The decline of the Mughal Empire, one of the most significant and powerful dynasties in Indian history, marked a pivotal chapter in the country’s past. This decline, which unfolded over the course of the 18th century, can be attributed to a complex interplay of factors, including political instability, economic challenges, external invasions, and a diminishing central authority. Once a formidable empire that spanned a vast subcontinent, the Mughals eventually found themselves grappling with internal strife and external pressures, ultimately leading to their gradual loss of power and influence. The decline of the Mughal Empire is a compelling historical narrative that provides valuable insights into the dynamics of empires, their rise, and their inevitable fall.
The reign of the Great Mughals began in 1526 with Babur’s accession to the throne and lasted with Aurangzeb’s death in 1707. The death of Aurangzeb signalled the end of an era in Indian history. When Aurangzeb died, the Mughal empire was the largest in India. Nonetheless, the Mughal Empire crumbled within around fifty years of his death. The years 1700- 1800 are pivotal in Indian history. This is distinguished by the transition of authority from the Mughals to the British. In this essay, we’ll look at the decline of the Mughal empires and the reasons for it. A detailed timeline of the Mughal Empire is also provided for reference.
Here’s a timeline of the Mughal Empire before Aurangzeb:
- 1526: Babur establishes the Mughal Empire by defeating the Lodhi dynasty.
- 1530-1540: Rule of Babur’s son, Humayun.
- 1556-1605: Rule of Akbar, an important Mughal ruler who implemented many reforms and policies that strengthened the empire.
- 1605-1627: Rule of Jahangir, Akbar’s son.
- 1628-1658: Rule of Shah Jahan, who built the Taj Mahal and other notable structures.
- 1658: Aurangzeb becomes the ruler after a tussle with his brothers, Dara Shikoh and others.
- 1658-1707: Aurangzeb rules the Mughal Empire, expanding it to the Deccan region and defeating various regional powers like the Marathas, Bijapur, and Golkonda. It becomes a truly Pan-Indian empire during his time.
Causes of the Decline of the Mughal Empire:
- Political Causes:
- Succession disputes and political instability after the death of Aurangzeb.
- Factionalism and competition for key administrative positions.
- Assassinations of rulers by rival factions.
- Economic Causes:
- Crisis in the Jagirdari system of revenue collection.
- Too many potential Jagirdars and too few Jagirs.
- Unequal distribution of Jagirs and discontent among Jagirdars.
- Inefficient way of revenue collection.
- Lack of focus on increasing agricultural productivity.
- Costly territorial expansion in Deccan.
- Army-Related Causes:
- Failure of Jagirdars to maintain the requisite number of troops.
- Corruption and inefficiency within the army.
- No new technological modernisation was introduced within the Mughal army.
- Adverse effect on military strength and ability to deal with external entities.
- Socio-Religious Causes:
- Imposition of Jiziya during Aurangzeb’s rule.
- Alienation of subject classes and increase in regional sentiment.
- Contributed to the decline of the Mughal Empire.
- Absence of a powerful ruler and failure to reform political, administrative, and military structures.
- Inability to modernise the Mughal state.
- Contributed to the eventual decline of the Mughal Empire from 1707 onwards.
Summary of the Decline of the Mughal Empire in India:
- Wars of Succession: After the death of each ruler, a war of succession between brothers for the throne weakened the Mughal Empire, especially after Aurangzeb.
- Aurangzeb’s Policies: Aurangzeb’s religious orthodoxy and policies towards the Hindus damaged the stability of the empire, leading to a loss of support from Rajputs, who had previously acted as pillars of support.
- Weak Successors: The successors of Aurangzeb were weak, inefficient generals who were incapable of suppressing revolts. The absence of a strong ruler, an efficient bureaucracy, and a capable army made the Mughal Empire weak.
- Empty Treasury: Shah Jahan’s zeal for construction had depleted the treasury, and Aurangzeb’s lengthy wars in the south had further drained it.
- Invasions: Foreign invasions from Nadir Shah and Ahmad Shah Abdali sapped the Mughals’ remaining strength and hastened the disintegration process.
- Size of the Empire: The Mughal Empire had become too large to be controlled from one centre, leading to the rise of independent states that challenged its authority.
- Rise of Independent States: With the decline of the Mughal Empire, several independent states came into existence, including Hyderabad, Bengal, and Awadh.
