Aurangzeb’s War of Succession – Mughal Empire

August 26, 2008


There were times when we would be more interested with the games period right next to the History class and all our attention would be on how many runs we would be scoring. There were days when we used to memorize the history lessons after cursing it a hundred times. Strange, it seems, when history suddenly becomes one of our most intriguing passions. Suddenly, we want to know and learn what happened before us. This is one such piece of history, which I found interesting. This one documents the means used by Aurangzeb to gain the highest position of Indian Empire. The means he used against his own father and brothers to gain power. But now, we have very less time to indulge in our passions. Do read, if you are one of the gifted ones who still have the time and passion at your disposal. Let us go to the year – 1658.


Shah Jahan’s magnificent reign ended in a long anticipated, convulsive political crisis. When the emperor fell ill, pent-up tensions between the mature Timurid princes exploded into a four sided war of succession. The war pitted Dara Shukoh, resident at court as the designated heir, against his three younger brothers: Muhammad Shuja, governor of Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa; Aurangzeb, the governor of four Deccan states; and Murad Bakhsh, governor of Gujarat and Malwa. All were sons of Mumtaz Mahal, and therefore full, rather than half brothers. Despite Shah Jahan’s expressed preference for his eldest son, Dara Shukoh, the Timurid appanage system offered no clear precedent for succession.


This was a bloody struggle fought by formidable opponents; Dara, Shuja, Aurangzeb, and Murad battled each other with that intensity and intimacy reserved for brothers with differing personalities. Each prince shared in the Timurid familial charisma and royal authority which gave all an undisputable claim on the throne. Each brother could draw upon the services of extremely able military and administrative staffs. Each commanded a power base, possessed ample treasure and could muster large, well-equipped armies. Only one contender could claim the throne; all others faced the grave.


In Bengal, Prince Muhammad Shuja immediately crowned himself king at Rajmahal and brought his cavalry, artillery, and river flotilla upriver toward Agra. Near Varanasi, his forces confronted a defending army sent from Delhi under the command of Dara. In mid-February, a well executed early morning surprise attack routed the Bengal troops. Shuja and his surviving men fled down river to Monghyr.


In Gujarat, Murad crowned himself in a public ceremony and prepared to march north. Murad and Aurangzeb had agreed on a joint plan of action. If they defeated their brothers, Aurangzeb would leave to Murad the Punjab, Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Sind to rule as an independent King and he would rule the remaining territories. In early 1658, Aurangzeb set his army marching north. He joined forces with Murad at the village of Dharmat on the Ghambira river. Here they met Shah Jahan’s army under the command of Jaswant Singh Rathor. In the ensuing battle Aurangzeb’s well handled guns and cavalry outfought the imperial army whose survivors fell back on Delhi in disarray.


At Delhi, Dara rebuilt a 50,000 man army and awaited his brothers at defensive positions on the Chambal river south of Agra. Aurangzeb outflanked him by finding an unguarded fort. The armies met at broad plain at the village of Samugarh on the Yamuna near Agra. On 29th May, in the blazing heat of Indian summer, the climactic battle of the succession took place. Aurangzeb’s superior tactics and better disciplined artillery and cavalry prevailed against the valor of repeated Rajput cavalry charges. Finally, toward the end of the day, Dara dismounted from his war elephant and fled the field on horseback. A full scale rout began.


Aurangzeb occupied Agra city and when negotiations failed, besieged his father in Agra fort. Deprived of access to water from the river, Shah Jahan surrendered on June 8, 1658. The vast treasuries and magazines of Agra fort fell into Aurangzeb’s hands.


Dara stayed only briefly in Agra before moving to Lahore. When Aurangzeb resumed pursuit, tension between him and Murad grew. Despite warnings, Murad entered his brother’s camp for a dinner on 25th June. Here he was disarmed, made captive and quietly sent off to prison along with his son. Aurangzeb enrolled Murad’s leaderless army into his service the next day. Aurangzeb paused in Delhi long enough to crown himself on 21st July in Shalimar gardens with the title of Alamgir or “World-Seizer”. Thereafter he dealt with his brothers from an overwhelmingly strong position.


Shuja, rejecting Aurangzeb’s promises of unthreatened rule in the east, mustered a force of 25,000 cavalry and a flotilla of river boats and marched upriver. In late December, Aurangzeb joined his son Muhammad Sultan for battle against Shuja. Despite the last minute deflection of Jaswant Singh Rother with his Rajput cavalry to Shuja, Aurangzeb’s army greatly outnumbered and outgunned the Bengal army. Defeated and routed, Shuja fled with the remnants of the army.


In the interim, Dara had regained his courage, acquired funds, recruited a 20,000 man army in Gujarat and marched north. But in mid-March, 1659, Aurangzeb’s army over ran Dara’s forces in a bloody three day battle fought in the hills outside Ajmer. A little while later, Dara was arrested in Lahore and brought to Delhi as a prisoner and killed by Aurangzeb.


