Aurangzeb’s Deccan Policy

During Aurangzeb’s reign, the Mughal Empire was racked by large and petty rebellions mostly in the Deccan region. Traditional and newly cohesive social groups in northern and western India, such as the Marathas, Rajputs, Hindu Jats, Pashtuns, and Sikhs, developed military and governing ambitions under the Mughal rule, which provided them with both recognition and military experience through collaboration or opposition.

The Hindu Jat peasants of Bharatpur, near Mathura, revolted in 1669 and established the Bharatpur state, but were vanquished. While fighting Aurangzeb, Shivaji launched a surprise attack on the Mughal Viceroy Shaista Khan in 1659. Shivaji and his soldiers raided the Deccan, Janjira, and Surat, attempting to seize enormous swaths of land.

Shivaji was a real warrior challenging Mughals

Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj
Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj

After sacking Burhanpur, Aurangzeb’s soldiers seized Shivaji’s son Sambhaji and killed him in 1689. The Marathas, on the other hand, persisted in their fight, which marked the beginning of his empire’s demise. When Aurangzeb refused to grant permission to declare the young Rathore prince king, the Rathore clan, commanded by Durgadas Rathore, revolted and gained the direct rule of Jodhpur. This episode sparked widespread unrest among Hindu Rajput kings in Aurangzeb’s Rajputana, resulting in numerous rebellions.

Under the leadership of Bhirbhan, the Satnami, a sect based near Delhi, took over the governance of Narnaul in 1672, but they were subsequently crushed by Aurangzeb’s personal intervention, with just a few escaping alive. The Battle of Saraighat took place in 1671 in the Mughal Empire’s easternmost provinces, pitting the Mughal Empire against the Ahom Kingdom. The Mughals, led by Mir Jumla II and Shaista Khan, attacked the Ahoms but were defeated.

Maharaja Chhatrasal 1
Maharaja Chhatrasal 

Maharaja Chhatrasal was a medieval Indian warrior from the Bundela Rajput tribe who defeated the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb and formed his own kingdom in Bundelkhand, eventually becoming Maharaja of Panna. After Aurangzeb’s death, the Jats, led by Badan Singh, formed the independent state of Bharatpur.

During the Battle of Satara, Aurangzeb leads the Mughal Army. While Aurangzeb attacked Golconda and Bijapur in the Deccan in 1657, Shivaji, a Hindu Maratha warrior, utilized guerilla tactics to seize three Adil Shahi forts that had previously been under his father’s command. Shivaji established de facto control of several independent Maratha clans as a result of his conquests.

The Marathas pounced on the battling Adil Shahis’ flanks, capturing weaponry, forts, and territory. Shivaji’s small and ill-equipped army escaped an all-out Adil Shahi attack, and Shivaji personally killed Afzal Khan, the Adil Shahi general. The Marathas became a great military force as a result of this incident, taking more and more Adil Shahi territory. Shivaji then went on to defeat the Mughals in the region.

In 1659, Aurangzeb dispatched his maternal uncle and trusty general Shaista Khan, the Wali, to Golconda to reclaim forts lost to Maratha rebels. Shaista Khan moved to Pune after driving into Maratha territory. The Marathas killed Shaista Khan’s son in a daring raid on the governor’s residence in Pune during a midnight wedding ceremony, headed by Shivaji himself, and Shivaji maimed Shaista Khan by cutting off three fingers of his hand. Shaista Khan, on the other hand, survived and was re-appointed as Bengal’s administrator, later becoming a crucial commander in the fight against the Ahoms.

Both Mughal and Bijapur forts were taken by Shivaji. Finally, Aurangzeb ordered the Daulatabad Fort to be armed with two bombards (the Daulatabad Fort was later used as a Mughal bastion during the Deccan Wars). Aurangzeb also dispatched his Hindu Rajput general Raja Jai Singh of Amber to attack the Marathas. After a bloody struggle in which the Maratha leader Murarbaji was killed, Jai Singh took the fort of Purandar. Shivaji, anticipating defeat, consented to a truce and a meeting with Aurangzeb in Delhi.

