Aurangzeb was the sixth Mughal Emperor of India. His reign lasted for almost half a century (from 1658 to 1707) and was marked by several conquests and the vast expansion of the Mughal Empire. The empire reached its greatest extent under him, even though temporarily; during his lifetime the extent of Mughal empire was more than 3.2 million square kilometres.
The third son of Emperor Shah Jahan, Aurangzeb was made the viceroy of the Deccan when he was just 18 and he went on to aid his father in expanding the empire by undertaking several military campaigns.
A very aggressive person, he desperately craved for power and had his father imprisoned when he fell ill. Then he defeated his own brothers to claim the throne for himself and crowned himself emperor of India, assuming the title Alamgir (Conqueror of the World).
He proved to be a very cruel and authoritarian ruler even though a highly capable warrior. His cruelty and discriminatory policies led the Marathas, Jats, Sikhs, and the Rajputs to rebel against him.
Even though he was able to quell the revolts, the victories came at a great price—these rebellions and wars led to the exhaustion of the imperial Mughal treasury and army. Following his death the Mughal Empire disintegrated rapidly and collapsed in the mid-18th century.
The Deccan policy of the Mughals was not determined by any single factor. The strategic importance of the Deccan states and the administrative and economic necessity of the Mughal Empire largely guided the attitude of the Mughal rulers towards the Deccan states.
Aurangzeb was an advocate of direct conquest of the Deccan states. Immediately after his accession, he faced a very complicated situation in the Deccan. The growing power of the Marathas and the suspicious attitude of the Deccan states towards the Mughals made Aurangzeb much more careful to adopt aggressive policy in the Deccan.
Aurangzeb’s initial concern was to compel Bijapur and Golkonda to abide by the treaty of 1657 and to surrender those territories, which they agreed to cede to the Mughals in 1657.
Aurangzeb appointed a very energetic general Bahadur Khan as the governor of the Deccan. Bahadur started by winning over the Bijapur nobles. Khawas Khan was one of such nobles who suggested a Mughal-Bijapur alliance against Shivaji. But before it could materialise, he was overthrown.
Having failed in this attempt, the Mughals opened hostilities in 1676 by championing the cause of Bijapur’s Dakhni party against Bahlol Khan-the leader of the Afghan nobles in Bijapur. Aurangzeb recalled Bahadur Khan and appointed Diler Khan to officiate as the subdar of the Deccan.
This good relationship between the Mughals and Bijapur got ruptured because the Mughals sought help from Bijapur against Sambhaji, but instead of helping the Mughals, Bijapur secretly assisted the Marathas. The conflict between the sides continued for many years.
Aurangzeb’s religious policy was largely based on his analysis of the first half of Aurangzeb’s reign, which in his opinion was climaxed by the reinposition of Jizyah. The other orthodox measures of Aurangzeb were insidious attempts on his part to establish an Islamic state in India which in effect implied conversion of the entire population to Islam and the extinction of every form a dissent.
The religion policy of Mughal was largely the reflection of the personal religious views. It was a very narrow and orthodoxy kind of policy taken by Aurangzeb. He put ban on the practice, which were considered as against Islamic spirit. And many ceremonies and festivals were banned. Many temples were also destroyed. And this was so because Aurangzeb started fearing for his political existence because there were some temples where both Hindu & Muslim used to go and learn teachings and Aurangzeb thought that these kind of practices must be stopped.
In 1679 Aurangzeb reintroduced the jizya, a poll tax for non-Muslims that had been abolished by Akbar the Great a century earlier. The result was a revolt of the Hindu Rajputs, supported by Aurangzeb’s third son Akbar, in 1680 – 1681. In the south of the empire the Maratha kingdom was conquered and broken up and its ruler Sambhaji executed in 1689, which started a long and exhausting guerilla campaign by the Maratha Hindu population.
There were many changes regarding festival’s celebration also. Like the celebration of the Iranian Naw festival was banned. The “Kalima”, or the confession of faith, was no longer stamped on coins, to prevent the holy words from being defiled by unbelievers or heretics.
