Mughal Empire

  • 1526–1540
  • 1555–1857
Mughal
The empire at its greatest extent, in c. 1700
StatusEmpire
Capital
Common languages
Religion
GovernmentAbsolute monarchy,
unitary state with federal structure,
centralized autocracy
Islamic sharia[3]
Emperor[a] 
• 1526–1530
Babur (first)
• 1837–1857
Bahadur Shah II (last)
Historical eraEarly modern
21 April 1526
• Empire interrupted by Sur Empire
1540–1555
1680-1707
• Death of Aurangzeb
3 March 1707
24 February 1739
1746–1763
21 September 1857
Area
1690[5][6]4,000,000 km2 (1,500,000 sq mi)
Population
• 1700[7]
158,400,000
CurrencyRupee, Taka, dam[8]:73-74
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Delhi Sultanate
Rajput states
Chero dynasty
Bengal Sultanate
Deccan sultanates
Maratha Empire
Bengal Subah
Durrani Empire
Sikh Empire
Company rule in India
British Raj

The Mughal Empire or Mogul Empire, was an early-modern empire in South Asia.[9] For some two centuries, the empire stretched from the outer fringes of the Indus basin in the west, northern Afghanistan in the northwest, and Kashmir in the north, to the highlands of present-day Assam and Bangladesh in the east, and the uplands of the Deccan plateau in South India.[10]

The Mughal empire is conventionally said to have been founded in 1526 by Babur, a warrior chieftain from what today is Uzbekistan, who employed aid from the neighboring Safavid- and Ottoman empires,[11] to defeat the Sultan of Delhi, Ibrahim Lodhi, in the First Battle of Panipat, and to sweep down the plains of Upper India. The Mughal imperial structure, however, is sometimes dated to 1600, to the rule of Babur's grandson, Akbar,[12] This imperial structure lasted until 1720, until shortly after the death of the last major emperor, Aurengzeb,[13][14] during whose reign the empire also achieved its maximum geographical extent. Reduced subsequently, especially during the East India Company rule in India, to the region in and around Old Delhi, the empire was formally dissolved by the British Raj after the Indian Rebellion of 1857.

Although the Mughal empire was created and sustained by military warfare,[15][16][17] it did not vigorously suppress the cultures and peoples it came to rule, but rather equalized and placated them through new administrative practices,[18][19] and diverse ruling elites, leading to more efficient, centralised, and standarized rule.[20] The base of the empire's collective wealth was agricultural taxes, instituted by the third Mughal emperor, Akbar.[21][22] These taxes, which amounted to well over half the output of a peasant cultivator,[23] were paid in the well-regulated silver currency,[24] and caused peasants and artisans to enter larger markets.[25]

The relative peace maintained by the empire during much of the 17th century was a factor in India's economic expansion.[26] Burgeoning European presence in the Indian ocean, and its increasing demand for Indian raw- and finished products, created still greater wealth in the Mughal courts.[27] There was more conspicuous consumption among the Mughal elite,[28] resulting in greater patronage of painting, literary forms, textiles, and architecture, especially during the reign of Shah Jahan.[29] Among the Mughal UNESCO World Heritage Sites in South Asia are: Agra Fort, Fatehpur Sikri, Red Fort, Humayun's Tomb, Lahore Fort and the Taj Mahal, which is described as, "The jewel of Muslim art in India, and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world's heritage."[30]

Name

Contemporaries referred to the empire founded by Babur as the Timurid empire,[31] which reflected the heritage of his dynasty, and this was the term preferred by the Mughals themselves.[32]

The Mughal designation for their own dynasty was Gurkani (Persian: گورکانیان‎, Gūrkāniyān, meaning "sons-in-law").[33] The use of "Mughal" derived from the Arabic and Persian corruption of "Mongol", and it emphasised the Mongol origins of the Timurid dynasty.[34] The term gained currency during the 19th century, but remains disputed by Indologists.[35] Similar terms had been used to refer to the empire, including "Mogul" and "Moghul".[36][37] Nevertheless, Babur's ancestors were sharply distinguished from the classical Mongols insofar as they were oriented towards Persian rather than Turco-Mongol culture.[38]

Another name for the empire 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.[39] In the west, the term "Mughal" was used for the emperor, and by extension, the empire as a whole.[40]

History

Babur and Humayun (1526–1556)

Babur, the founder of the Mughal Empire, and his warriors visiting a Hindu temple in the Indian subcontinent.

