It is extremely important for us to analyze the history of dynastic succession in India and other contemporary empires vis-ŕ-vis the Mughals. We shall look at kings / leaders / monarchs from five dynasties namely the ancient Kuru, Hariyanka, Mauriyan, Safavid and the Ottomans.

Show: History of dynastic succession

Kingship counts no Kinship

Let us now focus our attention on the Mughal Dynasty. We shall first look at the Taimuri tradition followed by the events which shaped the fate of each Mughal emperor.

    Taimuri tradition of succession
    Shah Jahan

 Taimuri tradition of succession:

The Mughals were the descendents of Taimur. Their adoption of the Taimurid tradition of succession is particularly noteworthy despite its obvious historic and political failures. Since the time of Gengis Khan the Central Asian practice was to distribute the kingdom amongst the sons. Timur himself had divided his territories between Pir Muhammad, Miran Shah, Khalil Sultan and Shah Rukh, which ultimately resulted in an inter-family warfare.



  • Babur had divided the empire between his two elder sons Humayun and Kamran.
  • Humayun is the first Mughal emperor who had to deal with the issue of succession with his brothers Kamran, Askari and Hindal.
  • Babur had wished to Humayun on his death bed “Do nothing against your brothers, even though they may deserve it”.
  • In this retrospect Humayun can easily be classified as the most exceptional Mughal Emperor who knowing well the dangers and pitfalls of a blind approach nevertheless kept his promise against all odds and rational sense.
  • Some attribute this to his weakness but the later day events disapprove of this hypothesis.
  • So great was his tolerance of kin that when his youngest brother Hindal rebelled, in response he went to the house of his sister Gulbadan begum and took oath on the Quran that he will not fight Hindal and that he forgave him.
  • All throughout his early life his brothers Kamran, Askari and Hindal plotted with anticipation his downfall by even conniving with his formidable foe Sher Shah Suri.
  • The ultimate price Humayun paid for his leniency was the loss of the Mughal throne in India to Sher Shah and the refugee status in Safavid Iran.
  • It was here that he had a change of heart and realized the dept of his errors.
  • With the support of Shah Tahmasp’s forces he marched out against his brother Askari in Qandahar and defeated him.
  • Askari was sent off to Hajj and died en route.
  • Next he marched against Kamran in Kabul and defeated him also.
  • Hindal by now had joined Humayun in his wars against Kamran and died fighting.
  • Kamran’s natural course of treachery would lead him once again to establish an alliance with Ismail Shah, Sher Shah’s successor.
  • However he was unsuccessful and captured by the Gakhars who promptly handed him over to Humayun.
  • Humayun this time had him blinded and sent off to Hajj where even he died en route.
  • With all of his brothers now dead Humayun could concentrate on consolidating his empire once again in India.
  • The death of Ismail Shah on the close heels of his father Sher Shah opened the obvious Pandora’s Box of succession fights between the Surs.
  • Realizing this golden opportunity his forces under the able general Bairam Khan re-captured Delhi and hence consolidated their position on the throne of India.
  • It is an irony that the benefit exploited by Sher Shan to oust Humayun from India ultimately became the reason for the downfall of his successors as well.



  • The succession of Akbar was exceptional owing to the sudden death of his father Humayun at his tender age.
  • Akbar’s rule was heavily infested with intra family feuds for the control of the throne in various times. We can briefly divide it into 3 phases.
  • Akbar was only 14 years old when he was placed on the throne under the guardianship of Humayun’s most trusted general Bairam Khan.
  • Akbar was under the heavy influence of his power ambitious foster mother Maham Agha and her son Adham Khan.
  • The first clash of his rule led to the undignified displacement of Bairam Khan who was actually a victim of Maham Agha’s conspiracy.
  • With Bairam Khan sent away to Hajj Adham Akbar’s foster brother started showing his treacherous ambitions.
  • In a series of events Adhams disloyalty to Akbar was growing beyond tolerance.
  • The final blow came when Adham killed Akbar’s favorite Prime Minister Shamsuddin Ahmad Ghaznavi.
  • Akbar rushed to the spot caught Ahdham red handed and ordered his execution by having him thrown off the ramparts of the Agra Fort twice.
  • With this ended Akbar’s initial consolidation of power.
  • In the next phase Akbar had to deal with his half brother Hakim Mirza who rebelled from Kabul and marched towards Punjab. The role of the religious lobby in supporting Hakim Mirza against the policies of Akbar cannot be ignored here.
  • Akbar marched out against him, defeated him and pardoned him.
  • Thereafter he left the governorship of Kabul in the able hands of his half sister Bakhtunnisa Begum.
  • Akbar also warned Hakim that next time he will not be forgiven
  • Hakim Mirza would not live long and died of excessive drinking.
  • In the third phase Akbar had to deal with the rebellion of his own son Prince Salim also known later as Emperor Jahangir.
  • In order to weaken Akbar, Salim went to great lengths. One of the most significant actions is the killing of Akbar’s favorite courtier Abul Fazl.
  • From the Mirat ul Khayaal of Sher Khan Lodhi we note the following (Persian Text):

Aan dhaal-o-muzil dar raahe dakkan ba ishara-e-nuruddin mohammed jahangir dar mulk raja Bir Singh deo ba qatal raseed. Wa maal haae ke biddat taazeer be raahe gar aawada ood.