Shivaji was also guaranteed safety by Jai Singh, who placed him in the custody of his own son, the future Raja Ram Singh I. However, the Raja had no control over events at the Mughal court, and when Shivaji and his son Sambhaji traveled to Agra to meet Aurangzeb, they were placed under house arrest due to Shivaji’s alleged misconduct, from which they managed to make a daring escape.

Shivaji strengthened Maratha’s power throughout the Deccan until his death in 1680, although Aurangzeb continued to send forces against him. Shivaji’s son, Sambhaji, succeeded him. Mughal attempts to rule the Deccan failed militarily and diplomatically.

On the other hand, Aurangzeb’s third son Akbar, along with a few Muslim Mansabdar allies, defected from the Mughal court and joined Muslim rebels in the Deccan. In response, Aurangzeb relocated his court to Aurangabad and assumed command of the Deccan expedition. After defeating the rebels, Akbar traveled south to seek sanctuary with Shivaji’s successor, Sambhaji. Following several fights, Akbar went to Persia and never returned.

Sambhaji was arrested and executed by Aurangzeb’s soldiers in 1689. His successor Rajaram, subsequently Rajaram’s widow Tarabai, and their Maratha army battled against the Mughal Empire in several wars. During the years of unending warfare (1689–1707), the territory changed hands several times. Because the Marathas had no central authority, Aurangzeb was obliged to fight for every inch of land, at a considerable personal and financial sacrifice. Even as Aurangzeb advanced west, deep into Maratha territory – taking Satara in particular – the Marathas pushed eastwards into Mughal borders, settling in Malwa and Hyderabad.

The Marathas also conquered autonomous local kings in Southern India, taking Jinji in Tamil Nadu. For more than two decades, Aurangzeb fought a never-ending war in the Deccan. As a result, he lost nearly a quarter of his army battling Maratha rebellions in Deccan India. He journeyed a great distance to the Deccan to conquer the Marathas and died at the age of 88 while still fighting them.

In the Deccan region, Aurangzeb’s move from conventional warfare to anti-insurgency shifted the paradigm of Mughal military thought. In Pune, Jinji, Malwa, and Vadodara, there were clashes between Marathas and Mughals. During the time of Aurangzeb, the Mughal Empire’s port city of Surat was attacked twice by the Marathas, leaving the lucrative port in ruins.

During the Mughal–Maratha Wars, Matthew White estimates that 2.5 million of Aurangzeb’s army died (100,000 per year for a quarter-century), while 2 million people died owing to drought, pestilence, and famine in war-torn countries. Aurangzeb leads his final campaign (1705) with a 500,000-strong army.

Impact of Deccan Policy of war

  • During the first 30 years of Aurangzeb’s rule in Deccan, he was a huge success. He was able to seize the realms of Vijapur and Golconda; Maratha king Sambhaji was taken alive, but his powerful deed of assassinating Maharaja Sambhaji turned the Mughal Empire become a significant threat in the Deccan.
  • Many top Maratha commanders from Maharaja Shivaji’s reign departed the capital as a result of these changes, and Sambhaji was not a worthy successor. His high-end behavior destroyed a number of important Maratha commanders.
  • Under Sambhaji’s leadership, Maratha’s supremacy was gradually dwindling. Sambhaji’s execution turned him become a national symbol, and when he died, he was more powerful than while he was living.
  • The assassination of Sambhaji was a national humiliation to the Maratha people.
  • The Mughal army was nearly imperceptible in battle, but Aurangzeb misread the nature of Maratha’s challenge.
  • It pursued these fictitious adversaries in Maratha land for nearly two decades without success.
  • By the time Mughal forces put down an uprising in one place, another one sprang in another.
  • Maratha used guerilla warfare tactics that the Mughals couldn’t counter.
  • Mughal failures in Deccan had a significant impact on the Mughal Empire’s power and stability.
  • The legend of Mughal invisibility was debunked. Deccan turned out to be a Mughal prestige graveyard.
  • While fighting the Maratha in Deccan, the Mughal Empire suffered a massive loss of manpower and material.
  • To counter this threat, Aurangzeb appointed a huge number of Mansabdar. Aurangzeb’s strategy culminated in a serious Mansab/Jagir crisis.
  • The Mughal Empire’s failure in Deccan sparked rebellions in other sections of the empire. The issues in Punjab and other parts of the country have gotten much worse.
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