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(INDIA: MUGHALS, SIKHS and EUROPEANS – continued)

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INDIA: MUGHALS, SIKHS and EUROPEANS (3 of 5)

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Rule by Akbar's Descendants

Akbar was succeeded by one of his sons: Jahangir. Sons brought up believing they were special were inclined to be troublesome, and Jahangir had trouble with one of his sons, Prince Khurram.  In 1624 the prince rebelled against his father, and in 1626 the father, Jahangir, died, and the prince, at age 35, became Shah Jahan (King of the World).

Twenty years later, Shah Jahan put his sons in charge of costly attempts to recover what he believed was his ancestral home around Samarkand. All attempts failed, and the effort left the empire weakened militarily. In 1649, Iran pushed the Mughals out of Kandahar, and Shah Jahan put one of his sons, Aurangzeb, in charge of recovering that territory. Aurangzeb failed, and so too did Shah Jahan's favorite son, Dara Shikoh. Meanwhile, to meet the expenses of making war, the emperor, Shah Jahan, raised taxes to fifty percent of a farmer's crops, while he sat upon his throne amid a display of great wealth, impressing visitors from abroad. 

Shah Jahan called his high ranking ministers to audience twice daily. He treated them as children, and he inspired obedience. Under Shah Jahan, imagination and the expression of rival points of view were not encouraged.  And, in turn, the high-ranking treated those beneath them as children.

But nature was highest ranking of all, and, in 1657, Shah Jahan became ill. Aurangzeb moved against his brother, the crown prince, Dara Shikoh. Dara Shikoh was interested in Sufi and Hindu wisdom and spirituality. Like his great grandfather, Akbar, Dara Shikoh had been religiously eclectic, and Aurangzeb, who saw himself as an orthodox Muslim, characterized Dara Shikoh's views as heretical. In 1658, Shah Jahan recovered his health and tried to help his son Dara Shikoh defend his position. The rival armies of Dara Shikoh and Aurangzeb clashed, and some of Dara Shikoh's Muslim soldiers were loyal to Islam and disloyal to the "heretic." Aurangzeb defeated his brother. Dara Shikoh was decapitated and his head delivered to Aurangzeb. Aurangzeb imprisoned his father and his other brother, Murad, and in 1658 he crowned himself, taking the title Alamgir (Grasper of the Universe). In 1671 the other brother, Murad, was also beheaded. The father, Shah Jahan, languished in prison during the first eight years of Aurangzeb's forty-nine-year reign, dying there in 1666. The political system that Shah Jahan's grandfather, Akbar, had believed perfect had proven to be otherwise. 

The Less Liberal Alamgir (Aurangzeb) Regime

Alamgir forbade courtiers from saluting in the Hindu fashion, and he prohibited Hindu fairs and festivals. He re-instituted the tax on non-Muslims that his great grandfather had removed. He crushed the semi-independent status that had been given to Hindu kingdoms, and he is accused of having backed a Muslim rampage against idol worship which laid waste to Hindu temples and sacred shrines.

Muslims who defend Aurangzeb point to evidence of grants of land for Hindu temples, and they claim that Alamgir was as solicitous of the rights and welfare of his Hindu subjects as he was of his Muslim subjects. Alamgir would be hailed by Sunnis as India's only caliph. But he would be reviled by Hindus for the suffering he imposed on people of the Hindu faith. Using naked force, Alamgir spent the first twenty-five years of his reign trying to consolidate tenuous Mughal rule across the empire he had inherited. He sent his military against tribal peoples near the Khyber pass east of Kakul and against Hindus in Rajputana (between Delhi and the Sind). In the second half of his reign he tried to conquer toward the southern tip of the subcontinent, a push that ended around 1689 – short of Cannanore and Calicut.  

With the Hindus alienated, Alamgir's conquests produced something less than the consolidation of his empire. Alamgir's rule strained his army, bureaucracy and India's economy. When Aurangzeb died in 1707, the Mughal empire was near the point of implosion, and India was more vulnerable to incursions by the Persians and by the British.

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