Muhiuddin Muhammed Aurangzeb was born on 3 November
1618 at Dohad near Ujjain. Aurangzeb's rule is characterised as a
dark period for his non-Muslim subjects. It saw revolts by many
Hindus who were otherwise loyal vassals of the Mughal throne: the Jats,
the Rajputs, the Satnamis, the Marathas, the Bundelas and the Sikhs.
Aurangzeb was a fanatic Sunni Muslim whose rise to the throne was as
bloody as his reign. He had his brothers killed and his father
imprisoned in order that he might ascend the throne of Delhi. He was the first Mughal
ruler to impose Sharia law on his subjects and expected
everyone to follow the fundamental codes of Sunni Islam. He
persecuted even the Shia Muslims and the liberals amongst the Sunnis.
He awarded the strictest punishment for blasphemy and compelled his
non-Muslim subjects to accept the Islamic faith. He also imposed the
hated jazia tax, the pilgrim tax, and the trade tax (a charge of
five per cent of the value of
goods) on Hindus specifically. He did not even spare his mansabdars,
his vassals, and he tried his utmost to convert them to Islam,
by pressure, bribes or by force.
He banned Hindu festivities in the
court premises. He forbade Hindus from having good horses, disallowed
them from keeping Muslim servants, and allowed palanquins only for his most
loyal Rajput officers. He even appointed 'Muhtasibs', or enforcers (a
new class of officer), of his brand of morality and Islamic law. During his rule
there was a ban on the creation of new schools for Hindus, as well
as on repairs to old temples. He destroyed the temples of Vishwanath at Benaras, Keshav
Dev at Mathura, and the Somnath temple at Patan, and these were just the more
prominent casualties. He ordered construction of mosques in their place. His
aim was to convert India from the 'Dar-ul- harb' (the land of infidels) into
'Dar-ul-Islam' (land of Islam). He drove out all dancers and artists from his court and banned
music of any form. In fact, his rule can be compared to that of the Taliban
in more recent times.
He himself adhered to the strictest version of
Islam. He led a very austere life. He was a regular 'namazi' (prescribed praying in
Islam). He remained a teetotaller all his life, and never kept more
than four wives as instructed in the Quran. He woke up every day at
five in the morning and personally supervised every aspect of
governance, allowing himself only five hours of sleep a night. He also
banned drinking, gambling, and prostitution, and the
practice of Sati amongst some Hindus. He was very hard working and
laborious, but he was also a very able commander and often led his
forces on the battlefield. He was well-versed in Persian, Arabic and
Turkish and was proficient in the art of politics, which was well
served by his extremely shrewd and crafty mind. He preferred calling himself an
But one thing is certain, all his good qualities were outweighed by
his religious bigotry and fanaticism. He even confessed to his son
in his last stages that, "he has sinned terribly... and didn't know
what fate awaited him in God's kingdom".
While Aurangzeb ruled, he ruled with a iron hand, but his
policies of Islamising India sowed the seeds of a gradual decline in
the Mughal empire.
This was the first organised rebellion against Aurangzeb. In Mathura
a local Muslim officer named Abdul Nabi had destroyed a temple and
erected a mosque on its ruins. This was in 1661. He was also said to
have harassed the local Hindu populace on a regular basis. Simmering
resentment against him gave vent to a revolt by the local Jats  under a person called Gokul. In
1669, Gokul killed Abdul Nabi and looted his tehsil at Sadabad.
When Aurangzeb heard about this he ordered the destruction
of the Keshav Dev temple in retaliation in 1670. This further inflamed the
They collected together in numbers amounting to around 20,000 and attacked Mughal posts.
Aurangzeb took the matter most seriously. He took on the Jats at the
Battle of Tilpat. Gokul was killed and his followers were punished
In 1686, under the banner of Rajaram, the Jats again
revolted. Rajaram was killed in 1688. But resistance continued under
his nephew, Churaman, until Aurangzeb's death. Later, the Jats were
successful in establishing their independent kingdom with Bharatpur
as its capital.
Revolt of the Satnamis
The Satnamis were a religious sect who also went by
the name of the mundiyas (the bald)
because they shaved their heads. What started as a quarrel between a
Satnami peasant and a Muslim soldier grew steadily. The Mughal
army quelled that revolt killing over two thousand Satnamis.
Revolts of the Sikhs
This was a major revolt in the lifetime of Aurangzeb. Sikhs are a
martial community from the state of Punjab which began as an
offshoot sect of Hinduism under Guru Nanak. They came into conflict
with the Mughals when, for helping his rebellious son, Khusrav, Jehangir had
their fifth Guru, Arjun Dev, killed. He was succeeded by his son,
Guru Har Gobind. The Sikhs had by now raised their own army, and
opposed the Mughals openly. There were a few skirmishes between the
Mughals and the Sikhs, but these had subsided with the death of Har
Gobind in 1645.
