MUGHAL SHAHS OF THE 17TH CENTURY: JAHANGIR, SHAH JAHAN AND AURANGZEB

JAHANGIR (ruled 1605-1629)

Emperor Jahangir (1569-1627, ruled 1605-1629), Akbar's son, is known mainly for his hunting skills and patronage of the arts. He spent much of the Mughal’s treasury to build grand building and commission works of art. Jahangir means "World Seizer."

Jahangir was born 23 miles from Agra in Sikri, a small village near where Akbar sought the blessing of a famous holyman named Shaik Sali, after having trouble siring a son. Jahangir had to wait a long time to rule. His two brothers, Murad and Danital, died from drinking before Akbar died. At one point Jahangir became so impatient to rule he marched towards the capital but in the end waited and was presented the royal robed by Akbar as he lay on his deathbed.

Jahangir was given a powerful and well-organized empire by his father that practically ran itself. There were few lands worth conquering; there was relatively little internal strife; and little for Jahangir to do except enjoy life although he did lead a few campaigns into the Deccan Plateau in southern India.

Mughal rule under Jahangir his successor Shah Jahan (1628-58) was noted for political stability, brisk economic activity, beautiful paintings, and monumental buildings. Jahangir married the Persian princess whom he renamed Nur Jahan (Light of the World), who emerged as the most powerful individual in the court besides the emperor. As a result, Persian poets, artists, scholars, and officers--including her own family members--lured by the Mughal court's brilliance and luxury, found asylum in India. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The number of unproductive, time-serving officers mushroomed, as did corruption, while the excessive Persian representation upset the delicate balance of impartiality at the court. Jahangir liked Hindu festivals but promoted mass conversion to Islam; he persecuted the followers of Jainism and even executed Guru Arjun Das, the fifth saint-teacher of the Sikhs (see Sikhism). Nur Jahan's abortive schemes to secure the throne for the prince of her choice led Shah Jahan to rebel in 1622. In that same year, the Persians took over Kandahar in southern Afghanistan, an event that struck a serious blow to Mughal prestige. *

Jahangir’s Life

Jahangir traveled from place to place with a caravan with as many as 700 elephants. He built a palace and elaborate garden in Lahore with "soul-searching places." His courtiers also built palaces and gardens. According to some reports his kingdom was governed by his intelligent and able and very beautiful wife, Nur Jahan.

Jahangir loved jewels and expensive gifts that his subjects gave him, but he had the obnoxious habit of tallying up the worth of presents given to him. He once recorded that elephants, Persian robes and jeweled vessels given to him were worth 150,000 rupees. Even more obnoxious he kept the best presents for himself and returned the rest.

Jahangir liked to hunt. He boasted of killing 17,167 animals, including 13,964 birds before he was 50. Scouts were hired to find tigers and round up deer for him to kill. But at the same time he was a great animal lover. He wept inconsolably as the death of a pet deer. He once was so upset to see his elephants spray themselves with cold water on cold days he ordered their water to be heated.

Jahangir was also a naturalist. He dissected the internal organs of his prey. He wrote that unlike humans "young elephants are born with their feet first." He also wrote about the mating behavior of cranes and noticed pied-crested cuckoos deposited their eggs in the nest of other birds who took care of the eggs.

Jahangir suffered from asthma. He passed the time dissecting insects and engaging in long conversations with Sufi holymen. When he was angry he could be quite cruel. The are stories of him having victims impaled, flayed alive and ripped into pieces by elephants. Describing the punishment given to men who accidently frightened away the game while he was on a hunting trip, he wrote in memoir: “In a great rage I ordered them to kill the groom on the spot and to hamstring the bearers and mount them on asses and parade them through the camp so that no one should again have the boldness to do such a thing.”

Jahangir, the Arts, Cruely and Drugs

Mughal painting reached it greatest heights under Jahangir. Artists arrived from Persia at a rapid clip. The works included pages from the Koran illuminated and decorated with tiny flowers and geometric designs, miniature battle scenes from manuscripts and "paintings by rare artists" from Jahangir's place. Under Jahangir, Lahore attracted craftsmen from all over Asia: tilemakers weavers, carvers and miniaturists.

Jahangir enjoyed gardens and spent his summers in relatively cool Kashmir. He built the Gardens of Shalimar ("Abode of Love") in Kashmir. He once wrote, "The flowers of Kashmir are beyond counting and calculation...The breeze in that place scented one's brain." Jahangir loved Kashmir. He treasured the time he spent with his father there.

