From New World Encyclopedia
Birth name: Abu Muzaffar Muhiuddin Muhammad Aurangzeb Alamgir
Title: Emperor of Moghul Empire
Birth: November 3, 1618
Death: March 3, 1707
Succeeded by: Bahadur Shah I
  • Bahadur Shah I, son
  • Azam Shah, son
  • Muhammad Kam Bakshh, son

Abu Muzaffar Muhiuddin Muhammad Aurangzeb Alamgir (November 3, 1618 – March 3, 1707), usually known as Aurangzeb, but also sometimes as Alamgir I (Alamgir means world conqueror), was the ruler of the Moghul Empire from 1658 until 1707. He was and is a very controversial figure in Indian history. Unlike his predecessors, Aurangzeb led a remarkably austere and pious life. Strict adherence to Islam and Sharia (Islamic law)—as he interpreted them—were the foundations of his reign. He backed up his faith with action, abandoning the religious tolerance of his predecessors, especially Akbar the Great. During his reign many Hindu temples were defaced and destroyed, and many Indians converted to Islam. This is controversial since the Qur'an forbids forceful conversion (2:256) but Aurangzeb understood Q:5 as justifying, demanding the conversion of non-Muslims on pain of death; "Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush. But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due, then leave their way free. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful" (Qur’an 9:5).

Aurangzeb for many represents an anti-hero, an example of someone whose rule exacerbated enmity between different peoples and tended to divide person from person. His policies polarized India and may have directly contributed to the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 based on the idea that two incompatible nations existed in India, one Hindu and one Muslim.

He set back, perhaps irrevocably, inter-communal relations in the sub-continent where the term “communitarian” was first coined, which pits the respective interests of one community over-and-against others, creating competition, rivalry, and positing inalienable difference between them. For those whose vision for humanity is of a unified world in which difference is regarded as a positive not as a negative asset, Aurangzeb's reign is an example of how progress can be reversed by the efforts of someone whose view of what is right is exclusive and narrow. Aurangzeb used vast military might to expand and consolidate the Mughal Empire, at high cost. His rule inspired revolt that he constrained during his life, but which exploded and completely changed India after his death.

Rise to throne

Early life

Aurangzeb (from Persian, اورنگزیب meaning "befitting the throne") was born Abu Muzaffar Muhiuddin Muhammad Aurangzeb Alamgir, the third son of the fifth great Moghul emperor Shah Jahan (builder of the Taj Mahal), on November 3, 1618. After a rebellion by his father, part of Aurangzeb's childhood and early manhood was spent as a kind of hostage at his grandfather Jahangir's court.

After Jahangir's death in 1627, Aurangzeb returned to live with his parents. Shah Jahan followed the Mughal practice of assigning authority to his sons, and in 1634 made Aurangzeb governor of the Deccan. He moved to Kirki, which in time he renamed Aurangabad. In 1637, he married. During this period the Deccan was relatively peaceful. In the Mughal court, however, Shah Jahan began to show greater and greater favoritism to his eldest son Dara Shikoh.

In 1644, Aurangzeb's sister Jahanara Begum was seriously burnt in Agra. The event precipitated a family crisis that had political consequences. Aurangzeb suffered his father's displeasure when returning to Agra three weeks after the event. Shah Jahan dismissed him as governor. Aurangzeb later claimed (1654) to have resigned the post in protest of his father favoring Dara.

Aurangzeb's fortunes continued in decline. In 1645, he was barred from the court for seven months. After this incident, Shah Jahan appointed him governor of Gujarat. He performed well and was rewarded. In 1647, Shah Jahan made him governor of Balkh and Badakhshan (near modern Turkmenistan and Afghanistan), replacing Aurangzeb's ineffective brother Murad Baksh. These areas were at the time under attack from a variety of forces. Aurangzeb's military skill proved successful, and the story of how he spread his prayer rug and prayed in the midst of battle brought him much fame.

He was appointed governor of Multan and Sind and began a protracted military struggle against the Persian army in an effort to capture the city of Kandahar. He failed, and fell again into his father's disfavor.

