Who was the last Hindu emperor

Not far from Aurangabad in south-central India are the simple grave of the Muslim Mughal emperor Aurangzeb and the great Buddhist cave monasteries of Ajanta.

The crime of the destruction of the Buddha statues in Bamian by fanatical Islamist purists is unforgettable. True to the commandment «You should not make an image of your God», the legacy of a great, long-faded Buddhist civilization was destroyed. The same fate has befallen innumerable Hindu temples all over northern India after the advance of Islam on the subcontinent. Not far from Aurangabad in today's Indian state Maharashtra is the grave of the last great Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb, who, in contrast to his tolerant ancestor, Akbar the Great, had brutally spread Islam against what he saw as the pagan religion of the Hindus. Also not far from Aurangabad are the cave monasteries of Ellora and Ajanta, which were carved out of stone from the second BC to the eighth century AD and adorned with magnificent pictures and statues. Since they were hidden in the rough terrain until the early 19th century, the caves are still in remarkably good condition today.

A praise for renunciation

The trip through the Aurangabad district is an occasion for reflection on one of the central points of contention between devout Muslims and the rest of the world. The dispute over the pictorial representation of people and gods does not only affect the western world, but also, for example, the Hindu and Buddhist world. While there can of course be no justification for deliberate destruction and forcible conversion, proper handling of religions and their values ​​requires that one also tries to understand positions that contradict one's own understanding of the sacred. Emperor Aurangzeb (1618 to 1707) brought the Mughal empire to its greatest territorial extent and thus probably also caused the "imperial overstretch" that would quickly contribute to the collapse of the empire after his death.

The Taj Mahal in Agra, which the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (1592–1666) had built for his favorite wife, the Mumtaz Mahal, is world famous. The mighty forts in Delhi, Agra and Lahore as well as the tomb monuments of the emperors also bear witness to the lavish building frenzy of the Mughals. You are therefore surprised to find yourself standing in front of Aurangzeb's simple grave in the dusty provincial nest of Khuldabad. The last of the great Mughal emperors had died in Ahmednagar, a day's journey away, and had asked to be buried in the shrine of the Sufi saint Shaikh Zainuddin Shiraz, whom he venerated. A plain white tombstone arches over the earth. A simple cloth lies on the grave. The small marble gallery surrounding the tomb was built two centuries later by the British Viceroy Curzon. Obviously, imperial grandeur possessed Curzon decided that an equally imperial Mughal ruler deserved a more opulent burial place. This does not change the fact that Aurangzeb, who worshiped personal renunciation during his long life, wanted to return to the ranks of the simple believers in death.

There are of course portraits of Aurangzeb, as miniature painting, for which the Mughal rulers had a great passion, was also cultivated at his court. However, no figurative representation can be seen on his simple tomb or in the glamorous Taj Mahal. Nothing should distract the mind from full surrender to God. How different after this lesson of celibacy, of strict submission to the dictate of imagery, does the world appear in which one immerses in the cave monasteries of Ajanta and Ellora. Pictures and statues pay homage to the beauty of the human body. The sensuality of the representations in the prayer and common rooms is exaggerated and stands in strange contrast to the extreme simplicity of the monk cells.

The visit to the first cave in Ajanta, which was carved into the mighty rock wall in the first half of the sixth century AD, remains unforgettable. After the eyes have gradually got used to the dawn in the cave from the glaring daylight, the murals begin to take shape. The compositional skills that the painters have given free rein to the cave walls are overwhelming. The visitor gets a comprehensive impression of life in India for centuries. At times one can make out Greek elements in the aesthetics. Obviously, Greek influences came to the Deccan via the Indo-Hellenistic Bactrian kingdoms in the far northwest of the Indian subcontinent. The architectural skills of the builders of these cave monasteries are also impressive. A few, for whatever reason, have not been completed and give an impression of the tremendous effort that must have been made of stonemasons to knock out the halls, niches and cells, the statues and columns of nameless hosts. All for the higher honor of the deities who were worshiped here.

Beauty as a mystery

The painting next to the Buddha statue that dominates cave number one remains unforgettable. The image of Bodhisattva Padmapani, the saint holding the lotus flower, shows a face of classical beauty. The young man's gaze expresses a mixture of humility, expectation, but also skepticism. The complexity of the facial features is reminiscent of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. The unknown master is on the trail of the timeless mystery of beauty.

The lack of images that the rigid Islam of an Aurangzeb imposes on believers comes at a high price. It makes it impossible to deal with human nature, which can be conducted not only in the abstract-intellectual space, but also with the art of figurative representation. The lightness of the Greek temples prevails in the cave monasteries of Ajanta. The portrayal of a joie de vivre that is not inhibited by feelings of guilt, which also deliberately serves the indignation of the humble observer, the devout pilgrim, contrasts with the mortification that is appropriate to the Islam of Emperor Aurangzeb, which focuses on strict renunciation.