Jahangir loved opium and alcohol. He drank his opium in liquid form. In Tuzuk-I-Jahangiri, he wrote, "The entertainment of Thursday was arranged for use in that flower-land, and I was delighted at drinking my usual cups." Jahangir become so subdued by opium and alcohol that his wife, foreign-born Queen Nur Jahan (Light of the World), ran his empire during most of his reign. She was adept at business and enjoyed hunting tigers and elephants. From what can be surmised she ran the Mughal better than her husband.

Edward Terry wrote in 1618 during the reign of Jahangir: "For his cruelties, he put one of his women to a miserable death; one of his women he had formerly touched, and kept company with, but now she was superannuated: for neither himself nor his nobles (ast they say) come near their wives or women after they exceed the age of thirty years. The failure of that woman was this, the Mughal came upon her and one of her eunuchs kissing one another." [Source: Eyewitness to History, edited by John Carey, 1987, Avon Books]

"And for this very thing the King presently gave a command that a round hole should be made in the earth, and that her body should be put in that hole, where she would stand with her head only above ground, and the earth to be put in against unto her close around about her, and so she might stand in the parching sun until the extreme hot beams therefore did kill her; in which torment she lived one whole day, and the night following, and almost until the next noon, crying out the most lamentably....The eunuch by the command of the said King, was brought out near the palace where this poor creature was thus buried alive, and there in his sight cut all to pieces."

Jahangir on the Throne

On Jahangir, English ambassador Roe wrote. "The king at noone sat out at the Durbar, where the Prince brought his Elephants about six hundred richly traped and furnished, and his fellows by estimation ten thousand Horses, many in cloth with heron-top feathers in their Turbans, all in gallantry." [Source: Eyewitness to History, edited by John Carey, 1987, Avon Books]

"Himself in cloth of Silver embroidered with great Pearle and shining in Diamond like a Firmament. The King embraced him and kissed him, and hewed much affection: at his departure he gave him a sword, the Scabbard all Gold set with stones, valued at a hundred thousand Rupiahs; a Dagger at forty thousand, an Elephant and two Horses with all the Furniture of Gold set with stones. Suddenly the King rose, retreated to the Durbar, and servants that sat n the carpets attending his coming out: not long after he came and sat half an hour, until his Ladies at their doore were ascended to their Elephants, which were about fifty, all most richly furnished, principally three with Turrets of Gold...and Canopies over the cloth of Silver."

"The first of September was the Kings birthday," Roe wrote, “and the solemnitie of his weigh, to which I went, and was carried into a very large and beautiful Garden, the square within all water, on the sides flowers and trees, in the midst of a panicle, where was prepared the scales...of massive gold, the borders set with small stones, Rubies and urkey, the canines of gold large and massive, but strengthened with silke Cords. Here attended the Nobilities all sitting about it on Carpets."

The King "at last appeared clothed, or rather laden with Diamonds, Rubies, Pearles, and other precious vanities, so great, so glorious! his Sword, Target, Throne to rest on correspondent; his head, necke, breast, arms, above the elbows at the wrists, his fingers every one, with at least two or three rings; fettered with chaines, or dialed Diamonds; Rubies as great as walnuts, some greater; and Pearles, such as mine eyes were amazed at."

"Suddenly he entered into the scales, sat like a woman on her legs, and there was put in against him, many bags to fit his weight which were changed six times, and they say was silver, and that I understood his weight to be nine thousand rupiahs...after with gold and jewels, and precious stones, but I saw none, it being in bags, might be pebbles."

"Then against cloth of Golde, Silke, Stuffes, Linnen, Spices, and all sorts of goods, but I must believe for they were in fardles. Lastly, against Meale, Butter, Corne...and all the rest of the Stuffe: but I saw it carefully carried in, and none distributed. Only the silver is reserved for the poore, and serves the ensuing year, the King using in the night to call for some before him, and with his own hands in great familiarities and humility to distribute the money."

"After he was weighed, he ascended his Throne and had Basins of Nuts, Almonds, Fruits, Spices, of all sort made in thin silver, which he cast about, and his great men scrambles prostrate on theire bellies...At night he drinketh with all his Nobilities in rich plate. I was invited to that, but told, I must not refuse to drinke, and theire waters are fire. I was sicke and in a little flex of blood, and durst not stay to venture my health."