- Deterioration of Land Relations: The Mughals opted for jagirs and Paibaqi instead of paying officials directly from the state treasury, leading to a constant clash of interests between the nobles and zamindars.
- Rise of the Marathas: The Marathas consolidated their position in Western India and began planning for a greater Maharashtra empire.
- The British Takeover: By 1857, the British colonial office had taken complete control of the Indian subcontinent after the Indian Rebellion, exiling the last emperor, Bahadur Shah II.
Later Mughal Rulers
- Bahadur Shah: Ruled from 1707 to 1712.
- Jahandar Shah: Ruled from 1712 to 1713.
- Farrukhsiyar: Ruled from 1713 to 1719.
- Muhammad Shah (Rangila): Ruled from 1719 to 1748.
- Ahmed Shah Bahadur: Ruled from 1748 to 1754.
- Alamgir II: Ruled from 1754 to 1759.
- Shah Alam II: Ruled from 1759 to 1806.
- Akbar II: Ruled from 1806 to 1837.
- Bahadur Shah II (Jafar): Ruled from 1837 to 1857.
Continuity of Mughal Traditions
- The Mughal Empire was one of the greatest empires in South Asian history, which lasted from the 16th to the 19th century. The Mughals brought many significant changes to Indian society, including the spread of Islam, the development of art and culture, and the establishment of a centralized administrative system. Despite the decline of the Mughal Empire in the 18th century, many of its traditions and legacies continued to shape Indian society in the following centuries.
- One of the most important legacies of the Mughals is their impact on art and culture. The Mughals were great patrons of art and architecture, and their legacy can be seen in the stunning monuments and buildings that still stand today, such as the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort. The Mughals also developed a rich tradition of miniature paintings, which was highly influential in Indian art. This tradition continued even after the decline of the Mughals, and many Indian artists still draw inspiration from Mughal art.
- The Mughals also had a profound impact on Indian cuisine. They introduced new foods and cooking techniques, such as the use of spices and the tandoor oven, which are still popular in India today. The Mughal influence can be seen in many Indian dishes, such as biryani and kebabs, which are enjoyed by people all over the world.
- Another important legacy of the Mughals is their contribution to the development of the Urdu language. Urdu is a language that developed in the Mughal courts, and it was heavily influenced by Persian and Arabic. Urdu became the language of poetry and literature in India, and it is still spoken and written by millions of people today.
- The Mughals also had a significant impact on religion in India. While the Mughals were Muslims, they were tolerant of other religions, and many Hindus and Sikhs held high positions in the Mughal courts. This spirit of religious tolerance continued even after the decline of the Mughals, and it has played an important role in shaping modern India.
- In addition to their cultural and religious legacies, the Mughals also had a lasting impact on Indian society through their administrative system. The Mughals established a centralized administrative system that was based on Persian models, and it was highly effective in maintaining law and order throughout the empire. This system was later adopted by the British when they established their own colonial administration in India, and many of its features are still in use today.
- The Mughal legacy also includes their contributions to science and technology. The Mughals were great patrons of science and technology, and they made significant advances in fields such as astronomy and metallurgy. The Mughals also introduced new technologies to India, such as the use of gunpowder in warfare and the development of the printing press. These technologies had a profound impact on Indian society and helped to usher in a new era of progress and innovation.
- Despite the decline of the Mughal Empire, many of its traditions and legacies continue to shape Indian society today. The Mughals left an indelible mark on Indian culture, art, and cuisine, and their administrative and technological contributions continue to be felt. The Mughals were not only great rulers, but they were also great patrons of art, culture, and science, and their legacy will continue to inspire future generations of Indians for centuries to come.
The Later Mughals
- It refers to the Mughal emperors who ruled India after the death of Aurangzeb in 1707. The period from 1707 to 1857 is considered the Later Mughal period, and it is characterized by political instability, economic crisis, and social unrest. During this period, the Mughal Empire faced numerous challenges, including succession disputes, regional rebellions, and foreign invasions. However, the Later Mughal period also witnessed the continuation of Mughal traditions in art, architecture, literature, and music.
