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Aurangzeb in Mewar through the stories of Sultan Singh


Examining narratives about Sultan Singh, Udaipur's most prominent sagasji (divine, heroic guardian), this essay analyzes the narrative frame of contention between Sultan Singh's father, the Maharana (“Great King”) Raj Singh and the emperor Aurangzeb. It argues that the frame inevitably glorifies the Maharana and contrasts him with emperor, invariably represented as a worthy opponent, as it contextuales variant lore about the life and tragic death of the Maharana's heir apparent. In some accounts, Sultan Singh's demise is blamed on a plot devised by the emperor. This lore exalts both father and son while also demonstrating a pervasive anxiety about the danger inherent in power.

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1 For a version of the story that blames a queen and Brahmin for leading the king to believe that Sultan Singh was conspiring against him, with the intention that Sultan Singh would be executed and Sardar Singh could inherit the throne, see Śyāmaldās, Kavirāj, Vīr Vinod (privately published by the Mewar Darbar da. 1884; reissued Delhi, 1986), II, pp. 445446. For discussion of this narrative in the context of family rivalries, see Sreenivasan, Ramya, “Honoring the Family: Narratives and Politics of Kinship in Pre-colonial Rajasthan”, in Unfamiliar Relations: Family and History in South Asia, (ed.) Chatterjee, Indrani (New Brunswick, 2004), p. 66.

2 On the weaving or “braiding” of frames into plots, see Handelman, Don, “Postlude: Towards the braiding of a Frame,” in Behind the Mask: Dance, Healing, and possession in South India, (eds.) Shulman, David Dean and Thiagarajan, Deborah (Ann Arbor, 2006).

3 For another vernacular view on the Vallabhan images, see Pauwels and Bachrach's article in this Special Issue.

4 Vīr Vinod was banned by the Maharana at the time of its composition and so did not circulate until the twentieth century; it was only published in a two-volume edition late in the twentieth century.

5 Śyāmaldās, Vīr Vinod, p. 443. One young Rajput man from a noble family, who knew this story, told me that initially Raj Singh went around trying to pick fights so that he could die in battle, but he was not successful in dying and so opted for charity.

6 Tod, J., Annals and Antiquities of Rajast'han (1829. Reprint. Delhi, 1978), I, p. 310.

7 Ibid., pp. 306, 311.

8 Ibid., pp. 309-310.

9 Ibid., p. 309.

10 Ibid., p. 301.

11 Ibid., pp. 302-303.

12 Ibid., pp. 298-299.

13 Ibid., p. 310.

14 Ibid.

15 Ibid., p. 309.

16 Ibid., p. 311.

17 On Tod's identification with Mewar and Rajasthan as a whole, see Harlan, L., The Goddesses’ Henchmen: Gender in Indian Hero Worship (New York, 2003), pp. 3132. For broader discussion of Tod, see Freitag, Jason, Serving Empire, Serving Nation: James Tod and the Rajputs of Rajasthan (Leiden, 2009) and D'Souza, Florence, Knowledge, Mediation, and Empire: James Tod's Journeys among the Rajputs (Manchester, 2015).

18 Rājpūt, L. S., Sarv Ṛtu Vilās Pailas Vāle Sagasjī Bāvjī, Śiromaṇi, Mevāḍ 313 (Udaypur, n.d.), pp. 67.

19 On qavvālīs and their role in blurring the lines between Sufism and Hinduism in an urban context, see Gold, D., “Sufis and Movie Stars: Charismatic Muslims for Middle-Class Hindus”, in Lines in Water: Religious Boundaries in South Asia, (eds.) Kent, E. F. and Kassam, T. R. (Syracuse, 2013), pp. 5355.

20 Rājpūt, Sarv Ṛtu Vilās, pp. 7-8.

21 “other accounts specify different mothers” Ibid., p. 8

22 Ibid., p. 9.

23 Ibid., p. 9.

24 Various stories accuse different queens of conspiring, if not with a mole, then with other employees.

25 For further analysis of this falling hero motif, jhūmjhārjī stories, see Harlan, The Goddesses’ Henchmen, pp. 14-16 and passim.

26 Tod, Annals, I, p. 312, n. 2.

27 For extensive treatment of this story, see L. Harlan, “A Jain to the Rescue”, paper presented at the Museum of Ethnology, Osaka, Japan, 11 October 2014.

28 For examples and bibliography, see Mohammad, A., The Festival of Pirs: Popular Islam and Shared Devotion (New York, 2013) and Bellamy, C., The Powerful Ephemeral: Everyday Healing in an Ambiguously Islamic Place (Berkeley, 2011).

29 On iconoclasm, especially regarding its use as policy, see Eaton, R., Temple Destruction and Muslim States in Medieval India (New Delhi, 2005).

30 There are internet versions in which Aurangzeb donates a diamond after being struck blind, and in which Aurangzeb came to steal Śrī Nātha jī’s diamond and so became blind. See (accessed 1 January 2018).

31 Gold, A., “ ‘Ainn-Bai's Sarvadharm Yatra’: A Mix of Experiences”, in Lines in Water: Religious Boundaries in South Asia, (eds.) Kent, Elizah F. and Kassam, Tazim R. (Syracuse, 2013), p. 321.

32 Ibid., p. 321.

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Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society
  • ISSN: 1356-1863
  • EISSN: 1474-0591
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-the-royal-asiatic-society
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