War of Succession After Shah Jahan - Informative & researched article on War of Succession After Shah Jahan
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Home > Reference > History of India > Medieval History of India > Mughal Dynasty > Mughal Emperors > Shah Jahan > War of Succession After Shah Jahan
War of Succession After Shah Jahan
War of Succession after Shah Jahan was a bloody battle between the fours sons of the Emperor- Shah Shuja, Dara Shikoh, Murad and Aurangzeb - for seizing the throne of the Mughal Empire. In this war, Aurangzeb ultimately emerged successful.
 War of Succession After Shah JahanWar of Succession after Shah Jahan was a fierce battle waged by the sons of the Emperor in order to seize the Mughal throne. The Emperor Shah Jahan fell seriously ill on 17 November 1657. When he revived, and because of the emotions caused by his discomfort, he ordered the fortress doors closed, telling his Rajputs under the command of Jaswant Singh of Jodhpur and Ram Singh to guard them. He received only Jahanara and Dara Shikoh, and even they did not have permission to remain in the palace, and he made his courtiers swear fidelity on the Holy Quran, for he feared being deposed. In Lahore, Agra and Delhi, Dara enrolled men under his banner. Alarmist rumours that the emperor had died and his death was being concealed flared up again and again in the Delhi bazaar, which had to be closed for three days.

The news reached Shah Shuja. He immediately gathered a force of 40,000 cavalry and a powerful infantry and marched towards Delhi with intent to capture the throne. However, the emperor recovered. At Dara's instigation, Shah Jahan sent a letter to his son telling him so, but Shuja's advisers told him this might only be a ruse and urged him to continue his march towards the capital. In retaliation, the Emperor sent Suleman Shikoh with a strong force against him. Though very courageous and intelligent, he lacked field experience and was therefore backed by Raja Jai Singh of Jaipur and Daler Khan the Pathan. They laid an ambush for Shah Shuja and the prince walked into it. His force was routed and he barely managed to escape, abandoning his combat elephants, artillery, and men.

When Aurangzeb, in the Deccan, heard the rumours of the death of the emperor, he began to consider what action he should take, but, being an experienced strategist, he bided his time. Murad Bakhsh's initial reaction, on the other hand, was to gather a small army and rush to his father's aid. He suspected someone had tried to poison him. Aurangzeb realized that whatever course events took, he would become involved in the conflict, so he took measures to ensure a temporary peace in his province. He struck an agreement with Shivaji Bhonsle to ensure he would remain neutral and not rampage the province in his absence. In return the Maratha rebel demanded a share of the revenue of the Deccan, and it is said he had the pact inscribed on a golden tablet. The emperor, frightened by the news that his third son was also getting ready to attack the capital, returned to Agra, and Dara wrote a threatening letter to Aurangzeb warning him against committing treason.

Aurangzeb's next move was to win Murad's confidence. He wrote to him suggesting an alliance. He averred that he had decided to support the claim of his youngest brother to the throne because of his zeal for the Holy Quran, and that he had long since renounced the world and had made a solemn vow to end his days in Mecca. On a more practical level, he also sent Murad a war chest to help finance his troops, which would seem to indicate that he was actively encouraging Murad to join the fray. Murad thanked his brother and congratulated him for his 'prudence' in supporting him and the zeal he had shown in this regard. He promised to maintain his family, as was his princely prerogative, and agreed that his other brothers would destroy the religion if they gained power. Aurangzeb overwhelmed the naive Murad with flattery to the point of bewitching him. After this, Murad, intoxicated by these compliments, completely trusted his elder brother.

The Imperial family by then was irrevocably split apart. This internal conflict also put other branches of the family in grievous dilemmas. Leaving Moazzam Shah in Aurangabad, Aurangzeb left his capital on 5 February 1658, reaching Burhanpur thirteen days later. On 20 March he imprisoned his father-in-law, who had tried to oppose him. By 3 April he crossed the Narmada River with his troops. Murad Bakhsh had left Gujarat with 70,000 cavalry, and the two joined up on the banks of Lake Ujjain. They halted at Dharmatpur in the heavy heat of April. On 20 April they encountered and defeated Jaswant Singh's Rajput force.

Then the two armies had to cross the deep and turbulent Chambal River. They found a ford at a place called Kanira, but Siphur Shikoh ambushed them while they were crossing and they lost 5,000 men by drowning and to the young prince's guns. Finally, on 29 May 1658, at Sambugarh, eight miles east of Agra, the two armies confronted each other. Dara had been raising his army since 11 May. He had been able to gather a force of 30,000 cavalry, 20,000 infantry and musketeers, and 200 European artillery men. Transportation and supplies were carried by elephants and 500 camels. The army was a combination of butchers, barbers, carpenters, blacksmiths- in short, inexperienced men and many of the nobles had deserted because they were disappointed by Dara. However, he was better aided by his allies and generals. Khalilullah Khan commanded 30,000 Mughals, Ram Singh Rathore had 15,000 Rajputs, and Rustam Khan, 15,000 cavalry. They camped on the banks of the Yamuna River, between Agra and the joint armies of his two brothers.

