Aurangzeb Takes Over

Continued from “The First Tragedy”

Aurangzeb was known by the name of Abul Muzaffar Mohammad Muhiyuddin as a prince. But he had himself crowned as Shahen Shah Aurangzeb Alamgir when he occupied the throne of his father. His was the first coronation that took place within the Red Fort. There were fireworks on the banks of River Yamuna and the people floated paper boats with oil lamps for a whole week.

Some years later, on May 2, 1659, the people of Delhi saw a grand royal procession when Aurangzeb returned after his successful campaigns of Khajwah and Ajmer. A graphic description of the event is given by Sir Jadunath Sarkar, translated directly from the Persian biography:

“The procession started from Khizarabad, a suburb of Delhi, headed by a band followed by a long file of huge elephants, richly caparisoned in gold and silver, with golden bells and silver chains dangling from their bodies. Each carried on its back an imperial Standard of polished belts slung from a pole as emblems of Turkish royalty. Then came horses of Arab and Persian breed, their saddles decorated with gold, their bridles set with jewels and behind them were marshaled female elephants and dromedaries. Columns of infantry consisting of musketeers and rocket men carrying flashing blades followed next. Behind them, surrounded by vast crowds of nobles and ministers, was the royal elephant with a golda1 throne strapped to its back, on which sat Aurangzeb. At his right, left and rear rode troops in due order. This procession was long remembered by the citizens of Delhi as a unique spectacle.”

Aurangzeb’s contribution to the Red Fort Was the Moti Masjid, his private hall of prayers. He is said to have spent 1,60,000 rupees for having it built. He also built a wall in front of the Diwan-i-Am which people called Ghunghat ki Diwar. It was built because whenever courtiers passed that way they could be seen from the Diwan-i-Am. As a result, they had to bow to the king each and every time they crossed it. It embarrassed the passers-by and also irritated the king. So the section was “veiled off”. Shah Jahan, a prisoner at Agra, wrote a touching letter of appreciation to Aurangzeb for having provided a ghunghat (veil) for his fort.

While Aurangzeb walked his own way, dizzy with the heady wine of power, Shah Jahan, his father, lay dying at Agra. On January 22, 1666, Shah Jahan, the greatest builder of all times, the creator of the Taj, the Red Fort and the Mosque at Agra; the maker of ever so many forts, palaces, gardens and mosques at Lahore and Ajmer; the founder of Shahjahanabad and the Red Fort, passed away - a lonely, heartbroken prisoner of his own son.

But there are historians such as Percival who feel that with Shah Jahan it was a case of “As you sow, so you reap”. He writes in A History of India (Volume II):

“At his succession (Shah Jahan’s) he executed all the male Mughal collaterals, the descendants of his brothers and uncles although at that time they had little political significance. The sorrows of his later days were, to a large extent, a direct reflection of the acts of his earlier ones. The pathetic prisoner of the Agra Fort gazing romantically across the Jamuna to the Taj was in fact an old man who had gained power by ruthlessness”. And Percival goes on to add, “though Aurangzeb’s rise to power was ruthless as well as dramatic, it was not more so than that of others of his race. He never shed unnecessary blood. He made away with only those who ’touched the scepter’.”

Aurangzeb is described as a puritan who could not bear even music. This aspect of his nature is most effectively brought home in the Son-et-Lumiere, where we hear the sound of mourning soon after Aurangzeb is crowned. “What impious sounds assail our ears?” asks the puzzled Emperor, “What means this wailing and lamentation?” Then we hear the minister reply- “Shadow of God, Music is dead! We are carrying its corpse for burial.” The Emperor replies, “Bury it deep, so that no sound or cry is heard from it again”.

But this is only the partial truth. Several historical records, the most important being Akham-i-Alamgiri, Aurangzeb’s biography, tell us that he not only studied music but also had a deep appreciation of music. His biographer tells us about his visit to Deccan as a prince where he fell madly in love with Zainabadi, a “woman of unequalled musical skill”. For several years Aurangzeb was lost to the world, living only for Zainabadi and her music, forgetting even his rigorous religious discipline. Unfortunately she died very young. Aurangzeb regained his poise only after her death. But he continued to have a deep interest in music, devoting a lot of time to it even after he made himself the Emperor. His total ban on all music came nine years after his reign.

