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 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.
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 1⁄2 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.