Indian History Part 83 Shah Jahan Section III: The Deccan Campaign

Canberra, 30 November 2020

Prior to Shah Jahan’s accession, Mughal interest in the Deccan had waxed and waned in direct proportion to the stability and turmoil in North India. Akbar had started a concerted effort to bring the Deccan under the Mughal flag and in 1569 had conquered Khandesh. By 1600, parts of Berar had been brought under Mughal rule when the campaign had to be suspended because of the rebellion of Prince Salim, later Emperor Jahangir, in Allahabad. At this stage, the four Shahi kingdoms—successor states to the Bahamani Empire—remained independent. While the Barid Shahs of Bidar were gradually declining into non-entity status, the Nizam Shahs of Ahmadnagar, Adil Shahs of Bijapur and the Qutb Shahs of Golconda remained powerful and ruled flourishing kingdoms. (Details of the rise, decline and fall of the Bahmani Empire and of the four successor Shahi kingdoms are given in an earlier volume of this series of books on Indian history – From Indus to Independence: A Trek through Indian History, Volume VI: Medieval Deccan Kingdoms.)

Ahmadnagar had been invaded, but was only under nominal Mughal control, however the Nizam Shahi territories were shrinking rapidly and minor chieftains controlled most of the outlying districts. Both Bijapur and Golconda, the other two major Shahi kingdoms, ate into Ahmadabad territory, enlarging their own sizeable holdings. During Jahangir’s reign there was no substantial progress in the Deccan, primarily because Malik Ambar, the powerful Nizam Shahi prime minister checked the Mughal advance. He even recovered lost Ahmadnagar territories and drove the Mughals back to their stronghold of Burhanpur. To avoid further loss of territory and salvage sinking Mughal prestige, Jahangir send Prince Shah Jahan to the Deccan. Shah Jahan as the Mughal governor, barely managed to hold the Shahi powers back from further encroachments and saved Mughal prestige to some extent. He set up a short lived truce, which was upset by his own rebellion against Jahangir. The Deccan powers were once again in defiance of Mughal control.     

After his accession to power, like his predecessors, Shah Jahan was anxious to conquer the Deccan kingdoms and make inroads into the Deep South of Peninsular India. However, there was distinct difference in Shah Jahan’s attitude to the Deccan as compared to the earlier emperors. Both Akbar and Jahangir had kept the invasion of Deccan at the purely politico-economic level. Shah Jahan brought an element of religious bias to his invasions, much like what he had done in the north-western provinces and Central Asia. The Shahi kings of the Deccan owed allegiance to the Shah of Persia and were followers of the Shia sect. Shah Jahan wanted to impose orthodox Sunni values and practices in the region and force the Shahi kings to acknowledge him as their overlord. Shah Jahan, because of his previous experience in the region as a governor, was fully aware of the strong and weak points of the Deccan kingdoms. He waited for an opportune moment to interfere in the domestic politics of the Deccan, and turn it into an advantageous for the Mughal Empire.

This opportunity came immediately after the death of Malik Ambar in 1626 and the subsequent elevation to power of his son Fatah Khan. Malik Ambar’s death could also be considered the death knell of the Nizam Shahi kingdom of Ahmadnagar. Fatah Khan, with no trace of the greatness of his father in him and inherently insecure, placed the Nizam Shahi king under arrest and informed the Mughal governor Asaf Khan of the same. Asaf Khan, in connivance with the Emperor, send a message back asking Fatah Khan to execute the Nizam Shahi king. This abhorrent act was willingly, and immediately carried out. The murdered Shah’s 10-year old son, Husain Nizam Shah, was placed on the throne. The Mughals supported this move.

The End of the Nizam Shahi Kingdom of Ahmadabad

With the murder of the king and the accession of a 10-year old, Ahmadabad lapsed into turmoil. The opportunistic neighbours, Bijapur and Golconda, annexed some more Nizam Shahi territories. Taking umbrage at these actions, Shah Jahan instructed Asaf Khan to bring Bijapur under control. Accordingly in 1631, a Mughal force laid siege to Bijapur. The expedition was not well-planned and after 20 days, the Mughal army was running short of supplies. Asaf Khan raised the siege and permitted the army to pillage to countryside. Unhappy with the way the campaign was turning out, Shah Jahan replaced Asaf Khan with the old war horse Mahabat Khan as commander in 1632.

