brothers who were set up to kill each other -- 7/21/17

Today's selection -- from Aurangzeb by Audrey Truschke. The great Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, the very one who ruled over India in the 1600s and built the wondrous Taj Mahal, had four sons who each had equal claim to the throne. Because they could all claim the throne, they were destined from birth to a contest that would likely lead to death. His sons were the Mughal princes Dara Shukoh, Aurangzeb, Shah Shuja and Murad, and it was Aurangzeb who prevailed and then ruled over the largest Indian empire of any Mughal emperor for a period of 49 years until his death in 1707:

"A Mughal prince's childhood was character­ized by brotherly rivalry, and Aurangzeb's upbringing proved no exception. From a young age the four sons of Shah Jahan were locked in competition for the Mughal throne. The Mughals inherited a Central Asian custom that all male family members had equal claims to political power. ... Shah Jahan openly favored his eldest son, Dara Shukoh. ...

Emperor Aurangzeb
Mughal India, circa 1660

Portrait of Prince Dara Shikoh

"One morning in September of 1657, Shah Jahan awoke gravely ill and failed to make his daily morning appearance before his subjects at his palatial balcony. ... News of the king's debil­itation spread like wildfire throughout the kingdom. Shopkeep­ers panicked, and looting spiked. Shah Jahan's four sons believed their father was on the brink of death, so they seized the oppor­tunity created by this power vacuum to determine --according to time-honored Mughal practices of force and trickery -- who would be crowned the next emperor of Hindustan.

"Nearly two years passed before the dust of conflict settled and Aurangzeb emerged as the undisputed victor. To ascend the Mughal throne, Aurangzeb outmaneuvered his three brothers­ Dara Shukoh, Shah Shuja, and Murad -- and his father, Shah Jahan. By the time he finished dealing with his immediate fam­ily in the early 1660s, Aurangzeb had executed two of his broth­ers, driven the third out of lndia, and locked away his recovered father in Agra's Red Fort. Aurangzeb alone escaped the violence unscathed to rule over an undivided Mughal kingdom.

Murad Baksh

Mughal Prince Shah Shuja

"European travelers were horrified by the brutal, bloody suc­cession battle that engulfed the Mughal royal family. ...

"Dealing with [his brothers] was child's play compared to the looming question of Shah Jahan, who had re­covered his health by the time Aurangzeb took the throne. In essence, Aurangzeb locked away his father in Agra's Red Fort­ -- some whimsically say with a tantalizing view of his beloved Taj Mahal -- and threw away the key. The fifth Mughal king spent his final seven and half years of life under house arrest, often in the company of Jahanara, his eldest daughter. Many decried Shah Jahan's dethronement and imprisonment, however, and the tragedy of his jailed father vexed Aurangzeb during his early years of rule.

"While it was an accepted Mughal practice for brothers to fight for the throne, overthrowing one's reigning father was considered abhorrent. The chief qazi (Muslim judge) of the Mughal Empire felt so strongly on the matter that he risked imperial wrath and refused to endorse Aurangzeb's ascension while Shah Jahan lived. Aurangzeb dismissed him and hired a more pliable man for the job, Abdul Wahhab. Far beyond India, too, many censured Aurangzeb for his brutality against Shah Jahan."



Audrey Truschke


Aurangzeb: The Life and Legacy of India's Most Controversial King


Stanford University Press


Copyright 2017 by Audrey Truschke


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