Chai: The Story of Tea in India

The Kolukkumalai Tea Estate, Tamil Nadu

Tea plantations were started in India by the British in 1830’s, primarily for export to Britain. Among Indians, tea drinking in the modern sense started only in the early 1900’s, when the British-owned Indian Tea Association began an earnest effort to popularise tea in India. They organised several promotional campaigns – tea stalls were set up in cities and towns, factories were encouraged to give tea breaks to their workers, and even home demonstrations were organised. When the railways arrived, tea stalls were set up at rail stations as well. After a slow and dispiriting start, tea drinking gradually spread in India, gaining momentum after the Second World War. By the end of the 1900’s, Indians were drinking almost 70 percent of a huge crop of 715,000 tons per year.

By 1900, tea was a large part of British household spending, but the market, although the largest, was starting to go flat.

Advertisement for tea from the 1930s
The Indian Tea Association, an industry group made up of British companies, turned to the second largest market, the US – the former colony that 150 years earlier had used the opposition to rising tea taxes as a rallying cry for independence.

When the US economy and London tea prices crashed at the end of the 1920s, the association then looked towards the Indian market.

By then the brew was enjoyed by not just the Singphos and Khamtis, the two Burmese-origin tribes in India’s hilly north-east that had enjoyed tea for centuries.

It had become a drink for the Indian upper and middle classes in Calcutta, the colonial capital that had become the world’s largest tea port.

Cultural historian Gautam Bhadra has gathered a pile of circumstantial evidence on the growing Indian – and indeed Bengali – habit of drinking tea in the 1920s and ’30s.

“We became sure of an Indian tea habit in the 1920s not just from the celebratory poems published in the Sahitya magazine,” he says.

“Amritalal Basu’s 1926 sketch, Pintur Theatre Dekha (Pintu Goes to the Theatre), mentions trouble that erupted when someone tried to hide a shortage of tea by serving boiled neem leaves in earthen pots. It’s the first reference of having tea in earthen pots in India.”

The “Indian antidote” affected the habits of others, too.

In his research paper, “Chai Why? The Triumph of Tea in India as Captured in Advertising Imagery”, University of Iowa Professor Philip Lutgendorf observes that the Zoroastrian families which immigrated to Mumbai in the first decades of the 20th Century were used to drinking tea as a “milkless infusion of black leaves, sucked through a lump of rock-sugar held in the cheek”.

But they changed the way they made “chai” in their cafes to suit British-Indian tastes.

“Irani chai,” writes Lutgendorf, “once dispensed in more than 400 corner eateries that proliferated throughout Mumbai between roughly 1920 and 1960, was typically produced in large samovars in which tea leaves boiled for hours in sweetened water; meanwhile, a huge pot of full-cream milk simmered on an adjacent burner, becoming continually richer and more condensed.”

Samāvar with a soothing aromatic Irani chai in a Yurt setting in Mashhad

But the habit in India was not nearly as pervasive as the tea producers would have liked.

Bishnupriya Gupta, economic historian at the University of Warwick, reckons the Indian market was a mere 8.2 million kg (18 million lbs) in 1910, a year Britain bought 130 million kg. Through the 1920s, Indian demand crept up to about 23 million kg.

One reason for this low demand and slow growth was the vociferous opposition to tea within India – and especially against labour practices at tea plantations – that had been aired by nationalist leaders from as early as 1906.

A reflection of this is found in Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s Bengali novella Parineeta, published in 1914.

The main character, Lalita, does not have tea because Shekhar, her love who is influenced by the nationalist movement, does not like women drinking tea.

In late 1870s the drinking of tea was in fashion all over India and commonly a part of everyday informal social meets. [Mandelslo] We can see from contemporary writers that ladies and gentlemen had occasions to socialize themselves many a time a day – at breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, supper, dinner, and after-dinner – and never without cups and shimmering teapots to induce sharing of minds. Calcutta was then a city of ceremonials and carnivals. 

Tea-parties were enlivened with spirit of sociability where anything could be discussed, less the delicate subjects like tea growing and its politics and economics. Tea and the Britain have a shady history. ‘The British brought tea to England by way of monopolistic trade, smuggling, drug dealing, and thievery’ as modern research admits [Petras]. The Colonial India produced highest bid tea in auction markets by employing bonded labourers from Assam and North Bengal. From Calcutta, troops of hair-dressers and shoe-makers of Chinese origin were also called to join on the presumption that every Chinese a good tea-plucker. The plight of these hapless slaves was first known when Ramkumar Vidyaratna and Dwarkanath Ganguly reported in Sanjibani(সঞ্জিবনী) aroud 1886 [Ganguly] long before Mulk Raj Anand portrayed their misery in his famous Two leaves and a bird appeared in 1937. [Anad]

In the early 1920s, Acharya Prafulla Ray, an eminent chemist and a passionate nationalist, published cartoons equating tea with poison.

Later, Mahatma Gandhi wrote a chapter in his book, A Key to Health, explaining why tannin, the compound that gives tea its astringency, was bad for human consumption.

Gandhiji called tea “an intoxicant”, in the same class of avoidable substances as tobacco and cacao. He was strongly opposed to the intake of tea as “tannin when taken internally impairs digestion and causes dyspepsia.” Instead, he suggested that honey, hot water and lemon as nourishing drinks.

Another widely held belief was that tea made the skin darker. Among a people obsessed with fair skin, especially in north India, this amplified the political message as a taboo.

Facing such unprecedented hostility, the tea producers needed as much help as they could muster.

The Tea Cess Committee was morphed in 1933 into the unambiguously named Tea Marketing Expansion Board, a precursor to today’s Tea Board.

It started putting out illustrated advertisements at railway stations with instructions for brewing tea and with the Board’s counter-claims about the drink’s health benefits such as “increased stamina”.

An Advertisement from 1930’s

In the 1930s and ’40s, vehicles decorated with a large kettle travelled through the urban and semi-urban areas of Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra explaining how to brew tea.

Boiling was encouraged as an antidote to the Indian “poison” – and it is still how tea is made across India.

Even private companies undertook their own promotion.

“Before independence, Brooke Bond carts would go around the old city offering to make free tea for anyone who brought milk. They would then boil the whole thing on the cart,” says Sanjay Kapur, chief executive of San-Cha Tea House in old Delhi.

“I suppose that was a very Indian way of getting rid of the supposed bad things in the tea.”

The combined efforts contributed to the doubling of Indian consumption in the 1930s.

Still, the Indian market remained relatively small through the 1940s.

After 1947, tea became even more of a precious foreign exchange earner, rather than something to drink at home.

In 1950, 70% of the 280 million kg (617 million lbs) produced in India was exported.

The biggest turn happened in the 1960s when the working classes took to tea in numbers. Gautam Bhadra ascribes this sudden and substantial spurt in “roadside tea stalls” to the coming of CTC – “crush, tear and curl” – a method of making black tea that produces a cheaper dust, one that lends itself to boiling.

Today, India accounts for a quarter of the world’s production.

“In 2011 India consumed more than 850 million kg out of the 988 million produced, but prices suffered between 1999 and 2007,” says Bidyananda Barkakoty, chairman of the North Eastern Tea Association and one who has lobbied hard for tea to be labelled a national drink.

The designation would help build India’s tea brand overseas, he says.

While Mr Barkakoty trains his eyes abroad, Roshni Sen, deputy chairman of the Tea Board, looks within: “A 2007 study told us that the Indian demand is rising faster than production. That means we may have to import.”

Lipton: One of the largest selling brand

Chai although an English import is now a part & parcel of middle class lives in India. According to a research, tea was introduced as an instrument of hegemonic control of the colonized by the colonisers but now is an essential part of most of the Indian households and we export the tea to our former colonisers!

Brooke Bond Red Label Tea
Black Tea

However today most take take in India which is not the simple aromatic brew elsewhere: its a concoction of boiled leaves mixed with lots of sugar and milk. Masala tea is also an Indian derivative.

Another change which has occurred in the last few decades in the field of Indian tea culture is the disappearance of the traditional cup-and-saucer along with tea pot, tea cosy and milk pot! Now the brewed tea has been generally replaced by a boiled concoction of tea leaves, milk, sugar and masala (adrak during winters) poured directly in mugs!

The old brewed variety is now only reserved for the connoisseurs and tea aficionado!

Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi

The Musèe du Louvre, Paris

The Louvre or The Louvre Museum is one of the largest museums of the world.

The museum is housed in the Louvre Palace, originally built as the Louvre castle in the late 12th to 13th century under Philip II. Remnants of the fortress are visible in the basement of the museum. Due to the urban expansion of the city, the fortress eventually lost its defensive function and, in 1546, was converted by Francis I into the main residence of the French Kings.

The building was extended many times to form the present Louvre Palace. In 1682, Louis XIV chose the Palace of Versailles for his household, leaving the Louvre primarily as a place to display the royal collection, including, from 1692, a collection of ancient Greek and Roman sculpture. In 1692, the building was occupied by the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres and the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, which in 1699 held the first of a series of salons. The Académie remained at the Louvre for 100 years. During the French Revolution, the National Assembly decreed that the Louvre should be used as a museum to display the nation’s masterpieces.

The museum opened on 10 August 1793 with an exhibition of 537 paintings, the majority of the works being royal and confiscated church property. Because of structural problems with the building, the museum was closed in 1796 until 1801. The collection was increased under Napoleon and the museum was renamed Musée Napoléon, but after Napoleon’s abdication many works seized by his armies were returned to their original owners. The collection was further increased during the reigns of Louis XVIII and Charles X, and during the Second French Empire the museum gained 20,000 pieces. Holdings have grown steadily through donations and bequests since the Third Republic. The collection is divided among eight curatorial departments: Egyptian Antiquities; Near Eastern Antiquities; Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities; Islamic Art; Sculpture; Decorative Arts; Paintings; Prints and Drawings.

In the front of the palace which houses the museum is the Louvre Pyramid (Pyramide du Louvre) which is a large glass and metal pyramid designed by Chinese-American architect I. M. Pei. It is surrounded by three smaller pyramids, in the main courtyard (Cour Napoléon) of the Louvre Palace (Palais du Louvre). The large pyramid serves as the main entrance to the Louvre Museum. Completed in 1989, it has become a landmark of the city of Paris.

Below the Coeur Carré of the Musée de Louvre are the remains of the Medieval walls and dungeons of the Louvre Palace. These are the walls and bastions of the original Palais du Louvre over which the later structures and the subsequent museum was built.

And just besides these is the underground shopping centre of the Carrousel du Louvre. This posh modern shopping mall comprises of shops on two levels and almost all the modern brands are represented in it. From clothings to stationary to curios and toys, the mall has a rich food court, stationary shops and gift shops.

The whole Museum is divided into three wings and a Carousel: Richelieu, Sully and Denon spread on two floors:

Amongst one of the most celebrated exhibits at Louvre is “The Wedding Feast at Cana” (1563), by the Italian artist Paolo Veronese (1528–88), which is a representational painting that depicts the biblical story of the Marriage at Cana, at which Jesus converts water to wine (John 2:1–11).

This beautiful canvas is displayed at Denon wing, 1st floor, Mona Lisa room (Room 711) at the Louvre Museum, Paris.

During my visit I had my first date with her in April 2008. I would visit her almost daily without fail for the whole month! She is to be seen and experienced to be believed!

The Renaissance master, Leonardo da Vinci is said to have painted the Mona Lisa around 1503. It depicts Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo, a Florentine cloth merchant.

A large number of Sculptures too are displayed in two wings of the Louvre. Thus we have “The Venus de Milo” which is an ancient Greek statue and one of the most famous works of ancient Greek sculpture. Initially it was attributed to the sculptor Praxiteles, but based on an inscription that was on its plinth, the statue is now thought to be the work of Alexandros of Antioch.

Another is “The Winged Victory of Samothrace”, also called the “Nike of Samothrace”, is a marble Hellenistic sculpture of Nike, that was created in about the 2nd century BC. Since 1884, it has been prominently displayed at the Louvre and is one of the most celebrated sculptures in the world.

Another is “The sculpture of the Seated Scribe” or “Squatting Scribe” is a famous work of ancient Egyptian art. It represents a figure of a seated scribe at work.

The world’s first “Assyrian Museum” opened at the Louvre in 1847; annexed to the “Department of Antiques”, it displayed 37 monumental bas-reliefs discovered by Paul-Emile Botta, the French consul in Mosul, at the site of Khorsabad. Shortly afterward, Félicien de Saulcy returned from his archaeological expedition with Palestinian and Jewish antiquities, Ernest Renan’s excavations in Lebanon supplied the core of the Phoenician collection, and the first Cypriot collection was established by Melchior de Vogué.

A fine example of a Carthaginian terra-cotta mask. In the late 9th century BC, the Phoenicians founded, in present-day Tunisia, a “new town” called Qart Hadasht, which the Romans corrupted to Carthage. This life-sized terra-cotta mask was discovered during 20th-century excavations of the necropolis. It depicts a grimacing figure with decorative discs on its forehead and cheeks. Lines are drawn to represent wrinkles. The term “mask” is used by archaeologists to refer to plastic representations of the face with openings for the eyes and usually for the mouth. These masks were common products made by Phoenician craftsmen. They were widely distributed in the Western world and are found in Greece, Cyprus, Sardinia, North Africa, and Spain.

A bas-relief from the Iranian site Masjid-e Suleiman shows a Parthian king from the 2nd or 3rd century AD performing a ritual. This work was an offering to the god Heracles-Verethragna, protector of the royal dynasties, placed in the temple in which it was discovered.

Many old and ancient Persian remains too form a large collection at Louvre. Starting in 1885, French archaeologists carried out wide-ranging excavations there. Most of the artifacts they discovered — tens of thousands in all — ended up in the Louvre.

Thus at the Louvre, we have a limestone column whose top is decorated with two kneeling bulls. Thirty-six of these columns once supported the roof of the 128,000-square-foot audience hall in the Darius palace at Susa.

Another important exhibit is the frieze with archers, among the artifacts from the Darius palace in the Near Eastern Antiquities collection.

The centerpiece of the main Persian room at the Louvre is the upper part of what was a nearly 70-foot-tall limestone column, decorated at the top with two kneeling bulls. Thirty-six of these columns once supported the roof of the 128,000-square-foot audience hall, or apadana, at Susa. The column was pieced together from several fragments that were found on the site.

One can go on and on: the Louvre, after all, is one of the largest Museum of the World! However we will end this tour with some examples of the exquisite ceilings of the Louvre Palace Museum. Here are just a few examples:


There is much much more to be seen and discovered: Renaissance Art to Assyrian to Egyptian to modern European. You name it and that is there at Louvre. Rest assured, if you have not visited Louvre, you have not seen the world!

Professor Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi

[Most of the photographs are taken by me during my several visits to the Louvre in 2008 when I was a Visiting Fellow at MSH, Paris.]

A Letter from Father to Son: The Last Will of Ali ibn Abi Talib

Imām Ali with his sons Hasan and Husain
“Battle of Siffin between Imām Ali & Muawiya: Folio from a Tarikhnama (Book of history) by Balami
early 14th century
Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

After returning from the Battle of Siffin, Imam ‘Ali (a) gave certain pieces of advice to one of his sons. Some historians consider him to be Imam Hasan (a) while others are of the opinion that he was Muhammad al-Hanafiyya.

He wrote the letter in the form of a will. They deal with almost every aspect of life which goes a long way to make a man successful in life – brave, humane, generous, virtuous and pious.

These exhortations are from a father who realizes the morality of life, who is getting old, who has patiently borne reverses and calamities, who hates inordinate desires and has overcome them, and who is shortly going to pass out of this world, to his son who is young, who has the desire of leading the world to sober ways of thinking and better ways of life, a desire which is rather difficult to be achieved.

A son, who is mortal and is bound by nature to follow the steps of all mortals, is subject to ailments, is surrounded by misfortunes and calamities, has to face oppressions and tyrannies, has often to confront with and sometimes to tolerate hypocrisy, deceit, guile, duplicity and treason and who is to end his life in death, is to bear sufferings, is the heir to a person who is dead and gone and who finally ended his life as a martyr to the animosity of his enemies. (What a prophecy!)

This letter was written nearly 1400 year ago and is applicable and appropriate even nowadays.

In the 40th year of Hijri, in the small hours of the morning of 19th Ramadan, Imam ‘Ali (as) was struck with a poisoned sword by the Kharijite Ibn Maljam while offering his prayers in the Masjid of Kufa. He died on the 21st day of Ramazan 40 A.H. and buried in Najaf. He was born in the House of Allah, the Kaaba, and martyred in the House of Allah, Masjid al-Kufa. The Lion of Allah, the most brave and gentle Muslim after the Prophet (S) himself, began his glorious life with devotion to Allah and His Messenger, and ended it in the service of Islam.

And do not speak of those who are slain in the Way of Allah as dead; nay, they are alive, but you perceive not.” Quran 2:154

My Dear Son,

Let it be known to you that decay of health, passing away of time and nearness of death, have made me realize that I should give more thought to my future (next world) and to my people; advise them more and spend more time in equipping them mentally to face this world.

I felt that my own sons and my near ones have as much right to utilize my experiences and knowledge, all the ups and downs of life, all the realities and all the truths about life in this world and in the Hereafter, which are as much known to me as others.

I decided, therefore, to spend more time over you and to prepare you more for your. This was neither selfishness nor self-esteem nor any mental luxury of giving away pieces of advice, but it was the sincere desire of making you see the world as I found it, look at the realities of lives as I looked at them, and do the right thing at the right time and right place as it should be done which made me write down these exhortations to you. You will not find in them anything but truth and realities.

My dear son! You are part of my body and soul and whenever I look at you I feel as if I am looking at myself. If any calamities befalls you, I feel as if it has befallen me. Your death will make me feel as if it was my own death. Your affairs are to me like my own affairs.

Therefore, I committed these pieces of advice to paper. I want you to take care of them, to pay attention to them and to guard them well. I may remain longer in your life or I may not, but I want these pieces of advice to remain with you always.