- Bahadur Shah I (1707-1712) was the first emperor of the Later Mughal period. He was the eldest son of Aurangzeb and had to face a rebellion by his half-brothers soon after he ascended the throne. Bahadur Shah managed to defeat the rebels and consolidate his power, but his reign was marked by political instability and economic crisis. He was succeeded by his son Jahandar Shah (1712-1713), who was known for his extravagant lifestyle and weak leadership. Jahandar Shah was deposed and killed by his nephew Farrukhsiyar (1713-1719), who was in turn assassinated by the Sayyid brothers.
- Muhammad Shah Rangila (1719-1748) was the next emperor, and his reign was marked by the rise of the nobility and the decline of the central authority. Muhammad Shah was known for his love for music, dance, and poetry, and he patronized many artists and scholars. However, he was a weak ruler and had to rely on his nobles to maintain his power. Ahmed Shah Bahadur (1748-1754) was the next emperor, and his reign was characterized by the rise of the Rohilla chief Najib-ud-Daula and the decline of the Mughal power.
- Alamgir II (1754-1759) was the next emperor, and his reign was marked by the struggle between the Mughal nobles and the regional powers. Alamgir II was a puppet ruler and had to rely on his wazir Imad-ul-Mulk to govern the empire. Shah Alam II (1759-1806) was the next emperor, and his reign witnessed the rise of the Marathas and the British East India Company. Shah Alam II was captured by the British during the Battle of Buxar in 1764 and was forced to sign the Treaty of Allahabad, which granted the British the right to collect revenue from Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa.
- Akbar II (1806-1837) was the next emperor, and his reign was marked by the decline of the Mughal power and the rise of British dominance. Akbar II was a puppet ruler and had to rely on the British for his survival. He was succeeded by his son Bahadur Shah II (1837-1857), who was the last Mughal emperor. Bahadur Shah II was known for his poetry and was a patron of art and culture. However, his reign was marked by the Indian Rebellion of 1857, which led to the end of the Mughal Empire and the beginning of the British Raj.
- Despite the political instability and economic crisis, the Later Mughal period witnessed the continuation of Mughal traditions in art, architecture, literature, and music. Mughal architecture, which reached its peak during the reign of Shah Jahan, continued to inspire the artists and architects of the Later Mughal period. The Red Fort in Delhi, the Jama Masjid in Delhi, and the Taj Mahal in Agra are some the examples of Mughals.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q: Why did the Mughal Empire decline?
A: The decline of the Mughal Empire can be attributed to various factors. It was primarily due to internal strife, weak leadership, economic hardships, and invasions by foreign powers. The empire’s inability to adapt to changing political and economic conditions also played a significant role.
Q: What role did Aurangzeb play in the decline of the Mughal Empire?
A: Aurangzeb, the Mughal Emperor from 1658 to 1707, is often blamed for contributing to the empire’s decline. His aggressive expansionist policies strained the empire’s resources, and his religious intolerance led to social and political unrest. His long and expensive campaigns in the Deccan weakened the empire’s coffers and military strength.
Q: How did the economic factors contribute to the Mughal Empire’s decline?
A: Economic factors, such as a bloated bureaucracy, excessive taxation, and the drain of wealth through foreign trade, played a significant role in the decline of the Mughal Empire. The empire’s revenue collection system became inefficient and corrupt, leading to financial instability.
Q: What role did external invasions and foreign powers play in the fall of the Mughal Empire?
A: External invasions by Persian and Afghan forces, as well as the emergence of European colonial powers like the British, Dutch, and French, further weakened the Mughal Empire. The invasion of Nadir Shah in 1739 and the British expanding their influence through the East India Company were pivotal events in the empire’s decline.
Q: Were there any cultural or artistic impacts of the Mughal Empire’s decline?
A: The decline of the Mughal Empire had significant cultural and artistic impacts. As the empire weakened, patronage for arts and culture decreased, leading to a decline in the Mughal architectural, literary, and artistic achievements. However, some regional Mughal successor states continued to flourish culturally, such as the Awadh and Hyderabad kingdoms.
In case you still have your doubts, contact us on 9811333901.
For UPSC Prelims Resources, Click here
For Daily Updates and Study Material:
Join our Telegram Channel – Edukemy for IAS
- 1. Learn through Videos – here
- 2. Be Exam Ready by Practicing Daily MCQs – here
- 3. Daily Newsletter – Get all your Current Affairs Covered – here
- 4. Mains Answer Writing Practice – here