The War of Succession: Road to Throne for Aurangzeb

The war of succession among his brothers seemed to inherit from his father as Shahjahan once rebelled against his father Mughal Emperor Jahangir. In June 1626, after an unsuccessful rebellion by his father (Shahjahan), Aurangzeb and his brother Dara Shikoh were kept as hostages under their grandparents’ (Nur Jahan and Jahangir) Lahore court. Jahangir has kept them in Lahore for the next two years. Obviously, they were not treated as slaves or criminals, but they have been kept away from their parents at that tender age.

The loyal soliders guarding the palace of Aurangzeb at Aurangabad's Fort
The loyal soldiers guarding the palace of Aurangzeb at Aurangabad’s Fort | Image Source: Wikipedia

This might have impacted heavily on the mental condition of eight-year-old Aurangzeb. Aurangzeb might have learned the idea of war among brothers from his father and keeping people as hostages from his grandfather. It was evident that Aurangzeb’s mindset was changed for his brothers and even for his father as well. Shahjahan was officially declared the Mughal Emperor on 26 February 1628. It was then Aurangzeb and his brother were returned to live with his parents at Agra Fort.

Reasons for this War of Succession

The impact of being kept hostage by grandparents and Shahjahan’s act of war of succession with his brother seemed to be visible in the year 1633. In 1633, there was an incident where he escaped from being crushed under the feet of an uncontrolled royal elephant in the Mughal encampment. He bravely rushed towards the elephant and fatally wounded the elephant and saved himself and others as well. However, this might not be the sole reason for the war of succession among the Mughal Princes. We have listed out few reasons that may have scripted the cruel war of succession which saw the execution of three Mughal Princes.

Lack of Primogeniture System

There was no primogeniture system for passing the whole kingdom. The system of primogeniture is to give the throne to the eldest son of the Emperor. The Mughal Emperor Babur divided his captured Indian subcontinent territory among his sons which were highly unusual and unrealistic things that happened in the subcontinent.  Since the start of the Mughal Empire, there was a tradition to divide the kingdom among male children.

Aurangzeb with his Brothers
Aurangzeb with his Brothers before the war of succession

This was practice started by Genghis Khan. Ironically, only his kingdom was successful as well as peacefully divided among his heirs. Almost every one of his descendants saw a huge war of succession to capture the complete territory from their father or brothers either by killing them or prisoning them. This lack of system made a clear statement that every male child has the right to capture the throne. Hence, it had become the fashion to remove their father forcefully from the throne and kill brothers to become the Emperor of the Kingdom.

Rising Influence of Jahanara Begum

After the death of Mumtaz Mahal, her daughter Jahanara held the position of Empress of Kingdom. She was the favorite daughter of Emperor Shahjahan and that worked in her favor. The Jahanara was a clear influence in the administration and was assisting the emperor in making decisions. She was providing clear support to his eldest brother Dara Shukoh. There were rumors that Dara Shukoh had promised Jahanara that he comes to the throne, then he will order the marriage of Mughals’ girl which was prohibited by Mughal Emperor Akbar.

Aurangzeb was orthodox and strict in nature, and he was definitely not in support of Mughals’ daughter marriage to others as it may force them to bow their heads to prevent the dignity of their daughters. However, there were many rumors that Shahjahan is keeping Jahanara as his consort, this may have drawn eyebrows of Aurangzeb and other brothers.

Aurangzeb has to suffer humiliation due to Jahanara at one instance when he failed to reach Agra immediately after hearing the news of her accident. The disagreement and humiliation had sown the seeds of war of succession for the throne in upcoming years.

Poor Decision-making ability of Shahjahan

Shahjahan has accessed the throne from his father Jahangir. But before that, he was too indulged in a war of succession with his brothers that resulted in failure for him. This failure also made his sons Aurangzeb and Dara Shukoh hostages under the surveillance of Jahangir and Noor Jahan. However, he was still successful in accessing the throne. But he failed to use his own experience to counter such situations among his children.

