We next enter on a scene of unceasing but fruitless exertion for 26 years, the war with the “slim” Marathas, which ruined the Emperor's health, the morale of his army, and the finances of the State,—a war of which all saw the futility and all were heartily tired, all save Aurangzib, who pursued one policy with increasing obstinacy, till at last the old man of 90 sank into the grave amidst despair darkness, and chaos ready to over­whelm his family and empire.

Shivaji's eldest son Shambhu was a more daring raider than his father and deterred by no fear of conse­quences. With Akbar as his pensioner, what might he not do against the Mughal crown? Moreover, all of Aurangzib's generals and even his sons sent against the kingdoms of the Deccan had failed of conquest, and were rightly suspected of corruption. So there was nothing left for Aurangzib but to conduct the war in person. With this object he left Ajmir for the Deccan (8th September, 1681), never again to return to Northern India alive or dead. The capital Aurangabad was reached on 22nd March, 1682. Thence, on 13th Novem­ber, 1683, he arrived at Ahmadnagar, a town to which he was destined to return 23 years afterwards only to die. Two of his sons and some nobles were despatched against the Bijapuris and the Marathas, but they effected nothing decisive, though a large number of Shambhu's forts were captured. A large force which penetrated through the Ram-ghat pass into Southern Konkan under Prince Muazzam, returned with failure and heavy loss (September, 1683—May, 1684).

Fierce as was Aurangzib's hatred of the Hindus (the vast majority of his subjects), it was equalled by his aversion for the Shias,—who supplied him with some of his best generals and all his ablest civil officers. To him the Shia was a heretic (rafizi); in one of his letters he quotes with admiration the story of a Sunni who escaped to Turkey after murdering a Shia at Isfahan, and draws from it the moral, “Whoever acts for truth and speaks up for truth, is befriended by the True God!” In another letter he tells us how he liked the naming of a dagger as the ‘Shia-slayer’ (Rafizi kush), and ordered some more of the same name to be made for him. In his correspondence he never mentions the Shias without an abusive epithet: ‘corpse-eating demons’ (ghul-i-bayabani), ‘misbelievers’ (batil mazhaban) are among his favourite phrases. Indeed, even the highest Shia officers had such a bad time of it in his Court that they often played the hypocrite to please him! Aurangzib threw the cloak of Sunni orthodoxy over his aggressive conquest of Bijapur and Golkonda, of which the rulers were Shias. The Chief Qazi Shaikh-ul-Islam (one of the purest characters of the age) tried to dissuade the Emperor from these “wars between Muslims” as opposed to Islam. But Aurangzib grew dis­pleased at the opposition; the honest and manly Qazi resigned his post, left the Court, and for the rest of his life rejected the Emperor's repeated solicitations to resume his high office.

On 1st April, 1685, the siege of Bijapur was begun by Prince Azam and Khan-i-Jahan Bahadur. The Emperor advanced to Sholapur (24th May) to be near the seat of war. A terrible famine desolated the besie­gers; but reinforcements soon arrived with provisions, though scarcity of a kind continued in a chronic state in the Mughal camp. The relieving armies of Berads and Marathas were beaten back and the siege pressed on. The garrison fought with the heroism of despair. Aurangzib himself arrived in the environs of the city to superintend the siege operations (3rd July, 1686). At last on 12th September, Sikandar, the last of the Adil-Shahi kings, surrendered, and his kingdom was annexed.

Meantime another force had been sent under Prince Muazzam or Shah Alam (28th June, 1685) against Golkonda to prevent aid from coming from that quarter to Bijapur. It captured the rich city of Haidarabad, mak­ing an immense loot (October). The king, Abul Hasan, a worthless voluptuary and the exact counterpart of Wajid Ali of Oudh, helplessly shut himself up in the Fort of Golkonda. But his chiefs were seduced by the Mughals; there was discontent among his Muhammadan officers at the power of his Brahman minister Madanna Pant. Aurangzib himself arrived near Golkonda on 28th January, 1687, and began its siege. The besiegers had a hard time of it before that impregnable fort: a terrible famine raged in Haidarabad, but the rains and swollen rivers rendered the transport of grain impossible, and the most ghastly scenes were acted by the sufferers. At an immense cost the Mughals filled the moat up and also erected a huge barrier wall of wood and clay completely surrounding the fort and preventing ingress and egress. But mining and assault failed, and it was only the treach­ery of a Golkonda officer that opened the gate of the fort to the Mughals at midnight (21st September, 1687). The king was dragged out and sent to share the capti­vity of his brother of Bijapur. His kingdom was annexed. Two years later, Shambhuji, the brave but dissolute Maratha king, was surprised by an energetic Deccani officer (Muqarrab Khan), ignominiously paraded through the imperial camp like a wild beast, and executed with prolonged and inhuman tortures (11th March, 1689). His capital Raigarh was captured (19th October) and his entire family, “mothers, wives, daughters, and sons” made prisoner by the Mughals. His eldest son, Shahu, was brought up at the imperial Court in gilded fetters.

