XV. Aurangzeb

*The Eastern Borders* == *The Northwestern Frontier* == *The Sikhs* == *The Marathas* == *Religious Policy* == *The East India Company* == *The Enigma of Aurangzeb's Purposes*

        [[189]] 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 [[190]] 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.

The Eastern Borders

        Aurangzeb's earliest conquests were in the eastern parts of the empire. In the years when he had been fighting with his brothers for the throne, the Hindu rulers of Cooch Behar and Assam, taking advantage of the disturbed conditions in the empire, had invaded the imperial dominions. For three years they were not attacked, but in 1660 the time came for restitution. Mir Jumla, the viceroy of Bengal, was ordered to recover the lost territories. He started from Dacca in November, 1661, and occupied the capital of Cooch Behar after a few weeks. The kingdom was annexed, and the Muslim army left for [[191]] Assam. The capital of the Ahom kingdom was reached on March 17, 1662, and the raja was forced to sign a humiliating treaty.

        The Mughals received a heavy tribute, and annexed some forts and towns in the cultivated districts near the frontier of Bengal, but their army had suffered great hardships. The aged Mir Jumla died on his way back to Dacca, and was succeeded as viceroy by Shayista Khan. The new viceroy took action against the Arakan pirates who, with the help of Portuguese adventurers and their half-caste offspring, had made the area unsafe. They carried their depredations to Dacca, the provincial capital. "As these raids continued for a long time, Bengal became day by day more desolated. Not a house was left inhabited on either side of the rivers lying on the pirates' track from Chittagong to Dacca."/2/ Shayista Khan made thorough preparations, built a powerful flotilla, won over some of the European collaborators of the pirates by inviting them to Dacca, and in January, 1666, attacked the king of Arakan. He captured the island of Sondip in the Bay of Bengal, and after defeating the Arakanese fleet, compelled the king of Arakan to cede Chittagong, the pirates' stronghold. Chittagong, which was renamed Islamabad, proved a valuable addition to the empire.

        The Mughal interest in Bengal had steadily increased. Since Shah Jahan's days, the viceroy was usually either a leading noble of the realm or a member of the royal family. Through the organization of the mansabdari system, and with an elaborate system of supervision, close contact with the imperial capital was maintained. Bengal became the most peaceful area of the empire, with its revenues the mainstay of Aurangzeb's army.

        The conquest and settlement of a great part of what is now East Pakistan was essentially a Mughal achievement—in a great measure, of Aurangzeb's reign. The area east of the Brahmaputra, commonly called Bang, was one of the three well-marked regions of the former province of Bengal (Varind, Radh, and Bang). Owing to its geographical situation, climate, terrain, and the ethnic origin of the population, it had remained isolated from the rest of the subcontinent. The [[192]] force of Aryan colonization and Aryan culture had spent itself before it reached this area. The people, who were related to the Mongoloid races, had retained their ancient religious customs. Without written languages, they had not shared in earlier literary movements. Even during the Hindu rule, the influence of the Hindu scholars and priests of Western Bengal was confined to the large towns and rich monasteries. After the Muslim conquest even this ceased. The people east of the Tista and the Brahmaputra were Hindus and remained Hindus, but they had no learned priesthood to maintain the purity of the tradition. During Aurangzeb's reign this isolation of the eastern area was finally broken, for once the menace of the pirates had disappeared, the jungles could be cleared and colonization begun. The Eastern Bengalis remained the butt of satire in Bengali literature (as rough, uncouth people) up to the nineteenth century, but they were no longer separated from the main stream of Indian history.

The Northwestern Frontier

        Operations in the east were barely over when trouble started on the northwest frontier of the empire. In 1667 a Yusafzai leader named Bhaku (who had supported Dara Shukoh against Aurangzeb in the struggle for the throne) rebelled. The faujdar of Attock defeated Bhaku, and with the help of reinforcements from Lahore and Kabul, gradually subdued the area. The area remained quiet for some time, but in 1672 trouble broke out again. Many tribes combined in opposition to the authorities, and they had a stroke of good fortune when Muhammad Amin Khan, the governor of Kabul, decided to risk an engagement with the rebels with a poorly equipped contingent. His forces were annihilated, and he was barely able to escape to Peshawar with a few of his senior officers. On hearing of the disaster the emperor degraded Muhammad Amin Khan and transferred him to another area, but the officers who were sent to replace him quarrelled among themselves and failed to make much progress. In July, 1674, Aurangzeb himself went to Hasan Abdal, a convenient half-way station between Rawalpindi and Peshawar, and stayed there for over a year directing the operations. He took officers with him who knew the [[193]] area, and by the use of force and diplomacy was able to restore peace.