In 1652, Aurangzeb was again appointed governor of the Deccan. Both man and place had changed in the interim. The Deccan produced poor tax revenue for the Mughals. As a youth in his previous term, Aurangzeb ignored the problem, allowing state-sanctioned corruption and extortion to grow. This time Aurangzeb set about reforming the system, but his efforts often placed additional burdens on the locals, and were poorly received.

It was during this second governorship that Aurangzeb first recounts destroying a Hindu temple. He also forbade the temple dancers (devadasis) from their practice of "sacred prostitution." In addition, Aurangzeb's officers began treating non-Muslims harshly, and he defended these practices in letters to Shah Jahan's court. These practices would become themes in Aurangzeb's rule as emperor.

In an effort to raise additional revenues, Aurangzeb attacked the border kingdoms of Golconda (near Hyderabad) (1657), and Bijapur (1658). In both instances, Shah Jahan called off the attacks near the moment of Aurangzeb's triumph. Even at the time it was believed that the withdrawals had actually been ordered by Prince Dara, in Shah Jahan's name.

War of succession

Shah Jahan fell ill in 1657, and was widely reported to have died. With this news, the struggle for succession began. Aurangzeb's eldest brother, Dara Shikoh, was regarded as heir apparent, but the succession proved far from certain.

On news of the Shah Jahan's supposed death, his second son, Shah Shuja declared himself emperor in Bengal. Imperial armies sent by Dara and Shah Jahan soon restrained this effort, and Shuja retreated.

Soon after, however his youngest brother Murad Baksh, with secret promises of support from Aurangzeb, declared himself emperor in Gujarat.

Aurangzeb, ostensibly in support of Murad, marched north from Aurangabad, gathering support from nobles and generals. Following a series of victories, Aurangzeb declared that Dara had illegally usurped the throne. Shah Jahan, determined that Dara would succeed him, handed over control of the empire to Dara.

A series of bloody battles followed, with troops loyal to Aurangzeb battering Dara's armies. Aurangzeb's forces surrounded Agra. Fearing for his life, Dara departed Agra for Delhi, leaving Shah Jahan. The old emperor surrendered the Red Fort of Agra to Aurangzeb's nobles, but Aurangzeb refused any meeting with his father, declaring that Dara was his enemy.

In a sudden reversal, Aurangzeb then had Murad arrested. Murad's supporters fled to Aurangzeb.

Meanwhile Dara gathered his forces, and set up an alliance with Shuja. But the key commander of Dara's armies, the Rajput general Jai Singh, defected to Aurangzeb, along with many thousand Rajput soldiers.

Dara fled Delhi, and sought an alliance with Shuja. But Shuja pretended to drop his claim to emperor after Aurangzeb offered him the governorship of Bengal. This move had the affect of isolating Dara and causing some troops to defect to Aurangzeb.

Shuja, however, uncertain of Aurangzeb's sincerity, continued to battle Aurangzeb. His forces suffered a series of defeats at Aurangzeb's hands. At length, Shuja went into exile in Arakan (in present-day Myanmar) where he disappeared, and was presumed to be dead.

With Shuhja and Murad disposed of, and with Shah Jahan confined in Agra, Aurangzeb pursued Dara, chasing him across what is now northwest India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. After a series of battles, defeats, and retreats, Dara was betrayed by one of his generals, who arrested and bound him.

In 1659, Aurangzeb arranged a formal coronation in Delhi. He had Dara openly marched in chains back to Delhi; when Dara finally arrived, he had him executed. Legends about the cruelty of this execution abound, including stories that Aurangzeb had Dara's severed head sent to Shah Jahan.

Aurangzeb kept Shah Jahan under house arrest at the Red Fort in Agra. Legends concerning this imprisonment abound, for the fort is ironically close to Shah Jahan's great architectural masterpiece, the Taj Mahal.

Aurangzeb's Reign

Did you know?
During his reign Aurangzeb expanded the Mughal Empire and enacted a series of edicts based on Sharia (Islamic law) in India

The Mughals had for the most part been tolerant of non-Muslims, allowing them to practice their customs and religion without too much interference. Though certain Muslim laws had been in place during earlier reigns—prohibitions against Hindu temples, for example, or on the tax on non-Muslims (the Jizyah), enforcement by earlier emperors had been lax, encouraging a political tolerance toward non-Muslims.

