Mughal Kings-Azimosshan Sehenshah
In the early sixteenth century, descendants of the Mongol, Turkish, Iranian, and Afghan invaders of South Asia–the Mughals–invaded India under the leadership of Zahir-ud-Din Babur. Babur was the great-grandson of Timur Lenk (Timur the Lame, from which the Western name Tamerlane is derived), who had invaded India and plundered Delhi in 1398 and then led a short-lived empire based in Samarkand (in modern-day Uzbekistan) that united Persian-based Mongols (Babur’s maternal ancestors) and other West Asian peoples. Babur was driven from Samarkand and initially established his rule in Kabul in 1504; he later became the first Mughal ruler (1526-30).
His determination was to expand eastward into Punjab, where he had made a number of forays. Then an invitation from an opportunistic Afghan chief in Punjab brought him to the very heart of the Delhi Sultanate, ruled by Ibrahim Lodi (1517-26).
Babur, a seasoned military commander, entered India in 1526 with his well-trained veteran army of 12,000 to meet the sultan’s huge but unwieldy and disunited force of more than 100,000 men. Babur defeated the Lodi sultan decisively at Panipat (in modern-day Haryana, about ninety kilometers north of Delhi). Employing gun carts, moveable artillery, and superior cavalry tactics, Babur achieved a resounding victory. A year later, he decisively defeated a Rajput confederacy led by Rana Sangha. In 1529 Babur routed the joint forces of Afghans and the sultan of Bengal but died in 1530 before he could consolidate his military gains. He left behind as legacies his memoirs (Babur Namah ), several beautiful gardens in Kabul, Lahore, and Agra, and descendants who would fulfill his dream of establishing an empire in Hindustan.
When Babur died, his son Humayun (1530-56), also a soldier, inherited a difficult task. He was pressed from all sides by a reassertion of Afghan claims to the Delhi throne, by disputes over his own succession, and by the Afghan-Rajput march into Delhi in 1540. He fled to Persia, where he spent nearly ten years as an embarrassed guest at the Safavid court. In 1545 he gained a foothold in Kabul, reasserted his Indian claim, defeated Sher Khan Sur, the most powerful Afghan ruler, and took control of Delhi in 1555.
Humayun’s untimely death in 1556 left the task of further imperial conquest and consolidation to his thirteen-year-old son, Jalal-ud-Din Akbar (r. 1556-1605). Following a decisive military victory at the Second Battle of Panipat in 1556, the regent Bayram Khan pursued a vigorous policy of expansion on Akbar’s behalf. As soon as Akbar came of age, he began to free himself from the influences of overbearing ministers, court factions, and harem intrigues, and demonstrated his own capacity for judgment and leadership. A “workaholic” who seldom slept more than three hours a night, he personally oversaw the implementation of his administrative policies, which were to form the backbone of the Mughal Empire for more than 200 years. He continued to conquer, annex, and consolidate a far-flung territory bounded by Kabul in the northwest, Kashmir in the north, Bengal in the east, and beyond the Narmada River in the south–an area comparable in size to the Mauryan territory some 1,800 years earlier
Akbar built a walled capital called Fatehpur Sikri (Fatehpur means Fortress of Victory) near Agra, starting in 1571. Palaces for each of Akbar’s senior queens, a huge artificial lake, and sumptuous water-filled courtyards were built there. The city, however, proved short-lived, perhaps because the water supply was insufficient or of poor quality, or, as some historians believe, Akbar had to attend to the northwest areas of his empire and simply moved his capital for political reasons. Whatever the reason, in 1585 the capital was relocated to Lahore and in 1599 to Agra.
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 Rajput king, Akbar issued a revenue schedule that the peasantry could tolerate while providing maximum profit for the state. 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 (see Glossary). 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 nonhereditary and transferrable 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 Maryam al-Zamani, 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 Dipavali, 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 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 (see Veiling and the Seclusion of Women, ch. 5). By the end of Akbar’s reign, the Mughal Empire extended throughout most of India north of the Godavari River. The exceptions were Gondwana in central India, which paid tribute to the Mughals, and Assam, in the northeast.
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 married the Persian princess whom he renamed Nur Jahan (Light of the World), who 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. The number of unproductive, time-serving officers mushroomed, as did corruption, while the excessive Persian representation upset the delicate balance of impartiality at the court. Jahangir liked Hindu festivals but promoted mass conversion to Islam; he persecuted the followers of Jainism and even executed Guru (see Glossary) Arjun Das, the fifth saint-teacher of the Sikhs (see Sikhism, ch. 3).
Nur Jahan’s abortive schemes to secure the throne for the prince of her choice led Shah Jahan to rebel in 1622. In that same year, the Persians took over Kandahar in southern Afghanistan, an event that struck a serious blow to Mughal prestige. Between 1636 and 1646, Shah Jahan sent Mughal armies to conquer the Deccan and the northwest beyond the Khyber Pass. Even though they demonstrated Mughal military strength, these campaigns consumed the imperial treasury. As the state became a huge military machine, whose nobles and their contingents multiplied almost fourfold, so did its demands for more revenue from the peasantry. 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. The world-famous Taj Mahal was built in Agra during Shah Jahan’s reign as a tomb for his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It symbolizes both Mughal artistic achievement and excessive financial expenditures when resources were shrinking. The economic position 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 primarily were personal or familial gain, to generate resources independent of dominant Hindu zamindars and village leaders, whose self-interest and local dominance prevented them from handing over the full amount of revenue 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.
The last of the great Mughals was Aurangzeb (r. 1658-1707), who seized the throne by killing all his brothers and imprisoning his own father. During his fifty-year reign, the empire reached its utmost physical limit but also witnessed the unmistakable symptoms of decline. The bureaucracy had grown bloated and excessively corrupt, and the huge and unwieldy army demonstrated outdated weaponry and tactics. Aurangzeb was not the ruler to restore the dynasty’s declining fortunes or glory. Awe-inspiring but lacking in the charisma needed to attract outstanding lieutenants, he was driven to extend Mughal rule over most of South Asia and to reestablish Islamic orthodoxy by adopting a reactionary attitude toward those Muslims whom he had suspected of compromising their faith.
Aurangzeb was involved in a series of protracted wars–against the Pathans in Afghanistan, the sultans of Bijapur and Golkonda in the Deccan, and the Marathas in Maharashtra. 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. The increasing association of his government with Islam further drove a wedge between the ruler and his Hindu subjects. Aurangzeb forbade the building of new temples, destroyed a number of them, and reimposed the jizya . A puritan and a censor of morals, he banned music at court, abolished ceremonies, and persecuted the Sikhs in Punjab. These measures alienated so many that even before he died challenges for power had already begun to escalate. Contenders for the Mughal throne fought each other, and the short-lived reigns of Aurangzeb’s successors were strife-filled. The Mughal Empire experienced dramatic reverses as regional governors broke away and founded independent kingdoms. The Mughals had to make peace with Maratha rebels, and Persian and Afghan armies invaded Delhi, carrying away many treasures, including the Peacock Throne in 1739.
Background – The Delhi Sultanate – 1211 – 1526
During the last quarter of the 1100s, Muhammad of Ghor invaded the Indo-Gangetic Plain. Qutb ud-Din, one of his generals, proclaimed himself Sultan of Delhi and established the first dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate, the Mamluk Dynasty (mamluk means “slave”) in 1211. Various Moslem dynasties succeeded the Mamluks over the years 1211 to 1526. They presided over a flowering of Moslem / Hindu arts, and were powerful enough to insulate India from the rampaging Mongol hordes in the north in the 1200s, though Tamerlane did get through to sack Delhi in 1398. The Sultanate period came to an end with the arival of Babur in 1526 …..
The Mughals were a Moslem dynasty which originated in central Asia. One of the secrets of the success of the greatest of the Mughal Emperors like Akbar was their religious tolerance, and indeed their enthusiasm for embracing all the religious groups within their domains.
Babur 1483 – 1526 – 1530 (47)
The first of the Great Mughals was Babur (“The Tiger”), who invaded and conquered India in 1526. He was also a diarist, an enthusiastic hunter and lover of gardens.
He died in the Ram Bagh gardens in Agra, and his tomb lies in gardens bearing his name in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Babur was the great great great grandson of the Mongol Warlord Tamerlane
Humayun 1508 – 1530 – 1540 – 1556 (48)
Born in Kabul, Humayun was the eldest of Babur’s sons, and had helped his father with the conquest of India. He ascended the throne at Agra on December 30 1530 at the age of 23, but did not have the skills to manage the immature empire, Afghan warlords, Hindu Rajput princes and his own brothers. He would have liked nothing better than to pursue his passions of mathematics and astronomy, but he had not been dealt that hand!
In 1540 he lost his empire to Afghan leader Sher Shah, but he hung in and managed to get it back 16 years later in 1556. However, only six months later he died as a result of falling down the steps of his library. Had he known all of this at the time, he might not have chosen a name which meant “the fortunate”.
Humayun did, however, do one memorable thing for posterity, and that was to introduce Persian artists who blended with the locals to produce what we now know as the classic mughal artistic tradition.
Humayun’s tomb in Delhi was built by his widow Baga Begam in 1565 – 1569. It is the earliest example in India of large scale Mughal architecture – not just the building itself, but the large formal gardens with water channels and fountains, which led to the perfection of the Taj Mahal 70 years later.
Akbar 1542 – 1556 – 1605 (63)
The greatest of the Mughal Emperors, Akbar, was born in exile and ascended the throne at the age of 13 after his father’s short restoration.
In many ways Akbar was the Indian equivalent of Suleiman the Magnificent (1494 – 1520 – 1566). He conquered massive new territories including much of Rajasthan, created a long lasting civil and military administrative system (called Mansabdari), introduced standard weights and measures, tax structures and a workable police force.
Akbar was married to at least seven wives, one of them a Rajput Hindu princess from Jaipur. He was enormously liberal for his time, promoting religious tolerance (and even his own hybrid Islamic / Hindu / Christian / Zoroastrian religion called Din – i llahi), abolishing slavery and forbidding forced sati.
Akbar collected Persian poets, painters and musicians (including Tanzen) at his court like they were going out of fashion.
Finally he gave full vent to the emerging Mughal architectural style in a new purpose built 7.5 sq km administrative capital at Fatehpur Sikri near Agra (1570 – 1582). This was the least practical of his ventures because a lack of water forced its abandonment 16 years after its completion. However the state buildings have been well looked after over the intervening 400+ years and can be visited today as perhaps the finest example of Mughal architecture (after the Taj Mahal).
Akbar died in Agra in 1605 and is buried in Sikandra.
Jahangir 1569 – 1605 – 1627 (58)
Named (again inappropriately) “Conqueror of the World”, Jahangir smoked opium and was into the grog, but was surprisingly effective at keeping things under control, and he found time to lay out a few gardens, including the one where he is buried at Shahdra in Lahore.
He let the newly arrived English in on a lot of good deals (for them), but he also had the good sense to have a woman of staggering beauty and intellect as his favourite wife (Nur Jahan – Light of the World), and to leave a lot of the empire running to her. His tomb, in a 4 acre garden in Lahore, contains some beautiful decorative tiles and paintings.
Shah Jahan 1592 – 1627 – 1658 – 1666
Shah Jahan (“Ruler of the World”) inherited a near bankrupt empire from his father Jahangir. He turned this around, in the process becoming the best remembered of the Mughal builders, largely because of the Taj Mahal.
