Chapter 18 Climax and Disintegration of the Mughal Empire—I


​Problems of Succession

The last years of Shah Jahan’s reign were clouded by a bitter war of succession among his sons. There was no clear tradition of succession among the Muslims or the Timurids. The right of nomination by the ruler had been accepted by some of the Muslim political thinkers. But it could not be asserted in India during the Sultanat period. The Timurid tradition of partitioning had not been successful either and was never applied in India.

Hindu traditions were also not very clear in the matter of succession. According to Tulsidas, a contemporary of Akbar, a ruler had the right of giving the tika to any one of his sons. But there were many cases among the Rajputs where such a nomination had not been accepted by the other brothers. Thus, Sanga had to wage a bitter struggle with his brothers before he could assert his claim to the gaddi.

Towards the end of 1657, Shah Jahan was taken ill at Delhi and for Sorrie time, his life was despaired of. But he rallied and gradually recovered his strength under the loving care of Dara. Meanwhile, all kinds of rumours had gained currency. It was said that Shah Jahan had already died and Dara was concealing the reality to serve his own purposes. After some time, Shah Jahan slowly made his way to Agra. Meanwhile, the princes, Shuja in Bengal, Murad in Gujarat and Aurangzeb in the Deccan, had either been persuaded that these rumours were true, or pretended to believe them and made preparations for the inevitable war of succession.

Anxious to avert a conflict between his sons, which might spell ruin to the empire and anticipating this speedy end. Shah Jahan now decided to nominate Dara as his successor (waliahd). He raised Dara’s mansab from 40,000 to the unprecedented rank of 60,000. Dara was given a chair next to the throne and all the nobles were instructed to obey Dara as their future, sovereign. But these actions, far front ensuring a smooth succession as Shah Jahan had hoped, convinced the other princes of Shalı Jahan’s partiality to Dára. It thus strengthened their resolve of making a bid for the throne.

It is not necessary for us to follow in detail the events leading to the ultimate triumph of Aurangzeb. There were many reasons for Aurangzeb’s success. Divided counsel and under-estimating of his opponents by Dara were two of the major factors responsible for Dara’s defeat. On hearing of the military preparations of his sons and their decision to march on the capital, Shah Jahan had sent an army to the east led by Dara’s son, Sulairnan Shikoh and aided by Mirza Raja Jai Singh to deal with Shuja who had crowned himself. Another was sent to Malwa under Raja Jaswant Singh, the ruler of Jodhpur. On his arrival in Malwa, Jaswant found that he was faced with the combined forces iff Aurangzeb and Murad. The two princes were intent on a conflict and invited Jaswant to stand aside. Jaswant could have retreated but deeming retreat to be a matter of dishonour, he decided to stand and fight, though the odds were definitely against him. The victory of Aurangzeb at Dharmat (15 April 1658) emboldened his supporters and raised his prestige, while it dispirited Data and his supporters.

Meanwhile, Dara made a serious mistake. Over-confident of the strength of his position, he had assigned for the eastern campaign some of his best troops. Thus, he denuded the capital, Agra. Led by Sulaiman Shikoh, the army moved to the east and gave a good account of itself. It surprised and defeated Shuja near Banaras (February 1658) It then decided to pursue him into Bihar – as if the issue at Agra had been already decided. After the defeat at Dharmat, express letters were sent to these forces to hurry back to Agra. After patching uip a hurried treaty (7 May 1658) Sulairnan Shikoh started his march to Agra from his camp near Monghyr in eastern Bihar. But it was hardly likely that he could return to Agra in time for the conflict with Aurangzeb.

After Dharmat, Dara made frantic efforts to seek allies. He sent repeated letters to Jaswant Singh who had retired to Jodhpur. The rana of Udaipur was also approached. Jaswant Singh moved out tardily to Pushkar near Ajmer. After raising an army with the money provided by Dara, he waited there for the rana to join him. But the rana had already been won over by Aurangzeb with a promise of a rank of 7000, and the return of the parganas seized by Shah Jahan and Dara from him in 1654 following a dispute over the re-fortification of Chittor. Aurangzeb also held out to the rana a promise of religious freedom and ‘favours equal to those of Rana Sanga’. Thus, Dara failed to win over even the important Rajput rajas to his side.

The battle of Samugarh (29 May 1658) was basically a battle of good generalship, the two sides being almost equally matched in numbers (about 50,000 to 60,000 on each side). In this field, Dara was no match for Aurangzeb. The Hada Rajputs and the Saiyids of Barha upon whom Dara largely depended could not make up for the weakness of the rest of the hastily recruited army. Aurangzeb’s troops were battle hardened and well led.

After the defeat and flight of Dara, Shah Jahan was besieged in the fort of Agra. Aurangzeb forced Shah Jahan into surrender by seizing the source of water supply to the fort. Shah Jahan was confined to the female apartments in the fort and strictly supervised though he was not ill-treated. There he lived for eight long years, lovingly nursed by his favourite daughter, Jahanara.

According to the terms of Aurangzeb’s agreement with Murad, the kingdom was to be partitioned between the two. But Aurangzeb had no intention of sharing the empire. Hence, he treacherously imprisoned Murad and sent him to the Gwaliyar jail. He was killed two years later.

The battle of Deorai near Ajmer (March 1659) was the last major battle Dara fought against Aurangzeb. Dara might well have escaped into Iran, but he wanted to try his luck again in Afghanistan. On the way, in the Bolan Pass, a treacherous Afghan chief made him a prisoner and handed him over to his dreaded enemy. A panel of jurists decreed that Dara could not be suffered to live ‘out of necessity to protect the faith and Holy law, and also for reasons of state (and) as a destroyer of the public peace’. This is typical of the manner in which Aurangzeb used religion as a cloak for his political motives.

The civil war which kept the empire distracted for more than two years showed that neither nomination by the ruler, nor plans of division of the empire were likely to be accepted by the contenders for the throne. Military force became the only arbiter for succession and the civil wars became steadily more destructive.

​Aurangzeb’s Reign—His Religious Policy

Aurangzeb ruled for almost 50 years, during his long reign, the Mugal empire reached its territorial climax. At its height, it stretched front Kashmir in the north to Jinji in the south and from the Hindukush in the west to Chittagong in the east. Auranzeb proved to be hardworking ruler and never spared himself or his subordinates in the tasks of government. His letters show the close attention he paid to all affairs of state. He was strict disciplinarian who did not spare his own, sons. Unlike his predecessors, Aurangzeb did not like ostentation; his personal life was marked by simplicity. He had the reputation of being an orthodox. In course of time, he began to be regarded as, Zinda pir or a “a living saint”.

Historians are, however, deeply divided about Aurangzeb’s achievements as a ruler. According to some, he reversed Akbar’s policy of religious toleration and thus undermined the loyalty of the Hindus to the empire.

A new trend has, however, emerged as shown in the research work on Aurangzeb. In these works, efforts have been made to assess Aurangzeb’s political and religious policies in the context of social, economic and institutional developments. There is little doubt about his being orthodox in his beliefs. He was not interested in philosophical debates or in mysticism—though he did occasionally visit Sufi saints for their blessings, and did not debar his sons from dabbling in Sufism. While taking his stand on the Hanafi school of Muslim law which had been traditionally followed in India, Aurangzeb did not hesitate in issuing secular decrees, called zawabit. A compendium of his decrees, and government rules and regulations had been collected in a work called Zawabit-i-Alamgiri. Theoretically, the zawabits supplemented the sharia. In practice, however, they sometimes modified the sharia, in view of the conditions obtaining in India which were not provided for in the sharia.

Thus, apart from being an orthodox Muslim, Aurangzeb was also a ruler. He could hardly forget the political reality that the overwhelming population of India was Hindu, and that they were deeply attached to their faith. Any policy which meant the complete alienation of the Hindus and of the powerful Hindu rajas and zamindars was obviously unworkable.

In analysing Aurangzeb’s religious policy, we may take note first of what have been called moral and religious regulations. At the beginning of his reign, he forbade the kalma being inscribed on coins. He discontinued the festival of Nauroz as it was considered a Zoroastrian practice favoured by the Safavid rulers of Iran. Muhtasibs were appointed in all the provinces. These officials were asked to see that people lived their lives in accordance with the sharia. Thus, it was the business of these officials to see that wine and intoxicants such as bhang were not consumed in public places. They were also responsible for regulating the houses of ill repute, gambling dens, etc., and for checking weights and measures. In other words, they were responsible for ensuring that things forbidden by the sharia and the zawabits (secular decrees) were, as far as possible, not flouted openly. In appointing muhtasibs, Aurangzeb emphasised that the state was also responsible for the moral welfare of the citizens, especially the Muslims. But these officials were instructed not to interfere in the private lives of citizens.

