See biographies by Sir Jadunath Sarkar (5 vol., 1912-24) and M. Lal (1988); studies by S. Lane-Poole (1964) and R. C. Hallissey (1977).
(born Nov. 3, 1618, Dhod, Malwa, India—died March 3, 1707) Last of the great Mughal emperors of India (r. 1658–1707). He was the third son of the emperor Shah Jahān and Mumtāz Mahsubdotal, for whom the Taj Mahal was built. After distinguishing himself early in life with his military and administrative ability, he fought his eldest brother for the right of succession and had several other rival relatives (including a son) executed. During the first half of his reign, he proved to be a capable Muslim monarch of a mixed Hindu-Muslim empire; he was disliked for his ruthlessness but respected. From circa 1680 his devout religious side came to dominate; he excluded Hindus from public office and destroyed their temples and schools, became embroiled in fruitless warfare with the Marathas in South India, and executed the Sikh Guru Tegh Bahadur (r. 1664–75), starting a Sikh-Muslim feud that has continued to the present.
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Aurangzeb ((full title: Al-Sultan al-Azam wal Khaqan al-Mukarram Abul Muzaffar Muhiuddin Muhammad Aurangzeb Bahadur Alamgir I, Padshah Ghazi) (November 4, 1618 March 3, 1707), also known by his chosen Imperial title Alamgir I (Conqueror of the Universe) (عالمگیر), was the ruler of the Mughal Empire from 1658 until his death. He was the sixth Mughal ruler. His name literally means "Adorning the Crown".
Aurangzeb ruled India for 48 years, bringing a larger area under Mughal rule than ever before . He is generally regarded as the last Great Mughal ruler. His constant wars, however, left the empire dangerously overextended, isolated from its strong Rajput allies, and with a population that (except for the orthodox Sunni Muslim minority) was resentful, if not outright rebellious, against his reign. His last twenty five years were spent fighting in the Deccan till his death in 1707.
After his death, the Mughal Empire was shrunken, having lost most of its northwest and being replaced by the Hindu Maratha Empire in large areas of India. Aurangzeb's successors, the "Later Mughals", lacked his strong hand and the great fortunes amassed by his predecessors. It is generally believed that Aurangzeb's policies weakened the empire resulting in its disintegration.
After Jahangir's death in 1627, Aurangzeb returned to live with his parents. Shah Jahan followed the Mughal practice of assigning authority to his sons, and in 1634 made Aurangzeb Subahdar (governor) of the Deccan. He moved to Kirki, which in time he renamed Aurangabad. In 1637, he married Rabia Durrani. During this period the Deccan was relatively peaceful. In the Mughal court, however, Shah Jahan began to show greater and greater favouritism to his eldest son Dara Shikoh.
In 1644, Aurangzeb's sister Jahanara Begum was accidentally burned in Agra. This event precipitated a family crisis which had political consequences. Aurangzeb suffered his father's displeasure when he returned to Agra three weeks after the event, instead of immediately on hearing of the accident. Shah Jahan dismissed him as the governor of the Deccan. Aurangzeb later claimed (1654) that he had resigned in protest of his father favoring Dara. In 1645, he was barred from the court for seven months. Later, Shah Jahan appointed him governor of Gujarat. He performed well and was rewarded. In 1647, Shah Jahan made him governor of Balkh and Badakhshan (in modern Afghanistan and Tajikistan), replacing Aurangzeb's ineffective brother Murad Baksh. These areas were at the time under attack from various forces. Aurangzeb's military skill proved successful.
He was appointed governor of Multan and Sindh began a protracted military struggle against the Safavid army in an effort to capture the city of Kandahar. He failed, and fell again into his father's disfavour.
In 1652, Aurangzeb was re-appointed governor of the Deccan. In an effort to extend boundaries of the Mughal empire, Aurangzeb attacked the border kingdoms of Golconda (1657), and Bijapur (1658). Both times, Shah Jahan called off the attacks near the moment of Aurangzeb's triumph. In each case Dara Shikoh interceded and arranged a peaceful end to the attacks. Indian and Western historians have been called Aurangzeb a fundamentalist Muslim who was anti-Hindu, who taxed them (jizya), discriminated against them in awarding high administrative positions, destroyed their temples, tried to convert them and interfered in their religious matters.