Fatah Khan had been granted few districts as his jagir, in recognition of his role in making Ahmadnagar a Mughal vassal state. Unfortunately some of these districts overlapped with the districts already under the control of the Maratha commander Shahji Bhonsle. Unable to contest the control of the disputed districts, Shahji requested support from the Adil Shah of Bijapur to wrest control of the fort at Daulatabad from Fatah Khan. Fatah Khan obviously turned to the Mughals for assistance and Mahabat Khan send a large army under the command of his son. In a bitterly contested battle, Shahji and the Bijapur forces were defeated. Mahabat Khan now bought off Fatah Khan and his interest in the fort for a sum of 10 lakh rupees (one lakh is equivalent of 100,000). Fatah Khan departed the Deccan for service with the Shah of Persia in June 1633, after having dug the grave for the Nizam Shahi kingdom to be interred—a far cry from the valiant Malik Ambar, his father, who was an epitome of loyalty.

The Mughal standard was raised over Daulatabad, the nominal boy king, Husain Nizam Shah, was incarcerated for life in Gwalior. The Nizam Shahi kingdom of Ahmadnagar ceased to exist. However, the fort at Parenda defied the Mughal army and could not be captured even after a seven-month siege. In the meantime, the Adil Shah withdrew to his own territory.

The Deccan 1635-36

Shah Jahan was disappointed with the final outcome of the Mughal efforts in the Deccan; Bijapur and Golconda remained independent and strong kingdoms. His ardent Sunni heart could not countenance the existence of a Shia stronghold so close to his borders. Further, Shahji, the Maratha commander, set up another young member of the Nizam Shahi family as the alternative king of Ahmadnagar and was waging a guerrilla war in the region. Bijapur once again supported Shahji and provided covert assistance to the rebel Nizam Shahi forces. Shah Jahan decided to deal with this rebellion before it gathered more strength with a vigorous military campaign.

In February 1636, Shah Jahan personally arrived in Daulatabad with an army of 50,000 troops. He initially called upon Bijapur and Golconda to accept Mughal suzerainty and asked them to abstain from any further interference in the affairs of Ahmadnagar. The Qutb Shah of Golconda decided that discretion was the better part of valour and meekly submitted to the Mughal Emperor. He accepted humiliating terms and his behaviour has been variously reported as being servile and unbecoming of the ruler of a rich and powerful kingdom with a powerful and battle-proven army. The Qutb Shah, on instructions from Shah Jahan, removed the name of the Shah of Persia from the regular ‘kutba’ that was read in the kingdom, thereby repudiating Shia influence in his kingdom. Sunni Shah Jahan was satisfied.

Bijapur in the meantime had maintained a diplomatic silence to the Mughal demand and even repeated reminders from Shah Jahan did not elicit any reply. Shah Jahan ordered three of his generals to enter Bijapur territory from three different directions. Vicious battles and skirmishes took place with thousands being killed on both sides. The Mughals carried fire and sword across the countryside, indiscriminately killing all they encountered, both combatants and non-combatants, irrespective of their age and gender. The Bijapur countryside was devastated. Finally a negotiated settlement was arrived at with the Adil Shah accepting Mughal suzerainty, and promising to refrain from interfering in Ahmadnagar, whose territory was divided between the Mughals and Bijapur. Adil Shah was also warned to abstain from creating challenges in Golconda, which was now a Mughal vassal state, almost a protectorate. Further, Bijapur was to withdraw all support that was being provided to Shahji Bhonsle, who was not be entertained at Bijapur.

