Aurangzeb’s War of Succession (1556-58): Causes, Interpretations, Course and Consequences

The Battle of Samugarh, c. 1658, artist Payag, 17th century Mughal period, 932-1274/1526-1858, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Stuart Cary Welch, Jr. , 1999.298 Department of Islamic & Later Indian Art ,
Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art, c.1658

As one perhaps knows, Monarchy is not an Islamic institution. By the time the Mughals established there hold in India, the Muslim world had reconciled itself with the concept of monarchy. And the monarchy within the within the Islamic framework was being justified by the Muslim jurists by an extended interpretation of the Tradition of the Prophet.

The development of Islamic thought in India in respect of monarchy is beside the point here. Since it is not an Islamic institution, the law of succession is not there: but by the 17th Century it was established that ‘largest the sword, largest the claim!’. Thus the War of Succession was a constant feature of Timurids in India.

Interpretations

The War of Succession in 1658-59 took place at a time when the Mughal Empire was at its zenith: and naturally that attracted the historians’ attention. There are only few topics in medieval Indian history on which so much has been written as on the war of succession between the sons of Shahjahan! S. R. Sarma says in Aurangzeb the Sunni Orthodoxy triumphed.

Allama Shibli Nomani says that Aurangzeb essentially fought for the faith and not for the throne. In fact he says that the Hindus had benefited from the policy of tolerance of Akbar and were getting out of hand and even persecuting the Muslims. Dara Shukoh was a traitor within the Islamic political community who sought to open the gates fully to the Hindus. Aurangzeb, therefore, rallied the Muslims together and fought essentially for the faith rather than the throne.

For Ishtiyaq H. Quraishi also the war of succession was a tussle between the liberal policy of Akbar and the Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy triumphed!

To Ashirbadi Lal Srivastava, Aurangzeb represented the orthodox forces which emerged victorious while the tolerant policies enunciated by Akbar were reversed.

This lunatic phase of old histories had not come to an end when Iftikhar Muhammad Khan Ghori of Pakistan called this ‘wos’ an ideological conflict between the Sunnis and the Shi’as.

If we examine all these views, both Indian and Pakistani – or should we say, Hindu and Muslim – the arguments are essentially the same. Communal passions were raised to such an extent, that, even a ‘scientific historian’ like R. P. Tripathi was misled to declare that during the war of succession the slogan which was needed was ‘Religion in Danger’. This slogan of Islam in danger according to Tripathi was raised by Aurangzeb. To quote him:

“It was also deemed necessary to find out an effective slogan for the war and the cry that was raised was the defence of the law of Islam from the heresies of Dara, whether Shahjahan was alive or dead. Should the emperor be still alive, they would free him from the thraldom and tyranny of that idolator. They arrogated to themselves the honour of being the defenders of Islam.”

Aurangzeb’s Nishān to Rānā Raj Singh

Now let Aurangzeb speak what he fought for, whom he represented?

Aurangzeb issued a nishan to Rana Raj Singh.

…. [nishan means ‘princely order; farman is an order issued by the emperor; technical order issued by a noble was a parwana; while an order issued by a noble under the direction of the emperor is known as a hasb ul hukm].

So Aurangzeb issued a nishan to Rana Raj Singh just after the Battle of Dharmat and before the Battle of Samugarh, which was the real battle when Dara and Aurangzeb fought against each other.

This nishan discovered a few decades back is now incorporated in Muhnot Nainsi’s Vir Vinod. If we take out the name of the emperor, it looks like the preamble of the constitution of India. In it Aurangzeb says that the king who discriminates on the basis of caste and religion is a rebel against God and must be punished. He says that sovereign is the shadow of God; while the khalqullah, i.e., the people, are the creation of God. The kings are the pillars of God’s court and are devoted to the act of non-interference and peace with men of various sects and creeds. Any King who does resort to intolerance, in reality harms God’s fabric as it brings ill-will and conflict amongst the people who are the trust of God. Aurangzeb promises that when he would come to the throne, he would follow the steps of his ancestors who are held in esteem and whose practises have cast lustre in the inhabited world. (Vir Vinod, II, pp. 419-20)

So this shows that Aurangzeb was fighting for the tolerant policy and that he promised to eliminate all traces of discriminatory policies. This was a public declaration: deviation from a tolerant policy was a sin. One can say that in this document or public declaration, Aurangzeb spelled out his policy on which he fought. [See M Athar Ali’s paper in JRAS, 1978]

Mamuri in his Tarikh i Aurangzeb informs that when Aurangzeb was coming from the Deccan, just to impress the followers, he sought an interview with Shaikh Abdul Latif, a mystic at Burhanpur, on the ground that he was going to fight a heretic. The mystic, however, wanted to avoid the Prince. But Aurangzeb came to the khanqah to get his blessings so that among his followers an impression be created that he is going to win. When Aurangzeb asked the Shaikh to pray for him as he was going to fight a mulhid, the mystic diplomatically replied, “Whatever wish of God, will be implemented”. The same information is supplied to us by Khafi Khan [II,ii].

