The reign of Aurangzeb : his treatment of the Hindus
Aurangzeb at the time of his accession
In June 1659, when Aurangzeb assumed the full honours of the imperial dignity under the title of Alamgir, conferred by his father, he was forty years of age, mature in body and mind, well skilled in affairs, both civil and military, and firmly convinced that it was his duty to uphold his religion at any cost.
The history of his reign, extending like Akbar’s over a period of nearly fifty years, may be condensed as being that of the failure of an attempt to govern a vast empire, inhabited chiefly by Hindus, on the principles of an ascetic Moslem saint.
Aurangzeb’s principles of government
Aurangzeb never flinched from the practical action logically resulting from his theory, that it was his duty as a faithful Moslem king to foster the interests of orthodox Sunni Islam, to suppress idolatry, and, as far as possible, to discourage and disown all idolaters, heretics (including Shah Mohammedans)’ and infidels.
He could not do all he would, but he did all he could to carry his principles into effect. No fear of unpopularity, no consideration of political expediency, no dread of resistance , was suffered to turn him for a moment from his religious duty as he conceived it.
The emperor Aurangzeb was a man of high intellectual powers, a brilliant writer, as his letters prove, an astute diplomatist, a soldier of undaunted courage, a skilled administrator, a just and merciful judge, a pious ascetic in his personal habits, and yet a failure.
Palliation of his fight for the throne. He crossed a river of blood to gain the throne. The best defence that can be offered for the crimes by which he won it, is that indicated in his letter reproaching his old tutor:
‘Ought you not’, he writes, ‘to have foreseen that I might at some future period be compelled to contend with my brothers, sword in hand, for the crown, and for my very existence. Such, as you must have well known, has been the fate of the children of almost every king of Hindustan.’That defence, as far as it goes, is sound. If any one of his brothers had gained the prize, Aurangzeb would have suffered death, and he can hardly be blamed because he preferred to inflict, rather, than suffer, death. The deposition of his father was a necessary consequence of the defeat of Dara Shikoh, who had already assumed the imperial authority with the assent of the aged emperor, who was then no longer fit to rule. Once the deposition had been effected, Aurangzeb spared his father’s life though sternly refusing him liberty.
The brutal treatment of Dara Shikoh, which cannot be justified, is explained by Aurangzeb’s intense hatred for all forms of religious heresy. His eldest brother, an avowed free-thinker, was to him a thing accursed, and a fit object for extremest insult. Aurangzeb regarded the world from the point of view of a Moslem ascetic, and as against the rights of orthodoxy the claims of kindred or of justice to Hindu unbelievers were nothing in his eyes. He took up the position of Philip II of spain in relation to the people of the Netherlands. Like that monarch he was intensely suspicious, trusting neither man nor woman.
His love, although sometimes given, was seldom sought and, perhaps, never returned, except by one grandson, prince Bedar Bakht.
Mir Jumla’s attack on Assam
In the earlier part of the reign the only wars, other than that of the succession, which claim notice are those with Assam and Arakan. Mir Jumla, the able general, who had done such good service for Aurangzeb when he was viceroy of the Deccan, and again in hunting down Shuja, was rash enough to follow in the footsteps of Mohammed the son of Bakhtyar (ante, p. 106) and to invade Assam. Mir Jumla failed like his early predecessor, and, like him, died soon after his return (1663).
Annexation of part of Arakan by Shayista Khan
In the course of the same year, Aurangzeb’s uncle, Shayista khan, who had allowed himself to be surprised by the Marathas in the Deccan, was transferred to Bengal as the successor of Mir Jumla. He governed the eastern province for about thirty years. His expulsion of the English merchants from his territory in 1686 has been mentioned (ante,p.161). At an earlier ate (1666) he had cleared out the portuguese and other pirates who infested the rivers in the neighbourhood of Chittagong, and sent an expedition against the king of Arakan, who had abetted the evil-doers, and was compelled to cede the Chittagong territory.
‘The expeditions into Assam and Arakan did not disturb the general peace of Hindustan. A profound tranquillity, broken by no rebellion of any political importance, reigned throughout Northern India for the first twenty years of Aurangzeb’s rule.’ It is true that for nearly three years (1673-5) the Afghan clans beyond the Indus gave trouble, and during part of that time Aurangzeb in person superintended the operations of his generals, but the peace of India, as a whole, was not disturbed by skirmishing on the north-western frontier.
