kesari Singh while campaigning alongside the Mughals against Shivaji, sent him advance warning to make his escape so that the Hindu King would not be captured by the Mughals (reference).

Maharaja Anup Singh

The Bikaner records provide some more interesting details about the relations of Anup Singh with Aurangzeb. Apparently there was a fifth son of Raja Karan named Banmali Das, who converted to Islam and asked Aurangzeb for a share in the Bikaner Raj while Anup Singh was serving in the Deccan. This was granted to him since it would create a Muslim territory within the Rajput-dominated region——however Anup Singh had Banmali murdered in 1682 and thus preserved the integrity of Bikaner.

It is recorded of Anup Singh that during the Mughal-Maratha wars he collected various Hindu scriptures, manuscripts, and paintings from the ruined town and forts of the Deccan and brought them to Bikaner. Today they are lodged in the Anup Sanskrit Library in that city.

Secondly a family of Telinga Brahmins, so called because they were residents of the Telingana region in the south, took up service with the Bikaner chief. Their descendants are still to be found in Bikaner serving the deity in the Rattan Behari Temple——they are known locally as the Koti Maharaj.

It is quite remarkable that after the deaths of Padam Singh and Kesari Singh, the title to their estates passed to the Bikaner state, and was respected by every power that held Aurangabad. From the Nizam of Hyderabad, to the Marathas, and finally to the British, who ultimately exchanged these districts with the Bikaner state. But the temple in Aurangabad, still maintained by the Rajasthan government is a living testimony to the quirks of the medieval period in Indian History.

[1] This faqir and his descendants were allowed to collect a certain amount of money from every Bikaner households...a practice that continued till 1947.

[2] This is a historical fact that also carried forward into the period of the Maratha Empire. Bikaner and Jaisalmer, being situated in desert tracts, remained immune to the attacks of the Maratha armies, just as they had been immune to the campaigns of the Mughal armies. In fact Bikaner had the distinction of defeating a Mughal army under Humayun’s brother Kamran——Bikaner’s alliance later with Akbar’s Mughal Empire was borne out of its border dispute and old hostility with the neighboring state of Jodhpur. In each generation there was a conflict between Bikaner and Jodhpur (or Bikaner and Nagaur), and in national crises Bikaner and Jodhpur have always been present in the opposite sides of the conflict, which fact also carried forward into the Maratha period and only ended with the formation of the British Raj.

[3] The sequence of events runs thus: Shivaji attacks Shaista Khan and sacks Surat (1664), Shah Abbas of Iran sends a taunting letter to Aurangzeb and threatens to invade India (1666), Jaswant Singh is sent to defend the northwest (1666) while Jai Singh is sent against Shivaji (1665) and Bijapur (1666).

[4] Dara unfortunately could not take advantage of this opportunity because in a weak moment he took shelter with an old officer, Malik Jiwan, a local Pashtun chieftain who treacherously captured and then delivered him to Aurangzeb.

[5] This sword is still preserved in Bikaner and is worshipped on the occasion of Dashhera each year.

[6] The narration of events by the Bikaner bards displays one of the limitations of the Rajputs——namely their preference for legendary stories to facts. In the case of Padam Singh’s sword the legend in some versions states that the Rajput chief’s sword actually cut right through the stone pillar after felling his Mughal opponent! In the case of Raja Karan Singh’s breaking of the boats, it is described as the virtual saving of Hinduism, the Battle of Khajwa is said to have been won entirely by the valor of the Bikaner chieftains, Anup Singh is described as “leading” the attack on Bijapur. And in the 19th century paintings that depicted these events, along with Raja Karan’s breaking of the boats, or the dusting of Kesari Singh’s armor by Aurangzeb; the Rajputs are portrayed in strong and masculine terms. The Mughals on the other hand are depicted to be weak, sensuous, and cowering.

added later; a street/localities map of modern Aurangabad city:

Karanpura and Padampura are located in the southern area, close to the railway line and next to Usmanpura. Kesrisinghpura is probably the location of the Aurangabad cantonment. There also other localities named after Rajput chiefs who served in the Deccan Wars; Pahadsinghpura, Bhaosinghpura (the chief who saved Raja Karan from Dilir Khan), Jaswantpura, etc.

Pahad Singh Bundela was the builder of the Sunehri Mahal at Aurangabad.

One more piece of info from Google Earth on Aurangabad!

Aurangabad Cantonment History

Aurangabad Cantonment was formed in the year 1819 with European officers to train the Nizam's Army. In 1903, a treaty was signed between British & the Nizam, & it was decided to establish a proper Cantonment. All villages belonging to Bikaner Riyasat (namely Karanpura, Padampura, Kesarsinghpura & Konkanwadi) were transferred to British. The area approximately was 919 acres. In view of military convenience, an area of 396 acres out of above land was exchanged with an area of 1044 Acres of Banwadi village & other Khalsa area of Nizam dominion in the year 1913. In this manner the military authorities got at their disposed total area of 1367 acres in Aurangabad. Out of above land some land was used for purely military purpose while remaining for agricultural & residential purposes. In the future course the civil area was developed and the Cantonment was defined under the Cantonment Act, 1924. Today the Cantonment is spread across 2584 acres with civil population of 19274 as per the 2001 census.