Ahadnāma:

Then in the ahadnama or agreement concluded between Prince Aurangzeb and Murad Bakh, in the preamble it was written that they were going to fight the ‘prince of heretics’ (rais-i mulahida). Incidentally we should remember that before the Battle of Samugarh, the charges of heresy against Dara were not so freely used. Now he is being referred to as the ‘Prince of Heretics’!

Much has been made out on the basis of this reference in the preamble of the agreement between Murad Bakhsh and Aurangzeb to prove the point that the religious issue was involved. But then, Aqil Khan Razi, who was a firm supporter of Aurangzeb, belies this thesis. When he reproduces the text of the entire ahadnama in his Waqi’at-i Alamgiri, he does so minus the preamble, which he presumably thought not to be important enough to be reproduced! Nowhere throughout his account does he refer to Dara’s heresy as a cause for the war of succession.

Moreover, we should remember that if a person opposed the Mughal state, he was always defined as a ‘heretic’.

Ruqqāt:

Let us consider some other facts. We have a number of letters written by Aurangzeb. A letter written by Aurangzeb to Jahanara after the battle of Dharmat survives. It contains accusations against Dara. The only accusation with a religious colour is “his actions are always contrary to (the principles) of the country and the people”. For example, the withdrawal of Mughal contingents from Bijapur campaign in 1657 through which Dara had harmed the larger interests of the empire and exposed Aurangzeb and his troops to danger. (see Waqi’at-i Alamgiri; Manucci, I, 247-48).

Muhammad Kazim is the first who speaks of Dara’s heresy. His Alamgirnama gives a detailed account of Dara’s heresy not to explain Aurangzeb’s taking up arms against him, but to justify his execution.

Attitude & Perception of the Nobles:

Now the question is how did the nobles, who were participating in the war of succession on various sides, took this? Whether the support of the contending princes was divided on communal and sectarian considerations, or whether the supporters of different princes consisted of all sort of people cutting across religious considerations?

We find that among the supporters of Aurangzeb, the representation of the non-Muslim nobility was not inferior or less than the non-Muslims in the camp of Dara Shukoh. Mirza Raja Jai Singh frustrated all military attempts of Dara Shukoh and did not join before the Battle of Samugarh. Rana Raj Singh also did not come to the help of Dara Shukoh or Shahjahan. Amongst the followers of Aurangzeb were Iranis, Turanis, Rajputs and Marathas as under Dara. The support of nobles thus cut across religious and racial considerations. This was as the nobles were not under the impression that they were fighting for tolerance or intolerance; or that it was a struggle between Hindus or Muslims. They sided with one or the other due to their own estimates, political adjustments, likes or dislikes: the ideological view was not involved.

Champat Bundela pointed out a ferry to Aurangzeb, not guarded by Dara; Aurangzeb crossed the river and paralysed the artillery of Dara Shukoh.

According to Ishtiyaq Quraishi, “the Rajputs rallied around Dara”. It is held that Dara was supported by 22 Rajput and 2 Maratha chieftains. As against this Aurangzeb was supported by only 9 Rajput chieftains. Iftekhar Ghori opined that on the appeal of Aurangzeb “…20 Muslim commanders of the Imperial army decided to disobey the summons and joined hands with him”. He infact cites Manucci and Sadiq Khan for this contention. However it is Abul Fazl Mamuri, and he too speaks of only 20 ‘commanders’ and not ‘muslim commanders’!

These contentions of Quraishi and others are challenged by M.Athar Ali. To him the arguments of Shibli, Sarma, Srivastava, Quraishi and Ghori are too simplistic and erroneous. According to Athar Ali, the statistics that 24 Hindu chieftains were in support of Dara and 9 in favour of Aurangzeb is historically wrong. According to him Aurangzeb had the support of 21 non-Muslim chieftains. Thus a mere difference of only three. The support which Aurangzeb got was quite broad-based – both Hindus and Muslims supported him.

On the call given by Shahjahan, Mahabat Khan and Chhatarsal Hada came to the court. But Najabat Khan and Mir Jumla were with Aurangzeb. Shahnawaz Safawi had also been detained forcibly by Aurangzeb.

As Dara was in the capital, it was obvious that he would get the support of those nobles who happened to be at the court. But this support did not remain constant.

