27 Mughal Empire: History
The Mughal Empire (Urdu: مغلیہ سلطنت, Mug̱ẖliyah Salṭanat) or Mogul Empire, self-designated as Gurkani (Persian: گورکانیان, Gūrkāniyān, meaning “son-in-law”), was an empire established and ruled by a Persianate dynasty of ChagataiTurco-Mongol origin that extended over large parts of the Indian subcontinent and Afghanistan.
The beginning of the empire is conventionally dated to the founder Rajput kingdoms. Some Rajputkingdoms continued to pose a significant threat to Mughal dominance of northwestern India, but they were subdued by Akbar. All Mughal emperors were Muslims, except Akbar in the latter part of his life, when he followed a new religion called Deen-i-Ilahi, as recorded in historical books like Ain-e-Akbari and Dabestan-e Mazaheb.
The Mughal Empire did not try to intervene in the local societies during most of its existence, but rather balanced and pacified them through new administrative practices and diverse and inclusive ruling elites, leading to more systematic, centralised, and uniform rule. Newly coherent social groups in northern and western India, such as the Marathas, the Rajputs, the Pashtuns, the Hindu Jats and the Sikhs, gained military and governing ambitions during Mughal rule, which, through collaboration or adversity, gave them both recognition and military experience.
The reign of Shah Jahan, the fifth emperor, between 1628–58 was the golden age of Mughal architecture. He erected several large monuments, the best known of which is the Taj Mahal at Agra, as well as the Moti Masjid, Agra, the Red Fort, the Jama Masjid, Delhi, and the Lahore Fort. The Mughal Empire reached the zenith of its territorial expanse during the reign of Aurangzeb and also started its terminal decline in his reign due to Maratha military resurgence under Shivaji Bhosale. During his lifetime, victories in the south expanded the Mughal Empire to more than 3.2 million square kilometres (1.2 million square miles), ruling over more than 150 million subjects, nearly one quarter of the world’s population a the time, with a combined GDP of over $90 billion.
By the mid-18th century, the Marathas had routed Mughal armies, and won over several Mughal provinces from the Punjab to Bengal, and internal dissatisfaction arose due to the weakness of the Mughal Empire’s administrative and economic systems, leading to the break-up of the empire and declaration of independence of its former provinces by the Nawabs of Bengal, Oudh, the Nizam of Hyderabad, Shah of Afghanistan and other small states. In 1739, the Mughals were crushingly defeated in the Battle of Karnal by the forces of Nader Shah, the founder of the Afsharid dynasty in Persia, and Delhi was sacked and looted, drastically accelerating their decline. During the following century Mughal power had become severely limited and the last emperor, Bahadur Shah II, had authority over only the city of Shahjahanabad. He issued a firman supporting the Indian Rebellion of 1857 and following the defeat was therefore tried by the British East India Company for treason, imprisoned and exiled to Rangoon. The last remnants of the empire were formally taken over by the British, and the Government of India Act 1858 let the British Crownformally assume direct control of India in the form of the new British Raj.
Contemporaries referred to the empire founded by Babur as the Timurid empire, which reflected the heritage of his dynasty, and was the term preferred by the Mughals themselves. Another name was Hindustan, which was documented in the Ain-i-Akbari, and which has been described as the closest to an official name for the empire. In the west, the term “Mughal” was used for the emperor, and by extension, the empire as a whole. The use of Mughal, deriving from the Arabic and Persian corruption of Mongol, and emphasising the Mongol origins of the Timurid dynasty, gained currency during the 19th century, but remains disputed by Indologists. Similar terms had been used to refer to the empire, including “Mogul” and “Moghul”. Nevertheless, Babur’s ancestors were sharply distinguished from the classical Mongols insofar as they were oriented towards Persian rather than Turco-Mongol culture.
