The Jats were a strong, hardy people who had settled around Delhi and Agra. They were mostly peasants. When the tax collectors came demanding large sums of money, the Jats refused to pay. When the officials tried to force them, there were riots and much fighting. This went on for ten years. At last the emperor had to send an army against the Jats. There was a bloody battle in which the Mughal troops lost 4,000 men.
Far in the northwest, Pathan tribesmen heard that the Mughals were finding it hard to govern their empire. They took advantage of this, and started to loot the caravans of merchants that went from India to Kabul. Aurangzeb's army had to fight the Pathans for twelve years before there was peace in the tribal areas.
Many Rajput chiefs also wanted to become free of the Mughals. Aurangzeb used force to make them submit to him. If he had used kindness and friendship instead, like his great grandfather Akbar, it would have been better for his empire. Raja Jaswant Singh of Marwar was a Rajput warrior and was a commander in Aurangzeb's army. He died on the northwest frontier where he had been sent to subdue the tribesmen. Aurangzeb at once sent his own men to take charge of Marwar. He had Jaswant Singh's widow and baby son brought to Delhi to live in the Mughal palace. He wanted to make sure that the young prince would never demand his father's kingdom when he grew up. The Rajputs got very angry. Jaswant Singh had a band of loyal followers. One night they stole into the palace and took the young prince and his mother with them. The sentries were taken by surprise. They tried to stop them, but the Rajputs were quick with their swords, and fought their way out. The whole of Rajasthan was now in revolt.
Aurangzeb had a son who was named Akbar. He was sent to fight the Rajputs. Prince Akbar was so impressed by the fearless heroism of his enemies that he did not wish to fight them any more. He begged his father to make peace, but Aurangzeb refused to listen. Prince Akbar then joined the Rajputs. Aurangzeb cleverly laid many plots and made the Rajputs suspect Prince Akbar of being a spy. The poor Prince had to run for his life. At last he reached the Deccan, where the Marathas welcomed him.
The Rajputs held out against the Mughal armies as long as their strength lasted. But at last they had to surrender.
Aurangzeb made many other conquests and added Cooch, Bihar and Assam to his empire.
There were other people in the north who were beginning to grow powerful and becoming a threat to the Mughal government. These were the Sikhs, about whom you will read later. Aurangzeb tried to force their Guru, Tegh Bahadur, to submit to him. When he refused, Aurangzeb had him killed. There is a big Sikh temple in Delhi to mark the place of his execution. The Sikhs were furious. Guru Tegh Bahadur's son, Guru Gobind Singh, who was then only a boy of twelve, made up his mind to avenge the cruel murder of his father. He waged a long, bitter struggle against the Mughals for many years. Two of his sons were killed fighting; two others who were boys of eight and nine years of age were taken prisoner and executed.
While Aurangzeb was busy fighting battles and dealing with rebellions in the north, the Marathas became very strong in the Deccan. The man responsible for this was the great Shivaji, about whom you will read later. When Prince Akbar took refuge with the Marathas, Aurangzeb was very worried. He was afraid that there might be another rebellion against him. So he decided to take his armies southwards. He spent nearly twenty years trying to break the power of the Marathas.
The Marathas lived in hilly country along the Western Ghats and had a large number of fortresses. They were skilful horsemen and were used to a very hard life. The Mughal army, with its camels, elephants and large number of soldiers, moved very slowly. The Maratha horsemen would sweep down on the army, galloping hard, and throw everything into disorder. Even when the Mughals captured some of the Maratha fortresses, they could not hold them for long. The Marathas not only recaptured them but also spread terror in the Deccan by their raids.
While Aurangzeb was in the Deccan, fighting the Marathas, he attacked and annexed the kingdoms of Bijapur and Golconda. His empire now stretched from Kabul in the north to the river Kaveri in the south. Delhi became a very important capital. Men came from Persia, Abyssinia and Iraq with messages of friendship from their countries. But for all its glory, it was an empire that could not last, because the people were unhappy.
The wars in the Deccan had cost a lot of money, and the people were made to pay heavy taxes. And while the emperor was away, his officers bullied the people, and did not care much about their duties. No highway was safe because no one bothered to stop the robbers from looting travellers.
Aurangzeb was a serious and austere man by nature. His religious beliefs made him more severe. Eleven years after he became emperor, he banned music at his court. Besides the musicians, he also dismissed all the poets, artists and historians that his father and grandfather had brought to the court. All drinking parties, dancing and music were stopped. The emperor lived a simple life himself so that his subjects might follow his example. Although he was the ruler of such a vast empire, Aurangzeb earned his living by sewing caps and writing down verses of the Holy Quran. The money from the sale of the caps and the copies of the Quran was enough for the emperor's personal needs.
He was a very strict Muslim, and believed that the only right way of living was to follow Islam. He spent much of his time praying and telling the beads of his rosary. But he gave his Muslim subjects better treatment than his Hindu subjects. He destroyed many Hindu temples and imposed extra taxes on Hindu merchants. He also re-imposed the Jazia tax on all those who were not Muslims. All this made the Hindus his enemies. They no longer cared for what happened to the Mughal Empire, nor did the Muslims become more loyal, because they were divided and made to suspect each other. Aurangzeb undid much of the good work, which Akbar had done.
