Aurangzeb Research Paper

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Aurangzeb’s aggressive policies expanded Mughal territory in seventeenth-century India to its zenith but sowed the seeds for the empire’s eventual dissolution. The exhaustive military campaigns, hefty taxes, aggressive defense of imperial policy, and heavy-handed patronage of Islam that characterized Aurangzeb’s rule divided and weakened the empire over the course of his forty-nine-year reign.

Muhi-ud-Din Muhammad Aurangzeb ‘Alamgir was the last of the great Mughal emperors, rulers of much of present-day South Asia from 1526. Although Aurangzeb displayed military talent, administrative acumen, and political tenacity over the course of a forty-nine-year-long reign (1658–1707), his legacy was an ambiguous one. While Aurangzeb succeeded in pushing the Mughal Empire’s frontiers to their furthest limits, the ceaseless warfare that this entailed exhausted the empire and degraded its administrative machinery. Aurangzeb’s attempts to refashion an inclusive Mughal political ideology and culture along Islamic lines also opened political and religious fissures within the Mughal polity that his successors were unable to surmount.

Aurangzeb’s early military success led his father (crowned as Emperor Shah Jahan in 1628) to appoint him governor of the Deccan, in the center of the subcontinent, in 1636. After serving in that capacity until 1644, Aurangzeb served as governor of Gujarat (1645–1647) in the west, Multan (1648–1652) in present-day Pakistan, and, for a second time, the Deccan (1652–1658). He also commanded imperial expeditions against Balkh (1646) and Kandahar (1649 and 1652) in what is now Afghanistan. Cumulatively, these assignments allowed Aurangzeb to build a reputation as a skillful general and an energetic administrator.

Aurangzeb’s eldest brother and primary political competitor, Dara Shikoh, viewed his rising fortunes with particular alarm. By the mid-1650s the imperial family had effectively fractured; whereas Aurangzeb’s other brothers—Shuja and Murad Bakhsh—allied themselves with Aurangzeb, Shah Jahan sided with Dara Shikoh. Tensions finally culminated in a bitter fratricidal conflict when Shah Jahan was taken ill in the fall of 1657. Over the next year, Aurangzeb emerged as the new Mughal emperor, overcoming military challenges by all his brothers and dethroning his father (who died under house arrest in 1666).

From the onset of his reign, Aurangzeb set the Mughal Empire on an aggressively expansionist course. In addition to campaigns against Bijapur (1660–1661, 1665–1666) in the west, Mughal armies moved against Palamau in Bihar (1661), Cooch Behar and Assam (1661–1663) in the northeast, and Arakan, presently divided between Bangladesh and Myanmar (1664). In subsequent decades Aurangzeb conquered the Deccan sultanates of Bijapur (1686) and Golkonda (1687) and extended Mughal authority over most of southern India. Aurangzeb’s military record nevertheless was a mixed one. Besides, no lasting gains in Assam the Mughals were unable to crush the military challenge posed either by the Maratha rebel Sivaji (d. 1680) or his successors in the Deccan, even though Aurangzeb took personal charge of field operations after 1681 and succeeded in capturing and executing Sivaji’s son and successor, Sambhaji, in 1689. Ultimately, decades of continuous warfare against the Marathas stymied the consolidation of imperial control over the south, led to plummeting morale within Mughal ranks, and corroded the longstanding aura of Mughal military invincibility.

Aurangzeb’s lifelong interest in military affairs was matched by attempts during the initial decades of his reign to improve the Mughal administrative machinery. This was especially true with regard to the collection of land revenue taxes, the cornerstone of Mughal finances. Intensifying imperial pressure on local landholders, however, catalyzed a series of anti-Mughal revolts among various groups from 1669 through 1697. By the 1690s, Aurangzeb’s preoccupation with the war in the Deccan and increasing political instability resulted in weakening imperial oversight with severe long-term implications for the financial viability of the empire.

After he became emperor, Aurangzeb zealously— and often shortsightedly—defended his own imperial prerogatives. Two examples stand out. First, Aurangzeb willingly triggered a massive rebellion among the Rajputs between 1679 and 1681, in order to protect his right to place a candidate of his choosing on the throne of Marwar (Jodhpur). Aurangzeb’s actions are significant because they permanently alienated many Rajputs, who had previously ranked among the Mughal dynasty’s strongest supporters. Second, all of Aurangzeb’s five sons suffered the ignominy of severe reprimands, incarceration, or permanent exile after dissenting against various imperial policies. After the late 1680s, Aurangzeb also bypassed his sons in favor of a coterie of noble loyalists. In so doing, Aurangzeb ended up fatally undermining the authority of his imperial successors.

Ultimately, however, Aurangzeb is best known for his attempts to conform imperial policies to a narrow interpretation of Islamic scriptures while simultaneously pursuing actions that favored his Muslim subjects. Aurangzeb’s more controversial gestures included empowering public censors to enforce Islamic injunctions on morality (1659), imposing double customs duties on non-Muslim traders (1665), ending imperial patronage of music and the arts (1660s), reimposing the jizya (a poll tax on non-Muslims, 1679), and making imperial land grants to Muslim clerics transferable and hereditary (1690) while denying Hindu religious figures access to those grants. Aurangzeb’s actions seem to have been informed by a combination of personal zeal and political calculation that demanded shoring up his support among various powerful Muslim constituencies. Aurangzeb’s initiatives marked a critical—if occasionally only symbolic— departure from the religiously inclusive and tolerant policies followed by Mughal emperors over the previous century.

Aurangzeb’s died of old age in February 1707. A bitter war of succession between his three surviving sons followed. Mu’azzam (crowned as Bahadur Shah) emerged victorious and immediately set about reversing many of his father’s policies.


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