So lived and so died Aurangzib, surnamed Alamgir Padishah, the last of the Great Mughals. For, in spite of his religious intolerance, narrowness of mind and lack of generosity and statesmanship, he was great in the possession of some qualities which might have gained for him the highest place in any sphere of life except the supreme one of ruling over men. He would have made a successful general, minister, theologian or school-master, and an ideal departmental head. But the critical eminence of a throne on which he was placed by a freak of Fortune, led to the failure of his life and the blighting of his fame.

Pure in his domestic relations, simple and abstemious like a hermit, he had a passion for work and a hatred of ease and pleasure which remind one of George Grenville, though with Grenville's untiring industry he had also Grenville's narrowness and obstinacy. European travellers observed with wonder the grey-headed Emperor holding open Court every day, reading every petition and writing orders across it with his own hand. Of the letters dictated by him, those that are known to exist in Europe and India, number about two thousand. (I have got copies of all of them as far as known to me). Many more must have perished.

In matters of official discipline and Court etiquette he was a martinet and enforced the strictest obedience to rules and established usages: “If I suffer a single regulation to be violated, all of them will be disregarded,” was his frequent remark. But this punctilious observance of the form must have led to neglect of the spirit of institutions and laws.

His passion for doing everything himself and dic­tating the minutest particulars to far off governors and generals, robbed them of all self-reliance and power of initiative, and left them hesitating and helpless in the face of any unexpected emergency. His suspicious policy crushed the latent ability of his sons, so that at his death they were no better than children though turned of fifty years of age. Alike in his passion for work, distrust of the men on the spot, preference for incompetent but servile agents, and religious bigotry, he resembled his contemporary in Europe, Louis XIV.

His coolness and courage were famous throughout India: no danger however great, no emergency how­ever unlooked for, could shake his heart or cloud the serene light of his intellect. Indeed, he regarded danger as only the legitimate risk of greatness. No amount of exertion could fatigue that thin wiry frame. The privations of a campaign or forced ride had no terror for him. Of diplomacy he was a past master, and could not be beaten in any kind of intrigue or secret manipulation. He was as much a “master of the pen” as a “master of the sword.”

From the strict path of a Muslim king's duty as laid down in the Quranic Law nothing could make him deviate in the least. And he was also determined not to let others deviate too! No fear of material loss or influence of any favourite, no tears or supplication could induce him to act contrary to the Shara (Canon Law). Flatterers styled him “a living saint,” (Alamgir zinda pir). Indeed, from a very early period of his life he had chosen “the strait gate and narrow way which leadeth unto life”; but the defects of his heart made the gate straiter and the way narrower.

He lacked that warm generosity of the heart, that chivalry to fallen foes, and that easy familiarity of address in private life, which made the great Akbar win the love and admiration of his contemporaries and of all posterity. Like the English Puritans, Aurangzib drew his inspiration from the old law of relentless punishment and vengeance and forgot that mercy is an attribute of the Supreme Judge of the Universe.

His cold intellectuality, his suspicious nature, and his fame for profound statecraft, chilled the love of all who came near him. Sons, daughters, generals, and ministers, all feared him with a secret but deep-rooted fear, which neither respect nor flattery could disguise.

Art, music, dance, and even poetry (other than “familiar quotations”) were his aversion, and he spent his leisure hours in hunting for legal precedents in Arabic works on Jurisprudence.

Scrupulously following the rules of the Quran in his own private life, he considered it his duty to enforce them on everybody else; the least deviation from the strict and narrow path of Islamic orthodoxy in any part of his dominions, would (he feared) endanger his own soul. His spirit was therefore the narrow and selfish spirit of the lonely recluse, who seeks his indivi­dual salvation, oblivious of the outside world. A man possessed with such ideas may have made a good faqir,—though Aurangzib lacked the faqir's noblest quality, charity;—but he was the worst ruler imagin­able of an empire composed of many creeds and races, of diverse interests and ways of life and thought.

“The nature of man is intricate; the objects of society are of the greatest possible complexity: and therefore no simple disposition or direction of power can be suitable either to man's nature, or to the quality of his affairs…Political reason is a computing principle; adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing true moral denominations…The true lawgiver ought to have an heart full of sensibility. He ought to love and respect his kind, and to fear himself. Political arrangement is to be only wrought by social means. There mind must conspire with mind.” (Burke).

Aurangzib utterly lacked sympathy, imagination, breadth of vision, elasticity in the choice of means, and that warmth of the heart which atones for a hundred faults of the head. These limitations of his character completely undermined the Mughal empire, so that on his death it suddenly fell in a single downward plunge. Its inner life was gone, and the outward form could not deceive the world long. Time relentlessly sweeps away whatever is inefficient, unnecessary, or false to Nature.