On his part, the Adil Shah requested Shah Jahan to leave the region, since his presence created fear and anxiety in the people. Heeding this request, Shah Jahan left the Deccan for Mandu on 21 July 1636. The humiliation of Bijapur was complete, when the Adil Shah requested the Mughal Emperor for his portrait so that he could pay his obsequious respect to him daily. These treaties left Shahji in the lurch, with no support from either of the remaining two Shahi kingdoms. He was hounded from fort to fort by the Mughal forces, now aided by Bijapur troops as well. He finally surrendered at the fort of Mahuli in November 1636, along with the puppet Nizam Shah.

Shah Jahan appointed his 18-year old son, Aurangzeb, as the Viceroy of Mughal Deccan. Two decades would pass before Shah Jahan turned back to the Deccan again. For twenty years he was subsumed by the Central Asian Campaign, described in detail in the previous chapter. The individual treaties between the Mughals and Bijapur and Golconda, which lasted for two decades was beneficial to both sides.

The treaties with Bijapur and Golconda—although individually arrived at, could be considered one extended treaty with two parts—together formed an important landmark in the history of the Deccan and the Peninsula, for a number of reasons. They brought to an end the Nizam Shahi kingdom of Ahmadnagar and thereby closed an important chapter in the post-Bahmani history of the Deccan. Of greater importance, they destroyed the precarious balance of power that had existed, thereby gradually shifting the balance in favour of the rising Maratha power. The tightening grip of the Mughals over the Deccan Shahi kingdoms also set the stage for their final annexation—the initiative had passed to the Mughals and the time schedule for annexation was theirs to choose. Bijapur and Golconda recouped in peace for the next two decades; paying their annual tribute to the Mughal Emperor without any sort of delay, gradually building back their depleted strength and increasing their power, while also expanding their territorial holdings in opportunistic ways.

Viceroy Aurangzeb

On being appointed the Viceroy of the Deccan, Aurangzeb was given four provinces to rule—Daulatabad with a number of districts attached with the capital at Ahmadnagar, shifting to Daulatabad at a later stage; Telangana with capital at Nander; Khandesh, which encompassed the entire River Tapti valley, with its capital at Burhanpur; and the province of Berar, south-east of Khandesh with its capital at Ellichpur. This was a large swath of territory, with 64 separate forts and an annual revenue of five crore rupees (one crore is equivalent of ten million in the Indian accounting system).

Aurangzeb was not content to rule what was handed over, but made some significant annexations of his own, although his naked ambition would only become obvious during his second tenure. He reduced and annexed the district of Balgana with its 34 parganas and the famous forts of Salir and Malir. The ruler of Barki submitted voluntarily on being threatened and entered imperial service, Aurangzeb recommending to Shah Jahan that he be given a mansab of 2500 cavalry, which was duly granted.

The Mansabdari System

The Mansabdari System was officially introduced as an administrative tool by Akbar although it was prevalent in an informal manner during the reign of both Babur and Humayun. The basic system is believed to have originated in Mongolia, which may indeed be true.

‘Mansab’ is an Arabic word indicating rank/title or position of an individual in relation to others and Mansabdar is a person who has a mansab bestowed on him. A Mansabdar functioned within the broader administrative system and the mansab not only determined the rank and status of a government official, but also his emoluments. Within this system, there was a sub-system of zat and sawar. Zat accounted for the total number of soldiers under a Mansabdar and sawar indicated the number of cavalry within that force. Grading the Mansabdars was done according to the number of cavalry within his command for military purposes, with the zat providing overall personal grading.

The system was rigorously enforced throughout Akbar’s reign, fully maturing towards the end. However, as with almost all systems that Akbar instituted, decline in their standards started immediately on his death. Gradually the controls of the Mansabdari system were relaxed during Jahangir’s reign and allowed to further atrophy during Shah Jahan’s rule.  Shah Jahan reduced the number of soldiers to be maintained, initially to half, and then to one-third of the original, while the status of the Mansabdar remained the same.     

In March 1644, Shah Jahan’s favourite daughter, Jahanara normally referred to as Begum Sahib, was badly burned when her clothes caught fire from a candle. Even though she was given up for dead a number of times, she recovered after nine months of treatment. Aurangzeb went to Agra in May to visit his sister. After three weeks of his reaching Agra, for some inexplicable reason, Shah Jahan dismissed him from the viceroyalty of the Deccan and also removed his titles and rank. Two reasons have been put forward for this highly erratic action, although neither can be varified. One was that Shah Jahan disapproved of the life of a religious hermit that Aurangzeb had started to adopt; and the second that Dara Shikoh’s jealousy and distrust of his efficient and capable younger brother made him poison his father’s mind against Aurangzeb. It is correctly recorded that Dara went to great lengths to humiliate Aurangzeb and put him down whenever an opportunity arose. It is also said that while in Agra, Aurangzeb realised the unbridgeable gap that existed between him and his father and brother, and the futility of continuing as the viceroy, and therefore resigned. Analysing the situation it seems more probable that he was fired by Shah Jahan on the instigation of Dara Shikoh.

In February 1645, Aurangzeb was restored to favour upon the insistence of Jahanara and appointed the governor of Gujarat. His governorship was a great success, providing visible proof of his ability and energy, much to Dara’s annoyance. In 1647, Aurangzeb was send as the governor of Balkh and Badakhshan, in a hurried move to contain the turmoil in the region. (Details of his tenure in Balkh has been chronicled in the previous chapter.) On Shah Jahan’s insistence, Aurangzeb re-assumed charge of the Deccan as its viceroy in November 1653, after being away from the region for nine years. During this period, the Mughal Deccan had been ruled by six different viceroys and the region had been driven down to dire straits. The succession of viceroys had levied heavy taxes without providing any support for the farmers, with the result that vast tracts of land remained uncultivated and the revenue had dropped considerably. With recurring deficits, the financial situation was extremely serious—only a quarter of the calculated revenue was being collected, and that too not regularly. In fact, the administrative cost for the Deccan was being met by contribution from Gujarat and Malwa.

Aurangzeb took charge. The first step was to request the Emperor to transfer the productive jagirs of the region to his direct control, since they were being mis-managed and used only for personal purposes by the current owners. Protests were immediately lodged with Shah Jahan, but Aurangzeb explained the situation to his father, and the Emperor confirmed the transfer. However, the dispossessed jagirdars created a rift between father and son, insinuating to Shah Jahan that they had been ill-treated. Even though Shah Jahan questioned Aurangzeb, the prince continued his reforms. He managed to get the financial situation under control and then turned to ameliorating the condition of the farmers as a long-term solution to the problem. These reforms were slow in showing results and Shah Jahan, far removed from the Deccan and unaware of the challenges, even accused Aurangzeb of lack of zest, when the complete opposite was the case. Once again, this was a false accusation, planted in the Emperor’s mind by people with vested interests in showing Aurangzeb in a bad light to Shah Jahan.

The long and devastating wars had destroyed the social fabric and agro-based economic system of the Deccan; driven away the peasants and left a desolate trail of abandoned villages and uncultivated farms. In the medieval Indian sub-continent, the peasant-farmers did not hold any allegiance to the land that they cultivated and thought nothing of packing their meagre belongings and moving to new lands if the current one became uncultivable. Abandoned villages were the norm of the day. Aurangzeb now started to address this challenge, which was at the core of the financial ruin of the Deccan. He was ably assisted in this task of bringing financial viability to the Mughal Deccan by Murshid Quli Khan Khurasani. Murshid had come to Mughal service from Kandahar, had served in the Punjab and then been made the Diwan, Prime Minister, initially of Balaghat and then Payan Ghat. Thus he was well-versed with the unique challenges of the region, while also being an extremely skilled revenue officer.

Murshid Khan devised a system of revenue administration that made him famous in the Deccan. His system was favourably compared to the innovative revenue system that Raja Todar Mal had devised earlier for North India.

Murshid Quli Khan’s Revenue Modernisation

To start with, Murshid Khan introduced an extended system of survey and revenue assessment for the entire Mughal Deccan. He then divided the region into two main parts: Balaghat, or the high lands, consisting of Khandesh and half of Berar; and Payan Ghat, or the low lands, which incorporated all the remaining territory.

