War of Succession by Shahjahan’s Sons: Aurangzeb and Dara Shikoh

War of Succession by Shahjahan’s Sons

  • Shah Jahan was fortunate in having four sons, all born of his cherished wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who grew up to be capable, hard working and free of the Mughal vice of drunkenness. They were given administrative responsibilities and high mansabs as they grew up.
  • Shuja, the second eldest was appointed governor of Bengal in 1637, and kept good control over that tubulent province for the next two decades.
  1. The youngest, Murad, was appointed. governor of Gujarat to which Malwa was added later on.
  2. Aurangzeb was appointed viceroy of the Deccan in 1636 at the young age of eighteen, and held it for the next six years. He was appointed viceroy of the Deccan again in 1652.
  3. The eldest, Dara, was appointed governor of Allahabad and then of Lahore.
  • Dara was his father’s favourite, and most of the time he remained with him at the court. This led to resentment against him by the other three brothers who gradually came together in a kind of a coalition which turned against Dara. Thus, in 1652, Shuja betrothed his daughter to Aurangzeb’s eldest son, Sultan Muhammad, and Aurangzeb promised, his daughter to Shuja’s son. Murad also became friendly with Aurangzeb. The very capacity of the princes made the problem of succession more difficult, and threatened to make it long and bloody.
  • There was no clear tradition of succession among the Muslims. While the consent of the people had been asserted at the beginning, the right of nomination of a successor by a successful ruler had come slowly to prevail, and even accepted by some political thinkers. However, no special rights had been given to the eldest born. The Timurid tradition of partitioning had not been accepted in India, though it kept on raising its head. In the ultimate resort, connections among the powerful military leaders, and military strength and capacity had become the real arbiters.
  • There were no clear traditions of succession among the Hindus either. Right from the time of the Buddha when Ajatshatru had displaced and imprisoned his father, and later during Ashoka Maurya’s struggle against his brothers succession had been dependent on military strength. This had also been the tradition of the Rashtrakutas, and later of the Rajputs. Thus, Sanga had to wage a bitter struggle with his brothers before he could assert his claim to the gaddi.
  • Shah Jahan who had been residing in the new city of Shahjahanabad or Delhi which he had recently constructed, was taken ill with stranguary in September 1657. For some time, his life was despaired of, but he rallied and gradually recovered his strength under the loving care of Dara. Meanwhile, all kinds of rumours had gained currency. It was said that Shah Jahan had already died, and Dara was concealing the reality to serve his own purposes. In December 1657, Shah Jahan was well enough to slowly make his way to Agra. Meanwhile, the princes, Shuja in Bengal, Murad in Gujarat and Aurangzeb in the Deccan.had either been persuaded that these rumours were true, or pretended to believe them, and made preparations for the inevitable war of succession.
  • Shah Jahan had long considered Dara as his rightful successor. As early as 1654, he had been given the title of Sultan Buland Iqbal, given a golden chair next to the throne, and his mansab raised progressively till in 1658 he received the unprecedented rank of 60,000 zat, 40,000 sawar (of which 30,000 were duaspa sihaspa). Dara was also nominated as his successor (wali ahd), and the nobles were asked to obey him as their future sovereign. But these actions, far from ensuring a smooth succession as Shah Jahan had hoped, convinced the other princes of Shah Jahan’s partiality to Dara. It thus strengthened their resolve of making a bid for the throne.
  • The conflict between Dara, his father’s favourite, and Aurangzeb, the most energetic of Shah Jahan’s sons, was heightened by Aurangzeb’s suspicion that Dara had consistently used his influence with Shah-Jahan to try to humiliate and thwart him. Thus, when Aurangzeb was transferred to the Decan from Multan and Sindh after the failure of his two campaigns against Qandahar, his jagirs were also transferred to the Deccan which was less productive so that Aurangzeb suffered a big loss. The Deccan was also a chronically deficit area. In consequence, the expenses of its government had to be made up by cash subsidies from Malwa and Gujarat. Shah jahan’s constant refrain was that the deficit should be met by expanding and improving cultivation. Aurangzeb tried to do so with the help of Murshid Quli Khan who was the diwan of the Deccan. But Shah jahan was impatient, and unfairly accused Aurangzeb of negligence and incompetence. He accused him of appropriating the most productive villages in the jagirs allotted to the nobles posted, there. Matters reached such a pitch that Shah Jahan even accused Aurangzeb of keeping for himself most of the mangoes from one of Shah jahan’s favourite mango tree at Burhanpur.
  • In order to meet his financial difficulties, Aurangzeb tried to persuade Shah Jahan to permit attacking Golconda and Bijapur, both for getting a part of the treasures they had gathered during their campaigns in the Karnataka, and to gain more territory. Aurangzeb felt cheated when Shah Jahan entered into “a compromise with Bijapur and Golconda, whereas Aurangzeb felt he was on the verge of total victory. In both cases. he accused Dara of intervention, and of having been bribed by the Deccani fillers. However, Shah Jahan was in full control at the time, and there is no reason to believe that he acted primarily at Dara’s instance.
  • The character and outlook of Dara and Aurangzeb were very dissimilar. Dara constantly associated with liberal sufi and Bhakti saints, and was deeply interested in the question of monotheism. He had studied the testaments, and the Vedas, arid was convinced that the Vedas supplemented the Quran in the understanding of monotheism. On the other hand, Aurangzeb was devoted to the study of the Quran and the hagiological literature, and was strict in the observance of the various religious rituals. Dara called Aurangzeb a hypocrite’, and Aurangzeb called Dara a heretic’.
  • But it would be wrong to think that the difference of outlook between the two led to a division of the nobility into two comps liberal and orthodox. The nobles acted on the basis of their personal contacts, interests etc. On their part, the princes tried to win over the influential nobles and rajas to their side by establishing personal linkages and holding out favours to them. Thus, Aurangzeb had been in contact with Jai Singh at least since 1636. In a letter to Jai Singh dated 1647 Aurangzeb acknowledges the Raja’s allegiance to him, though outwardly inclined towards Shuja.
  • On hearing the military preparations of Shuja, Murad and Aurangzeb, and their decision to march to Agra, on the ostensible pretext of visiting their father and freeing him from the control of the ‘heretical’ Dara, Shah Jahan, at the instance of Dara, sent .an army to the east, led by Dara’s eldest son Sulaiman Shikoh and aided by Mirza Raja Jai Singh, to deal with Shuja who had crowned himself. Another army was sent to Malwa under Raja Jaswant Singh to persuade Murad who was advancing from Gujarat after crowning himself to turn back. However, on arrival at Dharmat in Malwa, Jaswant Singh found that the forces of Murad and Aurangzeb had joined. Jaswant Singh had no clear instructions how to deal with this situation. The two princes asked him to stand aside and let them proceed to Agra. Although for a mere noble to fight princes of blood was against etiquette, and the combined forces of the two princes were superior, Jaswant considered retreat to be dishonourable. The victory of Aurangzeb at Dharmat (Battle of Dharmat, 15 April 1658) emboldened his supporters and raised his prestige, while it dispirited Dara and his supporters.
  • Meanwhile, Dara made a serious mistake. Over confident of the strength of his position, he had assigned for the eastern campaign some of his best troops. Thus, he denuded the capital, Agra. Led by Sulaiman Shikoh, the army moved to the east and gave a good account of itself. It surprised and defeated Shuja near Banaras (Battle of Banaras, February 1658). It then decided to pursue him into Bihar – as if the issue at Agra had been already decided. After the defeat of Jaswant Singh at Dharmat, express letters were sent to these forces to hurry back to Agra. After patching up a hurried treaty (7 May 1658), Sulaiman Shikoh started his march to Agra from his camp near Monghyr in eastern Bihar. But it was hardly likely that he could return to Agra in time for the likely conflict with Aurangzeb.
  • After Dharmat, Dara made frantic efforts to seek allies. He sent repeated letters to Jaswant Singh who had retired to Jodhpur. The Rana of Udaipur was also approached. Jaswant Singh moved out tardily to Pushkar near Ajmer. After raising an army with the money provided by Dara, he waited there for the Rana to join him. But the Rana had already been won over by Aurangzeb. Thus, Dara failed to win over even the important Rajput rajas to his side.

Battle of Samugarh

  • The battle of Samugarh was fought between Dara Shikoh and his two younger brothers Aurangzeb and Murad Baksh.
  • The battle of Samugarh (29 May 1658) was basically a battle of good generalship, the sides being almost equally matched in numbers (about 50,000 to 60,000 on each side). In the field, Dara was no match for Aurangzeb. The Hada Rajputs and the Saiyids of Barha upon whom Dara largely depended could not make up for the weakness of the rest of the hastily recruited army. Aurangzeb’s troops were battle hardened and well led.
  • Not only was Dara no match for Aurangzeb as a general, he had become arrogant and too self-confident of himself. Thus, he failed to win over the nobles in general to his side. Nor was he prepared to heed to the advice of others more capable than him. It was a fatal error on his part to confront Aurangzeb himself on the field of battle while Shah Jahan was still the reigning sovereign, and had been advised that he should himself meet Aurangzeb on the field of battle if he refused to recant.
  • The war between Aurangzeb and Dara was not between religious orthodoxy on the one hand, and liberalism on the other. Both Muslims and Hindu nobles were equally divided in their support to the two rivals. Similarly, Shiahs were almost equally divided between Aurangzeb and Dara. Among nobles of 1000 zat rank and above, upto the battles of Samugarh, 27 Iranis supported Aurangzeb, and 23 of them sided with Dara. In this conflict, as in so many others, the attitude of the nobles depended upon their personal interests and their association with individual princes.
  • There is little reason to accept the widespread belief that like the nobles, members of the royal family were also divided in their support to the various contending princes, princess Jahanara beings partisan of Dara, Rausharara a supporter of Aurangzeb, and. Gauharara a spy for Murad. Contemporary correspondence including letters’ of Aurangzeb show that though Jahanara was close to Dara in his religious quest and shared his eclectic outlook, she did not close her doors to her other brothers. Since she was considered to be close to Shah Jahan, the various princes, including Aurangzeb, wrote to her, seeking her support and intermission with the Emperor on their behalf, and on many occasions, she helped them.
  • After the defeat and flight of Dara, Shah Jahan was besieged in the fort of Agra Aurangzeb forced Shah Jahan into surrender by seizing the source of water supply to the fort. Shah Jahan was confined to the female apartments in the fort and strictly supervised, though he was not ill-treated. There he lived for eight long years, lovingly nursed by his favourite daughter Jahanara, who voluntarily chose to live within the fort. She re-emerged into public life after Shah Jahan’s death and was accorded great honour by Aurangzeb who visited her regularly, and restored her to the position of the first lady of the realm. He also raised her annual pension from twelve lakh rupees to seventeen lakhs.

After Battle of Samugarh

  • According to the terms of Aurangzeb’s agreement with Murad, the kingdom was to be partitioned between the two, with Murad ruling Punjab, Kabul, Kashmir and Sindh. But Aurangzeb had no intention of sharing the empire. Hence, he treacherously imprisoned Murad and sent him to the Gwaliyar jail. He was killed two years later.
  • After losing the battle at Samugarh, Dara had fled to Lahore and was planning to retain control of its surrounding areas. But Aurangzeb soon arrived in the neighbourhood, leading a strong army. Dara’s courage failed him. He abandoned Lahore without a fight and fled to Sindh. Thus, he virtually sealed his fate. Although the civil war was dragged on for more than two years, its outcome was hardly in doubt.
  • Dara’s move from Sindh into Gujarat and then into Ajmer on an invitation from Jaswant Singh, the ruler of Marwar, and the subsequent treachery of the latter are too well known.
  • The battle of Deorai near Ajmer (March 1659) was the last major battle Dara fought against Aurangzeb. Dara might well have escarped into Iran, but he wanted to try his luck again in Afghanistan. On the way, in the Bolan Pass, a treacherous Afghan chief made him a prisoner and handed him over to his dreaded enemy. A panel of jurists decreed that Dara could not be suffered to live “out of necessity to protect the faith and Holy law, and also for reasons of state, and as a destroyer of the public peace.” This is typical of the manner in which Aurangzeb used religion as a cloak for his political motives.
  • Two years after Dara’s execution, his son, Sulaiman Shikoh, who had sought shelter with the ruler of Garhwal was handed over by him to Aurangzeb on an imminent threat of invasion. He soon suffered the same fate as his father.
  • Earlier, Aurangzeb had defeated Shuja at Khanwah near Allahabad (December 1658). Further campaigning against him was entrusted to Mir Jumla who steadily exerted pressure till Shuja was hounded out of India into Arakan (April 1660). Soon afterwards, he and his family met a dishonourable death at the hands of the Arakanese on a charge of fomenting rebellion.
  • The civil war which kept the empire distracted for more than two years showed that neither nomination by the ruler, nor plans of division of the empire were likely to be accepted by the contenders for the throne. Military force became the only arbiter for succession and the civil wars became steadily more destructive.
  • After being seated securely on the throne, Aurangzeb tried to mitigate, to some extent, the effects of the harsh Mughal custom of war unto death between brothers. At the instance of Jahanara Begum, Sipihr Shikoh, son of Dara, was released from prison in 1671, given a mansab and married to a daughter of Aurangzeb. Murad’s son, Izzat Bakhsh, was also released, given a mansab and married to another daughter of Aurangzeb. Earlier, in 1669, Dara’s daughter, Jani Begum, who had been looked after by Jahanara as her own daughter, was married to Aurangzeb’s third son, Muhammad Azam. There were many other marriages between Aurangzeb’s family and the children and grandchildren of his defeated brothers. Thus, in the third generation, the families of Aurangzeb and his defeated brothers became one.

Dara Shikoh: Intellectual Pursuit and Arts

  • Dara Shikoh is widely renowned as an enlightened paragon of the harmonious coexistence of heterodox traditions on the Indian subcontinent. He was an erudite champion of mystical religious speculation and a poetic diviner of syncretic cultural interaction among people of all faiths. This made him a heretic in the eyes of his orthodox brothers.
  • Dara was a follower of the Persian mystic saint Sarmad Kashani, as well as Lahore’s famous Qadiri Sufi saint Hazrat Mian Mir, whom he was introduced to by Mullah Shah Badakhshi (Mian Mir’s spiritual disciple and successor). Mian Mir was so widely respected among all communities that he was invited to lay the foundation stone of the Golden Temple in Amritsar by the Sikhs.
  • Dara subsequently developed a friendship with the seventh Sikh Guru, Guru Har Rai. Dara devoted much effort towards finding a common mystical language between Islam and Hinduism. Towards this goal he completed the translation of 50 Upanishads from its original Sanskrit into Persian in 1657 so it could be read by Muslim scholars. His translation is often called Sirr-e-Akbar (The Greatest Mystery), where he states boldly, in the Introduction, his speculative hypothesis that the work referred to in the Qur’an as the “Kitab al-maknun” or the hidden book, is none other than the Upanishads. His most famous work, Majma-ul-Bahrain (“The Confluence of the Two Seas”), was also devoted to a revelation of the mystical and pluralistic affinities between Sufic and Vedantic speculation.
  • The library established by Dara Shikoh still exists on the grounds of Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Kashmiri Gate, Delhi, and is now run as a museum by Archaeological Survey of India after being renovated.
  • He was also a patron of fine arts, music and dancing, a trait frowned upon by his sibling Aurangzeb. The ‘Dara Shikoh album‘ is a collection of paintings and calligraphy assembled from the 1630s until his death. It was presented to his wife Nadira Banu in 1641–42 and remained with her until her death after which the album was taken into the royal library and the inscriptions connecting it with Dara Shikoh were deliberately erased; however not everything was vandalised and many calligraphy scripts and paintings still bear his mark.
  • Dara Shikoh is also credited with the commissioning of several exquisite, still extant, examples of Mughal architecture – among them the tomb of his wife Nadira Banu in Lahore, the tomb of Hazrat Mian Mir also in Lahore, the Dara Shikoh Library in Delhi, the Akhun Mullah Shah Mosque in Srinagar in Kashmir and the Pari Mahal garden palace (also in Srinagar).

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