Aurangzeb: His character
With his victory in the war of succession, Aurangzeb became the Emperor in 1658. Only coming to the throne, he styled himself as Alamgir by keeping his old father a prisoner, and by killing his brothers, he proved himself a man of merciless character.
In many respects, Aurangzeb was a remarkable man. Among the great Mughals, he possessed extraordinary personal qualities. In this private life, he was far from vices, pleasures and extravagance. He was so puritan that he abolished music from the royal court and dismissed the singers and musicians. He maintain high moral standard and lived a simple life. He devoted himself wholeheartedly to the affairs of the State. He remained dutiful till the sunset of his life.
Aurangzeb was deeply religious. To many Muslims, he appeared as a living saint, Zinda Pir. Even in the thick of battle, he could kneel down to pray when the time of prayer come.
But with all these personal qualities, he became a sad failure as a ruler. Though pure in private life, he could not rise above some grave defects of his character. He is suspicious of everybody. He gave no trust to others, and therefore received no trust. His heart and mind were too hard. He had no pity. People were afraid of him. He had no friends and advisers. As he worked hard to run the empire, he took all responsibilities upon himself. His fearful officers did not get opportunity to show their ability. The administration of a vast empire became a personal matter of the emperor.
The Mughal Empire reached its zenith under Aurangzeb. Its territorial extent became the largest. Yet the signs of decline became clear. For this, Aurangzeb’s personal character was partly responsible. Side by side, his religious and political policies became largely responsible for the decline of the Empire.
Aurangzeb’s Religious Policy
Personal Orthodoxy- Aurangzeb was an orthodox Sunni Muslim. His extreme devotion to his own faith made him rigid in his outlook. He lacked vision, imagination and understanding in religious matters. To him, his own religion was the only true religion. Other faiths counted for nothing.
In the respect, he was just the opposite of Akbar. Akbar was pious Muslim, but he respected the religions of others. To him, the substances of all religions were same. All religions also pointed to the same goal. In India, as Akbar realized, the Hindus formed the vast majority of the population. Without their sympathy, the foundation of the Mughal Empire could never be strong. He, therefore, adopted a liberal policy towards the Hindus. As a result, the Hindus gave him their maximum support. The Mughal Empire thus received a secular national character. Akbar’s son Jahangir, and Grandson Shah Jahan followed that policy. The Mughal Empire thus completed a century of its grand existence.
But Aurangzeb abounded the wisdom of Akbar. This signaled a danger to the Empire. He fought the war of succession as the champion of orthodoxy against the liberal Dara. Coming to the throne, he thought it wise to follow a rigid Islamic policy. His mistake was that he looked at the Empire through the zeal for his faith.
Aurangzeb took several steps to work out his new policy. Restrictions were imposed only religious practices of other communities. For example, the Hindus could not attend their religious fair freely. Festivals like Dipavali were prohibited in the cities. The Hindus could not get official appointment as before. Aurangzeb forgot that Akbar gave service only merit, not only religious consideration. The Rajputs who enjoyed higher places in previous reigns fell from Aurangzeb favour.
From the time of Akbar, the Hindu subject came to see the Emperor to pay respect. System was known as the Jharoka Darshan. Every morning the Emperor stood only balcony of the palace to receive the salute of the people. Aurangzeb gave up this good practice. He also abolished the use of Kalma or the Muslim confession of faith only the coins so that men of faiths should not touch it. Officers called Muhtasibs were appointing to “regulate the lives of the people in strict accordance with the Holy Law”. All such steps created a gulf between the Government and the governed.
Finally, Aurangzeb committed the worst mistake of his reign. In the year 1679, he re-imposed the hated Ziziya tax on the Hindus. It was a tax only the non-Muslims to practice their own religion. Though not economically oppressive, this tax was most painful to the Hindus for sentimental reasons. Akbar had abolished it to win over the Hindus. After some time, The Emperor passed another harsh regulation. Except the Rajputs, other sections of Hindus were not permitted to keep arms, and to ride horse, elephant or palanquin.
Thus, that Aurangzeb reversed the Mughal policy of liberalism. By this unwise action he invited trouble for himself and paved path for the downfall his empire.
Revolts broke out against Aurangzeb because of his religious policy. The first to rise were the Jats of Mathura.Under their leaders like Gokla, Raja Ram, Charuman, they continued their uprising again and again. The second people to revolt were the Bundelas under Chhatrasal Bundela. Chhatrasal organized the Hindus of Bundelakahnd and Malwa. His troops defeated the Mughal soldiers repeatedly. Aurangzeb could not suppress this brave warrior in his life time. After the emperor’s death, Chhatrasal created an independent territory of himself.
Even a peaceful people like the Santamis took up the arms. They were a God-fearing religious sect of the Hindus. They lived in the Patiala and Alwar areas. They lived by agriculture and trade, and were devoted to religious practices. But suddenly they rose against Aurangzeb for his illiberal measures. Their revolt became serious that the Emperor himself proceeded to suppress it. The poor santamis were mercilessly put down. But their discontent did not die out.
While these smaller revolts were going only, Aurangzeb’s dispute began with formidable sections of the Hindu population, namely, the Rajputs and the Marathas, as well as with the Sikhs.