The two parts were controlled by individual Diwans, who were placed in-charge of revenue collection. The revenue assessment itself was a slightly modified version of the Todar Mal model. Each individual land holding was measured and as a general rule the share of the state was fixed at one-fourth of the aggregate produce. Thereafter, the land was further classified into three different variations. One, retaining the old system of determining state’s share by the plough; two, a system called ‘batai’, where the state’s share was determined by local conditions, normally being set at half where cultivation was dependent on rainfall, and one-third of total produce where well-irrigation was required; and three, called ‘Jarib’ where the state’s share was fixed dependent on the type of crop and land area.

A hierarchical system of revenue collection officers was created flowing down from the two Diwans, the lowest level being the village ‘muqaddam’ doubling as the collection officer and also as the welfare representative of the peasants. Loans were advanced to the farmers who were permitted to repay them in instalments. Murshid Khan’s zest to implement a good system was such that he is reported to have himself undertaken physical labour to measure and classify the lands. The strict implementation of the reformed system improved conditions in the Deccan and brought about prosperity. 

Aurangzeb’s Deccan Policy

The fundamental objective of the Mughals—starting from Akbar onwards—had always been the destruction of the Shahi kingdoms and the imposition of Mughal sovereignty in the Deccan. On arrival for his second tenure, Aurangzeb – no more the callow and inexperienced youth who had taken over the viceroyalty nine years ago but a battle hardened commander and efficient administrator – was appalled at the manner in which Bijapur and Golconda had grown in power and had become virtually independent once again. After having put the administration and revenue collection in good shape, Aurangzeb turned his attention to dealing with the two Shahi kingdoms. His instinct was to invade and annex them to the Mughal Empire.

Accordingly, he started to look for reasons to invade Bijapur and Golconda, one at a time. He found the following reasons sufficient cause to initiate military action against them.

  • Both the kingdoms followed the Shia sect of Islam and owed allegiance to the Shah of Persia, ignoring the Mughal Emperor; an intolerable situation.
  • Since they had signed a treaty of peace and vassalage earlier, their continued allegiance to the Shah was objectionable and could not be condoned. Such behaviour was only understandable in fully independent kingdoms, which in Mughal eyes, they were not.
  • Golconda was to pay an annual tribute to the Mughals as per the old treaty, which was in arrears by this time. However, there was no annual tribute due from Bijapur, whose peace treaty was different.
  • Both the kingdoms had become extremely wealthy and Aurangzeb lusted after their wealth in order to fortify his own position in the Deccan.

There was also an unacknowledged reason for Aurangzeb wanting to crush the Shahi kings—both of them were on friendly terms with Dara Shikoh in Agra, who Aurangzeb now detested. Dara was also manoeuvring to ensure that he was in a strong position for the succession struggle that he knew was inevitable at a later stage. Therefore, he was surreptitiously strengthening Bijapur and Golconda as counterpoints to the growing power of Aurangzeb in the Deccan. When Aurangzeb took over the Deccan for the second time, he realised that both Golconda and Bijapur were permitted to communicate directly with the Emperor, without having to keep the Viceroy informed and effectively by-passing him. This granted both the kingdoms almost complete autonomy in the region. Aurangzeb had pointed out this lacuna to the Emperor, but Shah Jahan did not deem it necessary to rectify the problem, in all probabilities at the insistence of Dara Shikoh. The arrangement of receiving information from, and passing instructions to, the Shahi kings directly, without having to keep Aurangzeb in the communications loop, suited Dara’s purpose.

The Humiliation of Golconda

Aurangzeb demanded that Abdullah Quli Qutb Shah, ruling Golconda, pay the arrears that was due to the Mughal treasury as part of the annual indemnity agreed upon in the earlier peace treaty. The alternative given was for Golconda to cede some territory in lieu. There was an additional issue that Aurangzeb raised—Qutb Shah had invaded the Carnatic and captured territory without the express permission of the Mughal Emperor; Aurangzeb wanted the Golconda ruler to pay a large sum of money as atonement for this default. Even after raising these issues, Aurangzeb waited for the right opportunity to commence military action. The opportunity arose when the Prime Minster of Golconda, Mir Jumla, having fallen out with his king, approached Aurangzeb for help.