Raag Darpan, a Persian work based largely on Maharaja Man Singh’s treatise on music, mentions many famous musicians at the court of both Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb. They include Khushal Khan, the great-grandson of Tansen to whom Aurangzeb had given the title of Gun Samundar, and Kripa Rai, a famous mridang player known better as Mridang Rai. Several ladies belonging to Aurangzeb’s harem were well versed in music and dance and they were known as mangla mukhias. There are a number of dhrupads dedicated to him that are sung to this day. One of the most popular among them starts with the words Ayo ayo re mahabali Alamgir.

Aurangzeb banned music officially on the tenth year of his reign though the ladies in his harem were allowed to keep it up. The official ban made life unbearable for the musicians who found it difficult to earn their living. His biographer records an interesting conversation between him and Mirza Mukarram Khan Safawi, a leading musician in his court:

“What is His Majesty’s opinion of music?”

“For those who have the sense to understand it scientifically, it is right and proper”.

“In that case, since you are so well versed in both the art and science of music, why are you keeping yourself away from it?”

“All ragas and raginis need instrumental (mazamir) accompaniments for their full and correct appreciation. And all instruments are prohibited in the Shariat (Sacred Law). That leaves me with no choice but to give up music.”

What seems strange, however, is the fact that he woke up to the directions given in the Shariat so suddenly and so late in the day! However, he did try to provide alternate vocations to his court musicians, though most of them were unable to get used to their new jobs and had a miserable time. There is another interesting story about Aurangzeb and the Urdu mandir, a Jain temple established at Urdu Bazaar during the reign of Shah Jahan. Having banned every form of music Aurangzeb ordered that the temple drums should not be beaten any more. But to his great annoyance, they continued loud and strong. Aurangzeb sent his soldiers to stop it by arresting the drum player. But although several soldiers tried no one succeeded in stopping the drum. Angry and intrigued, the Emperor entered the temple himself to find the drums playing loud and strong although no one was present! He did not mention the subject again and the temple drummers were allowed to resume their job. The temple, still in existence, is now known as Jain Mandir.

Aurangzeb broke away from the traditions of his great ancestors - Humayun, Akbar and Jahangir - who had treated their subjects comprising Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs as equals. As a result, many of his subjects - the Marathas, Rajputs, the Jats and the Sikhs - rose against Aurangzeb. His policies brought about a bloody harvest of hatred and rebellion. So most of his time was spent in putting down one rebellion after another. But Aurangzeb’s hatred of people belonging to other religions was not totally blind. At least not when their presence and skill was required for governing his kingdom! Aurangzeb had genuine regard for Rai Rayan Raghunath Das, who had been Shah Jahan’s trusted Prime Minister, and gave him the title of Raja. Raghunath Das continued to be Prime Minister even during Aurangzeb’s reign. Several letters written by Aurangzeb to his various nobles clearly state that he had full trust in just two of his Prime Ministers, Nawab Sa’adullah Khan and Raja Raghunath Das.

Another Hindu chief for whom Aurangzeb had great regard was Raja Jai Singh, the builder of Jaisinghpura. He was a friend and contemporary of Shah Jahan. Aurangzeb affectionately addressed him as Babaji. But being suspicious by nature, he was greatly disturbed and annoyed when Raja Jai Singh befriended the Sikhs. He was also convinced that it was the Raja who had helped Shivaji escape in a basket of sweets. His biographer writes that Aurangzeb heaved a sigh of relief when he got the news of Jai Singh’s death.

Long afterwards, when the 11-year-old Bijay Singh, the great grandson of Jai Singh came to visit Aurangzeb at his court, the Emperor took both his hands in his and said, “I have great affection and regard for the Amber family but recent happenings have shaken that faith.” Bijay immediately replied, “But now you have both my hands in yours. Doesn’t that mean that the old faith is now revived?” Aurangzeb was so pleased with his prompt reply that he gave him the title of Sawai. He was to be known as Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh, the founder of Jaipur, in later years.