Enforcement of Islamic law

Up until Aurangzeb's reign, Indian Islam had been informed by mystical Sufi precepts. Although Sunni in ancestry, the emperors from Humayun had tolerated or openly embraced the activities of the Chisti Sufis. But Aurangzeb abandoned many of the more liberal viewpoints of his Mughal ancestors. He espoused a more conservative interpretation of Islamic principles and behavior based on the Sharia, which he set about codifying through edicts and policies. His Fatawa-e-Alamgiri, a 33-volume compilation of these edicts, established the precedent for civil law based on Sharia, which has influenced Islamic governments to the present day. This can be seen as an example of a not atypical struggle between the spheres of fiqh (jurisprudence) usually controlled by the religious scholars and of siyasin (politics). In issuing his own legal code, Aurangzeb was asserting his authority in both spheres. In effect, he was doing what Akbar had done but while Akbar's intent had been to promote an inclusive, tolerant version of Islam, his was to promote an exclusive, intolerant version.

Under Aurangzeb, Mughal court life changed dramatically. According to his interpretation, Islam did not allow music, so he banished court musicians, dancers, and singers. Further, based on Muslim precepts forbidding images, he stopped the production of representational artwork, including the miniature painting that had reached its zenith before his rule. Soldiers and citizens were also given free rein to deface architectural images—such as faces, flowers, and vines—even on the walls of Mughal palaces. Untold thousands of images were destroyed in this way. Aurangzeb gave up the Hindu-inspired practices of former Mughal emperors, especially the practice of “darshan,” or public appearances to bestow blessings, which had been commonplace since the time of Akbar.

Aurangzeb began to enact and enforce a series of edicts—with less tolerance for non-Muslims, and with harsh punishments. Most significantly, Aurangzeb initiated laws that specifically interfered with non-Muslim worship. These included the destruction of non-Muslim worship sites, a prohibition of non-Muslim religious gatherings, the closing of non-Muslim religious schools, and prohibitions of specific Hindu practices such as sati (self-immolation by widows), and temple dance. Often the punishment for breaking such laws was death.

In such a climate of fierce enforcement, the Mughal infrastructure became arbitrary and corrupt. In consequence, instead of acceptance and tolerance, non-Muslims began to feel persecuted and fearful. These feelings would lead in many instances to open political and military rebellion.

Expansion of the empire

From the start of his reign up until his death, Aurangzeb engaged in nearly constant warfare. He built up a massive army, and began a program of military expansion at all the boundaries of his empire.

Aurangzeb pushed into the northwest—into Punjab, and what is now Afghanistan. He also drove south, conquering Bijapur and Golconda, his old enemies. He further attempted to suppress the Maratha territories, which had recently been liberated from Bijapur by Shivaji.

But the combination of military expansion and political intolerance had far deeper consequences. Though he succeeded in expanding Mughal control, it was at an enormous cost in lives and treasure. And as the empire expanded in size, the chain of command grew weaker.

The Sikhs of Punjab grew both in strength and numbers in rebellion against Aurangzeb's armies. When the tolerant Muslim kingdoms of Golconda and Bijapur fell beneath Aurangzeb's might, rebellious Hindus flocked to join Shivaji and the Maratha Confederacy. For the last 20 years of his life, Aurangzeb engaged in constant battles in the Deccan, at enormous expense.

Even Aurangzeb's own armies grew restive—particularly the fierce Rajputs who were his main source of strength. Aurangzeb gave a wide berth to the Rajputs, who were mostly Hindu. While they fought for Aurangzeb during his life, immediately upon his death they revolted against the empire.

With so much of his attention on military matters, Aurangzeb's political influence waned, and his provincial governors and generals grew in authority.

Conversion of non-Muslims

During Aurangzeb's reign many Indians converted to Islam.

"Aurangzeb's ultimate aim was conversion of non-Muslims to Islam. Whenever possible the emperor gave out robes of honor, cash gifts, and promotions to converts. It quickly became known that conversion was a sure way to the emperor's favor." (Richards 1996, 177).

It has been said that Aurangzeb forcefully converted people, though this may be a matter of interpretation and exaggeration. There can be no question, however, that in economic and political terms, his rule significantly favored Muslims over non-Muslims, or that he specifically attempted to interfere with non-Muslim religious practice through sweeping and often violent methods.