As Aurangzeb started from the Deccan, it was natural that he got the support of the 11Marathas. Ultimately Jai Singh and Jaswant Singh also came to support him. Both of them were very important Rajput nobles, who in fact represented the Rajput community. Aurangzeb had raised the slogan of Islam to justify his actions against his father. Had it been the real cause, or the cause believed by the contemporaries, Muslims should not have supported Dara, or the Hindus Aurangzeb.

Aurangzeb’s nishan to Rana Raj Singh of Mewar leaves us in no doubt that the head of the most illustrious house in Rajasthan was in sympathy with Aurangzeb. Mirza Raja Jai Singh was also a secret partisan of Aurangzeb, who sabotaged the whole military effort of Dara. Qanungo in his book on Dara Shukoh, infact goes on to quote Prince Akbar who in 1681 remarked:

“Perhaps it has not been brought to your notice that Dara Shukoh was in reality prejudiced against and hostile to, this race (i.e. Rajputs). He saw the results of this. If he had made friends with them from the first, he would not have fared as he did…” [R.A.S., London Ms. 173]

As far as the Shias are concerned, only Bernier and Manucci are the authority [the latter borrows from the former]. Mir Jumla and Shaistah Khan were with Aurangzeb; Shahnawaz Khan Safawi was with Dara.

If one looks at the break up provided by Athar Ali for the nobles having 1000 zat and above, the point would become clearer:

TABLE I

Thus we see that 23 Hindus were with Aurangzeb and Murad, while 24 were with Dara. Out of these, Jai Singh was the viceroy of the Deccan, Jaswant Singh was the governor of Gujarat, while Raja Raghunath was the Diwan. Thus in the light of the above evidence, put forward by Athar Ali, the religious issue was not at all involved in the War of succession. Further these figures of Athar Ali show that out of the 124 nobles of 1000 zat and above, who are known to have been supporting Aurangzeb uptil the Battle of Samugarh, 27 or 21.7 % were Iranis, 4 out of them holding rank of 5000 zat and above. As against this, 23 out of 87 of Dara’s Supporters, i.e., 26 % were Iranis.

Dara Shukoh and his Army, Red Fort Museum, Delhi. Werner Forman Archive

Athar Ali further tells us that out of 486 mansabdars in 1658-78, 136, i.e., 27.3 % were Iranis, quite dwarfing the Turanis who numbered 67, i.e., 13.8 or 14 %. On the top rung of the ladder, 23 Iranis held the rank of 5000 and above in 1658-78; and 14 in 1679-1707. While the number of Turanis was only 9 and 6 respectively!

Now let us come to the question: why the confusion amongst the historians that religious slogan was raised by Aurangzeb in the War of Succession, which is factually incorrect. Why did this confusion arise? 

Aurangzeb raised the religious slogan to justify the execution of Dara after his enthronement. He could not be executed on any other charge. So just to justify this act, Aurangzeb raised the religious slogan that he being a mulhid should be executed. The religious bogey was not to justify the rebellion of Aurangzeb; it was raised to justify the execution of Dara. Historians confused the cause and attributed to the war of succession.

Murad had also to be executed. So a charge was brought that he had killed his diwan Ali Naq. His sons were made to petition Aurangzeb that the prince had executed their father. Thus he was executed on the charge of the murder of Ali Naqi diwan.

Course of the War

The Start of War:

Shahjahan fell ill at Delhi on 6th September 1657. His practice of jharokha darshan and appearing in the darbar stopped. Dara, being an experienced person, got the wakils (agents) of the princes arrested and imprisoned so that hey could not send news to their masters. Isa Beg, the wakil of Aurangzeb was also imprisoned. Due to this rumours spread that Shahjahan had died. Shahjahan was thus forced to appear at the jharokha on 14th September. Unfortunately the illness relapsed and he could not appear before the people till 15th October. Although his health improved but not quite satisfactorily. Dara made a servant, who resembled the emperor to appear on the jharokha, and took this opportunity to consolidate his own position. The rumours which could have been curtailed had the agents not been arrested, compounded the situation. Had Dara not arrested them, they would have written to their masters that the king was ill but alive.

Due to his ill health Shahjahan was constrained to nominate Dara Shukoh as his successor in the presence of the nobles. He further wished them to support Dara’s claim to the throne. Subsequently, he left Delhi for Agra on 18th October 1657. On reaching Agra on 25th he held the royal darbar on 5th December 1657. It was enough to make known that Shahjahan was alive. From September to October, Dara being in court, tendered and nursed his father and showed no haste to seize the crown. He exercised supreme authority but issued orders in the name of Shahjahan. Dara’s services to his ailing father naturally impressed Shahjahan who therefore bestowed upon him 1 crore cash, a promotion in his rank to 60,000, and a cavalry of 34,000. Shahjahan also promoted his sons to a rank of 15,000 and 10,000 respectively. The governorships of Bihar, Multan and Punjab were also bestowed on Dara. Simultaneously Mir Jumla was removed from the prime-ministership and orders were issued to Mir jumla and other nobles to come back to the capital.