The Mughal Empire was founded by Babur (reigned 1526–1530), 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.[41] 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.[41] Babur's forces occupied much of northern India after his victory at Panipat in 1526.[41] The preoccupation with wars and military campaigns, however, did not allow the new emperor to consolidate the gains he had made in India.[41]

The instability of the empire became evident under his son, Humayun (reigned 1530–1556), who was driven out of India and into Persia by rebels.[41] The Sur Empire (1540–1555), founded by Sher Shah Suri (reigned 1540–1545), briefly interrupted Mughal rule. 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.[41]

Akbar to Aurangzeb (1556–1707)

Akbar (reigned 1556–1605) was born Jalal-ud-din Muhammad[42] in the Rajput Umarkot Fort,[43] to Humayun and his wife Hamida Banu Begum, a Persian princess.[44] Akbar succeeded to the throne under a regent, Bairam Khan, who helped consolidate the Mughal Empire in India.[41] 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.[41] 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.[41] 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.[41]

Jahangir (born Salim,[45] reigned 1605–1627) was born to Akbar and his wife Mariam-uz-Zamani, an Indian Rajput princess.[46] 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.[41] Shah Jahan (reigned 1628–1658) was born to Jahangir and his wife Jagat Gosaini, a Rajput princess.[45] During the reign of Shah Jahan, the culture and splendour of the luxurious Mughal court reached its zenith as exemplified by the Taj Mahal.[41] The maintenance of the court, at this time, began to cost more than the revenue.[41]

Akbar holds a religious assembly of different faiths in the Ibadat Khana in Fatehpur Sikri.

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 (reigned 1658–1707), 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.[41] 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 and became the world's most powerful economy.[41] Aurangzeb fully established sharia by compiling the Fatwa Alamgiri. He 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.[41] Aurangzeb is considered India's most controversial king,[47] with some historians arguing his religious conservatism and intolerance undermined the stability of Mughal society,[41] while other historians question this, noting that he built Hindu temples,[48] employed significantly more Hindus in his imperial bureaucracy than his predecessors did, opposed bigotry against Hindus and Shia Muslims,[47]:50 and married Hindu Rajput princess Nawab Bai.[45]

Decline (1707–1857)

Emperor Shah Jahan and Prince Aurangzeb in Mughal Court, 1650

Aurangzeb's son, Bahadur Shah I, 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.[41]

During the reign of Muhammad Shah (reigned 1719–1748), 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.[41] Many of the empire's elites now sought to control their own affairs, and broke away to form independent kingdoms.[41] But, according to Sugata Bose and Ayesha Jalal, the Mughal Emperor 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.[49]

Meanwhile, some regional polities within the increasingly fragmented Mughal Empire, involved themselves and the state within global conflicts, leading only to defeat and loss of territory during the Carnatic Wars and the Bengal War.

The Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II (1759–1806) made futile attempts to reverse the Mughal decline but ultimately had to seek the protection of 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,[50] 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.[49] The British East India Company took control of the former Mughal province of Bengal-Bihar in 1793 after it abolished local rule (Nizamat) that lasted until 1858, marking the beginning of British colonial era over the Indian Subcontinent. By 1857 a considerable part of former Mughal India was under the East India Company's control. 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 East India Company-held territories in India in the form of the new British Raj. In 1876 the British Queen Victoria assumed the title of Empress of India.

Causes of 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.[51]

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.[52]

Modern views on the decline

Since the 1970s historians have taken multiple approaches to the decline, with little consensus on which factor was dominant. The psychological interpretations emphasise 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) emphasises excessive exploitation of the peasantry by the rich, which stripped away the will and the means to support the regime.[53] 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.[54] In a religious interpretation, some scholars argue that the Hindu powers revolted against the rule of a Muslim dynasty.[55] 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.[56]

Jeffrey G. Williamson has argued that the Indian economy went through deindustrialization in the latter half of the 18th century as an indirect outcome of the collapse of the Mughal Empire, with British rule later causing further deindustrialization.[57] According to Williamson, the decline of the Mughal Empire led to a decline in agricultural productivity, which drove up food prices, then nominal wages, and then textile prices, which led to India losing a share of the world textile market to Britain even before it had superior factory technology.[58] Indian textiles, however, still maintained a competitive advantage over British textiles up until the 19th century.[59]

Administrative divisions

Subah (Urdu: صوبہ) was the term for a province in the Mughal Empire. The word is derived from Arabic. The governor of a Subah was known as a subahdar (sometimes also referred to as a "Subah"[60]), which later became subedar to refer to an officer in the Indian Army. The subahs were established by padshah (emperor) Akbar during his administrative reforms of 1572–1580; initially they numbered 12, but his conquests expanded the number of subahs to 15 by the end of his reign. Subahs were divided into Sarkars, or districts. Sarkars were further divided into Parganas or Mahals. His successors, most notably Aurangzeb, expanded the number of subahs further through their conquests. As the empire began to dissolve in the early 18th century, many subahs became effectively independent, or were conquered by the Marathas or the British.

The original twelve subahs created as a result of administrative reform by Akbar: