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Aurangzeb - 1658-1707

The last of the great Mughals was Aurangzeb (r. 1658-1707), who seized the throne by killing all his brothers and imprisoning his own father. Aurangzeb was the third son of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan; his mother was Mumtaz Mahal, who is buried in the Taj Mahal. In 1657 Shah Jahan became seriously ill, and the rivalry between Dara Shikoh and Aurangzeb turned into open confrontation. Shah Jahan rocovered unexpectedly, but the struggle for succession continued. Aurangzeb placed his father under house arrest, drove one brother into death, had two other brothers executed and in 1658 declared himself emperor of the Mughal empire, assuming the name 'Alangir ("the World Seizer").

Aurangzeb's reign ushered in the decline of the Mughal Empire. Aurangzeb was known for aggressively expanding the empire's frontiers and for his militant enforcement of orthodox Sunni Islam. During his reign, the Mughal empire reached its greatest extent, although his policies also led to its dissolution. Although he was an outstanding general and a rigorous administrator, Mughal fiscal and military standards declined as security and luxury increased. Land rather than cash became the usual means of remunerating high-ranking officials, and divisive tendencies in his large empire further undermined central authority.

Aurangzeb's first care was to confirm his possession of the throne. Shuja was defeated, but Ddrd, who had escaped to Gujarat, endeavoured to effect an alliance with Raja Jaswant Sing, a Rajput prince who ruled over the country intervening between Ajmir and Gujarat, the governor of which latter province had undertaken to support him in striking another blow for the crown. Aurangzeb was, however, equally alive to the value of the aid of Jaswant Sing, who had commanded the imperial troops, which he and Murad had defeated. Regardless of their former enmity, he made overtures to him with such success that the Raja deserted the cause of Ddrd, whom he then attacked and defeated. On his flight to Gujarat he fell in with the French physician Bernier, who subsequently served Aurangzeb for twelve years as his doctor, and who now treated the princesses of Bird's family. The hapless prince's wife shortly died of the privations of travel, and he himself was delivered into the hands of Aurangzeb by a chieftain whose protection he sought. The Emperor determined upon his death, but affected to act upon the sentence of his legal and religious advisers, who found the prince guilty of apostasy. It was indeed true that he had adopted Akbar"s idea of uniting in one general deistic religion Moslems, Parsees, Hindus, and Christians, and that his tutor, Babu Lai, had founded a deistic sect named after himself. He was put to death, and the Emperor shed tears over the head which he had ordered to be struck off.

Aurangzeb tried to stem the growing independence of the different parts of his empire by returning to autocratic rule. He abandoned the policy of separation of religion and state and turned away from the policy of religious tolerance that during the previous three generations had kept Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and others together in peace and common destiny. Aurangzeb was involved in a series of protracted wars -- against the Pathans in Afghanistan, the sultans of Bijapur and Golkonda in the Deccan, and the Marathas in Maharashtra. Peasant uprisings and revolts by local leaders became all too common, as did the conniving of the nobles to preserve their own status at the expense of a steadily weakening empire.

The increasing association of his government with Islam further drove a wedge between the ruler and his Hindu subjects. Aurangzeb forbade the building of new temples, destroyed a number of them, and reimposed the jizya. In 1679 Aurangzeb reimposed the hated jizya on Hindus. Coming after a series of other taxes and also discriminatory measures favoring Sunni Muslims this action by the "prayer monger" (emperor), incited rebellion among Hindus and others in many parts of the empire -- Jat, Sikh, and Rajput forces in the north and Maratha forces in the Deccan. The Rajputs, Hindus of the Hindus, whose Rajas had, nevertheless, been among the first generals of the Mughal armies, were at once alienated, and the Marftha freebooters became by the irony of events the champions of the Hindu religion and of the national party. The smouldering disaffection of the Rajputs was fanned into a flame by Aurangzeb's harsh treatment of the family of Raja Jaswant Sing. Several Rajput princes combined to resist the levy of the jizya, and the severity with which the Emperor ravaged their territories, burnt their villages, and carried off their women and children, completed the alienation of brave allies that no government, least of all that of aliens, could afford to lose.

And now Aurangzeb had been upwards of twenty years upon the throne, when, in 1679, his sons began to follow the precedent he set them and to covet their father's crown. Prince Akbar, the second son, deserted to the Rajputs and marched against the Emperor, who, however, succeeded in bringing back to its allegiance Akba^s army, and scored a bloodless victory, while his rebellious son fled for shelter to the Mardthds. In 1681 Aurangzeb patched up an unsatisfactory peace with the Rajput princes, but all Rajputana continued to be in a state of overt or covert hostility from that time forward.

Aurangzeb was to watch the progress of the Marathas and decline of the Mughal empire for twenty-eight more weary years. The emperor managed to crush the rebellions in the north, but at a high cost to agricultural productivity and to the legitimacy of Mughal rule. Aurangzeb was compelled to move his headquarters to Daulatabad in the Deccan to mount a costly campaign against Maratha guerrilla fighters, which lasted twenty-six-years until he died in 1707 at the age of ninety and in the fiftieth of his reign. Aurangzeb, oppressed by a sense of failure, isolation, and impending doom, lamented that in life he "came alone" and would "go as a stranger."

During his fifty-year reign, the empire reached its utmost physical limit but also witnessed the unmistakable symptoms of decline. The bureaucracy had grown bloated and excessively corrupt, and the huge and unwieldy army demonstrated outdated weaponry and tactics. Aurangzeb was not the ruler to restore the dynasty's declining fortunes or glory. Awe-inspiring but lacking in the charisma needed to attract outstanding lieutenants, he was driven to extend Mughal rule over most of South Asia and to reestablish Islamic orthodoxy by adopting a reactionary attitude toward those Muslims whom he had suspected of compromising their faith. Aurangzeb tried to live the life of a model Muhammadan emperor. A puritan and a censor of morals, he banned music at court, abolished ceremonies, and persecuted the Sikhs in Punjab. Magnificent in his public appearances, simple in his private habits, diligent in business, exact in his religious observances, an elegant letter-writer, and ever ready with choice passages alike from the poets and from the Kuran, his life would have been a blameless one, if he had had no father to depose, no brethren to murder, and no Hindu subjects to oppress. But his bigotry made an enemy of every one who did not share his own faith; and the slaughter of his kindred compelled him to entrust his whole government to strangers. The Hindus never forgave him; and the Sikhs, the Rajputs, and the Marathas, immediately after his reign, began to close in upon the empire. His Muhammadan generals and viceroys, as a rule, served him well during his vigorous life; but at his death they usurped his children's inheritance.

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Page last modified: 09-02-2017 19:32:57 ZULU