Modern Jat women in Kutch
 The Jats were an ethnic
community in northern India, mainly in the Punjab, with a mainly
agricultural background, who some scholars identify with the
ancient Getae and Scythian Massagetae.
His successor Guru, Har Rai, maintained good relations
with Shah Jahan's son Dara Shaikoh (Aurangzeb's rival brother).
Aurangzeb therefore disliked the Sikhs. When Har Rai died in 1661,
Aurangzeb tried to install his man, Ram Rai (an estranged son of Har
Rai). The Sikhs however installed Tegh Bahadur (another son of Har
Rai). Aurangzeb imprisoned Tegh Bahadur and forced him
to embrace Islam. When he refused Tegh Bahadur was tortured for five
days until his death in prison in 1675. Tegh Bahadur's son, Guru
Gobind Singh converted the dormant Sikhs into a warrior community
and took on the Mughals. He fought Aurangzeb throughout his life,
until his death in 1708.
Revolt of the Rajputs
The Rajputs had been loyal to the Mughals since their treaty with Jahangir.
Raja Jai Singh, raja of Amer (modern Jaipur), and Raja Jaswant Singh (raja
of the Rathore community of Marwar) were amongst the main commanders
of the Mughal army.
Aurangzeb always resented the special status of
the Rajputs in the Mughal empire. He had malicious designs for them,
but was waiting for the opportune moment. With the death of Jai
Singh and Jaswant Singh away in Afghanistan. Aurangzeb decided to
put his plan in action. He received news that Jaswant Singh
had just died in Jamrud, Afghanistan (1678). The major body of the
Rathore army of Marwar was in Afghanistan fighting battles for the
Mughals. Sensing a weak defence and a vacant throne, Aurangzeb
He captured the forts, destroying several temples
on the way. Then he humiliated the Rathores further by selling the
Rathore throne to his vassal, the chief of Nagar, for 36,000,000. Jaswant
Singh's son, Ajit Singh, was an infant and in the care of Jaswant
Singh's aide Durgadas. Aurangzeb tried to install a milkman's son on
the Marwar seat. But the people revolted. Durgadas had already
declared Ajit Singh as the new raja of Marwar, and the people had
supported him. Durgadas raised an army to fight against Aurangzeb's
tyranny. They settled in the forests and continued their guerrilla
attacks on the Mughals.
Sikh Guru Har Raj, whom Aurangzeb made his opponent
By now, Mewar under the Sisodiya raja Raj Singh
(who was Ajit Singh's maternal uncle), had
also revolted against the Mughals in protest against the jaziya tax. Aurangzeb
retaliated ruthlessly. It is said around 173 temples in Udaipur and
63 temples in Chittor were destroyed by the Mughals. Raj Singh was
defeated in the battle in 1680. Aurangzeb had himself marshalled the
Mughal troops. After the battle Aurangzeb went back to Amer. But
rajputs under Raj Singh and Durgadas continued harassing the Mughals
through repeated guerrilla attacks. Aurangzeb then deputed his sons
Akbar, Muazzam and Azam to counter the rajputs. But the three proved
Meanwhile, the Rajputs held secret negotiations with
Prince Akbar, who
desired to overthrow Aurangzeb. The Rajputs aligned themselves with
Akbar but, sensing a rebellion, Aurangzeb personally led his army
against Akbar. Aurangzeb then played a ruse against the Rajputs. He sent
a letter commending Akbar for bringing the Rajputs to the Mughal
camp, and he allowed the letter be discovered by the Rajputs.
Naturally the Rajputs,
especially the Sisodiyas of Mewar, were outraged and deserted Akbar.
Only Durgadas saw through Aurangzeb's plan and remained with Akbar. Durgadas and
Akbar then fled to the Deccan, where they took refuge with Sambhaji,
the son of Shivaji.
Aurangzeb made a treaty with the Sisodiyas of Mewar, under Jai Singh
, son of Raj Singh, and pursued Akbar to the Deccan. Akbar later
fled to Persia, where he died. Akbar's sister, Zeb ur Nisa, who had
supported her brother during his rebellion, was also imprisoned by
her father, Aurangzeb.
The Rathores under Durgadas and Ajit Singh continued their struggle
against the Mughals until Aurangzeb's death. In 1707, Ajit Singh
recaptured Marwar and established an independent kingdom with
Jodhpur as his capital.
Aurangzeb's religious policy soon gave rise to more revolts; in Malwa, Bihar and Bundelkhand.
