Sources of Aurangzeb’s Reign

Illustrations in Alamgirnama

Aurangzeb stopped the tradition of commissioning the official history writing at the end of the 10th RY of his reign. The reason appears to be that perhaps he wanted to suppress his political failures. Another reason which has been forwarded is the financial strain. Others hold his orthodoxy as the main reason for the order to stop writing the official history.

In spite of this, if the entire source material available for Aurangzeb’s reign in different archives of India and abroad is put together, collectively the reign of Aurangzeb is found to be rich in historical records as compared to all Mughal Emperors preceding him put together. From this point of view his reign is important both quantitatively and qualitatively.

The only official history written during this reign is the ‘Alamgirnama of Muhammad Kazim Shirazi. It is the history of the first 10 regnal years: i.e. from the period Aurangzeb started from the Deccan to contest the throne up to 1688. It is in 2 volumes. As with all official histories, Alamgirnama is very rich in details, its chronology is reliable. It provides all appointments and promotions of the mansabdars. Kazim Shirazi takes care to note the original rank as well as the promotion. All this is natural as being an official historian, the state archives were at his disposal. All the official records were available to him. He himself was associated with the court and experienced most of the events he describes. He records almost all the important events of the period which he covers

However it suppresses many facts as well. For example, it doesn’t mention that Surat was sacked by Shivaji in 1664. Thus there is a suppression of events not complementary to the ruler. Similarly there is no direct reference to the scarcity of food grains. Kazim suppresses it. He gives an interesting version of the causes of the War of Succession, placing the entire blame on Shahjahan and Dara Shukoh. He gives all the details of the moves of Dara, Shuja, Murad and Aurangzeb. In spite of all this he provides very useful and independent information which throws a flood of light on the causes of the WoS : Aurangzeb invoked the shariat law to justify the execution of Dara and not to take up arms against his father. Thus the bogey of Shari’ at was raised only when he had ascended the throne. Kazim Shirazi is not consistently objective: he gives the official version of almost all the controversial events and developments. The treatment meted out by Aurangzeb to Dara, Murad and other supporters of Dara has been justified in Alamgirnama on religious grounds; although we know from other sources that this slogan of religion was raised by Aurangzeb to justify his acts. Such subjectivity of the author of this work can be multiplied. However this shortcoming in no way undermines the importance of this source.

For the history of the first ten years, the Alamgirnama is reliable except at the places where he deliberately suppresses information. There can be no doubt about the value of Alamgirnama, even later historian tend to follow what Kazim Shirazi had written for the first 10 years. As much details as are contained in the Alamgirnama, are unfortunately not found in any of the other histories which were written in the next 40 years of Aurangzeb’s reign.

 The information contained in it regarding the WoS is corroborated by Aqil Khan Razi in Waqi’at –i ‘Alamgiri. It is an account of the WoS : Aqil Khan was not only a contemporary but a participant in the struggle on behalf of Aurangzeb. Thus his account is extremely rich in details and accurate in dates. It is very objective in the sense that it omitted the preamble of the ahadnama entered into between Aurangzeb and Murad Bakhsh in which it was stated that they were going to fight against the rais-i mulahida (chief of the heretics) i.e. Dara Shukoh. Aqil Khan Razi was a partisan of Aurangzeb and has effectively put forward the view of Aurangzeb regarding the WoS, yet even he avoids that it had religious overtones. He gives the impression that it was fought on political and personal considerations: Religion was not involved.

Another source for the period is the Nuskha-i Dilkusha of Bhimsen. He was born at Burhanpur in 1648-49 and served under Rao Dalpat Bundela at a time when Rao Dalpat was deputed to the Deccan. He took part in many wars in the Deccan during Aurangzeb’s reign. For a time he had been the commander of the fort of Naldurg. After the death of Prince Kambakhsh s/o Aurangzeb, in 1709, he left imperial service and settled down at Burhanpur where he compiled his work.

His work is an account of of Aurangzeb’s reign from his march from the Deccan in 1658 to contest the throne up to the defeat of prince Kambakhsh in 1709. His account is based on personal observations and recollections and is mainly a description of the military transactions in the Deccan. Bhimsen had close contacts with a number of officers, generals and nobles. He himself had taken an active part from 1670 onwards. He had also widely travelled in the empire and was an actual witness to the state of affairs. There can be no doubt about some of the information he provides, like the appointments, promotions, postings and transfers of many of the favourite officers and mansabdars. He has recorded the events with dates and accuracy. Nushkha-i Dilkusha is thus a work in the nature of a gazetteer of the reign of Aurangzeb. All this information is valuable for us as after Alamgirnama details are not found in any source of Aurangzeb’s reign. 

Another important source for the period is the Ma’asir-i Alamgiri of Saqi Musta’id Khan. It is also a gazetteer for the reign of Aurangzeb providing us the list of mansabdars, their promotions, appointments and transfers. It gives us inkling into the working of the administrative system. The author’s candid remarks on the character and working of the officers and nobles are of great value. Saqi Musta’id Khan was an objective writer. His observations give us an insight into the actual working of the official administrative machinery under Aurangzeb. At the end of his work he also appended a brief account of Aurangzeb’s reign and an account of his sons and daughters. As there is no comprehensive and complete account of Aurangzeb’s reign, Ma’asir-i Alamgiri is a very important source. It was compiled soon after the death of Aurangzeb, and though was not technically a contemporary account; it may be treated as a contemporary account: the author was a contemporary of Aurangzeb who had served as an officer under him; he had been close to the person of the emperor. Further this work is based on contemporary state archives and documents.