Shah Jahan initially chose to rule, like his predecessors, from the Red Fort at Agra, and it was a few miles away from here that he built the Taj Mahal as a monument to his wife, known as Mumtaz Mahal (“Ornament of the Palace” or “Exalted of the Palace” depending on the translator), who died in 1631 after the birth of their 14th child. The construction of the Taj Mahal was begun in 1632 and it took 20,000 labourers 17 years to complete the job. Several of the stonemasons involved had earlier been part of the construction team for the Blue Mosque in Instanbul, designed and built by the Ottoman Imperial Architect Mehmet Aga in 1609 -16. The Taj Mahal , a much much more ambitious work, was built on two platforms – sandstone then marble – and constructed in white marble with inlaid semi precious stones (see them glinting in the early morning sun!). Believe it or not, the original idea was to have a similar structure in black marble as Shah Jahan’s tomb on the other side of the river.
In 1638 Shah Jahan moved his capital to the Red Fort at Delhi, though it took a further 9 years for the palace complex there to be completed. He ruled from here until he became very sick in 1658, precipitating a succession battle amongst his sons which was won by Aurangzeb his third son (who became first by killing his brothers).
Poor old Shah Jahan recovered, but too late to keep his throne, and he spent the last eight years of his life locked up in the Red Fort at Agra, only being able to glimpse the Taj Mahal in the distance through the river mists. His tomb is there, however, unsymmetrically placed next to that of the his wife – the great love of his life – because his own black marble Taj was never built!
Aurangzeb 1618 – 1658 – 1707
Aurangzeb was an intolerant religious (Muslim) zealot and kill-joy. He forbade music, put a stop to Mughal painting and left behind none of the architectural wonders that earlier members of his dynasty had produced.
The Hindus and Sikhs fared even worse, with suppression, destruction of temples, the reintroduction of a poll tax and public executions.
Just a generally unpleasant little man as far as most of the population were concerned, and it is not surprising that his 50 year reign was the beginning of the end for the Mughal dynasty.
Bahadur Shah Zafar
In 1739, India was invaded by the legendary Iranian soldier Nadir Shah. Despite having superior numbers, the Mughal forces were defeated by the Persians. Later, after an attempt was made on Nadir Shah’s life, the Persian forces retaliated with a bloody vengeance and sacked Delhi in the style of the Venetian led 4th Crusade’s sack of Constantinople 500 years earlier in 1203. Amongst the loot they took was the famous Peacock Throne of Shah Jahan.
In 1756 the Nawab of Bengal, aged 27 and wanting to register his dislike of British administration, captured Calcutta from the British East India Company. Amongst other things he thoughtlessly imprisoned 146 Brits in a 20′ square airless cellar, and by the next morning all but 23 were dead and the “Black Hole of Calcutta” had sealed the fates of the Nawab and indeed India.
Robert Clive’s forces beat the Nawab decisively at the Battle of Plassey the next year (June 23 1757), and Clive became the first British Governor of Bengal. Actually the so called (and famous) “battle” lasted only a couple of hours, if that, as large numbers of the Nawab’s soldiers had previously been bribed to throw away their weapons and surrender prematurely.
Jawaharlal Nehru, in “The Discovery of India” (1946), pointedly describes Clive as having won the battle “by promoting treason and forgery”, and notes that British rule in India had “an unsavoury beginning and something of that bitter taste has clung to it ever since.”
Another commentator states that “Clive thought of the battle as the climax to his career, a striking testimony to the extraordinary shallowness of his character ….. but in one fundamental respect, the battle of Plassey signified the state of things to come: few British victories were achieved without the use of bribes, and few promises made by the British were ever kept.”
Anyway, after this the already fracturing Mughal Empire started to crumble, and before too long was reduced to a symbolic presence in Northern India until, 100 years after Plassey and in the wake of the Indian Mutiny, the British took over everything and the last Mughal Emperor (Bahadur Shah Zafar II (1775 – 1862 (87)) (below – portrait c1854 in Lahore Fort – taken from the excellent book “The Last Mughal” by William Dalrymple), hiding in Humayun’s tomb in Delhi, was run to earth by Lieutenant Hodson .