Like Marwar, Bundelkhand broke away from
the Mughal empire after Aurangzeb's death. Its king, Raja Chatrasal, established his independent state of Bundelkhand in 1707,
with help from the Marathas.
Pashtun rebellion of 1672
The Pashtun Rebellion of 1672 was a result of the
moral lapses of the Mughal governor, Amir Khan, and his men in
relations with a local Safi tribe in the Kunar region of
Afghanistan. Discontent with Amir Khan flared into rebellion which
was led by the warrior poet Khushal Khan Khattak. The rebellion led
to the decline of Mughal control of the Pashtun belt and a closure
of the Attock Kabul trade route along the Grand Trunk Pass.
Aurangzeb's personal intervention managed to temporarily suppress
the rebellion, but even so it eventually led to the decline of
Mughal control over Afghanistan.
Aurangzeb attempted to place his own puppet, Ram Raj, in command
of the Sikhs
Aurangzeb's Deccan campaign
The Deccan was to be linked to Aurangzeb for years to come.
He had started as the governor of Deccan, during his father's
rule. He had even constructed a city there, Aurangabad, named after
himself. When he became emperor, he went back to Delhi, successfully
ignoring the Deccan for some time.
Shivaji, an upstart son of a Bijapur noble, had begun to challenge
the mighty Mughal empire. He had already succeeded in carving an
Hindu kingdom from the territories of Islamic Bijapur, Golkunda and
some Mughal areas.
Aurangzeb deputed Raja Jai Singh to tackle Shivaji.
Shivaji was no match for Jai Singh's mammoth army,
and he was forced to
sign the Treaty of Purandar in 1665. Shivaji went to Delhi to meet
Aurangzeb to discuss the specifics of the treaty, but he was
humiliated and imprisoned by Aurangzeb instead. But Shivaji managed to
escape and resumed his attacks on the Mughals, winning back all the
forts he had surrendered under the Treaty of Purandar. He managed
to resist all attacks by the Mughals until his untimely death in
By now, the Mughals had annexed the kingdoms of Bijapur and Golkunda
in the southern region of India. Shivaji's kingdom (in Maharashtra)
remained the only challenge for the Mughals.
After Shivaji's death, his son Sambhaji succeeded him,
and as mentioned, the rebel Prince Akbar and Durgadas were given refuge by Sambhaji. Aurangzeb
was therefore in no mood to forgive him. In 1682 Aurangzeb himself
camped in the Deccan to take on Sambhaji, but Sambhaji managed to elude
him and fought several small skirmishes until 1689. That's when he
was captured by Aurangzeb and was imprisoned. Aurangzeb asked him to
embrace Islam. When Sambhaji refused, he was put through the most
heinous torture. His eyes were gouged out , his nails were pulled
off and finally he was finally plastered alive in a wall. Sambhaji
was martyred, but his death spurred the Marathas.
A portrait of Shivaji, founder of the Maratha empire, although it
reached its height under his successors
Sambhaji's younger brother, Raja Ram, carried on
along with his queen, Taramati. They launched relentless attacks on
the Mughals, one of them even on his camp. The Marathas were quickly
becoming the Mughal nemesis.
Aurangzeb was now almost ninety, a tired man and very frustrated
about his lack of success against the resilient Marathas.
He died on 3 March 1707, in Khuldabad in Aurangabad district.
He was buried in an open grave.
Aurangzeb could have been the greatest of the Mughal rulers, if not
for his obduracy about his faith.
Disintegration of the Mughal empire
After Aurangzeb there were more Mughal emperors,
such as Bahadur Shah I,
Jahandar Shah, Farrukhsiyar, Mohammed Shah, Shah Alam II and lastly
Bahadur Shah Zafar. But none were competent enough, and they proved to be
tools in the hands of their nobles or outside powers like the
Rajputs, the Marathas, and finally the British. The throne of Delhi
weakened after many invasions like those of the Afghans, Abdali, or the
Persian, Nadir Shah. They looted, raped and pillaged Delhi.
Soon, all respect for the Delhi throne declined and the empire
splintered into several smaller kingdoms such as Hyderabad, Avadh,
Bengal, etc. The subsequent decline of the Mughals was so pitiable
that the later princes even faced starvation (as per accounts by
historians like Dr Jadunath Sarkar). The descendents of the great
Mughals are alive even now, but they live in abject poverty.
Such was the rise and fall of the great Mughal empire.
Aurangzeb's very simple tomb lies under a strip of earth and a small
Prasad, L - Studies in Indian History,
Cosmos Bookhive, Gurgaon, 2000
Spear, Percival - The History of