My first and foremost advice to you, my son, is to fear Allah. Be His obedient servant. Keep His thought always fresh in your mind. Be attached to and carefully guard the principles (Islam) which connect you with Him. Can any other connection be stronger, more durable and more lasting than this to command greater respect and consideration or to replace it?

Accept good exhortations and refresh your mind with them. Adopt piety and kill your inordinate desires with its help. Build your character with the help of true faith in religion and Allah. Subjugate your nature with the vision of death, make it see the mortality of life and of all that it holds dear, force it to realize the actuality of misfortunes and adversities, the changes of circumstances and times and compel it to study the lives of past people.

Persuade it to see the ruined cities, the dilapidated palaces, decaying signs and relics of fallen empires of past nations. Then meditate over the activities of those people, what they have all done when they were alive and were in power, what they achieved, from where they started their careers; where, when and how they were brought to an end, where they are now; what have they actually gained out of life and what was their contributions to the human welfare.

If you carefully ponder over these problems, you will find that each one of those people has parted company with the others and with all that he cherished and loved and he is now in a solitary abode, alone and unattended; and you also will be like him.

Take care to provide well for your future abode. Do not barter away eternal blessing for pleasures of this mortal and fleeting world.

Do not talk about things which you do not know. Do not speculate about and pass verdicts on subjects about which you are not in a position to form an opinion and are not called upon to do so. Give up the way where there is a possibility of your going astray.

When there is danger on your wandering in the wilderness of ignorance, possibility of losing the sight of the goal which you want to attain and of reaching the end aimed at, then it is better to give up the quest than to advance facing uncertain dangers and unforeseen risks.

Advise people to do good and to live virtuously because you are fit to give such advice. Let your words and deeds teach the world lessons of how to abstain from wickedness and vicious deeds. Try your best to keep away from those who indulge in vices and sins.

Fight, whenever required, to defend the cause of Allah. When you think of defending the cause of Allah do not be afraid that people will laugh at you, censure your action or slander you. Fearlessly and boldly help truth and justice. Bear patiently the sufferings and face bravely the obstacles which come in your way when you follow truth and when you try to uphold it. Adhere to the cause of truth and justice wherever you find it. Try to be well versed with Islamic Jurisprudence and theology and acquire a thorough knowledge of the canons of this religion.

Develop the habit of patience against sufferings, calamities and adversities. This virtue of patience is one of the highest values of morality and nobility of character and it is the best habit which one can develop. Trust in Allah and let your mind seek His protection in every calamity and suffering because you will thus entrust yourself and your affairs to the Best Trustee and to the Mightiest Guardian.

Do not seek help or protection from anybody but Allah. Reserve your prayers, your requests, your solicitations, your supplications, and your entreaties to Him and Him alone because to grant, to give, to confer and to bestow, as well as to withhold, to deprive, to refuse, and to debar, lies only in His Power. Ask as much of His Blessings and seek as much of His Guidance as you can.

Try to understand my exhortation, ponder over them deeply; do not take them lightly and do not turn away from them because the best knowledge is that which benefits the listener. The knowledge which does not benefit anybody is useless, not valuable and not worth learning and remembering.

My dear son! When I realized that I was getting old and when I felt that weakness and feebleness are gradually creeping into me then I hastened to advise you as to the best ways of leading a noble, virtuous and useful life. I hated the idea that death should overtake me before I tell you all that I wanted to tell or before my mental capacities like my bodily strength are weakened.

I convey all this to you lest inordinate desires, temptations and inducement should start influencing you, or adverse changes of times and circumstances should drag your name in the mire or I should leave you like an untrained colt because a young and fresh mind is like a virgin soil which allows things sown in it to grow verdantly and to bear luxuriantly.

Then, I have made use of early opportunities to educate you and train you before your mind loses its freshness, before it gets hardened or warped, before you start facing life unprepared for the encounter, and before you are forced to use your decisions and discretions without gaining advantages of cumulated traditions, collected knowledge and experiences of others.

These words of advice and counsels that I give you, will save you from the worry of acquiring knowledge, gathering experiences and soliciting advice from others. Now you can easily make use of all the knowledge which men have to acquire with great care, trouble and patience. Things which were hidden from them and which only experiments, experiences and sufferings could bring to light are now made easily available to you through these exhortations.

My dear son! Though the span of my life is not as that of some other people who have passed away before me yet I took great care to study their lives, assiduously I went through their activities, I contemplated over their deliberations and deeds, I studied their remains, relics and ruins, I pondered over their lives so deeply that I felt as if I have lived and worked with them from early ages of history down to our times and I know what did them good and what brought harm to them.

Sifting the good from bad I am concentrating within these pages, and for your good, the knowledge that I so gathered. Through these pieces of advice I have tried to bring home to you the value of honest-living and high-thinking and the dangers of a vicious and sinful life, I have taken care to cover and guard every aspect of your life as it is the duty of a kind, considerate and loving father.

From the very beginning, I took care to help you to develop a noble character and to fit you for the life which you will have to lead, to let you grow up to be a young man with a noble character, an open and honest mind and clear and precise knowledge of things around you. Originally my desire was only to teach you the Holy Book thoroughly, to make you understand its intricacies, to impart to you the complete knowledge of His commandments and interdictions and not to leave you at the mercy of the knowledge of other people.

But after having succeeded in this task I felt nervous that I may leave you untrained and uneducated in the subjects which themselves are subject to so much confusion and so many contradictions. These are the subjects whose confusions have been made worse confounded by selfish desires, warped minds, wicked ways of life and sinful modes of thinking. Therefore, I have noted down, in these lines, the basic principles of nobility, piety, truth and justice.

You may feel them to be over-bearing and harsh but my desire is to equip you with this knowledge instead of leaving you unarmed to face the world where there is every danger of loss and damnation.

As you are a noble, virtuous and pious young man, I am sure you will receive Divine Guidance and Succour. I am sure He will help you to achieve your aim in life. I want you to promise to yourself to follow my advice carefully.

Remember my son! The best out of these pieces of advice of mine are the those which tell you to fear Allah, to concentrate and to confine yourself to the performance of those duties which have been made incumbent upon you by Him and to follow in the footsteps of your ancestors [The Holy Prophet (S) & Imam ‘Ali (a)] and your pious and virtuous relationship. Verily, they always carefully measured their thoughts and deeds, as you must also try to do and they carefully thought over the subject before saying anything about it or before doing a deed. You should also follow the same.

This kind of deliberation made them take from life what was really the best and forsake that which was not made incumbent upon them or which was not the best. If your mind refuses to accept my advice and you persist to try your own experiments like them then you are at liberty to arrive at your conclusions but only after thoroughly studying the subject and after acquiring the knowledge necessary for such decisions.

You must not allow uncertainties and doubt poison your mind, scepticism or irrational likes and dislikes should not affect your views. But remember that before you start thinking and deliberating over a problem seek guidance of the Lord and beseech Him to give you a lead in the right direction. Avoid confusion in your ideas, and do not let disbelief take hold of your mind because the first will lead you to agnosticism and the others towards errors and sins.

When you are thus prepared to solve any problem and you are sure that you possess a clear mind, a sincere and firm desire to reach the truth, to say the correct thing and to do the correct deed, then carefully go through the advice that I am leaving for you.

If your mind is not clear and it is not as free from doubts as you wish it to be, then you will be wandering in the wilderness of uncertainties and errors like a camel suffering from night-blindness. Under these circumstances it is best for you to give up the quest because with such limitations none can ever reach the truth.

My dear son! carefully and very carefully remember these sayings of mine. The Lord who is the Master of death is also the Master of life. The Creator is the Annihilator. And the One who annihilates has the power to bring everything back again to existence. The One who sends calamities has also the power to protect you from them.

Remember that this world is working under the laws ordained by Him, and it consists of assemblage and aggregation of actions and reactions, causes and effects, calamities and reverses, pains and pleasures and rewards and punishments, but this is not all which the picture depicts, there are things in it which are beyond our ken, things which we do not and cannot know and things which cannot be foreseen and foretold, for example the rewards and punishments on the Day of Judgement.

Under these circumstances, if you do not understand a thing, do not reject it. Remember that your lack of understanding is due to insufficiency of your knowledge. Remember that when you came into this world your first appearance was that of an ignorant, uneducated and unlearned being. Then you gradually acquired knowledge, but there were several things which were beyond your knowledge, which perplexed and surprised you, and about which you did not understand. Gradually you acquired knowledge about some of those subjects and in future your knowledge and vision may further expand.

Therefore, the best thing for you to do is to seek guidance of One who has created you, Who maintains and nourishes you, Who has given you a balanced mind and a normally working body. Your invocations should be reserved for Him only, your requests and solicitations should be alone to Him and you should only be afraid of Him.

Be it known to you, my son, that nobody has given mankind such detailed information about Allah as our Holy Prophet (S). I advise you to have faith in his teachings, to make him your leader and to accept his guidance for your salvation. Thus advising you I have done the best that I can do as a sincere and loving adviser and I assure you that however you may try to find a better way for your good, you will not find any superior to the one advised by me.

Remember, my son, had there been any other god, besides the One, he would have also sent his messengers and prophets and they would have pointed out to mankind the domain and glory of this second god, and you would have also seen them. But no such incident ever took place. He is One Allah whom we should all recognize and worship. He has explained Himself. Nobody is a partner to Him in His Domain, Might and Glory. He is Eternal, has always been and shall always be. He existed even before the Universe came into being but there is no beginning to His Existence. He shall remain when every other thing shall vanish, and there shall be no end to His Existence. His Glory and His Existence is so supreme, pre-eminent, transcendent, incomparable and excellent that it is beyond the grasp of intellects. No one can understand or visualize Him.

When you have accepted these facts then your behaviour, so far as His commands are concerned, should be that of a person who realizes that his status, power and position is nothing when compared to that of His Lord; who wants to gain His Blessings through prayers and obedience, who fears His Wrath as well as His Punishments and who absolutely in need of His Help and Protection. Remember, my son, Allah has not ordered you to do anything but that which is good and which propagates goodness and He has not prohibited you from anything but that which is bad and will bring about bad effects.

My dear son, through this message of mine, I have explained everything about this world, how fickle and fleeting is its attitude, how short-lived and evanescent is everything that it holds or offers about and how fast it changes its moods and favours. I have also explained about the life to come, the pleasures and blessings provided there, and the everlasting peace, comfort and happiness arranged for in Paradise.

I have given enough examples of both aspects of life, before and after death so that you may know the reality and lead your life on the basis of that knowledge.

As a matter of fact those people who have carefully studied the condition of life and the world, pass their days as if they know that they are travellers, who have to leave a place which is famine-stricken, unhealthy and uncongenial, and they have to proceed towards lands which are fertile, congenial, and where there is abundant provision of all comforts and pleasures.

They have eagerly taken up the journey, happy in the hope of future blessings and peace. They have willingly accepted the sufferings, troubles and hazards of the way, parting of friends, scarcity of food and comfort during the pilgrimage so that they may reach the journey’s end – a happy place. They do not refuse to bear any discomfort and do not grudge any expenditure by way of giving out alms and charities, and helping the poor and the needy.

Every step which they put forward towards their goal, however tiring and exhausting it may be, is a happy event of their lives. On the contrary the condition of those people who are solely engrossed in this world and are sadly engulfed in its short-lived, quickly fading and vicious pleasures, is like that of travellers who are staying in fertile and happy regions and who have to undertake a journey, knowing fully well that the journey is going to end in a rough, arid and infertile land.

Can anything be more loathsome and abhorring to them than this journey? How they would hate to leave the place where they are and to arrive at a place which they so much hate and which is so dismaying, dreadful and horrifying!

My dear son, so far as your behaviour with other human beings is concerned, let your ‘self’ act as scales to judge its goodness or wickedness. Do unto others as you wish others to do unto you.

Whatever you like for yourself, like for others, and whatever you dislike to happen to you, spare others from such happenings. Do not oppress and tyrannize anybody because you surely do not like to be oppressed and tyrannized. Be kind and sympathetic to others as you certainly desire others to treat you kindly and sympathetically. If you find objectionable and loathsome habits in others, abstain from developing those traits of character in yourself.

If you are satisfied or feel happy in receiving a certain kind of behaviour from others, you may behave with others in exactly the same way. Do not speak about them in the same way that you do not like others to speak about you. Do not speak on a subject about which you know little or nothing, and if you at all want to speak on anything or about anyone of whom you are fully aware, then avoid scandal, libel and aspersion as you do not like yourself to be scandalized and scorned in the same manner.

Remember, son, that vanity and conceit are forms of folly. These traits will bring to you serious harm and will be a constant source of danger to you. Therefore, lead a well-balanced life (neither be conceited nor suffer from inferiority complex) and exert yourself to earn an honest living. But do not act like a treasure for somebody (do not be miserly so that you leave what you hoard for others).

And whenever you receive guidance of the Lord to achieve a thing you desire, then do not get proud of your achievement but be humble and submissive to Him and realize that your success was due to His Mercy.

Remember my son, that before you is a long and arduous journey (life). The journey is not only very long, exhausting and onerous but the route is mostly through dismal, dreary and deserted regions where you will be sadly in need of refreshing, renovating and enlivening aids and helps and you cannot dispense with such provisions as to keep you going and to maintain you till the end of the journey – the Day of Judgement.

But remember not to overload yourself (do not entrust yourself with so many obligations and duties that you cannot honourably fulfil them or with such luxurious life as to be wicked and vicious).

Because if this load is more than what you can conveniently bear then your journey will be very painful and tiresome to you. If you find around you such poor, needy and destitute people who are willing to carry your load for you as far as the Day of Judgement then consider this to be a boon, engage them and pass your burden on to them. (Distribute your wealth amongst the poor, destitute and the needy, help others to the best of your ability and be kind and sympathetic to human beings).

Thus relieve yourself from the heavy responsibility and liability of submitting an account on the Day of Judgement of how you have made use of His Bounties (of health, wealth, power and position) and thus you may arrive at the end of the journey, light and fresh, have enough provision for you there (reward of having done your duty to man and Allah in this world).

Have as many weight-carriers as you can (help as many as you can) so that you may not miss them when you very badly need them (when your sins of commission and omission will be balanced against your good deeds you must have enough good deeds to turn the scale in your favour). Remember that all you give out in charities and good deeds are like loans which will be paid back to you.

Therefore, when you are wealthy and powerful, make use of your wealth and power in such a way that you get all that back on the Day of Judgement, when you will be poor and helpless. Be it known to you, my son, that your passage lies through an appallingly dreadful valley (death or grave) and extremely trying and arduous journey.

Here a man with light weight is far better than an over-burdened person and one who can travel fast will pass through it quickly than the one whose encumbering forces go slowly. You shall have to pass through this valley.

The only way out of it is either in Paradise or in Hell. Therefore, it is wise to send your things there beforehand so that they (good deeds) reach there before you, prearrange for the place of your stay before you reach there because after death there is no repentance and no possibility of coming back to this world to undo the wrong done by you.

Realize this truth, my son, that the Lord who owns and holds the treasures of Paradise and the earth has given you permission to ask and beg for them and He has promised to grant your prayers. He has told you to pray for His Favours that they may be granted to you and to ask for His Blessings that they may be bestowed upon you. He has not appointed guards to prevent your prayers reaching Him. Nor is there any need for anybody to intercede before Him on your behalf.

If you go back upon your promises, if your break your vows, or start doing things that you have repented of, He will not immediately punish you nor does He refuse His Blessings in haste and if you repent once again He neither taunts you nor betrays you though you may fully deserve both, but He accepts your penitence and pardons you. He never grudges His Forgiveness nor refuses His Mercy, on the contrary He has decreed repentance as a virtue and pious deed.

The Merciful Lord has ordered that every evil deed of yours will be counted as one and a good deed and pious action will be rewarded tenfold. He has left the door of repentance open. He hears you whenever you call Him. He accepts your prayer whenever you pray to Him. Invoke Him to grant you your heart’s desire, lay before Him the secrets of your heart, tell Him about all the calamities that have befallen you and misfortunes which face you, and beseech His help to overcome them. You may invoke His Help and Support in difficulties and distresses.

You may implore Him to grant you long life and sound health, you may pray to Him for prosperity and you may request Him for such favours and grants that none but He can bestow and award.

Think over it that by simply granting you the privilege of praying for His Favours and Mercies, He has handed over the keys of His treasures to you. Whenever you are in need you should pray and He will confer His Bounties and Blessings. But sometimes you will find that your requests are not immediately granted, then you need not be disappointed because the grant of prayers often rests with the true purpose and intention of the implorer. Sometimes the prayers are delayed because the Merciful Lord wants you to receive further rewards for patiently bearing calamities and sufferings and still believing sincerely in His Help. Thus you may be awarded better favours than you requested for.

Sometimes your prayers are turned down, and this is also in your interest; because you often, unknowingly, ask for things that are really harmful to you. If your requests are granted they will do you more harm than good and many of your requests may be such that if they are granted they will result in your eternal damnation. Thus the refusal to accede to your solicitations is a blessing in disguise to you.

But very often your requests, if they are not really harmful to you in this life or in the Hereafter, may be delayed but they are granted in quantities much more than you had asked for, bringing in more blessings in their wake than you could ever imagine. So you should be very careful in asking Allah for His Favour. Only pray for such things as are really beneficial to you, and are lasting and in the long run do not end in harm. Remember, my dear son, that wealth and power (if you pray for them) are such things that they will not always be with you and may bring harm to you in the life in the Hereafter.

Be it known to you, my son, that you are created for the next world and not for this. You are born to die and not to live forever. Your stay in this world is transient. You live in a place which is subject to decay and destruction. It is a place where you will have to be busy getting ready for the next world. It is a road (to the next world) on which you are standing.

Death is following you. You cannot run away from it. However hard you may try to avoid it, it is going to catch you sooner or later.

Therefore take care that it may not catch you unawares or when you are not prepared for it, and no chance is left to you to repent the vices and sins committed and to undo the harm done by you. If death catches you unawares, then you are eternally damned. Therefore, my dear son, always keep three things in mind: death, your deeds and the life in the Hereafter. In this way you will always be ready to face death and it will not catch you unawares.