Aurangzeb was a religious bigot, nad he reversed in every respect the wise policy of Akbar towards his Hindu subjects. In 1669, hearing that certain Brahmins were giving religious lectures at Multan and Benares, he ordered ‘all governors of provinces to destroy with a willing hand the schools and temples of the infidels’.Inconsequence, the temple of Vishwanath at Benares was destroyed. In 1672 a Hindu religious sect called the Satnamis rebelled, and was crushed with ruthless severity. In 1675, Tegh Bahadur, the ninth of the sikh gurus (post, p.p 224-6), was taken and executed because he refused to embrace Islam.
In 1678, Raja Jaswant Singh of Marwar died. The emperor tried to seize his children and have them brought up as Moslems. He adopted the same policy towards the young Maratha Prince Shahu. Finally in 1679 he revived the hated jizya or poll-tax which Akbar had abolished. By his bigotry Aurangzeb rent in pieces the mighty Mogul empire, and paved the way for the British conquest of India.
Alienation of the Rajputs
After some time the rana of Mewar (Udaipur) made an honourable peace, by a treaty which contained no allusion to the odious jizya, and Raja Jaswant singh’s son was recongnized as chieftain of Marwar. The mischief, however,had been done, and Aurangzeb had wantonly thrown away his most trusty weapon, the devotion of the Rajput chivalry.
During the following struggle in the Deccan he learned the extent of his loss, but never repented of his action or swerved a hair’s breadth from his principles. Notwithstanding the treaty, Rajputana was not pacified, and the greater part of the country continued in revolt until the end of the reign.
Prohibition of histories
A curious decree of the eleventh year of the reign abolished the office of imperial chronicler and forbade the publication of histories by private persons. This prohibition has caused a certain amount of indistinctness in the details and obscurity in the chronology of the greater part of Aurangzeb’s long reign. Such histories as were written secretly had to wait for
publication until the emperor’s death.
Aurangzeb and the Deccan
In 1657, when called away to take part in the fight for the throne, prince Aurangzeb, then viceroy of the Deccan, that is to say of Khandesh, Berar, Telangana, and Ahmadnagar, seemed to be an on the point of annexing the kingdoms of Golkonda and Bijapur and bringing the whole of the Deccan under the rule of his father. Many years elapsed before Aurangzeb as emperor was able to return to the scene of his early labours.
Meantime a new power had arisen, which, rashly despised at first, became strong enough to baffle all the efforts of the imperial grand army, and to condemn the aged emperor to long-drawn years of fruitless toil, ending in lonely death, ‘without heart or help’.
The new-born Maratha power. Before taking up the story of Aurangzeb’s campaigns in the Deccan during the twenty-six years from the close of 1681 to 1707, we must go back to trace the origin of the new-born Maratha power and sketch the life of Sivaji, who gave it birth. the Marathas are the Hindu population of Maharashtra, the country of the western Ghats, lying to the south of the Satpura hills, to the west of the warda river, and extending southwards as far as Goa. In the thirteenth century this region had been the centre of the Yadava power (ante,p.84). It’s best known towns are Poona, Satara, Kolhapur, and Nasik.
Description of the Marathas
The inhabitants of the barren uplands of the Deccan, with its fierce heat and uncertain rainfall, are a frugal, manly race. “They are ,” says Elphinstone , “small, sturdy men, well made though not handsome. They are all active, laborious, hardy, and preserving. If they have none of their indolence or their want of worldly wisdom.”
One feature of the Deccan must be particularly noted. It is intersected by a number of mountain-ranges, and high flat topped hills rise up on all sides. These hills are easily convertible, by means of a few bastions, into forts, which are almost impregnable without the use of siege artillery. These natural strongholds played an important part in the great struggle against the Mohammedans. The Marathas would retire to them when hard pressed, and then, when the opportunity offered, they would sally forth and hang upon their opponents’ flanks like a pack of wolves, cutting off stragglers and intercepting supplies. The Marathas were admirably adapted for these guerilla tactics.
Early life of Sivaji
Sivaji, the great Maratha champion, belonged to the Bhosle family. His father Shahji was a soldier of fortune, and while he was away on distant campaigns in southern India, on behalf of the kings of Bijapur, the lad was brought up at poona under his mother Jijabai. He became inspired with the idea of freeing his country from the Mohammedan yoke. At the age of nineteen he began his career by seizing some of the hill forts in the Poona district.
