The Rise and Fall of the Mughal Empire in the Indian Subcontinent

Fareeha Arshad
Jama Masjid (great mosque) built under the rule of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in 1656 | It is located in the heart of puraani (old) Delhi, InSergio Capuzzimati on Unsplash

It took the Mughals more than a century to strengthen their hold over the Indian subcontinent. After Babur won the First Battle of Panipat against Lodi in 1526, the Mughals’ series of conquests began in the Indian land.

With the British starting to gain more strength within the Indian subcontinent, the Mughals began losing their power. This was a consequence of rising internal conflicts. Moreover, with the European countries trying to find more ways to expand their economic territory — they focused on the empire’s abundant wealth. Though the empire survived until the great revolt of 1857, its power steadily declined since the mid-1700s.

Let’s now take a look at what happened during this century that began the rule of one of the ancient world’s largest empires.

The rise of the Mughal empire
The areas under Mughal empireWikimedia Commons

The largest expansion of the Mughal empire occurred during Aurangzeb’s rule, during the 1700s. This period was the most successful for the Mughals. There are many possible reasons behind them coming to power and them keeping such an influence for a long duration.

For starters, they had a completely different perception when it came to identifying the supreme authority. They declared themselves as the ultimate power, and though there could be multiple kingdoms within their states, the final rule resided solely with the Mughals, and they made sure that people understood that. That way, there were numerous kingdoms under their influence, without them having to annex those regions. The smaller kingdoms were allowed to keep their domains and exercise their authority; however, they were answerable to the Mughals’ ultimate jurisdiction.

The Mughals knew how to keep their friends close and enemies closer. They kept diplomatic relations with their enemies, like the Rajputs. This way, they were quite successful in expanding their territory even inside enemy lands. Monetary and army-wise, the Mughals were far superior to the other kingdoms at that time. This made them one of the wealthiest empires in the world. The area dominated by present-day Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh was under the mighty Mughal empire’s rule for more than two centuries. But by the mid-eighteenth century, the world started seeing small cracks in the empire.

The stability of the empire
Taj Mahal | One of the historic monuments created under the influence of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan for his beloved wife | Situated in prPixabay

The Mughals were the Muslim majority who ruled the significant Hindu population of the Indian subcontinent. Though religious differences existed, the rulers were very tolerant, appreciated every culture, and avoided any conflicts at all costs. This way, trades and businesses flourished across the areas and harmony existed among the various social class. The Mughals stressed manufacturing handloom textiles and spices that were not found anywhere else in the world. This is what brought them their major profits.

Indian silk and cotton had already been famous around the world since the fifth century. The Mughals with their various connections made trade even more successful and brought in more money into the land. Adding the vast diversity in spices, especially the world-famous black pepper, business with the Indian subcontinent reached another high. Hence, flourishing trades and open options gave the Mughals a better chance at strengthening their hold in the Indian subcontinent.

The Mughals gave the kings of every state enough power to be called the mansabdars. The mansabdars were rulers of small states within the Mughal empire, thereby could collect taxes from the ordinary people on behalf of the emperor. They were also awarded land ownership, compensation for their work, and high status among the other nobles. However, the mansabdar title could be ripped away by the emperor at any time. This system allowed for stability within the empire for a long time.

This was until it became the starting point of the downfall of the empire.

The start of the fall of the mighty empire

The first century of the Mughal rule was dominated by peace and tranquility. Every social and working-class was happy with the Mughals and their regulations. After their ruling period crossed the second half of the next century, the Mughals had exhausted all their ruling area or the lands they could give away to the mansabdars to keep them happy. On the other side, the mansabdars had already become very powerful — both in terms of land and money. With the increase in power among different mansabdars came a rise in conflicts among the factions leading to massive political instability.

At around the same time, droughts and famines also became common on the Indian lands. During this uncertain period, religious conflicts also emerged. It was a rocky and unfortunate period for the Mughal rulers.

That wasn’t it.

Even the Europeans were looking out for small pieces of land in the southern subcontinent to set their trading companies. One of the many was the British East Company, which was also given the position of mansabdars. They were given a small area in Bengal under their governance. Like all the other mansabdars, they acknowledged Mughals as the supreme authority and were allowed to collect taxes. Over the years, the British expanded their territory into the other states for their commercial benefits. Being smart as they were, they even made alliances with other mansabdars who were not happy with the Mughals and disliked the other Europeans.

The neighboring areas of Afghanistan, Persia, and Uzbekistan were also not very happy with the Mughals holding that kind of power over such an extensive range. They even challenged the Mughals from time to time. The increased number of wars to keep the throne safe exhausted a large amount of royal money. As the Mughals loosened their grip over their throne, the British gained increasingly more power.

The fall of the Mughal empire and the rise of the British empire
The map of the world showing the extent of the British Empire in 1886Wikimedia Commons

By the 1850s, the British took over the complete control of the Indian subcontinent with the Mughal rulers as their puppets. Not much later, the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, was declared a traitor and was imprisoned in Burma. Soon, Queen Victoria was proclaimed as the new empress of India. By this time, the British had complete control over the Indian subcontinent. The British empire justified that they favored the Indians because they were unable to govern themselves on their own.

The fall of the Mughal empire marked the rise of the British empire in India. The primary reason behind their slow disintegration was their inability to control their military and commercial provinces. More money and better land attracted them more than proper governance. And that’s how the fall of one of the largest empires in history came about.

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I am a scientist by profession and a historian by passion. I write about current affairs, history, science, and lifestyle.

Texas State

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