Jahangir's Son's Attempt to Seize Power

Once Jahangir's oldest son Khusraw tried unsuccessfully to overthrow his father. His life was spared but he was forced to ride an elephant along a road lined with stakes on which his supporters had been impaled alive and then was sent to prison for several years. After being released father and son made up.

Khusraw tried to seize power a second time, and failed. This time Jahangir was not so lenient. He ordered that his son's eyes be plucked out with burning needles. After his punishment Jahangir said of his son, "His appearance showed no signs of openness and happiness, and he was always mournful and dejected in mind."

While Queen Nur Jahan ran the country, Jahangir's sons began plotting to seize the throne. At first Queen Nur favored Prince Khurram, but when she decided to support Prince Shahriyar, Khurram rebelled and recruited a large number of nobles and their troops to support him. Civil war divided the empire for three years until a truce was called in 1625. Jahangir died in Kashmir in 1666. His son Khurram (Shah Jahan) succeeded him.

SHAH JAHAN (ruled 1629-1658)

Shah Jahan (1592-1666, ruled 1629-1658) is known mostly as the Mughal ruler who built the Taj Mahal. Born Khurram, he was Jahangir's youngest son. He received the title Shah Jahan, which means “Sovereign of the World,” after putting down a rebellion in the Deccan region.

Shah Jahan waited for his father to die before making his grab for power. He made sure that his position was secure by ordering the deaths of five rivals: his remaining brother Shahriyar, whose eyes were repeatedly stabbed, his uncle's children and both of Khusraw's sons. Nur Jhan, in the meantime, devoted her attention to building tombs for her and her husband.

Between 1636 and 1646, Shah Jahan sent Mughal armies to conquer the Deccan and the northwest beyond the Khyber Pass. Even though they demonstrated Mughal military strength, these campaigns consumed the imperial treasury. As the state became a huge military machine, whose nobles and their contingents multiplied almost fourfold, so did its demands for more revenue from the peasantry. Political unification and maintenance of law and order over wide areas encouraged the emergence of large centers of commerce and crafts--such as Lahore, Delhi, Agra, and Ahmadabad--linked by roads and waterways to distant places and ports. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The world-famous Taj Mahal was built in Agra during Shah Jahan's reign as a tomb for his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It symbolizes both Mughal artistic achievement and excessive financial expenditures when resources were shrinking. The economic position of peasants and artisans did not improve because the administration failed to produce any lasting change in the existing social structure. There was no incentive for the revenue officials, whose concerns primarily were personal or familial gain, to generate resources independent of dominant Hindu zamindars and village leaders, whose self-interest and local dominance prevented them from handing over the full amount of revenue to the imperial treasury. In their ever-greater dependence on land revenue, the Mughals unwittingly nurtured forces that eventually led to the break-up of their empire. *

Shah Jahan's Excesses and Character

Shah Jahan saw himself as a sun king. Pictures show him with a gold hallow, dwarfing the people around him. He told his subjects to call him the "Shadow of God" and the "World Adorning Brilliance." The first British ambassador to India said that Shah Jahan never smiled, displayed little interest in the people around him, and showed "pride and contempt for all."

Shah Jahan scoffed at the prohibitions of Islam. He drank alcohol and drank opium with his wine and decorated the tomb of his beloved wife with poppies. He loved jewels and constructed the famous peacock throne, which took seven years to build. One scene from the Padshahnama shows Shah Jahan being weighed on his 42nd birthday against gold and other precious substances, which were then given to the poor, while beautiful women danced around him. His exploits not only earned him a reputation in Asia but also in Europe.

Because the women in his harem were not allowed to be seen in public they traveled in veiled compartments on the back of elephants. The royal entourage also included his eunuchs, cheetahs, gunsmiths, tailors, servants and chefs.

Shah Jahan moved 36 times between 1628 and 1657, from Agra to Kashmir, from Delhi to Lahore and so on. Each time he moved he took all of his possessions and courtiers with him. It took 100,000 bulls to pull the carts loaded with wall hanging, carpets, paintings, pillows, clothes, embroideries, the entire imperial library and other treasures.

Shah Jahan, Art and Architecture

Shah Jahan ruled India during the golden age of Mughal art an architecture. He oversaw the merging of Hindu and Muslim art to produce spectacular miniature paintings and great architecture. One the greatest work of miniature painting is the “Padshahnama,” a 10-inch-wide book with 478 pages of text handwritten on gold flecked paper. Commissioned by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, the builder of the Taj Mahal, Padshahnama literally means "Chronicle of the King of the World." It is a handwritten history of the first 10 years of Shah-Jahan's reign, containing 44 paintings and two illuminations of major events such as battles. court scenes, executions and hunts. Most paintings measure 9 by 13 inches. Some are so detailed they must have taken years to paint. [Source: Paul Richards, the Washington Post, May 18, 1997]

Washington Post art critic Paul Richard wrote: "The pictures on its pages—which show elephants, walled kingdoms, dancing girls and diamonds—aren't like any pictures you've every seen. They're clearer and deeper. The little puff of dust in the upper corner of 'The capture of Orcha by imperial forces' becomes, if you peer into it, an army on the march, with cavalry and infantry and colored banners flying.If you look more closely you can see the saddle blanket on the elephant. If you peer close you can see the fringes on the saddle blanket."

Among the painting in the Padshahnama are "Prince Awrangzeb facing a maddened elephant named Sudhakar," "The delivery of presents for Prince Dara Shiko's wedding," and "Shah-Jahan honoring Prince Awrangzeb at Agra before his wedding." The "The death of Khan Jahan Lodi" shows severed heads with little specks that on close examination are flies with abdomen's full of blood. "The wedding procession of Prince Dara Shiko," is only 10-x-5 inches but contain 18 elephants, 31 horses and 282 different people."

Mughal architecture reached it apex under Shah Jahan, who built the Taj Mahal in Agra, the Red Fort and great mosque in Delhi, and Shalimar Gardens in Lahore. Trademarks of his building included white marble and scalloped arches. Some scholars have suggest that his motivation was a desire to outshine the Persian ruler, Shah Abbas I, who had created the magnificent capital at Isfahan. Before Shah Jahan Mughal rulers constructed their buildings mostly from red brick.

Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal

Shah Jahan had three official wives (the Koran allows four) and had perhaps hundred of lovers. Even so he was devoted to his primary wife Arjumand Banu, titled Mumtaz Mahal (Chosen One of the Palace). In 17 years she bore him 14 children (eight sons and six daughters) of which seven survived. In 1631 she gave birth to a daughter and died during the delivery. Shah Jahan spent two years morning the her death and occupied his time designing her tomb, the Taj Mahal.

Shah Jahan reportedly picked out Mumtaz Mahal in a noble lady’s bazaar. Mumtaz Mahal means “chosen one of the palace.” Although she has been heralded as a great beauty and a brave warrior. Little is known about here except that she accompanied her husband in battles and she bore 14 children, the last one killing her at age 39.

Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal in memory of Mumtaz Mahal. A year after she died work began on her tomb, the Taj Mahal. A representative with the East India Company wrote, "This King is now building a Sepulcher for his late deceased Queen Tage Moholl...He intends it shall excel all other."

Taj Mahal

The Taj Majal is arguable they world’s most magnificent building. Over the years hundreds of writers have sung its praises. Paul Theroux wrote it "is something else. Just looking at it you are certain you will never forget it. It is not merely a visual experience, but an emotional one—its pure symmetry imparts such strong feelings; and it’s a spiritual experience, too, for the Taj Mahal is alone among buildings I have seen. It is note merely lovely; it looks as if it has a soul."

The Taj Mahal work both from afar with its curves, symmetry and majesty and up close, with its exquisite details. It is set next to a river and the best view is with the sky in the background and the reflecting pool in front. The color of the marble changes throughout the day and turns from white to yellow to orange to fiery red and finally black at sunset. The white contrasts with red sandstone of the mosque and its matching jawab, the two buildings that flank the Taj. The curves of the dome and the tomb have a feminine quality. The minarets help to anchor in place. The gardens that surround it augment the beauty. The skills of the stonework is best appreciated in the delicate, lacy marble screen around the tomb.

History the Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal was built by Mogul Emperor Shah Jahan to honor his favorite wife Empress Mumtaz-I-Mahal (“Chosen One of the Palaces”) who died at the age of 39 in 1631 after bearing her 14th child. Shan Jahan was reportedly so grief stricken when his wife died his hair turned grey overnight. The name the Taj Mahal is shortened version of the name Mutaz Mahal. The Taj is believed to have taken some 20,000 craftsmen, working around the clock, 18 years to complete at a cost of 40 million rupees (around $500 million in today’s money). Labor was cheap then as it is now. Construction started in 1632, two years after the death of Shah Jahan’s wife. The main tomb took 16 years ro build and the rest took another five ro six years.