Saqi Musta’id Khan does not appear to be a great scholar of high calibre or a man who had any understanding of history as a science, his approach. In compiling his work, his approach appears to be that of an ordinary court official who recorded the dry and bare facts in strict chronological order with days and dates. There is no analysis of facts. He wrote as a true servant of His Majesty, the Emperor. He was an admirer of his master and extremely loyal to him. He presents Aurangzeb in his account as a devout Muslim: a king who set himself upon to establish the rule of Sharia and humiliate the infidels (viz. the Rajputs and the Marathas) and their supporters (Rathors, Sisodias, Bijapuris, Qutbshahis). Unlike Bhimsen and Khafi Khan, he found no fault in Aurangzeb’s policies and administration. Nor does he reflect or explain neither events nor their effects on the government or the people or the country. There is very little information in Ma’asir-i Alamgiri about the society and economic condition of the people of the period as may be found in the Nuskha-i Dilkusha of Bhimsen of Muntakhab ul Lubab of Khafi Khan.

In spite these short comings Ma’asir-i Alamgiri is an invaluable source of History for Aurangzeb’s period because we do not have any other such account for the last 40 years of his reign by a contemporary or semi-contemporary source. It is due to this that subsequent writers had depended upon it.

Muntakhab ul Lubab is written by Muhammad Hashim whose title was Khafi Khan. It is a very important source of Aurangzeb’s period and covers aspects not found in other works easily. It can be compared to Barani and Abul Fazl.

He was an eye witness to many events which he recorded and he claims that he based his narration on the privately maintained account of the events of Aurangzeb’s reign, as well as on personal observations and verbal account of men who had been witness to these events.

Muntakhabul Lubab is a complete, connected and a very detailed account of Aurangzeb’s period. Unlike Ma’asir-i Alamgiri or Nuskha-i Dilkusha, which mention just the grant of mansabs, promotions, appointments, transfers or despatch of nobles on expeditions and their military operation, Khafi Khan gives us a total and complete picture of the entire reign, providing us a sequence of events, interaction of political and economic developments, thereby giving us a correct and comprehensive understanding of this crucial period of Indian history. He gives very valuable details in much greater measure than Ma’asir or Dilkusha about the imperial policy towards the Marathas and the Deccani rulers. About the military operations there, actual condition of the two fighting parties (the Deccan & Imperialists) and their camps during prolonged campaigns of Aurangzeb is also discussed by him. He is perhaps the only historian who describes the influx of the Deccani nobles and its effects on the Mughal nobility, the mansabdari and jagirdari system which in time seriously affected the position and strength of the Mughal rule in India.

Muntakhab ul Lubab is an extremely valuable account for the history of Aurangzeb and in view of its importance we have separately dealt with it in another blog.

Another important source for the study of Aurangzeb’s period are the letters written by Aurangzeb, entitled Kalimat-i Taiyebat and Raqaim al Karaim. The letters contained in these collections are the letters written by Aurangzeb as emperor. These letters reveal the crisis with which the Mughal Empire was faced towards the close of Aurangzeb’s reign. But at the same time they depict the determination of the emperor to face the crisis. The letters also throw light on the relation of Aurangzeb with his sons and nobles.

The Factory Records are the reports sent by the factors to the Home government. They are a mine of raw material for the study of the economic condition of the Empire, especially the trade and commerce. The corrupt practises adopted by the Mughal officials, the functioning of the mint-houses, the rate of interest and the role of banias, as well as the hundis (the indigenous bills of exchange). For the study of the 17th Century trade and commerce and the commercial activity within the Mughal Empire, these Factory records are extremely useful and full of information.

Manucci was an Italian traveller and he has written the history and his experiences in the Mughal Empire. His work is entitled as Storia do Mogor which has been translated by William Irvine in four volumes. Sir Jadunath Sarkar describes Manucci as ‘gossipy Manucci’ but a careful study of the four volumes reveals that the observation of Sarkar cannot be sustained. Manucci has given the salary of different mansabdars which tallies with the dastur-ul amals. He has given the list of titles which were given to Hindu and Muslim nobles. He also mentions the titles given to the persons belonging to different professions, eg. Scribes, khushnavis, musicians, dancing girls, singers, elephants, elepant-drivers and so on.

He also mentions certain facts which provide important clue for an understanding of the functioning of the empire. His account is useful for the understanding the administrative apparatus and the functioning of the empire. Of course he has given certain scandals regarding the Imperial household, but they may be easily discarded and whatever is left is useful for the study of the second half of the 17th Century, especially for the reign of Aurangzeb. It is unfair to dispose his account as mere gossip.

Another important European traveller to India, who left behind an account of Aurangzeb’s reign, as well as the last years of Shahjahan’s reign is Francois Bernier. He came at the close of Shahjahan’s reign in 1656 and joined th service of Dara Shukoh. He was one of members of the French landed gentry. His account is basically in the form of letters to his overlords back home. One of the most detailed account is provided in his letter addressed to Lord Colbert. He elaborates on his views about the Mughal Empire, the causes of its decline, and the agrarian crisis which he witnessed. According to him this ‘decline’ was as result of the transfer system inherent in the mansabdari and jagirdari system. He looked at everything through tinted European glasses. He dedicates his account to the French emperor. He calls the war of succession as ‘The Tragedy’

• Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi