In this article we will discuss about the reign of Aurangzeb in India.
Theory of Kingship: Religious Intolerance and Its Results:
In one of his letters to his father, Aurangzeb wrote- “It is clear to your Majesty that God Almighty bestows His trusts upon one who discharges the duty of cherishing his subjects and protecting the people. Sovereignty signifies protection of the people, not self-indulgence and libertinism.”
Aurangzeb once said:
“He is the truly great king who makes it the chief business of his life to govern his subjects with equity.” Aurangzeb put these ideals in practice. Aurangzeb desired not only the economic, political and social welfare of his subjects but also their religious and moral development. Aurangzeb attempted seriously to improve the lot of peasants, traders, industrialists, etc.
When he sat on the throne, he abolished nearly eighty taxes called the Aabwabs including the transport and octroi tax. The burden of these taxes mostly fell on the common people. Therefore, while the state suffered a loss of crores of rupees, the common people were relieved of much economic burden.
Of course, because of the corruption of local officers, most of these taxes continued to be collected, yet this measure of Aurangzeb was a genuine proof of his good intentions for the welfare of his subjects. Aurangzeb was a just king. Ovington wrote- “The great Mogul is the main ocean of justice.” Aurangzeb was extremely laborious.
He used to get up at 5 A.M. every day and kept himself busy with the affairs of the state till late at night. He engaged himself in actual fighting till his death. He expressed- “So long as a single breath of this mortal life remains, there is no release from labour and work.” Thus, the concept of Aurangzeb regarding duties of a king was great and he possessed all the virtues of becoming a great king.
But, Aurangzeb was a fanatic Sunni. He felt that he had become emperor not only to administer the empire in a better way but also to protect and strengthen Islam particularly its Sunni faith. Aurangzeb’s ideal of kingship was based on Islamic theory of kingship. Therefore, his chief aim became to convert this Dar-ul-harb (India: the country of Kafirs or infidels) to Dar-ul-Islam (country of Islam).
Aurangzeb could neither forget this ideal nor could separate it from his state-policy throughout his life. In order to achieve this object, he imprisoned his father, killed his brothers, forced his son Akbar to revolt and pass a miserable life running from place to place, forced the Rajputs, the Jats, the Sikhs and the Marathas to rebel, destroyed the states of Bijapur and Golkunda and imposed political, economic, and social disabilities on his non- Muslim subjects with a view to convert them to Islam.
Aurangzeb believed that all Mughul rulers who ruled prior to him had committed one blunder that they did not try to establish the supremacy of Islam in India. He attempted for it during his life-time because he believed that it was the foremost duty of a Muslim king.
This duty of Aurangzeb limited his vision, narrowed his concept of kingship and made him intolerant towards the majority of his subjects. He no more remained the emperor of all his subjects but only that of a minority among them.
It has also been opined that apart from his individual religious views, Aurangzeb was forced by circumstances to pursue the policy of religious orthodoxy. On the one hand, because of the religious policy pursued by Akbar, the Hindus and the Rajputs in particular had got the opportunity to increase their influence in society and politics and, on the other hand, the reactionary forces of Islam had become influential in the state during the reigns of Jahangir and Shah Jahan.
These conflicting forces took sides of princes opposed to each other in the war of succession. Aurangzeb got support from the reactionary forces of Islam while the Rajputs opposed him and favoured Dara Shukoh. Hence, after becoming the Emperor, it was quite natural for Aurangzeb to support the reactionary forces of Islam and oppose the Rajputs. The view is logical. Yet, it can not be denied that the primary cause of the orthodox religious policy of Aurangzeb was his own religious bigotry.
Aurangzeb gave up the practices of inscribing the Kalima on the coins and that of celebrating the festival of Naurauj, turned out dancers and musicians from the court, forbade the cultivation of Bhang, tried to stop gambling, drinking and the practice of Sati, ordered prostitutes either to get married or leave the empire and stopped celebrating the Hindu festivals like Holi, Diwali, Basant etc. at the court.
He also framed certain laws to be observed by the Muslims as their religious duty and appointed muhtasibs (a new class of officers) who were assigned the duty to enforce these laws. These officers were given powers to punish all those people who were found guilty of blasphemy and also heretics in Islam. That is why even liberal Shias and Sufis were also punished during the reign of Aurangzeb.
Aurangzeb became oppressive towards the Hindus. He forbade the old temples to be repaired and ordered the Muhtasibs and provincial governors to demolish the schools and temples of the Hindus.
However, it was not possible to destroy all schools and temples of the Hindus but nearly all famous temples of northern India including the temple of Vishwanath at Banaras, Keshav Dev at Mathura and Somnath at Patan were destroyed at this time. The temples within the territories of Hindu vassal chiefs were also destroyed and mosques were raised in their places.
In April 1679 A.D. Jizya was imposed on the Hindus. For the purpose of collecting this tax, non-Muslims were divided into three categories. Those people whose yearly income was less than 200 Dirhams had to pay twelve Dirhams yearly to the state; those whose yearly income was between 200- 10,000 Dirhams had to pay twenty-four Dirhams yearly; and those whose yearly income was more than 10,000 Dirhams had to pay forty-eight Dirhams yearly.
The labourers had to pay this tax only when they earned more what they spent on their family-expenses. Women, slaves, children less than fourteen years of age, beggars, etc. were free from this tax. Pilgrim-tax on the Hindus was also revived and while the Muslim traders remained free-from tax, the Hindu traders were asked to pay 5 per cent of the value of their commodities as tax.
As far as could be possible, the Hindus were turned out of their services from revenue department. In 1688 A.D., restrictions were imposed on celebration of Hindu fairs and festivals and. the same year, all Hindus except the Rajputs were disallowed the use of palanquins and riding on good horses. All these disabilities were imposed on the Hindus with a view to force them to accept Islam.
Besides temptations in the forms of services, promotions, money, land, etc. were also given to the Hindus with a view to encourage them to voluntarily accept Islam. It would be wrong to say that Aurangzeb imposed taxes on the Hindus with a view to improve the finances of the state. The primary motive of Aurangzeb was religious.
“For the first time in their history the Mughals beheld a rigid Muslim in their Emperor—a Muslim as sternly repressive of himself as of his people around him, a king who was prepared to stake his throne for the sake of the faith.” Aurangzeb ascended the throne at the age of forty years. He was a practical statesman. It is not possible that he failed to understand the consequences of his policy of religious intolerance.
Yet, he pursued it till his death and the only reason was his religious zeal. Lane-Poole wrote- “The flame of religious zeal blazed as hotly in his soul when he lay dying among the ruins of his Grand Army of the Deccan, an old man on the verge of ninety, as when, in the same fatal province, but then a youth in the springtime of life, he had thrown off the purple of viceregal state and adopted the mean garb of a mendicant fakir.”
Describing acts of religious intolerance of Aurangzeb, Dr S.R. Sharma also writes- “These were not the acts of a righteous ruler or a constructive statesman, but the outbursts of blind fanaticism, unworthy of the great genius that Aurangzeb undoubtedly possessed in all other respects.”
The religious fanaticism of Aurangzeb set aside all his virtues. He entirely reversed the policy of religious toleration enunciated by Akbar which resulted in weakening the entire structure of the Mughul empire. It resulted in many serious revolts of the Hindus like that of the Jats, the Satnamis and the Sikhs.
The causes of the revolts of the Rajputs and the emergence of Marathas as a political force in India were political. But certainly religion too had inflamed them. All these revolts destroyed the peace of the empire, disrupted its economy and weakened its military strength which, ultimately, led not only to the failure of Aurangzeb but also to the downfall of the empire.
Extension of the Empire:
1. North-East: Assam:
The war of succession among the sons of Shah Jahan encouraged the rulers of Assam and Cooch-Bihar to raid the borders of the Mughuls. However, the Mughuls could not pay any attention towards them till 1661 A.D. When Aurangzeb felt secure on the throne, he appointed Mir Jumla as governor of Bengal and ordered him to attack Assam.
Mir Jumla conquered the capital of Cooch-Bihar in 1661 A.D., captured the eastern and middle territory of Assam and, in 1662 A.D. captured the capital of the Raja of Garhgaon. He, however, died in 1663 A.D. Then Sayista Khan was appointed governor of Bengal.
He defeated the Raja of Arakan and kept Assam under the Mughul rule for the next four years. However, Ghauhati was lost by the Mughuls in 1667 A.D. The Mughuls also failed to capture Kamrup though the Raja of Cooch-Bihar remained under the suzerainty of the Mughuls.