        Among the tribal leaders who opposed Aurangzeb was the famous Pushtu poet Khushal Khan Khattak. He was the chief of the Khattak tribe, which since the days of his great grandfather had guarded the road from Attock to Peshawar against the hostile Yusufzais, and had the right to levy tolls on this highway. Khushal had fought with distinction in Mughal armies, and had sided with Aurangzeb against Dara Shukoh. But differences arose between him and Aurangzeb, mainly because of the abolition of all tolls within the empire. Khushal's family had collected tolls on the Indus since Akbar's time, and he resented the loss of income. Apparently to prevent him making trouble, he had been imprisoned for two years. This made him a bitter enemy of Aurangzeb, and on his release he incited the Pathan tribesmen to rebel. He had only a small measure of success. Some Afridi chiefs joined him, but the more numerous Yusufzais refused to side with him. An era of Mughal-Afghan cooperation was opening—owing to the success of Mughal diplomacy and the failure of the Raushaniya movement—and even some of his sons, notably Bahram, opposed him. Khushal died broken-hearted in 1689, but he had left one enduring legacy—a body of forceful poetry in which he had expressed his hatred of the Mughals.

        Despite the trouble with Khushal, Aurangzeb's reign finally saw a complete transformation in Mughal-Afghan relations. Amir Khan, the Mughal governor of Kabul and Peshawar established such order on the frontier between 1678 and 1698 that his wife maintained control of the area for some time after his death.

The Sikhs

        The Sikhs, who ultimately were to play an important part in the weakening of the empire, caused Aurangzeb some difficulties, but he dealt with them in an effective, though harsh, manner. The Sikh religion as founded by Guru Nanak (1469–1539) was a part of a general religious movement to bring Hinduism and Islam closer together. In the early years, the relations of the Sikhs with the Muslims had been friendly, especially since, as the Brahmans resented the growth [[194]] of the new movement, the Sikhs had looked to the Muslims for support. Akbar himself had visited the third guru and made him a present of the land in Amritsar on which the Golden Temple was built.

        Soon, however, there was conflict between the Sikhs and the Mughal authorities. Probably the basic reason was that the peasants of central Punjab had a militant tradition, and when new religious doctrines that emphasized the individual's relationship with God and society were adopted, a clash with established authority was inevitable. The first trouble came during Jahangir's reign when Guru Arjun had given assistance to the revolt led by Prince Khusrau. The guru died under torture, but one of his last instructions to his son, Guru Har Govind, was to maintain an army. This was the turning point in Sikh history. They now began to organize themselves on semi-military lines, and there were further conflicts with the Mughal government. Guru Har Govind had "so completely sunk the character of a religious reformer into that of a conquering general, that he had no scruple in enlisting large bands of Afghan mercenaries."/3/ In 1628 the Sikhs defeated a Mughal force which had been sent against them, but they were ultimately defeated, and Har Govind had to flee to the hills. The succession of gurus was maintained, however, through an agreement with the Mughals.

        The ninth guru, Tegh Bahadur, who came to the gaddi in 1664, served in the Mughal army on the Assam frontier for some years, but later returned to eastern Punjab and settled down at Anandpur. He called himself Sacha Badshah (True King), and started levying tribute from the local population. The imperial forces defeated him, and he was taken to Delhi and put to death by Aurangzeb in 1675. His successor was Guru Govind Singh, who concentrated his energies on establishing a Sikh kingdom in the hilly areas of east Punjab.

        It was Govind Singh who gave the Sikhs their very distinctive symbols—the uncut hair, the steel bangle, the sword—that established their identity as a separate people. The real sufferers from the growing military strength of the Sikhs, who had enrolled a large number [[195]] of Pathans in their ranks, were the Hindu rajas of the Punjab hills. Many bloody battles were fought between them and the guru. At last they complained to the Mughal governor, who passed on the complaint to Aurangzeb. On the rajas' undertaking to bear the cost of an expedition, Aurangzeb agreed to send forces to assist them in besieging Govind Singh in his stronghold at Anandpur. The guru himself escaped, but his children were executed.