My dear son, do not be carried away and be allured by the infatuations of the worldly people in the vicious life and its pleasures, and do not be impressed by the sight of their acute struggle to possess and own this world. Allah has very mercifully explained to you everything about this world. Not only the Merciful Lord but also the world has also told you everything; it has disclosed to you that it is mortal; it has openly declared its weakness, its shortcomings and its vices.

Remember that these worldly-minded people are like barking dogs and hungry and ferocious beasts. Some of them are constantly barking at others. The mighty lords kill and massacre the poor and the weak.

Their powerful persons exploit and tyrannize the powerless. Their inordinate desires and their greed has such a complete hold over them that you will find some of them like animals tamed and tied with a rope round their feet and necks. (They have lost the freedom of thought and cannot come out of the enslavement of their desires and habits).

While they are others whom wealth and power have turned mad. They behave like unruly beasts, trampling, crushing and killing their fellow beings, and destroying things around them. The history of this world is merely a reward of such incidents, some big and some small, the difference is of might but the intensity is the same.

These people have lost the balance of their minds. They do not know what they are doing and where they are going, scan their activities and study their ways of thinking and you will find them confused and irrational, they appear like cattle wandering in a dreary desert where there is no water to drink and no fodder to eat, no shepherd to cater for them and no guardian to look after them. What has actually happened to them is that the vicious world has taken possession of them, it is dragging them wherever it likes, and is treating them as if they are blind because it has in reality blind-folded them against Divine light of True Religion.

They are wandering without reasonable aims and sober purposes in the bewitching show that the world has staged for them, they are fully intoxicated with the pleasures amassed around them. They take this world to be their god and nourisher. The world is amusing them and they are amused with it and have forgotten and forsaken everything else.

But the nights of enjoyments and pleasures will not last long for anybody, the dawn of realities will break sooner or later. The caravan of life will surely reach its destination one day. One who has nights and days acting as piebald horses for him, carrying him onward and onward towards his journey’s end must remember that though he may feel as if he is stopping at one place yet actually he is moving on, he is proceeding to his destination. Everyday is carrying him a step further in his journey towards death.

Be it known to you, my son, that you cannot have every wish of yours granted, you cannot expect to escape death, and you are passing through your days of life as others before you have passed. Therefore, control your expectations, desires and cravings. Be moderate in your demands. Earn your livelihood through scrupulously honest means.

Be contented with what you get honestly and honourably. Have patience and do not let your desires drive you madly because there are many desires which will lead you towards disappointments and loss. Remember that every beggar or everyone who prays for a thing will not always get what he begs or prays for and everyone who controls his desire, has self-respect and does not beg or pray for things, will not always remain unlucky or disappointed.

So, do not bring down your self-respect, do not be mean and submissive and do not subjugate yourself through these vile and base traits though they may appear to make it possible for you to secure your hearts desires because nothing in this world can compensate for the loss of self-respect, nobility and honour.

Take care, my son! Be warned that you do not make yourself a slave of anybody. Allah has created you a freeman. Do not sell away your freedom in return of anything. There is no actual gain and real value in benefits that you derive by selling your honour and self-respect or by subjugating yourself to disgrace and insults as there is no real good in wealth and power that you acquire by foul means.

Beware, my son, that avarice and greed may not drive you towards destruction and damnation. If you can succeed in having nobody as your benefactor but Allah, then try your best to achieve this nobility because He will grant you your share whether you try to taunt your donors, patrons and benefactors or not.

Remember that the little which is given to you by Allah is going to be more useful and serviceable to you and is more honourable and respectable than what is granted by man in abundance. And what can a man give you but part of that which Allah has granted him?

The losses that you suffer on account of your silence can be easily compensated but the losses which arise out of excessive and loose talk are difficult to requite. Do you not see that the best way of guarding water in a water-bay is to close its mouth.

To guard what you already possess is better than to beg from others.

The bitterness of disappointment and poverty is in reality sweeter than the disgrace of begging.

Returns of hard but respectable labour of a craft or profession, though small in quantity, are better than the wealth which you amass through sin and wickedness.

Nobody can guard your secrets better than you.

Often a man tries his best to acquire a thing which is most harmful to him.

One who talks too much makes most mistakes.

One who often reflects, develops his foresight.

By keeping company with good people, you will develop your character and by avoiding the society of wicked persons, you will abstain from wickedness.

Livelihood acquired by foul means is the worst form of livelihood.

To oppress a weak and helpless person is the worst form of ferocity.

If your kindness or indulgence is going to bring forth cruel results, then severity of strictness is the real kindness.

Often medicating results in disease; sometimes diseases prove to be health preservers.

Often you obtain warnings and advice from people who are not fit to warn and advise you and often you come across advisers who are not sincere.

Do not rely on vain hopes because vain hopes are assets of fools and idiots.

Wisdom is the name of the trait of remembering experiences and making use of them. The best experience is the one which gives the best warning and advice.

Take advantage of opportunities before they turn their backs on you.

Everyone who tries cannot succeed.

Everyone who departs this life will not return.

The worst form of follies is to waste opportunities of this life as well as to lose salvation.

For every action there is a reaction.

Shortly you will get what has been destined for you.

There is an element of risk and speculation in every trade as well as danger of loss.

Often small returns prove as beneficial as big profits.

An accessory of an accomplice who insults you and a friend who has not formed a good opinion of you will not be of any help or use to you.

Treat those with consideration and kindness over whom you have power and authority.

Do not run the risk of endangering yourself through irrational, unreasonable and extravagant hopes.

Take care so as not to be fooled by flattery.

Do good to your brother when he is bent upon doing harm to you. When he ignores or declines to recognize the kinship, befriend him, go to his help and try to maintain relations. If he is miserly with you and refuses to help you, be generous with him and support him financially. If he is cruel with you, be kind and considerate with him. If he harms you accept his excuses. Behave with him as if he is a master and you are a slave, and he is a benefactor and you are a beneficiary. But be careful that you do not thus behave with undeserving and mean persons.

Do not develop friendship with the enemy of your friend otherwise your friend will turn into an enemy.

Advise your friend sincerely and to the best of your ability even though he may not like it.

Keep a complete control over your temper and anger because I never found anything more beneficial at the end and producing more good results than such a control.

Be mild, pleasant and lenient with him who is harsh, gross, and strict with you; gradually he will turn to your behaviour.

Grant favour and be considerate to your enemy because you will thus gain either one of the two kinds of victories: (one rising above your enemy, the other of reducing the intensity of his hostility).

If you want to cease relations with your friend, then do not break off totally, let your heart retain some consideration for him so that you will still have some regard for him if he comes back to you.

Do not disappoint a person who holds a good opinion of you and do not make him change his opinion.

Under the impression that you, as a friend, can behave as you like, do not violate the rights of your friend because, when he is deprived of his rights and privileges, he will no more remain your friend.

Do not ill-treat members of your family and do not behave with them as if you are the most cruel man alive.

Do not run after him who tries to avoid you.

The greatest achievement of your character is that the hostility of your brother against you does not overcome the consideration and friendship you feel towards him, and his ill-treatment of you does not overbalance your kind treatment to him.

Do not get worried and depressed over the oppressions because whoever oppresses you is in reality doing himself harm and is trying to find ways for your good.

Never ill-treat a person who has done good to you.

Know it well, son, that there are two kinds of livelihood: one which you are searching for and the other which follows you (which has been destined for you). It will reach you even if you do not try to obtain it.

To be submissive, humble, crawling and begging when one is needy, powerless and poor and to be arrogant, oppressing and cruel when in power and opulence are two very ugly traits of the human character.

Nothing in this world is really useful to you unless it has some utility and value for you for the next world. If you at all want to lament over things which you have lost in this world then worry about the loss of things which had immortal values for you.

The past and almost all that was in your possession during the past is not with you know. You may thus rationally come to the conclusion that the present and all that is in your possession now will also leave you.

Do not be like persons on whom advice has no effect; they require punishment to improve them. A sensible man acquires education and culture through advice, while brutes and beasts always improve through punishment.

Overcome your sorrows, your worries and your misfortunes with patience and faith in the Merciful Lord and your hard work; one who gives up a straight path, honest and rational ways of thinking and working, will harm himself.

A friend is like a relation and a true friend is one who speaks well of you even behind your back.

Inordinate desires are related with misfortunes.

Often close relations behave more distantly than strangers and often strangers help you more than your nearest relatives.

Poor is he who has no friends.

Whoever forsakes truth finds that his path of life has become narrow and troublesome.

Contentment and honesty are the lasting assets to retain ones prestige and position.

The strongest relation is the one which is between man and Allah.

One who does not care for you is your enemy.

If there is a danger of death or destruction in securing an object then safety lies in avoiding it.

Weaknesses and shortcomings are not the things to talk about.

Opportunities do not repeat themselves.

Sometimes very wise and learned persons fail to achieve the object they were aiming at and foolish and uneducated people attain their purposes.

Postpone evil deeds as long as possible because you can commit them whenever you so desire (then why hurry in committing them).

To cut connections with ignorant people is itself like forming connections with wise persons.

Whoever trusts this world is betrayed by it and whoever gives it importance is disgraced by it.

Every arrow of yours will not hit the bull’s eye.

When status changes your conditions also change.

Before ascertaining the conditions of a route, find out what kinds of persons will accompany you on the journey.

Instead of enquiring about the condition of the home in which you are going to stay, first of all try to find out what kind of people your neighbours are.

Do not introduce ridiculous topics in your talk even if you have to repeat sayings of others.

Do not seek the advice of women, their verdicts are often immature and incorrect and their determinations are not firm.

You must guard and defend them and act as a shelter to protect them from impious and injurious surroundings and infamous sights, this kind of shelter will keep them well-protected from every harm. Their contact with a vicious and sinful atmosphere (even with all the shelter that you can provide) is going to prove more harmful than being left with protection. Do not let them interfere with affairs where you cannot personally guide or protect them. Do not let them aspire for things which are beyond their capacities.

They are more like decoration to humanity and are not made to rule and govern humanity. Exhibit reasonable interest in things which they desire and give importance to them, but do not let them influence your opinions and do not let them impel you to go against your sane views.

Do not force them into marriages which they abhor or which they consider below their dignity because there is danger of thus converting honourable and virtuous women into shameless and dishonourable beings.

Divide and distribute work among your servants so that you can hold each one responsible for the work entrusted to them. This is a better and smoother way of carrying on a work than each one of them throwing the responsibility of every bit of work on somebody else.

Treat the members of your family with love and respect because they act as wings with which you fly and as hands which support you and fight for you. They are people towards whom you turn when you are in trouble and in need.

My dear son! After having given these pieces of advice to you I entrust you to the Lord. He will help, guide and protect you in this world and the Hereafter. I beseech Him to take you under His protection in both the worlds.

North West Frontier and Shahjahan

The Northwest and Shahjahan’ s Campaigns


Southern Central Asia in the 17th century was dominated by the Khanate of Bukhara, ruled by the Janid dynasty (also known as the Ashtrakhanids, as they originated from Ashtrakhan). From 1611 to 1642, the Khanate was ruled by Imam Quli Khan, whose reign was generally a stable one. His younger brother, Nazar Mohammed, ruled the provinces of Balkh and Badakhshan in what is now northern Afghanistan as a de facto independent ruler.

In 1622, Imam Quli Khan sent an offer of alliance to Mughal emperor Jahangir, proposing a joint offensive against the Safavids in Khurasan. However, the Mughal Empire at the time was embroiled in campaigns in the Deccan, and was not particularly interested in diverting forces away from that front. That same year, Shah Abbas of Persia launched an invasion of Mughal Afghanistan, and succeeded in capturing Qandahar. The failure of the Mughals to retake Qandahar from the Persians was interpreted by the Uzbeks as an indicator of Mughal weakness, and they soon forgot about their alliance proposal, choosing instead to attack the Mughals and profit as the Persians had. The Uzbeks attacked in 1625 and again in 1626, but were repulsed on both occasions. On 19 May 1628, Nazar Mohammed launched a large-scale invasion of Mughal territory with the intention of capturing Kabul. The Uzbek army advanced up to Lamghan, ravaging the countryside along the way, and laid siege to Kabul in early June. The Mughal response to the invasion was swift; an army led by Mahabat Khan, the governor of Peshawar, and Rao Surat Singh was dispatched with 20,000 men to relieve the besieged city. The Uzbeks were routed and withdrew in defeat, with the Mughals holding a triumphal parade in Kabul on 14 September. This, coincidentally, was the first recorded military victory of Shah Jahan’s reign, which began that same year.

The 1630s saw no further Uzbek invasions, and also saw the conclusion of the Mughal campaigns in the Deccan. Qandahar, which had been lost to the Persians the previous decade, came back under Mughal control in 1638. The Empire was at the peak of its power and prosperity, and the Mughal position in the northwest was as strong as it ever had been. Shah Jahan, at this point, became interested in pursuing his cherished dream and restoring Mughal rule to his ancestral homelands in Central Asia. The perfect opportunity to do so seemed to arise with the abdication of Imam Quli Khan in 1642, who had grown blind with age, and his succession by Nazar Mohammed. Unlike his older brother, who was content with letting the subordinate chiefs of Uzbekistan manage their own affairs with little interference, Nazar Mohammed was determined to strengthen his authority as Khan. He pursued a policy of transferring and redistributing the offices and titles of subordinate chiefs, leading to widespread discontent and rebellion among them The country fell into civil war, and Nazar Mohammed was ultimately overthrown by his son, Abdul Aziz, who was proclaimed Khan of Bukhara in April 1645. However, Nazar Mohammed managed to retain his territories in Balkh and Badakhshan, which were under his possession even before he became Khan.

Shah Jahan’s Central Asian Policy has a pecular interest of its own. In order to appreciate it we have to consider the conditions obtaining in Central Asia and in India and finally Shah Jahad’s responbility in his Central Asian Compaigns.

Central Asia was in those days an unsettled region, consisting of a number of small principalities engaged in a state of perpetual warfare. There was no peace. Such a region was a danger to any neighbouring Power as most surely it was to the Mughals in India. Any Central Asian war-lord would immensely increase his power by an Indian Invasion for he would get money in that case. And money was absolutely necessary for the success of any revolution in Central Asia. And it is also very true that Central Asia lacked money. This is perhaps the reason of Nazr Mohammad’s invasion of Kabul (a part of India, then); which provoked Shah Jahan’s compaigns. It is usually urged that Shah Jahan’s Central Asian Policy was aggressive. But a critical study of the situation will throw doubts on that theory.

Even if we make no other consideration the fact that a petty ruler of Central Asia could venture to invade a part of India should offer enough justification for Shah Jahan’s donduct.

In Central Asia situations were fast changing. Imam Quii the ruler Samar-
khand was friendly terms with Shah Jahan, inspite of his brother, Nazar Mohammad’s raid on Kabul. This was due to Sha Jahan’s diplomacy. Dr. B. P. Saxena writes:

“By insisting upon the long standing friendship between the Mughals and the rulers of Trans-ox-iana, and by writing politely to Imam Quii, Shah Jahan thought to make Nazar Mohammad appear reprehensible in the eyes of his own people, and thus deprive him of any sympathy or support at the Court of Bokhara.”

It seems that Shah Jahan’s object was to keep a balance of the Central Asian Powers, and not to permit any one Power to become too powerful. This was his policy and not blind aggression as is usually suggested. He followed this policy for the security ond defence of India. If the Central Asian situation had not changed, he would – we should suppose – not have felt the necessity of fighting a central Asian war. But unfortu- nately for India, this situation was altered. Imam Quli became blind and was driven out of Samarkand by his brother Nazr Mohammad in 1641 A. D. This altered the political balance in Central Asia to which no neighbouring Power could be indifferent. Nazr Mohammad was a highly ambititious man, and a great warrior, and if he was allowed to be absolute in Central Asia then India would be in great danger. Even when Imam Quii was on the throne of Samakhand, and Nazr Mohammad was himself just a petty chief and nothing more he had made himself bold enough to attack ‘ Kabul. So what was the guarantee that now that Nazr Mohammad had become absolute he would keep quiet and not prove a danger to India ? How could there be such a guarantee when mighty war-lords of Central Asia, whenever there was opportunity, invaded India through Kabul ?

Shah Jahah began his expedition in 1646 A. D. Nazr Mohammad fled and Balkh was occupied. It may be remembered that Shah Jahan invaded Central Asia when Nazr Mohammad and his son Abdul Aziz fell out and Nazr Mohammad asked
for Shah Jahan’s help. That Shah Jahan on the invitation of Nazar Mohammad to help him entered the war in which he actually took a violent part to curb Nazr Mohammad’s power shows clearly that Shah Jahan’s chief interest lay in restoring that political balance in Central Asia, which had been destroyed there at the fall of Imam Quii. Again the fact that Shah Jahan invaded Central Asia after and not before the fall of Imam Quii shows that so far as he could help a central Asian compaign he would not like to risk one. Had he been aggressive, as ho is universally thought to be, he would not write a polite letter to Imam Quii, when Nazr Mohammad in- vaded India, but he would invade atonce. These facts clearly prove that Shah Jahan was not aggressive ; but in pure self-defence he had to fight Nazr Mohammad. It
is usually suggested that Shah Jahan was aggressive and he exploited the occasion of the Kabul invasion to follow his aggressive policy. Nazr Mohammad invaded
Kabul in 1628 A. D. and it must be clear to any one of average common sense that to exploit this occasion he would not invade Central Asia in 1646 A. D. That Shah Jahan had ample reason to move to action is clear from the fact that Kabul was not an independent buffer State then as it is now. So the danger was more real than it may seem today. So he had real justification to move to action.
It may be asked that if Shah Jahan’s measure was defensive then why did he not take prompt action as soon as Imam Quii was driven out in 1641 A. D. ? Why did he wait upto 1646 A. D. ? What was he doing in that period ? Of course so far as Imam Quii was in power the theoretical ruler of Central Asia, any compaign in that region would theoretically be against him and offend him, which might easly drive him and Nazr Mohammad to unity. That would totally defeat Shah Jahan’s object. So he kept quiet upto October 81, 1641 A. D. when Imam Quii was deposed.

