Prince Khurram was 35 years old when he ascended the throne as Shah Jahan (King of the World). Succeeding Jahangir in 1627, Shah Jahan enjoyed the support of experienced administrators and advisors — like his father-in-law Asaf Khan — who were holdovers from the previous reign.
Shah Jahan revived Akbar’s policy of pressing southward against the independent Muslim Sultanate of the Deccan. But almost all of his expansion expeditions were unsuccessful. The expenditures resulting from Shah Jahan’s failed attempts at frontier expansion, as well as his insatiable appetite for new and grand architecture, were appreciable factors in the empire’s eventual financial crisis.
During the early years of his reign, Shah Jahan preferred Agra to Delhi as a place of residence. This preference is reflected in his selection of Agra as the site for a number of building ventures including the world’s most famous and beautiful mausoleum, Taj Mahal. Many historians accused Shah Jahan of building the glorious tomb as a tribute to himself and his rule rather than as a tribute to his wife.
Shah Jahan was an exceedingly able man — although less able than his father Akbar and less conscientious than his son Aurangzeb. Endowed with all the qualities required of a medieval Muslim ruler, he was a brave and competent commander; a generous master who treated his servants with respect, dignity and affability; and a far-sighted leader with a strict sense of justice.
War of Sucession
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.
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. Murad 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 Rathore 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.