Shahjahan was clearly a non-competent Emperor who only utilized his court to order making of irrelevant structure all over the subcontinent. Apart from this, he was busier in making love with his numerous queens and consorts and all other wars and court-related matters were either managed by his sons or his chief empress.

He divided his reigns among his four sons who held governorships of their respective reigns. There was a lack of primogeniture in Mughal culture but he seemed to favor his eldest son Dara Shukoh as his heir for the throne. This had caused resentment among the younger three, who sought at various times to strengthen alliances between themselves and against Dara.

This was the moment in the history of Mughals where a suitable decision or strict action must have been taken by Shahjahan if he had wished in order to make Mughals alive for a much longer period. But lack of decision made sure that his sons overthrow their father and for brothers to war to the death among themselves.

The war of succession between Aurangzeb & Dara Shukoh

It is important to understand the war of succession was more precisely centered between the Aurangzeb and the Dara Shukoh. Although other brothers were also part of this, the war of succession was supposed to center between Dara Shukoh (the eldest son) and any other most influential among brothers. And no doubt, the Aurangzeb was the most influential, courageous, and better war expert than Shah Shuja and Murad Baksh. It was also very clear from the stance of Jahanara who took the control of court after the death of her mother Mumtaz Mahal. Jahnara was more in support of the religious belief of Dara Shukoh (a much lenient) than that of the Aurangzeb.

Historian Satish Chandra states that the contest for power was primarily between Dara Shikoh and Aurangzeb because, although all four sons had demonstrated competence in their official roles, it was around these two that the supporting cast of officials and other influential people mostly circulated. Jahanara, certainly, interceded at various times on behalf of all of the princes and was well-regarded by Aurangzeb even though she shared the religious outlook of Dara.

The beginning of War of Succession

The war of succession started with the attack of Qutb Shahi on the Aurangzeb. In 1656, a general under the Qutub Shahi dynasty named Musa Khan led an army of 12,000 musketeers to attack Aurangzeb. Aurangzeb replied back with an army consisting of 8,000 horsemen and 20,000 Karnataka musketeers. This made Aurangzeb busy in Deccan reign. Dara Shukoh took this as oppurinity. Shahjahan was already ill and not in the condition to respond actively.

Dara Shukoh shifted Shahjahan in Shahjahanabad to provide him best possible care. Dara Shukoh was already a favorite of Shahjahan was seeking the throne in return. At the same time, rumors of the death of Shahjahan were circulated everywhere. However, which was later abolished by Dara Shukoh. But this was enough to create dissent among younger sons.

Shah Shuja in Bengal, where he had been governor since 1637 started the action required for the war of succession. He crowned himself King at Rajmahal and brought his cavalry, artillery towards Agra in order to claim the throne. This prompted Dara Shukoh to take action against him. He sent an army under the command of his son Prince Sulaiman Shukoh and Raja Jai Singh to confront the incoming forces of Shah Shuja. They confronted each other near Varanasi.

Meanwhile, Shah Shuja was not the only one who crowned himself and declared the Emperor. Murad Baksh and Aurangzeb also did the same while being present in their respective territory. Murad crowned himself in his governorship of Gujarat and Aurangzeb did so in the Deccan. However, it was not clear whether they were aware of the present condition of Shahjahan.

It seemed they had believed the rumors of the death of Shahjahan triggering them to crown themselves. Dara was well aware of the activity of Murad and Shah Shuja but he might have missed the same news about the Aurangzeb and this is where he had missed the trick.

Aurangzeb becomes Emperor

Meanwhile, Shahjahan recovered and planned to move back to Agra from Shahjahanabad (Old Delhi). He moved back to Agra after regaining some of his health. Dara informed Shahjahan about Murad and Shah Shuja asked him to suppress these rebellions. Dara urged him to send forces to challenge Shah Shuja and Murad, who had declared themselves rulers in their respective territories. As Dara was unaware of the same self-crowning of Aurangzeb, he didn’t ask for help against him.