        During his flight from the Mughal forces, Guru Govind Singh addressed Aurangzeb in a long Persian poem, known as Zafar Nama. This poem contained bitter complaints against the Mughal emperor, but as its appeal was in the name of humanity and of Islam, it provided a basis for mutual understanding. According to certain Sikh accounts, Aurangzeb invited the guru to visit him in the Deccan. Evidence on this point is not conclusive, but it is certain that after this Guru Govind Singh was allowed to live in peace. After Aurangzeb's death his son Bahadur Shah, who was the viceroy of the Punjab before ascending the throne, was on excellent terms with the guru. Later the relations of the Mughals with the Sikhs sharply deteriorated owing to the emergence of Banda, a Hindu religious mendicant, as the leader of the Sikhs.

The Marathas

        Far more serious opposition to Aurangzeb came from the Deccan, where the Marathas were beginning their long struggle with the Mughal empire. A people of whose earliest history little is known, the Marathas as a dynamic force in Indian history owe much to the Bhakti movement. By giving birth to a new literature, enriching the local language, and popularizing a religious cult which made a powerful emotional appeal to all sections of the people, the movement had infused a new life in this society. The growing self-awareness of the Marathas was also helped by the fact that the Muslim conquest of the Deccan was far less complete than that of northern India. Hindus held many offices in the revenue and finance departments of the Muslim rulers of Golkunda and Bijapur, and at times even the highest [[196]] ministerial appointments were filled by Deccani Brahmans. Life in the hill forts of the Western Ghats, never easily accessible and practically cut off from the world during the monsoon, did not appeal to the Muslim officers, and Maratha chiefs and soldiers were employed in large numbers in garrisoning these forts.

        Since Maratha statesmen and warriors controlled various departments of the Muslim states of Ahmadnagar, Golkunda, and Bijapur, the conflicts of the Mughals with these states provided them with an opportunity to advance their sectional interests. Amongst Maratha statesmen who rose to prominence during the days of Shah Jahan was Shahji, who served under the sultans of Ahmadnagar and Bijapur and had large estates at Poona. His importance may be judged by the fact that in 1635 he set up a Nizam Shahi boy as the nominal sultan of the kingdom of Ahmadnagar, and reoccupied in his name the whole of the western portion of the old dominion as far as the sea. Shah Jahan was able to deal with him, and Shahji, after making his submission to the Mughals, sought service with the ruler of Bijapur. Shahji's son, Shivaji, more than fulfilled the dreams of his father. Shivaji's mother lived at Poona, and he spent his early days in the spurs and valleys of the Ghats, which were to be his battlefield. He attached to himself a number of young men, and in the disturbed conditions of the Deccan started taking control of hill fortresses. For a long time these aggressive proceedings were ignored at Bijapur, but in 1659 a strong contingent of ten thousand cavalry was sent against him under Afzal Khan. Shivaji lured Afzal to a private conference and then killed him with his dagger. The leaderless troops of Bijapur were routed by Shivaji's soldiers, who lay in ambush.

        The following year Shivaji came in conflict with the Mughal rulers. In 1660 Aurangzeb appointed Shayista Khan, his maternal uncle and a veteran general, viceroy of the Deccan, with instructions to suppress the activities of Shivaji. He gained a few victories and recaptured several forts, but on April 5, 1663, the Marathas made a night attack on his encampment at Poona, and although the viceroy escaped, his son was killed. Shayista Khan was recalled by Aurangzeb, who then sent Dilir Khan and Raja Jai Singh, with his son, Prince Muazzam, [[197]] to the Deccan. The imperial generals forced Shivaji to sue for peace. In 1666 he attended the court at Agra, but insulted at being given the rank of mansabdar of only five thousand horsemen, he made his displeasure public. He was kept under surveillance, but he escaped and reached the Deccan. On his return Shivaji formally assumed the title of maharaja in June, 1674, and as Aurangzeb was busy in the northwest, he was not disturbed. After his death in 1680, the mad cruelty of his unworthy son Shambhuji forcibly attracted the attention of the Mughal ruler. In 1682 Shambhuji raided Burhanpur and perpetrated such cruelties on the Muslim population that the qazis there sent a manifesto to Aurangzeb upbraiding him. The Mughal emperor, who was concerned about the developments in the Deccan since his rebel son, Prince Akbar, had taken refuge at Shambhuji's court, decided to go south. He reached Aurangabad in the third week of March, 1682, and the last twenty-five years of his life were to be spent in that part of the subcontinent.

