a ban on drinking alcohol -- 7/31/17

Today's selection -- from Aurangzeb by Audrey Truschke. For as long as there have been governments, there have been attempts to curb the use of alcohol and other drugs by the masses. They have invariably failed. Aurangzeb, who presided over the greatest territorial expansion of the Mughal empire in India, was one of those who tried:

"Aurangzeb's attempt to reduce the consumption of alcohol across his empire was one of the more spectacular policy failures of his reign. Alcohol was widely condemned as un-Islamic, and Mughal kings had long been lauded across religious lines for en­couraging temperance. For example, the Jain monk Shanticandra wrote around 1590 about how Akbar 'banned liquor, which ought to be universally reviled.' Jahangir also claimed to have proscribed alcohol (despite being a prolific drinker himself). The repeated appearance of this ban signals that it was ineffective.

an old Aurangzeb in prayer

"In spite of the odds, Aurangzeb followed his forefathers and attempted to restrict the sale of wine and liquor. According to the testimony of the French traveler Francois Bernier, wine was 'prohibited equally by the Gentile and Mahometan [Hindu and Muslim] law' and was hard to come by in Delhi. More generally, however, imbibing alcohol was rampant in Aurangzeb's India. William Norris, an English ambassador to Aurangzeb's court in the early eighteenth century, testified that Asad Khan (chief vizier from 1676 to 1707) and other government ministers were 'fond of nothing more than hot spirits with which they make themselves drunk every day if they can get it.' Accordingly, Norris tried to influence Asad Khan by sending him some liquor and choice glasses with which to imbibe the 'strong waters.'

"While he personally declined to consume alcohol, Aurang­zeb knew that few of his imperial officers followed his exam­ple. Niccoli Manucci --unleashing his characteristic weakness for gossip and exaggeration -- wrote that Aurangzeb once ex­claimed in exasperation that only two men in all of Hindu­stan did not drink: himself and his head qazi, Abdul Wahhab. Manucci, however, divulged to his readers: 'But with respect to 'Abd-ul-wahhab [Aurangzeb] was in error, for I myself sent him every day a bottle of spirits (vino), which he drank in se­cret, so that the king could not find it out.'

"Aurangzeb's other attempts at censorship, such as curbing the production and use of opium, met with similarly dismal results."

 | www.delanceyplace.com


Audrey Truschke


Aurangzeb: The Life and Legacy of India's Most Controversial King


Stanford University Press


Copyright 2017 by Audrey Truschke


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