These acts of Shahjahan were natural: there was nothing wrong in it. But when the news of the illness of the emperor reached the other princes, along with the favours done to Dara, their bitterness increased. Aqil Khan Razi, the author of Waqi’at-i Alamgiri, writes that the three brothers (Murad, Shuja & Aurangzeb) were inimical to Dara and had planned to strike against Dara when the circumstances appeared to be favourable. Thus when these developments were reported to them they started preparing for making themselves king and strike against Dara before Dara could consolidate his position. Aqil Khan Razi further says that the three brothers maintained contacts with each other for appropriate action. Thus on getting the news, Murad Bakhsh declared himself as King of Gujarat. When Ali Naqi of Gujarat asked him to desist and refused to cooperate, he was murdered by Murad. Shah Shuja declared himself in Bengal. Khutba in the name of these two along with coins struck in their names took place in the beginning of December 1657. Aurangzeb on the other hand did not declare himself as the king but declared his intention to proceed to meet his ailing father.

Shah Shuja proceeded by rapid marches from Bengal. Aurangzeb started from the Deccan while Murad converged from Gujarat. By the time these armies advanced towards Agra, Shahjahan was perfectly alright. Armies were converging on Agra from three directions. Miscalculation of Dara at this juncture was of considering Shah Shuja as the real threat and deputed Prince Sulaiman Shukoh to check the advance of Shah Shuja from Bengal. He sent the best troops of the Imperial force along with his son under the effective command of such renowned generals as Mirza Raja Jai Singh and Daler Khan. The nominal command of the army was with Sulaiman Shukoh. The result of this was that the position at Agra was weakened. Two other separate armies were mustered: one under the command of Maharaja Jaswant Singh and another under Qasim Khan. The army under Jaswant Singh was deputed to bar the passage of Aurangzeb coming from the Deccan; Qasim Khan was sent to obstruct the passage of Murad Bakhsh coming from Gujarat.

Aurangzeb wrote to Murad from the Deccan that he should not engage the imperial forces before Aurangzeb joins him. According to Aqil Khan Razi, an agreement was also signed between Murad and Aurangzeb through which they decided to oppose Dara. They agreed that after the victory they would occupy Agra and the two brothers would share the victory. Kabul, Kashmir, Lahore, Multan and Sind would go to Murad along with 1/3rd of the booty, while the rest of the territory of the empire will be shared by shuja and Aurangzeb; and this would also be the share of the treasury. The move against Shahjahan was to be justified and the support of the people was to be won. The slogan which was to be raised was that a heretic exercised all powers at court and so they were moving to free the emperor from the clutches of a heretic! The letter which Aurangzeb wrote to his brother to effect an alliance with him is cited by Bernier:

“I need not remind you, my brother, how repugnant to my real disposition are the toils of government. While Dara and Sultan Sujah are tormented with a thirst for dominion, I sigh only for the life of a Fakire. But, although renouncing all claim to the kingdom, I nevertheless consider myself bound to impart my sentiments to you, my friend, whom I have always tenderly loved. Dara is not only incapable of reigning, but is utterly unworthy of the throne, in as much as he is a Kafir – an idolator – and held in abhorrence by all the great Omrahs. Sultan Sujah is equally undeserving the crown; for being avowedly a Rafezy – an heretic- he is of course an enemy to Hindoustan. Will you then permit me to say that in you alone are to be found the qualifications for ruling a mighty empire? ….. With respect to myself, if I can exact a solemn promise from you that, when King, you will suffer me to pass my life in some sequestered spot of your dominions, where I may offer up my constant prayers to heaven in peace, and without molestation, I am prepared immediately to make common cause with you, to aid you with my counsel and my friends, and to place the whole of my army at your disposal…”

Aurangzeb arrested Mir Jumla: this act was a result of a conspiracy between Mir Jumla and Aurangzeb. Even if it was not it was quite strategic on the part of Aurangzeb – Mir Jumla had huge wealth and artillery. With him Aurangzeb got huge fiscal and military power. Mir Jumla was a clever but disloyal person, and Aurangzeb knew this very well.

Aurangzeb left Aurangabad on 5th February assuming royal prerogatives, i.e., distributing mansabs etc. He reached Burhanpur on 15th Feb, left Burhanpur on 20th March. Murad on the other hand left Ahmadabad on 25th February.

