In 1657, with Shah Jahan suffering a serious illness, a battle for succession erupted among his four sons—Aurangzeb, Shah Shuja, Murad Bakhsh, and Dara Shukoh—from which Aurangzeb emerged victorious. He took over Agra and imprisoned his father in Agra Fort until his death in 1666 at age 74. He then pursued his three brothers. Murad was arrested and in 1661 executed. Shah Shuja ﬂ ed into the jungles of Burma. Dara Shukoh, the eldest, raised an army to ﬁ ght Aurangzeb but was deserted by erstwhile allies, and in 1569 was captured and executed for heresy by Aurangzeb’s forces.
Aurangzeb (1618–1707) was the last of the great Mughals. Under his rule (r. 1658–1707) the Mughal armies led almost constant wars of conquest, and the empire expanded to its largest size. In 1661 the eastern kingdom of Cooch was annexed by the Mughals. Portuguese pirates were driven from the area after the Mughals conquered the Bengal port of Chittagong in 1666. But the warfare almost bankrupted the empire, and the empire’s hold on the new territories was weak. An unpopular ruler, Aurangzeb faced rebellions by the Yusufzais near Peshawar (1667, 1672–76); the Sikhs in Anandpur, in what is today the Indian state of Punjab (beginning in 1668 and lasting for several years); and the Marathas, beginning in 1670.
Shivaji Bhonsle (1630–80), the leader of the Maratha Hindu kingdom, had risen to take over Deccan territory. By 1663 Shivaji controlled Bijapur territory in the Deccan and Mughal territory in Ahmadnagar. The Mughals’ inability to deal effectively with Shivaji was emblematic of their declining fortunes. Aurangzeb dispatched his uncle, Shaista Khan, to attack Shivaji. The Mughals won the initial engagement, but Shivaji counterattacked and expelled the Mughal forces from the region. Aurangzeb then ordered one of his most powerful generals, the Rajput Jai Singh, to carry on the ﬁght against the Marathas, and the campaign was a success. Shivaji accepted the terms of surrender and was placed under house arrest at the royal court in Agra.
But Shivaji escaped and regained power in his old territory. He recaptured forts and expanded his dominion to the south, forming a strong independent state.Meanwhile, Aurangzeb adopted religious policies that created schisms within the empire, further weakening it. A devout Sunni Muslim, he ended the practice of religious tolerance and tried to force the conversion of Hindus to Islam. He changed the legal system, making sharia, Islamic law, the law of the land. With the exception of construction of the Badshahi Mosque he also turned his back on the promotion of great works of art and architecture that had characterized Mughal rule up to this time. He banned singers, musicians, and dancers from his court and built few grand monuments or buildings.
The English also gained stronger footholds in the subcontinent during this period. They received Bombay, which the Portuguese had held, as the wedding dowry of Catherine Henrietta of Braganza (1638–1705), a Portuguese princess who married King Charles II (1630–85). By then Surat had proved vulnerable, having been sacked twice by Shivaji (in 1664 and 1670). The English relocated their headquarters to Bombay. They cleared its swamps and by 1677 created a more substantial factory.
Sir Joshua Child, the chairman of the EIC at the time, wanted to strengthen Britain’s position in the subcontinent. In 1685 12 English warships were sent to take establish and control fortiﬁ cations at Chittagong. Mughal forces met and defeated them. In retaliation England blockaded several ports on the Indian west coast. They seized Mughal ships and kept pilgrims from making the hajj to Mecca. Aurangzeb ordered his forces to attack English trading posts. Several including Surat were taken by the Mughals. EIC representatives were killed. The company appealed to Aurangzeb for an end to the attacks and agreed to pay for the seized ships and compensate the Mughal ruler for other damages.
In return Aurangzeb pardoned the English and granted them a new trading license in 1690.At the time, English pirates were active in the region, but the EIC did little to stem their activity. In 1695 English pirates seized a Mughal ship carrying pilgrims and trade proﬁts. In response the Mughal governor of Surat arrested the local head of the EIC and put the city’s English citizens under custody—in chains—to protect them from angry Muslim residents.