Shah Jahan fell ill in 1657, and was widely reported to have died. With this news, the struggle for the succession began. Aurangzeb's eldest brother, Dara Shikoh, was regarded as heir apparent, but the succession proved far from certain. When Shah Jahan supposedly died, his second son, Shah Shuja (Mughal) declared himself emperor in Bengal. Imperial armies sent by Dara and Shah Jahan soon restrained this effort, and Shuja retreated.
Soon after, Shuja's youngest brother Murad Baksh, with secret promises of support from Aurangzeb, declared himself emperor in Gujarat. Aurangzeb, ostensibly in support of Murad, marched north from Aurangabad, gathering support from nobles and generals. Following a series of victories, Aurangzeb declared that Dara had illegally usurped the throne. Shah Jahan, determined that Dara would succeed him, handed over control of his empire to Dara. A Rajput lord opposed to Aurangzeb and Murad, Maharaja Jaswant Singh, battled them both at Dharmatpur near Ujjain, leaving them heavily weakened. Aurangzeb eventually defeated Singh and concentrated his forces on Dara. A series of bloody battles followed, with troops loyal to Aurangzeb battering Dara's armies at Samugarh In a few months, Aurangzeb's forces surrounded Agra. Fearing for his life, Dara departed for Delhi, leaving behind Shah Jahan. The old emperor surrendered the Agra Fort to Aurangzeb's nobles, but Aurangzeb refused any meeting with his father, and declared that Dara was no longer a Muslim.
In a sudden reversal, Aurangzeb then had Murad arrested after intoxicating him and later executed him; Murad's former supporters, instead of fighting for Murad, defected to Aurangzeb. Meanwhile, Dara gathered his forces, and moved to the Punjab. The army sent against Shuja was trapped in the east, its generals Jai Singh I and Diler Khan, submitted to Aurangzeb, but allowed Dara's son Suleman to escape via the Himalayan foothills and join his father in the Punjab. Aurangzeb offered Shuja the governorship of Bengal. This move had the effect of isolating Dara and causing more troops to defect to Aurangzeb. Shuja, however, uncertain of Aurangzeb's sincerity, continued to battle his brother, but his forces suffered a series of defeats at Aurangzeb's hands. At length, Shuja went into exile in Arakan (in present-day Myanmar) where he disappeared, and was presumed to be dead.
With Shuja and Murad disposed of, and with his father Shah Jahan confined in Agra, Aurangzeb pursued Dara, chasing him across the north-western bounds of the empire. After a series of battles, defeats and retreats, Dara was betrayed by one of his generals, who arrested and bound him. In 1659, Aurangzeb arranged a formal coronation in Delhi. He had Dara openly marched in chains back to Delhi; when Dara finally arrived, he had his brother executed. Legends about the cruelty of this execution abound, including stories that Aurangzeb had Dara's severed head sent to the dying Shah Jahan. With his succession secured, Aurangzeb kept Shah Jahan under house arrest at the Agra Fort. Twice he allegedly sent poison to the ailing Shah Jahan with the Hakims treating him. On both occasions, the loyal Hakims took the cup to Shah Jahan but themselves drank the poison. It is also said that he had the window of the Agra Fort from where Shah Jahan would look at Taj Mahal, sealed.
The Mughals had for the most part been tolerant of non-Muslims, allowing them to practice their customs and religion without too much interference. Though certain Muslim laws had been in place (e.g., prohibitions against building new Hindu temples), the protection tax on non-Muslims (the Jizya) was repealed by Emperor Akbar in 1562. Akbar also encouraged political tolerance toward the non-Muslim majority.
Aurangzeb abandoned many of the more liberal viewpoints of his predecessors. He espoused a more fundamentalist interpretation of Islam and a behavior based on the Sharia (Islamic law), which he set about codifying through edicts and policies . Aurangzeb took personal interest in the compilation of the Fatawa-e-Alamgiri, a digest of Muslim law .
Under Alamgir, Mughal court life changed dramatically. He (in consultation with clerics), allegedly did not allow music (though some scholars dispute this), and around 1668 commanded court musicians, dancers and singers to cease performing in his presence. Further, based on Muslim precepts forbidding images, he stopped the production of representational artwork, including the miniature painting that had reached its zenith before his rule . There is however a miniature portrait of the aged Aurangzeb with Qur'an in hand. Soldiers and citizens were also given free rein to deface architectural images such as faces — even on the walls of Mughal palaces. Untold thousands of representational images were destroyed in this way. Aurangzeb abandoned the Hindu-inspired practices of former Mughal emperors, especially the practice of Darshan, or public appearances to bestow blessings, which had been commonplace since the time of Akbar, as well as lavish celebrations of the Emperor's birthday .
Aurangzeb began to enact and enforce a series of edicts with punishments. Most significantly, Aurangzeb initiated laws which interfered with non-Muslim worship. These included the destruction of thousands of Hindu temples.
There were a great many rebellions during Aurangzebs's reign, including those by the Rajput states of Marwar and Mewar, and the Sikhs. Things came to such a head that Guru Tegh Bahadur, the ninth Guru (Spiritual Pontiff) of Sikhism, was executed by Aurangzeb for standing up against the forcible conversion of Kashmiri Hindu Brahmins and refusing to convert to Islam. Aurangzeb had demanded that all Kashmiri Brahmins convert to Islam. The Kashmiris then asked for assistance from the Sikh Guru. Guru Tegh Bahadur was proclaimed their Guru, and he advised Aurangzeb that if Tegh Bahadhur could be converted to Islam, then the Brahmins would convert to Islam. Tegh Bahadhur was then executed after his refusal to convert. This day, November 11 is still commemorated by the Sikh community. The son of Guru Tegh Bahadur, Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th Guru of Sikhism, led an open revolt against Aurangzeb's forces. It is thought that a letter to Aurangzeb by Guru Gobind Singh (The Zafarnama) contributed to the death of the aged Emperor. The letter highlighted all the atrocties that the Emperor had committed. He is said to have had extreme remorse after reading it, and soon ceased many of his hostilities towards his non-Muslim subjects, especially before his death.
Aurangzeb also ordered the execution of Syedna Qutubkhan Qutbuddin, the Dai-ul-Mutlaq of the Dawoodi Bohras (An Ismaili-Mustaali-Tayyebi sect of Shia Islam) for refusing to declare that the Dawoodi Bohras' religion was not in line with the Prophet's teaching. Syedna Qutbuddin Shaheed was executed by beheading and the Dawoodi Bohra community persecuted and their human rights taken away from them.
The climate of religious orthodoxy is often cited as the reason for these rebellions, as well as for the collapse of the Mughal empire after Aurangzeb. In addition, Aurangzeb's long wars of expansion, especially his decades in the Deccan, seriously strained the imperial treasury, while the many new nobles created and promoted by him (many of them Deccanis) did not share the old loyalty to the empire. Above all, the peasantry was steadily getting bled to death .
From the start of his reign up until his death, 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.
Aurangzeb pushed into the north-west — into the Punjab and what is now Afghanistan. He also drove south, conquering Bijapur and Golconda, his old enemies. He attempted to suppress the Maratha territories, which had recently been liberated by Chhatrapati Shivaji.
But the combination of military expansion and religious intolerance had far deeper consequences. Though he succeeded in expanding Mughal control, it was at an enormous cost in lives and to the treasury. And, as the empire expanded in size, the chain of command grew weaker.
The Sikhs of the Punjab grew both in strength and numbers in rebellion against Aurangzeb's armies. When the now weakened Muslim kingdoms of Golconda and Bijapur fell beneath Aurangzeb's might, the Marathas waged a war with Aurangzeb which lasted for 27 years.
Even Aurangzeb's own armies grew restive — particularly the fierce Rajputs, who were his main source of strength. Aurangzeb gave a wide berth to the Rajputs, who were mostly Hindu. While they fought for Aurangzeb during his life, on his death they immediately revolted against the Empire, an essential after-effect of Aurangzeb's Islamic fundamentalist policies.
