Aurangzeb – The man responsible for the decline of Mughal empire in India


Dr. V.K.Maheshwari, M.A(Socio, Phil) B.Sc. M. Ed, Ph.D

Former Principal, K.L.D.A.V.(P.G) College, Roorkee, India

Under the Mughals, there was no uniform law of succession. As such, the death of a king resulted in a war of succession. Such fratricidal struggles for the throne had a very demoralizing effect on the stability of the government. The royal palace and court became the centres of intrigues and plots. Confusion reigned everywhere. Many Provinces became independent. Thus, with the loss of money and manpower, every new ruler who ascended the throne had to make a fresh beginning.Jehan had begun his reign by killing his brothers; but he had neglected to kill his sons, one of whom was destined to overthrow him. In 1657 the ablest of these, Aurangzeb, led an insurrection from the Deccan. The Shah, like David, gave instructions to his generals to defeat the rebel army, but to spare, if possible, the life of his son. Aurangzeb overcame all the forces sent against him, captured his father, and imprisoned him in the Fort of Agra. For nine bitter years the deposed king lingered there, never visited by his son, attended only by his faithful daughter Jahanara, and spending his days looking from the Jasmine Tower of his prison across the Jumna.

Abul Muzaffar Muhy-ud-Din Muhammad Aurangzeb Alamgir, more commonly known as Aurangzeb (Persian: اورنگزیب) (full official title Al-Sultan al-Azam wal Khaqan al-Mukarram Hazrat Abul Muzaffar Muhy-ud-Din Muhammad Aurangzeb Bahadur Alamgir I, Badshah Ghazi, Shahanshah-e-Sultanat-ul-Hindiya Wal Mughaliya) (4 November 1618 [O.S. 25 October 1618] – 3 March 1707 [O.S. 20 February 1707]), also known by his chosen imperial title Alamgir (“Conquerer of the World”) (Persian: عالمگیر), was the 6th Mughal Emperor of India whose reign lasted from 1658 until his death in 1707.

The four sons of Shah Jahan all held posts as governors during the lifetime of their father. The emperor favoured the eldest, Dara Shikoh, and this had caused resentment among the younger three, who sought at various times to strengthen alliances between themselves and against Dara. The contest for power was primarily between Dara Shikoh and Auragnzeb because, although all four sons had demonstrated competence in their official roles, it was around these two that the supporting cast of officials and other influential people mostly circulated. There were ideological having made clear that he wanted Dara to succeed him, differences — Dara was an intellectual and a religious liberal in the mould of Akbar, while Aurangzeb was much more conservative

Shah Jahan became ill with stranguary in 1657. Rumours of the death of Shah Jahan abounded and the younger sons took action: Shah Shuja prepared to contest the throne from Bengal, where he had been governor since 1637, while Murad did the same in his governorship of Gujarat and Aurangzeb did so in the Deccan. After regaining some of his health, Shah Jahan moved to Agra and Dara urged him to send forces to challenge Shah Shuja and Murad, who had declared themselves rulers in their respective territories. While Shah Shuja was defeated at Banares in February 1658, the army sent to deal with Murad discovered to their surprise that he and Aurangzeb had combined their forces,the two brothers having agreed to partition the empire once they had gained control of it.  Aurangzeb then broke his arrangement with Murad Baksh, which probably had been his intention all along. Instead of looking to partition the empire between himself and Murad, he had his brother arrested and imprisoned at Gwalior Fort. Murad was executed on 4 December 1661, Shah Shuja then fled to Arakan (in present-day Burma), where he was executed by the local rulers. After a series of battles, defeats and retreats, Dara was betrayed by one of his generals, who arrested and bound him. In 1658, Aurangzeb arranged his formal coronation in Delhi. He had Dara Shikoh openly marched in chains back to Delhi where he had him executed on arrival on 30 August 1659.