Both the armies of Murad and Aurangzeb joined at Dipalpur in Malwa on 14th April. The imperial orders were that if the two were to join, then Qasim and Jaswant Singh were also to join and give a combined fight. This was also a weakening of position at Agra: a strategic mistake and error.

The sensible policy would have been to let the entire army remain intact at Agra and then give the battle to the rebels in a combined manner. In that case, the position of Dara would have become sound: as the Emperor was alive and would have been present in the fort.

Mirza Raja Jai Singh defeated Shuja in a night attack during the battle known as the Battle of Banaras. But Jai Singh continued to pursue Shuja upto Bihar and evaded the orders of the emperor to return before the Battle of Samugarh. This was deliberate on the part of Mirza Raja as he was sympathetic to Aurangzeb and unhappy with Dara. Due to this, Dara was deprived of the best trained army which accompanied the Raja.

So Shuja was defeated and fled.

The Battle of Dharmat:

The first encounter between Aurangzeb and the joint imperial army under Qasim Khan and Jaswant Singh took place at Dharmat, a village near Ujjain in (15th) April 1658. The weakness in the Imperial forces was that neither Qasim Khan nor Jaswant Singh was a match to Aurangzeb in general ship. Secondly it was a well established convention that a prince could fight a Mughal prince. There was no prince in the camp of Jaswant Singh and Qasim Khan, and as such their position was weak.

Aurangzeb suggested to Jaswant Singh that he should not stop the princes from going to Agra and should abstain himself from bloodshed. But Jaswant Singh turned down the proposal. Qasim Khan also suggested to Jaswant Singh that it was futile to fight against the princes and that they should go back to Agra and seek further orders. This request was also turned down by Jaswant Singh.

So a clash of armies became in-evitable. Aurangzeb and Murad defeated the combined forces of Qasim and Jaswant Singh, who fled from the battlefield. The imperial forces were defeated at Dharmat and as a result of this, the prestige of the two princes enhanced and their morale became very high. The entire bag and baggage and the artillery of the vanquished came into the hands of Aurangzeb.

But then, the entire blame for this defeat of Dara at Dharmat does not rest with Raja Jaswant Singh. According to Ishwari Prasad, he had under his command an army which was a heterogenous mass without cohesion or common loyalty. The Rajputs, belonging to the different clans, were swayed by considerations of privilege and precedence, and did not render ungrudging obedience to the commands of their leader. The Hindus and Muslims had their own differences and their separatist tendencies destroyed the unity of command, which was essential to success. The Muslims scorned to fight under Hindu leadership and thus within a single army there were seen two co-ordinate authorities, which fatally hampered the plans of each other. Besides these inherent drawbacks, the imperial army was weakened by the intrigues which its own officers carried with Aurangzeb. Sarkar on the other hand points out that on the imperial side nearly 6000 men fell at Dharmat, most of whom were Rajputs. “Every clan of Rajasthan contributed its share to the band of heroes who sacrificed their lives in their master’s service (swami-dharma).”

 Due to this victory at Dharmat, nobles and soldiers started deserting the side of Dara and joined the party of Aurangzeb. They rapidly marched towards Agra. On 20 April Aurangzeb and Murad left Ujjain and reached Gwalior the next day. From Gwalior they moved towards Dholpur. Dara made all possible efforts to mobilize all the forces left at the capital and sent orders to Jai Singh to join him. But Jai Singh avoided receiving the orders and wasted his time in a fruitless pursuit. Shahjahan now ordered Rana Raj Singh to join him. But Aurangzeb sent a nishan to him. So he also did not move for the help of Shahjahan and Dara. 

The Battle of Samugarh:

Whatever Mughal force was left at Agra was now led by Dara Shukoh to Samugarh. He still had such renowned military commanders as Rustam Khan Dakkani, Chhatarsal Hada etc.

To reach Dholpur the army of Aurangzeb and Murad had to cross the river Chambal. Dara guarded all known ferries at Chambal so that Aurangzeb should be prevented from crossing the river. Artilleries were fixed on all known ferries. Champat Bundela, who was in rebellion against Shahjahan, was moving as a rebel in the ravines at this time. He approached Aurangzeb that in case pardon is granted to him, he would show an unguarded ferry around 40 miles away to the east. Aurangzeb promised the pardon, the ferry was pointed out and on 23rd May 1658 Aurangzeb crossed the river. The entire artillery of Dara became useless.

 Dara was at a place known as 9 miles south of Agra known as Samugarh. On getting this intelligence, Ibrahim Khan s/o Ali Mardan Khan Amirul Umara advised Dara that before the forces of Aurangzeb collected or discipline themselves this side of the river, attack should be launched immediately. Because once Aurangzeb takes position firmly, it would be difficult. However this sound advice was turned down and not heeded by Dara Shukoh. A contrary advice was given by Khalilullah Khan who being hostile to Dara and in favour of Aurangzeb, said that ‘we will defeat Aurangzeb in a pitched battle’. Thus Dara at this crucial juncture turned down the sensible suggestion. His artillery we have seen had already become ineffective.