Just in 1641 A. D. Shah Jahan was not in a position to make a foreign invasion, for India had Internal troubles. Jagat Singh of Nurpur had rebelled and his rebellion lasred for the period 1687 to 42 A. D. The Bundella rebellion lasted for 1688 to 1642 A. D. and Khan Jahan’s rebellion lasted for 1628 to 1681 A. D. So upto 1642 A. D. he was busy suppressing rebellious, so “that even when he should have invaded Central Asia in 1641 A. D. just then he could not doit. Added to these there is further the reason that the country had not recovered from the effects of the severe famine of 1630 A. D. It was only in 1642 A. D. that Shah Jahan was free. We must realise that before undertaking a foreign invasion he would take some time to consolidate his position and if he took four years only 1642 to 1646 A. D. It was not
too much. More over by 1646 A. D. the Fort of Delhi had been practically completed and without it he would not feel safe.
Lastly, it may be asked that if Shah Jahan’s policy was defensive and not aggressive then why did he not accept the offer of Abdul Aziz for making Shiban Quli the ruler? That he did not accept this offer is no proof of his aggressive policy; but it proves his wisdom and keen diplomatic sense. In the first place, the candi- dature of Shiban Quli was proposed by Abdul Aziz. So merely by concurring with this proposal Shah Jahan could not make Shiban Quli his ally. For he was the candidate of Abdul Aziz and he would support his patron under all circumstances. Next if Shah Jahan acknowledged Shiban Quii to be the ruler, the fight between Nazr Mohammad and Abdul Aziz might stop. And it was in the interest of Shah Jahan and of India that this fight should continue. Against for Shah Jahan to accept one man as the sole ruler of Central Asia would be to create one dictator, which would leave the danger to India Intact. So that would not do either. So Shah Jahan very diplomatically acnowledged no one to be the ruler. And leaving the Central Asian tangle open he withdrew – apparently as a failure ; but really a unique success ; after gaining his object, which was to reduce NazrMohammad and then to keep him fighting for power in Central Asia.
So we find that Shah Jahan’s Central Asian Policy was defensive and not offen-, sive and in reality, he was a success, although superficially he seemed to be a failure He was a military failure in Central Asia although in the Central Asian politics he was a unique success.

The Campaign:

The Mughals, taking advantage of the political turmoil and divisions in Central Asia, now commenced their opening attacks. In August 1645, a Mughal army under Asalat Khan was sent north to occupy Badakshan. Two months later, on 15 October, a force under Raja Jagat Singh was dispatched from Kabul and captured Khost. A fort was built between Sarab and Andarab in modern Baghlan province, and a Rajput garrison was placed there. Raja Jagat Singh returned to Kabul on 4 November, via the Panjshir Valley.

The main Mughal offensive had to wait until the next year. In June 1646, Prince Murad Baksh, a son of Shah Jahan, advanced from Kabul to Balkh with an army of 50,000 cavalry and 10,000 infantry, including musketeers, rocketmen, and gunners. Kahmard, Ghori, and Qunduz were all conquered by the Mughals, with the main army arriving in Balkh on 2 July. As far as we know, the army of Murad Baksh faced no major opposition during this military action. Nadr Mohammed, having lost his territories, fled to Persia, leaving his treasure to be plundered by the Mughals.

However, the young Murad Baksh soon came to tire of the unpleasant climate and foreign customs of Balkh, and desired to return to Hindustan. According to the Badshahnama, “many of the amirs and mansabdars , who were with the prince concurred with this unreasonable desire [to leave Balkh]. Natural love of home. A preference for the people and manners of Hindustan, and the rigours of the climate, all conduced to this desire”. With the Mughal commanders indifferent to the course of the campaign and desirous to leave as soon as possible, the soldiers became unruly and lost their discipline, and began plundering the local inhabitants. An angry Shah Jahan, upon receiving news of his son’s abandonment of his position, sent his vizier Sadullah Khan to take the place of Murad Baksh. He arrived in Balkh on 10 August, and began reorganizing the despondent Mughal army. Shah Jahan himself had also moved from Lahore to Kabul, to be closer to the front. Prince Murad Baksh was disgraced for his failure to carry out his duties, and was deprived of his mansab. As winter approached, the Mughals garrisoned key outposts in southern Central Asia, including Termez, Qunduz, Rostaq, Taleqan, and Maimana. However, bands of Uzbeks began infiltrating into the Mughal territory and surrounded these frontier outposts, leaving them in a state of siege throughout the winter of 1646-47. The Mughals were unable to inflict decisive defeats on the Uzbek bands, who avoided open conflict; at the same point, the harsh climate and logistic difficulties prevented further Mughal offensives..

As the next campaigning season dawned, Shah Jahan appointed Prince Aurangzeb, then serving as the governor of Gujarat, to lead operations in Central Asia. Aurangzeb arrived in Kabul on 3 April 1647. Four days later, on 7 April, he set out for Balkh to reinforce the Mughal forward positions and expand the campaign. The Mughal army under his command had a strength of 35,000 men, the majority of whom would have been heavy cavalry, supported by musket infantry, elephants, and artillery. The Uzbeks opposing them had amassed a total of 120,000 men, the majority of whom would have been light cavalry. Granted, the Uzbeks lacked the centralized leadership of the Mughals, and also lacked the heavy shock troops and gunpowder weaponry needed to inflict decisive defeats on an enemy, but they possessed the crucial advantages of numbers, mobility, and knowledge of terrain. The Uzbeks, led by a chieftain named Qutlugh Mohammed, attacked the Mughals as they were passing through the Dera-i-Gaz valley. The Uzbeks were repulsed by the Rajput vanguard of the Mughal army, but not decisively so. The Uzbeks regrouped and, on 21 May, launched another attack against the Mughals. However, the Uzbeks this time made a tactical error by attacking the front of the Mughal army, rather than its rear or flanks. The Mughal wings were able to envelop and destroy the Uzbek force, and Balkh was reached on 25 May without any further fighting. The defence and custody of the city was handed over to Madhu Singh Hada.

Abdul Aziz, the Uzbek khan, now sent a force under Beg Ughli across the Amu Darya to Aqcha. The Mughals too set out towards Aqcha, following a three days’ stop at Balkh. The center of the Mughal army was commanded by Aurangzeb, the vanguard by Bahadur Khan, and the rear by Ali Mardan Khan. The Uzbeks initially launched frontal attacks against the Mughals, but these were successfully repulsed on 2 June 1647 by Mughal musket-fire. The Uzbeks then opted to skirmish against the Mughal columns, wearing them down slowly through attrition. Then, on 5 June, news of a large army advancing south from Bukhara to Balkh reached the Mughal camp. The Mughal commanders were forced to turn around to defend the vital city, which was their center of operations in the theater. On 7 June, the Uzbeks led by Subhan Quli, brother of Abdul Aziz Khan, attacked the moving Mughal army in full force. However, they were once again repulsed by the superior firepower of the Mughal musketry and artillery. The Mughals safely returned to Balkh on 11 June.

By middle of 1647, both sides had suffered considerably from the back-and-forth fighting. Given the huge disparity in resources between the Indian empire of the Mughals and the Uzbeks, however, it is reasonable to assume that the latter were suffering much more than the former. The Uzbek armies, which had banded together largely because of the prospect of easy loot from the Mughals, began disintegrating when such financial rewards were not forthcoming. Some of the Uzbek cavalry were even said to have sold their horses to the Mughals (Central Asian horses were highly valued by Indians and fetched high prices), and then camped back across the Amu Darya! However, the Mughals for their part could not take advantage of this lack of discipline and organization among the Uzbeks and complete the conquest of Central Asia, for a couple pressing reasons. Firstly, there was a worry that, if the Mughals succeeded with the annexation of Central Asia, the Mughal troops and commanders would be permanently stationed there. Few of the Mughal commanders were interested in spending their careers in the region, as they all preferred the wealth, luxury, and familiarity of India. Indeed, some of the Mughal commanders, like Bahadur Khan, even secretly opposed Aurangzeb and the war effort, to avoid such a result. Secondly, and perhaps more pressingly, the Mughal army was faced with a serious shortage of food, caused by the ravaging effects of warfare on the countryside over the last couple years. There was great inflation in the prices of basic foodstuffs, with grain being sold at Rs.10 per maundat the Mughal camp. The Mughal difficulties were compounded by the fact that the country lacked proper winter accommodation for a large army, and that many of the Indian soldiers were not accustomed to the cold climate. In light of all these issues, the Mughals, as well as the Uzbeks, both sought to bring the war to a close.