2. South India:
Pursuing his son, Akbar, Aurangzeb reached the Deccan in 1682 A.D. Thereafter he got no time to return to the North.
(i) Conquest of Bijapur:
Following the orders of Shah Jahan, Aurangzeb had made a treaty with Bijapur before the war of succession started. It was agreed that Bijapur would pay rupees one and a half crore to the Mughuls besides surrendering the fort of Bidar, Kalayani and Parendra. Bijapur failed to fulfill these terms.
When Aurangzeb became the emperor, he deputed Raja Jai Singh to suppress Bijapur and Shivaji both. Jai Singh forced Shivaji to accept the treaty of Purandar and then attacked Bijapur. He reached within twelve miles of Bijapur fort. Yet, he saw no chance of final success. He was forced to retreat and died at Burhanpur in July 1666 A.D.
Bijapur remained secure for the next ten years. Its ruler, Ali Adil Shah, however, died in December 1672 A.D. He was succeeded by his four-year-old son, Sikandar Adil Shah. As the ruler was infant, the nobles at the court began to quarrel among themselves. That gave an opportunity to Bahadur Khan, Mughul governor of the Deccan to attack Bijapur in 1676 A.D. But, he failed.
Aurangzeb recalled him and sent Diler Khan as the governor of the Deccan. Diler Khan intrigued with Sidi Masud, the minister of Bijapur and succeeded in concluding a treaty with Bijapur. Bijapur accepted the suzerainty of the Emperor and the Sultan’s sister was sent to Delhi to be married with prince Azam, son of Aurangzeb.
But, afterwards Diler Khan and Sidi Masud quarrelled among themselves when Masud made a pact with Shivaji. Diler Khan, therefore, attacked Bijapur in 1679 A.D. He plundered Bijapur but failed to get any concrete result. Aurangzeb recalled Diler Khan from the Deccan and deputed prince Azam in his place in 1680 A.D.
Prince Azam fought against Bijapur with determination, weakened it and, ultimately, besieged the fort of Bijapur in April 1685 A.D. The siege continued for thirteen months but the fort could not be captured. Then in July 1686 A.D., Aurangzeb reached there to supervise the siege himself.
Sikandar Shah surrendered the fort on 22 September 1686 A.D. and met Aurangzeb personally. He was given the title of Khan and an yearly pension of rupees one lakh by Aurangzeb. Bijapur was annexed to the Mughul empire. Sikandar Shah died near Satara at the age of thirty-two and was buried in the open near the grave of his religious preacher, Shaikh Fahimulla as it was his desire.
(ii) Conquest of Golkunda:
The ruler of Golkunda was Abul Hasan Qutb Shah. He was an indolent and pleasure-loving ruler and had placed the administration in the hands of his Brahamana ministers, Madanna and Akanna. Golkunda had supported both Bijapur and the Marathas against the Mughuls from time to time. If the Marathas were to be subdued it was necessary to conquer Golkunda.
Besides, its conquest was a part of the policy of the Mughuls to capture the whole of India. Aurangzeb was further dissatisfied with it because its rulers were Shias. But, Golkunda enjoyed immunity from Mughul attack for about thirty years, the Sultan paying his tribute regularly. However, when Aurangzeb reached the Deccan he decided to conquer it.
In 1685 A.D., he deputed prince Shah Alam to attack Golkunda. He was opposed by an army of Golkunda at Malkhed. The army of Golkunda had to withdraw as its commander, Mir Muhammad defected to the Mughuls. Sultan Qutb Shah fled away from Hyderabad and found shelter in the fort of Golkunda. The Mughuls occupied Hyderabad and looted it savagely. Qutb Shah opened negotiation for peace.
Some nobles in collusion with some influential ladies of the harem conspired against the ministers, Madanna and Akanna. They were murdered and their heads were sent to prince Shah Alam. Shah Alam returned to Aurangzeb with proposals of peace. Aurangzeb rejected the offer and after submission of Bijapur besieged the fort of Golkunda in 1687 A.D.
The fort could not be captured for eight months. Aurangzeb then won over one of the Qutbshahi nobles, Abdulla Pani by bribing him. He opened the gates of the fort on 2 October 1687 A.D. which enabled the Mughuls to enter the fort. Abul Hasan was imprisoned in the fort of Daulatabad and was given an annual pension of rupees fifty thousand while Golkunda was annexed to the Mughul empire.
(iii) The Marathas:
Shivaji, who has been regarded as the builder of the Maratha nation, succeeded in establishing an independent kingdom of his own in Maharashtra during the reign of Aurangzeb. His father Shahji Bhonsle had assigned him the small jagir of Poona where he passed his early life with his mother Jija Bai and under the guidance of his care-taker, Dadaiji Konda Dev. He faced challenge from Bijapur as well as from the Mughuls.
He came in conflict with the Mughuls for the first time in 1656 A.D. when he attacked Ahmadnagar and Junar. However, he made treaty with them in 1657 A.D. The war of succession among the sons of Shah Jahan gave some respite to Shivaji from the side of the Mughuls. He utilised this time in extending the territory under him at the cost of Bijapur.
In 1659 A.D. he killed Afzal Khan, the noble of Bijapur, who had taken an oath to kill Shivaji. In 1660 A.D. Shivaji was forced to fight against Bijapur as well as against the Mughuls. Bijapur snatched away Panhala from him while the Mughuls conquered Poona, Shivpur, Chakan etc. But Shivaji persisted in his struggle against them.
In 1663 A.D., he made a surprise night attack on Shayista Khan, the Mughul governor of the Deccan when he was encamped at Poona for rest. Shayista Khan, however, could save his life by running away in darkness. Shivaji looted Surat after this adventure. Aurangzeb deputed Raja Jai Singh against him in 1665 A.D. Jai Singh forced Shivaji to accept the treaty of Purandar.
In 1666 A.D. Shivaji went to the Mughul court at Agra on the advice of Jai Singh. There he was virtually imprisoned but succeeded in escaping back to Maharashtra. Thereafter, he signed a treaty with the Mughuls and there remained peace between the two parties for nearly three years. In 1670 A.D., Shivaji started attacking the Mughuls again and succeeded in recapturing those territories and forts which he had lost by the treaty of Purandar. The Mughuls failed to subdue him.
On 16 June 1674 A.D., he held his coronation at Raigarh and assumed the title of Chattrapati (King). He died on 14 April 1680 A.D. but before his death he had succeeded in establishing quite an extensive empire of the Marathas in the Deccan.
Shivaji was succeeded by his son Shambhuji. He continued the policy of attacking Mughul outposts like his father. In 1681 A.D., Durga Das along with prince Akbar reached his court to seek assistance. But Shambhuji was an indolent youth. He failed to support Akbar.
In 1682 A.D., Aurangzeb reached the Deccan and attacked Shambhuji from all sides. He failed to gain any success for nearly two years. Ultimately, a peace was signed between the two parties.
But, it could not last long and fighting between the two started the same year which continued for the next six years. Lastly, Shambhuji along with his minister Kavi Kalesh and some principal officers was captured by Aurangzeb in 1689 A.D. and was tortured to death the same year.
In 1689 A.D. Aurangzeb, thus, succeeded in killing the Maratha king and capturing Maratha kingdom. It completed the conquest of south India by Aurangzeb. But the success of Aurangzeb was very short-lived. Maharashtra stood as one man against Aurangzeb at that time of distress and the Marathas started their war of independence which continued till the death of Aurangzeb and finished only when they succeeded in making their homeland free.
Aurangzeb failed to subdue the Marathas Sir J.N. Sarkar has written:
“The difficulties of Aurangzeb were only multiplied by the disappearance of a common head and a central government among the Marathas, as every Maratha captain with his own retainers fought and raided in a different quarter and on his own account. It now became a people’s war and Aurangzeb could not end it, because there was no Maratha government or state army for him to attack and destroy.” Aurangzeb reached Ahmadnagar in 1706 A.D. amidst conditions when the Marathas were successfully raiding even his camp.
Thus, Aurangzeb did not succeed against the Marathas. It resulted in the failure of his Deccan policy, his own failure and the failure of the Mughul empire.
The Death of Aurangzeb:
Aurangzeb died as a frustrated man and a failed ruler. In 1702 A.D., his daughter Jebunisa died; in 1704 A.D., his son Akbar died as an exile in Persia; in 1705 A.D., his beloved daughter-in-law Jahan Zeb died; in 1706 A.D., his only living sister Gauhan Ara died; the same year his daughter Mehrunisa and her husband Izid Bux died; just after a month of their death the son of Akbar, Buland Akbar died; and, two of his grandsons died only some time before his own death.