In 1659 the Biajpur government began to realize that the danger was serious. Afzal khan, a famous general, was sent with a large force. But he became entangled in the dense jungles between Wai and Mahableshwar, near sivaji’s fort of Pratapgarh. Here Afzal khan was tempted to a conference and cut down. His army was suddenly attacked from every side and completely annihilated. Bijapur now thought it prudent to come to terms.
The Maratha now ventured to ravage the Mogul territories, and thus provoked Aurangzeb to send his uncle, Shayista khan, to suppress him. But the Mogul commander, having allowed himself to be surprised, was transferred to Bengal, as already narrated (ante,p.208).
Other generals, including prince Muazzam, were now sent against the rebel, and after some time (1665) Raja Jai Singh of Jaipur persuaded Sivaji to submit and even to come to Agra to do homage. Aurangzeb enforced the court rules of etiquette on his opponent, and so incurred his undying enmity. Sivaji escaped secretly from the court, returned to the Deccan, and in February 1668 compelled Aurangzeb to recognize him as Raja.
Renewed war; death of Sivaji, 1680
The war was soon renewed, and the Marathas freely plundered the imperial territories, including the rich town of Surat, all except the English factory there. In 1674 Sivaji proclaimed himself sovereign of the Deccan with royal pomp at his capital of Raigarh. He then crossed the Narmada, and levied the chauth, or fourth part of the land revenue, a species of blackmail, payment of which was supposed to protect a district from plunder.
In the south, where his father and brother had held jagirs, he occupied the fortresses of Vellore and Jinji (Gingee), and was granted additional territory by the king of Bijapur in payment for help against the Moguls. In 1680 he died at the age of fifty-three, leaving behind him a great reputation as the champion of Hinduism, the creator of a nation, and the founder of a powerful kingdom.
Sivaji, who had begun life as a petty chieftain, showed, as his power grew, that he knew how to govern his unruly subjects. He was a devout Hindu, and , although illiterate and unable to sign his name, was well versed in the sacred lore dear to all Hindus. His government, accordingly, was organized on a Hindu pattern. The supreme authority under the Raja was a council of eight ministers who followed the principles of Brahmin law. The chief minister was called the Peshwa.
Other members of the council severally looked after various departments-finance, the army, and so forth. Maratha territory was divided into districts, each with a staff of officials, and each village had its headman (Patel). Higher local officers were known as Desadhikars, Talikdars, and Subadars. The ministers usually held military commands, and left their civil duties to deputies (Kabaris). The revenue settlements were made annually. Justice was in the hands panchayats.
Army and navy
The army was controlled by a commander-in-chief, below whom was a regular gradation of officers. The men were paid. At first Sivaji relied on his infantry recruited from the Western Ghats and the Konkan man who could climb like monkeys and capture the hill forts which were the seat of his power. Gradually the light cavalry became the most important Maratha arm. The horsemen preferred the lance to any other weapon. Discipline was strict. No soldier was allowed to bring a woman into the field on pain of death.
In this respect Sivaji’s force differed widely from the armies of the Moguls, and even from those of the East India Company, which were always clogged by a train of female followers. The chief object of the Maratha raids was to till the treasury; hence all plunder had to be strictly accounted for. Cows, cultivators, and women were not to be injured. A fleet capable of carrying four thousand soldiers helped the operations of the coast.
Character of Sivaji
Sivaji was a born leader of men, and a real master of guerilla warfare. There can be no doubt that he rally believed himself to be born with a mission ‘to protect Brahmins and kind’, and to set his country free. He lived in a dark and cruel age, when religious feeling ran high, and admittedly his career was stained by deeds which would be condemned in modern times. Of the death of Azal Khan it is impossible to speak with certainly, but the murder of the two Maratha chiefs, Chandrarao More and Baji Ghorpade, and the destruction of their capitals, is hard to defend. Equally cruel were the brutal tortures inflicted on the Hindu baniyas of Surat to extract their hidden treasures.
But on the whole he was a chivalrous and far-sighted man, and we may fully concur with the character given to him by Khafi Khan, the Mohammedan historian, who was certainly not biased in his favour:
‘He made it a rule that, wherever his followers went plundering, they should do no harm to mosques, the Book of God, or anyone’s women. Whenever a copy of the holy Koran cam into his hands, he treated it with respect, and gave it to some of his Mussulman followers. When the women of any Hindu or Mohammedan were taken prisoners by his men and they had no friend to protect them, he watched over them till their relations came to buy them their liberty.’
Aurangzeb assumes command in the Deccan
At the close of 1681, a year after Sivaji’s death, Aurangzeb in person took command of the army of the Deccan, resolved to extinguish the kingdoms of Golkonda and Bijapur, to curb the insolence of the Marathas, and, if possible, to bring the whole south under Mogul rule.
His treatment of the Hindus
The emperor’;s obstinate adherence to his wrong-headed policy of annoying his Hindu subjects added immensely to the inherent difficulties of his task. The first thing he did was to issue stringent orders for the collection of the arrears of the jizya tax in the southern provinces, and in three months he compelled his officers to squeeze twenty-six thousand rupees out of Burhanpur.
Insult was added to pecuniary injury by a proclamation that no Hindu should ride in apalankeen or an Arab horse without special licence. Such measures, of course, made the entire Hindu population the friends of his foes; but no consideration of prudence sufficed to turn Aurangzeb from his fixed policy.
The affairs of Golkonda
When he returned to the Deccan he found the government of Golkonda in confusion. The king, Abul Hasan, had abandoned himself to pleasure and ceased to take any part in public affairs, which were controlled by the representative of the emperor at his court and by two Hindu officials.
Aurangzeb, who could not endure Hindu influence, sent his son, Prince Muazzam, to restore order. The prince dallied over his task, but at last attacked the city of Hyderabad, which his soldiers plundered without permission. The king took refuge in the adjoining fortress of Golkonda.
In 1685 the prince, having made peace on terms displeasing to his father, was recalled.
Annexation of Bijapur, 1686
The emperor, leaving Golkonda alone for the moment, deputed another son, prince Azam, to reduce Bijapur. He had little success, and was superseded by his father, who took the capital in 1686 after an investment lasting more than a year. The kingdom ceased to exist, and the splendid city became the abode of desolation, as it is for the most part to this day.
Siege and annexation of Golkonda
Aurangzeb then resolved to make an end of the sister state of Golkonda, and to depose the king, who was accused of sending money to the Marathas, and allying himself with infidels.
When Abul Hasan perceived that his destruction was decided on, he is said to have become a changed man, to have cast aside his evil habits and played the part of a hero. Certainly the city was put in a good state of defence, and when the siege began early in 1687, the imperial troops found that they had been set a hard task. The Marathas cut off the supplies of the besiegers, who were reduced to extremities by famine and plague.
An assault ordered by the emperor failed utterly, and it seemed as if the siege must be raised. But a traitor admitted the Mogul army, and Golkonda fell (September 1687). By these conquests and later operations the imperial commanders were able to levy tribute from Tanjore and Trichinopoly in 1691, which date may be taken as marking the furthest southern extension of Mogul power.
Struggle with the Marathas
The two Mohammedan kingdoms had been destroyed, but the Marathas remained unsubdued, and the remaining twenty years of Aurangzeb’s life were spent in the vain attempt to subdue them. The emperor never returned to the north, and wasted those weary years gaining ‘ a long series of petty victories followed by larger losses’. His armies seemed to be getting the upper hand between 1698-1701, but in the succeeding years the enemy recovered the lost ground.
Maratha method of warfare
The Marathas never, or hardly ever, risked a general engagement, but expended all their energies, like the Boers in the south African war, in cutting off supplies, intercepting convoys, and incessantly harassing the enemy. Mounted on hardy ponies, they were able to move with a quickness which completely baffled the imperial armies; and, so each man carried with him his simple food and belongings, they needed no transport trains.
Inefficiency of the Mogul army
The Mogul forces, on the other hand, were unwieldy and almost immovable. The royal tents alone occupied a space three miles in circuit, and a contemporary traveller describes the whole camp as being ‘ a moving city containing half a million of souls’. Grant Duff sums up the situation in these words: ‘These apparently vigorous efforts of the government were unsubstantial; there was motion and bustle, without zeal or efficacy; the empire was unwieldy, its system relaxed, and its officers corrupt beyond all example.’ Success in these circumstances was impossible.
