Why did Aurangzeb depose Shah Jahan?

 The reasons for Shah Jahan’s deposition are quite simple to look at. One could assume the rational by factoring in the support he harbored in favor of his eldest son Dara Shikoh. However the reality was a little different. It cannot be said with impunity what Aurangzeb desired to do with Shah Jahan after the battle of Samugarh. His main objective of defeating Dara had been fulfilled. He might have left Shah Jahan alone had Dara been captured at Samugarh. However Dara’s flight kept the uncertainty looming over the destiny of the empire. There was no way Aurangzeb was going to turn back and leave at this point.

The mood in Agra after the Battle of Samugarh
Shah Jahan’s Act of Diplomacy
Intercepted letter from Sha Jahan
Aurangzeb Confinement at Agra


LET the renowned in valor, of high rank, chief of faithful dependants, Mahabut Khan, supported and honored by the imperial bounty—know—that from the instability of fortune, and the treachery of rebels, fatal injuries have occurred to our authority, of which, probably, he has already heard; also of the unworthy conduct they have exer­cised, and still pursue.

My oppressed son, Dara Shikoh, since his defeat has moved towards Lahore; and I know not in this vain world a faithful friend, who, regardless of personal advantages, consults only true honor, except yourself, the worthy son of the great Mahabut Khan. To you, therefore, I disclose the sorrows of my mind, and look for their cure.

When the Khorasaunees had sur­rounded my father Jehaungeer (now in paradise), and deprived him of power; from what distance, and with what rapidity, did not Mahabut Khan hasten to relieve him from the hands of his infer­nal enemies! Having kept him some time under his own control, he gave him renovated power on the throne of empire, and rescued me from the cell of wretchedness and path of trouble, after my father’s death, conducting me to the capital.

The present crisis of affairs is more difficult, and there is no nobleman, but yourself, of experienced conduct and valour, worthy to be intrusted with such important concerns. My beloved Dara will halt at Lahore, where there is no want of money, men, and horses. Can it possibly happen, that Mahabut Khan, at dread of whom mortals tremble, while his sovereign Shah Jehaun is in the hands of traitors, will not fly to his relief, bring the two undutiful rebels (his sons) to the deserved punishment of their actions, and rescue his master from a prison? Surely he will feel that virtuous fame is superior to the treasures of Karoon, and all the honours of an unstable world. I expect this from you, as heroes will thus act.

I have written to my son to trust himself with you, as the restorer of his fortunes, and my deliverer. This world is unsteady, and never was constant to any one; but a good name will always be recorded on the pages of time. How can it be, that Mahabut Khan should bear to see his sovereign in con­finement? and the wretch, who spread the snares of treason, enjoying the throne of empire! If it be possible that you, so distinguished in the state, should connive at such treachery, remember, the day of judgment is near, and I shall be your accuser.

  • All these acts had only one effect. To embolden Aurangzeb to depose of Shah Jahan since there was no way out.
  • Dictated by circumstances beyond his control I conclude Aurangzeb crowned himself in the Shalimar garden outside Delhi in haste devoid of all Mughal customs on the 21st of July 1658.
  • The letter below Aurangzeb wrote to Shah Jahan in agony provides a deep explanation for his actions.



AFTER offering the customary duty and regards, I represent to the sublime audience, that the sacred pages, (wholly written with the auspicious pen) which conferred their honouring arrival by the hands of Matimud Khaun, informed me on the several points contained in them, both in verse and prose. Their contents have induced me, overcome by shame, — though of justifying myself I sensibly feel the difficulty and hardship, and on account of which I have so long declined sending petitions, and shut the door against rumours and hearsay — to offer replies to the various allegations freely and plainly, in order that the real state of affairs may appear, and the necessity of writing again upon the same subjects be done away.

It cannot be unknown to your mind, enlightened as the sun, that I have repeatedly represented, if your majesty would discontinue writing letters to excite disorders which can have no good effect, it would be most beneficial for the country. As your majesty, notwith­standing your profound wisdom and judgment, neglecting the propriety of the request, indignantly declared I must not expect such concession from you, I judged it expedient to close the doors of contention, by ordering the stubborn-backed eunuchs, * the chief promoter of trouble, to my presence.

The verses, transcribed a second time by your pearl-shedding pen, * are just, and applicable to late events.