        Bijapur and Golkunda, which often gave shelter to the Maratha raiders, were annexed in 1686 and 1687, and Shambhuji was captured and executed in early 1689, but this did not mean the end of Aurangzeb's troubles in the Deccan. Aurangzeb brought up Shambhuji's son, Shahu, at the court and treated him with great consideration, but his younger brother, Rajaram, took over the Maratha leadership. On his death in April, 1700, his widow, Tara Bai, carried on the struggle.

        The Mughals achieved many successes against the Marathas, but these proved temporary. Often the forts won at great cost and after prolonged effort, would be lost through the treachery or the incompetence of the Muslim commanders. But even though Aurangzeb had conquered most of the Maratha forts, he was unable to suppress the powerful roving Maratha bands which challenged Mughal authority whenever they got an opportunity. In 1699, they carried their first raid in Malwa. Four years later they disrupted the communications between northern and southern India, and in 1706 they sacked Baroda. After Aurangzeb's death, the Marathas became a major factor in the downfall of the Mughal empire.

Religious Policy

        [[198]] While Aurangzeb was extending the empire in the east and south, and consolidating his position on the northwest marches, he was also concerned with the strengthening of Islam throughout the kingdom. His attempt to conduct the affairs of state according to traditional Islamic policy brought to the fore the problem that had confronted every ruler who had attempted to make Islam the guiding force: the position of the Hindu majority in relation to the government. In 1688, when he forbade music at the royal court and took other puritanical steps in conformity with strict injunctions of Muslim law, he affected both Hindus and Muslims. When jizya, abolished for nearly a century, was reimposed in 1679, it was the Hindus alone who suffered.

        By now Aurangzeb had accepted the policy of regulating his government in accordance with strict Islamic law, and many orders implementing this policy were issued. A large number of taxes were abolished which had been levied in India for centuries but which were not authorized by Islamic law. Possibly it was the unfavorable effect of these remissions on the state exchequer which led to the exploration of other lawful sources of revenue. The fact that, according to the most responsible account, the reimposition of jizya was suggested by an officer of the finance department would seem to show that it was primarily a fiscal measure./4/ The theologians, who were becoming dominant at the court, naturally endorsed the proposal, and Aurangzeb carried it out with his customary thoroughness.

        Another measure which has caused adverse comment is the issue of orders at various stages regarding the destruction of Hindu temples. Originally these orders applied to a few specific cases—such as the temple at Mathura built by Abul Fazl's murderer, to which a railing had been added by Aurangzeb's rival, Dara Shukoh. More far-reaching is the claim that when it was reported to him that Hindus were teaching Muslims their "wicked science," Aurangzeb issued orders to all governors "ordering the destruction of temples and schools and totally [[199]] prohibiting the teaching and infidel practices of the unbelievers."/5/ That such an order was actually given is doubtful; certainly it was never carried out with any thoroughness. However, it is incontestable that at a certain stage Aurangzeb tried to enforce strict Islamic law by ordering the destruction of newly built Hindu temples. Later, the procedure was adopted of closing down rather than destroying the newly built temples in Hindu localities. It is also true that very often the orders of destruction remained a dead letter, but Aurangzeb was too deeply committed to the ordering of his government according to Islamic law to omit its implementation in so significant a matter. The fact that a total ban on the construction of new temples was adopted only by later jurists, and was a departure from the earlier Muslim practice as laid down by Muhammad ibn Qasim in Sind, was no concern of the correct, conscientious, and legal-minded Aurangzeb.

        As a part of general policy of ordering the affairs of the state in accordance with the views of the ulama, certain discriminatory orders against the Hindus were issued: for example, imposition of higher customs duties, 5 percent on the goods of the Hindus as against 2 percent on those of Muslims. These were generally in accordance with the practice of the times, but they marked a departure not only from the political philosophy governing Mughal government, but also from the policy followed hitherto by most Muslim rulers in India.