All seemed to have been gained by Aurangzib now, but in reality all was lost. It was the beginning of his end. The saddest and most hopeless chapter of his life now opened. The Mughal empire had become too large to be ruled by one man or from one centre. Aurangzib, like the boa constrictor, had swallowed more than he could digest. It was impossible for him to take posses­sion of all the provinces of the newly annexed kingdoms and at the same time to suppress the Marathas. His enemies rose on all sides, he could defeat but not crush them for ever. As soon as his army marched away from a place, the enemy who had been hovering round occupied it again, and Aurangzib's work was undone! Lawlessness reigned in many places of Northern and Central India. The old Emperor in the far off Deccan lost control over his officers in Hindustan, and the administration grew slack and corrupt; chiefs and zamindars defied the local authorities and asserted themselves, filling the country with tumult. In the province of Agra in particular, there was chronic disorder. Art and learning decayed at the withdrawal of imperial patronage, —not a single grand edifice, finely written manuscript, or exquisite picture commemorates Aurangzib's reign. The endless war in the Deccan exhausted his treasury; the Government turned bankrupt; the soldiers, starving from arrears of pay, mutinied; and during the closing years of his reign the revenue of Bengal, regularly sent by the faithful and able diwan Murshid Quli Khan, was the sole support of the Emperor's household and army, and its arrival was eagerly looked forward to, Napoleon I. used to say, “It was the Spanish ulcer which ruined me.” The Deccan ulcer ruined Aurangzib.

To resume the narrative, imperial officers were despatched to all sides to take over the forts and provinces of the two newly annexed kingdoms from their local officers, many of whom had set up for them­selves. The Berads, a wild Kanarese tribe, whom Col. Meadows Taylor has described in his fascinating Story of My Life, were the first to be attacked. Their country, situated between Bijapur and Golkonda, was overrun, their capital Sagar captured (28th Nov., 1687), and their chief Pid Naik, a strongly built uncouth black savage, brought to the Court. But the brave and hardy clans­men rose under other leaders and the Mughals had to send two more expeditions against them.

A desolating epidemic of bubonic plague broke out in Bijapur (early in November, 1688), sparing neither prince nor peasant. The imperial household paid toll to Death in the persons of Aurangabadi Mahal (a wife of the Emperor), Fazil Khan the Sadr, and the bogus son of Jaswant Singh. Of humbler victims the number is said to have reached a lakh.

After Shambhu's capture, his younger brother Raja-ram made a hair-breadth escape to the fort of Jinji, (Gingee in the S. Arcot district of Madras), which was besieged by the Mughal general Zulfiqar Khan Nusrat Jang and Prince Kam Bakhsh (Septemper, 1690), and fell on 7th January, 1698. Two years afterwards Raja-ram, the last king of the Marathas, died. But the Maratha captains, each acting on his own account, incessantly raided the Mughal territory and did the greatest possible injury by their guerilla warfare. The two ablest, most successful, and most dreaded leaders of this class were Dhana Singh Jadav and Santa Ghorpare (and latterly Nima Sindhia), who dealt heavy blows at some important Mughal detachments. They seemed to be ubiquitous and elusive like the wind. The movable columns frequently sent from the imperial head-quarters to “chastise the robbers,” only marched and counter-marched, without being able to crush the enemy. When the Mughal force had gone back the scattered Marathas, like water parted by the oar, closed again and resumed their attack, as if nothing had happened to them.