Aurangzeb (1658–1707)

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Aurangzeb (1658–1707)

Aurangzeb Alamgir (“World Conqueror”) ascended the throne in 1658 after getting rid of all the competitors for the throne, Dara Shukoh, Shuja and Murad, in a war of succession. His reign of fifty years falls into two equal parts. During the first twenty-five years he resided in the north, chiefly at Delhi, and personally occupied himself with the affairs of northern India, leaving the Deccan in the hands of his viceroys. Around 1681 he was prompted by the rebellion of one of his sons, Prince Akbar, to go to the Deccan.

He never returned to Delhi, dying disappointed at Ahmad Nagar in 1707. Aurangzeb Aurangzeb conducted several military campaigns to extend the frontiers of the Mughal empire. His wars in the northwest and northeast drained the treasury. Already under his father, the revenue of the crops had been raised from a third to a half, and the extensive and the prolonged military campaigns he waged required him to keep the peasantry heavily taxed. Aurangzeb retained Shah Jahanabad as his capital, but after some two decades the capital was shifted to wherever Aurangzeb would set up camp during his long military campaigns. In the north there were three major uprisings against Aurangzeb.

The Jats (Mathura district), the Satnamis (Haryana region), and the Sikhs rebelled against Aurangzeb. The Jat rebellion (1669), a constant feature even during the reign of Jahangir and Shah Jahan, was crushed temporarily but they remained restive even after the death of Aurangzeb. The Satnamis revolt was crushed with the help local Hindu zamindars. The Sikh (The Punjab) rebellion erupted due to the political intrigues of Ram Rai, a claimant for the position of Sikh Guru, against the incumbent Guru Tegh Bahadur.

T his finally ended with the execution of Guru Tegh Bahadur, the ninth Sikh Guru. Aurangzeb’s decision that the jizya (poll tax) should be levied on Hindus of all classes agitated the chiefs of Rajasthan, who had until then served the empire faithfully. The death of Jaswant Singh of Marwar brought about a succession issue. The Rajput queen Rani Hadi, wife of Raja Jaswant Singh, resented the move of Aurangzeb to install Indra Singh, a grandnephew of Jaswant Singh, a titular chief of the state. This led to a revolt with the help of Rathor Rajputs, but was effectively put down. The Rana of Mewar, Rana Raj Singh, resenting the interference of Aurangzeb in the affairs of Marwar rose in revolt and he was supported by Prince Akbar, the rebellious son of Aurangzeb. However, the Rana could not match the Mughal forces and fought a guerrilla warfare till his death in 1680. In 1681 Rana Jai Singh, the new Rana of Mewar, signed a peace treaty with Aurangzeb.

Aurangzeb’s Deccan Policy

T he Deccan policy of Aurangzeb was motivated by the policy of containing the growing influence of the Marathas, the rebellious attitude of the Shia kingdoms of Deccan like Golkonda and Bijapur and to curtail the rebellious activities of his son Akbar who had taken refuge in the Deccan. Aurangzeb came to the Deccan in 1682 and remained in the Deccan till his death in 1707. The Adil Shahi ruler Sikkandar Adil Shah of Bijapur resisted the different forces sent by Aurangzeb. Aurangzeb first sent his son Azam Shah (1685) but to no avail. Then he sent another son, Shah Alam to capture Bijapur. Though Bijapur Sultan, a Shia Muslim, ably defended the fort, he lost in the end, because Aurangzeb himself entered the battlefield and inspired his forces to fight to the finish. Golkonda was captured in 1687 after defeating the ruler Abul Hasan.

Against Marathas

The Marathas under Shivaji were a threat to Aurangzeb. Aurangzeb sent two of his great generals Shaista Khan and Jai Singh one after the other to capture Shivaji. Jai Singh captured Shivaji and took him to Delhi but Shivaji managed to escape to the Deccan. Shivaji, employing guerrilla tactics, defied the Mughal forces till his death at the age of 53 in 1680. Aurangzeb was severely tested by the Marathas till his death in 1707 as the sons of Shivaji continued the rebellion. The death of Aurangzeb in 1707 marked a watershed in Indian history as the Mughal empire virtually came to end even though the weak successors of Aurangzeb held the throne the next 150 years.

Gol Gumbaz

Bijapur (modern Vijayapura) was the capital of the Adil Shahi dynasty during1480-1686. It is famous for its magnificent buildings and dargahs. Gol Gumbaz (round dome) is the mausoleum of the seventh ruler of the dynasty Mohammad Adil Shah (1627-1656). Mohammad Adi Shah commissioned the mausoleum in his lifetime. Built of dark grey basalt and decorated plaster, the exterior of Gol Gumbaz is simple but beautiful. On the four corners of the bare walls are four doomed octagonal towers. Each tower has seven storeys and each storey has several windows which give the structure a striking look. The dome is the second largest in the world after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The huge chamber of 135 ft each wall and 178 ft high contains an elevated platform on which five cenotaphs are placed. Those are of Muhammad Adil Shah, his wife Arus Bibi, a daughter, a grandson and his favourite mistress Rambha.

Aurangzeb against Others

Aurangzeb nursed a grudge against the Sikhs for having supported his brother and principal rival to the throne, Dara Shukoh. Guru Tegh Bahadur, was killed at Aurangzeb’s command. Aurangzeb sent a formidable army under his son Akbar to subdue the rebellious Rajput kings, but the emperor had not reckoned with his son’s traitorous conduct. Akbar, had declared himself the emperor, but was compelled to flee to the Deccan, where he enlisted the help of Shivaji’s son, Sambhaji. Aurangzeb decided to take to the field himself, and eventually drove his own son into exile in Persia. Sambhaji was captured in 1689 and executed.

The Sultanates of Bijapur and Golkonda were also reduced to utter submission. Towards the end of his reign, Aurangzeb’s empire began to disintegrate and this process was accelerated in the years after his death, when “successor states” came into existence. The empire had become too large and unwieldy. Aurangzeb did not have enough trustworthy men at his command to manage the more far-flung parts of the empire. Many of his political appointees broke loose and declared themselves independent. Aurangzeb’s preoccupation with affairs in the Deccan prevented him from meeting political challenges emanating from other parts of the empire. Shortly after the death of Aurangzeb, the Mughal empire ceased to be an effective force in the political life of India. Aurangzeb re-imposed jizya. He also issued orders that new temples should not be constructed; but the repair of old long-standing temples was permitted.

These measures were rooted not only in his religious faith but also due to political compulsions. As a staunch Muslim, Aurangzeb had discontinued the practise of levying abwab, a tax levied on the lands over and above the original rent, not sanctioned by Shariah. Likewise, the order on temples was also an older one which in practice applied to places where he had political adversaries. In areas where there was no political insubordination, Aurangzeb provided endowments to build temples. It should be noted that during the reign of Aurangzeb the number of Hindu officials increased when compared to the reign of Shah Jahan.

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