As regards his empire, there were widespread revolts in north India, the Marathas in the Deccan were plundering not only his camp but were attacking even the distant provinces of the empire like Gujarat and Malwa; administration was virtually broken; economic bankruptcy had started; and prince Muazzam, Azam and Kam Bux were preparing themselves to fight the war of succession after the death of the Emperor.
Aurangzeb died on 3 March 1707 A.D. in these deplorable conditions. He was buried four miles away from Daulatabad near the grave of Shaikh Jain-ul-Haq. Thus, ended the life of Aurangzeb whom J.N. Sarkar described- “The greatest of the Great Mughals save one.”
Character and Personality: An Estimate (Causes of His Failure and His Responsibility in the Downfall of the Mughul Empire):
Aurangzeb was an educated, laborious, determined and religious-minded person. He was a capable soldier and successful commander. He had command over the Persian, Turki and Hindi languages. He was very much hard-worker. He slept only three to four hours a day. There was no part of administration and not a single military campaign which did not receive his attention. He was extremely courageous.
He never lost his patience even in the face of worst difficulties of his life. When in the childhood he was watching elephants- fighting, one elephant ran towards him. Instead of running away, he attacked the elephant and forced it to run for its safety.
It was again Aurangzeb who got down from his horse to offer the obligatory zuhar prayer in the midst of the battle while fighting against the Uzbegs in Central Asia. The same way, when prince Akbar proceeded to attack him, with a much larger force than his, he did not withdraw but came out of Ajmer to give battle to the prince.
Aurangzeb’s private life was almost ideal. He passed a most disciplined life. His food and dress were very simple and he never drank alcohol. According to Quranic law, he never had more than four wives at a time and except one romance with Jain Bai alias Hira Bai he kept himself aloof from women.
He was a man of determination. Once he made a decision he never deterred from it. He handled every arm with skill and participated chivalrously in many battles as a soldier. As a commander, he was shrewd as well as a sound strategist. Of course, he failed in his campaigns in Central Asia and against Kandhar.
But, the failure was due to the weak artillery of the Mughuls and the cold climate of Kandhar. He proved his military skill in the course of war of succession against his brothers. Besides, he never hesitated to use stratagems and political cunningness to defeat his enemy He used it against his brothers, against his son Akbar and in war against Golkunda.
But Aurangzeb was not a good son, a good father, a good friend, a good brother, a good ruler or a good administrator. He imprisoned his father, killed his brothers, forced his son, Akbar to pass the life of a fugitive, kept another son in captivity for eight years, allowed yet another son and a daughter to die in prison and he had no friend.
Primarily, he was responsible for all this. Firstly, he never afforded grace and liberality in the game of politics. He desired to win whatever might be the methods. Secondly, he was of a suspicious nature. He had no faith in anybody.
Therefore, he was forced to look after every detail of administration, could never command loyalty from anybody and permitted nobody to become capable. There was a dearth of capable administrators and commanders during the reign of Aurangzeb.
All capable persons whom we find during his reign were built up during the reign of his father. The suspicious nature of Aurangzeb never allowed anybody to grow in ability and stature. Therefore, Aurangzeb could not become either a good emperor or a good administrator.
One particular aspect of the character of Aurangzeb was his religious fanaticism. He was a devoted Sunni Musalman and practised his principles and rituals very strictly. And, what he believed to be the true religion, he tried to propagate it among his subjects. But, all this cannot give him the credit of a good Muslim ruler.
If devoted practice of Islamic principles and rituals are the measurement to judge a ruler as good or bad then no Mughul emperor prior to him can be regarded as a good ruler. This narrow definition of the practice of Islam did not allow Aurangzeb to become either a good ruler or a good administrator. Aurangzeb treated Islam as the religion of the state and tried to convert the Hindus who constituted the majority of his subjects, to it.
Aurangzeb persecuted not only the Hindus and the Sikhs but also Shia Muslims. The way he discriminated among his subjects destroyed the unity of the empire, created animosity between the Hindus and the Muslims and resulted in many revolts which destroyed the economic and military strength of the empire, disrupted its administration and created insecurity for the lives, honour and property of his subjects.