Shah Jahan vowed to build the world’s greatest monument to express his love. A master mason was brought in from Baghdad; a dome specialist was brought in from Turkey. Flower carvers came from Bukhara, pinnacle maker from Samarqand, calligraphers from Baghdad, dome constructors from Constantinople, master mason from Qaundhar and Mogul gardeners were all brought in to the complete the building, which was based on the tomb of Khan Khahan in Delhi. According to legend the hands of the most skilled artisans were cut off after they were finished so they never duplicate their work again.

Shah Jahan spent the last nine years of his life staring a the Taj Mahal out of the window of his palace before he was eventually entombed there. In the original plan a Taj Mahal made from black marble was going to be built across a reflecting pool from the white one. These plans were scrapped by the Aurangzeb, Shah Jahan's son and austere successor.Aurangzib, one chronicle wrote, "was not disposed to complete it." He chose to make larger but less beautiful building to honor himself. Aurangzib also reportedly added his father’s tomb to the Taj to unbalance its symmetry. A fanatically devout Muslim, Aurangzeb believed that symmetry and perfection should be reserved for God.

After the Mogul empire went into decline the Taj was lotted of its fine carpets. silver doors, tapestries and jewels by Britons and Jats. One British governor general even suggested dismantling the Taj and selling the marble. That plan was scrapped and instead it and the mosque were used for dancing parties. The garden were modified with lawns by the British and was used by picnickers who sometimes came armed with chisels and hammers to chip out pieces of agate and carnelian.

Design of the Taj Mahal

Nobody is sure who designed the Taj Mahal. No official surviving document names the architect. Some think it was designed by Ustad Isa, a Persian master builder the architect of other Shah Jahan buildings. Others think it was the work of a committee with the shah himself playing a major role. Others say it was Venetian Jeweler Geronimo Veroneo. According to one legend the architect was a man named Ustad Ahamad Lahori. After the Taj Mahal was completed, Shah Jahan reportedly cut off Lahori’s hands and had him blinded so that he would never be able to duplicate the structure.

The Taj Mahal is built in accordance with the Persian view of the world. The dome symbolizes the vault of heaven over a square building representing the world. The Taj Mahal’s design was not original. The tomb of the Mogul leader Humayan, built almost a century earlier, appears to have been a model for the Taj. Similar minarets are found in Lahore. The cupola beside the dome and other features were common in Indian architecture. What makes the Taj so extraordinary are the way all the various elements are brought together in harmonious symmetry.

The position of the building was carefully chosen. Located on a bend of a river, it is surrounded on three side by water. Reflecting pools, fountains, cypress trees and gardens grace the forth side. The while marble was carried 200 miles by bullock carts from quarries in Makrana. The walls of the Taj Mahal were once adorned with diamonds, sapphires, amethysts and turquoise stones. Small pierces of turquoise, lapis lazuli, agate, jasper, malachite, coral and carnelian were inlaid in the marble to add color and delicacy to floral designs. Many of these semi-precious stones have been gouged out by vandals. Above the crypts, penitents kneel beside the candlelight cenotaphs. Around the cenotaphs is an octagon-ranged marble screens set in inlaid frames that alone took more than 10 years to make.

Today, when viewed from a certain distance, it looks like all the calligraphy on the facade of the building is the same size, an illusion created by the fact the calligraphy gets bigger the higher up—and further way from the viewer—they are. It is also said that the minarets lean slightly outward so that if an earthquake should strike they will not topple over on the dome.

Mughal Empire Under Shah Jahan

By the time Shah Jahan became shah, some 8,000 noble claimed shares of the empire. Their desire to emulate Shah Jahan by building extravagant gardens and pleasure palaces was a strain on the empire's resources. Agriculture, which was the basis, of the empire’s wealth, was neglected and debts accumulated.

Shah Jahan was not threatened by any foreign power, his empire was never attacked and with the exception of few incursions into the Deccan plateau he was not involved in any foreign adventures and the empire didn’t expand. He relaxed the military requirements. Nobles spent their money on non-military matters and even kept a percentage of the soldiers they were required to keep.