These reforms in no way undermined Hindu political and economic interests. Aurangzeb also used to send gift to holy men of Mecca-Madina & those were suppose to be distributed among poor or needy but to Aurangzeb’s disappointment the funds were misused. There were many ceremonies, which were used to be performed, but were also stopped like the practices of the Emperor putting a Tika or saffrom paste on the forehead of a new raja was stopped. Practices, which were considered against Islamic spirit, were banned. Public displays of Holi and Muharram procession were also stopped. The courtiers were also asked not to wear silk gowns or gowns of mixed silk and cottons.
Revolts against Aurangzeb
There were three revolts of the Jats of Mathura against the Mughal tyranny. These revolts were primarily on account of the anti-Hindu policy of Aurangzeb. They could not tolerate the demolition of their temples. They resented the construction of a mosque at the site of the birth place of Lord Krishna at Mathura. The land revenue charged from them was very heavy. The conflict continued for a long time and ultimately after the death of Aurangzeb, the Jats succeeded in establishing their kingdom with its capital at Bharatpur.
The Satnamis formed a Hindu religious sect in the district of Narnaul and Mewat. Most of them carried on agriculture. Generally they were pious people. However, they would not tolerate any oppression. They kept arms and weapons to protect themselves from any kind of attempt to do wrong to them. An innocent Satnami cultivator was murdered by a Mughal soldier. Being agitated they rose in rebellion and killed the local Mughal official. The Mughal army retaliated with a heavy hand. Aurangzeb himself decided to go in person to Narnaul as he apprehended a general revolt of the Hindus in the entire region. Aurangzeb attacked them with a heavy force supported by artillery. The Satnamis were massacred indiscriminately. The rebellion was crushed but the people began to hate the rule and looked forward for an opportunity to get rid of the oppressive rule of the Mughals.
The conflict between the Sikhs and the Mughal rulers started during the reign of Jahangir when Guru Arjun Dev, the fifth Guru of the Sikhs was tortured to death by him. The struggle became intensive during the reign of Aurangzeb. The ninth guru, Guru Teg Bahadur (1664-75) was greatly hurt and distressed at the persecution of the Hindus by Aurangzeb.He openly expressed his resentment against this policy. Aurangzeb summoned him to Delhi and asked him to embrace Islam. On his refusal to do so, he was put to death after a lot of torture. Gurudwara Sisganj at Chandni Chowk in Delhi stands at the place of his martyrdom. Conflict with the Sikhs continued during the entire period of Aurangzeb.
He tried to crush the Rajput’s; removed them from higher offices, levied the Jizya tax on them; attempted to do away with the independence of Marwar, resulting into fateful consequences.
Revolt of the Jats
The revolts of the Jats during the reign of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb took place under the leadership of Gokul in 1669 A.D. The Jats organised the first revolt of the Hindus against the policy of religious persecution of Aurangzeb.
The local Muslim officer at Mathura, Abdul Nabi destroyed the temples of the Hindus and disrespected their women. In the year 1661 Abdul Nabi destroyed a Hindu temple and raised a mosque on its ruins.
The Jats under their leader Gokul revolted against the oppression in 1669. They killed Abdul Nabi and looted the tehsil of Sadabai. In 1670, the temple of Keshav Rai was destroyed by the orders of Aurangzeb. It further inflamed the Hindus and Gokul could collect twenty thousand followers. He defeated a few small Muslim forces which were sent against him. He was, however, defeated and killed at the battle of Tilpat.
The Jats were punished severely but they remained undaunted. In the year 1686 A.D., they again raised the standard of revolt under their leader Raja Ram, who gave serious trouble to the Mughals for many years, defeated a few Mughal officers and attacked Agra. Raja Ram was, however, defeated and killed in 1688 A.D.
Revolt of the Satnamis
The Satnami sect of Hinduism was founded in 1657 in Narnaul, situated about 100km south-west of Delhi, by a saint names Birbhan. They are considered to be an offshoot of the followers of the great saint Ravidas.
The great Satnami revolt occurred in the reign of the Moghul Emperor Aurangzeb. Many Hindus resented Aurangzeb’s strict Islamic policies – which included reviving the hated Islamic Jiziya tax (poll tax on non-Muslim subjects), banning music and art, and destroying Hindu temples. The revolt began in 1672 when a Moghul soldier killed a Satnami. Other Satnamis took revenge on the Moghul soldier, and in turn the Moghul soldiers went about repressing the Satnamis. The result was that about 5,000 Satnamis were up in arms. They routed the Moghul troops situated in the town, drove away the Moghul administrators and set up their own administration in its place. The uprising gained the enthusiasm of Hindus in Agra and Ajmer also.
Though totally lacking in weaponry and money, the Satnamis inflicted several defeats on the Moghul forces. The contemporary Moghul chronicler, Saqi Mustaid Khan, expressed amazement as to what came over this.
Revolt of the Sikhs
Guru Tegh Bahadur was the second Sikh guru to be assassinated at the hands of a Mughal emperor. Almost 70 years earlier, in 1606, Guru Arjan, the fifth Sikh guru, was killed by the banks of the river Ravi, facing the Lahore fort, on the orders of Jahangir.
His assassination was a turning point in the history of the Guruhood, triggering the transformation of the institution from a non-violent spiritual movement to the militarised religious movement of Guru Hargobind, the son of Guru Arjan and his spiritual successor. It laid the seeds for the Khalsa that gives the Sikh community its current form, institutionalised by Guru Gobind Singh, the son and successor of Guru Tegh Bahadur.
The emperor Aurangzeb had forbidden anyone from removing the decapitated head and body of the ninth Sikh guru, Tegh Bahadur. The residents of Delhi, who had just witnessed the guru’s assassination, were struck with fear. The Sikh spiritual movement that had centered around Kartarpur Sahib (now in Pakistan) at the death of Guru Nanak had by then spread to far-flung regions of Punjab and beyond. His followers came from all backgrounds, bringing their material as well as human resources.
The influence and strength of the Sikhs was also visible to the Mughal emperor. The days of political obscurity under Guru Nanak were long gone.
There are several accounts explaining the motive behind the assassination of Guru Tegh Bahadur on Aurangzeb’s orders. Sikh tradition states that the guru stood up for the rights of Kashmiri Pandits who approached him (see image above) to intercede on their behalf with the emperor and ask him to revoke a recently imposed jizya (tax).
Both these unjust assassinations became a symbolic rallying point for the Sikh devotees. The perpetual battle that had continued for several generations with the mighty Mughal Empire, ruled by bigots bent on destroying the fragile Sikh community, acquired eschatological tones as a final showdown between good and evil.
Gradually, as these historical events acquired religious undertones, they were stripped of their political realities. They were reduced to simplistic explanations that did not require a nuanced reading. The complexity of the Mughal-Sikh relationship was lost.
While on the one hand Guru Hargobind was presented as a valiant hero – which no doubt he was – who militarised the Sikh community for their protection and was penalised by Jahangir, stories of his other, more complex, relationship with the Mughal emperor were lost. His ties with Jahangir eventually warmed up and he, at one point, even helped the emperor curb a rebellion within his empire, with the help of his forces.
The period following the execution of Guru Tegh Bahadur – the father of Guru Gobind Singh, was a period where the Mughal Empire under Aurangzeb was an increasingly hostile enemy of the Sikh people. The Sikhs resisted, led by Gobind Singh, and the Muslim-Sikh conflicts peaked during this period. Both Mughal administration and Aurangzeb’s army had an active interest in Guru Gobind Singh.
Guru Gobind Singh believed in a Dharam Yudh (war in defense of righteousness), something that is fought as a last resort, neither out of a wish for revenge nor for greed nor for any destructive goals. To Guru Gobind Singh, one must be prepared to die to stop tyranny, end persecution and to defend one’s own religious values. He led fourteen wars with these objectives, but never took captives nor damaged anyone’s place of worship.
Meanwhile, Guru’s mother Mata Gujri and his two younger sons were captured by Wazir Khan, the Muslim governor of Sirhind. According to the Sikh tradition, his youngest sons, aged 5 and 8, were executed by burying them alive into a wall after they refused to convert to Islam, and Mata Gujri died soon after hearing of her grandsons’ death. Both his eldest sons, aged 13 and 17, also died in December 1704 in battle against the Mughal army as they defended their father.
The Mughal accounts suggest that the Muslim commanders viewed the Sikh panth as one divided into sects with different loyalties, and after the battle of Anandpur, the Mughals felt that the Guru’s forces had become a small band of left over warriors.
According to the Sikh tradition, Guru Gobind Singh saw the war conduct of Aurangzeb and his army against his family and his people as a betrayal of a promise, unethical, unjust and impious. After all of Guru Gobind Singh’s children had been killed by the Mughal army and the battle of Muktsar, the Guru wrote a defiant letter in Persian to Aurangzeb, titled Zafarnama (literally, “epistle of victory”), a letter which the Sikh tradition thinks of as a matter of importance towards the end of the 19th century.
The Guru’s letter was stern yet conciliatory to Aurangzeb. He indicted the Mughal Emperor and his commanders in spiritual terms, accused them of a lack of morality both in governance and in the conduct of war. The letter predicted that the Mughal Empire would soon end, because it persecutes, is full of abuse, falsehood and immorality. The letter is spiritually rooted in Guru Gobind Singh’s beliefs about justice and dignity without fear.
The Zafarnama letter also includes text towards the end that praises Aurangzeb as a human being by calling him as a charitable one with “brilliant conscience, handsome body and the king of kings”, and then seeks a personal meeting between the Guru and the Emperor for a reconciliatory dialogue. Aurangzeb received the letter in 1705, agreed to a meeting in 1706 for which Guru Gobind Singh travelled to Ahmadnagar. However, Aurangzeb never met the Guru, and the Mughal Emperor died in 1707
Personality and Character of Aurangzeb
Aurangzeb, the third son of Shah Jahan, was born on October 24, 1618, at Dohad, on the frontier of Gujarat and Rajputana. Industrious and thorough, he had distinguished himself as an able administrator during the years that he spent in the Deccan and other provinces of the empire.
He was also a fearless soldier and a skillful general, and because of the hostile influence at court of his brother Dara, he had had to learn all the tactics of diplomacy.
As emperor, he ruled more of India than any previous monarch, but in a court that had become a byword for luxury, he lived a life of austere piety. Yet of all India’s rulers, few pursued policies that have excited more controversy among successive generations. In large measure, this is the result of his religious policies, for it was these that have colored men’s evaluation of his reign.
Even as a young man, Aurangzeb was known for his devotion to the Muslim religion and observance of Islamic injunctions, and in some of his letters written during the struggle for the succession he claimed that he was acting “for the sake of the true faith and the peace of the realm.” As soon as he was securely on the throne, he introduced reforms which could make his dominion a genuine Muslim state.
After his second (and formal) coronation on June 5, 1659, he issued orders which were calculated to satisfy orthodoxy. He appointed censors of public morals in all important cities to enforce Islamic law, and he tried to put down such practices as drinking, gambling, and prostitution.
He forbade the cultivation of narcotics throughout the empire, and in 1664 he issued his first edict forbidding sati or the self-immolation of women on funeral pyres. He also repeatedly denounced the castration of children so they could be sold as eunuchs. In the economic sphere he showed a determined opposition to all illegal exactions and to all taxes which were not authorized by Islamic law. Immediately after his second coronation he abolished the inland transport duty, which amounted to ten percent of the value of goods, and the octroi on all articles of food and drink brought into the cities for sale.
Although these measures were partly responsible for Aurangzeb’s later financial difficulties, they were popular with the people. But gradually the emperor’s puritanism began to manifest itself, and steps were taken which were not so universally approved. In 1668 he forbade music at his court and, with the exception of the royal band, he pensioned off the large number of state musicians and singers. The festivities held on the emperor’s birthday, including the custom of weighing him against gold and silver, were discontinued, and the mansabdars were forbidden to offer him the usual presents. The ceremony of darshan, or the public appearance of the emperor to the people, was abandoned in 1679.
During the long struggle for the throne, the central authority had tended to lose administrative control over the distant parts of the empire; and after he had defeated his rivals, Aurangzeb started to reorganize the civil government. He had used the need of revitalizing the instruments of imperial power as a justification for his seizure of the throne, and his intention of making good his promise was soon felt throughout the empire./1/ The provincial governors began to expand the borders of the empire, and local authorities, who had grown accustomed to ignoring orders from Agra, the imperial capital, discovered that the new regime could act swiftly against them.