Aurangzeb might have the best intentions towards his subjects but his narrow definition of Islam entirely deformed his ideals and duties towards them. He neither could become a good ruler looking after the welfare of all his subjects nor a good administrator who would have created those conditions which would have helped in their economic, social and cultural progress. Aurangzeb failed even as a conqueror.
Of course, once during his time the territory of the Mughul empire reached its zenith but it was a transitory phase. The conquest of the Deccan could not be consolidated and a larger part of it was soon lost by the Mughuls. Besides, northern India was also neglected by Aurangzeb. It resulted in the establishment of independent kingdom both in the North and in the South soon after his death.
Yet, Aurangzeb has been regarded as a great emperor in the history of medieval India. Both his success and failure were great. Aurangzeb extended the territory of the Mughul empire. J.N. Sarkar says- “The history of Aurangzeb is practically the history of India for sixty years. . . Under him the Mughul empire reached its greatest extent, and the largest single state ever known in India from the dawn of history to the rise of British power.”
But he also comments- “The extension of the Empire was the beginning of its end….” Thus, the failure and success of Aurangzeb becomes clear from the comments of Jadu Nath Sarkar who has done monumental work on the history of the reign of Aurangzeb.
Lane-Poole also comments:
“Aurangzeb’s life had been a vast failure, indeed, but he had failed grandly.” Thus, Aurangzeb was a grand emperor. But, he failed. V.A. Smith comments- “When he is judged as a sovereign he must be pronounced a failure.”
Even Lane-Poole who described Aurangzeb as more intelligent, just and kind person than his father concluded- “Even before the end of his reign Hindustan was in confusion, and signs of coming dissolution had appeared.”
Sir J.N. Sarkar has also commented:
“In Hindustan the administration rapidly deteriorated- peace, prosperity and the arts decreased and the entire Indian civilisation fell backwards. The defence of the north-western frontier was neglected, and the material resources of the empire dwindled till they ceased to suffice for its needs. The vast annexations effected by Aurangzeb in the Deccan—Bijapur, Golkunda, eastern Carnatic and Maharashtra were all illusive. Instead of adding to the strength and wealth of the empire, they brought down economic ruin upon it and destroyed its army as an instrument of power. In fact, the Mughul empire now became too large to be administered by one man or from one centre and its disruption began which was to make the history of India in the eighteenth century one ‘great anarchy’.”
Aurangzeb met his failure during his own life-time. His weaknesses affected adversely the fortune of his empire. His failure led to the downfall of the Mughul empire as well. The primary causes of the failure of Aurangzeb were his attempt to centralize the administration in his own hands, his suspicious nature, religious policy, Rajput policy and the Deccan policy.
The same causes also led to the weakness of the Mughul empire leading to its breakdown afterwards. Therefore, he was also responsible for the downfall of the Mughul empire. The administration was centralised by every ruler of medieval India.
But the nature of centralization of Aurangzeb differed from others. Because of his suspicious nature he did not have faith in anybody and therefore, permitted none of his sons or nobles to share the responsibility of the administration.
It increased the work and responsibility of Aurangzeb so much that he failed to look after anything properly. Besides, he neither could build up the personality of any of his nobles or princes nor could command their loyalty. He also failed to get the loyalty of his subjects. It all contributed towards his failure. Aurangzeb was a bigot. He persecuted not only the Hindus but even the Shia Muslims.
Therefore, he could not take advantage of the talents of those Muslims who were Shias. Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan enjoyed the confidence of the Shias and could receive the services of scholars, commanders and good administrators among them. Aurangzeb could not get this advantage because of his narrow-mindedness. Aurangzeb persecuted the majority of his subjects, the Hindus.
He imposed Jizya, pilgrim tax and trade tax on them, tried to devoid them from services of the state, discriminated against them in justice, disrespected them in many other ways and destroyed their temples and images of gods and goddesses on a large scale.
It resulted in many revolts of the Hindus. The revolts of the Jats, Satnamis and the Sikhs were primarily due to the religious policy of Aurangzeb and the rise of the Marathas, the resistance of the Rajputs and the revolt in Bundelkhand too were partially because of it.
Aurangzeb reversed the policy of religious toleration which was enunciated by Akbar and followed by Jahangir and Shah Jahan. It destroyed the unity of the state. The loyal Rajputs and the sturdy Jats, Marathas and Sikhs took up arms against the Mughul empire which certainly weakened it. The Deccan policy of Aurangzeb was also responsible for his failure.