Aurangzeb who so ruthlessly deposed his father was one of the greatest saints in the history of Islam, and perhaps the most nearly unique of the Mogul emperors. The wullahs who had educated him had so imbued him with religion that at one time the young prince had thought of renouncing the empire and the world, and becoming a religious recluse. Throughout his life, despite his despotism, his subtle diplomacy, and a conception of morals as applying only to his own sect, he remained a pious Moslem, reading prayers at great length, memorizing the entire Koran, and warring against infidelity. He spent hours in devotion, and days in fasts. For the most part he practised his religion as earnestly as he professed it. It is true that in politics he was cold and calculating, capable of lying cleverly for his country and his god. But he was the least cruel of the Moguls, and the mildest; slaughter abated in his reign, and he made hardly any use of punishment in dealing with crime. He was consistently humble in deportment, patient under provocation, and resigned in misfortune. He abstained scrupulously from all food, drink or luxury forbidden by his faith; though skilled in music, he abandoned it as a sensual pleasure; and apparently he carried out his resolve to spend nothing upon himself save what he had been able to earn by the labor of his hands.  He was a St. Augustine on the throne.

Shah Jehan had given half his revenues to the promotion of architecture and the other arts; Aurangzeb cared nothing for art, destroyed its “heathen” monuments with coarse bigotry, and fought, through a reign of half a century, to eradicate from India almost all religions but his own. He issued orders to the provincial governors, and to his other subordinates, ‘to raze to the ground all the temples of either Hindus or Christians, to smash every idol, and to close every Hindu school. A contemporary historian, Saki Mustai’dd Khan in his Ma’asir-i Alamgiri writes: (The History of  India as told by its own historians, vol. VII, pp. 183)

“On the 17th Zi-l kada 1079 (18th April 1669), it reached the ear of His majesty, the protector of the faith, that in the provinces of Thatta, Multan and Benaras, but specially in the latter, foolish Brahmins were in the habit of expounding frivolous books in their schools, and the students and learners, Mussulmans as well as Hindus, went there, even from long distances, led by desire to become acquainted with the wicked sciences they taught.

“The “Director of the faith” consequently issued orders to all the governors of provinces to destroy with a willing hand the schools and temples of the infidels; and they were strictly enjoined to put an entire stop to the teaching and practicing of idolatrous forms of worship. On the 15th Rabi-ul Akhir it was reported to his religious Majesty, the leader of the unitarians, that, in obedience to the order, the Government officers had destroyed the temple of Bishnath at Benaras.”

Aurangzeb did not just build an isolated mosque on a destroyed temple, he ordered all temples destroyed, among them the Kashi Vishwanath temple, one of the most sacred places of Hinduism, and had mosques built on a number of cleared temple sites. Other Hindu sacred places within his reach equally suffered destruction, with mosques built on them. A few examples: 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. The number of temples destroyed by Aurangzeb is counted in four, if not five figures. Aurangzeb did not stop at destroying temples, their users were also wiped out; even his own brother Dara Shikoh was executed for taking an interest in Hindu religion; Sikh Guru Tegh Bahadur was beheaded because he objected to Aurangzeb’s forced conversions.

In one year (1679-80) sixty-six temples were broken to pieces in Amber alone, sixtythree at Chitor, one hundred and twenty-three at Udaipur;  and over the site of a Benares temple especially sacred to the Hindus he built, in deliberate insult, a Mohammedan mosque.  He forbade all public worship of the Hindu faiths, and laid upon every unconverted Hindu a heavy capitation tax.  ” As a result of his fanaticism, thousands of the temples which had represented or housed the art of India through a millennium were laid in ruins. We can never know, from looking at India today, what grandeur and beauty she once possessed.

Aurangzeb converted a handful of timid Hindus to Islam, but he wrecked his dynasty and his country. A few Moslems worshiped him as a saint, but the mute and terrorized millions of India looked upon him as a monster, fled from his tax-gatherers, and prayed for his death. During his reign the Mogul empire in India reached its height, extending into the Deccan; but it was a power that had no foundation in the affection of the people, and was doomed to fall at the first hostile and vigorous touch. His hard headed attitude towards the Marathas, Rajputs and the Jats and the refusal to grant them regional autonomy broke the former loyalty that existed between them and the Mughal Empire.

