How exactly did Hinduism change under the Mughals?
This question may be somewhat of a misnomer considering that there are various different manifestations of Hinduism depending on where or who you ask. Regardless, the presence of the Mughal rule from roughly 1500 to 1700 BCE, and the subsequent pushback or adherence to the regime led to new and sometimes contrasting versions of Hinduism. For example, in some cases, Hindus fought against foreign cultures in an attempt to “preserve their cultural heritage” (p. 551), but in other cases, Hindus adopted many of the beliefs and customs of Muslim tradition, creating a hybrid religion of sorts in some regions.
One of the most distinct ways that the Mughal reign influenced Hinduism was seen in the change of worship from a warrior-centered Vishnu to the playful and loving Krishna, which is referred to as Vaishnavism, which “flourished under the Mughals in the sixteenth century” (p. 552). Tulsidas was one of the most influential proponents of Vaishnavism, with some of his most memorable work including talk of how Muslims can too be saved in Rama’s name, his compassion for Pariahs, and his moderate objection to caste. Another prominent figure was the Bengali saint named Chaitanya who was a Brahmin that made the pilgrimage to Gaya following his father’s death. On his pilgrimage, he decided to renounce the world, but in response, people began to join and worship Krishna with him. His newfound followers believed that he was an incarnation of both Radha and Krishna, but not in the traditional dualistic, bhakti way and instead in a “monistic and Tantric sense, to realize both male and female powers within their own bodies” (p. 554). Chaitanya’s followers, while not promoting adultery and passion-driven behaviors, admired and honored the intensity of the love that goes into those behaviors. They equated this with a metaphor for the “proper love of god” (p. 555), and in doing so, promoted the belief that Bhakti was a duty better suited for women because they were able to be the god’s lovers. Doniger makes sure to note that while this belief may have given women more spiritual authority, it didn’t necessarily give women more practical authority. Overall, the Vaishnavism movement that was spearheaded by the Mughal leadership promoted a more feminine and love-centric view of worship and religion, but whether or not this impacted Hinduism on a larger scale is not addressed in the chapter.
In this section, I wondered about the larger-scale significance of these seemingly insiginificant spiritual sects, considering I had never heard of Vaishnavism until I read this chapter. Granted, that could be due in large part to my ignorance of Hindiusm prior to this class, but after reading this chapter I began to wonder how Vaishnavism–along with other Mughal-influenced religious traditions–is portrayed or manifested in contemporary India today, if it is at all. Additionally, I wondered how the the preference for females in spaces of worship due to the importance of passionate love in worship
Of course, Doniger couldn’t go a few pages without mentioning the significance of horses, and in this chapter, she discusses the impact that the Mughal reign had on horses in the region by looking predominantly at myths and epics written during that time involving horses. On pages 561 to 563, Doniger details the “Three Tales of Equine Resurrection”, and in each of the three, she elaborates on the cultural significance and impact of these legends. In my opinion, the most significant tale was the third one, a story about a horse sacrifice in North India during the nineteenth century that promotes the belief that horses are not a low-caste animal. This belief may have already been obvious, though, considering horses were extremely expensive during this time, costing roughly ten thousand dollars each. Some people may pushback on the belief that Hindu horse lore was strongly influenced by the Mughal reign, but Doniger quells those inquisitions by pointing out the gender of the horses. Hindus prior to the Mughal period rode stallions (males), and Arabs rode mares (females). The significance of stallions in the Hindu culture was seen in early Vedic imagery and revolved predominantly around their “virility, fertility, and aggressive volatility” (p. 565), but mares were viewed as wild animals and were equated with the inherent danger of women as temptresses at the time. Interestingly, the perception of mares in Hindu epics changed following the reign of the Mughals, indicating that the Mughal’s positive view of mares as benevolent seeped into the Hindu narrative.
Last, but definitely not least: women
For the most part, women–at least high ranking women–did pretty well under the Mughals, with newfound powers like property rights, education, and even the ability to get abortions. Doniger provides various individual examples of women’s new agencies and infamy, like Chand Bibi: an educated negotiator with the Mughals, Nur Jahan: a cunning and intelligent widow who was able to exploit different Mughal leaders, Mumtaz Mahal: the wealthy wife of Shah Jahan and for whom the Taj Mahal was built, and Mirabai: a brave memorialized poet who wrote about her undying love for Krishna. Suttee, the Hindu custom that entails a widow burning herself with her husband’s body, was opposed by one of the Mughal leaders, Akbar. Though he opposed the act, he didn’t abolish it unless the woman had children. Interestingly, despite the Mughal aversion to suttee, there still remained a level of admiration for the courage, loyalty, and love that was required for a woman to perform suttee.
- On page 565, Doniger says “Vaishnavism encompasses Islam”. What does this quote mean, exactly? Have we seen something similar to this in other chapters or previous texts? Could you provide a contemporary metaphor for the example she provides?
- How does what we’ve learned so far about dharma and bhakti in class align with what Doniger discusses on page 556 about Vaishnavism’s interpretation of bhakti?