The Mughal Empire (Persian and self-designation: گورکانی ; مغلیہ سلطنت ), was an Islamic imperial power which ruled most of the Indian subcontinent from the early 16th to the mid-19th centuries. The Mughal Emperors were of Turko-Mongol descent, but developed a highly sophisticated mixed Persian culture. At the height of its power, around 1700, it controlled most of the Subcontinent - extending from present-day Bangladesh to Kashmir and part of what is now Afghanistan. Its population at that time has been estimated as between 110 and 130 million, over a territory of over 4 million km² (1.5 million mi²). Following 1725 it declined rapidly. Its decline has been variously explained as caused by wars of succession, agrarian crises fueling local revolts, the growth of religious intolerance, and British colonialism. The last Emperor, Bahadur Shah II, whose rule was restricted to the city of Delhi, was imprisoned and exiled by the British after the Indian Rebellion of 1857.
The classic period of the Empire starts with the accession of Jalaluddin Mohammad, better known as Akbar the Great, in 1556, and ends with the death of Aurangzeb in 1707, although the Empire continued for another 150 years. During this period, the Empire was marked by a highly centralized administration connecting the different regions. All the significant monuments of the Mughals, their most visible legacy, date to this period.
Babur's son Humayun succeeded him in 1530 but suffered major reversals at the hands of the Pashtun Sher Shah Suri and effectively lost most of the fledgling empire before it could grow beyond a minor regional state. From 1540 Humayun became a ruler in exile, reaching the Court of the Safavid ruler in 1542 while his forces still controlled some fortresses and small regions. But when the Afghans (Pashtuns) fell into disarray with the death of Sher Shah Suri, Humayun returned with a mixed army, raised more troops and managed to reconquer Delhi in 1555.
Humayun crossed the rough terrain of Makran with his wife, but left behind their infant son Jalaluddin to spare him the rigours of the journey. Akbar, as Jalaluddin would be better known in his later years, was born in the Rajput town of Umerkot in Sindh where he was raised by his uncle Askari. There he became an excellent outdoorsman, horseman, and hunter, and learned the arts of war.
The resurgent Humayun then conquered the central plateau around Delhi, but months later died in an accident, leaving the realm unsettled and in war. Akbar succeeded his father on 14 February 1556, while in the midst of a war against Sikandar Shah Suri for the throne of Delhi. He soon won his eighteenth victory at age 21 or 22. The rump remnant began to grow, then it grew considerably. He became known as Akbar, as he was a wise ruler, set fair but steep taxes. He investigated the production in a certain area and taxed inhabitants 1/5 of their agricultural produce. He also set up an efficient bureaucracy and was tolerant of religious differences which softened the resistance by the conquered.
Jahangir, the son of Baburids Emperor Akbar ruled the empire from 1605–1627. In October 1627, Shah Jahan, son of Baburids Emperor Jahangir succeeded to the throne, where he inherited a vast and rich empire in India. At mid-century this was perhaps the greatest empire in the world. Shah Jahan commissioned the famous Taj Mahal (1630–1653) in Agra as a tomb for his wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to their 14th child. By 1700 the empire reached its peak with major parts of present day India, except for the North eastern states, the Sikh lands in the Punjab, the lands of the Marathas, areas in the south and most of Afghanistan under its domain, under the leadership of Aurangzeb Alamgir. Aurangzeb was the last of what are now referred to as the Great Turk kings.
The language of the Mughals was originally Chagatai, but Farsi, Persian, was adopted as the language of the court. It was the language of the Muslim elite in India and in the Ottoman Empire (which later adopted Ottoman Turkish as its official language). Later, the Urdu language, a mix of Farsi and the Indian language spoken in Delhi, developed. Note that this is also the origin of Hindi, which technically developed as a separate language later. For a long while, an alternative name for Urdu was Hindustani, although this term has fallen into disuse. The main differences between Urdu and Hindi are that Standard Urdu is conventionally written in Nastaliq calligraphy style of the Perso-Arabic script and draws vocabulary more heavily from Persian and Arabic than Hindi,, while Standard Hindi is conventionally written in Devanāgarī and draws vocabulary from Sanskrit comparatively more heavily. The Urdu language borrowed aspects of Persio-Turkic formation, and mimicked various characteristics of Persian, Chagatai, and Arabic. Urdu was adopted as a National Language of Pakistan, despite the fact that the language was not spoken in that region. Urdu is also spoken by sections of Afghanistan and Indian Muslims, and recognized as one of India's official languages by the Indian Constitution.
The official State religion of the Mughal Empire was Islam, with the preference to the jurisprudence of the Hanafi Madhab (Mazhab). The government tended to support Islamic institutions. Before the reign of the Emperor Akbar, non-Muslims were obliged to pay the Jizya tax in exchange of being free of recruitment to the military, signifying their status as Dhimmis. The tax was reintroduced by Aurangzeb.
After the invasion of Persia by the Mongol Empire, a regional Turko-Perso-Mongol dynasty formed. Just as the eastern Mongol dynasties inter-married with locals and adopted the local religion of Buddhism and the Chinese culture, this group adopted the local religion of Islam and the Persian culture. The first Mughal King, Babur, established the Mughal dynasty in the Indian Subcontinent. Upon invading this region, the Mughals starting with Emperor Akbar inter-married with the local Hindu tribes and Persian settlers creating a dynasty of combined Turko-Persian, Mongolian and Hindu Rajput backgrounds. King Babur and his descendants did this to create peace among the different religions in the region. In accordance to Islamic values, Babur focused on setting a good example for the Mughal Dynasty by emphasizing religious tolerance.
The dynasty remained unstable until the reign of Akbar, who was of liberal disposition and intimately acquainted, since birth, with the mores and traditions of Islam in the Indian sub-continent. Under Akbar's rule, the court abolished the jizya (tax on non-Muslims) and abandoned use of the Muslim lunar calendar in favor of a solar calendar . One of Akbar's most unusual ideas regarding religion was Din-i-Ilahi (Faith of God), which was an eclectic mix of Islam, Zoroastrianism, Jainism and Christianity. It was proclaimed the state religion until his death. These actions however met with stiff opposition from the Muslim clergy, especially the Sufi Sheikh Alf Sani Ahmad Sirhindi. Akbar is remembered as tolerant, at least by the standards of the day: only one major massacre was recorded during his long reign (1556–1605), when he ordered most of the captured inhabitants of a fort be slain on February 24, 1568, after the battle for Chittor. Akbar's acceptance of other religions and his abolition of poll-tax on non-Muslims, in Islam is considered apostasy. He made the formal declaration of his own infallibility in all matters of religious doctrine, promulgated a new creed, and adopted Hindu and Zoroastrian festivals and practices.
The emperor Jahangir was also a religious moderate. His mother being Hindu and his father setting up an independent faith-of-the-court ('Din-i-Illahi'), the influence of his two Hindu queens (the Maharani Maanbai and Maharani Jagat) kept religious moderation as a center-piece of state policy, which was extended under the emperor Shah Jahan.
Religious orthodoxy would only play an important role during the reign of Aurangzeb, a devout Muslim. Aurangzeb was considerably less tolerant of other faiths than his predecessors had been, and his reign saw an increase in the number and importance of Islamic institutions and scholars. He led many military campaigns against the remaining non-Muslim powers of the Indian Subcontinent, namely the Sikhs in the Punjab, the Marathas in the Deccan and the last independent Hindu Rajputs in Rajasthan. Under his reign the empire reached its greatest extent in terms of territorial gain and economic strength.
In the early 16th century, Muslim armies consisting of Mongol, Turkic, Persian, and Pashtun warriors invaded India under the leadership of the Timurid prince Zahir-ud-Din-Muhammad Babur. Babur was the great-grandson of Central Asian conqueror Timur-e-Lang (Timur the Lame, from which the Western name Tamerlane is derived), who had invaded India in 1398 before retiring to Samarkand. Timur himself claimed descent from the Mongol ruler, Genghis Khan. Babur was driven from Samarkand by the Uzbeks and initially established his rule in Kabul in 1504. Later, taking advantage of internal discontent in the Delhi sultanate under Ibrahim Lodhi, and following an invitation from Daulat Khan Lodhi (governor of the Punjab) and Alam Khan (uncle of the Sultan), Babur invaded the sultanate in 1526.
Babur, a seasoned military commander with his well-trained veteran army of 12,000 met the sultan's huge but unwieldy and disunited force of more than 100,000 men. Babur defeated the Lodhi sultan decisively at the First Battle of Panipat. Employing firearms, gun carts, movable artillery, superior cavalry tactics, and the highly regarded Mughal composite bow, a weapon even more powerful than the English longbow of the same period, Babur achieved a resounding victory and the Sultan was killed. A year later (1527) he decisively defeated, at the Battle of Khanwa, a Rajput confederacy led by Rana Sanga of Chittor. A third major battle was fought in 1529 at Gogra, where Babur routed the joint forces of Afghans and the sultan of Bengal. Babur died in 1530 in Agra before he could consolidate his military gains. During his short five-year reign, Babur took considerable interest in erecting buildings, though few have survived. He left behind as his chief legacy a set of descendants who would fulfil his dream of establishing an Islamic empire in India.
|Emperor||Name||Reign start||Reign end|
|Interregnum (Sher Shah Suri)*||-||1540||1555|
|Shah Jahan||Shihabuddin Mohammed||1627||1658|
* Afghan Rule (Sher Shah Suri and his descendants)
Starting in 1571, Akbar built a walled capital called Fatehpur Sikri (Fatehpur means "town of victory") near Agra. Palaces for each of Akbar's senior queens, a huge artificial lake, and sumptuous water-filled courtyards were built there. However, the city was soon abandoned and the capital was moved to Lahore in 1585. The reason may have been that the water supply in Fatehpur Sikri was insufficient or of poor quality. Or, as some historians believe, Akbar had to attend to the northwest areas of his empire and therefore moved his capital northwest. In 1599, Akbar shifted his capital back to Agra from where he reigned until his death.
Akbar adopted two distinct but effective approaches in administering a large territory and incorporating various ethnic groups into the service of his realm. In 1580 he obtained local revenue statistics for the previous decade in order to understand details of productivity and price fluctuation of different crops. Aided by Todar Mal, a Hindu scholar, Akbar issued a revenue schedule that optimized the revenue needs of the state with the ability of the peasantry to pay. Revenue demands, fixed according to local conventions of cultivation and quality of soil, ranged from one-third to one-half of the crop and were paid in cash. Akbar relied heavily on land-holding zamindars to act as revenue-collectors. They used their considerable local knowledge and influence to collect revenue and to transfer it to the treasury, keeping a portion in return for services rendered. Within his administrative system, the warrior aristocracy (mansabdars) held ranks (mansabs) expressed in numbers of troops, and indicating pay, armed contingents, and obligations. The warrior aristocracy was generally paid from revenues of non-hereditary and transferable jagirs (revenue villages).
An astute ruler who genuinely appreciated the challenges of administering so vast an empire, Akbar introduced a policy of reconciliation and assimilation of Hindus (including Jodhabai, later renamed Mariam-uz-Zamani Begum, the Hindu Rajput mother of his son and heir, Jahangir), who represented the majority of the population. He recruited and rewarded Hindu chiefs with the highest ranks in government; encouraged intermarriages between Mughal and Rajput aristocracy; allowed new temples to be built; personally participated in celebrating Hindu festivals such as Deepavali (or Diwali), the festival of lights; and abolished the jizya (poll tax) imposed on non-Muslims. Akbar came up with his own theory of "rulership as a divine illumination," enshrined in his new religion Din-i-Ilahi (Divine Faith), incorporating the principle of acceptance of all religions and sects. He encouraged widow re-marriage, discouraged child marriage, outlawed the practice of sati and persuaded Delhi merchants to set up special market days for women, who otherwise were secluded at home.