        Aurangzeb has often been accused of closing the doors of official employment on the Hindus, but a study of the list of his officers shows this is not so. Actually there were more Hindu officers under him than under any other Mughal emperor. Though this was primarily due to a general increase in the number of officers, it shows that there was no ban on the employment of the Hindus.

        That Aurangzeb's religious policy was unpopular at the time is true, but that it was an important factor, as usually charged, in the downfall of the empire, is doubtful. The Hindu uprisings of his reign seem to have had no wide religious appeal, and they were supressed with the help of Hindu leaders. Their significance comes in the following reigns, when the rulers were no longer able to meet opposition as effectively—and as ruthlessly—as had Aurangzeb. His religious policy [[200]] aimed at strengthening an empire already overextended in Shah Jahan's time; that it failed in its objective is probably true, but the mistake should not be made of assuming that the attempt was a major element in the later political decay. It should be seen, rather, as part of an unsuccessful attempt to stave off disaster. Seen in this light, his religious policy is one element, but not a causal one, save in its failure to achieve its intended goal, among the many that have to be considered in seeking an understanding of Aurangzeb's difficulties.

The East India Company

        The behavior of the English East India Company was another element that has to be added to the complex situation created by internal rebellion, the activities of the Sikhs, and the long-drawn-out war with the Marathas. The East India Company opened its first factory, or trading post, at Surat on the west coast in 1612, and in the next half century established a chain along the coast. Trouble first arose in Bengal, where Shayista Khan was trying to introduce some order and regard for the Mughal government in place of the lax administration of his predecessor, Shah Shuja. The foreign settlements of the Portuguese, the Dutch, and the British, emboldened by their superiority on the sea, had become truculent, and in distant regions considered themselves subject to no checks from the Mughal government. Shah Shuja, partly out of his general indifference to financial considerations and partly to gain support in the coming struggle for the throne, was particularly generous to the foreign traders. To the English factory which was opened at Hugli in 1651, he gave an order in 1652 permitting open trade in Bengal on a payment of three thousand rupees annually in lieu of customs dues. In the succeeding years the Company's trade multiplied many times, but, insisting on the authority of Shuja's order, it refused to increase its contribution or pay any of the normal taxes. When Shayista Khan objected, difficulties arose between him and the English. The attitude of the Company's officers may be judged from a letter addressed to London in 1665:

Your Worship must consider that these people are grown more powerful than formerly, and will not be so subject to us as they have [[201]] been, unless they be a little beaten by us, that they may understand, if they impede us by land, it lieth in our power to requite them by sea. … In fine … your affairs will be quite ruined if this Nabob [Shayista Khan] lives and reigneth long."/6/

        The first attempt by the English to wage war against the Mughals was made in 1686 when Sir Josiah Child, the powerful governor of the East India Company, persuaded the government to send a small fleet to India to seize and fortify Chittagong. The expedition was an utter failure; and far from gaining any territory, English traders were expelled from all their factories in Bengal. Meanwhile on the west coast, the English had also angered Aurangzeb. English pirates operating out of Bombay were seizing ships taking pilgrims to Mecca; among them was the Ganj-i-Sawai owned by the emperor himself. They were also minting coins in Bombay with a superscription containing their own king's name. Aurangzeb ordered the seizure of the Surat factory and the expulsion of all Englishmen from his dominions. He relented because of the English control of the pilgrim trade in the Arabian Sea, and also, it appears, because they had a powerful advocate at court in the wazir, Asad Khan. After levying a fine of one and a half lakhs of rupees Aurangzeb allowed them to return to their factories; and for the next fifty years, the English merchants refrained from any further attempts to establish themselves as a territorial power.

The Enigma of Aurangzeb's Purposes

        In the background of all these events—the struggle for the throne, the annexations of great territories in the South, the wasting struggle with the Marathas, the pacification of the northwest frontier, the consolidation of Mughal power in Bengal, the contemptuous treatment of the East India Company—stands the enigmatic figure of Aurangzeb, surely the most controversial personality in the history of Islamic rule in India. Held responsible by some for the downfall of the Mughal empire, by others he is praised for maintaining as long as he did the unity of his vast realm.