Later, in the eleventh year of his reign (1669), Aurangzeb took a number of measures which have been called puritanical. Thus, he forbade singing in the court and the official musicians were pensioned off. Instrumental music and naubat (the royal band) were, however, continued. Singing also continued to be patronized by the ladies in the haram, and by princes, and individual nobles. It is of some interest to note, as has been mentioned before, that the largest number of Persian works on classical Indian music were written in Aurangzeb’s reign, and that Aurangzeb himself was proficient in playing the veena.

Aurangzeb discontinued the practice of jharoka darshan or showing himself to the public from the balcony since he considered it a superstitious practice and against Islam. Similarly, he forbade the ceremony of weighing the emperor against gold and silver and other articles on his birthdays. Many other regulations of a similar nature, some of a moral character and some to instill a sense of austerity, were issued. The throne room was to be furnished in a cheap and simple style; clerks were to use porcelain ink-stands instead of silver ones; silk clothes were frowned upon, the gold railings in the diwan-i-am were replaced by those of lapis lazuli set on gold. Even the official department of history-writing was discontinued as a measure of economy.

To promote trade among the Muslims who depended almost exclusively on state support, Aurangzeb at first largely exempted Muslim traders from the payment of cess on import of goods. But he soon found that the Muslim traders were abusing it, even passing off the goods of Hindu merchants as their own to cheat the state. So Aurangzeb re-imposed the cess on Muslim traders, but, kept it at half of what was charged from others. Similarly, he tried to reserve the posts of peshkars and karoris (petty revenue officials) for Muslims but soon had to modify it in the face of opposition from the nobles and lack of qualified Muslims.

We may now turn our attention to some of the other measures of Aurangzeb which may be called discriminatory and showed a sense of bigotry towards people professing other religions. The most important was Aurangzeb’s attitude towards temples, and the levying of jizyah.

At the outset of his reign, Aurangzeb reiterated the position of the shara regarding temples, synagogues, churches, etc., that ‘long standing temple should not be demolished but no new temples allowed to be built.’ Further, old places of worship could be repaired ‘since buildings cannot last for ever’. This position is clearly spelt out in a number of extant farmans he issued to the Brahmans of Banaras, Vrindavan, etc. Aurangzeb’s order regarding temples was not a new one. It reaffirmed the position which had existed during the Sultanat period and which had been reiterated by Shah Jahan early in his reign. However, Aurangzeb, as governor of Gujarat, ordered a number of temples in Gujarat to be destroyed. The famous temple of Somnath which he ordered to be destroyed earlier in his reign was apparently one of the temples mentioned above.

Later, as Aurangzeb encountered political opposition from a number of quarters, such as the Marathas, Jats, etc., he seems to have adopted a new stance. In case of conflict with local elements, he now considered it legitimate to destroy even long-standing Hindu temples as a measure of punishment and as a warning. Further, he began to look upon temples as centres of spreading subversive ideas, that is, ideas which were not acceptable to the orthodox elements. Thus, he took strict action and issued orders to the governors of all provinces to destroy the temples where such practices took place. As a result of these orders, a number of temples such as the famous temple of Vishwanath at Banaras and the temple of Keshava Rai at Mathura built by Bir Singh Deo Bundela in the reign of Jahangir were destroyed and mosques erected in their place. It was in this context that many temples built in Orissa during the last ten to twelve years were also destroyed.

In his policy toward temples, Aurangzeb may have remained formally within the framework of the sharia, but there is little doubt that his stand in the matter was a setback to the policy of broad toleration followed by his predecessors. While we do have instances of grants to Hindu temples and maths by Aurangzeb, on the whole, the atmosphere generated by Aurangzeb’s policy towards Hindu temples was bound to create disquiet among large sections of Hindus.

Aurangzeb contemplated revival of the jizyah on a number of occasions but did not do so for fear of political opposition. Ultimately, in 1679, in the twenty-second year of his reign, he finally re-imposed it. Let us first see what it was not. It was not meant to be an economic pressure for forcing the Hindus to convert to Islam for its incidence was light—women, children, the disabled and the indigent, that is those whose income was less than the means of subsistence were exempted, as were those in government service. Nor, in fact, did any significant section of Hindus change their religion in earlier times due to this tax. Secondly, it was not a means of meeting a difficult financial situation. Although the income from jizyah is said to have been considerable. However, the money from jizyah did not go to the royal treasury, but was ear-marked for use by the theological classes. The re-imposition of jizyah was, in fact, both political and ideological in nature. It was meant to rally the Muslims for the defence of the state against the Marathas and the Rajputs who were up in arms, and possibly against the Muslim states of the Deccan, especially Golconda which was in alliance with the infidel Marathas. Moreover, jizyah was to be collected by honest, God-fearing Muslims, who were especially appointed for the purpose, and its proceeds were reserved for the ulama. It was thus a big bribe for the theologians among whom there was a lot of unemployment. But the disadvantages out-weighed the possible advantages of the step. It was bitterly resented by the Hindus who considered it as a mark of discrimination. Its mode of collection also had some negative features. The payee was required to pay it personally and sometimes he suffered humiliation at the hands of the theologians in the process. Since in the rural areas jizyah was collected along with the land revenue, well-to-do Hindus in the cities were affected more by these practices. We, therefore, hear of a number of occasions when Hindu traders shut their shops and observed hartal against the measure. Also, there was a lot of corruption, and in a number of instances, the amin or collector of jizyah was killed. Finally, he had to suspend jizyah in 1705 ‘for the duration of the war in the south’ (for which no end was in sight). This could hardly influence his negotiations with the Marathas. Gradually jizyah fell into disuse all over the country. It was formally abolished in 1712 by Aurangzeb’s successors.

Some modern writers are of the opinion that Aurangzeb’s measures were designed to convert India from a dar-ul-harb, or a land of infidels, into dar-ul-Islam, or a land inhabited by Muslims. But this has no basis, in fact, a state in which the laws of Islam prevailed and where the ruler was a Muslim is dar-ul-Islam. In such a state, the Hindus who submitted to the Muslim ruler, and agreed to pay jizyah were zimmis or protected people according to the sharia. Hence, the state in India had been considered a dar-ul-Islam since the advent of the Turks. Although Aurangzeb considered it legitimate to encourage conversion to Islam, evidence of systematic or large-scale attempts at forced conversion is lacking. Nor were Hindu nobles discriminated against. A recent study has shown that the number of Hindus in the nobility during the second half of Aurangzeb’s reign steadily increased, till the Hindus including Marathas formed about one-third of the nobility as against one-fourth under Shah Jahan.

Thus, Aurangzeb’s attempt was not so much to change the nature of the state, but to re-assert its fundamentally Islamic character. Aurangzeb’s religious beliefs cannot be considered the basis of his political policies. While as an orthodox Muslim he was desirous of upholding the strict letter of the law, as a ruler he was keen to strengthen and expand the empire. Hence, he did not want to lose the support of the Hindus to the extent possible. However, his religious ideas and beliefs on the one hand, and his political or public policies on the other, clashed with each other on many occasions so that Aurangzeb was faced with difficult choices. Sometimes this led him to adopt contradictory policies which harmed the empire.

​Political Developments—North India

During the war of succession, many local zamindars and rajas had withheld revenue, or started plundering the neighbouring areas including Mughal territories and royal highways. After seating himself on the throne formally, Aurangzeb embarked upon an era of strong rule. In some cases, such as the northeast and the Deccan, the imperial frontier was advanced. However, in general, Aurangzeb did not embark upon a forward policy. His first attempt immediately after his succession was to re-assert imperial authority and prestige. This included recovery of areas which had been lost during the war of succession and to which the Mughals felt they had legal claim. To begin with, Aurangzeb was more concerned with consolidation than conquest and annexation. Thus, he sent an army to Bikaner to enforce obedience to the Mughal emperor, but made no effort to annex it. But in another case, such as Palamau in Bihar, the ruler who was accused of disloyalty was dispossessed, and the bulk of his state annexed. The rebel Bundela chief, Champat Rai, who had been an ally of Aurangzeb at first but had taken to a life of plunder, was relentlessly hunted down. But Bundela lands were not annexed.