The Mughal Empire was founded by Babur, a Central Asian ruler who was descended from the Turco-Mongol conqueror Timur (the founder of the Timurid Empire) on his father’s side and from Chagatai, the second son of the Mongol ruler Genghis Khan, on his mother’s side. Ousted from his ancestral domains in Central Asia, Babur turned to India to satisfy his ambitions. He established himself in Kabul and then pushed steadily southward into India from Afghanistan through the Khyber Pass.Babur’s forces occupied much of northern India after his victory at Panipat in 1526. The preoccupation with wars and military campaigns, however, did not allow the new emperor to consolidate the gains he had made in India. The instability of the empire became evident under his son, Humayun, who was driven out of India and into Persia by rebels. Humayun’s exile in Persia established diplomatic ties between the Safavid and Mughal Courts, and led to increasing Persian cultural influence in the Mughal Empire. The restoration of Mughal rule began after Humayun’s triumphant return from Persia in 1555, but he died from a fatal accident shortly afterwards.Humayun’s son, Akbar, succeeded to the throne under a regent, Bairam Khan, who helped consolidate the Mughal Empire in India.
Through warfare and diplomacy, Akbar was able to extend the empire in all directions and controlled almost the entire Indian subcontinent north of the Godavari river. He created a new class of nobility loyal to him from the military aristocracy of India’s social groups, implemented a modern government, and supported cultural developments. At the same time, Akbar intensified trade with European trading companies. India developed a strong and stable economy, leading to commercial expansion and economic development. Akbar allowed free expression of religion, and attempted to resolve socio-political and cultural differences in his empire by establishing a new religion, Din-i-Ilahi, with strong characteristics of a ruler cult. He left his successors an internally stable state, which was in the midst of its golden age, but before long signs of political weakness would emerge. Akbar’s son, Jahangir, ruled the empire at its peak, but he was addicted to opium, neglected the affairs of the state, and came under the influence of rival court cliques. During the reign of Jahangir’s son, Shah Jahan, the culture and splendour of the luxurious Mughal court reached its zenith as exemplified by the Taj Mahal. The maintenance of the court, at this time, began to cost more than the revenue.
Shah Jahan’s eldest son, the liberal Dara Shikoh, became regent in 1658, as a result of his father’s illness. However, a younger son, Aurangzeb, allied with the Islamic orthodoxy against his brother, who championed a syncretistic Hindu-Muslim culture, and ascended to the throne. Aurangzeb defeated Dara in 1659 and had him executed. Although Shah Jahan fully recovered from his illness, Aurangzeb declared him incompetent to rule and had him imprisoned. During Aurangzeb’s reign, the empire gained political strength once more, but his religious conservatism and intolerance undermined the stability of Mughal society. Aurangzeb expanded the empire to include almost the whole of South Asia, but at his death in 1707, many parts of the empire were in open revolt.Aurangzeb’s son, Shah Alam, repealed the religious policies of his father, and attempted to reform the administration. However, after his death in 1712, the Mughal dynasty sank into chaos and violent feuds. In 1719 alone, four emperors successively ascended the throne.
During the reign of Muhammad Shah, the empire began to break up, and vast tracts of central India passed from Mughal to Maratha hands. The far-off Indian campaign of Nadir Shah, who had priorly reestablished Iranian suzerainty over most of West Asia, the Caucasus, and Central Asia, culminated with the Sack of Delhi and shattered the remnants of Mughal power and prestige. Many of the empire’s elites now sought to control their own affairs, and broke away to form independent kingdoms. But, according to Sugata Bose and Ayesha Jalal, the Mughal Emperor, however, continued to be the highest manifestation of sovereignty. Not only the Muslim gentry, but the Maratha, Hindu, and Sikh leaders took part in ceremonial acknowledgements of the emperor as the sovereign of India. The British company rule effectively began in 1757 after the Battle of Plassey and lasted until 1858, starting the effective British colonial era over the Indian Subcontinent. The Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II made futile attempts to reverse the Mughal decline, and ultimately had to seek the protection of outside powers i.e. from the Emir of Afghanistan, Ahmed Shah Abdali, which led to the Third Battle of Panipat between the Maratha Empire and the Afghans led by Abdali in 1761. In 1771, the Marathas recaptured Delhi from Afghan control and in 1784 they officially became the protectors of the emperor in Delhi, a state of affairs that continued further until after the Third Anglo-Maratha War. Thereafter, the British East India Company became the protectors of the Mughal dynasty in Delhi. After a crushing defeat in the war of 1857–1858 which he nominally led, the last Mughal, Bahadur Shah Zafar, was deposed by the British East India Company and exiled in 1858. Through the Government of India Act 1858 the British Crown assumed direct control of India in the form of the new British Raj. In 1876 the British Queen Victoria assumed the title of Empress of India.
EXPLANATIONS FOR THE DECLINE
Historians have offered numerous explanations for the rapid collapse of the Mughal Empire between 1707 and 1720, after a century of growth and prosperity. In fiscal terms the throne lost the revenues needed to pay its chief officers, the emirs (nobles) and their entourages. The emperor lost authority, as the widely scattered imperial officers lost confidence in the central authorities, and made their own deals with local men of influence. The imperial army, bogged down in long, futile wars against the more aggressive Marathas, lost its fighting spirit. Finally came a series of violent political feuds over control of the throne. After the execution of emperor Farrukhsiyar in 1719, local Mughal successor states took power in region after region.
Contemporary chroniclers bewailed the decay they witnessed, a theme picked up by the first British historians who wanted to underscore the need for a British-led rejuvenation.
Since the 1970s historians have taken multiple approaches to the decline, with little consensus on which factor was dominant. The psychological interpretations emphasize depravity in high places, excessive luxury, and increasingly narrow views that left the rulers unprepared for an external challenge. A Marxist school (led by Irfan Habib and based at Aligarh Muslim University) emphasizes excessive exploitation of the peasantry by the rich, which stripped away the will and the means to support the regime. Karen Leonard has focused on the failure of the regime to work with Hindu bankers, whose financial support was increasingly needed; the bankers then helped the Maratha and the British. In a religious interpretation, some scholars argue that the Hindu Rajputs revolted against Muslim rule. Finally other scholars argue that the very prosperity of the Empire inspired the provinces to achieve a high degree of independence, thus weakening the imperial court.
LIST OF MUGHAL EMPERORS
|Babur||23 February 1483||1526–1530||30 December 1530||Was a direct descendant of Genghis Khan through his mother and was descendant of Timurthrough his father. Founded the Mughal Empire after his victories at the First Battle of Panipat(1526), the Battle of Khanwa (1527), and the Battle of Ghagra (1529).|
|Humayun||6 March 1508||1530–1540||Jan 1556||Reign interrupted by Sur Empire after the Battle of Kanauj (1540). Youth and inexperience at ascension led to his being regarded as a less effective ruler than usurper, Sher Shah Suri.|
|Sher Shah Suri||1472||1540–1545||May 1545||Deposed Humayun and led the Sur Empire.|
|Islam Shah Suri||c. 1500||1545–1554||1554||2nd and last ruler of the Sur Empire, claims of sons Sikandar and Adil Shah were eliminated by Humayun’s restoration.|
|Humayun||6 March 1508||1555–1556||Jan 1556||Restored rule was more unified and effective than initial reign of 1530–1540; left unified empire for his son, Akbar.|
|Akbar||14 November 1542||1556–1605||27 October 1605||He and Siege of Ranthambore; He greatly expanded the Empire and is regarded as the most illustrious ruler of the Mughal Empire as he set up the empire’s various institutions; he married Mariam-uz-Zamani, a Rajput princess. One of his most famous construction marvels was the Lahore Fort.|
|Jahangir||Oct 1569||1605–1627||1627||Jahangir set the precedent for sons rebelling against their emperor fathers. Opened first relations with the British East India Company. Reportedly was an alcoholic, and his wife Empress Noor Jahan became the real power behind the throne and competently ruled in his place.|
|Shah Jahan||5 January 1592||1627–1658||1666||Under him, Mughal art and architecture reached their zenith; constructed the Taj Mahal, Jama Masjid, Red Fort, Jahangir mausoleum, and Shalimar Gardens in Lahore. Deposed by his son Aurangzeb.|
|Aurangzeb||21 October 1618||1658–1707||3 March 1707||He reinterpreted Islamic law and presented the Fatawa-e-Alamgiri; he captured the diamond mines of the Sultanate of Golconda; he spent the major part of his last 27 years in the war with the Maratha rebels; at its zenith, his conquests expanded the empire to its greatest extent; the over-stretched empire was controlled by Mansabdars, and faced challenges after his death. He is known to have transcribed copies of the Qur’an using his own styles of calligraphy. He died during a campaign against the ravaging Marathas in the Deccan.|
|Bahadur Shah I||14 October 1643||1707–1712||Feb 1712||First of the Mughal emperors to preside over an empire ravaged by uncontrollable revolts. After his reign, the empire went into steady decline due to the lack of leadership qualities among his immediate successors.|
|Jahandar Shah||1664||1712–1713||Feb 1713||Was an unpopular incompetent titular figurehead;|
|Furrukhsiyar||1683||1713–1719||1719||His reign marked the ascendancy of the manipulative Syed Brothers, execution of the rebellious Banda. In 1717 he granted a Firman to the English East India Company granting them duty-free trading rights in Bengal. The Firman was repudiated by the notable Murshid Quli Khan the Mughal appointed ruler of Bengal.|
|Muhammad Shah||1702||1719–1720, 1720–1748||1748||Got rid of the Syed Brothers. Tried to counter the emergence of the Marathas but his empire disintegrated. Suffered the invasion of Nadir-Shah of Persia in 1739.|
|Ahmad Shah Bahadur||1725||1748–54||1775|
|Alamgir II||1699||1754–1759||1759||He was murdered according by the Vizier Imad-ul-Mulk and Maratha associate Sadashivrao Bhau.|
|Shah Jahan III||Unknown||In 1759||1772||Was ordained to the imperial throne as a result of the intricacies in Delhi with the help of Imad-ul-Mulk. He was later deposed by Maratha Sardars.|
|Shah Alam II||1728||1759–1806||1806||He was proclaimed as Mughal Emperor by the Marathas. Later, he was again recognised as the Mughal Emperor by Ahmad Shah Durrani after the Third Battle of Panipat in 1761. 1764 saw the defeat of the combined forces of Mughal Emperor, Nawab of Oudh & Nawab of Bengal and Bihar at the hand of East India Company at the Battle of Buxar. Following this defeat, Shah Alam II left Delhi for Allahabad, ending hostilities with the Treaty of Allahabad (1765). Shah Alam II was reinstated to the throne of Delhi in 1772 by Mahadaji Shinde under the protection of the Marathas. He was a de jure emperor. During his reign in 1793 British East India company abolished Nizamat (Mughal suzerainty) and took control of the former Mughal province of Bengal marking the beginning of British reign in parts of Eastern India officially.|
|Akbar Shah II||1760||1806–1837||1837||He became a British pensioner after the defeat of the Marathas, who were the protector of the Mughal throne, in the Anglo-Maratha wars . Under East India company’s protection, his imperial name was removed from the official coinage after a brief dispute with the British East India Company;|
|Bahadur Shah II||1775||1837–1857||1862||The last Mughal emperor was deposed in 1858 by the British East India company and exiled to Burma following the War of 1857 after the fall of Delhi to the company troops. His death marks the end of the Mughal dynasty.|
INFLUENCE ON SOUTH ASIA
SOUTH ASIAN ART AND CULTURE
A major Mughal contribution to the Indian subcontinent was their unique architecture. Many monuments were built by the Muslim emperors, especially Shah Jahan, during the Mughal era including the UNESCO World Heritage Site Taj Mahal, which is known to be one of the finer examples of Mughal architecture. Other World Heritage Sites include Humayun’s Tomb, Fatehpur Sikri, the Red Fort, the Agra Fort, and the Lahore Fort
The palaces, tombs, and forts built by the dynasty stand today in Agra, Aurangabad, Delhi, Dhaka, Fatehpur Sikri, Jaipur, Lahore, Kabul, Sheikhupura, and many other cities of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh. With few memories of Central Asia, Babur’s descendents absorbed traits and customs of South Asia, and became more or less naturalised.
Mughal influence can be seen in cultural contributions such as:
- Centralised, imperialistic government which brought together many smaller kingdoms.
- Persian art and culture amalgamated with Indian art and culture.
- New trade routes to Arab and Turkic lands.
- The development of Mughlai cuisine.
- Mughal Architecture found its way into local Indian architecture, most conspicuously in the palaces built by Rajputs and Sikh rulers.
- Landscape and Mughal gardening
Although the land the Mughals once ruled has separated into what is now India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, their influence can still be seen widely today. Tombs of the emperors are spread throughout India, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
The Mughal artistic tradition was eclectic, borrowing from the European Renaissance as well as from Persian and Indian sources. Kumar concludes, “The Mughal painters borrowed individual motifs and certain naturalistic effects from Renaissance and Mannerist painting, but their structuring principle was derived from Indian and Persian traditions.”
