Muhi-ud-Din Muhammad, more famous as Aurangzeb, was the 6th Mughal emperor. He was the last efficacious emperor of the Mughal dynasty. He ruled for nearly five decades, from 1658 till 1707. Considered to be one of the biggest expansionists, the Mughal Empire reached its substantial extent during Aurangzeb’s reign. He was able to expand the Mughal Empire to four million square kilometres during his lifetime, which also included several parts of south India. During his rule, the mighty Mughal Empire held control over 155 million people. During his reign, India became the world’s largest economy, surpassing China. Aurangzeb is one of the most controversial figures in Indian history, mainly due to the fact that he abandoned the policy of religious tolerance and pluralism followed by his predecessors. It is believed that his policy of religious intolerance ultimately led to the downfall of the Mughal Empire.
Aurangzeb was born in Dahod, Gujrat, on 3rd November 1618. He was the sixth child and the third son of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan.
In June 1626, Aurangzeb’s father, Shah Jahan, revolted against his father and the Mughal Emperor Jehangir, but it proved unsuccessful and Aurangzeb and his elder brother Dara Sikoh had to live with Jehangir and Nur Jahan at Lahore. He could return to Agra after his father was made the Mughal Emperor in February 1628.
In 1633, Aurangzeb showed exemplary bravery by handling a war elephant which was rampaging through the Mughal encampment. His father conferred on him the title of ‘Bahadur’
Early Campaigns & Administrative Exposure
Against Jujhar Singh Bundela
In 1635, he was sent to Orchha (in Bundelkhand) to deal with rebellious ruler Jujhar Singh Bundela. He was just the nominal head of the forces, and the actual decisions were taken by his generals. The campaign proved successful and Jujhar Singh was subdued.
As Viceroy of Deccan
In 1636, he was appointed the Viceroy of the Deccan. As the viceroy of Deccan, his first major challenge was to deal with the fast expanding Nizam Shahi dynasty of Ahmednagar. He proved his military acumen by putting an end to the Nizam Shahi dynasty in 1636.
In 1637, he was asked by Shah Jahan to conquer Baglana, a small Rajput kingdom, which he successfully annexed. This victory strengthened his position and he was subsequently appointed the governor of Gujrat, and later of Sindh and Multan.
Governor of Gujarat
In 1645, he was appointed the governor of Gujarat, which he administered well and received praise from Shah Jahan.
In 1647, Aurangzeb was sent to Balkh to deal with the insurgent Uzbek and Turkmen tribes, but despite his best efforts Aurangzeb could do little and had to a settle for an unsatisfactory deal with the Uzbeks. His two-year campaign proved largely unsuccessful and it cost the Mughal treasury a lot.
Governor of Sind & Multan
Thereafter, he was appointed the governor of Sind and Multan. He made two unsuccessful attempts in 1649 and 1652 to dislodge the Safavids at Kandahar. A third attempt was made by the Mughal army under Dara Shikoh but that too proved a failure.
Back to Deccan
After the Kandahar assignment, Aurangzeb was made the viceroy of the Deccan but the region was relatively impoverished, which diminished his income and made it difficult for him to maintain the administration. This left him unhappy and led to an ill-feeling between Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb. Although he tried to reorganise the revenue system with the help of Murshid Quli Khan, but the turnaround was slow.
To solve the current crises, Aurangzeb proposed to invade the Qutb Shahis of Golkonda and the Adil Shahis of Bijapur, as it would not only solve the financial crises but also increase the Mughal influence. By now, Aurangzeb was somehow convinced that Dara was able to influence his father on several matters related to the empire. In this case, Shah Jahan decided to negotiate with the two rulers, when, according to Aurangzeb, he was on the verge of victory. It left him completely frustrated.
Aurangzeb held a number of significant administrative positions during the reign of Shah Jahan. His hunger for power, ambition for the Mughal throne, and Shah Jahan’s preference for Dara brought him into rivalry with Dara Shikoh, his eldest sibling, whom Shah Jahan had designated as successor.
The War of Succession & Aurangzeb’s Victory
All the four sons of Shah Jahan held the position of governor of various provinces. The emperor, however, favoured his eldest son, Dara Shikoh. This became a cause of resentment among the rest of his three children, who started to unite against Dara on different occasions.
Even though all the four sons were experienced in administration, the contest for power was between Dara and Aurangzeb. While Dara was an intellectual and liberal, Aurangzeb was conservative, but an able general and leader. Dara lacked the leadership abilities of Aurangzeb.
Shah Jahan had, however, made public his preference for Dara.
In the middle of all this, Shah Jahan fell ill in 1657. He was being treated in Shahjahanbad (Old Delhi) under the care of Dara. This further led to the rumours of his death, which was seen as a tactics of Dara by Shah Jahan’s other sons. All his three sons began marching from their respective areas. Shah Shuja marched from Bengal, Murad from Gujarat and Aurangzeb from the Deccan.
Aurangzeb displayed phenomenal strategic skills and determination that eventually ensured his victory. He first shook hands with his two brothers to fight against Dara and then finished them off after doing away with Dara Shikoh in a series of battles.
The zeal to seize the crown was so strong that Aurangzeb imprisoned his father in his own palace in Agra. On 13th June, 1659, Aurangzeb was coronated as the Mughal Emperor at Red Fort, Delhi.
Policies & Administration
He is said to have employed more Hindus in his administration than his predecessors. The Mughal nobility represented approximately 31 percent Hindus, the highest during the Mughal rule, during his reign.