The once invincible Mughal army was dealt a series of embarrassing defeat. Persia took Qandahar and thwarted three attempts by the Mughals to win it back. An efforts to recapture the Mughal homeland capital of Samarkand with 50,000-man Mughal force, lead by princes Murad and Aurangzeb, also failed miserably.

Shah Jahan's Four Sons Battle for the Throne

Shah Jahan had four able sons who each wanted the throne. Shah Jahan favored his eldest, Dara Shikoh, as his successor. The three others—Shah Shuja, Murad and Aurangzeb—were posted in far off provinces to keep them out of the way.

In 1657 Shah Jahan fell ill and rumors of his death ignited a war among his four sons. Shah Shuja declared himself emperor from Bengal. Murad did the same from Gujarat. Aurangzeb for the moment sided with Murad.

On a battlefield eight miles outside of Agra, the forces of Aurangzeb and Murad faced off against the forces of Dara Shikoh. Murad was wounded, Dara was routed and Aurangzeb, who emerged as the winner, attacked an Agra fort, where his father, now recovered, was holed up. After three days Shah Jahan surrendered was taken prisoner.

Aurangzeb had Shah Jahan imprisoned in the Red Fort in Agra, in a room where he could look at out a window and stare at the Taj Mahal. Shah Jahan was denied writing materials, clothes and his royal jewels. Shah Jahan died in prison in 1666. Afterwards his body was buried next to his beloved Mumtaz Mahal in the Taj Mahal.

AURANGZEB (ruled 1658-1707)

The last major Mughal ruler was Aurangzeb (1618-1707, ruled 1658-1707). Shah Jahan's third-born son, he was a pious man and an efficient administrator. Aurangzeb means "Ornament of the Throne." He was also known after 1658 as Alamgir (“Seizer of the Universe”).

Aurangzeb seized power will his father Shah Jahan was still alive (See Above). He declared himself emperor in 1658 and had his father imprisoned in the Red Fort in Agra. He secured the throne by capturing and beheading two elder brothers, Dara Shikok and Murad, and causing the disappearance of his youngest one.

Aurangzeb was known as brave and skilled military leader. As a boy he displayed his bravery by once stopping a changing elephant that threatened the royal family. He defended the Mughals from threats from Persians and Central Asian Turks and expanded the Mughal empire by invading independent Muslim and Hindu kingdoms and tribal territories in southern India. Aurangzeb was the only Indian ruler before independence in 1947 to govern the entire subcontinent. He ruled over an estimated 150 million subjects.

Aurangzeb was the last of the great Mughals. During his fifty-year reign, the empire reached its utmost physical limit but also witnessed the unmistakable symptoms of decline. The bureaucracy had grown bloated and excessively corrupt, and the huge and unwieldy army demonstrated outdated weaponry and tactics. Aurangzeb was not the ruler to restore the dynasty's declining fortunes or glory. Awe-inspiring but lacking in the charisma needed to attract outstanding lieutenants, he was driven to extend Mughal rule over most of South Asia and to reestablish Islamic orthodoxy by adopting a reactionary attitude toward those Muslims whom he had suspected of compromising their faith. [Source: Library of Congress]

Aurangzeb’s Character

Aurangzeb was a devout Muslim. He memorized the Koran and spent a great deal of time praying. Unlike his descendants, he refused to drink and frowned upon excessive displays of wealth. He prohibited gambling and didn't even allow music. His admirers considered these prohibitions as proof of his piety and commitment to Islam.

Aurangzeb equated wealth with immorality. In a letter to his son, Aurangzeb wrote, "I myself am forlorn and destitute, and misery is my ultimate lot." His wives however could be quite extravagant. They drank and wore fashionable clothes. Once when he tried to ban alcohol and fancy clothes one of his wives hosted party and got all the wives of court scholars drunk and said, “If the wives of the scholars who decide the law are such, how can you forbid the ordinary women in the family?”

Ordinary people in India and Pakistan say today, "Though he was ruler of all India, his wife was preparing chaptis with her hand." They also tell stories about how Aurangzeb made copies of the Koran and stitched his own caps and used the money from these endeavors to support holymen and pay for his funeral.