Mir Muhammad Said a.k.a Mir Jumla

Mir Jumla is one of the most colourful Persian characters to rise to prominence in the Indian sub-continent. He first arrived in India as a personal attendant of a rich Persian merchant and subsequently managed to set himself up independently in Golconda. He astutely mixed business and politics and rose to become the Prime Minister, taking full advantage of a liaison with the Queen Mother.

After having enriched himself through dubious means, he spearheaded the Qutb Shahi invasion of the Carnatic. However, he kept the territories that were conquered as his personal ‘jagir’ without having them seamlessly annexed to the greater Golconda kingdom.  

Aurangzeb presented Mir Jumla to the Emperor and ensured that he was granted a mansab. When Qutb Shah imprisoned Mir Jumla’s son Amin for open insolence in court, Aurangzeb sought Shah Jahan’s permission to invade Golconda; a request that was readily granted. Aurangzeb was ambitious, was fired by religious fanaticism against the Shias, and also the lure of treasure. He declared war on Golconda. Abdullah Qutb Shah did not have any avenue open to avoid direct conflict with the Mughals.

On 10 January 1656, Aurangzeb send his son Prince Muhammad with a large army to invade Golconda, he himself following soon after. In the meanwhile, the Qutb Shah had send a letter direct to the Emperor offering his submission and his willingness to pay homage to the Mughal. However, neither did the Emperor deem it necessary to inform Aurangzeb of this missive nor to rein him in; while on his part Aurangzeb, if he knew of the Qutb Shah’s submission, which he most certainly did, also did not think it was of any consequence—he was set on conquest. He continued the invasion and Prince Muhammad went on to sack the Golconda kingdom’s capital of Hyderabad, while the Qutb Shah retreated rapidly to his stronghold of the Golconda fort itself. Aurangzeb followed him to the fort and laid siege.

Qutb Shah started to send large amounts of money to Aurangzeb, requesting peace—the money was accepted but peace was not granted. At his wits end, the Golconda king now asked for assistance from the Adil Shah of Bijapur. Aurangzeb send an urgent message to Shah Jahan requesting him not to provide any succour to Golconda and continued his siege of the fort. However, Shah Jahan, no doubt influenced by Dara and Jahanara, ordered Aurangzeb to cease hostilities against the Qutb Shah and accept the payment of a heavy indemnity by Golconda.

The negotiator for the truce from Golconda was Abdullah’s mother, the dowager queen. The conditions for the truce were heavily weighted against Golconda—Abdullah Qutb Shah promised to pay a crore of rupees as indemnity; acknowledged the suzerainty of Emperor Shah Jahan instead of the Shah of Persia; and agreed to give his daughter in marriage to Prince Muhammad. Unconfirmed reports state that Abdullah Qutb Shah promised Aurangzeb that Muhammad would be made heir apparent since he, Abdullah, did not have any male children. In the meantime, Dara Shikoh had appraised his father of the cruel manner in which Aurangzeb had conducted the Golconda campaign. It is reported that Shah Jahan was moved to indignity by the reports of his son’s cruelty, although no action to remedy the situation seems to have been initiated.

There is no doubt that Aurangzeb conducted the campaign with low cunning and even treachery—the reason for the invasion itself being trumped up or exaggerated charges. Further, he did not display even an iota of generosity towards a completely defeated adversary who had been repeatedly suing for peace. This was a portent of things to come. The humiliation of Golconda was complete with the dowager queen having to conduct the negotiations on her son’s behalf, almost an unprecedented step in medieval times. From this time forward Golconda remained a vassal state of the Mughal Empire.

