History of Aurangzeb
¤ The Death of Shah Jhan
Now the great emperor was in the custody of his son Alamgir
Aurangzeb. At the end of his life, Shah Jahan found himself right in
the middle of one of the messiest battles for succession in Indian
history and certainly the worst in Mughal history. It all began on
September 1657 when Shah Jahan fell ill. The prognosis was not very
optimistic and things deteriorated at such speed that the emperor felt
compelled to make his will and testament. The air was rife with
rumours; everyone had a different version about the emperors
health. and then came the day when they started whispering that Shah
Jahan was dead. All the four claimants to Shah Jahans throne
were the children of the same mother although one would never
have guessed it from their temperaments and their determination to
make it to the throne.
¤ The Four Competitor To The Throne
In 1657, Dara Shikoh was 43, Shah Shuja 41, Aurangzeb 39 and Murad
33. All of them were governors of various provinces: Dara was the
governor of Punjab, Murad of Gujarat, Aurangzeb of the Deccan and Shah
Shuja of Bengal. Two of them emerged as clear frontrunners in the
race: Dara Shikoh and Aurangzeb.
¤ Dara, The Eldest Son
Dara, the eldest and most famous of them all, was a celebrated and
popular scholar. Manucci tells us that he was handsome man of
joyous and polite in conversation, ready and gracious
speech of most extraordinary liberty. Daras spiritual
quest led him to both Sufis and Vedantists. He had the Upanishads
translated into Persian and took active part in religious debate
a fact that made orthodox Muslim clerics denounce him as a heretic.
The major problem with Dara was that he was of uncertain disposition.
His temper was violent and his general manner with people was haughty
and supercilious. Daras track record in battle however did not
match up with his intellectual prowess. He wasnt much of a
statesman either. The only sound he liked to hear was Yes.
But what mattered, however, was that Dara was his fathers
¤ Aurangzeb-The Ablest of Shah Jahan;s Sons
Aurangzeb was without doubt the ablest of Shah Jahans sons.
His credentials both in battle and administration were impeccable.
Time and again he had demonstrated that he could keep a cool head
under crisis. In matters of planning he believed in keeping secrets
from even his best friends. He was also an orthodox Muslim - of the
oldest school possible - which made him a hot favorite with the
clergy. However like most over-competent supermen, Aurangzeb seemed to
suffer from a lack of sense of humour and took himself entirely too
seriously. According to one contemporary observer, his life was,
and laborious and he never seems to have indulged in a holiday.
¤ Shah Shuja and Murad Not Serious Contenders
The other brothers, Shah Shuja and Murad, were never serious
contenders to the throne. Shah Shuja has been likened to Dara Shikoh.
Minus the haughtiness and plus the single-mindedness of purpose.
Unfortunately, that single-mindedness often manifested itself in the
pursuit of wine and women. Shuja further weakened his case by
converting to Shiaism. Murad, though a fearless and doughty warrior,
was far from intelligent.
¤ Aurangzeb's Move Towards The Throne
As stated earlier, the actual events that unfolded around Shah Jahans
illness were confused. Aiding and abetting the confusion with every
word and gesture was the favorite son Dara Shikoh, who had his own axe
to grind. The news, as Aurangzeb got it, was that the old emperor was
dead and that Dara was acting with great speed to ensure that he
ascended the throne. Aurangzeb moved with his customary caution and
secrecy towards the capital. He, along with Murad, were met in battle
twice by the Mughal armies, acting on Dara Shikohs behalf. He
beat them each time while moving on relentlessly towards Agra where
Shah Jahan was convalescing.
When Shah Jahan heard of Aurangzebs advance, he expressed a
wish to meet Aurangzeb and talk to him. It was the emperors
belief that upon seeing him alive, his son would turn back. Clearly
the old king had been ailing only in body and not in mind, for
certainly the appearance of Shah Jahan himself would have laid to rest
the whole issue of succession. Even the most ardent of Aurangzebs
supporters would have had second thoughts about openly defying the
great Mughals authority.
However Dara Shikoh did not share his fathers belief. He was
not so sure that Aurangzeb would meekly go back once the king had
reassured him. In panic he let on that he was the heir apparent.
Within a year Aurangzeb had all his brothers out of the way, his
father permanently in custody at the Agra Fort (Shah Jahan hung on for
eight years before dying in 1666) and was firmly entrenched on the
¤ Scholars Write About Aurangzeb
If Shah Jahan has been over-romanticized by scholars, his son and
successor Aurangzeb has been unduly denigrated. Aurangzeb, it seems,
could do nothing right. Later writers were to contrast his bigotry
with Akbars tolerance, his failure against the Marathas with
Akbars success against the Rajputs - in fact he has been set up
as the polar opposite of everything that earned one the Akbarian medal
of genius. One writer has said about him, His life would have
been a blameless one, if he had no father to depose, no brothers to
murder and no Hindu subjects to oppress.