War of Succession After Shah Jahan Aurangzeb, accompanied by his son Mohammad Sultan, had fewer troops, 30,000, but they were more experienced. His ally Bahadur Khan commanded 15,000 cavalry, and Najabat Khan led 15,000 archers and musketeers. Murad Khan, riding on top of a high tower perched on his elephant, supported him with Rajputs, 50,000 armed cavalry, and artillery. He had taken along his youngest son, who was still just a child.

Dara made the mistake of letting the two armies settle down because his astrologers had advised against attacking before daytime. At sunrise, Aurangzeb's officers Asalat Khan, Safshi Khan, and Sheikh Mir launched the attack. Their troops encircled Dara's, who stood their ground. The Rajputs entered the fray fearlessly. They rushed into battle and were mown down by Aurangzeb's artillery. Ram Singh lay dead on the battlefield. Dara's archers responded by launching a rain of arrows. On the other side, Khalilullah advised Dara to descend from his elephant because up there he was too exposed to arrows, like Murad, and to take a horse and fight. Dara did this, but when the nobles and soldiers saw him dismounting, they thought he was abandoning the battle and were stricken with panic and started to abandon their posts. Dara's decision to come down from his howdah was a disaster. Dara and Siphur Shikoh managed to escape. Aurangzeb sent 4,000 Afghan cavalrymen after them, but they were able to reach Delhi. Shah Jahan had advised his son to flee Agra and go to Delhi, which was easier to defend. Helped by Jahanara, he provided his son with a war treasury, then Dara fled and became a fugitive.

Still united, Aurangzeb and Murad marched towards Agra and, halted near Mathura, fifty miles from Agra, where they camped in the green Bagh i Dara, in a hunting pavilion. Here they received a visit from Jahanara. She had brought a message from the Emperor which stated that while he was alive they should not try to take the throne as it was not appropriate. They should instead show him their respect and submit themselves to his wishes. This drew an indignant reply from Aurangzeb, who pointed out how Dara had always worked to alienate them from Shah Jahan and accused him of having violated the Shariah. He recalled that his father had occupied the throne for thirty-two years, peacefully and generously, but he was now seventy years old and his faculties no longer functioned properly. As he was not able to perform his duties of administration and supervision satisfactorily, for the sake of his subjects it was now incumbent on the two brothers to replace him. A very embittered Jahanara returned immediately to her father and reported that the princes demanded his abdication.

Negotiations were then begun on Aurangzeb's initiative. He first sent his eunuch Fahim to negotiate with his father, but these talks failed, so he sent his son, hoping he would be able to convince him. Meanwhile, according to the chronicler Ishwardas Nagar, Aurangzeb had one cannon placed on Jahanara's mosque and another on Dara Shikoh's house on the banks of the Yamuna River, and ordered them to be fired. After three days and three nights, they destroyed the fort's artillery. Seeing his defences shattered, Shah Jahan commanded the Tartar, Uzbek, and Afghan guards as well as the Turkish and Abysinnian slaves to defend him, about fifteen thousand troops in total. He then tried, unsuccessfully, to draw Aurangzeb to enter the fort so that he could have him assassinated by his guards.

Mir Jumla's sons, Shaista Khan and Amin Khan, welcomed the prince as he advanced to a position near the Taj Mahal, opposite the fort of Agra, which Shah Jahan had left to his commander, Itibar Khan, to defend. Aurangzeb then sent a messenger to the master of the artillery, ordering him to surrender. As mentioned earlier, the commander had consulted the prince's horoscope, which showed that he was going to be victorious. So he fired to save his honour, but it is said he used blanks. Mohammad Sultan entered the fort with some cavalry, closed the arsenals and magazines, imprisoned the servants, and put people he could rely on in their place. All the noblemen submitted to the two princes, and Shah Jahan's rule was over.

After the two brothers won their victory in Sambugarh, they went to Mathura, to the Bagh i Dara, where Murad tended to the terrible arrow wounds on his face, and while he was thus laid up, Aurangzeb dealt with matters arising from their success. Aurangzeb invited his brother to dinner which he accepted although his eunuch and other officers expressed their suspicions about this hospitality. When Murad arrived, his brother treated him with eagerness and grace. He invited Murad to spend the night at his place where he was later overpowered by the Prince's men in his sleepy and intoxicated condition and bound with golden chains. He was first temporarily imprisoned in Salimgarh, which was guarded by four thousand soldiers, and transferred to Gwalior on 25 June. Shah Shuja was defeated by Aurangzeb's forces at Khwaja on 9 January 1659; after that he mysteriously disappeared. After a long chase, on 9 June 1659 Dara and his son Siphur were captured and Dara was beheaded and killed. The victorious Aurangzeb ascended the throne on 23 May 1658. On 8 June, Shah Jahan, Jahanara, and some other family members were made virtual prisoners in the palace at Agra.

(Last Updated on : 23/01/2012)
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