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Controversial Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb & Mughal Wars of Succession

An previous man sits hunched over his prayer mat as daybreak breaks over the horizon, his white beard soaked from tears shed via the evening. No one would consider that this troubled determine is the sixth Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb Alamgir. The 12 months is 1707, and Aurangzeb is nearing the tip of his life. In these ultimate days, he remembers his full life, which expanded the Mughal Empire, and writes anguished deathbed confessions to his sons.

Aurangzeb’s ascension to the throne had been turbulent, marked by infighting and betrayal. His merciless remedy of his brothers after rising victorious was used to outline his persona. However, is it truthful to evaluate him so harshly for one thing many earlier than him had finished? This article will primarily give attention to the struggle of succession that led to Aurangzeb’s ascension to energy. It may also handle different historic and up to date rulers who employed the identical techniques to safe their throne, and but are seen in a extra forgiving mild than Aurangzeb, probably the most cherished, hated, and controversial Mughal emperor.

Close up of Emperor Aurangzeb, from ‘Aurangzeb holds court’, as painted by (perhaps) Bichitr. (Public Domain)

Close up of Emperor Aurangzeb, from ‘Aurangzeb holds court’, as painted by (maybe) Bichitr. ( Public Domain )

What had been the Rules of Mughal Succession?

Most kings relied upon the idea of primogeniture, which principally meant that the suitable of succession belonged to the first-born male little one. However, the Mughals refused to arrange clear guidelines of succession, inflicting quite a few battles of succession between rival princes. In truth, the absence of outlined succession legal guidelines could have been what led to the destabilization of the Mughal Empire , in accordance with many historians of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

There is an alternate method to have a look at the Mughal resolution to disregard the necessity for guidelines. Munis D. Faruqui challenged the above view in his guide, “The Princes of the Mughal Empire, 1504-1719,” the place he urged that historians reduce the position Mughal princes performed in forging empirical energy. He wrote:

“…from the day that princes were born, and for the duration of their lives as princes, they were critical actors on the Mughal stage. Their centrality ultimately derived from the competitive political energy that framed Mughal succession struggles over the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Especially after the 1580s and Emperor Akbar’s decision to no longer grant his sons semi-independent territories, the rules of this contest were simple and are best summed up by the terse Persian phrase: ya takht, ya takhta (either throne or funeral pyre).”

As Faruqui stated, the competitors for the throne had solely two outcomes; the victor would management the empire, and the loser or losers would face demise. In an environment the place such competitiveness was fostered and even inspired, it’s little shock that the Mughal princes had been recognized to maim and kill their rivals. The younger princes can be educated from an early age to be independent-minded, ruthless, and hard; these traits can be refined as they reached maturity.

Jalal-ud-din Muhammad Akbar , the third Mughal Emperor, had narrowed down the checklist of respectable rivals to solely embody sons of the emperor. Nephews and male cousins had been stripped of their proper to compete for the throne. Akbar had confronted many issues brought on by family prior to now, and subsequently selected to exclude them from the checklist of respectable candidates.

Akbar even inspired his sons to journey and domesticate their affect. He launched the younger princes to highly effective folks, with whom they might forge alliances. The princes would woo and nurture their relationship with necessary allies, who would play a necessary position sooner or later. Another necessary ingredient of succession is that when a prince gained the throne, he would pardon the allies of his rivals to win their loyalty. That is why all through the Mughal rule, nobles had been unafraid to take sides; they might again the prince they believed more than likely to succeed. Even if their chosen prince misplaced, they might not undergo penalties.

Faruqui defined additional:

“One crucial impact of such frenetic activity was this: imperial political, social, and monetary resources remained in constant circulation, which created powerful and widespread investment not only in individual princes but also in the dynasty as a whole.”

Emperor Aurangzeb at the Siege of Golconda (Public Domain)

Emperor Aurangzeb on the Siege of Golconda ( Public Domain )

Aurangzeb Alamgir’s Fight for the Peacock Throne

Born on November 3, 1618, Aurangzeb was the son of Prince Khurram (future emperor Shah Jahan) and his favourite spouse, Mumtaz Mahal. He was born throughout his grandfather’s reign, the fourth Mughal emperor, Jahangir. Aurangzeb was the third of 4 brothers; his brothers Dara Shikoh and Shah Shuja had been older, whereas Murad was youthful. These 4 full siblings would compete with each other for the throne.