While Aurangzeb clearly created a climate favorable for conversion—the carrot of the emperor's favor coupled with the stick of harsh policies—other factors come into play. No other emperor did so much to impose Islam. No other emperor was so firm in his beliefs or so consistent in his actions.

While some conversions were likely based only on practical considerations, clearly others converted out of sincere belief—at least in part inspired by Aurangzeb.

Hindu temple desecration

No aspect of Aurangzeb's reign is more cited—or more controversial—than the numerous desecrations and destruction of Hindu temples.

During his reign, many hundreds—perhaps many thousands—of temples were desecrated: facades and interiors were defaced and their murtis (images, considered idols by Aurangzeb) looted. In many cases, temples were destroyed entirely; in numerous instances mosques were built on their foundations, sometimes using the same stones.

His edicts show that he authorized and encouraged these acts. Much controversy remains about his motivation. Scholars primarily take two views, saying that destruction was predicated:

  • by political and military events, typically as punishment for rebellion and for the display of Imperial power only, and that once the point had been made, destruction stopped,


  • by Islamic precepts, and without regard to political consequences

There is evidence to support both views, much of it seemingly contradictory—for example records showing that Aurangzeb authorized subsidies to some temples at the same time as he was destroying others. (A third view, held by some scholars, is that Aurangzeb was motivated by a desire to root out corruption and crime associated with temples.)

Whatever his motivation, among the temples Aurangzeb destroyed were two most sacred to Hindus, in Varanasi and Mathura. In both cases, he had large mosques built on the sites.

The Kesava Deo temple in Mathura, marked the place Hindus believe was the birth place of Shri Krishna. The temple had large, gilded spires that could be seen from Agra. In 1661, Aurangzeb ordered the demolition of the temple, and constructed the Katra Masjid mosque. Traces of the ancient Hindu temple can be seen from the back of the mosque.

Aurangzeb also destroyed what was the most famous temple in Varanasi, Vishwanath Temple, dedicated to Shiva. The temple had changed location over the years, but in 1585 Akbar had authorized its location at Gyan Vapi. Aurangzeb ordered its demolition in 1669 and constructed a mosque on the site, whose minarets stand 71 meters above the Ganges. Traces of the old temple can be seen behind the mosque.

Centuries later, emotional debate about these acts continued. Aurangzeb's policy may have been inspired by Babar's example, whose mosque at Ayodhya was destroyed by Hindu fundamentalists in 1992, sparking riots and deaths and communitarian tension throughout the sub-continent. Some claim that the Taj Mahal was either built over a Hindu site, or was actually a Hindu and not an Islamic building, the Tejo Mahalaya—a shiv temple-palace.

Impact of Aurangzeb's reign

As a reaction to Aurangzeb's political and religious expansionist policies, and to his discriminatory laws, a momentous change occurred in India. India's politics had been previously based on tribal and geographic boundaries, but now people began to identify and align according to their religions. This development would inform all subsequent Indian history.

Hindu rebellion

Many Hindu subjects rebelled against Aurangzeb's policies.

From the beginning of his reign, Aurangzeb permitted and encouraged the defacement and destruction of Hindu temples. Other edicts added to the impact. In 1665, he forbade Hindus to display illuminations at Diwali festivals. Hindu religious fairs were outlawed in 1668. The following year he prohibited construction of Hindu temples as well as the repair of old ones. In 1671, Aurangzeb issued an order that only Muslims could be landlords of crown lands. He called upon provincial viceroys to dismiss all Hindu clerks. In 1674, certain lands held by Hindus in Gujarat were confiscated. The customs duties levied on merchants was doubled for non-Muslims. In 1679, contrary to the advice of many of his court nobles and theologians, Aurangzeb reimposed the Jizyah tax on non-Muslims.

In 1668, the Hindu Jats in the Agra district revolted. Though they suffered horrendous loss of life, the revolt continued for years. In 1681, the Jats attacked and desecrated Akbar's tomb in Sikandra.

In 1672, the Satnamis, a Hindu sect concentrated in an area near Delhi, staged an armed rebellion, plundering villages and defeating Mughal forces in a press toward Delhi. Aurangzeb sent an army of ten thousand, including his Imperial Guard, and put the rebellion down at great cost of life.