The war of succession resulted in the favor of Aurangzeb
Aurangzeb at Peacock throne | Image Source: Wikipedia

This may be possible that the distance between Agra and Deccan made the communication a little difficult or Aurangzeb was smart enough to fool his elder brother or Dara Shukoh was not taking him as a threat to his possible crowning as Emperor.

The war of succession saw the defeat of the first defeat of Shah Shuja, followed by Dara Shukoh and Murad. They all were assassinated brutally by Aurangzeb. Shah Shuja was defeated at Banares in February 1658. Shuja was being chased through Bihar. This move was fatal for the quest for the crown of Dara Shukoh as other army front sent to fight Murad’s Army was taken by surprise.

The army sent to deal with Murad discovered to their surprise that Murad and Aurangzeb had combined their forces. Murad and Aurangzeb decided to shake hands in the war of succession against Dara Shukoh and made an agreement to divide the whole Empire into two parts after defeating Shah Shuja and Dara Shukoh. having agreed to partition the empire once they had gained control of it. The two armies (Dara Shukoh’s army and Combined forces of Murad and Aurangzeb) fought near Dharmat in 1658, with Aurangzeb’s alliance being the victor.

Dara Shikoh was now left in dilemma. He had now defeated force on one front (against Aurangzeb’s alliance) and a successful force (against Shah Shuja) unnecessarily preoccupied on another. Adding much of his misfortune, he had ordered his army to chase Shah Shuja wasting a crucial time that can be utilized to move the army towards Gujarat where the other front was in misery. Realizing that his recalled Bihar forces would not arrive at Agra in time to resist the emboldened Aurangzeb’s advance, Dara scrambled to form alliances in order but found that Aurangzeb had already courted key potential candidates in the region.

The final war of succession: Execution of Dara Shukoh and Murad Baksh

There was a clear difference between the army of Dara Shukoh and Aurangzeb. It was evident at the Battle of Samugarh. Dara’s disparate, hastily concocted army clashed with Aurangzeb’s well-disciplined, battle-hardened force at the Battle of Samugarh. Neither Dara’s men nor his generalship was any match for Aurangzeb. Dara had also become over-confident in his own abilities and, by ignoring advice not to lead in battle while his father was alive, he cemented the idea that he had usurped the throne. He was defeated badly by Aurangzeb

The army sent against Shuja was trapped in the east, its generals Jai Singh and Dilir Khan submitted to Aurangzeb. Dara’s son, Suleiman Shikoh, escaped. Aurangzeb offered Shah Shuja the governorship of Bengal. This move had the effect of isolating Dara Shikoh and causing more troops to defect to Aurangzeb. On 10 August 1659, Dara was executed on grounds of apostasy and his head was sent to Shahjahan.

After the defeat of Dara, Shah Jahan was imprisoned in the fort of Agra where he spent eight long years under the care of his favorite daughter Jahanara. Aurangzeb did not mistreat Shahjahan. Shah Jahan was cared for by Jahanara and died in 1666.

The war of succession killed all challengers

The alliance formed by Murad with Aurangzeb was an actual death statement written for himself. Aurangzeb broke his arrangement with Murad Baksh, which probably had been his intention all along. Instead of looking to partition the empire between himself and Murad, he had Murad arrested and imprisoned at Gwalior Fort.

Murad was executed on 4 December 1661, ostensibly for the murder of the diwan of Gujarat sometime earlier. The allegation was encouraged by Aurangzeb, who caused the diwan’s son to seek retribution for the death under the principles of Sharia law.

Shah Shuja once again had declared himself emperor in Bengal. He began to annex more territory thus prompting Aurangzeb to march from Punjab with a new and large army. They fought during the Battle of Khajwa, where Shah Shuja and his chain-mail armored war elephants were routed by the forces loyal to Aurangzeb. Shah Shuja then fled to Arakan (in present-day Burma), where he was executed by the local rulers.

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