Although Persian was the dominant and “official” language of the empire, the language of the elite later evolved into a form known as Urdu. Highly Persianized and also influenced by Arabic and Turkic, the language was written in a type of Perso-Arabic script known as Nastaliq, and with literary conventions and specialised vocabulary being retained from Persian, Arabic and Turkic; the new dialect was eventually given its own name of Urdu. Compared with Hindi, the Urdu language draws more vocabulary from Persian and Arabic (via Persian) and (to a much lesser degree) from Turkic languages where Hindi draws vocabulary from Sanskrit more heavily. Modern Hindi, which uses Sanskrit-based vocabulary along with Urdu loan words from Persian and Arabic, is mutually intelligible with Urdu. Today, Urdu is the national language of Pakistan and one of the official language in India.
The Indian economy remained as prosperous under the Mughals as it was, because of the creation of a road system and a uniform currency, together with the unification of the country. Manufactured goods and peasant-grown cash crops were sold throughout the world. Key industries included shipbuilding (the Indian shipbuilding industry was as advanced as the European, and Indians sold ships to European firms), textiles, and steel. The Mughals maintained a small fleet, which merely carried pilgrims to Mecca, imported a few Arab horses in Surat. Debal in Sindh was mostly autonomous. The Mughals also maintained various river fleets of Dhows, which transported soldiers over rivers and fought rebels. Among its admirals were Yahya Saleh, Munnawar Khan, and Muhammad Saleh Kamboh. The Mughals also protected the Siddis of Janjira. Its sailors were renowned and often voyaged to China and the East African Swahili Coast, together with some Mughal subjects carrying out private-sector trade.
Cities and towns boomed under the Mughals; however, for the most part, they were military and political centres, not manufacturing or commerce centres. Only those guilds which produced goods for the bureaucracy made goods in the towns; most industry was based in rural areas. The Mughals also built Maktabs in every province under their authority, where youth were taught the Quran and Islamic law such as the Fatawa-e-Alamgiri in their indigenous languages.
The Bengal region was especially prosperous from the time of its takeover by the Mughals in 1590 to the seizure of control by the British East India Company in 1757. In a system where most wealth was hoarded by the elites, wages were low for manual labour. Slavery was limited largely to household servants. However some religious cults proudly asserted a high status for manual labour.
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
While there appears to have been little concern for theoretical astronomy, Mughal astronomers continued to make advances in observational astronomy and produced nearly a hundred Zij treatises. Humayun built a personal observatory near Delhi. The instruments and observational techniques used at the Mughal observatories were mainly derived from the Islamic tradition. In particular, one of the most remarkable astronomical instruments invented in Mughal India is the seamless celestial globe.
Sake Dean Mahomed had learned much of Mughal Alchemy and understood the techniques used to produce various alkali and soaps to produce shampoo. He was also a notable writer who described the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II and the cities of Allahabad and Delhi in rich detail and also made note of the glories of the Mughal Empire.
Fathullah Shirazi (c. 1582), a Persian polymath and mechanical engineer who worked for Akbar, developed a volley gun.
Akbar was the first to initiate and use metal cylinder rockets known as bans particularly against War elephants, during the Battle of Sanbal.
In the year 1657, the Mughal Army used rockets during the Siege of Bidar. Prince Aurangzeb’s forces discharged rockets and grenades while scaling the walls. Sidi Marjan was mortally wounded when a rocket struck his large gunpowder depot, and after twenty-seven days of hard fighting Bidar was captured by the victorious Mughals.
Later, the Mysorean rockets were upgraded versions of Mughal rockets used during the Siege of Jinji by the progeny of the Nawab of Arcot. Hyder Ali‘s father Fatah Muhammad the constable at Budikote, commanded a corps consisting of 50 rocketmen (Cushoon) for the Nawab of Arcot. Hyder Ali realised the importance of rockets and introduced advanced versions of metal cylinder rockets. These rockets turned fortunes in favour of the Sultanate of Mysore during the Second Anglo-Mysore War, particularly during the Battle of Pollilur.