By the end of Akbar's reign, the Mughal Empire extended throughout north India and south of the Narmada river. Notable exceptions were Gondwana in central India, which paid tribute to the Mughals, Assam in the northeast, and large parts of the Deccan. The area south of the Godavari river remained entirely out of the ambit of the Mughals. In 1600, Akbar's empire had a revenue of £17.5 million. By comparison, in 1800, the entire treasury of Great Britain totalled £16 million.
Akbar's empire supported vibrant intellectual and cultural life. The large imperial library included books in Hindi, Bangla ,Persian, Greek, Kashmiri, English, and Arabic, such as the Shahnameh, Bhagavata Purana and the Bible. Akbar regularly sponsored debates and dialogues among religious and intellectual figures with differing views, and he welcomed Jesuit missionaries from Goa to his court. Akbar directed the creation of the Hamzanama, an artistic masterpiece that included 1400 large paintings. Architecture flourished during his reign. One of his first major building projects was the construction of a huge fort at Agra. The massive sandstone ramparts of the Red Fort are another impressive achievement. The most ambitious architectural exercise of Akbar, and one of the most glorious examples of Indo-Islamic architecture, was the creation of an entirely new capital city at Fatehpur Sikri.
After the death of Akbar in 1605, his son, Prince Salim, ascended the throne and assumed the title of Jahangir, "Seizer of the World". He was assisted in his artistic attempts by his wife, Nur Jahan. The Mausoleum of Akbar at Sikandra, outside Agra, represents a major turning point in Mughal history, as the sandstone compositions of Akbar were adapted by his successors into opulent marble masterpieces. Jahangir is the central figure in the development of the Mughal garden. The most famous of his gardens is the Shalimar Bagh on the banks of the Dal Lake in Srinagar in Kashmir.
Mughal rule under Jahangir (1605–27) and Shah Jahan (1628–58) was noted for political stability, brisk economic activity, beautiful paintings, and monumental buildings. Jahangir's wife Nur Jahan (Light of the World), emerged as the most powerful individual in the court besides the emperor. As a result, Persian poets, artists, scholars, and officers — including her own family members — lured by the Mughal court's brilliance and luxury, found asylum in India. However, the number of unproductive officers mushroomed in the state bureaucracies, as did corruption, while the excessive Persian representation upset the delicate balance of impartiality at the court.
The reign of Jahangir was also known for religious persecution. When joint Hindu and Jain forces rebelled against the Mughal government, Jahangir put down the rebellion and severely persecuted the Jains and destroyed Hindu temples. Guru Arjun, the fifth Guru of Sikhism, was tortured to death during his reign, although his relations with the son of Guru Arjun, Guru Hargobind, remained very cordial and friendly. It is contended that Guru Arjun and the Jains suffered because of the Empire's disregard to humankind.
Nur Jahan's abortive efforts to secure the throne for the prince of her choice (Khurram - later Shah Jahan) led the first-born, Prince Khusrau (Maharani Maanbai's son) to rebel against Jahangir in 1622. In that same year, the Persians took over Kandahar in southern Afghanistan, an event that struck a serious blow to Mughal prestige. Jahangir also had the Tuzuk-e-Jahangiri composed as a record of his reign. Shah Jahan married the girl because of the wealth that would come from her. It had nothing to do with love but more about the land he would get.
The Taj Mahal is the most famous monument built by the Mughals. It was built by Prince Khurram who ascended the throne in 1628 as Emperor Shah Jahan. Between 1636 and 1646, Shah Jahan sent Mughal armies to conquer the Deccan and the lands to the northwest of the empire, beyond the Khyber Pass. Even though they aptly demonstrated Mughal military strength, these campaigns drained the imperial treasury. As the state became a huge military machine, causing the nobles and their contingents to multiply almost fourfold, the demands for revenue from the peasantry were greatly increased. Political unification and maintenance of law and order over wide areas encouraged the emergence of large centers of commerce and crafts — such as Lahore, Delhi, Agra, and Ahmadabad — linked by roads and waterways to distant places and ports.
However, Shah Jahan's reign is remembered more for monumental architectural achievements than anything else. The single most important architectural change was the use of marble instead of sandstone. He demolished the austere sandstone structures of Akbar in the Red Fort and replaced them with marble buildings such as the Diwan-i-Am (hall of public audience), the Diwan-i-Khas (hall of private audience), and the Moti Masjid (Pearl Mosque). The tomb of Itmad-ud-Daula, the grandfather of his queen, Mumtaz Mahal, was also constructed on the opposite bank of the Jamuna or Yamuna. In 1638 he began to lay out the city of Shahjahanabad beside the Jamuna river further North in Delhi. The Red Fort at Delhi represents the pinnacle of centuries of experience in the construction of palace-forts. Outside the fort, he built the Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in the empire. However, it is for the Taj Mahal, which he built as a memorial to his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal, that he is most often remembered.
Shah Jahan's extravagant architectural indulgence had a heavy price. The peasants had been impoverished by heavy taxes and by the time his son Aurangzeb ascended the throne, the empire was in a state of insolvency. As a result, opportunities for grand architectural projects were severely limited. This is most easily seen at the Bibi-ki-Maqbara, the tomb of Aurangzeb's wife, built in 1678. Though the design was inspired by the Taj Mahal, it is half its size, the proportions compressed and the detail clumsily executed.
The Taj Mahal thus symbolizes both Mughal artistic achievement and excessive financial expenditures at a time when resources were shrinking. The economic positions of peasants and artisans did not improve because the administration failed to produce any lasting change in the existing social structure. There was no incentive for the revenue officials, whose concerns were primarily personal or familial gain, to generate resources independent of what was received from the Hindu zamindars and village leaders, who, due to self-interest and local dominance, did not hand over the entirety of the tax revenues to the imperial treasury. In their ever-greater dependence on land revenue, the Mughals unwittingly nurtured forces that eventually led to the break-up of their empire.
Shah Jahan fell ill in 1657, and a succession struggle emerged among his four sons, Dara Shikoh, Shah Shuja, Aurangzeb, and Murad Baksh. In 1658 Aurangzeb defeated Dara Shikoh's army near Agra, and Dara Shikoh fled north. Aurangzeb captured Agra, crowned himself emperor, and imprisoned Shah Jahan. Dara Shikoh and Murad Baksh were captured and later executed, while Shah Shuja fled into exile in 1660. Shah Jahan remained imprisoned in the citadel at Agra until his death in 1666.
Aurangzeb Alamgir was the last of the Great Mughals. During his fifty-year reign, the empire reached its greatest physical size (the Bijapur and Golconda Sultanates which had been reduced to vassaldom by Shah Jahan were formally annexed), but also showed unmistakable signs of decline. The bureaucracy had grown corrupt; the huge army used outdated weaponry and tactics. Aurangzeb restored Mughal military dominance and expanded power southward, at least for a while. Aurangzeb was involved in a series of protracted wars against the sultans of Bijapur and Golconda in the Deccan, the Rajputs of Rajasthan, Malwa, and Bundelkhand, the Marathas in Maharashtra and the Ahoms in Assam. Peasant uprisings and revolts by local leaders became all too common, as did the conniving of the nobles to preserve their own status at the expense of a steadily weakening empire. From the early 1700s the campaigns of the Sikhs of the Punjab under leaders such as Banda Bahadur, inspired by the martial teachings of their last Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, also posed a considerable threat to Mughal rule in Northern India.
But most decisively the series of wars against the Pashtuns in Afghanistan weakened the very foundation upon which Mughal military rested. The Pashtuns formed the backbone of the Muhgal army and were some of the most hardened troops. The antagonism showed towards the erstwhile Mughal General Khushal Khan Khattak, for one, seriously undermined the Mughal military apparatus.
Aurangzeb made his religion an important part of his reign. However, that brought about resentment. For instance, the much resented jiziya tax which non-Muslims had to pay was re-introduced. In this climate, contenders for the Mughal throne were many, and the reigns of Aurangzeb's successors were short-lived and filled with strife. The Mughal Empire experienced dramatic reverses as regional Nawabs or governors broke away and founded independent kingdoms such as the Marathas in the Deccan and the Sikhs in the Punjab. In the war of 27 years from 1681 to 1707, the Mughals suffered several heavy defeats at the hands of the Marathas. In the early 1700s the Sikhs became increasingly militant in an attempt to establish their own state where only they would control and govern. They had to make peace with the Maratha armies. Nader Shah defeated the Mughal army at the huge Battle of Karnal in February, 1739. After this victory, Nader captured and sacked Delhi, carrying away many treasures, including the Peacock Throne. In 1761, Delhi was raided by Ahmed Shah Abdali after the Third battle of Panipat.