​Northeast and East India

We have mentioned in an earlier chapter the rise of the Ahom power in Assam valley and their conflict with the rulers of Kamata (Kamrup) on the one hand and with the Afghan rulers of Bengal on the other. The kingdom of Kamata declined by the end of the fifteenth century and was replaced by the kingdom of Kuch (Cooch Bihar) which dominated north Bengal and western Assam, and which continued the policy of conflict with the Ahoms. However, internal disputes led to the division of the kingdom in the early seventeenth century and to the entry of the Mughals in Assam at the instance of the Kuch ruler. The Mughals defeated the split-away kingdom and in 1612 occupied the western Assam valley up to the Bar Nadi with the help of Kuch armies. The Kuch ruler became a Mughal vassal. Thus, the Mughals came into contact with the Ahoms who ruled eastern Assam across the Bar Nadi. After a long war with the Ahoms who had harboured a prince of the defeated dynasty, a treaty was made with them at last in 1638 which fixed the Bar Nadi as the boundary between them and the Mughals. Thus Guwahati came under Mughal control.

There was a long-drawn out war between the Mughals and the Ahoms during the reign of Aurangzeb. The war began with the attempt of the Ahom rulers to expel the Mughals from Guwahati and the neighbouring area and thus complete their control over Assam. Mir Jumla, who had been appointed the governor of Bengal by Aurangzeb, wanted to make his mark by bringing Cooch Bihar and the entire Assam under Mughal rule. He first assaulted Cooch Bihar which had repudiated Mughal suzerainty and annexed the entire kingdom to the Mughal empire. He next invaded the Ahom kingdom. Mir Jumla occupied the Ahom capital, Garhgaon, and held it for six months. Next, he penetrated up to the limit of the Ahom kingdom, finally forcing the Ahom king to make a humiliating treaty (1663). The raja had to send his daughter to the Mughal haram, pay a larger war indemnity and an annual tribute of 20 elephants. The Mughal boundary was extended from the Bar Nadi to the Bharali river.

Mir Jumla died soon after his brilliant victory. However, the advantages of a forward move in Assam were doubtful since the area was not rich and was surrounded by warlike tribes such as the -Nagas living in the mountains. Soon, Ahom not only recovered the areas ceded to the Mughals, but also occupied Guwahati. Thus, all the gains of Mir Jumla were rapidly lost. Finally, the Mughals had to give up even Guwahati and to fix a boundary west of it.

The Mughals had more success elsewhere. Shaista Khan, who succeeded Mir Jumla as the governor of Bengal after his setback at the hands of Shivaji, proved to be a good administrator and an able general. He modified Mir Jumlas forward policy. First, he patched up an agreement with the ruler of Cooch Bihar. Next, he gave his attention to the problem of south Bengal, where the Magh (Arakanese) pirates, had been terrorizing the area up to Dacca from their headquarters at Chittagong. The land up to Dacca had become desolate and trade and industry had suffered a setback. Shaista Khan built up a navy to meet the Arakanese pirates and captured the island of Sondip as a base of operations against Chittagong. Next, he won the Firingis to his side by inducements of money and favours. The Arakan navy near Chittagong was routed and many of their ships captured. Chittagong was next assaulted and captured early in 1666. The destruction of the Arakanese navy opened the seas to free commerce. This was no minor factor in the rapid growth of Bengal’s foreign trade during the period and the expansion of cultivation in east Bengal.

​Popular Revolts and Movements For Regional Independence: Jats, Afghans and Sikhs

Within the empire, Aurangzeb had to deal with a number of difficult political problems such as the problems of the Marathas in the Deccan, the Jats and Rajputs in north India and that of the Afghans and Sikhs in the north-west. Some of these problems were not new and had to face by Aurangzeb’s predecessors. But they assumed a different character under Aurangzeb the nature of these movements also varied. In the case of Rajputs, it was basically a problem of succession. In the case of the Marathas-it was question of local independence. The clashes with the Jats had a peasant agrarian background. The only movement in which religion played a major role was the Sikh movement. Both the Jat and the Sikh movements culminated in attempt to set up independent regional slates.

Jats and Satnamis

The first section to come into conflict with the Mughal government were the Jats of the Agra-Delhi region living on both sides of the river Yamuna. The Jats were mostly peasant cultivators, only a few of them being zamindars. With a strong sense of brotherhood and justice, the Jats had often come into conflict with the government and taken to rebellion, taking advantage of their difficult terrain. Thus, conflict with the Jats of the area had taken place during the reigns of Jahangir and Shah Jahan over collection of land revenue. Since the imperial road to the Deccan and the western seaports passed through the Jat area, the Mughal government had taken a serious view of these rebellions and taken stern measures.

In 1669, the Jats of the Mathura region broke out in rebellion under the leadership of a local zamindar, Gokla. The rebellion spread rapidly among the peasants of the area, and Aurangzeb decided to march in person from Delhi to quell it. Although the Jat levies had swelled to 20,000, they were no match for the organised imperial army. In a stiff battle the Jats were defeated. Gokla was captured and executed.

However, the movement was not completely crushed and discontent continued to simmer. Meanwhile, in 1672, there was another armed conflict between the peasants and the Mughal state at Narnaul, not far from Mathura. This time the conflict was with a religious body called Satnamis. The Satnamis were mostly peasants, artisans and low caste people, called ‘goldsmiths, carpenters, sweepers, tanners and other ignoble beings’ by a contemporary writer. They did not observe distinctions of caste and rank or between Hindus and Muslims, and followed a strict code of conduct. Starting from a clash with a local official, it soon assumed the character of an open rebellion. Again, the emperor had to march in person to crush it. It is interesting to note that the local Hindu zamindars, many of whom were Rajputs, sided with the Mughals in this conflict.

In 1685, there was a second uprising of the Jats under the leadership of Rajaram. The Jats were better organised this time and adopted the methods of guerrilla warfare, combining it with plunder. Aurangzeb approached Raja Bishan Singh, the Kachhwaha ruler to crush the uprising. Bishan Singh was appointed faujdar of Mathura and the entire area was granted to him in zamindari. Conflict between the Jats and the Rajputs over zamindari rights complicated the issue, most of the primary zamindars, that is the cultivating peasants who owned the land being Jats, and the intermediary zamindars, that is those who collected the land revenue being Rajputs. The Jats put up stiff resistance, but by 1691, Rajaram and his successor, Churaman, were compelled to submit. Later, in the eighteenth century, taking advantage of Mughal civil wars and weakness in the central government, Churaman was able to carve out a separate Jat principality in the area and to oust the Rajput zamindars. Thus, what apparently started as a peasants’ uprising, changed its character, and culminated in a state in which Jat chiefs formed the ruling class.

The Afghans

Aurangzeb came into conflict with the Afghans also. Conflict with the hardy Afghan tribesmen who lived in the mountain region between the Punjab and Kabul was not new. Akbar had to fight against the Afghans and, in the process, lost the life of his close friend and confidant, Raja Birbal. Conflict with the Afghan tribesmen had taken place during the reign of Shah Jahan also. These conflicts were partly economic and partly political and religious. With little means of livelihood in the rugged mountains, the Afghans had no option but to prey on the caravans or to enrol in the Mughal armies. Their fierce love of freedom made service in the Mughal armies difficult. The Mughals generally kept them content by paying them subsidies. But growth of population or the rise of an ambitious leader could lead to a breach of this tacit agreement.

During the reign of Aurangzeb, we see a new stirring among the Pathans. In 1667, Bhagu, the leader of the Yusufazai tribe, proclaimed as king a person named Muhammad Shah who claimed descent from an ancient royal lineage, and proclaimed himself his wazir. It would appear that among the Afghans, as among the Jats, the ambition of setting up a separate state of their own had begun to stir. A religious revivalist movement called the Raushanai, which emphasised a strict ethical life and devotion to a chosen pir had provided an intellectual and moral background to the movement.

There was a second Afghan uprising in 1672. The leader of the opposition this time was the Afridi leader, Akmal Khan, who proclaimed himself king and read khutba and struck in his name. He declared war against the Mughals and summoned all the Afghans to join him.

The Afghan uprising shows that sentiments of resistance to the Mughal rule and the urge for regional freeedom were not confined to sections of Hindus, such as Jats, Marathas, etc. Also, the Afghan uprising helped to relax Mughal pressure on Shivaji during a crucial period. It also made difficult, if not impossible, a forward policy by the Mughals in the Deccan till 1676 by which time Shivaji had crowned himself and entered into an alliance with Bijapur and Golcondu.

The Sikhs

Although there had been some clashes between the Sikh Guru and the Mughals under Shah Jahan, there was no clash between the Sikhs and Aurangzeb till 1675. In fact, conscious of the growing importance of the Sikhs, Aurangzeb had tried to engage the Guru and a son of Guru Har Rai had remained at the Court. After his succession as Guru in 1664 Guru Tegh Bahadur journeyed to Bihar to support the Sikh centres there. He then joined Raja Ram Singh of Amber in the Assam campaign. However, in 1675 Guru Tegh Bahadur was arrested in Punjab with five of his followers, brought to Delhi and beheaded.

Various reasons have been put forward to account for Aurangzeb’s action. We are told that Aurangzeb was annoyed because the Guru had converted a few Muslims to Sikhism. There is also the tradition that the Guru was punished because he had raised a protest against the religious persecution of the Hindus in Kashmir by the local governors. There is evidence to show that the Guru received a delegation of Brahmans from Kashmir and promised to support them. The action of Aurangzeb in breaking even some temples of old standing must have been a new cause of discontent and disaffection to which the Guru gave expression and sacrificed his life.

Aurangzeb’s action was unjustified from any point of view and betrayed a narrow approach. The beheading of Guru Tegh Bahadur forced the Sikhs to go back to the Punjab hills. It also led to the Sikh movement gradually turning into a military brotherhood. A major contribution in this sphere was made by Guru Gobind Singh. He showed considerable organisational ability and founded the military brotherhood or the khalsa in 1699. Before this, Guru Gobind Singh had made his headquarters at Anandpur in the foothills of the Punjab.

The Mughal forces assaulted Anandpur but the Sikhs fought bravely and beat off all assaults. The Mughals and their allies now invested the fort closely. When starvation began inside the fort, the Guru was forced to open the gate apparently on a promise of safe conduct by Wazir Khan. But when the forces of the Guru were crossing a swollen stream, Wazir Khan’s forces suddenly attacked. Two of the Guru’s sons were captured and on their refusal to embrace Islam, were beheaded at Sirhind. The Guru lost two of his remaining sons in another battle. After this, the Guru retired to Talwandi and was generally not disturbed.

Although Guru Gobind Singh was not able to withstand Mughal might, he created a tradition for fight against oppression and upholding cherished principles. It also showed how an egalitarian religious movement could, under certain circumstances, turn into a political and militaristic movement and subtly move towards regional independence.

​Relations With The Rajputs—Breach With Marwar and Mewar

We have seen how Jahangir settled in 1613 the long drawn out conflict with Mewar. Jahangir continued Akbar’s policy of giving favours to the leading Rajput rajas and of entering into matrimonial relations with them. Shah Jahan maintained the alliance with the Rajputs. Shah Jahan himself was the son of a Rathor princess. Perhaps, alliance with the Rajputs having been consolidated, it was felt that matrimonial relations with the leading rajas were no longer necessary. However, Shah Jahan accorded high honour to the heads of the two leading Rajputs houses, Jodhpur and Amber. Raja Jaswant Singh, the ruler of Marwar, was high in Shah Jahan’s favour. Aurangzeb also attached great value to the alliance with the Rajputs. He tried to secure the active support of the Maharana of Mewar.

Although Jaswant Singh, the ruler of Marwar, had fought against Aurangzeb at Dharmat and defected from his side during the campaign against Shuja and invited Dara to his dominions. Aurangzeb pardoned him and restored him to his previous mansab and he was appointed to important commands, including the governorship of Gujarat.

Jaswant Singh who had been deputed to look after the affairs of the Afghans in the north-west died towards the end of 1678. He had no surviving male issue and hence the question of succession to the gaddi immediately arose. There was a longstanding Mughal tradition that in case of a disputed succession, the state was brought under Mughal administration (khalisa) to ensure law and order and then handed over to the chosen successor.

Later, anticipating resistance from the Rathors, Aurangzeb had allotted two parganas in Marwar for the maintenance of the family and supporters of Jaswant Singh. He also assembled a strong army and marched to Ajmer to enforce his orders. Rani Hadi, the chief queen of Jaswant Singh, who had been objecting to handing over charge of Jodhpur to the Mughals, since it was the watan (homeland) of the Rathors, had no option but to submit.

Thus the Mughals behaved as conquerors and treated Marwar as hostile territory. Two sons had been born at Lahore to two ranis of Jaswant Singh after his death. Their claim to the gaddi was strongly canvassed. However, before returning to Delhi, Aurangzeb decided to award the tika of Jodhpur to Inder Singh, the grandson of Jaswant Singh’s elder brother, Amar Singh, in return for a succession fee of thirty-six lakhs of rupees.

According to a contemporary Rajasthani work, Hakumat-ri-Bahi, Aurangzeb offered a mansab, to Ajit Singh the posthumous son of Jaswant Singh, when he was presented at the court in Agra and declared that the two parganas in Marwar, Sojat and Jaitaran, would continue as his jagir. Thus, Aurangzeb was virtually contemplating a division of the state of Marwar between the two branches of the family.

The Rathor sardars led by Durgadas rejected this proffered compromise which they felt would be against the best interests of the state. Angered at the rejection of his offer by the sardars, Aurangzeb marched to Ajmer. The Rathor resistance was crushed and Jodhpur occupied. Durgadas fled with Ajit Singh to Mewar where the Rana sent him to a secret hide-out.

It was at this stage that Mewar entered the war on the side of Ajit Singh. Rana Raj Singh, who at one stage had supported Aurangzeb, had been gradually alienated. He had sent a force of 5000 men under one of his leading men to Jodhpur to back up the claim of Rani Hadi, Apparently, he was deeply opposed to Mughal interference in the internal affairs of the Rajputs, such as questions of succession and the Mughal military occupation of Marwar and Aurangzeb’s rejection of Ajit Singh’s claims.

Aurangzeb struck the first blow. In November 1679 he attacked Mewar. The war soon reached a stalemate. At last, the eldest son of Aurangzeb, prince Akbar, tried to take advantage of long drawn war situation by turning his arms against his father. In alliance with the Rathor chief, Durgadas, he marched on Ajmer (January 1681) where Aurangzeb was helpless, all his best troops being engaged elsewhere. But prince Akbar delayed and Aurangzeb was able to stir up dissensions in his camp by false letters. Prince Akbar had to flee to Maharashtra and Aurangzeb heaved a sigh of relief.

The campaign in Mewar now became secondary for Aurangzeb He patched up a treaty with Rana Jagat Singh in the meantime. The new Rana was forced to surrender some of his parganas in lieu of jizyah and was granted a mansab of 5000 on a promise of loyalty and of not supporting Ajit Singh, Regarding Ajit Singh, all that Aurangzeb would promise was that mansab and raj would be given to him when he came of age.

This agreement and the promise regarding Ajit Singh satisfied none of the Rajputs. The Mughals kept their control on Marwar and desultory warfare continued till 1698 when at last, Ajit Singh was recognised as the ruler of Marwar. But the Mughals refused to relax their hold on the capital, Jodhpur. The Rana of Mewar, too, remained dissatisfied at the surrender of his parganas to the Mughals. There was no change in this situation till Aurangzeb died in 1707.

Aurangzeb’s policy towards Marwar and Mewar was clumsy and blundering and brought no advantage of any kind to the Mughals. On the other hand, Mughal failure against these states damaged Mughal military prestige. It is true that the battle in Marwar after 1681 involved only a few troops and were not of much consequence militarily. But the results of the Marwar policy of Aurangzeb cannot be judged solely by these. The breach with, Marwar and Mewar weakened the Mughal alliance with the Rajputs at a crucial time. Above all, it created doubts about the firmness of Mughal support to old and trusted allies and the ulterior motives of Aurangzeb. While it showed the rigid and obstinate nature of Aurangzeb, it did not, however, show a determination to subvert Hinduism as has been alleged, because during the period after 1679large numbers of Marathas were allowed entry into the nobility.

Aurangzeb’s conflicts in the northeast and with the Jats, Afghans and Rajputs put a strain on the empire. However, the real conflict lay in the Deccan.



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