As a younger prince, Aurangzeb was supplied with a superb training alongside together with his brothers. However, past training, the brothers’ childhood was characterised by brotherly rivalry. Birth order was irrelevant to securing the throne, so Aurangzeb knew that if he might outmaneuver his siblings then he can be the subsequent in line to inherit the lustrous Peacock Throne.

Shah Jahan made his favored kids recognized; his eldest son Dara Shikoh and second-eldest daughter Jahanara had been at all times rewarded over their different siblings. However, there was a second when Aurangzeb obtained his father’s recognition, when Shah Jahan and his sons had been attending an elephant battle, a favourite pastime of the Mughal elite. One of the elephants charged towards Aurangzeb in a rage with out warning. To defend himself, Aurangzeb speared the elephant’s head, which solely angered the creature extra. Aurangzeb survived the encounter, and his bravery was acknowledged by all current, together with his father.

To everybody’s shock, Dara had fled through the life-threatening encounter. In surviving illustrations, Dara is portrayed within the background, protected from hurt. At this second, Shah Jahan noticed himself mirrored in his son, Aurangzeb. It reminded the emperor of his personal heroic act, repelling a raging lion in 1610, whereas his father, Jahangir, had watched on.

When Aurangzeb was sixteen years previous, Shah Jahan despatched him away from the courtroom, to assist run the empire. For the subsequent twenty-two years, from 1635 to 1657, Aurangzeb fought and defended his father’s kingdom. Shah Shuja and Murad had been additionally given provinces to take care of; they every performed a component within the empire’s enlargement. All besides Dara, who remained at courtroom, near his father. This preferential remedy created resentment amongst his brothers.

Another level that intensified the brothers’ rivalry was the preferential remedy of Dara’s son, Sulaiman Shikoh. In 1657, Aurangzeb wrote a letter to his elder sister, Jahanara, complaining that “despite twenty years of service and loyalty, he is not considered worthy of the same level of confidence as his brother’s son [i.e., Sulaiman Shikoh].” However, what in the end destroyed Aurangzeb’s relationship together with his father and older siblings was when he was invited to courtroom, solely to be warned by his sister Roshanara that his household was planning to kill him.

After years of rivalry, all the pieces boiled over when Shah Jahan fell gravely unwell and rumors about his demise started to flow into. The struggle to safe the throne, and eventually achieve recognition, started. Murad joined forces with Aurangzeb, signing a qaulnama (contract) that after they achieved victory over Dara, they might divide the empire between them.

The mixed forces of the 2 princes gained the battles of Dharmat (April 1658) and Samugarh (May 1658) in opposition to the imperial forces. A brand new spherical of negotiations was began, led by Jahanara, who was appearing on her father’s behalf.

“Working on behalf of Shah Jahan, she broached the possibility of dividing the empire five ways among Dara Shikoh (the Punjab and neighboring regions), Shuja (Bengal), Murad (Gujarat), Aurangzeb (much of northern and central India), and Aurangzeb’s oldest son Muhammad Sultan (the Deccan). Around the same time, Shah Jahan engaged in secret negotiations with Muhammad Sultan to try to persuade him to abandon his father and accept the Deccan as his patrimony.”

The furtive negotiations by Shah Jahan, to show a son in opposition to his father, led to the state of affairs declining extra shortly. Aurangzeb and Murad emerged victorious, however then Murad tried to entice Aurangzeb’s troops to change alliances. Murad distanced himself from Aurangzeb, upsetting the emperor. Despite all of the challenges, ultimately, Aurangzeb captured the throne, and there was no want for the empire to be divided. The now-former emperor Shah Jahan was imprisoned, Dara and Murad had been executed, and Shah Shuja escaped, dying in exile.