Peace Settlement and Withdrawal:

In mid-June, shortly after Aurangzeb had returned to Balkh, negotiations were opened with Nadr Mohammed, the exiled ex-ruler of the territories occupied by the Mughals since 1645. The talks moved slowly, lasting over three months before a settlement was concluded by Nadr Mohammed’s grandsons on 23 September 1647. On 1 October, Balkh was formally handed over to the grandsons, and the Mughals began the withdrawal to Kabul two days later, on 3 October. The Mughal army during the withdrawal was commanded in the following manner: the right wing under Ali Mardan Khan, the left wing under Raja Jai Singh, and the rear under Bahadur Khan. The Mughal army continued to be harassed by roving bands of Uzbeks during the retreat, with the crossing at Ghazniyak pass being particularly slow and painful. On 14 October, the Mughals reached Ghori fort. From there until Kabul, Hazara tribesmen replaced the Uzbeks in harassing the Mughal columns. An early and unusually severe winter added greatly to the suffering of the Mughal army. The Mughals were burdened by a load of 10 lakh rupees and a lack of pack animals, thousands of whom died during the winter passage through the Hindu Kush. Aurangzeb crossed the range on 24 October, and reached Kabul on 27 October. However, large components of the Mughal army were still several days behind, and were slowed down by the heavy sleet and snow in the mountain passes. The Mughal column under Raja Jai Singh, in particular, crossed the Hindu Kush in the midst of a brutal snowstorm, and suffered immensely. The last Mughal troops finally returned to Kabul on 10 November 1647, marking the end of the campaign.

Conclusion and Analysis:

The Mughal campaign was, by all standards, a strategic failure. No territory was gained, no changes in ruling dynasty were made, and nothing of tangible benefit was acquired. The Mughals suffered 5,000 casualties during the campaign, the vast majority of whom died from the brutal weather, and also lost a similar number of animals (including horses, elephants, camels, etc.). The cost of the campaign was immense, amounting to some 4 crore rupees in total; to put this into perspective, the Mughals were able to collect only 22 lakh rupees in revenue from the conquered territories in Central Asia, during the brief imperial occupation. 

Despite the failure of the Mughals to achieve their strategic objectives, the tactical performance of the imperial army was not terrible. In fact, although the Mughals can be said to have lost the war, they did not lose a single battle. The Mughals invariably repulsed every direct Uzbek attack, but they were unable to inflict decisive defeats on the enemy and break their back. The Uzbeks practiced a far more mobile style of warfare (which, ironically, was quite similar to the original Mughal style of warfare, practiced in the days of Babur), while the Mughals, although possessing far more firepower than the Uzbeks, were also more cumbersome and less able to maneuver effectively. The Mughal army, replete with heavy cavalry, musketeers, elephants, artillery, and all the pomp and pageantry of great imperial militaries, was more than capable of inspiring awe among the natives of Central Asia, but less capable of actually delivering decisive military results. This became especially apparent when the Mughals were pitted against a decentralized, militarized society like the Uzbeks, where every man was a cavalryman and a fighter, and “conquest” proved far easier than sustained military occupation. 

Other reasons for the Mughal strategic failure have been alluded to earlier in the narrative. The distaste of both Mughal commanders and the average soldiers for Central Asia led to their lack of enthusiasm in completing the conquest and annexation of the country. As mentioned before, some Mughal commanders who were deputed to serve in the region, like Bahadur Khan, were secretly opposed to the war effort, and not particularly keen in seeing the task through. The difficulties posed to the Mughals by the harsh climate, as well as the logistic issues (especially in terms of food shortages), were also important factors in explaining the Mughal failure. 

The failure of Shah Jahan’s Central Asian campaign can be said to mark the beginning of the decline of Mughal power in the region. The Safavids of Persia, who had earlier pledged neutrality during the Mughal campaign (in early 1647, an Indian embassy had been sent to Isfahan, the Persian capital, for this purpose), took advantage of the Mughal defeat to pursue their own interests in the region. In the summer of 1648, Shah Abbas II of Persia set out to Afghanistan with an army of 40,000, and captured Kandahar from the Mughals on 22 February 1649. Despite repeated attempts in subsequent years, the Mughals failed each time to recapture Kandahar, indicating deep structural issues within the Mughal military. Kabul remained under Mughal control for the duration of Aurangzeb’s long reign, but it remained a neglected frontier. A few decades after Aurangzeb’s death, foreign armies once again crossed the Hindu Kush, but this time in the far more usual, opposite direction — from Persia/Central Asia into the Indian subcontinent. Nader Shah Afsharid and Ahmad Shah Durrani were the two most famous conquerors of the 18th century who made a fortune plundering the once-proud heart of the Mughal Empire.

However, no one who was familiar with history should have been surprised by such events. As the great Abu’l Fazl, close friend and adviser to Emperor Akbar, once said, “intelligent men of the past have considered Kabul and Kandahar as the twin gates of Hindustan, one (Kandahar) for the passage to Iran, and the other (Kabul) for that to Turan. By guarding these two places, Hindustan obtains peace from the raider and global traffic by these two routes can prosper.” Indeed, the invasions of India in the 18th century, following the collapse of central Mughal authority, were merely a return to the long-standing historical norm of a highly unstable northwestern frontier and a jumble of weak, decentralized Indian states. To the historian, such cyclical trends are fascinating in themselves, but what are even more fascinating are the exceptions to the trends – the astonishing actions of powerful and ambitious men, which go against the currents of precedent and tradition. The Mughal campaign in Central Asia was precisely such an action, and it will be interesting if, or when, this particular history will repeat itself.


Saxena, BP, History of Shahjahan of Delhi

Adle, Chahryar, et al. History of Civilizations of Central Asia. Vol. V. Paris: UNESCO, 2003.

Khan, Inayat. Shah Jahan-nama.

Lahori, Abdul Hamid. Badshahnama.

Nicoll, Fergus. Shah Jahan. London: Haus, 2009.

Sandhu, Gurcharn Singh. A Military History of Medieval India. New Delhi: Vision Books, 2003. 

Sarkar, Jadunath. History of Aurangzib. Vol. I. London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1920.


Temples, Deities and Similar Representative Art and Sculptures at Fathpur Sikri of Akbar

The walls of palaces at Fathpur Sikri are replete with surface decorations, both in the form of wall paintings and sculptural art. Court scenes, floral designs, geometrical patterns and even fauna and human form abound. However, there are certain representations which are less reported and generally remain unobserved and neglected. Here we would list some of them:


(a) Khwābgāh Temple

At least in two palace structures, viz., the Khwābgāh chamber in the daulatkhāna-i Anūptalao area, and the so-called Sunehra Makān or Mariyam’s House, have wall paintings illustrating temples.

The first is a panel on north-eastern tāq on the northern wall of the Khwābgāh chamber. It depicts a peculiar temple scene: a crowned deity sits on a pedastal beneath an arched chamber of the garbha griha. Beyond the deity in a second chamber are two naked torsos . The scene is watched by a noble figure with a golden halo around his head. In the panel below, outside the temple are scattered dead bodies, severed limbs and torsos: a scene of a great massacre! A man in a Mughal jāma and patka watches in horror!

Why was such a violent scene depicted in the bed chamber of the emperor?

This wall painting was first observed by EW Smith in 1895. In his four volumed work on Fathpur Sikri, he gives a line drawing of the whole panel. I photographed the panel (see upper portion of the panel in the photo above) it exactly a hundred years later in 1995. The golden halo around the head of the man observing the deity is very clear, though somehow missed by Smith.

In a panel fronting this horrific scene on the same tāq are traces of a man riding an exotic animal: almost a black bull, it has the small head of some other animal joined to the neck. Was the rider supposed to be a Yamarāj?

(b) Mariyam’s House Temple

A very prominent Nāgara style shikhara temple is painted on one of the pillars of the eastern verandah of the Sunehra Makān, also popularly known as Mariyam’s House.

Like the first temple scene, this one too was first catalogued by EW Smith in 1895 and the subsequently photographed by me a century later in 1995.

This panel depicts a temple complex with at least two pyramidal and a domed shikharas. What was the exact scene or it’s specific theme, it is not clear. But what is clear is that a temple was being drawn on the walls of a building which was under the direct use of Akbar!

Deities & gods

Apart from these two temple scenes, and the deity mentioned above, there are other representations of deities as well.

In the Mariyam’s House itself representations of deities abound. For example a niche (tāq) in the verandah contains traces of a pot bellied deity. Is it Lord Ganeśa? A person better equipped in the knowledge of Hindu iconography can actually identify this god or goddess!

Apart from these we have at least two sculptures of gods and goddesses adorning this structure, the Mariyam’s House.

The two outer pillars of the Northern verandas have their brackets adorned with sculptures of two deities. The bracket of the eastern pillar has a god/goddess figure carved on it.

He/She stands stands on a disc shaped pedastal.

The second sculpture is of a god holding a bow in his hands and a small monkey kneeling before him.

A prominent tail in an upright position is easily seen behind him. Is he the monkey god, Lord Hanuman? Or is he Rām, before whom Hanuman is kneeling?

One thing however is clear: Hindu gods and deities found easy place on the walls of structures in direct use of Emperor Akbar. Does all this reflect his policy of Sulh-i Kul?

Drawing of human figures and living being is discouraged by Islam, what to talk about drawing gods and goddesses. But here is Akbar who buildings contain not only animal figures (e.g., lions in hujra i Anūptalao), but also the figures discussed above.

It was only Akbar who could have allowed, or even asked for the drawing of scenes with Temples and deities in the palaces of his Imperial city!

• Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi

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.


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].


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’.


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:


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.