Execution of Sambhaji, Raja Shahu
For a time the emperor’s arms had a promise of success, and Aurangzeb had the poor satisfaction of putting to death with torture Sambhaji, a son of Shivaji, in 1689. He spared the life of sivaji junior, nicknamed Shabu (sahu), the infant son of Sambhaji, and kept his at court until his own death, when the young man was released and returned to his own dominions. He became Raja in 1708 after a contest.
A few years after Sambhaji’s execution, Tara Bai, widow of Raja Ram, another son of Sivaji, had retrieved the Maratha losses, and directed the policy of devastating the imperial territories with such energy that the emperor was shut up in his camp, and his treasure was plundered almost under his eyes.
Retreat and death of Aurangzeb
The mogul army gradually crumbled to pieces, and ultimately (1706) Aurangzeb was forced to retire on Ahmadnagar, where he died at the beginning of March 1707 (N.S), in the forty-ninth year of his reign and the eighty-eighth of his life. His dust lies under a plain tomb in the village of Rauza or Khuldabad near Daulatabad.
Aurangzeb’s farewell words
However severely the policy and conduct of Aurangzeb may be judged, it is impossible to refuse pity to the old man on his death-bed when he addressed his sons in these sad words:
‘I know not who I am, where I shall go , or what will happen to this sinner, full of sins. Now I will say good-bye to every one in this world and entrust every one to the care of God. My famous and auspicious sons should not quarrel among themselves and allow a general massacre of the people who are the servants of God. . . My years have gone by profitless. God has been in my heart, yet my darkened eyes have not recognized His light. . . There is no hope for me in the future. The fever is gone, but only the skin is left. . . The army is confounded, and without heart or help, even as I am; apart from God, with no rest for the heart yet my darkened eyes have not recognized His light. . . There is no hope for me in the future. The fever is gone, but only the skin is left. . . The army is confounded, and without heart or help, even as I am; apart from God, with no rest for the heart. . . When I have lost hope in myself, how can I hope in others? . . . You should accept my last will. It should not happen that Mussulmans be killed and the blame for their death rest upon this useless creature. . . I have greatly sinned and know not what torment awaits me. . . I commit you and your sons to the care of God, and bid you farewell. . . May the peace of God be upon you.’
The causes of Aurangzeb’s failure are obvious enough, and have been indicated in the course of the narrative, but it may be well to sum them up briefly. Aurangzeb acted as if he were merely the head of the Sunni sect Mohammedans, and not the protector of all the races and creeds of India. Akbar had realized the truth that the authority of the monarch of an empire inhabited chiefly by Hindus could not be lasting unless it rested on the support of all his people. During the greater part of his reign he treated all religions with impartial justice.
Only in his latter days he forgot himself so far so to violate his avowed principles by heaping insults upon Islam. Jahangir accepted and put in practice the tolerant maxims of his father, encouraging the building of Hindu temples as of Christian churches. Shahjahan revived then old evil policy or persecution, harrying the christians and razing temples to the ground. Aurangzeb went farther, especially after 1678, when the death of Raja Jaswant Singh deprived his countrymen of their most powerful support. The emperor, then, in 1679,reimposed the wisely abolished. He carried to monstrous lengths the policy of destroying the holy places of Hinduism, and may be reasonably charged with the overthrow of thousands of temples.
His measures forced all Hindus to regard him as their enemy and deprived him of the willing service of the Rajput clans. Sivaji, whom the emperor despised as a mere robber chief, was honoured by the Marathas as a hero, the champion and protector of Hinduism against the imperial bigot. Aurangzeb’s Sunni bigotry made him as hostile to the shah states of Bijapur and Golkonda as he was to the Hindu powers. He thus shattered the forces of Islam in the Deccan, by which the Hindu revolt of the Marathas might have been held in check.
The emperor’s suspious disposition, which prevented him from trusting anybody, deprived him likewise of all chance of finding trustworthy agents. He was, consequently, ill served. His life was so prolonged that he continued to grasp the sceptre after he had lost the strength to use it with effect. His officers, corrupted by luxury, lacked the vigour of their ancestors and were incapable of honest exertion.
The long-drawn-out Deccan wars exhausted a large part of the huge treasure of Shahjahan, and ruined the finances of the empire. Financial ruin involved the collapse of the whole administration. The subject might be treated from many other points of view, but what has been said may suffice.