With much of his attention on military matters, Aurangzeb's political power waned, and his provincial governors and generals grew in authority.
Aurangzeb's ultimate aim was conversion of non-Muslims to Islam. Whenever possible the emperor gave out robes of honor, cash gifts, and promotions to converts. It quickly became known that conversion was a sure way to the emperor's favour.In economic and political terms, Aurangzeb's rule significantly favoured Muslims over non-Muslims:"In many disputed successions for hereditary local office Aurangzeb chose candidates who had converted to Islam over their rivals. Pargana headmen and quangos or record-keepers were targeted especially for pressure to convert. The message was very clear for all concerned. Shared political community must also be shared religious belief.. Many Hindu warriors started taking on Aurangzeb and his army. It also helped the resurgence of Hinduism in many ways.
Historian E. Taylor writes that his negative views on Hindus were the primary reason for his reversal of the liberal policies of the previous Mughal emperors and "resumption of the persecution of Hindus" in the Empire, and the many rebellions that arose against him in Rajasthan and among the Marathas..
When Maharaja Jaswant Singh of Jodhpur died in 1679, a conflict ensued over who would be the next Raja. Aurangzeb's choice of a nephew of the former Maharaja was not accepted by other members of Jaswant Singh's family and they rebelled, but in vain. Aurangzeb seized control of Jodhpur. He also moved on Udaipur, which was the only other state of Rajputana to support the rebellion. There was never a clear resolution to this conflict, although it is noted that the other Rajputs, including the celebrated Kachhwaha Rajput clan of Raja Jai Singh, the Bhattis, and the Rathores, remained loyal. On the other hand, Aurangzeb's own third son, Prince Akbar, along with a few Muslim Mansabdar supporters, joined the rebels in the hope of dethroning his father and becoming emperor. The rebels were defeated and Akbar fled south to the shelter of the Maratha Chhatrapati Sambhaji, Chhatrapati Shivaji's successor.
In 1675, a group of Kashmiri Brahmins, were being pressured by Muslim authorities to convert to Islam. The Pandits approached Guru Tegh Bahadur with their dilemma. To demonstrate a spirit of unity and tolerance, the Guru agreed to help the Brahmins. He told them to inform Aurangzeb that the Brahmins would convert only if Guru Tegh Bahadur himself was converted. The Guru subsequently arrested and taken to Delhi before the Emperor. Teg Bahadur was offered a choice between accepting Islam or death; he chose death.His three close aides were also executed, Bhai Mati Das was sawn in half, Bhai Sati Das was wrapped in wool and burnt alive and Bhai Dayal Das was boiled alive.
The execution of Guru Tegh Bahadur infuriated the Sikhs. In response, his son and successor, the tenth Guru of Sikhism Guru Gobind Singh further militarized his followers.
Aurangzeb installed his son Bahadur Shah as governor of the northwest territories. The new governor relaxed enforcement of Aurangzeb's edicts, and an uneasy peace ensued. However, Gobind Singh had determined that the Sikhs should actively prepare to defend their territories and their faith. In 1699, he established the Khalsa Panth.
This development alarmed not only the Mughals, but the nearby Hill Rajputs. In a temporary alliance, both groups attacked Gobind Singh and his followers. The united Mughal and Rajput armies laid siege to the fort at Anandpur Sahib. In an attempt to dislodge the Sikhs, Aurangzeb vowed that the Guru and his Sikhs would be allowed to leave Anandpur safely. Aurangzeb is said to have validated this promise in writing; the events of which Gobind Singh wrote in his letter to Aurengzeb, the Zafarnama (letter of victory) after he escaped unharmed . It is reported that when the remaining few Sikhs abandoned the fort under the cover of darkness, the Mughals were alerted and enagaged them in battle once again, at Chamkaur.