Aurangzeb ordered rest for the whole day and Dara instead of making use of this opportunity just kept waiting in full battle array. It was the month of May. The forces of Dara stood exposed in the sun doing nothing. Next day the battle started. Thus the Battle of Samugarh was fought on 29th May. When the army of Aurangzeb appeared, Dara ordered his artillery to fire at it; but it was beyond range. When Aurangzeb fired it was with in range and thus created havoc in the ranks of Dara Shukoh. The Rajput contingent headed by Chhatarsal Hada galloped to capture the artillery of Aurangzeb and in the process Chhatarsal died. According to Alamgirnama, Chhatarsal was renowned for his bravery.

Rustam Khan Firozjung Dakkani on the other hand fell upon the forces of Murad and died fighting for Dara. He too was a general whose bravery was beyond doubt: Kazim Shirazi testifies to his bravery as well.

Before the battle when Shahjahan got the news of the advance of Aurangzeb and the defeat of Jaswant Singh, he discussed the issue with nobles like Shaista Khan (the brother-in-law of Shahjahan and the uncle of Aurangzeb), and decided to fight against Aurangzeb in person. Shaista Khan adviced him to the contrary: he said that the emperor’s health was not conducive to go to the battleground himself. Unfortunately Shahjahan heeded this advice and Dara led the army against his brothers. Thus on 29th May when the battle of Samugarh was fought, instead of it being a battle between the emperor and the ‘rebels’ it was a battle between princes. Initially Dara appeared to be on the verge of victory and the forces of Aurangzeb were scattering. At this juncture, Khalilullah Khan adviced Dara, who was mounted on an elephant to come down and shift to a horse. On finding their leader absent from the elephant, the winning army of Dara thought that their leader had either been injured or died. Thus confusion was created. The army of Aurangzeb too felt that Dara had been killed and started recollecting. The victorious army was defeated and the lost battle was won by Aurangzeb at Samugarh. It was this victory which bestowed the crown of the Mughal empire to Aurangzeb.

The loss of the two generals (Rustam Khan and Chhatarsal), and the reversal of fortunes during the coarse of the battle, Dara fled and the battle of Samugarh was lost and the fate of Dara was sealed.

Reasons of Aurangzeb’s Success Samugarh:

Among the reasons of the success of Aurangzeb, there appears to have been two prominent causes: the inexperience and ineptitude of his brothers and his own shrewdness and generalship.

 Now Aurangzeb proceeded to Agra and besieged the fort. The water supply to the fort from the Jamuna was cut. There was no Bikramajit Bhadoria or any one else to defend the emperor and his fort from the prince! Shahjahan was in the fort but no noble or zamindar sympathised with him. Compare this with the event of the siege of the same fort in 1622 when Shahjahan was the besieger and Jahangir, the emperor was in Lahore!  

The result was that the fort was captured and Shahjahan was imprisoned. All attempts by Jahanara Begum, the eldest daughter of Shahjahan, to bring about a rapprochement between her two brothers failed. Aurangzeb declared that Shahjahan had ceased to be an effective monarch and had no right to rule. He argued that as he himself was the most effective person he should ascend the throne, his father having been proved a weak ruler.

After the Battle of Samugarh a new situation had arisen. So long as a common enemy was there, Murad and Aurangzeb were united. Now Aurangzeb had no use for Murad. During the battle of Samugarh Murad had been badly injured. He also started behaving independently. In pursuit of Dara he left for Delhi with 20,000 soldiers and followed Aurangzeb at a distance of 12 miles to give an impression that he was independent of him. By treachery Aurangzeb got Murad arrested and ultimately imprisoned him at Gwalior. His army was alswo taken over by Aurangzeb.

Dara fled to Punjab and then to Gujarat. Shahnawaz Khan Safawi, the subahdar provided him money and soldiers while Jaswant Singh asked him to come over to Ajmer and promised him all help. Dara believed and along with Shahnawaz Khan left Gujarat for Ajmer. When he reached Ajmer, Jaswant Singh did not come forward to help him. Perhaps Mirza Raja Jai Singh also had a part to play in this game. At this stage the Mirza Raja intervened and warned that if Jaswant Singh supported Dara Shukoh, his clan would be ruined. Thus Jaswant went out of his province and no contingent was sent to Dara, inspite of repeated requests made by the latter.