Hindu Rajputana, which had been a loyal Mughal vassal state, grew restive. The Jaipur Rajputs led by Jai Singh continued loyal, but other Rajput kingdoms didn't. When its Maharaja Jaswant Singh died in 1679, Aurangzeb seized control of Jodhpur, destroying many temples. He also moved on Udaipur. There was never a clear resolution to this war.

Hindu military leaders and their troops banded together in various alliances throughout Aurangzeb's reign, initiating nearly constant battles and bloodshed. Among the most notable alliances was the Maratha Confederacy. At the same time Sikhs were forming the militant Khalsa (Brotherhood).

The Deccan wars and the rise of the Marathas

In the time of Shah Jahan, the Deccan had been controlled by three Muslim kingdoms: Ahmednagar, Bijapur, and Golconda. Following a series of battles, Ahmendnagar was effectively divided, with large portions of the kingdom ceded to the Mughals and the balance to Bijapur. One of Ahmednagar's generals, a Hindu Maratha named Shahji, retreated to Bijapur. Shahji left behind in Pune his wife and young son Shivaji.

In 1657, while Aurangzeb attacked Golconda and Bijapur, Shivaji, using trickery, subterfuge, and guerrilla tactics, took control of three Bijapuri forts formerly controlled by his father. With these victories, Shivaji assumed de facto leadership of many independent Maratha tribes. The Marathas harried the flanks of the warring Bijapuris and Mughals, gaining weapons, forts, and territories. During the war of succession, Shivaji's small and ill-equipped army survived an all-out Bijapuri attack, and Shivaji personally killed the attacking general, Afzul Khan. With this event, the Marathas transformed into a powerful military force, capturing more and more Bijapuri and Mughal territories.

Following his coronation in 1659, Aurangzeb sent his trusted general and maternal uncle Shaista Khan to the Deccan to recover his lost forts. Shaista Khan drove into Marathi territory, and took up residence in Pune. In a daring raid, Shivaji retook Pune, even cutting off Shaista Khan's thumb as he fled. Once more the Marathas rallied to his leadership, taking back the territory.

Aurangzeb for the next few years ignored the rise of the Marathas. Shivaji led by inspiration, not by any official authority, and the Marathas continued to capture forts belonging to both Mughals and Bijapur. At last, Aurangzeb sent his Jaipuri general Jai Singh, a Hindu, to attack the Marathas.

Jai Singh's blistering attacks were so successful that he was able to persuade Shivaji to agree to peace by becoming a Mughal vassal. But when Shivaji and his son accompanied Jai Singh to Agra to meet Aurangzeb, confusion occurred, ending in an altercation at the fealty ceremony. As a result, Shivaji and his son Sambhaji were placed under house arrest in Agra, from which they managed to escape.

Shivaji returned to the Deccan, successfully drove out the Mughal armies, and was crowned Chhatrapati or king of the Maratha Confederacy in 1674. While Aurangzeb continued to send troops against him, Shivaji expanded Maratha control throughout the Deccan until his death in 1680.

Sambhaji succeeded in 1681. Under his leadership Mughal efforts to control the Deccan continued to fail.

Aurangzeb's son Akbar left the Mughal court and joined with Sambhaji, inspiring some Mughal forces to join the Marathas. Aurangzeb in response moved his court to Aurangabad and took over command of the Deccan campaign. More battles ensued, and Akbar fled to Persia.

Aurangzeb captured Sambhaji and publicly tortured and killed him in 1688. His brother Rajaram succeeded, but the confederacy fell into disarray. Surprisingly, however, this collapse provided the Marathas with great military advantage. Maratha Sardars (commanders) raised individual battles against the Mughals, and territory changed hands again and again during years of endless warfare. Since there was no central authority in control, Aurangzeb was forced to contest every inch of territory, at great cost in lives and treasure. Even as Aurangzeb drove west, deep into Maratha territory (notably conquering Satara), the Marathas expanded attacks eastward into Mughal lands, including Mughal-held Malwa and Hyderabad.

Aurangzeb waged continual war for more than two decades with no resolution. After Aurangzeb's death, new leadership arose among the Marathas, who soon became unified under the rule of the Peshwas.