The conquest of the Deccan extended his empire to the extent that it became impossible to rule it from one central place. The history of India till modern times had given a lesson that those rulers of northern India who tried to keep south India under their direct rule after its conquest failed and, those who left it to be ruled by its conquered rulers themselves succeeded. The story was repeated once more during the rule of Aurangzeb.
Aurangzeb attempted to keep south India under his direct rule. It did not allow him sufficient time and energy even to look after the administration of northern India which was the source of strength of his empire. During the last twenty-five years of his reign, he remained entirely busy in the South with his best officers and commanders and with all economic resources of the empire while the North was left to be administered by his second rate officers.
The South could not be kept under control and, in the process of attempting it, the hold over the North was also lost. Thus, Aurangzeb failed to maintain an orderly, peaceful and prosperous empire. Besides, his conquest of Bijapur and Golkunda brought him in direct conflict with the newly risen power of the Marathas.
If Aurangzeb would have left these two states as such, probably, the Marathas would have remained absorbed in the politics of the Deccan and could not have taken advantage of the weaknesses of the Mughul empire which encouraged them to attack it afterwards. Thus, the policy of Aurangzeb towards the Deccan proved impolitic and impractical and contributed towards the failure of not only Aurangzeb but also that of the Mughul empire.
In recent years, there has been a controversy about the character, personality and achievements of Aurangzeb. Two major points have been recorded in favour of Aurangzeb. One, he desired to conquer the whole of India with a view to achieve its political unity. Second, the religious policy of Aurangzeb was not of intolerance.
The primary causes of the treatment which he had towards the Shias, Rajputs and Hindus were not religious but political and economic. Thus, the real causes of all his policies were his desire to achieve the political unity of India, to consolidate it under one rule and the growing economic necessities of the empire.
These historians who have supported this view have given various examples and justifications to support their view. They say that Aurangzeb granted jagirs to Hindu temples and destroyed only those Hindu temples which were raised on the ruins of mosques.
Without going into details of their arguments, one thing can be certainly said that their view does not find support in contemporary writings, most of which record that the religious policy of Aurangzeb was intolerant. Besides, Akbar the Great also attempted political and administrative unity of India but he never felt the necessity of destroying Hindu temples and imposing taxes like Jizya and pilgrim tax on the Hindus.
On the contrary, Akbar attempted for the religious and cultural unity of India to achieve his aim. It leads to no more alternatives than the two viz., either Akbar’s policy was impractical, insufficient and misguided or the policy of Aurangzeb was impractical, insufficient and misguided.
However, when we choose either of these two alternatives we have to keep in mind the fact that while the policy of Akbar strengthened the Mughul empire politically, economically and culturally, the policy of Aurangzeb resulted in nothing of that sort and, finally, the empire disintegrated during the rule of his successors. Even Aurangzeb had realised his failure before his death. ,
Therefore, it is quite logical to accept that though Aurangzeb was a capable, laborious, extremely intelligent, dutiful, courageous, capable commander and a man of character, yet, having complete faith in the supremacy of his own religion and values of life the definitions which he created about the duties, ideals and morality of an emperor were wrong and when he put them into practice, it proved disastrous to him, his dynasty and empire.
Aurangzeb, probably, was one of those persons who having unflinching faith in righteousness of their intentions do not try to understand the viewpoint of others. On the contrary, they regard the faith, ideals and intentions of others as completely mistaken.
So, they feel it their duty to bring others to accept their viewpoint though their viewpoint might be mistaken. Such type of people become fanatics and are not capable of any change. Such a man can be a good saint or a religious preacher but cannot be a good and successful ruler.
Aurangzeb failed to understand the circumstances of his age and could not become a successful statesman or he became completely careless towards the results of his actions. The primary cause of all this was the bigotry of Aurangzeb.
Lane-Poole has rightly commented:
“Aurangzeb could easily have become an ‘ornament to the throne,’ had he not spent his dynamic energy and genius in channels destructive to both himself and the Empire that was his glorious heritage. Indeed, he set himself in the vain task of becoming ‘Alamgir’ or ‘world grasper,’ and was content to be ‘Zinda Pir’ or living saint to his orthodox Muslim contemporaries. . . . His glory is for himself alone … To his great empire his devoted zeal was an unmitigated curse.”