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The downfall of Mughal empire with Aurangzeb

A painting from Padshahnama depicts Prince Aurangzeb facing a maddened war elephant named Sudhakar; Image credit
A painting from Padshahnama depicts Prince Aurangzeb facing a maddened war elephant named Sudhakar; Image credit

Aurangzeb was appointed as the Viceroy of Deccan by Shah Jehan on July 14, 1636. Aurangzeb in Indian history is a highly controversial figure. Loved by some and hated by some, he was the last of the powerful Mughal ruler during whose reign the Mughal dynasty flourished and expanded. Sixth in line as the Mughal emperor, his forty-eight-year rule is often called the golden period of the Mughal Empire.

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Since an early age, Aurangzeb was courageous and ambitious. He started his military training and learning statecraft at the age of nine. He proved his bravery at a very early age when aged fifteen he fought off an elephant alone when it came charging towards the royal family during an elephant fight. This earned him the command of ten thousand cavalries and four thousand infantry. Then he was sent off to suppress the Bundela rebellion. At the age of eighteen, Shah Jehan appointed him the Viceroy of Deccan. But later he was stripped of the title when Shah Jehan was infuriated by his tardiness to reach back Agra when his sister died in a fire. After two years he was even banned from attending Shah Jahan’s court. When his brother Dara Shikoh was appointed the Viceroy of Deccan in his place, he became resentful towards him.

He did become the Governor of Sindhu and Multan. But his resentment reached its peak when his father during his illness declared Dara Shikoh as his heir. He imprisoned Shah Jehan in the Agra Fort and had his brother killed.

Aurangzeb extended the Mughal Empire both towards the north and south. Unlike his predecessors, he was intolerant towards other religious practices. He re-introduced the jaziyah – a tax levied on non-Hindus. He didn’t patronise any art form, showed no hesitation in killing and torturing prisoners of war or anyone he considered un-Islamic.

His ruthlessness, intolerance and treachery had weakened the Empire, so after his death, his sons couldn’t hold it together. Unfortunately, the great Empire that he took forward to new heights during his reign couldn’t survive under the later Mughal rulers and fell to foreign imperialism.

Text by Tasneem Dhinojwala

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