Under Aurangzeb, the Mughal empire reached its greatest territorial limits and it covered almost the whole of present day India. But his reign was marred by popular revolts of the Jats, Satnamis, Afghans, Sikhs and the Marathas.
The Rajputs emerged as an important support base of the Mughals under Akbar, and later on under Jahangir and Shah Jahan. However under Aurangzeb they started feeling alienated and gradually lost their position in administrative set up.
The Marathas posed a major challenge to the sovereignty of the Mughals under Aurangzeb. Deccan states put up a stiff resistance against Mughal expansion plans. The North-West frontier region was also trouble spot and Mughals had to suppress disturbances.
Thus, we notice that in the process of the establishment and expansion of Mughal empire the Mughals faced resistance and had to negotiate their way through diverse means and strategies.
Mewar was the only region in Rajputana that had not come under the Mughals during Akbar’s time. Jahangir followed a persistant policy to capture it. After a series of conflicts, Rana Amar Singh finally agreed to accept Mughal Suzerainty. All the territories taken from Mewar including the fort of Chittor were returned to Rana Amar Singh and a substantial jagir was granted to his son Karan Singh.
During the reigns of Jahangir and Shah Jahan, the Rajputs generally continued to be friendly with the Mughals and held very high mansabs. Shah Jahan relied upon Rajput soldiers for his campaigns in Deccan and the North West. During the reign of Aurangzeb, the Mughal relations with Rajputs suffered, particularly over the issue of the successor to the throne of Marwar.
Aurangzeb’s interference in the succession dispute and his support to the rival candidate antagonised the Rajputs. His occupation of Jodhpur further put a dent on the Mughal-Rajput relation and the Rajputs gradually got alienated from Mughal rule. In fact, the absence of a powerful Rajput section in the nobility ultimately proved detrimental to the Mughal control of the peripheral areas, specially when it came to negotiating with the Marathas.
During the last years of Akbar and early years of Jahangir, Ahmednagar under Malik Ambar started challenging Mughal power. Malik Ambar succeeded in getting support of Bijapur also. A number of expeditions were sent by Jahangir but failed to achieve any success.
During Shahjahan’s reign, Mughal conflict with the Deccan kingdoms of Ahmednagar, Bijapur and Golconda was revived. Aghmednagar was first to be defeated and most of its territories were annexed into Mughal empire. By 1636, Bijapur and Golkonda were also defeated but these kingdom were not annexed to the Mughal Empire.
After a treaty the defeated rulers were to pay annual tributes and recognise Mughal authority. For almost ten years Shahjahan deputed his son Aurangzeb in the region. During Aurangzeb’s reign the struggle with Deccan state and Marathas became more intensive.
In fact, Aurangzeb spent the last twenty years of his reign in Deccan fighting against them. By 1687, the Deccani kingdoms of Bijapur and Golkonda were annexed to the Mughal Empire. However, the time and money spent in the Deccan by Aurangzeb proved a great drain on the Mughal empire.
The Marathas emerged in the Deccan as a vital force under Shivaji in the middle of the 17th century and began to challenge the Mughal authority. Shiviji started his offensive operations in 1656 and captured the principality of Javli. After some time, Shivaji raided the Bijapur territory, and, in 1659, the Sultan of Bijapur sent his general, Afzal Khan, to capture Shivaji.
But Shivaji was too clever for him (Afzal Khan) and kille him. Ultimately, in 1662, the Sultan of Bijapur entered into a peace settlement with Shivaji and acknowledged him as an independent ruler of his conquered territories.
Shivaji now began to devastate the Mughal territories. Aurangzeb sent Shaista Khan, the viceroy of the Deccan, with a big army against Shivaji and the Treaty of Purandhar (1665) was signed between the two. Out of the 35 forts held by Shivaji, he agreed to surrender 23 forts to the Mughals. The remaining 12 forts (with annual income of one lakh of huns) were to be left with Shivaji.
Shivaji was asked to pay a visit to the Mughal court at Agra. But, when Shivaji went there, he was ill-treated and was taken a prisoner. He managed to escape, reaching Raigarh in 1666. From then onwards, he waged a relentless struggle against the Mughals. Soon he conquered all the forts which he had surrendered to the Mughals. In 1670, he plundered Surat for the second time.
In 1674, Shivaji made Raigarh his Capital and celebrated his coronation, and assumed the title of Chatrapati. Shortly, after this, he made a great expedition into southern India and conquered Jinji Vellore and many forts in Karnataka. He died at Raigarh in 1680 after ruling for only six years. In this short time he founded the Maratha kingdom, which dominated western India for a century and a half.
Shivaji’s successor was his son Sambhaji. Many Maratha chiefs did not support Sambhaji and extended help to Rajaram the other son of Shivaji. The internal conflict weakened Maratha power. Finally Sambhaji was captured and put to death in 1689 by Aurangzeb.
Sambhaji was succeeded by Rajaram as his son Sahu was still young. Rajaram died in 1700. He was succeeded by his minor son Shivaji III under the regency of Tara Bai, his mother. The failure of Aurangzeb against the Marathas was largely due to Tara Bai’s energy and administrative genius.
The Mughals, however, succeeded in dividing the Marathas into two rival camps-one under Tara Bai and the other under Sambhaji’s son, Sahu. Sahu, who for long was in the Mughal court, was released. He succeeded in deposing Tara Bai with the help of a Chitpavan Brahman named Balaji Vishwanath.
Akbar had always considered the Kabul-Ghazni-Qandhar line as the stragetic frontier and therefore, captured Qandhar in 1595.
During the 17th century the North-west frontier was the main area of activity of the Mughals. Here, the Roshanais were decisively defeated by 1625-26, but Qandhar became a region of conflict between the Persians and Mughals. After Akbar’s death, the Persians, tried to capture Qandhar but failed under Shah Abbas I, the Safavi ruler.
Following this, Shah Abbas I in 1620 requested Jahangir to hand over Qandhar to him but the latter declined to do so. In 1622, after another attack, Qandhar was captured by the Persians. Under Shah Jahan, Qandhar once again came into the Mughal hands, but was recaptured by the Persians in 1649. The struggle to capture Qandahar continued till Aurangzeb’s reign but Mughals got little success.
Shah Jahan’s Balkh campaign to keep the Uzbeks (tribe) under control failed miserably and the Mughals lost huge amount of money and men in the conflict. During the reign of Aurangzeb, the Qandhar issue was dropped and diplomatic relations with Persia were revived.
It is quite evident that the territorial expansion of Mughal empire achieved under Akbar continued to be the core of the empire. Its further expansion during Aurangzeb’s reign was in Deccan and in small measure in North-East region. During his period the Mughal empire had the largest area. However, the beginning of the decline of the Mughal empire also could be traced to the rule of Aurangzeb. The breaking up of the association with the potent regional forces like the Rajputs and failing relationships with the Deccani states and Marathas shook the unity and stability of the Mughal empire. Under his successors the empire kept disintegrating.