Reigning from the Red Fort, Aurangzeb continued to honor yet another relationship started by his forefather Humayun and kept up by Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan over the years. When Queen Karnavati of Rajasthan sent a rakhi to Humayun and asked for his help, Humayun was away fighting elsewhere. By the time Humayun returned and rushed to her rescue Karnavati and the other Rajput women had already demolished themselves in a funeral pyre in a ceremony known as johar, as was the custom in those days. Rajput women preferred to die rather than face dishonor in the hands of the enemies.

Humayun had continued to send gifts to Karnavati’s family at the time of raksha bandhan, a tradition that was kept up by the other Mughal kings. We get to know from Tod’s Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan that Aurangzeb had also done the same.

But these were isolated instances. Despite being a great scholar and an able administrator he was so aloof from the people, so intolerant and cruel to all those who did not see eye to eye with him, that signs of decay in his empire began to show even during his lifetime. Wars, unrest and dissatisfaction became permanent features.

Another shattering event that took place within the Red Fort during the reign of Aurangzeb was the execution of the Sikh Guru Teg Bahadur in 1675, when he refused to change his religion and become a Muslim. when Guru Teg Bahadur succeeded Guru Harkishan, hundreds of Brahmins who represented various centers of learning came to seek his protection with harrowing tales of torture and suffering and their forcible conversion by Aurangzeb’s men. Guru Teg Bahadur told them, “Tell Aurangzeb that if he succeeds in converting Teg Bahadur, then all the Brahmins and the other Hindus will also embrace Islam. But if he fails to do it he must give up his present policy of forcible conversion.”

When Aurangzeb got to hear of his words he summoned Guru Teg Bahadur to his court and ordered him not to champion the cause of the Hindus. Guru Teg Bahadur replied, “lf the ruler of a country starts destroying all other religions but his own and if he kills all who believe in a different ideology, there would be no end to bloodshed. No God-fearing person should perpetuate cruelty and bloodshed in the name of religion. God is One. Truth is One.”

The argument between Guru Teg Bahadur and the Emperor went on for days. Finally Aurangzeb declared that Guru Teg Bahadur should either show a miracle (karamat) or else embrace Islam. If he failed to do either he would be put to death.

“I believe only in the miracles performed by God” replied Guru Teg Bahadur, “I do not want to make a show of any power or magic to save my life.” The next day his two companions, Mati Das and Dayal Das were tortured to death. Finally Guru Teg Bahadur was brought out of the kotwali where he had been locked up. As he sat under a banyan tree in silent prayer the royal executioner chopped off his head. You can still see the trunk of the banyan tree under which Guru Teg Bahadur was beheaded within the Gurdwara Sisgunj at Chandni Chowk.

Aurangzeb’s reign is usually divided into two equal parts. The first 23 years were largely a continuation of Shah Jahan’s administrations with an added note of austerity. From 1681 he virtually transferred his capital to the Deccan where he spent a camp life, overseeing the fall of the two remaining Deccan kingdoms. And trying, fruitlessly, to crush the Maratha rebellion. Along with his change of focus came a change in temperament. The ruthless politician now spent long hours in prayer, fasting and copying out the holy Koran. He poured out his soul in agonized letters. But he never lost his grip of power.

During his last days Aurangzeb came to realize that the days of the Mughal dynasty were numbered and that he himself was largely responsible for sowing the seeds of destruction. “Azma fasad baqi” were his own words, which means, “After me, the chaos!” The last words of Aurangzeb echoed mournfully within the walls of the Red Fort:

And so ended Aurangzeb’s reign of fifty years. He was 90 when he died. His death marked the beginning of the decline and the fall of the Mughal dynasty. The rest of the story is about the fading glory of Shahjahanabad and its doomed citadel.

Aurangzeb’s Tomb

Delhi had maintained its importance during the reign of Aurangzeb although he spent most of his time fighting down rebellions. The Red Fort, though shorn of a great deal of its old grandeur, had still been the centre of many significant activities. But Aurangzeb’s death marked the beginning of a downhill journey. Enmity between father and son, brother and brother became the rule of the day. There were quick successions to the throne, which turned into a fratricidal contest, a gory game of one brother killing another. Kings came and went like puppets in a play. And Delhi just suffered. ....and suffered ….. because they were, all of them, so hopelessly inefficient, so totally unsuited to kingship!

Continued to "The Red Fort is Ravaged Further" 


More by :  Swapna Dutta

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