Aurangzeb’s tomb at Khuldabad

Fanatic, religious zealot, intolerant, temple destroyer, orthodox, ruthless, insecure, unscrupulous, treacherous, impetuous, brother killer… are just some of the words that come to my mind for Abul Muzaffar Muhi-ud-Din Mohammad Aurangzeb, better known as Aurangzeb Alamgir, the 6th Mughal emperor, or just Aurangzeb.

As the Emperor of Mughal India, Aurangzeb ruled for nearly 50 years, much of it with public opinion against him due to many discriminatory measures against the Hindus, like imposition of the jizyah, differential taxation for Hindus, etc.. In fact, such display of Islāmic orthodoxy by Aurangzeb gave strength and purpose to the resistance movements of the Marathas, the Jats, the Bundelas and the Sikhs. His constant wars to consolidate or expand territory nearly bankrupted the royal treasuries. When he died in 1707, he left a crumbling empire, a corrupt and inefficient administration, a demoralised army, and alienated subjects.

And yet…

Aurangzeb never used the Royal Treasury for his personal expenses. Instead, he used the money he earned from making caps (sold anonymously in the market) and copying the Quran. He saved the money earned from this to pay for an open-air grave at Khuldabad, located about 27 km from Aurangabad.

The grave I’m standing before on that December evening in 2013 with all these thoughts running around in my mind, and some more.

Aurangzeb, Tomb, Grave, Khuldabad, Mughal Emperor
Aurangzeb’s open-air grave

While I knew beforehand from reading this account of Aurangzeb’s tomb that it was not ostentatious, it still came as a surprise to see just how nondescript it was. The entrance is lost among shops selling knickknacks, flowers, incense, etc. A small board, with lettering so small that it can’t be read from the road, near the entrance indicates that this is the “Tomb of Aurangzeb”.

Aurangzeb, Tomb, Grave, Khuldabad, Mughal Emperor

Äurangzeb is buried within the compound of the dargah of Sayyad Zain-ud-din Shirazi, a Muslim saint he revered, as per his wishes. On passing through the entrance doorway, you come to this large compound, which on that day, had a few curious visitors like me.

Aurangzeb, Tomb, Grave, Khuldabad, Mughal Emperor

One of the instructions that Aurangzeb left was that his grave would be a simple grave with no enclosing structure built over it. And so it remained till Lord Curzon (Governor General and Viceroy of India from 1899–1905) visited the grave. I presume that he was so horrified or shocked by the simplicity of it all that he ordered the then Nizam of Hyderabad (who was the ruler of the region) to construct a marble screen around it. I know that I was shocked after having visited the mausoleums of his ancestors — Humayun, Akbar and Shah Jahan !

Aurangzeb, Tomb, Grave, Khuldabad, Mughal EmperorAurangzeb, Tomb, Grave, Khuldabad, Mughal EmperorStanding in front of the simple, cloth-covered grave, I recall history lessons in school, of lectures on the Mughals, of books read, of conversations with Hindu priests at Varanasi (and as I write this post, the reaction of Mohammad my guide at Agra Fort). I don’t think any ruler in India is disliked, and perhaps even hated, so much as Aurangzeb.

And yet, his tomb and the explicit instructions he left for his grave and the way he raised money for his personal expenses reveal a side of him that is not talked about much about or perhaps known — simplicity.

The sun is setting when I leave the dargah and I am just as full of thoughts as I was when I came in. Thoughts as to who Aurangzeb really was and why was he the way he was.


Further reading: Aurangzeb, as he was according to Mughal Records

19 thoughts on “Aurangzeb’s tomb at Khuldabad

  1. A beautifully written article as always. I really enjoy your recent entries about places in Aurangabad as I have also planned to visit the city and those interesting, thought-provoking sites during my India trip next year.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your appreciative words and welcome to “My Favourite Things”. You will enjoy your trip to this part of India. Feel free to write to me if you want any help in planning your trip.

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    1. I think it is also important for people to be willing to accept this side of Aurangzeb. For all that you know, there could be people who would turn around and say that this is fabricated.

      But I agree with you completely that our history books need to include all views and perspectives and leave the reader to form an opinion.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Probably the least ostentatious tomb of the Mughal emperors. All those commonly used adjectives for Aurangazeb as a ruler went into thin air when I visited his tomb. Nice read.
    Love your trail around Aurangabad.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have been to the tombs of 3 Mughal emperors – Humayn, Akbar and Shah Jahan – and seen pictures of Babar’s and Jehangir’s. One can very safely say that Auranzeb’s is the simplest.

      Glad you enjoyed the trail, Niranjan. Just one more post left from that trip and then I move on to other travels. Thanks for coming along. 🙂

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    1. Aurangzeb was probably every nasty thing that our school text books told us.But he also had another side which schoolbooks failed to mention and a visit to the tomb revealed. If you are ever in the area, do visit Khuldabad.

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  3. Everyone has a side that is hidden from the public, some are good and others bad. Aurangazeb’s other side indeed comes as a surprise. I was not too keen on reading this post, but the yet….s made me go on and am I glad I did 🙂

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    1. What got reiterated in the visit to Aurangzeb’s tomb at Khuldabad was that he was as human as any of us with dualities in conflict with one another. Unfortunately we know or are made aware of only set of his character traits, It is visits like these which complete the full picture.

      I’m glad that I visited his tomb. I don’t think it changed my opinion of him, but it helped me to un-demonise him.

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  4. I liked this post very much ! The history that is typically taught has lots of biases against Aurangzeb (especially in Maharashtra) . In reality , he was the most successful of the Mughals , who won the south and lived for 20 years even after the death of Sambhaji ( Son of Shivaji ) . Last year (2014) , I made it a point to read as much as possible about the factual history of Aurangzeb in English , Hindi and Marathi. (A book by Yadunath Sarkar is among the best) I was fascinated by the way this person lived his life and ruled India in certain principled way , which no other king was able to achieve in the history !

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    1. Welcome here, PBhave and thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. And thank you also for suggesting Yadunath Sarkar’s book. I will get a copy to read.

      You have made a valid point when you say that he was the most successful of the Mughals. But I do believe that, unfortunately, his policies were too divisive for the empire to sustain after his death.,

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      1. I would say that the real reason for the fall of Mughal empire after Aurangzeb was that it was too large to manage. Moreover , there were no other rulers left to fight with. Even some time before his death , his sons were fighting ( and that was a norm in Mughal era) . Aurangzeb even ordered killing of one of his own sons (executed by the other) ! One son of his (Akbar) had befriended Sambhaji and was under his protection for 2 years. He however had to flee to Mecca by taking a boat ride from Kokan area.
        I do not agree with your statement that he was divisive. He was infact non-divisive , and that is the secret to his success. He let small rulers / princely states rule their region in their own way once they paid regular yearly taxes to coffers ! Rajputs (hindus) were some of the most trusted people in his “coterie”
        The only controversial thing about him was his interpretation of the Koran and Islamic principles (brutal killings of kafirs etc)
        If you can read devnagari and understand marathi , there is small book that is factual about history of Aurangzeb (without any biases for or against) “औरंगजेब – शक्यता आणि शोकांतिका” written by Mr Kulkarni which translates to “Aurangzeb- Possibilities and a Tragedy”

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    1. Vishal, this side of Aurangzeb is something that most people, except for scholars of history, would be unaware of. The visit to Khuldabad was a history lesson of a different kind.

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