        [[202]] So far as Aurangzeb's personal qualities are concerned, however, there is general admiration. R. C. Majumdar writes: "Undaunted bravery, grim tenacity of purpose, and ceaseless activity were some of his prominent qualities. His military campaigns gave sufficient proof of his unusual courage, and the manner in which he baffled the intrigues of his enemies shows him to have been a past master of diplomacy and statecraft. His memory was wonderful, and his industry indefatigable."/7/ "He never forgot a face he had once seen or a word that he had once heard." Apart from his devotion to duty, his life was remarkable for its simplicity and purity. His dress, food, and recreations were all extremely simple. He died at the age of ninety, but all his faculties (except his hearing) remained unimpaired.

        A well-read man, he kept up his love of books till the end. He wrote beautiful Persian prose. A selection of his letters (Ruq'at-i-Alamgiri) has long been a standard model of simple but elegant prose. According to Bakhtawar Khan, he had acquired proficiency in versification, but agreeable to the word of God that "Poets deal in falsehoods," he abstained from practicing the art. He understood music well but he gave up this amusement in accordance with Islamic injunctions.

        It is his general attitude to culture that explains why the Mughal court, which under Shah Jahan had been the great center of patronage for the arts, ceased to be so in Aurangzeb's reign. He disbanded the court musicians, abolished the office of the poet-laureate, discontinued the work of the court chronicler, and offered little encouragement to painters. On grounds of both economy and fidelity to the Islamic law he criticized the Taj Mahal, the tomb of his mother, remarking: "The lawfulness of a solid construction over a grave is doubtful, and there can be no doubt about the extravagance involved."/8/

        Although Aurangzeb's attitude toward the arts was one of disapproval, his reign was not culturally barren. Large-scale building activity ceased, but this was as much a reflection of a treasury depleted by war as deliberate policy. Other forms of artistic life flourished, [[203]]


[[204]] partly because they had taken firm foot in Indian soil, and partly because the great nobles made up to some extent for the lack of royal patronage. In the case of poetry, where self-expression yields better results without compliance with a patron's wishes or moods, the abolition of the court patronage and the weakening of the court tradition led to some welcome new developments. The greatest Persian poet of the period, Bedil, turned away from the polished love lyrics of the old court poets and concentrated on metaphysical poetry. Often his fancy ran riot. Many of his metaphors are quaint and far-fetched, and his meaning is frequently obscure, but he is unmatched for profundity of thought and originality of ideas and similes. He is highly popular in Afghanistan and Tajikistan, where his poetry appeals to the serious readers in the same way as does the great Masnavi of Rumi. He paved the way for Ghalib, who followed him in aiming at originality and depth of thought, but adopted the polished diction of Mughal court poets.

        Perhaps even more important was Wali (d.1707), originally a writer of Deccani, who became the first major poet of modern Urdu. This replacement of Deccani by Urdu was a direct result of Aurangzeb's conquest of the Muslim kingdoms of the south. So long as the kingdoms of Golkunda and Bijapur existed and patronized the poets and writers of Deccani, "it was fully in vogue and its peculiarities immune from criticism and sneers." When this source of patronage dried up and the Hindustani-speaking officers became dominant in the south, the writers of Deccani had to adjust to a new situation. They were forced to shed their peculiarities of dialect, themes, and treatment, while the speakers from the north saw the literary possibilities of the spoken language. The two streams of literary tradition mingled, and gave birth to modern Urdu.

        These developments owed little to Aurangzeb's deliberate efforts. The cultural activities for which he was directly responsible were the spread of Islamic learning and general diffusion of education. His reign was marked by the extensive grant of patronage and stipends to scholars and students. There were no religious leaders of the caliber of Shah Waliullah or Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi, but there is no doubt that the foundation of the Islamic religious revival in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were laid at this time. The Islamic academic [[205]] curriculum, known as Dars-i-Nizamiya, was begun in his reign, and the emperor was personally responsible for the grant of extensive buildings, known as Farangi Mahal of Lucknow, to the family of Mulla Nizam-ud-din, after whom Dars-i-Nizamiya is named. Most of the books included in the Dars-i-Nizamiya, other than those of foreign origin, were written during Aurangzeb's reign. They were mainly the work of two scholars patronized by the emperor—Mir Zahid, the qazi of Kabul, and Muhibullah Bihari, the qazi of Allahabad. Compilation of the comprehensive legal digest, known as Fatawa-i-Alamgiri, was also initiated by the emperor.