The Grinding Down of Bijapur

In the two decades after arriving at a truce with the Mughal Empire, Bijapur had prospered. Its territory had extended west to the Konkan coast, south into Mysore and east into the deep Carnatic—the kingdom was territorially straddling the peninsula from coast to coast. The ruler Muhammad Adil Shah, had studiously avoided giving offence to the Mughals and made all attempts to maintain cordial relations with Shah Jahan. However, Shah Jahan was offended by the independent spirit displayed by the Adil Shah, as well as reports of the pomp and ceremony in the Bijapur court and send a message regarding his annoyance. Muhammad Adil Shah was a sagacious ruler and mindful of the welfare of his subjects. He immediately send an apology to Shah Jahan with the express purpose of avoiding the carnage that would follow a Mughal invasion. Even so, in his agenda Aurangzeb had made Bijapur the next kingdom to be invaded, again waiting for an opportune moment to set in motion his plans.

Muhammad Adil Shah died in November 1656, and was succeeded to the throne by his 18-year old adopted son, Ali Adil Shah II. Some amount of disorder occurred on Muhammad’s death, which was normal for the times. Aurangzeb seized on a spurious rumour that since Ali Adil was adopted, his claim to the throne was tenuous and requested Shah Jahan for permission to invade Bijapur. Permission was hastily granted, with the Emperor paying scant heed to the existing mutual treaty of peace signed in 1636.

Aurangzeb was set on annexation of this prosperous and stable kingdom. He pushed aside wiser counsel to deal leniently with Bijapur and accept a heavy indemnity that the Adil Shah would pay to avoid a Mughal invasion. Aurangzeb summoned Mir Jumla to be with him, in order to take advantage of the Persian’s knowledge of the local terrain. To put it bluntly, the war was patently unjust in more ways than one.

A reputed historian of Aurangzeb’s life describes the causus belli as: ‘The war thus sanctioned was wholly unrighteous. Bijapur was not a vassal state, but an independent and equal ally of the Mughal Emperor, and the latter had no lawful right to confirm or question the succession in Bijapur. The true reason of the Mughal interference was the helplessness of the boy-king and the discord among his officers, which presented a fine “opportunity” for annexation, as Aurangzeb expressed it.’

Jadunath Sarkar,

History of Aurangzeb, p. 237.

In 1657, as soon as Mir Jumla joined him, Aurangzeb set in motion the invasion of Bijapur. As was his normal practice, he opened the campaign in his usual insidious manner—offering bribes openly to any Bijapur officer who defected with a minimum of 100 soldiers. Aurangzeb gave three official reasons for the invasion.

  • Bijapur had not paid tribute to the Mughal Emperor and so was in arrears; a patently false claim since Bijapur was not a vassal state and was not required by any treaty obligations to pay tribute or annual indemnity to the Mughals.
  • Bijapur had been hostile to the Mughals since it had started to assemble an army to assist Golconda. The army had not been fully assembled, nor had it left Bijapur territory. It is not even clear that the Adil Shah intended to send the force to Golconda. Therefore, this argument was also spurious.
  • Bijapur had encroached on Mir Jumla’s territory. The territory in question was the region captured in the Carnatic by Mir Jumla on the Qutb Shah’s order and then had kept it for himself. The land actually belonged either to the old Vijayanagara Empire or to Golconda, the Mir Jumla had no claim on it.

None of the reasons given stand up to scrutiny and were false accusations that could not be corroborated even in part. The Mughal Viceroy had no reason to invade the kingdom of an ally, other than to satisfy his own ego and ambition and to gather wealth. Aurangzeb was building his power for the inevitable succession struggle that he knew he had to win, if he was to stay alive. The apex of the Mughal dynasty, for all its pomp and ceremony, its imperial pretensions and its unimaginable wealth, had deteriorated morally and ethically to the standards of common dacoits and freebooters.

The progress of the march towards Bijapur was slow, averaging only about nine kilometres per day. It took 43 days for the army to cover the 386 kilometres from Aurangabad to Bidar, the first Bijapur fort to be besieged. Despite a spirited defence put up by the Bijapur forces, the numerical superiority of the Mughals prevailed in the end and the fort fell after 27 days. Aurangzeb collected 12 lakh rupees and moved forward. The Bijapur forces made their next stand at Gulbarga and Kalyani. Two major battles were fought with casualties suffered on both sides. The final end-result favoured the Mughals, their superiority in numbers once again holding sway. When all other factors that influence a battle—bravery, tactics, command—are all equal, invariably numerical superiority becomes a deciding element. There was nothing dashing or heroic about these Mughal victories. These were slow, plodding, calculated campaigns that ground forward inexorably, sweeping aside the smaller foes in front of it, a hallmark of all Aurangzeb’s campaigns. The jaunty flamboyance and rapid cavalry manoeuvre that symbolised classic Mughal battles had vanished forever.