 [That misguided and atheist Abul Fazl who was on his way back to the court from Deccan got killed by Raja Birsingh Deo on the instigation of Nuruddin Mohammed Jahangir passing through his territory with all of his property and money looted by Raja Birsingh Deo] 

  • On hearing the news of Abul Fazl’s murder Akbar screamed, clasped his hands in agony and beat his thighs in anger and said it would have been a lesser crime to kill Akbar compared to Abul Fazl.
  • It is only fair to state that the painfully orchestrated efforts of the royal ladies of the household saved the day for Prince Salim since he was the child of numerous prayers.
  • Moreover other princes Daniyal and Murad were dead and he was the only successor and hope for Akbar.
  • Akbar and the pro hindu lobby of nobles even toyed with the idea of installing Jahangir’s son Khusrau on the throne bypassing him since Jahangir had started aligning himself with the orthodoxy already bitterly opposed to Akbar and his policies.
  • It would have been an innovation not likely to succeed until Jahangir was alive.



  • Jahangir had no succession feuds to handle vis-ŕ-vis his brothers but very surprisingly against his own son Khusrau.
  • Khusrau rebelled against his father in 1606 to see who would succeed the emperor Akbar.
  • Khusrau had his to say in his defence

If I offend (Jahangir), it will only be by following the example of my  father(Jahangir) 

  • Jahangir composed bitter versus in response:

Who could have known that this youngster would get on such bad terms with his elders?
With the first goblet he brought forth the dregs, abandoning my splendor and his own shame.
He burned the sun's throne in desiring Jamshed's place

  • Khusrau reached Taran Taran, and received the blessings of the fifth Sikh Guru Arjun Dev.
  • With the help of Shaik Farid Murtaza Khan who had strong ties to the orthodox lobby Jahangir was ultimately successful in defeating Khusrau.
  • Jahangir reached Lahore with a big army and Khusrau was defeated in the Battle of Bhairowal.
  • Khusrau and his followers tried to flee towards Kabul but they were captured by Jahangir's army while crossing the Chenub, and later he was imprisoned in Agra.
  • In 1607, Khusrau was ordered to be blinded as a punishment though his eyesight was never completely lost.
  • The next issue which Jahangir had to face was that of Prince Khurram (Shah Jahan).
  • Empress Nur Jahan’s ambition of ruling by proxy led to the marriage of her daughter from her ex husband Ladli Begum and Jahangir’s youngest son Prince Shahriyar. 
  • Noticing the ambitions of Nur Jahan who wanted to install Prince Shahriyar on the throne the ever alert Prince Khurram rebelled against Jahangir.
  • Mahabut Khan was appointed to crush Prince Khurram and he did it with much success.
  • As a consequence Prince Khurram had to ransom his two children Dara Shikoh and Aurangzeb to Jahangir as guarantees against future rebellions.
  • However Nur Jahan sensing the growing clout and power of Mahabut Khan wanted him to be transferred as far away from Lahore as the Governor of Bengal.
  • He sensed the plot and in open rebellion marched towards the royal camp of Jahangir at Jehlum enroute to Kabul with a faithful band of Rajput warriors.
  • He was successful in capturing Jahangir. Nur Jahan managed to flee.
  • Mahabut Khan reached Kabul with the imprisoned Emperor Jahangir and declared himself Emperor.
  • Nur Jahan cunningly managed to lure him into her trap and he fled after a brief rule of 100 days.


  Shah Jahan: 

Perhaps the bloodiest of all the succession feuds is that of Emperor Shah Jahan.  

  • With the help of Asaf Khan his father in law, Prince Khurram was successful in ascending the throne.
  • He had Khusrau, Pervez and Shahriyar killed immediately upon succession.
  • The most astonishing part is that he did not stop here.
  • In a serious departure from Mughal traditions and perhaps the adoption of Ottoman tradition he had all of his nephews killed as well.
  • By his own pen Shah Jahan ordered their execution (Persian Text):

Dari Hangaam ke aasmaan aashob talab wa zameen fitna jo asth. Gar Dawar Baksh pise Khusrou, wa baradare uuh wa shehriyaar was pisrane shehzaada daniyaal ra wa aawara sehra-e-adam saakhta. 

[Now that the calamity has made the sky cry and the land filled with heresy. I command the execution of Dawar Baksh the son of Khousrou and his sibling, of Prince Shehriyar, and the children of Prince Daniyal.] 

Doulat khaaara az tawazzo khaatir wa shoresha-dil faris sazand. Sawaab deed karim tarkhahta-buud.

[Execute them once in for all. This action will promptly give solace and peace to the anguished heart. The blessing of this noble deed is indeed tremendous.]

The most important lessons to learn from these historical facts are  

  • Ultimately there cannot be a peaceful solution to the problem of monarchial succession.
  • As long as there are potential contenders they will continue to fight and possibly even ruin the empire.
  • Only a rational show of determination and courage will prevail upon the dangers.

 Keeping these historic lessons in mind we begin the chronology of events leading up to the succession of Emperor Aurangzeb.In order to have a total factual overview of the events leading up to his succession I have tried to quote from actual Mughal sources as much as possible.