Power: 31 July 1658 – 3 March 1707
Coronation: 13 June 1659 at Shalimar Bagh, Delhi
Predecessor: Shah Jahan
Successor: Azam Shah (titular), Shah Alam I
Full name: Muḥī al-Dīn Muḥammad
Born: 3 November 1618, Dahod
Died: 3 March 1707, Bhingar, Ahmednagar
Parents: Shah Jahan, Mumtaz Mahal
Spouse: Nawab Bai (m. 1638–1691), Dilras Banu Begum (m. 1637–1657), Aurangabadi Mahal (m. ?–1688)
Children: Bahadur Shah I, Muhammad Akbar, Zeb-un-Nissa, MORE
Parents: Shah Jahan, Mumtaz Mahal
Place of burial: Tomb of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir, Khuldabad
History of Aurangzeb Alamgir
Aurangzeb Alamgir From the 1650s to the 1700s, the fate of almost everyone on the Indian subcontinent was tied with the story of a single man, Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir. He is, perhaps, the most relevant of the Mughal Emperors.
Aurangzeb Alamgir was the last of the Great Mughals and he stands among some of the most important kings of the Islamic World, a club he shares with the likes of Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, Caliph Abd al-Rahman III of Cordoba, Caliph Abd al-Malik of Damascus and Delhi Sultan Muhammad ibn Tughlaq. His remarkable story is grand in its scale, containing within it, the development of many identities, political ideas, and even a religion but it is also a very human story. He was relatable in some aspects.
Aurangzeb Alamgir Early Life
Mughal Shahanshah Aurangzeb Alamgir. Muhi ud-Din Muhammad Aurangzeb was born on November 3rd, 1618, during the reign of his grandfather, Jahangir. He was the third son of Prince Khurram, who would later be known as Emperor Shah Jahan. During his father’s rebellion against Jahangir, Aurangzeb was sent as a hostage to make peace between Shah Jahan and Jahangir.
Shah Jahan became emperor in 1628 when Aurangzeb was around ten. Even as a young prince, Aurangjeb had stood out among his brothers. He was Shah Jahan’s third son but in the Turko-Mongol tradition of the Mughals, all sons were equal claimants to the throne. Even though the emperor could choose and officially declare an heir, it didn’t mean that heir would become emperor. The son who showed the most remarkable ability in military and diplomacy was going to succeed his father and as it turns out,
Aurangzeb was full of remarkable abilities. In the year 1633, according to primary sources, Shah Jahan was watching a game of two elephants fighting each other. Along with him were his sons Dara Shikoh, roughly 18 years of age, and Aurangzeb, roughly 15 years of age.
As they couldn’t get a good view from the safety of the balcony, the three got on their horses and entered the arena to get a better view. Suddenly, one of the elephants was startled and ran toward the royals. While Shah Jahan and Dara Shikoh found their bearings, Aurangzeb galloped towards the elephant, injuring it by shoving a spear into its brow. Like a knight from those cheesy European tales, Aurangzeb showed remarkable skill and bravery that day.
The story was forever immortalized by onlookers and soon by chroniclers. In that same painting, the older Dara Shikoh can be seen watching from a distance. The next year Shah Jahan gave Aurangzeb the highest mansab of 10,000 and sent him on various campaigns to train him further.
Emperor of India
In 1636, Shah Jahan marched with an army to the Deccan region of South India. The Mughals had conquered it but their foothold in the region wasn’t strong. While the rest resisted, the Qutb Shahi Sultanate of Golconda submitted immediately as a tributary. After a military stalemate, Shah Jahan concluded a treaty with the Sultanate of Bijapur where they would acknowledge the Mughals as overlords but wouldn’t pay tribute so, basically lip service.
After this Shah Jahan left and went back to the capital while Prince Aurangzeb was left behind to govern the entirety of Mughal Deccan. As governor of the Deccan, Aurangjeb tried to consolidate and expand the Mughal hold on the Deccan. He was quite successful there. He expanded the territory and the revenue of the region greatly. He governed this region from 1636 to 1645. From 1645 to 1647, he governed the province of Gujarat. In 1644, Jahanara, Shah Jahan’s favorite daughter, suffered severe burns when her dress caught fire from a candle. She was one of Aurangzeb’s thirteen full siblings, all born of Shah Jahan’s beloved Mumtaz Mahal.
This included Prince Dara Shikoh, Prince Shah Shuja, and Prince Murad Bakhsh; all of them were potential rivals of Prince Aurangzeb. Jahanara was the glue that held the family together. They all loved her and respected her and fortunately, she possessed the calmer mind in the family. The entire family gathered in Agra to see their beloved sister whose life hung in balance for a few weeks. At this point, according to witnesses, Aurangjeb and Dara Shikoh started to show hostility towards each other.
Dara Shikoh was Shah Jahan’s favorite and Aurangzeb didn’t like that. He was eager to leave Agra because he couldn’t bear to be in the same city as his brother. While Dara Shikoh was the emperor’s favorite, Aurangzeb was his reliable general whom he could call on to lead the army.
