Historical Introduction, Part Six: Aurangzîb

Agra is only concerned with the first seven years of Aurangzîb's reign, for, after the death of Shah Jahan, the court was removed to Delhi, and Agra was left with only a provincial governor to maintain its former magnificence. The unhappy Dara, after his defeat by Aurangzîb, made fruitless attempts to retrieve his fortunes, but was at last betrayed into the hands of his brother, who immediately put him to death. *Aurangzîb* lost no time in disposing of his other two brothers, and thus placed his succession to the throne beyond dispute.

The Princess Rushanara [Raushan-ara], as a reward for her treachery, was raised to the position formerly enjoyed by her sister Jahanara. The French physician Bernier, who resided twelve years at the Mogul court in the time of Aurangzîb, has left many minute and graphic records of the times. Here is a picture of Rushanara when she accompanied Aurangzîb on the march from Delhi to Kashmir:--

"Stretch imagination to its utmost limits, and you can conceive no exhibition more grand and imposing than when Rauchenara-Begum, mounted on a stupendous Pegu elephant and seated in a mikdember [=*howdah*], blazing with gold and azure, is followed by five or six other elephants with mikdembers nearly as resplendent as her own, and filled with ladies attached to her household. Close to the Princess are the chief eunuchs, richly adorned and finely mounted, each with a wand of office in his hand; and surrounding her elephant a troop of female servants, Tartars and Kachmerys, fantastically attired and riding handsome pad-horses. Besides these attendants are several eunuchs on horseback, accompanied by a multitude of pagys, or lackeys, on foot, with large canes, who advance a great way before the Princess, both to the right and left, for the purpose of clearing the road and driving before them every intruder. Immediately behind Rauchenara-Begum's retinue appears a principal lady of the court, mounted and attended in much the same manner as the Princess. This lady is followed by a third, she by a fourth, and so on, until fifteen or sixteen females of quality pass with a grandeur of appearance, equipage, and retinue more or less proportionate to their rank, pay, and office. There is something very impressive of state and royalty in the march of these sixty or more elephants; in their solemn and, as it were, measured steps, in the splendour of the mikdembers, and the brilliant and innumerable followers in attendance; and, if I had not regarded this display of magnificence with a sort of philosophical indifference, I should have been apt to be carried away by such flights of imagination as inspire most of the Indian poets when they represent the elephants as conveying so many goddesses concealed from the vulgar gaze."/4/

Dramatic justice overtook the scheming Princess at last. In 1664 Aurangzîb fell dangerously ill, and, while he was unconscious, Rushanara, believing him to be dying, abstracted the signet ring from his finger and issued letters, as under the royal seal, to the various Viceroys and Governors, setting aside the succession of the Emperor's eldest son by a Rajput Princess in favour of another son, a boy of six, by a Muhammadan sultana. She hoped by this means to keep the supreme power in her own hands during the long minority of the new Emperor. Aurangzîb unexpectedly recovered, and became suspicious of his dangerous sister. The host of enemies she had created at court were not slow in taking advantage of the situation, and Rushanara soon afterwards disappeared-- removed, it is said, by poison.

Aurangzîb ruled with a firm hand, and in strict justice according to the law of Islam, but though a man of great intellectual powers, of marvellous energy and indomitable courage, he was wanting in imagination, sympathy, and foresight, the highest qualities of a really great ruler. He checked the dissolute conduct of the nobles, and set an example of industry and devotion to duty; but his narrow, bigoted disposition inclined him to distrust even his own ministers, so that, unlike his three predecessors, he was badly served by the lieutenants in whose hands the administration of the provinces rested. He surrounded himself with religious bigots of the Sunni sect of Muhammadans, who aided him in bitter persecution of the Hindus. Hardly anything of artistic or architectural interest was created under his patronage. Most of the great artists who attended Shah Jahan's court were dismissed as unorthodox or heretics, and many noble monuments were mutilated by the Emperor's fanatical followers on the ground that they contravened the precept of the Koran which forbids the representation of animate nature in art.

He died in 1707, eighty-nine years of age. The Mogul empire, surrounded by hordes of the enemies his bigotry and intolerance had created, was already tottering to its fall, and the star of the British raj was rising. Seventeen years before his death he had granted to Job Charnock a piece of land at Sutanati, the site of the future capital of our Indian empire.


/4/ [4] Bernier's "Travels"-- Constable's translation.


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