On India’s east coast, the English were allowed to create a trading post on the Hooghly River in Bengal in 1697. This became the city of Calcutta (present-day Kolkata), the capital of British India from 1858 until 1912. Another major British trade center on the east coast was Madras (present-day Chennai). The British hired local soldiers they called sepoys and formed armed forces for their own protection. Over time local rulers asked the British to lend them the sepoy forces to help with security. In return for concessions and land, the British often agreed; they increasingly became more involved in local affairs and took control of more land.
The frontier area in what is now northwest Pakistan was another region that tested Mughal domination. The Yusufzai had been in rebel-lion since the beginning of Aurangzeb’s reign. In 1667 a force of 5,000 Yusufzai mounted a series of invasions into Pakhli (present-day Hazara district). Mughal forces responding to the uprising soundly defeated the rebels. A 1672 revolt by the Satnamis of East Punjab, a fanatical Hindu sect, was also brutally put down. Meanwhile the Jats (not to be confused with the Jats of Afghanistan), an ethnic group in the northern subcontinent whose kingdom centered around Agra, continued causing havoc as they had since Akbar’s reign.
Affairs of State
Corruption of the administration system became endemic under Aurangzeb, driving more peasants from the land, lowering state income, and further weakening the empire. Aurangzeb tried to improve the lot of peasants, but his orders were often ignored by landowners and admin-istrators. At the same time his anti-Hindu policies, which included restrictions on religious practices and the desecration and destruction of temples, further alienated his subjects. This encouraged more anti-Mughal activity and helped fuel the Marathas’ rebellion. Aurangzeb also alienated the Rajputs by trying to put them under greater state control, which led to a Rajput uprising.
Unhappy with the way his son, Prince Akbar, handled the rebellions, Aurangzeb replaced him, and Prince Akbar was subsequently recruited by the Rajputs to lead their forces in revolt against Aurangzeb.But Aurangzeb tricked the Rajput forces into deserting Akbar. However, the war with the Rajputs continued, and Aurangzeb had to cede them some degree of autonomy.Aurangzeb tracked his rebellious son into the Deccan. Prince Akbar escaped pursuit, but the empire’s forces remained in the Deccan for 26 years (1681–1707), and during this time ﬁ nally captured the Marathas’ leader, Shivaji.
The Mughal army boasted 170,000 men, but the force was unwieldy, and its ofﬁ cers were more interested in pursuing leisure at home than engaging in foreign campaigns. Thus the army’s power was blunted. Losses mounted in the Deccan. The conﬂ ict sapped the empire’s strength and will, and it began to suffer setbacks in the north as well. The upper classes were dissatisﬁ ed because of deteriorating economic conditions. In 1690, Aurangzeb tried to placate the nobil-ity by promising them ownership of lands under their control.
But the ﬂ ight of the peasants was making land less productive, and, by 1700 the nobles were demanding cash rather than land, and all the local chiefs were in revolt.The Sikhs coexisted with the Mughals at the beginning of Aurangzeb’s reign, mostly due to their own internal dissension. But after Aurangzeb ordered the execution of the ninth Sikh guru, Tegh Bahadur (1621–75), the 10th and last guru, Guru Gobind Singh Gurdwara (1666–1708), formed the Khalsa, the movement’s military arm, in 1699. The Khalsa were baptized with water stirred with a dagger.
Wearing “the ﬁ ve K’s” was mandated: kesha, uncut hair, symbolizing spirituality; kaccha, short pants, signifying self-control and chastity; kangha, comb, symbolizing hygiene and discipline; kara, iron bangle, signifying restraint of action and remembrance of God; and kirpan, dagger, a symbol of dignity and struggles against injustice. Aurangzeb mounted a campaign of suppres-sion against them near the end of his reign, and Mughal forces laid siege to the Sikhs at Amandpur in 1704. The siege was unsuccessful, and the Sikhs were promised safe passage, but the Mughals and their allies slaughtered them once they left their fortiﬁ cations.