Aurangzeb’s Intolerance

Aurangzeb brought Mughal religious tolerance to an end. He introduced a Taliban-like rule aimed at returning Islam in his empire to a state of purity and persecuted Hindus and other non-Muslims. Aurangzeb forbade the building of new temples and destroyed a number of existing ones. . A puritan and a censor of morals, he banned music at court, abolished ceremonies, and persecuted the Sikhs in Punjab.

Aurangzeb repressed Indian (Hindu) culture and fueled Muslim-Hindu hatred by bringing back the jizya taxes against Hindus and other non-Muslim. Aurangzeb reportedly demolished the Hindu temples in villages where people didn't pay. He oversaw the destruction of many of the most important temples in Varanasi and renamed the city "Muhammadabab." No temple in the sacred city predates his reign. Aurangzeb also suppressed Shiite Muslims, which he viewed as heretics. He required them to shave off their long mustaches, and suppressed their celebrations honoring Hussain.

Aurangzeb banned the playing of music on the grounds that it was idolatrous and it greatly reduced the number of sanctioned Hindu festivals. Wine was prohibited. Aurangzeb's intolerance and expansionism stimulated rebellions throughout India. Miniaturists continued to paint but their art was not appreciated.

There were major revolts against the Mughals led by Hindu chiefs and Sikhs, who launched a campaign to establish their own state in the Punjab. Even Muslims objected to Aurangzeb’s Taliban-style rule. This perhaps more than anything led to the disintegration of the Mughal empire from within. Rulers after Aurangzeb backtracked on many of his strict policies but the damage had been done. After his rule Muslim officials began taking control of regions and ruling them as autonomous units.

Aurangzeb in the Deccan Plateau

Aurangzeb extended the empire further south. He was obsessed with capturing the Deccan plateau, an area in south central India that included the kingdoms of Bijapur and Golconda and was the homeland of the fierce Marathas. The heavily-armored Mughal forces were frustrated by the guerilla fighting tactics of the Maratha, who were led by the chief Sivaji, who today is regarded as a national hero in India, especially among the lower castes.

Aurangzeb built a new capital on the Deccan plateau in Aurangabad with a fortified wall and 52 gates to protect the city from raiding Maratha horsemen. In 1681, Aurangzeb himself left for the Deccan area and remained there for 26 years. He moved the Mughal capital from the grand palaces in Agra and Delhi to a modest palace at Aurangabad. Aurangabad is now a city of 300,000. The harem and baths of his palace are now used as classrooms for a art school.

Aurangzeb was able to capture Bijapur and Golconda. which expanded the Mughal empire to its largest size, but ne was never able to completely subdue the Marathas. A 40,000-member army sent by the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb to subdue rebellious tribes in Afghanistan in 1672 was ambushed by Pathan tribes who showed no mercy and reportedly let only five members of the invading army alive.

Book: Shivaji: A Hindu King in Islamic India by James. W. Laine of Macalester College.

Crumbling of Aurangzeb's Empire

After extending the Mughal empire into southern India, Aurangzeb ruled the Mughal empire when it was at its largest size. At its height, Aurangzeb’s Mughal empire occupied the eastern part of Pakistan, and nearly all of what is now India and Bangladesh. Only the southern tip of India escaped his grasp.

Aurangzeb was involved in a series of protracted wars--against the Pathans in Afghanistan, the sultans of Bijapur and Golkonda in the Deccan, and the Marathas in Maharashtra. Aurangzeb was never able to subdue the Maratha horsemen or the Pathans. They picked his army apart. But for the overstretched Mughal empire collapsed from within.

Expanding the empire to such a large size planted the seeds for its demise. While Aurangzeb focused his attention on campaigning and grabbing territory, the empire began fragmenting internally. His move to the south weakened the grip of the Mughals in the north. The expense of maintaining such an empire drained the treasury. The mansadari system created by Akbar began to break down. Land was no longer rotated and rulers began building alliances and grabbing more power.

Peasant uprisings and revolts by local leaders became all too common, as did the conniving of the nobles to preserve their own status at the expense of a steadily weakening empire. The increasing association of his government with Islam further drove a wedge between the ruler and his Hindu subjects. The Taliban-style measures alienated so many that even before he died challenges for power had already begun to escalate. [Source: Library of Congress]

Aurangzeb died in 1707 after ruling the Mughal empire for 49 years. He was buried beside his holymen teachers and revenues from the sale of his caps paid for requested simple funeral. He was the last of the Great Mughal rulers.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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