With Kalyani captured, the Mughal forces continued their grinding down of Bijapur resistance, which most of the time was spirited and even heroic. Preparations to march on Bijapur was underway when Emperor Shah Jahan ordered a halt to the campaign, no doubt once again influenced by Dara Shikoh. He also feared the onset of the Monsoon, which could strand the large army in enemy territory without adequate supplies. Although unhappy with the orders, Aurangzeb obeyed and made peace with the Adil Shah who paid one and one-half crore rupees as indemnity and also surrendered the forts at Bidar, Kalyani and Parenda to the Mughals. Shah Jahan further ordered Aurangzeb to return to Bidar and then withdraw. Aurangzeb was completely dissatisfied, but complied with the imperial order, returning to Bidar and then to Aurangabad in January 1658. These orders were the last important acts and decisions that Shah Jahan took as the emperor.

Concluding Comments

It would seem that Shah Jahan had not fully appreciated Aurangzeb’s achievements in the Deccan—reached through diplomacy, courage, cunning and outright treachery. By the end of the Bijapur campaign, Aurangzeb was a powerful Viceroy in his own right, although he obeyed the Emperor in all aspects, even if reluctantly. Irrespective of the reasons for the invasion, in Bijapur he was on the brink of another military triumph, a remarkable achievement. There is ample reason for him to have felt frustrated, especially knowing that the Emperor’s decisions were being influenced by his eldest brother Dara.

Dara Shikoh, although informally anointed as the preferred successor to Shah Jahan, and also the eldest of the siblings, could not afford to let Aurangzeb win too many laurels in the Deccan, where Aurangzeb had by now become almost an independent king. The precedent for succession, of a veritable bloodbath, which Shah Jahan had set on coming to the throne was now haunting Dara. To add to the uncertainty, Aurangzeb was completely estranged from his father and elder brother.

By 1658, it was clear to even casual observers that at the culmination of Shah Jahan’s reign, a war of succession would eventuate. When it did take place, the responsibility for the civil war must be shared equally by Dara Shikoh and Aurangzeb—one the apple of his father’s eye and the anointed successor; the other an over-zealous puritan, suffering from deeply ingrained feelings of rejection. Aurangzeb’s pent up frustration and full fury at his perceived rejection, his hate and indignation would burst out and overwhelm the Mughal dynasty during the on-coming war of succession.

As an aside to the gathering storm of momentous events, a little mentioned event that would have great impact on the events to come, was also taking place simultaneously. While the Bijapur campaign was in full-swing, another player entered the fray—an intrepid Maratha captain, Shahji Bhonsle’s son, Shivaji. While Aurangzeb was busy concentrating on the Bijapur campaign, he had ‘rampaged’ through the territories to the rear of the Mughal army. For the Mughal viceroy he was only a minor irritant at that time, easily swatted away to the mountains by a punitive Mughal force. In 1658, none of the major players were even slightly aware of the role that Shivaji was destined to play, and the long-term influence of his actions, on the larger canvas of the unfolding Indian history.

© [Sanu Kainikara] [2020]
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About Sanu Kainikara

Sainik School Kazhakuttam (Kerala), National Defence Academy 39/A, 108 Pilot's Course IAF, fighter pilot, QFI, FCL, psc, HACC, Voluntary Retirement as Wing Commander. Canberra-based Defence Analyst specialising in air power and national security. PhD in International Politics from University of Adelaide Executive Masters in Public Adminsitration (ANZSOG) Adjunct Professor, University of New South Wales, Distinguished Fellow Institute For Regional Security (IFRS) Distinguished Fellow Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS)

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