The Mughals, suffered considerable losses against the growing Sikh fighting force, the mughal army and mountain rajputs had a total army of 1 million warriors. The Guru only had less than 20,000 sihks. . Guru Gobind Singh's two elder sons died fighting while his two younger sons were bricked alive by Wazir Khan, the Mughal Governor of the Punjab at Sirhind, and much of the Sikh force were decimated.
Guru Gobind Singh then held a last stand at Muktsar, where some soldiers who had previously abandoned Guru Gobind Singh came back to fight for him, and the Sikhs defeated the Mughal Army.
Afterwards, Guru Gobind Singh, in response, sent Aurangzeb an eloquent yet defiant letter entitled the Zafarnama (Letter of Victory), written in Persian, accusing the emperor of treachery, and claiming a moral victory.
On receipt of this letter, Aurangzeb is said to have invited Guru Gobind Singh to a meeting in Ahmednagar to discuss peace between the Mughals and Sikhs, but Aurangzeb died before Guru Gobind Singh arrived.
In 1657, while Aurangzeb attacked Golconda and Bijapur, Shivaji, using guerrilla tactics, took control of three adilshahi forts formerly controlled by his father. With these victories, Shivaji assumed de facto leadership of many independent Maratha clans. The Marathas harried the flanks of the warring Adilshahi and Mughals, gaining weapons, forts, and territories.
Shivaji's small and ill-equipped army survived an all out Adilshahi attack, and Shivaji personally killed the Adilshahi general, Afzal Khan. With this event, the Marathas transformed into a powerful military force, capturing more and more Adilshahi and Mughal territories.
Following his coronation in 1659, Aurangzeb sent his trusted general and maternal uncle Shaista Khan to the Deccan to recover his lost forts. Shaista Khan drove into Maratha territory and took up residence in Pune. In a daring raid, Shivaji attacked the governor's residence in Pune, killed Shaista Khan's son, even hacking off Shaista Khan's thumb as he fled. Once more the Marathas rallied to his leadership, taking back the territory.
Aurangzeb ignored the rise of the Marathas for the next few years. Shivaji continued to capture forts belonging to both Mughals and Bijapur. At last Aurangzeb sent his greatest general the old Raja Jai Singh I of Amber, a Hindu Rajput, to attack the Marathas. Jai Singh's blistering attacks were so successful that he was able to persuade Shivaji to agree to peace by becoming a Mughal vassal. Raja Jai Singh I also promised the Maratha hero his safety, placing him under the care of his own son, the future Raja Ram Singh I. However, circumstances at the Mughal court were beyond the control of the Raja, and when Shivaji and his son Sambhaji went to Agra to meet Aurangzeb, they were placed under house arrest, from which they managed to effect a daring escape.
Shivaji returned to the Deccan, successfully drove out the Mughal armies, and was crowned Chhatrapati or Emperor of the Maratha Empire in 1674. While Aurangzeb continued to send troops against him, Shivaji expanded Maratha control throughout the Deccan until his death in 1680. Shivaji was succeeded by his son Sambhaji. Militarily and politically, Mughal efforts to control the Deccan continued to fail. Aurangzeb's son Akbar left the Mughal court and joined with Sambhaji, inspiring some Mughal forces to join the Marathas. Aurangzeb in response moved his court to Aurangabad and took over command of the Deccan campaign. More battles ensued, and Akbar fled to Persia.
For nine years, Aurangzeb couldn't win a single fort from the Marathas. But in 1689 Aurangzeb captured Sambhaji and offered him the option of conversion to Islam or death, Sambhaji proudly refused to convert to Islam and hence was tortured and killed. Sambhaji was succeeded by his brother Rajaram. Maratha Sardars (commanders) fought individual battles against the Mughals, and territory changed hands again and again during years of endless warfare. As there was no central authority among the Marathas, Aurangzeb was forced to contest every inch of territory, at great cost in lives and treasure. Even as Aurangzeb drove west, deep into Maratha territory — notably conquering Satara — the Marathas expanded their attacks further into Mughal lands, including Mughal-held Malwa and Hyderabad. Once, the Marathas attacked the imperial camp in the night, and cut off the ropes of the Emperor's tent. The Emperor escaped being crushed by the heavy tent only because he happened to be spending that night in another tent.