In 1646, Shah Jahan sent an army to invade Central Asia and conquer Uzbek territories which had once belonged to his ancestor Timur. This army was commanded by Prince Murad Bakhsh who got tired of the tough terrain and abandoned his army to return to India, against his father’s orders Shah Jahan then sent the reliable Aurangjeb to lead the army which, by now, had shrunk, thanks to the harsh terrain and abandonment by their former commander. Aurangzeb, nonetheless, managed to fight on and even defeat the Uzbeks.
The popular story goes that while the battle was going on, the time for prayer arrived, so Aurangzeb got off his horse and started praying calmly, in full view of both armies. The commander of the Uzbek is said to have announced, “How can we win against such a man?” and the Uzbek army broke. Although, the rough environment limited their successes and Aurangzeb had to conclude a treaty to return to India.
In 1649, the Safavids attacked and conquered the fort of Kandahar in modern-day Afghanistan. Aurangzeb was sent to defend it but since it had fallen already, Shah Jahan ordered a retreat, deeming that the size of the army wasn’t enough for a prolonged siege.
In 1652, Shah Jahan himself arrived in Kabul to oversee the attack on Kandahar which was led by Aurangzeb. Although, this attack was unsuccessful owing to the army’s lack of artillery capabilities.
Shah Jahan ordered this force to retreat as well and humiliated Aurangjeb who was installed as governor of the Deccan once again and moved away from the frontiers. The next year, Shah Jahan ordered another attack on Kandahar, this time under Dara Shikoh. Even though he had never led an army, he boasted a lot about his military prowess. Though, he failed as well. During the campaign, he seems to have acted very arrogantly but still had been very susceptible to flattery. Overall the three campaigns to Kandahar had cost some 120 million rupees, around half of the yearly expenditure of the Mughal empire.
The relationship between Aurangzeb and Shah Jahan was souring. Aurangzeb was now determined to isolate his older brother, Dara Shikoh, politically to ensure he wouldn’t be able to succeed Shah Jahan He arranged for a marriage between his son and his brother Shah Shuja’s daughter, thereby cementing an alliance between the two against Dara Shikoh.
In 1653, on his way to take his governorship of the Deccan, Aurangzeb stopped in Burhanpur where, in the tradition of his father, his grandfather, and maybe even his great-grandfather, he fell in love. It was with a Hindu slave girl of his maternal aunt’s household. She was called Hira Bai Zainabadi. Aurangzeb abandoned all his royal duties and spent nine-month with her just chilling Apparently, he didn’t have Netflix. This was incredibly scandalous.
Aurangjeb, being religious and pious, is said to have filled her wine cup with his own hands and she even tempted him to drink on one occasion. Weirdly, he almost did it before she grabbed the cup from him saying that she was only testing him.
Turns out you can be a prince of the world’s richest empire and still be a simp. All of this reached back to the capital and Shah Jahan was furious. Dara Shikoh might’ve also aired the fire. However, the girl died a year later and Aurangzeb, after being depressed for a while, moved on to his royal duties as the governor of the Deccan. He later called it, “God’s gift” that she had died because if he had been with her for long, he might’ve thrown away everything he had. See? I told you Aurangzeb was relatable. Aurangzeb now got to the business of governing.
The Deccan had been under the control of corrupt governors and had lost quite a bit of its revenue. Aurangzeb started fixing it along with his talented finance minister Murshid Quli Khan. Aurangzeb greatly increased the revenue of the Deccan. However, he kept clashing with his father over foreign policy. Aurangzeb wanted to expand at the expense of the other Muslim Sultanates there. Shah Jahan wanted to stick to the treaty of 1636. In 1656, Aurangzeb finally invaded Golconda.
The pretense was that the state’s prime minister, Mir Jumla had become very powerful and the sultan there had grown resentful and tried to arrest him. Mir Jumla defected to the Mughals but his son was arrested by the Golconda Sultan. Aurangzeb asked his father’s permission to attack Golconda to free Mir Jumla’s son who was technically a subject of the Mughals now.
Tempted by the immense wealth and jewels that could be obtained during the conquest AND by Mir Jumla’s gift of the world’s largest diamond, the Koh-i Noor, or the Mountain of Light, Shah Jahan agreed to the conquest. Aurangzeb led an army and conquered the south all the way to the Palar river. Aurangzeb also led an army into Bijapur territory.
The sultan there had died and his eighteen-year-old son was not considered by everyone to be of legitimate parentage. Aurangzeb considered the sultan illegitimate and so unfit to rule. Technically, then, from Aurangzeb’s perspective, all that land had no ruler and was free to take. Shah Jahan saw it that way as well, thanks to a little lobbying by Mir Jumla in Delhi. 3
Aurangzeb expanded further and almost annexed the entirety of Bijapur. He might have even captured Bijapur’s capital but Shah Jahan told him to back off. According to Aurangzeb, this was Dara Shikoh’s doing who was jealous of the prestige Aurangzeb would gain from annexing so much territory. Aurangzeb had had enough.