Painting depicting the Peacock Throne, Delhi, circa 1850 (Public Domain)

Painting depicting the Peacock Throne, Delhi, circa 1850 ( Public Domain )

The Mughal Dynasty and the Prize of the Peacock Throne

Humayun: The First Mughal Succession

The founder of the Mughal Empire, Babur, didn’t set up any official succession rights earlier than his demise. Although Humayun had been declared the subsequent emperor, he confronted a number of assaults from kinsmen who believed that they’d a stronger declare to the throne. His brother-in-law, Muhammad Zaman Mirza, fought lengthy and laborious in opposition to Humayun, however surrendered and in the end misplaced his life. Humayun even confronted opposition from his half-brothers, however ultimately emerged victorious. Although he had confronted betrayal by his brothers and was inspired to kill them, Humayun adopted his father’s dying phrases: “Do nothing in opposition to your brothers, despite the fact that they might deserve it.” During his rule, he cleared away the competitors, paving the best way for his son’s clean succession. One hundred years later, Aurangzeb could have tried to comply with some of these classes in his failed alliance together with his brother Murad.

Mughal emperor, 17th century (Archivist / Adobe Stock)

Mughal emperor, seventeenth century ( Archivist / Adobe Stock)

Akbar’s Shifting Succession Selection

During Humayun’s struggle to reclaim the throne, his half-brother Kamran Mirza kidnapped his son Akbar and held him hostage. The younger prince was even used as a defend to forestall Humayun from attacking. Luckily, Akbar was rescued by Maham Anga, his moist nurse. By the time of Humayun’s premature demise in 1556, he had barely established his authority since reclaiming management of his empire. Akbar inherited his father’s unstable territory on the younger age of 14, and would spend most of his life combating and increasing the borders of the Mughal Empire. He confronted opposition from his half-brother, Mirza Hakim, who managed Kabul on the time.

As talked about beforehand, Akbar had restricted succession to solely the emperor’s sons. However, Akbar himself created competitors between his heirs when he determined to call his grandson Khusrau as inheritor obvious, quite than his sons. Historian Munis D. Faruqui wrote: “Through his elevation of Khusrau, Akbar appears to have sought to impress on all concerned parties, but especially on Salim [future emperor Jahangir], that he was willing to supersede their claims to the throne if they questioned his authority.” There could be little doubt that Akbar wished a fiercer competitors for the throne, given the best way he was arranging it. Perhaps he wished to check who can be the perfect candidate to take management of the Mughal legacy he had created.

In the tip, the untimely deaths of Murad and Daniyal, each from alcohol poisoning, spared the Mughal Empire from its first struggle of succession. Another change that occurred a couple of days earlier than Akbar’s demise, was a gathering of nobles. They declared that his eldest son Jahangir can be the subsequent emperor, quite than his eldest grandson Khusrau. In his final act as emperor, Akbar reconciled together with his son and made him the inheritor obvious.

A six-foot high, life-size portrait of Mughal emperor Jahangir, considered to be one of the rarest and most desirable 17th century paintings ever to go for auction, 1617 (Public Domain)

A six-foot excessive, life-size portrait of Mughal emperor Jahangir, thought-about to be one of the rarest and most fascinating seventeenth century work ever to go for public sale, 1617 ( Public Domain )

Jahangir: Cruelty and Violence for Power

Jahangir adopted his father’s instance, vigorously suppressing the political aspirations of members of the family. His deceased brother Daniyal’s three minor sons had been pressured to transform to Christianity as a ploy to make sure that the nobles wouldn’t help them. He repeatedly imprisoned, banished, and publicly degraded his uncle Mirza Hakim’s sons and grandsons. He even blinded his eldest son, Khusrau, earlier than imprisoning him in 1607.

Jahangir didn’t take a lot half within the operating of his empire, selecting as an alternative to stay consistently intoxicated with wine and medicines. At first, he favored his son, Khurram (the longer term Shah Jahan), granting him all of the favors as a consequence of an inheritor obvious. In 1622, below orders from Khurram, Khusrau was murdered.

By the mid-1620s, Jahangir started to concurrently favor three main contenders: his two sons, Parviz and Shahryar, and his grandson, Dawar Bakhsh, son of the deceased Khusrau. Jahangir inspired Dawar Bakhsh to hunt retribution for his father’s demise; in an imperial communication Jahangir wrote, “to take vengeance for his father’s murder by putting that wretched one [i.e., Khurram] to the sword.”

Having three contenders for the throne created turmoil, and in 1626 a supporter of Prince Parviz named Mahabat Khan rebelled and held Jahangir and most of the imperial courtroom below arrest. It all got here to an finish when in October of the identical 12 months, Parviz died instantly from alcohol poisoning.