Now Aurangzeb immediately left for Ajmer and at Deorai a battle was fought. In this battle fought in 1659 Dara was once again defeated and his fate was sealed. Dara fled. Shah Shuja at this juncture again made an attempt to contest the throne. Previously he contested against Dara. But this time his contest was with Aurangzeb. He wrote letters to the qiledar of Allahabad to hand over the fort to him as he was coming from Bengal. Jaswant Singh had joined the forces of Aurangzeb by this time. So at the battlefield of Khajua (near Allahabad), Shah Shuja encamped himself and being an intelligent person adopted a new technique of warfare. Discarding the usual formation of the army, he arranged his armed forces in one line – vanguard, left, right, and centre were avoided. This was done as his army was numerically inferior to the army of Aurangzeb. Jaswant Singh, as a supporter of Aurangzeb, had been given the command of the Rajpur wing of Aurangzeb’s army. Shah Shuja entered into a conspiracy with him and an agreement was reached between the two that before the battle actually starts, in the late hours of the night, around 3 AM Jaswant would attack the army of Aurangzeb. Jaswant Singh thus launched a sudden attack on the army of Aurangzeb at the appointed time; a great hue and cry arose in the camp of Aurangzeb as the attack was unexpected. Unfortunately Shah Shuja thought it to be a trick of Aurangzeb and did not launch a simultaneous attack as was expected. He desisted to do anything when confusion reign in the ranks of the enemy. Aurangzeb on his part assured his soldiers that Jaswant had run away before the battle.

The Battle of Khajua:

The next day the battle started at Khajua. It was a hotly contested battle. The army of Shah Shuja, especially his artillery, created havoc and at one stage it appeared as if the army of Shah Shuja would emerge victorious. Aurangzeb was also perhaps not sure of victory. Once faced with artillery fire, Aurangzeb’s elephant on which he sat was the main target. Aurangzeb ordered the feet of the elephant to be chained so that it may not flee. At one point, if Manucci is to be believed, Aurangzeb thought to leave the elephant and instead ride a horse. Mir Jumla persuaded him not to do so as it would lead to confusion – as at Samugarh with Dara. But then, this might be a gossip.

Ultimately Shah Shuja was defeated and he fled. Aurangzeb became the undisputed king of India.

Murad was arrested; Dara and Shuja were defeated. Four battles – Dharmat, Samugarh, Khajua and Deorai ot Deoragarh – which shook the Mughal Empire which was at that time at its zenith.               

Now let us come to the question: why the confusion amongst the historians that religious slogan was raised by Aurangzeb in the War of Succession, which is factually incorrect. Why did this confusion arise? 

Aurangzeb raised the religious slogan to justify the execution of Dara after his enthronement. He could not be executed on any other charge. So just to justify this act, Aurangzeb raised the religious slogan that he being a mulhid should be executed. The religious bogey was not to justify the rebellion of Aurangzeb; it was raised to justify the execution of Dara. Historians confused the cause and attributed to the war of succession.

Murad had also to be executed. So a charge was brought that he had killed his diwan Ali Naq. His sons were made to petition Aurangzeb that the prince had executed their father. Thus he was executed on the charge of the murder of Ali Naqi diwan.

Reasons of Aurangzeb’s Success:

If we carefully examine the account given by Sadiq Khan, the irresistible conclusion is that Shahjahan was unpopular vis-à-vis the nobles which became the main reason for the success of Aurangzeb.

Shahjahan became unpopular due to his stringent financial measures and his ruthless policy in realising the arrears. This made Shahjahan unpopular vis-à-vis the nobility.

Dara was unpopular as he was the spoiled child, very arrogant and discourteous to the nobles. He was quite ill-mannered and ill-tempered. Dara had neither the qualities of a general nor an administrator: he had no experience of warfare. He made strategic mistakes. For example he made a mistake of dispatching 3 armies from Agra because as such it weakened the situation at Agra.

Further, the Afghans as a class were hostile to Shahjahan and whole heartedly opposed Shahjahan and supported Aurangzeb. Professor M. Athar Ali has shown that out of the 124 nobles of 1000 zat and above, who supported Aurangzeb up to the battle of Samugarh, 23 were Afghan; while there was only one Afghan among 87 nobles of this status on the side of Dara. 

In contrast to Dara, Aurangzeb had a vast and rich military experience. He also had the best Deccani generals who were accompanying him. Aurangzeb played his cards well: each section of the nobility was kept satisfied. He had also acquired a fine pack of artillery belonging to Mir Jumla and that proved of immense use in the war of succession.

The Bundelas too were hostile to Shahjahan. It was Champat Bundela who pointed out the ferry to Aurangzeb at Chambal.

