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Reign of Aurangzeb and decline of empire

The last of the great Mughals was Aurangzeb (r. 1658–1707), who seized the throne by killing all of his brothers and imprisoning his own father. During his fifty-year reign, the empire reached its greatest physical size but also showed the unmistakable signs of decline. The bureaucracy had grown bloated and excessively corrupt, and the huge and unwieldy army demonstrated outdated weaponry and tactics. Aurangzeb was not the ruler to restore the dynasty's declining fortunes or glory. Awe-inspiring but lacking in the charisma needed to attract outstanding lieutenants, he was driven to extend Mughal rule over most of South Asia and to reestablish Islamic orthodoxy by adopting a reactionary attitude toward those Muslims whom he suspected of compromising their faith.

Aurangzeb was involved in a series of protracted wars: against the Pathans in Afghanistan, the sultans of Bijapur and Golkonda in the Deccan, the Marathas in Maharashtra and the Ahoms in Assam. Peasant uprisings and revolts by local leaders became all too common, as did the conniving of the nobles to preserve their own status at the expense of a steadily weakening empire. The increasing association of his government with Islam further drove a wedge between the ruler and his Hindu subjects. Aurangzeb forbade the building of new temples, destroyed a number of existing ones, and reimposed the jizya. A fundamentalist and a censor of morals, he banned music at court, abolished ceremonies, and persecuted the Sikhs in Punjab. These measures alienated so many that even before he died, challenges for power had already begun to escalate. Contenders for the Mughal throne were many, and the reigns of Aurangzeb's successors were short-lived and filled with strife. The Mughal Empire experienced dramatic reverses as regional nawabs or governors broke away and founded independent kingdoms. The Mughals had to make peace with Maratha armies, and Persian and Afghan armies invaded Delhi, carrying away many treasures, including the Peacock Throne in 1739.

Extent of Empire in the late 1600s: the Mughals ruled all but the southern tip of the subcontinent.

Extent of Empire in the late 1600s: the Mughals ruled all but the southern tip of the subcontinent.

 

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