Defiance of the Sikhs and the rise of the Khalsa

Since its founding by Guru Nanak in the 1500s, Sikhism grew in popularity throughout India, particularly in the Punjab. In the years following the persecution and death of the fifth Guru Arjan Dev by Aurangzeb's grandfather Jahangir, the Sikhs had become increasingly militant and defiant.

Early in Aurangzeb's reign, various insurgent groups of Sikhs engaged Mughal troops in increasingly bloody battles. In 1670, the ninth Sikh Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur encamped in Delhi, receiving large numbers of followers. Aurangzeb regarded this popularity as a potential threat, and was determined to subdue it. But Mughal skirmishes with the increasingly militant Sikhs continued.

Sikhs recount that in 1675 a group of Kashmiri brahmins, who were of the Hindu faith, were being pressured by Muslim authorities to convert to Islam and approached Guru Tegh Bahadur with their dilemma. To demonstrate a spirit of unity and tolerance, the guru agreed to help the brahmins: He told them to inform Aurangzeb that the brahmins would convert only if Guru Tegh Bahadur himself was converted.

His response led to his death. At length Guru Tegh Bahadur was arrested and beheaded, giving his life to protect the brahmins. His execution infuriated the Sikhs. In response, his son and successor, Guru Gobind Singh further militarized his followers. Sikhs engaged in numerous battles against the Mughals, and though often outnumbered, succeeded in gaining more and more territory.

Aurangzeb installed his son Bahadur Shah as governor of the northwest territories, including Sikh-controlled parts of Punjab. The new governor relaxed enforcement of Aurangzeb's edicts, and an uneasy peace ensued. But Gobind Singh had determined that the Sikhs should actively prepare to defend their territories and their faith. In 1699, he established the Khalsa a Sikh order of "saint-soldiers," ready to die for their cause.

This development alarmed not only the Mughals, but the nearby Rajputs. In a temporary alliance, both groups attacked Gobind Singh and his followers. Facing defeat, Gobind Singh asked Aurangzeb for safe passage from their fort in Andrapuhr. Aurangzeb agreed, but as the Sikhs fled, the Mughals attacked in betrayal of the agreement.

Aurangzeb killed all four of Gobind Singh's sons and decimated much of the Sikh army. Only Gobind Singh escaped. Gobind Singh sent Aurangzeb an eloquent yet defiant letter entitled the Zafarnama (Notification of Victory), accusing the emperor of treachery, and claiming a moral victory.

On receipt of this letter, Aurangzeb invited Gobind Singh to meet in Ahmednagar, but Aurangzeb died before Gobind Singh arrived.


Aurangzeb's influence continues through the centuries, affecting not only India, but Asia and the world.

He was the first ruler to attempt to impose Sharia law on a non-Muslim country. His critics, principally Hindu, decry this as intolerance. His supporters, mostly Muslims, applaud him, some calling him a pir or caliph. The Mughals never really recognized the Ottoman Sultans as caliph, although only Aurangzib had the Khutbah read in his own name, which does suggest that he laid some claim to the title of caliph. However, the Mughals generally regarded the Ottoman Sultan as merely another Muslim sovereign.

He engaged in nearly perpetual war, justifying the ensuing death and destruction on moral and religious grounds. His one-pointed devotion to conquest and control based on his personal worldview has continuing resonance in our current world. Even now, political groups of all kinds point to his rule to justify their actions. Without much effort, one can follow a direct line from Aurangzeb to many of the political and religious conflicts of the present day. The influence of the Fatawa-e-Alamgiri on future Islamic governments has been considerable.

Unlike his predecessors, Aurangzeb considered the royal treasury as a trust of the citizens of his empire and that it should not be used for his personal expenses. But his constant warfare drove his empire to the brink of bankruptcy as much as the personal profligacy of earlier emperors had done.

Despite his success in imposing Sharia within his kingdom, he alienated many constituencies, not only non-Muslims, but also native Shi'as. This led to increased militancy by the Marathas, the Sikhs, and Rajputs, who along with other territories broke from the empire after his death, and to disputes among Indian Muslims. The destruction of Hindu temples remains a source of emotional debate. An Indian Sh'ia Muslim in the twentieth century, commenting on how, until recent moves towards Shi'a-Sunni solidarity, Sunni Muslims used to throw stones at their Muharram processions (lamenting the murder of the Prophet's grandson) said, “the Sunnis used to treat us badly, as if they were the emperor Aurangzeb,” which illustrates how his legacy is remembered in modern India (Pinault, 2001).