Aurangzeb had led a hard life, full of worry and care. His back was bent with age and his body was thin from fasting. When he was eighty-eight years old, he fell ill and died. As he wished, he was wrapped in a piece of coarse canvas and buried in a simple grave. The money collected from the sale of caps he had made himself was given away to the poor. So ended the life of the last of the great Mughal emperors.
THE END OF THE EMPIRE
If the roots of a big and powerful tree are eaten away, it is bound to fall sooner or later, no matter how strong it may look. The same is true of a state. If the people who are its foundation are unhappy, it will collapse, however strong or big it may look from the outside. The empire of the Mughals had become like that in the time of Aurangzeb. Although it was bigger than it had ever been, and looked very powerful, the rot had set in. This rot slowly destroyed all that had been built up by Babar, by Akbar, and by the later emperors over nearly two hundred years. How did this happen?
It started with some mistakes that Aurangzeb made. Instead of being friends with the Rajputs, like the great emperor Akbar, he did things that made them dislike him. Aurangzeb was not kind to his other Hindu subjects either. He made them pay extra taxes. Many times he took revenge on rebellious Hindus by destroying temples. Once he did this to punish the Jats who lived near Agra and Mathura. They got so angry that they attacked Akbar's tomb at Sikandra and looted it. Aurangzeb tried to force Tegh Bahadur, one of the Sikh gurus, to become a Muslim. When he refused he was cruelly put to death. Aurangzeb did all these things because he thought that only his own religion was right and all other religions were wrong. The result, of course, was that his Hindu subjects disliked him.
In the meantime, the Marathas in the Deccan and the Sikhs in the Punjab were growing stronger every day. Both the Sikhs and the Marathas hated the Mughal power. So did the Jats and the Rajputs. It is very difficult for a ruler, however rich and strong he may be, to stay in power against the will of the people.
Aurangzeb had to spend more than half his reign fighting wars against the Marathas. Wars cost a great deal of money. Soon, all the wealth in the Mughal treasuries was spent. There was not enough money even to pay the soldiers their salaries regularly. So they grumbled amongst themselves and spoke ill of the emperor wherever they went.
It was very difficult for Aurangzeb to manage the huge empire on his own. He had to let his governors act for him because he could not be everywhere at the same time. But Aurangzeb was a suspicious man and did not trust anyone. He did not give his governors enough power to rule the provinces properly. The result was that soon he had no one on whom he could depend.
After Aurangzeb, there were fifty years of widespread fighting and confusion in the country. Most of the kings who succeeded Aurangzeb were weak, and they were interested only in enjoying themselves. One such king was Muhammad Shah. He kept himself surrounded by musicians and dancers, and spent his time in drinking and entertainment. He, therefore, came to be known as Muhammad Shah Rangile, or Muhammad Shah, the Colourful. The most powerful of Muhammad Shah's nobles was a man called Asaf Jah. He did not like what he saw at the Mughalcourt. He tried very hard to make the king behave like a real king, and worry a little more about his people. But this had no effect on Muhammad Shah, who continued to spend his days in pleasure. When Asaf Jah was tired of reasoning with the emperor, he left Delhi in disgust and went to Hyderabad. There he set up a government and declared himself independent of the Mughal king. The Nizams of Hyderabad were descendants of Asaf Jah.
Soon afterwards, the Governor of Bengal also followed Asaf Jah's example and said he would not recognize the authority of the Mughal throne. The same thing happened in Oudh. Slowly the Mughal empire, which had once stretched over almost the whole country, shrank to a few patches of land around Delhi. The emperors looked on helplessly. They still wore their crowns, and coins were still struck in their names. But they had no power to do anything.
At this time, there was another invasion from outside. This time the invader was Nadir Shah, one of Persia's mightiest warrior kings. Some of his prisoners had escaped into Mughal territory. Muhammad Shah, the emperor, had refused to give them back to the Persian king. This made Nadir Shah furious. He marched through Kabul, Peshawar, and Lahore to Delhi. He had no difficulty in routing the Mughal army sent to fight him, and triumphantly entered Delhi. A few days later, some of his soldiers were murdered in the streets. He was mad with rage, and gave an order to his army to kill any Indian citizen they wanted to, and to loot whatever they liked. The streets of Delhi ran with blood. The beautiful buildings of Chandni Chowk were set on fire and reduced to a heap of ashes. There was a dreadful silence in the city when Nadir Shah's soldiers finished their work. Nadir Shah returned home laden with whatever was left of the Mughal imperial wealth. He took horses and elephants, gold and costly garments. He also took the famous Peacock Throne, and the world's most famous diamond, the Koh-i-Noor. Nadir Shah's invasion was a terrible blow to the Mughal Empire. From this blow, it never recovered.