If your majesty had not in the beginning of the troubles supported the eldest prince, * (whose honour, ability, and piety are perhaps by this time known also to yourself <>* ) had not exalted him to the highest rank and confidence, and, to flatter and appease him, had not chosen to have disgraced your other children; parties would not have been formed among the courtiers, or despair have overcome hope. Most probably, in such case, the flames of contention would not have blazed to such a height, nor all this calamity have occurred. Ah me! my friend and my garments. *

Alas! that I should be accused of having in my former letters written in improper and disrespectful terms to your majesty! God forbid, that even an irreverent thought towards you should enter my mind. Probably, I may have used opprobrious epithets when speaking of my brother; and why should such be understood as disrespectful to your majesty? By what names does not your majesty still call Khoossroo and Perweze,

who departed to the place of non-existence long before the days of your acces­sion to empire, and from whom to you no injury or offence occurred? * If cer­tain persons, whose enmity, past all bounds, who repeatedly opposed me in battle, heaping upon themselves the dis­honour of flight, and the marks of whose wickedness are not yet expunged, * are mentioned by me in a way befitting their deserts, and I cease to name them with ceremony and respect, what crime can be attributed to me? The favoured of the Almighty cannot be disgraced. He is truly great whom God, according to his scripture, (He exalteth whomsoever He chuseth * ) blesseth under his auspices, endoweth with dignity above his contem­poraries and equals, and having prepared for him by his sole bounty the requisites of distinction, rendereth him among mortals respectful and exalted. *

Your humble disciple hath already repeatedly declared to your august audience, that my object in marching towards Agra was not rebellion, or to depose the emperor of Islaum. * The Penetrator of all secrets is my witness, that this unworthy and unlawful idea had never glanced on the mirror of my heart.

As, during the extreme illness of your majesty, the reins of power had dropped from your hands, and the eldest prince (Dara Shikoh) , who had not even the resemblance of a mussulmaun, *

having obtained arbitrary rule and authority, exercised unlimited controul, and revived the customs of infidelity and atheism throughout the empire; thinking it lawful, politic, and just to overthrow his designs, I advanced to these parts. My first battle was with wicked infidels, who had destroyed mosques, and erected on their sites temples to their idols. * The second engage­ment was against the evil-acting atheists; * and, as my intention was virtuous, in each, with an inferior force, I became successful, and preserved without a wound.

As your majesty, then regarding me as a criminal, endeavoured that the prince in disposition like Pharaoh, com­ing again into the field, should reillumine the countenance of atheism, and, in such case, the success of the treacherous would have caused the destruction of the subjects and the empire; I, from necessity, relying upon justice and truth, submitted myself to the heavy burden of govern­ment, the care of the people, and pro­tection of the venerated faith of the prophet; than which objects, the wisest and most virtuous agree, there can be none more meritorious in this world, or which can be better guides to happiness hereafter. *

It was written by your majesty, that seizing the possessions of another was contrary to religion. Surely it cannot be unknown to your mind, expansive as the ocean, that the treasures of kings and rulers are for the good of the state and religion; not a personal property or inheritance. From hence it is, that the zukkaut <>* of such property is not given in charity. The Most High commits them for a time to each of the accepted of his presence, for the support of mankind, and resigns to such chosen agent the reins of government; that dealing with all according to the rules of justice, and regarding the rights of claimants with fairness and integrity, he may consider himself merely as a trustee for the pub­lic good. Perhaps, the learned of this age, from fear or flattery, may not have informed your majesty, that no one can claim the public treasure as his sole property.

To conclude; as it is certain, that no occurrence issues from the conceal­ment of secresy without a divine decree, (which truth is evident to all) what cause is there that this important event, * which certainly was by the will of God, and in which the force and power of individuals had no concern, should be to me matter of obloquy and reproach? It is clear that it could not have happened without the command of the Ruler of the Universe, and the agency of Provi­dence was appointed for me, its forced and hesitating servant.

Your majesty is superior to all in wisdom and penetration; why then, dis­regarding the source of these providen­tial events and divine occurrences, do you look for other causes? Why, sub­mitting yourself to the acts of the Almighty, of whose power this declaration, “God will do what pleaseth him, and command what he willeth,” * is a striking testimony, do you not quit this unavailing path of complaint, full of danger, * that sorrow and mourning may give place to ease and satisfaction; resignation and patience be not lost; or your situation, which cannot be altered, pass away in vain imaginations. Your well known forbearance must be my apologist for this prolixity.