However, he was also an orthodox Sunni Muslim and wanted to establish an Islamic state, unlike his predecessors. Known for his intolerance and brutality, he is believed to have destroyed a number of Hindu temples and restricted the celebration of Hindu festivals. He was clearly intolerant towards other religions, and got Sikh Guru Tegh Bahadur Singh assassinated when he refused to convert to Islam. Similarly, he also toppled Christian encampment near European factories.
A number of inhibitory policies were imposed by him, and he embargoed music, alcohol, narcotics and gambling in the Mughal Empire. A large number of Hindus were dismissed from their positions and biased taxes were imposed upon non-Muslims. Several non-Muslims were compelled to convert to Islam.
During his reign, the Mughal Empire was in constant warfare in order to quench his thirst to expand his territory. His barbaric, dominating and authoritative style made him unpopular amongst his subjects. His subjects slowly became dissatisfied and rebellions started to break out. Besides strong powers like the Rajputs and the Marathas, there were small forces like Jats who raised the banner of revolt around Delhi. Aurangzeb was able to suppress these revolts yet the continuous rebellion and warfare adversely affected the treasury, and debilitated the power of the emperor and the army.
The Mughals Vs the Marathas
During Aurangzeb’s reign the Mughal dynasty was always on the lookout for expansion of the territory, which resulted in continuous warfare. Marathas were one of the toughest opponents of the Mughals and engaged them from 1680 to 1707. Aurangzeb invaded the Maratha enclave which was established by Shivaji and that led to the onset of this war.
Rebellions under His Reign
- A surprise attack was launched by Shivaji on the Mughal Viceroy Shaista Khan in 1659.
- The Hindu Jat peasants of Bharatpur and Mathura rebelled against the emperor in 1669, but were crushed.
- When Aurangzeb did not allow the young Rathore prince to become the king, Rathore clan rebelled against him under the command of Durgadas Rathore in 1679.
- The administration of Narnaul was taken over by Satnami, a sect near Delhi under the command of Bhirbhan in 1672 but was eventually crushed.
- The Battle of Saraighat was also fought against the Ahom Kingdom in the easternmost regions of the Mughal Empire in 1971.
Aurangzeb married a number of times. His first wife was Dilras Banu Begum (posthumously known as Rabia-ud-Daurani). She was his chief consort as well as the favourite wife.
His infatuation with a slave girl, Hira Bai, is well known, and it is also said that her early death greatly affected him.
Zainabadi Mahal, Aurangabadi Mahal, Begum Nawab Bai and Aurangabadi Mahal were his other wives. During the last phase of his life, he is said to have been quite close to a concubine, Udaipuri Bai.
He fathered a number of children, including Muhammad Azam Shah, Badr-un-Nissan, Zeb-un-Nissan, Bahadur Shah I, Sultan Muhammad Akbar, Zinat-un-Nissan, Muhammad Sultan and Mehr-un-Nissan.
He died on 20th February 1707 at the age of 88 after an illness. He outlived most of his children. Azam Shah succeeded him after his death however; the death of Aurangzeb pronounced the downfall of the Mughal dynasty.
Though his supremacy was short-lived, the Mughal Empire reached its greatest extent during his reign. He conquered almost all of the Southern India. He constructed Moti Masjid, a small marble mosque in Red Fort in Delhi. He earned money for his use by copying Quran and sewing caps.
A road in Delhi was named Aurangzeb road during the British rule of India, however, in 2014, it was renamed to Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Road.
Interesting Facts About Aurangzeb
- Aurangzeb was given the title of ‘Alamgir,’ which means world seizer, as he expanded the Mughal Empire to its highest peak.
- He showed signs of bravery and courage from an early age. When he was young, he was attacked by an elephant. He fought with the mighty animal and defeated it. This incident earned him respect and reward from his father and family. His father gave him the title of ‘Bahadur,’ after the incident.
- He killed his brothers and imprisoned his father in order to seize the crown.
- The daily allowance of Aurangzeb was Rs 500 which he spent for religious education and on studying history.
- Aurangzeb army was the fiercest. The plans by British army to enter and invade India were ruined by his men in first attempt.
- Canon production in India reached its peak under his reign due to his zeal of expanding and bringing the latest technology to boast his military actions. In order to seize Bidar, Aurangzeb’s military used rockets, the first rockets used in India.
- He severely discouraged and banned dancing, gambling, singing, and playing of musical instruments during his reign.
- He employed the highest number of Hindus in his administration than any of his predecessors.
- Aurangzeb fell in love with Hirabai, a dancer and singer. He loved her to the extent that he agreed to drink wine at her request.
- According to an Italian traveller, Niccoli Manucci, Aurangzeb exhibited melancholy temperament and used to keep himself enaged with something or the other.
- Going by a Hindu astrologer, Ishvaradasa, the tax policies by Aurangzeb were lawful.
- Aurangzeb was recognized for his justice and made a significant contribution to the interpretation and exercise of legal codes.
- Aurangzeb described the Hindu, Buddhist and Jain temples at Ellora as ‘one of the finely crafted marvels of the real, transcendent artisan i.e God’
- It is also said that his notion of justice comprised some amount of freedom of religion. This led him to save a number of Hindu worship places.
- He provided stipends to Hindu spiritual figures, issued various orders that directed officials to shield temples from undesired intervention and granted land to Hindu community.