The stage was set for a turning point in Indian history. Within a month of Aurangzeb’s withdrawal from Bijapur, news reached him that Shah Jahan had fallen ill. From early childhood, the princes understood that at the death of the father, their brothers, their childhood playmates would become their enemies and only one would survive the bloody struggle for the throne. As an ancient Persian saying goes, “Ya Takht, ya Takhta”, either the throne or the coffin. With Shah Jahan’s illness and at that point, what seemed like impending death, the princes picked up their swords for a coming war.
Shah Jahan fell ill in September of 1657 and by December, Shah Shuja and Murad Bakhsh had crowned themselves Emperor and were raising armies. Shah Jahan recovered in around a month but by then different parts of the Mughal Empire were on a collision course. Aurangzeb had yet to do anything. Shuja was the first to send an army for the capital of Bengal which he governed. Dara, from the capital, sent an army to meet this threat. He also told the Rajputs of Mewar to raise an army to meet Murad who was also raising an army to attack the Capital of Gujarat which he governed.
Battle of Samugarh
In March 1658, Aurangzeb left the Deccan, not as a contender for the throne but as a caring son wanting to see his sick father. Dara thought it was an invasion. I think he might’ve been confused by the huge army that Aurangzeb was bringing with him. He joined forces with Murad and marched on the capital.
Shuja and Aurangzeb’s children were married, so he was already allied with him. The three brothers decided to defeat Dara and then divide the empire between themselves. The imperial army of 40,000 men clashed with the allied force of the same size at Dharma in April 1658.
Aurangzeb and Murad were victorious. Hearing of this, Shah Jahan wanted to lead an army himself thinking that no one son would face their father in battle. Though Dara Shikoh was confident that he could defeat his brothers. Instead, their beloved sister Jahanara tried to negotiate peace. She sent a letter to Aurangzeb reminding him that in Islam, the eldest brother has an equal status to their father. Though, as is always the case, religion was second to the desire for the throne.
Aurangzeb wrote in return that he merely wanted to see Shah Jahan but Dara Shikoh was the one causing problems and if he arrived alone in the capital, he feared his death. Dara Shikoh led an army to meet the allied forces of Murad and Aurangzeb at Samugarh, some thirty-five kilometers from Agra.
Dara’s force of 60,000 was almost double that of his brothers but they weren’t battle-hardened like Aurangzeb’s men who had just wrapped up their annexation of Bijapur and Golconda. Dara Shikoh was not a skilled commander and many of his generals secretly supported Aurangzeb. One of the reasons behind this was that Aurangzeb was diplomatic and had a calmer head while Dara Shikoh was an intellectual and like most intellectuals, he was arrogant There was almost no important general at court that he hadn’t insulted in his days.
From telling the ruler of Amber who was the head of the powerful Kacchwaha Rajput clan that he looked like a musician, an insult for someone of his rank to making fun of Mir Jumla simply for the way he walked. Due to all this, Aurangzeb and Murad were victorious.
Dara galloped to Agra where he couldn’t face his father and so fled to Delhi with a handful of supporters. Aurangzeb had effectively won. He arranged for a meeting with his father to discuss the future of the empire but according to sources, he intercepted a letter from Shah Jahan to Dara Shikoh where Shah Jahan told him to raise an army. Seeing this as evidence of Shah Jahan colluding with Dara Shikoh, Aurangzeb decided there was no room for negotiations. He imprisoned the old emperor in the Agra fort where he lived for the next eight years of his life, being able to see but never visit the Taj Mahal.
He was served very loyally by his beloved daughter, Jahanara until he died in 1666. Jahanara herself passed away in 1681. By June 10, 1658, Aurangzeb was emperor in all but name. He was conducting himself in such a manner but he did still have three living brothers who could cause future problems. Aurangzeb was chasing Dara who had left Delhi. Murad was following Aurangzeb as well. Aurangzeb invited him to a feast to celebrate everything that had happened. Intoxicated Murad had no idea what was coming. He was put in shackles and sent off to the state prison in Gwalior.
Dara stayed at large for fourteen months. During this time, Shuja, from Bengal, realized that both Agra and Delhi were unoccupied since Dara was running and Aurangzeb was following him. He marched on Agra but Aurangzeb abandoned his pursuit to defeat him in the battle of Khajwa on January 5th, 1659.
Shuja ran off to Burma. By August that year, Dara Shikoh was all out of allies and had been abandoned and betrayed when Aurangzeb got his hands on him. He was humiliated and paraded through the city of Shahjahanabad. Francois Bernier, who witnessed the event, mentions the public lamenting and crying over the fate of the disgraced prince. Charges were drawn up against him and he was executed on the 30th of August, 1659. Aurangzeb himself was crowned emperor on May 13th, 1659 at the age of 41. He took the title of Alamgir, the Conqueror of the World.