        In turning from Aurangzeb's influence on culture to his work as a statesman, we find that his achievements are obvious, but his final years were clouded by difficulties. The strong kingdoms of Golkunda and Bijapur, for long centers of Muslim power in the south, were conquered in less than a year, but the entire might of the Mughul empire was pitted against the Marathas for twenty years, without resulting in decisive gains. And in the struggle the Marathas gained a new confidence and soon moved from the defensive in the Deccan to an offensive in the north.

        In the financial field, Aurangzeb's achievements were even less distinguished. When he died, the imperial treasury was almost empty. He left barely 12 crores of rupees—not very much more than the inheritance of a great Mughal noble like Asaf Khan. Towards the end of his reign, the imperial finances were in such straits that the diwan anxiously waited for the receipt of the Bengal revenue, so that the expenses of the Deccan campaign could be met.

        It is a tribute to Aurangzeb's control over the affairs of the empire that no major upheaval occurred in the north during his prolonged absence in the Deccan, but there are clear indications of many minor disturbances and a general slackening of administration. In Bengal, for example, Sobha Singh, a petty chief of Midnapur district, joined an Afghan chief to defeat the Hindu zamindar of Burdwan. They also seized the fort and city of Hugli and plundered the cities of Nadia, Murshidabad, Malda, and Rajmahal. The emperor removed Ibrahim Khan, the governor (though, it appears, soon to appoint him to Allahabad), and the rebellion was effectively put down, but it exposed the insecure state of the administration. As this disturbance [[206]] enabled the English and other foreigners to fortify their settlements at Calcutta and elsewhere, its effects were far-reaching.

        The basic cause of Aurangzeb's failures did not lie in his own weakness, but in the quality of men at his disposal. Aurangzeb's misfortune was that he began to rule when two generations of unparalleled prosperity had sapped the moral fiber of the Mughal aristocracy. The Mughals were no longer the hardy soldiers and resourceful improvisers of the days of Babur and Akbar. Aurangzeb constantly bemoaned the scarcity of good officers. In one of his letters he says, "My great grandfather [Akbar] had many faithful servants. He entrusted them with the work of gaining successful victories and of performing many affairs, and in the time of my father [Shah Jahan] there came forward many brave and faithful servants, well-behaved officers and able secretaries. Now I want one competent person, adorned with the ornament of honesty, for the Diwani of Bengal; but I find none. Alas! alas! for the rarity of useful men."

        A growing weakness of the Mughal officials was that they shirked arduous and difficult assignments. For them the continuous stay in the Deccan, away from the attractions of the capital, was such a calamity that they would probably have preferred the Maratha victory to such an exile. One of Aurangzeb's leading nobles used to say that he would distribute a lakh of rupees in charity if he could see the capital once again. Such ease-loving generals fared badly against the hardy Marathas. They took years to conquer small hill-forts, and many of these forts conquered after long sieges would be quickly lost owing to the sloth and negligence of the officers in charge.

        Treachery was rampant in the Mughal army, and the royal princes were sometimes the cause. During the seven-year siege of Ginji, Prince Kam Bakhsh, who was in charge of the operations along with Zulfiqar Khan, was placed under arrest as he was about to join the Marathas with his troops. During the siege of Satara the Marathas bribed Prince Azam to ensure that the provisioning of their garrison would not be interfered with, and the fort, which at the commencement of the siege had provisions to last only for two months, was not conquered for six months. With such instruments at his disposal, it is little wonder that Aurangzeb's policies were not successful.

        The causes of some of Aurangzeb's difficulties were beyond his control. Others, [[207]] especially the financial and the administrative ones, arose out of his personal character and its reflection in his basic policies. In making his decision to run his government according to Islamic law, he did more than reverse Akbar's religious policy: he gave up the age-old policy, followed since the inception of the Muslim rule in India, and which had been openly proclaimed by Balban, Ala-ud-din Khalji, and Sher Shah, of subordinating legal and ecclesiastical considerations to practical requirements of administration. Aurangzeb was inspired by high motives, but the policy created many problems.

