AURANGZEB (1618–1707), sixth and last of the Great Mughal emperors of India Born Muhi-ud-Din Muhammad, Aurangzeb was renowned for his long war in the south (the Deccan) and for his religious orthodoxy. He expanded the Mughal empire to its greatest extent but bankrupted the empire, impoverishing the land and most of its people, by trying to conquer and control the vast Deccan, which rebelled against his rule. After his father, Shah Jahan, fell ill, Aurangzeb captured and imprisoned him in Agra Fort in June 1658, securing vast treasures and armaments in the process. He was crowned emperor in Delhi the following month, and gave himself the title "Alamgir" (World Seizer). He then defeated and killed his three brothers in a murderous civil war. His victory was assured by his skilled generalship, acquired while serving in his father's army in Gujarat and in the south for over ten years.
For the first twenty-five years of his rule, Aurangzeb maintained his capital at Shahjahanabad (Delhi). Later, his encampment became a movable capital as he waged war in Rajasthan. In the final years of his life he moved with his army across the Deccan. The setbacks in the north in the 1660s and 1670s convinced him of the need to expand and enrich his empire in the south and to end the defiance of southern rulers.
Aurangzeb's initial attempts to expand his empire in the 1660s and 1670s met with mixed success. In 1660, in the northeast, he began to reclaim territory lost in the war of succession. The capital of Bengal was moved east from Rajmahal to Dacca, and Assam was subdued by 1663. In 1664 Chatgaon, the fortified pirate and slave-raider port on the Bay of Bengal, was captured and renamed Islamabad. In south Bihar he defeated the raja of Palamau in 1661 and annexed his kingdom. He incorporated Chittagong in 1666. In 1679 he went to Ajmer to annex Marwar, a campaign that lasted two and a half years.
In 1667, in the Swat Valley in the northwest, the Yusufzai tribe rose in rebellion, and that revolt was harshly put down, but in 1672 an Afridi chief declared himself king and closed the Khyber Pass. He then surprised and massacred a Mughal army, and destroyed another one the following year. Finally, in 1674, Aurangzeb himself led the imperial army north and, using both a show of force and numerous bribes, restored Mughal authority along the northwest frontier, though at a very high cost. Only lavish and frequent subsidies over the next twenty years kept the Khyber Pass open.
Aurangzeb had a strong sense of duty and he was self-restrained, never having more than four wives. He sired ten children, five boys and five girls, half of them with his first wife. He was filled with puritanical Islam zeal. A follower of the Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence, he devoted seven years while emperor to memorizing the entire Qurʾan. His cold reserve, his simplicity, and his cruel and suspicious nature made him very unpopular, even hated. He ended just over a century of tolerant Mughal policy when in 1679 he reestablished the poll tax ( jizya) on non-Muslims, which Akbar had abolished in 1564. He forbade the building of Hindu temples, and allowed old ones to be destroyed. This exclusionist and hated policy alienated Hindus and Sikhs and led directly to rebellion by a number of groups. Aurangzeg's ultra-orthodox policies shattered the harmony of India's multicultural polity that had allowed non-Muslims to serve the Mughal dynasty faithfully and honorably. The ultimate decline of the Mughal empire began with Aurangzeb, whose harsh intolerance helped create a strong Hindu nationalism and led to revolts by Marathas, Rajputs, and Sikhs, as well as others farther south. Many conservative Muslims, however, considered him the greatest of the Mughal emperors because of his extreme piety, especially toward the end of his life.
Aurangzeb's imperial army was huge and cumbersome, with thousands of elephants, large numbers of guns and cavalry, and an enormous number of followers, and could stretch some thirty miles (48 km) from end to end. In order to wage war in the south, Aurangzeb moved his capital to Aurangabad in the Deccan in 1682 and for the most part remained there for the rest of his life. This huge, moving army was highly vulnerable to attack. The great Maratha Hindu leader Shivaji Bhonsla (1627–1680) developed highly successful guerrilla tactics. Shivaji had sacked the Mughal port of Surat in 1664, and it was only after his death that Aurangzeb was able to capture Bijapur (1686) in the west and Golconda (1687) in the east. Yet many of the territories Aurangzeb conquered would soon be lost. The longer the Deccan war went on, the weaker the Mughals became, as the Marathas got stronger. It was said that Aurangzeb "chased his own shadow," and morale in the Mughal army plummeted.
In the very last phase of his campaign in the south, Aurangzeb personally led his army after every rainy season, and between 1698 and 1707 he captured over a dozen strongholds. He also created two highly mobile field armies, which actively sought out the enemy. Nonetheless, the Marathas continued to attack, capture, and plunder Mughal allies, as in Hyderabad in 1702. This war in the south devastated the economy, and long-distance trade with the north was completely shut down between 1702 and 1704. Aurangzeb's obsession with the war and his absence from Delhi also enabled the English, Dutch, and French to greatly strengthen their positions at the expense of the Mughals. In many areas of the empire, governors, landlords, and peasants successfully defied imperial laws. The increasing number of revolts by such groups as the Jats around Agra, the Sikhs in the Punjab, and especially the Marathas of the Deccan, were made possible, in part, by the illegal but widespread production of light firearms.
Aurangzeb died, nearly ninety years old, in 1707 and was buried in a modest tomb by the side of a road in Aurangabad. The empire did not long survive his death.
Roger D. Long
Athar Ali, M. The Mughal Nobility under Aurangzeb. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1997.
Eraly, Abraham. The Last Spring: The Lives and Times of the Great Mughals. New Delhi: Viking, 1997.
Hintze, Andrea. The Mughal Empire and Its Decline. Brook-field, Vt.: Ashgate, 1997.
Richards, John F. The Mughal Empire. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
Aurangzeb (1618-1707) was the sixth Mogul emperor of India and the last of the "Great Moguls." He extended the Mogul Empire to its farthest boundaries, but his reign was harsh and marked by revolts.
Mohi-ud-din Mohammed Aurangzeb was born on Oct. 24, 1618, at Dohad and was the third son of Emperor Shah Jahan. At the age of 18 Aurangzeb became viceroy of the Deccan. In 1645 he became governor of Gujarat, the empire's richest province. Two years later he led an expeditionary force against the Uzbegs in Central Asia but was unsuccessful in establishing Mogul authority over Balkh (now northern Afghanistan). An expedition against Kandahar also failed.
In 1653 he returned to the Deccan to restore law and order and extended to the south the Mogul revenue system that had been established in northern India by Emperor Akbar. During this second viceroyalty his relations with his eldest brother, Dara Shukoh, who was Emperor Shah Jahan's principal adviser, deteriorated. Aurangzeb believed in territorial expansion and Moslem orthodoxy; Dara stood for imperial consolidation and a secular empire. Thus a clash for succession became inevitable.
When Shah Jahan fell ill in September 1657, Aurangzeb challenged Dara, defeated him, imprisoned their father, and assumed imperial authority on July 21, 1658. After liquidating his three brothers, he crowned himself emperor of India, assuming the title Alamgir (Conqueror of the World) on June 5, 1659.
Committed to making India an orthodox Moslem state, Aurangzeb restricted Hindu festivals and destroyed many Hindu temples. In 1664 the practice of sati (immolation of widows on funeral pyres) was enjoined. Poll tax on Hindus was imposed in 1679. Censors were appointed to enforce morals, and edicts were issued against drinking, gambling, prostitution, and narcotics. When a defiant Sikh guru, Tegh Bahadur, refused to embrace Islam, he was executed. Employment of non-Moslems was restricted in the imperial bureaucracy.
Such discriminatory policies naturally led to rebellions. In 1660 the Marathas began a revolt, followed by the Jats in 1669, the Satnamis in 1672, the Sikhs in 1675, and the Rajputs in 1679. Even the English East India Company took up arms against him in 1686. One by one all these revolts were subdued, but the victories were always short-lived. Mogul imperial unity was lost, and the treasury was exhausted.
Under Aurangzeb's piety and austerity, Mogul culture also suffered. Music and arts lost royal patronage, and the position of women rapidly declined. The Emperor strove to live up to the ideals of orthodox Islam. In his spare time he copied the Koran to provide for his funeral expenses. He was a man of literary tastes, and his own letters are a model of elegant Persian prose. At the age of 90, with all his faculties, except hearing, unimpaired, he died on Feb. 20, 1707. He is buried in Daulatabad.
Two works by the principal authority on Aurangzeb, Jadunath Sarkarn, are History of Aurangzib: Mainly Based on Persian Sources (5 vols., 1912-1924; rev. ed, 1 vol., 1925) and A Short History of Aurangzib 1618-1707 (1930; rev. ed. 1954). Chapters on Aurangzeb are in W. H. Moreland and Atul Chandra Chatterjee, A Short History of India (1936; 3d ed. 1953); J. C. Powell-Price, A History of India (1955); S. M. Ikram, Muslim Civilization in India, edited by Ainslie T. Embree (1964); and Bamber Gascoigne, The Great Moghuls (1971), which also deals with the first five Mogul emperors of India.
Joshi, Rekha, Aurangzeb, attitudes and inclinations, New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1979, 1978.
Lal, Muni, Aurangzeb, New Delhi: Vikas Pub. House, 1988.
Lane-Poole, Stanley, Aurangzib, Lahore: Sind Sagar Academy, 1975.
Alamgir, Delhi: Idarah-i-Adabiyat-i Delli, 1981. □
When Shāh Jahān became ill in 1657, Auraṇgzéb attacked and captured Agrā, imprisoned his aged father and declared himself Emperor, assuming the title ‘Alamgīr Gazī’. He struggled unsuccessfully to conquer the Marātḥās for twenty-five years and died, supposedly of a broken heart, at Ahamadnagar in 1707.
Among historians, he is a particularly controversial figure. One view praises him for maintaining the Islamic character of the Mughal Empire, while the other holds him responsible for the downfall of the Mughals because of his religious fanaticism. It is clear that he identified the interests of the Muslim Sunnī orthodoxy with those of the Mughal Empire.
Overcome by religious zeal, he failed to note the practical requirements of administering a multi-religious community, especially of a Muslim minority ruling over a Hindu majority.
He enlarged the Empire to its greatest extent, but it was so weakened internally that it fell apart soon after his death. Auraṇgzéb bequeathed an empty treasury and a divided India to his successor.