Was Aurangzeb a Great King?


It goes without saying that Aurangzeb was an ideal person in many ways. He was simple in his habits and pious in his life. His contemporaries called him a “Darvish clad in the Imperial Purple.” He was absolutely free from vice and even from the most innocent pleasure of the idle rich. The number of his wives was less than four and he was faithful to wedded love. He possessed a wonderful memory. He never forgot a face he had once seemed or a word that he had once heard.

He retained all his physical powers to the end. He was a little deaf towards the end and was lame in his right leg. He was a past master in diplomacy. He could not be beaten in any kind of intrigue or secret manipulation. He was a master of the pen and the sword.

Unfortunately, he possessed a suspicious nature. He trusted neither his officers nor his sons. Consequently, he had to do too many things himself. It was impossible for an individual to carry on the work of the administration of the country single-handed and no wonder he failed. He failed in spite of all his talent, skill, and patience. He interfered too much into the work of his subordinates.


The result was that his subordinates lost all sense of responsibility and initiative. Such a bureaucracy was not fit to carry on the administration of the country.

Aurangzeb was a practised calligraphist and wrote ‘Shikasta’ and ‘Nastaliq’ with great skill. He was a master of Persian and could compose verses. He had no ear for music; He ate very little and slept only for three hours a day. He was a Great General and this is proved by his achievements in the life-time of his father. The Fatwa-i-Alamgiri, the Greatest Digest of Muslim Law, was compiled under his patronage.

Aurangzeb was intolerant towards the non-Muslims and this fact alone multiplied his difficulties. There was practically no human touch in his dealings. He would have been and ideal ruler if he had been the Ruler of a Muslim state. Unfortunately, he was not fitted to rule a country where the bulk of the population was that of non-Muslims. Khafi Khan makes the following observations on Aurangzeb: “Of ali the sovereigns of the house of Timur, nay, of all the sovereigns of Delhi no one since Sikandar Lodi, has ever been apparently so distinguished for devotion, austerity and justice.

In courage, long sufferings the sound judgment, he was, unrivalled. But from reverence for the injunctions of the law he did not make use of punishments, and without punishment the administration of a country cannot be maintained. Dissensions had arisen among his nobles through rivalry. So every plan and project that he formed came to little good; every enterprise which he undertook was long in execution and failed of its object.”


According to Dr. V.A. Smith, “when Aurangzeb is judged as a sovereign he must be pronounced a failure.'” His intense suspiciousness poisoned his whole life. He never trusted anybody and consequently was ill-served. His cold, calculating temperament rarely permitted him to indulge in love for man or woman and few indeed were the persons who loved him.

His reliance on mere cunning as the principal instrument of statecraft testified to a certain smallness of mind, and moreover, was ineffective in practice. Although he had many opportunities for winning military distinction, he failed to show ability as a general whether before or after accession.

His proceedings in the Deccan during the latter part of his life were simply ridiculous as military operations. In fact, nothing in the History of Aurangzeb justifies posterity in classing his as a great king. His tricky cunning was mainly directed first to winning, and then to keeping the throne. He did nothing for literature or art. Rather it should say that he did less than nothing, because he discouraged both.

Lane-poole had made the following observations with regard to Aurangzeb, “For the first time in their history, the Mughals beheld a rigid Muslim in their Emperor-a Muslim as sternly repressible of himself as of his people around him, a king who was prepared to stake his throne for the sake of his faith.


He must have been fully conscious of the dangerous path he was pursuing, and well aware that to run-a-tilt against every Hindu Sentiment, to alienate his Persian Adherents, the flower of his general staff, by deliberate opposition to their cherished ideals, and to disgust his nobles by suppressing the luxury of a jovial court was, to invite revolution. Yet he chose the course, and adhered to this with unbending resolve through close on fifty years of unchallenged sovereignty.”

Again, “All Muhammadan writers extol him as a Saint, all contemporary Christians-except Dryden, and he was no historian-denounces him as a hypocrite who used religion as a cloak for ambition, and said prayers to cover the mist unnatural murders. Aurangzeb has experienced the fate of his great contemporary Cromwell, whom he resembled in many features of the soul. He has had

his Ludlow among his biographers, and his Baxter, with their theories of selfish ambition and virtue vitiated by success; he has also been slavered with the panegyrics of Muhammadan Flecknoes and Dawbeneyes. Those opposite views, however, are less contradictory than might be supposed.’ They merely represent the difference between Christian bigotry and Muhammadan bigotry. To the Mussalman of India Aurangzeb is the idea type of the devout and uncompromising Muhamrnadan king, and his sanguinary advance to the throne is forgotten in his subsequent zeal for the faith and undeviating observance of the law and practice of Islam.

On the other hand, Christian observers of the Great Mughal could not divest themselves of the western idea that a prince who says his prayers in public, like the Pharisee in the street, must necessarily by an ostentatious hypocrite; while they failed to reconcile the enormity of fratricide with piety or even common humanity.


They did not understand the nature of the religion which could be honestly professed by such a man as Aurangzeb, any more than the royalists of the Restoration could discover in the ambitious regicide the sincere Christian that Cromwell really was.'”

After referring to the accomplishments of Aurangzeb, J.N. Sarkar observes thus: “But all his long self-preparation and splendid vitality, in one sense, proved his undoing, as they naturally begot in himself confidence and distrust of others, a passion for seeing everything carried to the highest perfection according to his own idea of it, which urged him to order and supervise every minute detail of administration and warfare personally.

This excessive interference of the head of the State kept his viceroys and commanders and even ‘the men on the spot’ in far off districts in perpetual tutelage; their sense of responsibility was destroyed initiative and rapid adaptability to a changing environment could not be developed in them, and they tended to sink into lifeless puppets moved to action by the master pulling their strings from the capital.

No surer means than this could have been devised for causing administrative degeneration in an extensive and diversified Empire like India. High-spirited, talented and energetic officers found themselves checked, discouraged and driven to sullen inactivity.


With the death of the older nobility, outspoken responsible advisers disappeared from his council and Aurangzeb in his later years; like Napoleon I after the climax of Tilsit could hear no contradiction, could bear no unpalatable truth, but surrounded himself with smooth tongued sycophants and pompous echoes of his own voice. His ministers became no better than clerks possibly registering his edicts.”

“Such a king cannot be called a political or even an administrative genius. He had merely honesty and plodding industry. He was fit to be an excellent departmental head, not a statesman initiating a new policy and legislating with prophetic foresight for molding the life and thought of unborn generations in advance. The genius, though unlettered and often hot blooded, was Akbar alone among the Mughals of India.”

“Obsessed by his narrow ideal of duty and supremely ignorant of the real limitations of his character- and not out of political cunning, as Menisci suggests – Aurangzeb practised saintly austerities and self-abasement and went regularly and even ostentatiously through all the observances of his religion. He thus became an ideal character to the Muslim portion of his subjects.

They believed him to be a saint who wrought miracles (Aiamgir, Zinda Pir) and he himself favoured this idea by his acts. Politically, therefore, Aurangzeb with all these virtues was a complete failure. But the cause of the failure of his reign lay deeper than his personal character. Though it is not true that he alone caused the fall of the Mughal Empire, yet he did nothing to avert it, but deliberately quickened the destructive forces always present in rigid Theocratic Form of Government, because he was a reactionary by instinct and no reforming statesman.”

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