The decline of the Mughal Empire has been ascribed to several reasons. Some historians such as Irfan Habib have described the decline of the Mughal Empire in terms of class struggle. Habib proposed that excessive taxation and repression of peasants created a discontented class that either rebelled itself or supported rebellions by other classes and states. Athar Ali proposed a theory of a "Jagirdari crisis." According to this theory, the influx of a large number of new Deccan nobles into the Mughal nobility during the reign of Aurangzeb created a shortage of agricultural crown land meant to be allotted, and destroyed the crown lands altogether. The most obvious concept is that of increasing European hegemony and spheres of influence in the region. The powers of Europe were challenging themselves to the game of who could conquer these foreign lands and exploit their riches and wealth for their own personal gain. Other theories put weight on the devious role played by the Saeed brothers in destabilizing the Mughal throne and auctioning the agricultural crown lands to the Dutch or the British for revenue extraction.
However, there are descendants of Mughal kings living all over India. The surname Sheikh is also commonly known to be of the descendents of the Mughal Empire and the these type of families do have their family tree (Shajra-e-Nasab) which can be traced back to Babar and some times to Tamerlane, written to prove them authentic. Some descendants are also called Chughtai after the Mongol tribe descended from a son of the Mongol conqueror, Chengiz Khan to which Babar belonged. Although not the descendants of the many heirs to the Mughal empire's throne, the descendants of Bahadur Shah II's brother Mirza Nali (the crown prince of the empire, as decided by his father Akbar Shah II) live in Rajshahi and Dhaka, Bangladesh . The present day heir to the throne is Colonel HH Prince Azam II, the son of Nali's great grand daughter (Gul Bodon Begum). Gul Bodon became the head of the family as she was born well before her siblings. Mirza Nali's descendants are very well off, owning lots of land around North Bengal. Nali fled to Bangladesh, in fear of the British.
A major Mughal contribution to the Indian Subcontinent was their unique architecture. Many great monuments were built by the Muslim emperors during the Mughal era including the Taj Mahal. The Muslim Mughal Dynasty built splendid palaces, tombs, minars and forts that stand today in Delhi, Dhaka , Agra, Jaipur, Lahore, Sheikhupura and many other cities of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The first Mughal emperor Babur wrote in the Bāburnāma:
Hindustan is a place of little charm. There is no beauty in its people, no graceful social intercourse, no poetic talent or understanding, no etiquette, nobility or manliness. The arts and crafts have no harmony or symmetry. There are no good horses, meat, grapes, melons or other fruit. There is no ice, cold water, good food or bread in the markets. There are no baths and no madrasas. There are no candles, torches or candlesticks".
Fortunately his successors, with fewer memories of the Central Asian homeland he pined for, took a less prejudiced view of cultures of the Subcontinent, and became more or less naturalised, absorbing many subcontinental traits and customs along the way. The Mughal period would see a more fruitful blending of Indian, Iranian and Central Asian artistic, intellectual and literary traditions than any other in India's history. The Mughals had a taste for the fine things in life — for beautifully designed artifacts and the enjoyment and appreciation of cultural activities. The Mughals borrowed as much as they gave; both the Hindu and Muslim traditions of the Indian Subcontinent were huge influences on their interpretation of culture and court style. Nevertheless, they introduced many notable changes to societies of the subcontinent and culture, including:
The remarkable flowering of art and architecture under the Mughals is due to several factors. The empire itself provided a secure framework within which artistic genius could flourish, and it commanded wealth and resources unparalleled in the history of the Subcontinent. The Mughal rulers themselves were extraordinary patrons of art, whose intellectual caliber and cultural outlook was expressed in the most refined taste.