Aurangzeb, born in 1618, was considered as the last great Mughal emperor. He was the third son of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal. By the time he turned 16, Shah Jahan gave him the post of the governor of Deccan. Aurangzeb moved to Kirki in the Deccan region, which he renamed, Aurangabad, after him. In 1637, he married Rabia Durrani and it was around this time that Shah Jahan began to favour his eldest son, Dara Shikoh.
Aurangzeb soon earned his father’s disfavour and was asked to step down from his post. However after mending ties with his father, he was made governor of Gujarat where he did well and was rewarded.
By 1647, he was made governor of Balkh and Badakhshan (present day Afghanistan and Tajikistan), replacing his ineffective brother, Murad Baksh.
These areas were constantly attacked by rebels and Aurangzeb managed to quell them with his military skills. When he was appointed as the governor of Multan and Sindh, he engaged in a long battle in an effort to capture Kandahar from the Safavid army. Unfortunately, Aurangzeb failed to do so, and once again earned his father’s anger.
Aurangzeb was once again appointed the governor of Deccan. He set out to expand the Mughal Empire but was stopped by his father and and eldest brother every time.
Soon after Shah Jahan fell ill, all his sons began to fight over the throne. Aurangzeb defeated his elder brother Dara’s armies and took his father as prisoner. Dara was condemned to death by his own brother.
He defeated his other brothers too and soon after took over the throne at Agra. Aurangzeb went on to rule for forty-nine years.
Although Aurangzeb’s predecessors were tolerant towards all religions, Aurangzeb enforced strict Islamic law called the Fatwa-e-Alamgiri. He banned music, art and dance in his courts. He also destroyed images in art and architecture, as Muslim Law dictates. He destroyed many Hindu temples, prohibited religious meets and enforced unfair taxes on non-Muslims, which Akbar had removed. He also banned the practice of Sati and forced many to convert to Islam.
Aurangzeb now had the freedom of expanding his kingdom with no one in his way. He extended the Empire both in the Northwest and Northeast. His armies consisted of some 500,000 camp followers, 50,000 camels and 30,000 war elephants. In a quick span of time he invaded Punjab and Afghanistan and also tried to suppress territories owned by the Marathas in the west who were led by Shivaji. But these constant military campaigns drained his treasury. As a result, the peasants of the kingdom had to pay heavy taxes.
Because of his restrictive rule, Aurangzeb had many enemies, especially the Sikhs. When Aurangzeb insisted that all Kashmir Brahmins must convert to Islam, the hapless Kashmiris turned to the Sikh Guru, Tegh Bahadur, for help. Aurangzeb refused to listen to his pleas and insisted that he too must convert to Islam. When Tegh Bahadur refused, Aurangzeb had him executed which triggered a rebellion from the Sikhs.
Aurangzeb’s army continued to weaken. It was at this time that his new enemies, the Marathas attacked him. For 27 years the two armies fought many battles, and only after Shivaji’s death in 1680, did Aurangzeb and his army get some respite.
This relief was short lived as the Rajputs of Jodhpur and Mewar joined forces and rebelled against Aurangzeb. They declared themselves independent of their rule. Aurangzeb, sent his son to quell their rebellions, only to learn later that his son would deceive him. Akbar, Aurangzeb’s son declared himself King and soon fled to the Deccan where he allied with Shivaji’s son, Sambhaji. Aurangzeb later sent his son into exile in Persia, from where he never returned. Aurangzeb then later captured Sambhaji and killed him.
The decline of the Empire however had already begun. Aurangzeb’s political power had weakened because of the time he spent on military matters. His governors and generals became powerful and many declared themselves independent rulers. His harsh rule, alienated the Hindus and the peasants, who lived in utter poverty.
Aurangzeb breathed his last in 1707. The Empire was no longer an effective force though it officially came to an end in 1857 when Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar was put on trial. It was at this time that the Mughal Empire was completely wiped out.
The Sikhs established their empire in Punjab, after Aurangzeb’s death. Charat Singh established his stronghold in Gujranwala in 1763. Maharaja Ranjit Singh was the most powerful of all Sikh rulers and ruled for over forty years. He was also known as the ‘Lion of Punjab’ and died due to paralysis in 1839. After his death the Sikh Empire was divided into small principalities.
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