He alienated many of his children and wives, driving some into exile and imprisoning others. At the ebb of his life, he expressed his loneliness, and perhaps, regret.

In contrast to his predecessors, Aurangzeb left few buildings. He created a modest mausoleum for his first wife, sometimes called the mini-Taj, in Aurangabad. He also built in Lahore what was at the time the largest mosque outside Mecca: the Badshahi Masjid (“Imperial” Mosque, sometimes called the “Alamgiri” Mosque). He also added a small marble mosque known as the Moti Masjid (Pearl Mosque) to the Red Fort complex in Delhi.

Aurangzeb's personal piety is undeniable. He led an extremely simple and pious life. He followed Muslim precepts with his typical determination, and even memorized the Qur'an. He knitted haj (pilgrimage) caps and copied out the Qur'an throughout his life, and sold these works anonymously. He used the proceeds, and only these, to fund his modest resting place.

He died in Ahmednagar in 1707 at the age of 90, having outlived many of his children. In conformance with his view of Islamic principles, his body rests in an open-air grave in Kuldabad, near Aurangabad.

After Aurangzeb's death, his son Bahadur Shah I took the throne, and the Mughal Empire, due both to Aurangzeb's overextension and cruelty, and to Bahadur's weak military and leadership qualities, entered a long decline. Others attribute this decline to the reversal of Akbar's policy of toleration. Two tendencies in Hindu-Muslim relations in India can be identified: one towards unity, promoted by Akbar and his immediate successors and advocated later by Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi; the other towards two nations irreconcilably at odds, supported by the movement for the creation of Pakistan. Aurangzeb's policies did much to drive the Hindu and Muslim communities apart, which was later exacerbated by British policy, which may have deliberately perpetuated communitarian division since this justified their continued rule. Were they to leave, they said, a bloodbath would erupt. On India's partition in 1947, a bloodbath did ensue. It has been speculated that this was a direct result of Britain’s “divide and rule” policy.

Commentary by recent historians


Stanley Wolpert writes in his New History of India,:

…Yet the conquest of the Deccan, to which [Aurangzeb] devoted the last 26 years of his life, was in many ways a Pyrrhic victory, costing an estimated hundred thousand lives a year during its last decade of futile chess game warfare…. The expense in gold and rupees can hardly be accurately estimated. [Aurangzeb]'s moving capital alone- a city of tents 30 miles in circumference, some 250 bazaars, with a 1/2 million camp followers, 50,000 camels and 30,000 elephants, all of whom had to be fed, stripped peninsular India of any and all of its surplus gain and wealth…. Not only famine but bubonic plague arose…. Even [Aurangzeb] had ceased to understand the purpose of it all by the time he…was nearing 90….. "I came alone and I go as a stranger. I do not know who I am, nor what I have been doing," the dying old man confessed to his son in Feb 1707. "I have sinned terribly, and I do not know what punishment awaits me." (Wolpert 2003, 167).

Manas Group, UCLA

A year after he assumed power in 1658, Aurangzeb appointed muhtasaibs, or censors of public morals, from the ranks of the ulema or clergy in every large city. He was keen that the sharia or Islamic law be followed everywhere, and that practices abhorrent to Islam, such as the consumption of alcohol and gambling, be disallowed in public… (Manas n.d.).
It can scarcely be doubted, once the historical evidence is weighed, that the religious policies of Aurangzeb were discriminatory…. [L]ittle, if any, evidence has been offered to suggest how far the conversion of Hindus took place, and whether there was any official policy beyond one of mere encouragement that led to the conversion of Hindus. Then, as now, conversion would have been more attractive to the vast number of Hindus living under the tyranny of caste oppression…. [T]he kind of inducements that Aurangzeb offered [were not] substantially different from the inducements that modern, purportedly secular, politicians offer… (Manas n.d.).
Hindus employed…under Aurangzeb's reign rose from 24.5% in the time of his father Shah Jahan to 33% in the fourth decade of his own rule (Manas n.d.).

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