There followed a year and a half long, grim, water-borne campaign in pursuit of Prince Shuja by an imperial army under Mir Jumla. Shuja fought, retreated east until finally, at Tanda his army was decisively beaten and broken. In early May 1660, Shuja left Decca by boat with his family and a few faithful troops to take refuge with the raiding king of Arakan. Here, suspected of a plot against the king, he met his death. Murad Bakhsh, who was imprisoned earlier was also charged of murder and killed by Aurangzeb.


The succession crisis reaffirmed the unity of the empire and the authority of the victorious Timurid monarch. Partition of the empire into two or more appanages did not take place. Division of the empire was a bargaining point, nothing more. The principal’s knew that whoever acquired the imperial capital and throne would not rest until the partitioned territories – be they in the east or west or south – were recovered.



Destination Infinity

 You could find similar articles in the Non Fiction section of this blog.

PS: It was not only Aurangzeb, who had to fight for the throne – many other princes also did, in the Mughal Dynasty.


  1. lol i have always loved history…i never read history for the marks but for the pleasure of knowing what happened….And i got the marks too because of that…

    hmm…no wonder the British got into…when one couldn’t work with his own forces,then he turned for help…

  2. Aurangzeb is one of my favourite emperors from the Mughal Empire. He was strong and to some extent frugal. It is said that his grave only has one slab of marble that he earnt in his own life. Perhaps our modern day politicians could learn a thing or two from him.

  3. There are a very few like you Vishesh. It was interesting to listen in the class for me, but when it used to be exams – I was memorizing a lot.

    Aurangazeb was no doubt strong. He was able to keep the entire empire intact. But he was not dynamic like Akbar in thoughts and actions. He had his own set of problems in the Deccan too. One of his failures was his inability to create a strong successor. In my opinion, he was responsible to a large extent for the decline of the Mughal empire. Thanks for visiting Odzer.

    Destination Infinity

  4. We had different history teachers. One of them literally put us to sleep with his method of teaching. Another one made the class very interesting by making it interactive and cracking jokes at the drop of a hat. There was never a dull moment in his class 🙂

  5. All the history teachers I have seen were pretty much life less in their teaching. They just ask some one to read from the book. The most “Life-full” history teacher was the one who made us to memorize a lot of history to get maximum marks in the tenth standard! We are not able to realize the value of certain things (Actually we are not bothered to) at certain times of our lives. History, now is like a precious gem to me. I am able to learn a lot by reading history now. I grab any chance to read some history related books. But now, I don’t find enough time to spend for that.

    Destination Infinity

  6. i hav been a little unlucky with history teachers,so to hav fun i used to create stories fitting with history and with inability to memorize too many events. one time for example they asked me to talk about the 3 Punic wars and i started from the 3rd reverse, just because i did not know anything about the first one. the teacher was impressed /liked the speech and at the end of the 2nd war she proptly aked another different topic 🙂 i love Mughal men-spirit, Mughal fashion and Mughal architecture.

  7. I just read a whole book on Mughal Empire…. no mention of the spirit, fashion or the architecture there… why are the books so much focussed on wars alone? But there was some considerable information on Akbar’s rule – the systems he created like judiciary, monetary systems etc. Quite impressive, Mr. Akbar!

    Destination Infinity

  8. Aurangzeb was no doubt a strong ruler but his rule was not what it was supposed to be.He tried to be a ruthless muslim ruler instead of a diplomat.He should have treated his Hindu subject kindly and tried to win them over to his side,instead he was harsh to them and imposed unnecessary muslim taxes on them.This proved to be a political blunder and contributed to the fall of the mughal empire.Sikhs & mahattas rose to prominence which untimately led to downfall of mughal’s splendour.Aurangzeb was not a crown prince,Shah Jehan has appointed his eldest son Dara Shikoh as his successor,who was highly educated and has all qualities to be successful king.He could lead mughals to high glory and may be the face of history could be a changed one,as compared to present one.Anyway history cannot be altered and what is done cannot be undone.

  9. I think it is correct that Dara Shukoh would have been a better ruler. But the luck was not on the side of mughals on that issue.

    Aurangazeb was harsh on the hindu subjects, to the level of excluding them from the empire but as long as he was at the throne, there was no fear of dis-integration. He was a strong and an able administrator in spite of the opposition he faced. I think his biggest mistake was to not develop a strong heir to the throne. Maybe he was afraid of developing an internal enemy who could potentially seize the throne from him – the way he did from his father and brothers. The lack of a powerful heir showed in the end – the speed at which the big mughal empire disintegrated after his death was appalling!

    Destination Infinity

  10. […] you are testing the students in History, for example, Instead of asking them to describe Aurangzeb’s war of succession, which implies that the students are expected to reproduce what is there in the text book, ask them […]

  11. I like Humayun most because of his interest in reading
    books is a good habit . He was kind with his people.He
    after being homeless fought another war in which he had less soldier and then too he won that.

  12. i want video not the full history of aurangzeb

  13. director

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