Aurangzeb waged continuous war for more than two decades with no resolution. After his death, new leadership arose among the Marathas, who soon became unified under the rule of Shahu, Shivaji's grandson.
After that the revolt spread, with the Mughals suffering a near total collapse of their authority along the Pashtun belt. The closure of the important Attock-Kabul trade route along the Grand Trunk road was particularly critical. By 1674, the situation had deteriorated to a point where Aurangzeb himself camped at Attock to personally take charge. Switching to diplomacy and bribery along with force of arms, the Mughals eventually split the rebellion and while they never managed to wield effective authority outside the main trade route, the revolt was partially suppressed. However the long term anarchy on the Empire's North-Western frontier that prevailed as a consequence ensured that the Persian Nadir Shah's forces half a century later faced little resistance on the road to Delhi.
Aurangzeb's influence continues through the centuries. He was the first ruler to attempt to impose Sharia law on a non-Muslim country. His critics, decry this as intolerance, while his mostly Muslim supporters applaud him, some calling him a Caliph. He engaged in nearly perpetual war, justifying the ensuing death and destruction on moral and religious grounds. He eventually succeeded in the imposition of Islamic Sharia in his realm, but alienated many constituencies, not only non-Muslims, but also Shi'ite Muslims. This led to increased militancy by the Marathas, the Sikhs, and the Rajputs, who along with other territories broke from the empire after his death; it also led to disputes among Indian Muslims. The destruction of Hindu temples remains a dark stain on Hindu-Muslim relations in India to this day.
Unlike his predecessors, Aurangzeb considered the royal treasury as a trust of the citizens of his empire and did not use it for personal expenses or extravagant building projects. He left few buildings, save for a modest mausoleum for his first wife, Bibi Ka Maqbara, sometimes called the mini-Taj Mahal, in Aurangabad. He also created the Badshahi Masjid mosque (Imperial or Alamgiri Mosque) in Lahore, which was once the largest outside of Mecca. He also added a small marble mosque known as the Moti Masjid (Pearl Mosque) to the Red Fort complex in Delhi. His constant warfare, however, drove his empire to the brink of bankruptcy just as much as the wasteful personal spending and opulence of his predecessors.
Stanley Wolpert writes in his New History of India ISBN 0-19-516677-9 (Oxford, 2003)
...Yet 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 moving capital alone- a city of tents 30 miles in circumference, some 250 bazaars, with a ½ million camp followers, 50,000 camels and 30,000 elephants, all of whom had to be fed, stripped peninsular India of any and all of its surplus gain 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 in February 1707. "I have sinned terribly, and I do not know what punishment awaits me."
He alienated many of his children and wives, driving some into exile and imprisoning others. At the ebb of his life, he expressed his loneliness and perhaps a regret for his militant intolerant rule. His personal piety is undeniable. Unlike the often alcohol- and women-absorbed personal lives of his predecessors, he led an extremely simple and pious life. He followed Muslim precepts with his typical determination, and even memorized the entire Qur'an. He knitted Haj caps and copied out the Qur'an throughout his life and sold these anonymously. He used only the proceeds from these to fund his modest resting place. He died in Ahmednagar on Friday, February 20 1707 at the age of 88, having outlived many of his children. His modest open-air grave in Khuldabad expresses his strict and deep interpretation of Islamic beliefs.
After Aurangzeb's death, his son Bahadur Shah I took the throne. The Mughal Empire, due both to Aurangzeb's over-extension and to Bahadur Shah's weak military and leadership qualities, entered a period of long decline. Immediately after Bahadur Shah occupied the throne, the Maratha Empire — which had been held at bay by Aurangzeb, albeit at a high human and monetary cost — consolidated and launched effective invasions of Mughal territory, seizing power from the weak emperor. Within 100 years of Aurangzeb's death, the Mughal Emperor was to become a puppet of the Maratha Empire and then the British East India Company, with little power beyond Delhi and ignored by most Indian princes.
Mcleod, H. (1989) Who is a Sikh. Oxford. Claredon.