        His financial difficulties were partly due to the wholesome remission of some eighty taxes, and partly to his refusal to levy any tax not specifically authorized by shariat. He failed to see, as even Firuz Tughluq had, that such a policy was inconsistent with military expansion and large-scale warfare. In the administrative field, also, he was opposed to taking any action or imposing any penalty, except in strict accordance with the Islamic law. This resulted in precedence being given to the qazis, which was not liked by many of Aurangzeb's officers. Some of Aurangzeb's ablest generals found the attention given by the emperor to rigid legal procedure irksome. Firuz Jang, the conqueror of Golkunda (whom the emperor held so dear that once when he fell ill and was forbidden melons, Aurangzeb himself gave up this fruit), put to death one Muhammad Aqil on a charge of highway robbery, without formal trial by a qazi. Aurangzeb sternly rebuked him, and asked his wazir to write to the noble that if the heirs of the slain refused to accept the blood-money permitted by law he would have to pass an order of retaliation against him./9/

        There is something truly noble in a ruler reminding his ablest general that he would have to face the full rigors of the law for an unlawful action, and there can be nothing but admiration for Aurangzeb's endeavors to uphold the law and proper judicial procedure. But in the seventeenth century the administrators found this meticulous emphasis on legal procedure and the prominent position of the qazis a hindrance. The contemporary historian Khafi Khan has attributed the imperfect success of Aurangzeb, in spite of his great ability and immense industry, to his reluctance to go beyond Islamic law. "From reverence [[208]] for the injunctions of the Law, he did not make use of punishment and without punishment the administration of a country cannot be maintained. Dissensions rose among his nobles through rivalry. So every plan and project that he formed came to little good; and every enterprise which he undertook was long in execution and failed in its objective."/10/

        Perhaps the time to make a final assessment of Aurangzeb has not yet arrived. More than five thousand of his letters are extant, but only a handful have been published, and until this rich material is studied, a proper appraisal of his personality is not possible. At present, evidence about him is fragmentary and contradictory, and his personality was more complex than either his admirers or critics are willing to acknowledge. In the context of conflicting evidence, the tendency for each group is to emphasize the elements supporting its point of view. These verdicts are liable to be modified in the light of the vast material which remains to be utilized, and all judgment of Aurangzeb, at this stage, can only be provisional.

        Whatever view is taken should not obscure, however, Aurangzeb's solid and abiding achievements. He greatly enlarged the Mughal empire and much of what he accomplished has endured. A large part of what is East Pakistan today was either conquered or consolidated during his reign. In the Deccan he annexed vast areas which were to remain centers of Mughal culture and administration for more than two centuries. He selected and promoted administrators whose work constitutes a landmark in the history of the regions entrusted to them—Shayista Khan and Murshid Quli Khan in Bengal, and Nizam-ul-Mulk in the Deccan. He tried to reduce the Irani preponderance in administration and attracted some gifted Turani families to the service of the Mughals. He also trained a body of men who were to sustain the empire through a period of foreign invasions and repeated internal struggles for the succession. Viewed in this light, Aurangzeb can be seen not as the instigator of policies that led to ruin, but as the guardian of the Islamic state in India.


/1/ Jadunath Sarkar, History of Aurangzib (Calcutta, 1916), III, 246.
/2/ R. C. Majumdar and Jadunath Sarkar, History of Bengal (Dacca, 1943–1948), II, 378.
/3/ Sarkar, III, 357.
/4/ S. R. Sharma, The Religious Policy of the Mughal Emperors (Bombay, 1962), p. 153; see also note on p. 175.
/5/ Z. Faruki, Aurangzeb and His Times (Bombay, 1935), p. 117.
/6/ William Foster, ed., The English Factories in India 1660–1664 (Oxford, 1923), p. 401.
/7/ R. C. Majumdar et al., An Advanced History of India (London, 1958), p. 509.
/8/ Quoted in Abdullah Chughtai, Fanun-i-Latif Ba-ahd-i-Aurangzeb (Lahore, 1957), p. 42.
/9/ Inayat-Ullah Khan, Akham-i-Alamgiri, trans. by Jadunath Sarkar as Anecdotes of Aurangzib (Calcutta, 1912), p. 91.
/10/ H. M. Elliot and John Dowson, The History of India as Told by Its Own Historians (London, 1867–1877), VII, 386–87.

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