Upon Jahangir’s demise in 1627, Khurram watched from the sidelines whereas the 2 remaining contenders, his brother Shahryar and nephew Dawar Bakhsh, went to struggle with each other. In the tip, Dawar Bakhsh emerged victorious, however little did he know that each one the nobles supported Khurram and awaited his return. As Khurram approached Agra, he despatched a message to his father-in-law and supporter, Asaf Khan, to imprison his remaining rivals: Dawar Bakhsh; Dawar Bakhsh’s youthful brother Gurshasp; the blind Shahryar; and his uncle Daniyal’s surviving sons, Tahmuras and Hushang.

In the third week of January 1628, Khurram issued a proclamation that might set a violent precedent for future princely rivalries. He despatched the order for the imprisoned princes to be put to demise. Khurram then topped himself as emperor, taking the title of Shah Jahan, which suggests “king of the world.” Years later, his grandson Aurangzeb would hint his grandfather’s bloody footprints to the throne.

Shah Jahan Portrait, 17th century (Nathan Hughes Hamilton / CC BY 2.0)

Shah Jahan Portrait, seventeenth century (Nathan Hughes Hamilton / CC BY 2.0 )

Shah Jahan’s Succession: A Brutal Brotherly Bloodbath

During the reigns of earlier Mughal emperors, all members of the royal household had mentionable roles. That modified throughout Shah Jahan’s rule, when the main target was totally on the direct sons of the emperor. With his dedication to cut back the quantity of princely rivals, he even went as far as to forestall his daughters’ marriage, denying them the prospect to have kids. Although he expressed clear choice for his eldest son, Dara Shikoh, to succeed him, his 4 sons most popular to mimic their father and have interaction in a bloody struggle of succession, ultimately gained by Aurangzeb.

Past as Prelude

The historical past of royalty is stained with sibling rivalries which have usually ended bloodily. As unhappy as that truth is, the homicide of household for energy or place is a typical prevalence in historical past and mythology.

One of the primary recorded tales is that of the sons of Adam, Cain and Abel . Cain murdered his brother, Abel, as a result of of jealousy. In mythology, there are related tales, like that of Romulus killing his twin, Remus for management of Rome. In Egypt, Set murdered Osiris to grab his brother’s throne.

Cleopatra VII , probably the most well-known Egyptian queen, had all three of her siblings murdered to grab full management of the Egyptian Empire. When she was made co-ruler alongside her brother and husband Ptolemy XIII, her sister Arsinoe plotted to overthrow Cleopatra and take her place. In the tip, with the help of Rome, Cleopatra emerged victorious.

Looking on the Ottoman Empire , there may be the instance of Mehmed III, who murdered nineteen of his brothers, a couple of nights after his ascension. While fratricide (the act of killing one’s brother) was not a component of the authorized basis of the Ottoman Empire, it had been legalized by Mehmed II. Mehmed II had fought a protracted and tough civil struggle in opposition to his brothers Suleyman, Isa, and Musa. The struggle had lasted eight years and drained the empire of sources, weakening it. To forestall future wars, he deemed that killing the contenders to the emperor’s throne would convey peace. There are many extra examples; nonetheless, the purpose stays that many royal households the world over took drastic measures to make sure their dynasty’s survival.


Aurangzeb was a product of his time; he realized from a system that his forefathers had arrange. Although Dara Shikoh was executed, his physique was handled with respect and buried in Humayun’s tomb. Debate over his reign as ruler is separate subject, however in phrases of his succession, he merely continued a household legacy.

Top Image: Stylized depiction of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. Source: Towseef / Adobe Stock

By Khadija Tauseef


Aanmoen, O . “The Night 19 Ottoman Princes Were Killed by Their Brother”. August 3, 2020. Available at:

Faruqui, M. The Princes of the Mughal Empire, 1504–1719 . Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Humayun. New World Encyclopedia. Available at:

Roller, D.  Cleopatra: A Biography . Oxford University Press, 2010.

Schimmel, A. The Empire of the Great Mughals: History, Art, and Culture . Reaktion Books, 2004.

Truschke, A.  Aurangzeb: The Life and Legacy of India’s Most Controversial King . Stanford University Press, 2017.


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