The intellectual movement at the court of Shahjahan under the patronage of Dara Shukoh had been aimed at religious reconciliation of Hinduism and Islam: and because of this Dara had incurred the displeasure of Hindus and Muslims alike.

Dara was pitted against a person who had experience of fighting the Persians at Qandhar, against the Uzbeks in Balkh, against the powerful states of Golcunda and Bijapur in the Deccan. Hardly there was any serious problem with which the empire was faced and with which he was not acquainted and for which he had not been criticised unnecessarily by Shahjahan. The result was that he was brought up in adverse circumstances. That is why he became mature: He governed himself, while Dara governed through deputation. Thus the personal factor was also involved. Aurangzeb was the best framed person among the sons of Shahjahan.

Thus among the causes of the War of Succession, one can say that firstly, the religious issue was not one of the causes.

Secondly there was an absence of the rule of succession, the monarchy being not an Islamic set-up.

Thirdly. The excessive inclination of Shahjahan towards Dara, who was designated heir-apparent created suspicion in the minds of other princes.

Fourthly, the Deccan problem separated Aurangzeb and Shahjahan. Further, all the princes were grown up and held the resources of atleast one province at their disposal so that they could contest with reasonable chance of success.

And when Shahjahan fell ill, Dara committed a mistake by arresting the wakils of all the princes with the result that there was strong suspicion that Shahjahan had died.

Lastly but not the least there was strong antagonism against Shahjahan himself due to his economic policies and the fact that he himself had opened the door of rebellion against a living emperor.

Effect of the War of Succession

It was for the first time after the establishment of the Mughal rule in India that the reigning sovereign was arrested and imprisoned. This means that Aurangzeb by his own action weakened the very concept of monarchy. The institution of the monarchy as such was weakened. This was the direct consequence of the War of Succession. And there were far reaching consequences of this. Aurangzeb was aware of this.

Secondly, so long as emperor Shahjahan was alive, there was a choice left before the nobility. Nobility could have reversed the situation if Aurangzeb had antagonized the nobles. Thus as long as Shahjahan was alive, Aurangzeb was not in a position to incur the displeasure of his nobility. This imposed a restriction on the policy of Aurangzeb in dealing with the nobles. Aurangzeb thus tried to placated all the powerful sections of the nobility and it was perhaps having in view this consideration that he appointed both Jaswant Singh and Jai Singh to the highest rank of 7000/7000. This was probably to pacify the Rajput nobility. Jaswant was twice appointed as governor of Gujarat in spite of his being a traitor. After coronation, Jai Singh was given an inam worth 1 crore dams.

Raja Raghunath Singh was appointed as the Diwan of the Empire. After the death of Todarmal, no non-Muslim had been appointed as the Diwan of the Empire. He was a Khatri. And his appointment was again a concession to the Hindus and the Rajputs.

Aurangzeb also gave promotions to different sections of the nobility. Rewards were given to all who had come to the side of Aurangzeb. Thus the rank of Mir Jumla was enhanced to 7000/7000 along with an inam of Rs. 10 lakh and the title of sipah salar was bestowed upon him before he was sent in pursuit of Shah Shuja. Similarly Shaista Khan was also awarded the mansab of 7000/7000 du aspa sih aspa, a title of Amir ul Umara and an inam of 2 crore dams. He was first assigned the charge of the Agra fort where Shahjahan had been confined and then he was sent to pursue Sulaiman Shukoh and given the charge of Balkh. Another noble, Khalilullah Khan was raised to 6000/6000 du aspa sih aspa and then made the governor of Punjab. Such examples can be multiplied.

 The manifesto which he issued during the war of succession proclaimed that Shahjahan had ceased to be an effective ruler and had no right to rule while Aurangzeb being a more rigorous person was entitled to ascend the throne. So the promise which he gave to the nobles was that the declared policy had to be translated into action. This was just to placate the nobility at a time when Shahjahan was still alive. So if he had to prove this fact of being more vigorous than Shahjahan, the only way to do it was to pursue a policy of expansion and annexations. Few decades in the 17th Century have seen such hectic campaigns as the first 10 years of Aurangzeb’s reign! The expansion was practically in all the directions: towards the Deccan, Assam, Kuch Bihar etc.

But as the natural geographical barriers had been touched during the reign of Shahjahan, further expansion was not possible unless vast military resources were concentrated, that too with serious political effects. Thus the attempt made by Aurangzeb for expansion was bound to be a failure. This had far reaching consequences for the subsequent policies of Aurangzeb.

Another consequence was that Aurangzeb became suspicious of his own sons, and that is why he exercised care and caution in placing the vast resources with his sons. The sons were also not as well trained as the sons of Shahjahan: the sanctity of the monarch had been compromised.

All this was naturally going to strain the economic resources of the empire and lead to scarcity.