The Mughals- Conquerors of India 7: Aurangzeb

This week, we look at the final well-known Mughal emperor of the empire – Abul Muzaffar Muhi-ud-Din Mohammad Aurangzeb, one of the most controversial emperors as depicted by his treatments and attitude towards non-Muslims and his leading style. While the British had already begun to develop and steer towards conquering all of South Asia, and later influencing the world, Aurangzeb’s leadership skills; tactics, style and good will were the only aspects which held the empire together through thick and thin. He was also a notable expansionist and during his reign, the Mughal Empire reached its greatest extent. He was among the wealthiest of the Mughal rulers with an annual yearly tribute of £38,624,680 (in 1690). He was a pious Muslim, and his policies partly abandoned the legacy of Akbar’s secularism, which remains a very controversial aspect of his reign. During his lifetime, victories in the south expanded the Mughal Empire to more than 3.2 million square kilometers and he ruled over a population estimated as being in the range of 100-150 million subjects. He was a strong and effective ruler, but with his death the great period of the Mughal dynasty came to an end, and central control of the sub-continent declined rapidly.

Aurangzeb was born on 4 November 1618, in Dahod, Gujarat. He was the third son and sixth child of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal. His father was a governor of Gujarat at that time. As a young child, he had a keen mind and learnt quickly from his reading. He also learned the Quran and the hadith very early and could readily quote from them. He then mastered Arabic and Persian languages and learned Chagatai Turkic during his tenure at Kandahar Province and was a prolific writer of letters and commentaries on petitions.

While already an experienced general and somewhat of a leader, the successor of the throne still seemed unlikely to be Aurangzeb due to his father favoring Dara Shikoh, the eldest son who was tolerant in religious matters like Akbar. Aurangzeb, however, wasn’t at all tolerant and was certainly a pious Muslim, which the ulema found best. While Shuja and Murad, the other two sons, had already declared themselves emperors, the real struggle was between Aurangzeb and Dara. To determine the successor, both brothers began their preparations to face off against each other (Battle of Samugarh – May 29th 1658)

Dara Shikoh

Dara Shikoh ordered his large cannons from Jaigarh Fort to be chained together (limiting their mobility), Zamburak’s armed with swivel guns were positioned behind the cannons and infantry Sepoys armed with matchlocks defended both the cannons and the Zamburak (Aurangzeb also adopted this maneuver). However the experienced and accomplished Mughal general Mir Jumla II, positioned hidden cannons in strategic locations across the battlefield assuring Aurangzeb of successful grapeshot’s and sudden assaults.

Both Aurangzeb and Dara Shikoh were seated on massive Elephant Howdahs and armed with Matchlocks. Aurangzeb’s far left flank was commanded by Murad Bakshand his elite Mughal Sowars, the rest of the army was effectively under the command of Aurangzeb and his assisting imperial general Mir Jumla II, Murshid Quli Khan was assigned as the Mir Atish (artillery chief). Dara Shikoh on the other hand, divided his massive army, his far right was commanded by the Rao Chhatrasal Hada the Rajput, his main right was commanded by Rustam Khan Deccani who was well-appointed by Shah Jahan, his elite Mughal Sowars were commanded by Khalilullah Khan.

An artist’s impression of the Battle of Samugarh

The battle commenced with both sides voraciously firing their cannons in multiple volleys and the cavalry of both sides’ clashed amongst each other. Since Dara wasn’t deeply experienced in the field of war, he made the mistake of joining Khalilullah Khan in the cavalry. The outcome of the battle was decided when Dara Shikoh descended from his Elephant Howdah at the most critical moment of the battle, his elephant then quickly fled from the battlefield. Fleeing elephant was evidence enough for Dara Shikoh’s troops who mistook this event to indicate his death. Thousands of Dara Shikohs forces surrendered to Aurangzeb when the Mughal military band of Aurangzeb played the ode of victory. Many more Sepoys and Sowars fled only to take the oath of allegiance to Aurangzeb later on.

Once Aurangzeb became emperor, he demanded the building of the world-famous Badshahi Mosque in modern-day Lahore, Pakistan. He also brought back the law of jizya tax, which was once abolished by Akbar the Great (jizya tax was a tax paid by non-Muslims). He also enforced morals and banned the consumption, usage and practices of: alcoholism, gambling, castration, servitude, eunuchs, music, nautch and narcotics in the Mughal Empire.

Throughout his reign, Aurangzeb engaged in almost constant warfare. He built up a massive army and began a program of military expansion along all the boundaries of his empire. He pushed north-west into the Punjab and also drove south, conquering two further Muslim kingdoms – the Adil Shahis of Bijapur and Qutbshahis of Golconda — to add to the defeat of the Ahmednagar Sultanate that had been accomplished in 1636 while he had been viceroy of the Deccan. These new territories were administered by the Mughal Nawabs loyal to Aurangzeb. Amongst his other conquers, the Bijapur Fort conquer is one of his well-known conquers (conquered by his son, Muhammad Azam Shah).

In 1657, while Aurangzeb attacked Golconda and Bijapur in the Deccan, the Hindu Maratha warrior, Shivaji, used guerrilla tactics to take control of three Adil Shahi forts formerly under his father’s command. With these victories, Shivaji assumed de facto leadership of many independent Maratha clans. The Marathas harried the flanks of the warring Adil Shahis and Mughals, gaining weapons, forts, and territory. Shivaji’s small and ill-equipped army survived an all out Adil Shahi attack, and Shivaji personally killed the Adil Shahi general, Afzal Khan. With this event, the Marathas transformed into a powerful military force, capturing more and more Adil Shahi and Mughal territories. Shivaji went on to neutralize Mughal power in the region.