¤ Aurangzeb-A Ruler of Single Largest State In India
This picture of him has left such an impact on popular imagination
that even today he is regarded as the bad guy, the evil king of the
Mughal regime who slayed all Hindus and Sikhs. Hardly anyone remembers
that he governed India for nearly as long as Akbar did (over 48 years)
and that he left the empire larger than he found it. In fact Aurangzeb
ruled the single largest state ever in Indian history, with the
exception of British India.
¤ An Efficent Ruler of Statecraft
Aurangzebs rise to power has been criticized as being ruthless.
However it was no more so than that of others of his family. His
brothers wouldnt have spared him if he had spared them. He
succeeded not because he was crueler but because he was more efficient
and more skilled in the game of statecraft and dissimulation.
Once established he showed himself a firm and capable administrator
who retained his grip on power till his death at the age of 88. True,
he lacked the magnetism of his father and great-grandfather, but he
commanded an awe of his own. In sharp contrast to the rest of the
great Mughals, Aurangzeb was simple and even austere in private life.
He was an orthodox Sunni Muslim who thought himself a model Muslim
¤ Two Major Era's of His Rule
Aurangzebs reign can be divided into two almost equal portions.
The first 23 years were largely a continuation of Shah Jahans
administration with an added footnote of austerity. Marathas, Jats,
tribesmen in the far northwest were all kept firmly in check. The
emperor sat in pomp in Delhi or progressed in state to Kashmir for the
summer. From 1681 he virtually transferred his capital to the Deccan
where he spent the rest of his life in camp, superintending the
overthrow of the two remaining Deccan kingdoms in 1686-7 and trying
fruitlessly to crush the Maratha rebellion. The assured administrator
of the first period became the embattled, embittered old man of the
second. Along with the change of occupation came a dramatic
metamorphosis of character. The scheming and subtle politician became
an ascetic, spending long hours in prayer, fasting and copying the
Quran, and pouring out his soul in tortured letters. Yet he remained
very much the grand Mughal and never lost his grip on power. It was
said that his eldest surviving son in Kabul never received a letter
from his father without trembling. The Mughal ogre of popular
historians was in fact both an able statesman and a subtle and highly
was in the second or the Deccan phase of his career that Aurangzeb
began to drift towards complete intolerance of Hindus. Earlier his
devotion to Islam had very rarely taken the form of religious bigotry.
He had done things like sending and receiving emissaries from far
flung Muslim countries and dignitaries and prohibiting the use of the
kalima (sacred verse) on coins (so that non-Muslims may not touch it).
Aurangzeb discontinued the practise of jharokha darshan (lit. window
view; the emperor used to present himself at a window from where he
would listen to his subjects who could address their grievances
directly to him) which Akbar had started because he thought that it
promoted human worship. But so far there was nothing that actively
harmed the Hindus.
¤ Aurangzeb Developed A Complete Intolerance To Hindus.
The Deccan, however, took its toll on him and he seemed to have
permanently lost his temper there. Aurangzeb actively started adopting
measures to oppress Hindus. It was now that he began having Hindu
temples destroyed. This was a very different king from the one who had
ordered in February 1659: It has been decided according to our
cannon law that long standing temples should not be demolished
our Royal Command is that you should direct that in future no person
shall in unlawful ways interfere with or disturb the Brahmins and
other Hindu residents in those places.
¤ Hindu's Started Concerting Themselves Into Muslims
Sometimes the fanaticism took absurd forms. For instance, a diktat
was issued that no Hindu, except Rajputs and Marathas, could ride an
Iraqi or Turani horse. However in the end it was re-imposition of the
infamous jaziya (tax on infidels) that hurt the Hindu and Sikh
subjects of Aurangzeb the most. The idea was to hurt the so-called
infidels enough to make them convert to Islam. Those who did convert
were welcomed to the Mughal fold and rewarded with high offices. In
fact a sizeable chunk of Hindus in the government converted. They did
so not only because their jobs were in danger (Aurangzeb, to break the
Hindu monopoly over the revenue and other departments, banned hiring
of Hindus), but also to escape various taxes levied on non-Muslims,
especially the jaziya. In the latter half of Aurangzebs reign
there were few Hindus in high offices.
¤ Aurangzeb Developed Enemies For Himself.
In his misguided zeal to promote Islam, Aurangzeb made many fatal
blunders and needless enemies. He alienated the Rajputs - whose
valuable and trusted loyalty had been won so hard by his predecessors
- to such an extent that they revolted against him. Eventually he
managed to make peace with them but he could never be easy in his mind
about Rajputana again, a fact that hampered his Deccan conquest
severely. Next he made bitter enemies with the Sikhs and the Marathas.
Things came to such a head that Guru Tegh Bahadur, the 9th Guru of the
Sikhs, was first tortured and then executed by Aurangzeb for not
accepting Islam; a martyrdom which is mourned to this day by the Sikh
community. The 10th Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Govind Singh, then raised
an open banner of revolt against Aurangzeb.
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