Aurangzeb’s religious policy was largely responsible for the downfall of the Mughal Empire. His policy of religious persecution of the Hindus, who formed the bulk of the population of the country, hastened the fall of his dynasty. Akbar won over the Hindus by a policy of religious toleration. He had enlisted Hindu warrior tribes, chiefly the Rajputs, as reliable defenders of his throne. He re-imposed the hated jiziya on the Hindus. As a consequence, the Rajputs, the Sikhs, the Jats and the Marathas were roused against the Mughal rule. He distrusted the Rajputs and thus deprived himself of the services of these people whose valour and loyalty had been a boon to the empire earlier. Moreover, Aurangzeb turned against the Shias with as much bitterness as the Hindus. He not only discriminated against the Shias in the matter of state employment, but even tried to put down their teachings, their schools and religious practices. The Persian Shias were gifted scholars and administrators of outstanding quality from among whom the ancestors of Aurangzeb recruited some of their ablest administrators. Sadly, Aurangzeb lost the support of a very efficient professional class. This is one of the potent causes of the downfall of the Mughal empire. The Sikhs under Guru Govind Singh vowed vengeance against the Mughals. It was because Emperor Aurangzeb brutally put their ninth Guru, Guru Teg Bahadur to death. He converted his followers into a militant sect by establishing the Khalsa which became a potent factor in the downfall of Aurangzeb’s dynasty.

Aurangzeb’s Deccan policy gave a death blow to the Mughal empire. His Deccan policy caused the destruction of some of their best soldiers and undermined the power and prestige of the empire. Aurangzeb destroyed the Shia kingdom of Bijapur and Golkunda and waged a long war against the Marathas. His long drawn -out campaign against the Marathas ruined the finances of the state and undermined his prestige. Moreover, his prolonged absence from the capital weakened the foundation of his government which rested mainly on close personal supervision.

The Mughal court consisted of four groups of nobles, the Turanis, the Iranis, the Afghans and the Indian born Muslims. The accession of weak rulers at the center made them strong contenders for power. They fought amongst themselves for more jagirs and high offices which were limited in number. They weakened the military by amassing income from the jagirs for themselves and cutting down the number of troops.

Further he made the mistake of imposing the central­ized system of governance in far-flung areas which were beyond his control. Aurangzeb mainly failed to make good alliances to safeguard his empire and went on making more and more enemies. The Emperor himself, in his last years, began to realize that by the very narrowness of his piety he had destroyed the heritage of his fathers. His deathbed letters arc pitiful documents.

“I know not who I am, where I shall go, or what will happen to this sinner full of sins. . . . My years have gone by profitless. God has been in my heart, yet my darkened eyes have not recognized his light. . . . There is no hope for me in the future. The fever is gone, but only the skin is left. … I have greatly sinned, and know not what torments await me. . . . May the peace of God be upon you.”

Within seventeen years of his death his empire was broken into fragments. The support of the people, so wisely won by Akbar, had been forfeited by the cruelty of Jehangir, the wastefulness of Jehan, and the intolerance of Aurangzcb. The Moslem minority, already enervated by India’s heat, had lost the military ardour and physical vigor of their prime, and no fresh recruits were coming from the north to buttress their declining power.

One of the most important causes of the downfall of the Mughal empire was the degeneration of the army which by its origin and composition was defective. The Mughal army consisted chiefly of contingents recruited by the high officers and the nobles. They were assigned revenues of large tracts of land for their maintenance. There was no bond of closeness between the emperor and the individual soldiers. As the later Mughal emperors were weak, the powerful nobles began to convert the assignments which they held for maintaining troops into hereditary possessions. The same inefficiency was also revealed in Aurangzeb’s war with the Marathas. This degeneration of the army contributed to its fall.

One of the cause of the fall of the Mughal empire can be ascribed to its economic bankruptcy. Under Akbar’s leadership the country had prospered economically. Akbar had established an excellent financial system under which the government had become rich and the people had led fairly comfortable lives. But after his death, his revenue system which dealt directly with the tillers of the soil began to fall into disuse. Later Mughal rulers spent large sums of money in unproductive works. To meet the increasing expenditure, he raised the state demand to one-half of the produce of the soil. Due to such heavy burden of taxation, thousands of cultivators began deserting their fields. Those who remained were compelled by force to carry on their age-old cultivation. Under Aurangzeb the royal treasury became more depleted. His long drawn-out campaign in the Deccan ruined the economy of the country.




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