During this time, a new movement/religion known as Sikhism affected the growth of the Mughal Empire. Their leader was Guru Nanak who believed that people didn’t need the teachings mentioned in other religions and henceforth established Sikhism. Once he died, the other gurus, most notably Guru Arjun and a few others would be killed by Aurangzeb due to his hatred for non-Muslims and simultaneously, the British would begin to conquer the Mughal empire, thus beginning the major downfall of the empire.

Aurangzeb died in Ahmednagar on 20 February 1707 at the age of 88, having outlived many of his children.

The Indologist Stanley Wolpert, emeritus professor at UCLA,  says that:

the conquest of the Deccan, to which, Aurangzeb devoted the last 26 years of his life, was in many ways a Pyrrhic victory, costing an estimated hundred thousand lives a year during its last decade of futile chess game warfare. The expense in gold and rupees can hardly be accurately estimated. Aurangzeb’s encampment was like a moving capital – a city of tents 30 miles in circumference, with some 250 bazaars, with a 12 million camp followers, 50,000 camels and 30,000 elephants, all of whom had to be fed, stripped the Deccan of any and all of its surplus grain and wealth … Not only famine but bubonic plague arose … Even Aurangzeb, had ceased to understand the purpose of it all by the time he was nearing 90 … “I came alone and I go as a stranger. I do not know who I am, nor what I have been doing,” the dying old man confessed to his son, Azam, in February 1707.

Thus, in accommodation, this post wraps up The Mughals- Conquerors of India series; a series which I highly enjoyed writing and I hope you loved reading them. If you have any complaints regarding the posts, please mention so on that particular post and I will look into it. For History Republic, I’m Stephanie S., signing off.




  1. Regain National PRIDE by renaming Aurangzeb Road (Cruel Intolerant Tyrant) to Guru Tegh Bahadur Road (Epitome of Sacrifice for All Religions)

    My Fellow Citizens

    Please do not mistake this for HATE or another attempt to rake up the past or religious bigotry. I have the fullest respect for our Muslim brothers and hold the Muslims in reverence.

    As Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Founder of Art of living said “No nation can move forward, unless it squarely faces its past. The courage to remember helps us not to repeat the same mistakes and to build a better future for our children”.

    So, it is necessary to regain our National Pride and make wrong things RIGHT!

    I am OUTRAGED that a road where Billionaires live and a stone’s throw away from the Prime Minister’s residence; is named after one of the most tyrannical tormentor perpetrator of Intolerant Inhuman Barbaric crimes in India.

    The decorated glorification is AURANGZEB ROAD. This road serves as a constant reminder of the horrors Aurangzeb perpetrated against Indians, including his own people. Emperor Aurangzeb has the following claims to his fame:

    – Executed own brother Dara Shikoh for taking an interest in Hindu religion.
    – Confined his father in his own palace at Agra. Killed one brother and had two other brothers, a son, and a nephew executed.
    – Initiated laws, which interfered with non-Muslim worship.
    – Enforced the conversion of non-Muslims to Islam with economic and political coercion. His rule significantly favoured Muslims over non-Muslims.
    – Gave out robes of honor, cash gifts, and promotions to converts to convey that conversion was a sure way to the Emperor’s favour.
    – Outlawed music and other performances in 1668. Both Muslims and Hindus were forbidden to sing, play musical instruments or to dance or paint or practice art.
    – Ordered the destruction of non-Muslim sacred places, idols, temples; over four figures. Lord Krishna’s birth temple in Mathura; the rebuilt Somnath temple on the coast of Gujarat; the Vishnu temple replaced with the Alamgir mosque now overlooking Benares; and the Treta-ka-Thakur temple in Ayodhya.
    – Ordered the enslavement of Christian missionaries.
    Tortured and killed prisoners of war, political prisoners, and anyone he considered unIslamic.
    – Imposed ever-higher taxes the hated jizya, or poll tax, on non-Muslims in 1679 in order to pay for his wars.
    – Non-Muslims were not permitted to keep arms or Turbans.
    – Forced conversions of Kashmiri Pandits who then pleaded with 9th Sikh Guru Guru Tegh Bahadur, for help. Guru Tegh Bahadur was MARTYRED on the orders of Aurangzeb for protecting the religious freedom of non-Muslims in Mughal India. Bhai Mati Das and Bhai Sati Das were also executed on his orders. His son the 10th Sikh Guru Guru Gobind Singh was persecuted and his whole family was martyred including his wife and four young kids apart from his close associates.
    The Guidelines mandated to the State Names Authority under Delhi Government say “Names of Roads: The service rendered by the nominee to the nation and particularly to Delhi will be the major guiding principle for taking a decision.”

    In the same Capital where the 9th Sikh Guru laid down his life in defiance of forced conversion of Kashmiri Pandits, the Government has named a road after the cruel Hitlerian ruler. No street is named after Hitler in the West, yet in New Delhi we have Aurangzeb Road.

    In the same Guidelines issued to State Names Authority, Delhi; it is mentioned” Change should not be made merely on grounds of local patriotism or for linguistic reasons, e.g. villages etc. should not be renamed after national leaders merely to show respect to them or for satisfying local sentiment in the matter of language etc. An exception can, however, be made in the case of Martyrs where the name can be suitably added to the name of a place sought to be changed, if a request is made by the State government to that effect and there is general recognition of the role of the Martyr in national life.”

    I Appeal to fellow Indians who consider Guru Tegh Bahadur ji as a symbol of sacrifice for all Religions and as a MARTYR who laid down his life to save other fellow Indians, to please SIGN this petition and regain National PRIDE!

    God Bless!

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