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Decline of Mughal Empire

1700- 1800 is a transition period in Indian history. This is characterised by the transfer of power from Mughals to British. In this article, we’ll discuss in brief the decline of Mughal empires and the causes behind it. The complete timeline of Mughal empire have also been provided for reference.

1. Timeline of Mughal Empire before Aurangzeb

  1.  1526 – Babur defeated Lodhi dynasty and established Mughal empire.
  2. Humayun ruled for brief time.
  3. 1556 onwards – rule of AkbarImportant Mughal ruler.
  4. Shahajahan
  5. Dara Sikhoh and Aurangzeb tussle.
  6. 1658 – 1707 Aurangzeb. Last great Mughal ruler. He expanded Mughal empire to Deccan region. It becomes truly Pan-Indian empire in his time. He defeated Marathas, Bijapur, Golkonda in Deccan.
Growth of Mughal Empire CC BY-SA Santosh.mbahrm, Wikimedia Commons

2. Decline of Mughal Empire

The decline of Mughal empire began with death of Aurangzeb in 1707. With no powerful central ruler present, number of Mughal ‘successor states’ came to prominence. It included Bengal, Hyderabad, Carnatic region, Marathas, Mysore etc. For this reason, the 18th century is called as period of transition or period of fragmentation.

2.1 Political Causes

The Mughal empire expanded from central India to south India during Aurangzeb’s reign from 1658  – 1707. It thus, acquired the status of a pan-Indian empire. However, after the death of Aurangzeb there were succession disputes. It brought a decade of political instability. This resulted in loose control over the regional states.

Over competition for key administrative positions, bitter factionalism emerged in Mughal court. Irani, Turani and Hindustani factions, all wanted to assert their supremacy. Sayyid Brothers (Hindustani faction) organised assassination of Farrukhsiyar in 1719 and replaced him with Muhammad Shah.

The factionalism got worse as Asif Jahan I (Leader of Irani faction) united the Irani and Turanis to assassinate Sayyid Brothers in 1719 and asserted influence over Muhammad Shah.

2.2 Economic Causes

The Jagirdari system, a principle method of revenue collection of Mughal empire, was riddled with a serious crisis. In this system, a revenue collector (Jagirdar ) was allotted a territorial unit (Jagir) for the purpose of revenue collection.

Too many potential Jagirdars chased too few Jagirs . The size of Jagirs was also highly unequal. This created discontent among some Jagirdars. The crisis worsened following the death of Aurangzeb since no major territorial expansion in Mughal empire was witnessed after 1707.

The Jagirdari system was also an inefficient way of revenue collection. Significant share of taxes would go to maintaining the lavish lifestyle of the Jagirdars.

The Khalisa system of salaried revenue collecting officials introduced by Aurangzeb in Deccan region to bring more efficiency in revenue collection did little to address the Jagirdari crisis during this period. (Khalisa system was existing before Aurangzeb also, but he modified it and used more extensively.)

Aurangzeb expanded the Mughal empire in Deccan from 1760s to 1790s. Although, it increased the territorial reach of Mughals, it was a costly affair. It weakened the empire financially.

The lack of focus on increasing agricultural productivity also negatively affected the financial health of the empire.

In the absence of central supervision, the Jagirdars often failed to maintain the requisite number of troops (which was expected from them). This led to corruption and inefficiency within the army.

No new technological modernisation were introduced within the Mughal army since the death of Aurangzeb. This adversely affected the military strength of Mughals and their ability to deal with powerful external entities like British and Afghans.

2.4 Socio Religious Causes

The imposition of Jiziya (a religious tax imposed on non-Muslims) during Aurangzeb’s rule, alienated the subject classes, increased the regional sentiment and further contributed to the decline of Mughal empire.

3. Conclusion

Thus the absence of a powerful ruler and the failure of the Mughals to reform their political, administrative and military structure and inability to modernise the Mughal state contributed to its eventual decline of Mughal empire 1707 onwards.

4. Later Mughal Rulers

Bahadur Shah1707-1712
Jahandar Shah1712-1713
Farrukhsiyar1713-1719
Muhammad Shah (Rangila)1719-1748
Ahmed Shah Bahadur1748-1754
Alamgir II1754-1759
Shah Alam II1759-1806
Akbar II1806-1837
Bahadur Shah II (Jafar)1837-1857

5. Tips & Tricks

[BHAJSA] acronym to remember rulers before Aurangzeb in chronological order i.e. Babur, Humayun, Akbar, Jahangir, Shahajahan, Aurangzeb.

Acronym – [BJ FM AA SAB] to remember rulers after Aurangzeb i.e. Bahadur Shah, Jahandar Shah, Rarrukhsiyar, Muhammad Shah (Rangila), Ahmed Shah Bahadur, Alamgir II, Shah Alam II, Akbar II, Bahadur Shah II (Jafar).

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