Mughal emperors

Mughal emperors
Emperor of the Mughal Empire
Former Monarchy
Flag of the Mughal Empire.svg
Imperial Standard
Bahadur Shah II.jpg
Bahadur Shah II
First monarch Babur
Last monarch Bahadur Shah II
Style His Imperial Majesty
Official residence Agra Fort
Monarchy started April 21, 1526
Monarchy ended June 20, 1858

The Mughal era is a historic period of the Mughal Empire in South Asia (mainly Northern India, North Eastern Pakistan and Bangladesh). It ran from the early 15th century to a point in the early 18th century when the Mughal Emperors' power had dwindled. It ended in several generations of conflicts between rival warlords.

The imperial family directly descended from two of the worlds greatest conquerors: Genghis Khan, founder of the largest contiguous empire in the history of the world; and the Amir, Taimurlong or Tamerlane the Great. The direct ancestors of the Mughal emperors, at one point or another, directly ruled all areas from Eastern Europe to the Sea of Japan, and from the Middle East to Russian Plains. They also ruled some of the most powerful states of the medieval world such as Turkey, Persia, India and China. Their ancestors were further also credited with stabilizing the social, cultural and economic aspects of life between, Europe and Asia and opening the extensive trade route known as the Silk Road that connected various parts of the continent. Due to descent from Genghis Khan, the family was called Mughal, or mogul, persianized version of the former's clan name Mongol.The English word 'mogul' (e.g. media mogul, business mogul) was coined by this dynasty, meaning influential or powerful, or a tycoon.[1] From their descent from Tamerlane, also called the Amir, the family used the title of Mirza, shortened Amirzade, literally meaning 'born of the Amir'.[2] The burial places of the Emperors illustrate their expanding empire, as the first Emperor Babur, born in Uzbekistan is buried in Afghanistan, his sons and grandsons, namely Akbar the Great and Jahangir in India and Pakistan respectively and later descendants, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb in Hindustan. The last Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar is buried in Burma.

They were also a prominent influence of literature in urdu, hindi and bengali. They have been continuously portrayed in many films, the most famous of which, multi-million dollar Mughal-e-Azam about Emperor Jahangir's love story; considered an Indian classic and epic film and also the Bollywood film Jodhaa Akbar about Emperor Akbar's (Emperor Jahangir's father) love story. Emperor Jahangir's son was the Prince Khurram who later went on to become Emperor Shah Jahan and built one of the seven wonders of the world, the famous Taj Mahal to memorialize his love for his wife.



Mughal Empire

The Taj Mahal - the most famous structure in India built during Mughal Era

The Mughal Empire lasted for more than three centuries. The Mughal Empire was one of the largest centralized states in pre-modern history and was the precursor to the British Indian Empire.

The titles of the first of the six Mughal Emperors receive varying degrees of prominence in present-day Pakistan and India. Some favour Babur the pioneer and others his great-grandson, Shah Jahan (r. 1628-58), builder of the Taj Mahal and other magnificent buildings. The other two prominent rulers were Akbar (r. 1556-1605) and Aurangzeb (r. 1658-1707). Both rulers expanded the empire greatly and were able administrators. However, Akbar was known for his religious tolerance and administrative genius, whereas Aurangzeb was a just ruler but a proselytizer of orthodox Islam across the heterodox Indian landscape.


Umar Shaykh Mirza - Father of Babur, ca.1875-1900

Zahir ud-Din Muhammad Babur was the first Mughal emperor. He was born on 14 Feb 1483 in present day Uzbekistan, the eldest son of Amir Umar Shaykh Mirza, the son of Abū Saʿīd Mirza (and grandson of [Miran Shah], who was himself son of Timur) and his wife Qutlugh Nigar Khanum, daughter of Younus Khan, the ruler of Moghulistan (and great-great grandson of Tughlugh Timur, the son of Esen Buqa II, who was the great-great-great grandson of Chaghatai Khan, the second born son of Genghis Khan). Babur was known for his love of beauty in addition to his military ability. Babur concentrated on gaining control of northwestern India.He was invited to India by Daulat Khan Lodi and Rana Sanga who wanted to end the Lodi dynasty. He defeated Ibrahim Lodi in 1526 at the First battle of Panipat, a town north of Delhi. In 1527 he defeated Rana Sanga, rajput rulers and allies at khanua. Babur then turned to the tasks of persuading his Central Asian followers to stay on in India and of overcoming other contenders for power, mainly the Rajputs and the Afghans. He succeeded in both tasks but died shortly thereafter on 25 December 1530 in Agra. He was later buried in Kabul.

Babur kept the record of his life in Chagatay Turkish, the spoken language of the Timurids and the whole Turco-Mongol world at the time. Baburnama is one of the longest examples of sustained narrative prose in Chagatay Turkish. Akbar's regent, Bairam Khan, a Turcoman of eastern Anatolian and Azerbaijani origin whose father and grandfather had joined Babur's service. Bayram Khan wrote poetry in Chaghatay and Persian. His son, Abdul-Rahim Khankhanan, was fluent in Chaghatay, Hindi, and Persian and composed in all three languages. Using Babur's own text he translated the Baburnama into Persian. The Chaghatay original was last seen in the imperial library sometime between 1628 and 1638 during Jahangir's reign.


Babur’s favorite son Humayun took the reins of the empire after his father succumbed to disease at the young age of forty-seven.

In 1539, Humayun and Sher Khan met in battle in Chausa, between Varanasi and Patna. Humayun barely escaped with his own life and in the next year, in 1540, his army of 40,000 lost to the Afghan army of 15,000 of Sher Khan. A popular Pashtun Afghan General "Khulas Khan Marwat" was leading Sher Shah Suri's Army. This was the first Military Adventure of Khulas Khan Marwat and he became soon, a nightmare for Mughals.

Sher Khan's Army under the command of Khulas Khan Marwat had now become the monarch in Delhi under the name Sher Shah Suri and ruled from 1540 to 1545. Sher Shah Suri consolidated his kingdom from Punjab to Bengal (the first to enter Bengal after Ala-ud-din Khilji, more than two centuries earlier). He was credited with having organized and administered the government and military in such a way that future Mughal kings used it as their own models. He also added to the fort in Delhi (supposed site of Indraprastha), first started by Humayun, and now called the Purana Qila (Old Fort). The Masjid Qila-i-Kuhna inside the fort is a masterpiece of the period, though only parts of it have survived.

The charred remains of Sher Shah were taken to a tomb at Sasaram (in present day Bihar), midway between Varanasi and Gaya. Although rarely visited, the future great Mughal builders like Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan emulated the architecture of this tomb. The massive palace like mausoleum is three stories and fifty meters high.,[3] Sher Shah’s son Islam Shah held on to power until 1553 and following his death the Sur dynasty lost most of its clout due to strife and famine.

Humayun was a keen astronomer.In fact he died due to a fall from the rooftop of Sher Shah’s Delhi palace in 1554. Thus Humayun ruled in India barely for ten years and died at the age of forty-eight, leaving behind Akbar then only thirteen-year-old as his heir. As a tribute to his father, Akbar later built the Humayun’s tomb in Delhi (completed in 1571), from red sandstone, that would become the precursor of future Mughal architecture. Akbar’s mother and Humayun’s wife Hamida Banu Begum personally supervised the building of the tomb.


Akbar succeeded his father, Humayun whose rule was interrupted by the Afghan Sur Dynasty, which rebelled against him. It was only just before his death that Humayun was able to regain the empire and leave it to his son. In restoring and expanding Mughal rule, Akbar based his authority on the ability and loyalty of his followers, irrespective of their religion. In 1564 the jizya tax on non-Muslims was abolished, and bans on temple building and Hindu pilgrimages were lifted.

Akbar's methods of administration reinforced his power against two possible sources of challenge—the Afghan-Turkish aristocracy and the traditional interpreters of Islamic law, the ulama. He created a ranked imperial service based on ability rather than birth, whose members were obliged to serve wherever required. They were remunerated with cash rather than land and were kept away from their inherited estates, thus centralizing the imperial power base and assuring its supremacy. The military and political functions of the imperial service were separate from those of revenue collection, which was supervised by the imperial treasury. This system of administration, known as the mansabdari, was based on loyal service and cash payments and was the backbone of the Mughal Empire; its effectiveness depended on personal loyalty to the emperor and his ability and willingness to choose, remunerate, and supervise.

Akbar declared himself the final arbiter in all disputes of law derived from the Qur'an and the sharia. He backed his religious authority primarily with his authority in the state. In 1580 he also initiated a syncretic court religion called the Din-i-Ilahi (Divine Faith). In theory, the new faith was compatible with any other, provided that the devotee was loyal to the emperor. In practice, however, its ritual and content profoundly offended orthodox Muslims. The ulema found their influence undermined.

Several well known heritage sites were built during the reign of Akbar. The fort city of Fatehpur Sikri was used as the political capital of the Empire from 1571 to 1578. The numerous palaces and the grand entrances with intricate art work have been recognized as a world heritage site by UNESCO. Akbar also began construction of his own tomb at Sikandra near Agra in 1600 CE.


Prince Salim (b. 1569 son of Hindu Rajput princess from Amber), who would later be known as Emperor Jahangir showed signs of restlessness at the end of a long reign by his father Akbar. During the absence of his father from Agra he pronounced himself as the king and turned rebellious. Akbar was able to wrestle the throne back. Salim did not have to worry about his sibling’s aspirations to the throne. His two brothers, Murad and Daniyal, had both died early from alcoholism.

Jahangir began his era as a Mughal emperor after the death of Akbar in the year 1605. He considered his third son Prince Khurram (future Shah Jahan-born 1592 of Hindu Rajput princess Manmati), his favourite. Rana of Mewar and Prince Khurram had a standoff that resulted in a treaty acceptable to both parties. Khurram was kept busy with several campaigns in Bengal and Kashmir. Jahangir claimed the victories of Khurram – Shah Jahan as his own.

He also had unlimited sources of revenue largely due to a systematic organization of the administration by his father, Akbar. The Mughal Empire reached its pinnacle during Jahangir and Shah Jahan’s rule. Jahangir built his famous gardens in Kashmir though the daily administration was delegated to close aides. One such person was Jahangir’s wife, Nur Jahan, whom he married in 1611. She was the thirty-year-old widow of one of his Afghan nobles. Her father, Persian born Itimad-ud-Daula became a minister and closest advisor to the emperor. Very able Nur Jahan along with her father and brother Asaf Khan, who was a successful general, ran the kingdom.

Jahangir had kept a diary are used as his memoirs. Though not a soldier, Jahangir was an ardent patron of Mughal art and an avid builder. He completed Akbar’s five-tiered tomb in Sikandra. The emperor kept busy building in Lahore, Allahabad and Agra. While the de facto emperor, Nur Jahan was attending to administrative details, Jahangir found solace in loitering in his gardens and appreciating art and nature.

The darkest incident of his rule perhaps was the disposition of a peaceful leader of newly formed religion called Sikhism. Akbar had watched the blossoming of the new religion founded by Guru Nanak, with fascination. Jahangir, in a controversy with its leader, was responsible for the death of Sikh Guru Arjan (who was placed on a hot iron until he died, unwilling to convert to Islam) and this would have lasting consequences for future Mughal emperors. The peaceful religion of Sikhism would turn militant later when Jahangir’s grandson Aurangzeb murdered the ninth Sikh Guru Tegh Bahadur. Jahangir, died in 1627 from alcohol abuse and Prince Khurram (Shah Jahan)’s reign as the emperor began.

Shah Jahan

Shah Jahan on a Terrace Holding a Pendant Set with His Portrait.jpg

Prince Khurram, who would later be known as Emperor Shah Jahan, ascended to the throne after a tumultuous succession battle. With the wealth created by Akbar, the Mughal kingdom was probably the richest in the world. Prince Khurram gave himself the title of Shah Jahan, the ‘King of the World’ and this was the name that was immortalized by history. With his imagination and aspiration, Shah Jahan gained a reputation as an aesthete par excellence. He built the black marble pavilion at the Shalimar Gardens in Srinagar and a white marble palace in Ajmer. He also built a tomb for his father, Jahangir in Lahore and built a massive city Shahajanabad in Delhi but his imagination surpassed all Mughal glory in his most famous building the Taj Mahal. It was in Shahajanabad that his daughter Jahanara built the marketplace called Chandni Chowk.

His beloved wife Arjuman Banu (daughter of Asaf Khan and niece of Nur Jahan) died while delivering their fourteenth child in the year 1631. The distraught emperor started building a memorial for her the following year. The Taj Mahal, named for Arjuman Banu, who was called Mumtaz Mahal, became one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

The great Jama Masjid built by him was the largest in India at the time. He renamed Delhi after himself as Shahjahanabad. The Red Fort made of red sandstone built during his reign near Jama Masjid around the same time came to be regarded as the seat of power of India itself. The Prime Minister of India addresses the nation from the ramparts of this fort on Independence day even to this age.Shah Jahan also built or renovated forts in Delhi and in Agra. White marble chambers that served as living quarters and other halls for public audiences are examples of classic Mughal architecture. Here in Agra fort, Shah Jahan would spend eight of his last years as a prisoner of his son, Aurangzeb shuffling between the hallways of the palace, squinting at the distant silhouette of his famous Taj Mahal on the banks of River Jamuna..


Aurangzeb, who was given the title "Alamgir" or "world-seizer," by his father, was known for aggressively expanding the empire's frontiers and for his acceptance of orthodox Sunni Islam. During his reign, the Mughal empire reached its greatest extent (the Bijapur and Golconda Sultanates which had been reduced to vassalage by Shah Jahan were formally annexed). Although he was an outstanding general and a rigorous administrator, Mughal fiscal and military standards declined as security and luxury increased. Land rather than cash became the usual means of remunerating high-ranking officials, and divisive tendencies in his large empire further undermined central authority.

In 1679, Aurangzeb reimposed the jizyah tax on Non-Muslims. This action by the emperor, incited rebellion among Hindus and others in many parts of the empire notably the Jats, Sikhs, and Rajputs forces in the north and Maratha forces in the Deccan. The emperor managed to crush the rebellions in the north. Aurangzeb was compelled to move his headquarters to Aurangabad in the Deccan to mount a costly campaign against Maratha guerrilla fighters led by Shivaji and his successors, which lasted twenty-six years until he died in 1707 at the age of seventy nine.

In the century and a half that followed, effective control by Aurangzeb's successors weakened. The mansabdari system gave way to the zamindari system, in which high-ranking officials took on the appearance of aristocracy who were hereditary land barons with powers of collecting rents. As Delhi's control waned, other contenders for power emerged and clashed, thus preparing the way for the eventual British takeover.

Aurangzeb, as is his father before him, is remembered as a builder-emperor. The Badshahi Masjid (Imperial Mosque) in Lahore was constructed in 1673 on his orders. It was not only the largest mosque ever built by a Mughal emperor but was at that point the largest mosque in the world. He also constructed the Alamgiri Gate of the Lahore Fort, which is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Moti Masjid inside Delhi's Red Fort was also finalized by him.

Later Mughals

Mughal emperor farrukhsiyar

When Aurangzeb died close to the age of eighty, there were seventeen legitimate claimants to the throne that included not only his sons but also his grandsons and great grandsons. After the death of the emperor two brothers fought near Agra in the same battle site that Aurangzeb had fought his brother Dara Shikoh. Prince Muazzam prevailed and killed his brother Prince Azam Shah and assumed the title Bahadur Shah I or Shah Alam I.

After the death of Bahadur Shah I, a civil war broke out. Jahandar Shah,a son of Bahadur Shah I, emerged victorious in it with the support of Zulfiqar Khan who was the most powerful noble of the time. In Deccan Saiyid Husain Ali Khan colluded with the Marathas and attacked Delhi and using trickery and intrigue seized Farrukhsiyar in the Red Fort[citation needed]. The emperor was blinded and caged and later poisoned as well as stabbed to death[citation needed]. However, prior to his death, Farrukhsiyar had the dubious distinction of aiding the British to have a firm foothold in India, by signing the much-coveted farman an imperial directive that would seal the future of British takeover of India.

Marathas were now constantly attacking Delhi. Of more consequence and humiliation was the plunder of Delhi by Nadir Shah. A Timur descendent, Nadir Shah usurped the throne in Persia and seized Kandahar and Kabul. He marched through Panjab and was invited by Muhammad Shah as a guest to Delhi (only because he had neither the will nor the resources to fight him). Within forty-eight hours, using a lame excuse, Nadir Shah ordered a general massacre of Delhi citizens and looted every bit of wealth they could extort out of the royalty as well as Delhi’s citizenry. Nadir Shah remained in Delhi for forty eight days and departed with millions worth of gold, jewelry and coins. Even the emperor’s bejeweled peacock throne made during Shah Jahan's reign was packed on elephants and carried away to Persia. Another prize, the Koh-I-nur diamond (Humayun’s diamond) now passed into Persian hands. Later an Afghani, Ahmad Shah Abdali started his incursions into Delhi just for the purpose of looting the capital. In a series of attacks starting in 1748 until 1761, Abdali would not only pillage and loot Delhi, he also cleaned out Mathura, Kashmir and cities in Panjab. From the east the British defeated the Nawab of Bengal and occupied the state of Bengal.

The raids by Nadir Shah and repeated incursions of Abdali resulted in quick disposal of the next two emperors Ahmad Shah and Alamgir II until in 1759 Shah Alam II ascended the throne. His reign would last several decades. However, he would preside over more loss of territory to the British. When the Nawab of Bengal lost to Robert Clive, Shah Alam II was forced to recognize Clive as a diwan (chancellor) and Bengal slipped to the British hands permanently.

In 1806 Shah Alam’s son Akbar Shah II acceded to the much diminished empire of the Mughals and ruled until 1837.He gave the title "raja" to Ram mohan roy. His son Bahadur Shah Zafar would be the last emperor of Mughals before the British deposed him in 1858 and the Mughal dynasty would officially come to an end. During the Indian Rebellion of 1857, Bahadur Shah II was forced to take the side of the mutineers though he had no power to affect the outcome of the events. The mutineers had outwitted his British sponsors and now the emperor neither had the troops nor the competence. He had no choice but to join the winning side. However, the success of the mutineers was soon reversed and the octogenarian (he was eighty-two years old) was relieved of his empire and deposed in 1858. The emperor was then exiled to Rangoon in Burma where he died in obscurity in 1862.

Mughal Rulers of India

The Mughals

Portrait Titular Name Personal Name Birth Reign Death
Babur.jpg Bābur
Zahir-ud-din Muhammad
ظہیر الدین محمد
February 23 [O.S. February 14] 1483 30 April 1526 – 26 December 1530 January 5 [O.S. December 26, 1530] 1531 (age 47)
Emperor Humayun.JPG Humayun
Nasir-ud-din Muhammad Humayun
نصیر الدین محمد ہمایوں
17 March 1508 26 December 1530 – 17 May 1540 27 January 1556 (age 47)
Shershah.jpg Sher Shah Suri
شیر شاہ سوری
Farid Khan
فرید خان
1486 1540–1545 May 22, 1545
Islam Shah Suri
اسلام شاہ سوری
Jalal Khan
جلال خان
? 1545 – 1554 22 November 1554
Emperor Humayun.JPG Humayun
Nasir-ud-din Muhammad Humayun
نصیر الدین محمد ہمایوں
17 March 1508 22 February 1555 – 27 January 1556 ) 27 January 1556 (age 47)
Potrait of Akbar by Manohar.jpg Akbar-e-Azam
اکبر اعظم
Jalal-ud-din Muhammad Akbar
جلال الدین محمد اکبر
14 October 1542 27 January 1556 - 25 October 1605 27 October 1605 (aged 63)
Jahangir sitting and Globe.jpg Jahangir
Nur-ud-din Muhammad Salim
نور الدین محمد سلیم
20 September 1569 15 October 1605 - 8 November 1627 8 November 1627 (aged 58)
Shahjahan on globe, mid 17th century.jpg Shah-Jahan-e-Azam
شاہ جہان اعظم
Shahab-ud-din Muhammad Khurram
شہاب الدین محمد خرم
5 January 1592 8 November 1627 - 2 August 1658 22 January 1666 (aged 74)
Aurangzeb-portrait.jpg Alamgir
Muhy-ud-din Muhammad Aurangzeb
محی الدین محمداورنگزیب
4 November 1618 31 July 1658 – 3 March 1707 3 March 1707 (aged 88)
  • Silver Rows signify the brief interregnum during which the Suri Dynasty ruled Northern India.

The Later Mughals

Emperor Birth Reign Period Death Notes
Bahadur Shah 1643 1707–1712 Feb 1712
Jahandar Shah 1664 1712–1713 Feb 1713 He was highly influenced by his Grand Vizier Zulfikar Khan.
Furrukhsiyar 1683 1713–1719 1719 In 1717 he granted a firman to the English East India Company granting them duty free trading rights for Bengal and confirmed their position in India.
Rafi Ul-Darjat Unknown 1719 1719  
Rafi Ud-Daulat
a.k.a Shah Jahan II
Unknown 1719 1719  
Nikusiyar Unknown 1719 1743  
Muhammad Ibrahim Unknown 1720 1744  
Muhammad Shah 1702 1719–1720, 1720–1748 1748 Got rid of the Syed Brothers. Fought a long war with the Maratha Empire, losing Deccan and Malwa in the process. Suffered the invasion of Nadir-Shah of Persia in 1739. He was the last Mughal Emperor to preside effective control over the empire.
Ahmad Shah Bahadur 1725 1748–54 1754 Mughal forces massacred by the Maratha during the Battle of Sikandarabad;
Alamgir II 1699 1754–1759 1759  
Shah Jahan III Unknown In 1759 1770s consolidation of the Nizam of Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa, during the Battle of Buxar. Hyder Ali becomes Nawab of Mysore in 1761;
Shah Alam II 1728 1759–1806 1806 Ahmed-Shah-Abdali in 1761 defeated the Marathas during the Third Battle of Panipat; The fall of Tipu Sultan of Mysore in 1799;
Akbar Shah II 1760 1806–1837 1837 Titular figurehead under British protection
Bahadur Shah Zafar 1775 1837–1857 1862 The last Mughal emperor was deposed by the British and exiled to Burma following the Indian Rebellion of 1857.

Mughal family

Genealogy of the Mughal Dynasty

The Mughal Emperors practiced polygamy.[4] Besides their wives, they also had a number of concubines in their harem, who produced children. This makes it difficult to identify all the offspring of each emperor. The principal offspring of each emperor are provided in the chart below.

1. Babur[5]
(b. 1483 -d. 1531)
2. Humayun
(b. 1508 -d. 1556)
Askari Mirza
Hindal Mirza
Gulrukh Begum
Kamran Mirza
3. Akbar
(b. 1542 -d. 1605)
Muhammad Hakim
4. Jahangir
(b. 1569 -d. 1627)
Khanzada Khanim
Shah Murad
Shakarunnisa Begum
Aram Banu Begum
Sultan Nisar Begum
Khusrau Mirza
Bahar Banu Begum
5. Shah Jahan
(b. 1592 -d. 1666)
Dara Shikoh
Shah Shuja
Jahanara Begum
Roshanara Begum
6. Aurangzeb[6]
(b. 1618 -d. 1707)
Murad Baksh
Muhammad Azam Shah
7. Bahadur Shah I
(b. 1643 -d. 1712)
Muhammad Akbar
Muhammad Kam Baksh
8. Jahandar Shah
(b. 1664 -d. 1713)
Khujista Akhtar
9. Farrukhsiyar
(b. 1683 -d. 1719)
11. Shah Jahan II

(b. 1696 -d. 1719)
10. Rafi'u-d-Darjat
(b. 1699 -d. 1719)
Muhammad Ibrahim
14. Alamgir II
(b. 1699 -d. 1759)
12. Muhammad Shah
(b1702. -d. 1748)
Shah Jahan III
15. Shah Alam II
(b. 1728 -d. 1806)
13. Ahmad Shah Bahadur
(b. 1725 -d. 1754)
16. Akbar Shah II
(b. 1760 -d. 1837)
Bedar Bakht
17. Bahadur Shah Zafar
(b. 1775 -d. 1862)

Arrival of the Europeans

Vasco da Gama led the first documented European expedition to India, sailing into Calicut on the southwest coast in 1498. In 1510 the Portuguese captured Goa, which became the seat of their activity. Under Admiral Afonso de Albuquerque, Portugal successfully challenged Arab power in the Indian Ocean and dominated the sea routes for a century. Jesuits came to convert, to converse, and to record observations of India. The Protestant countries of the Netherlands and England, upset by the Portuguese monopoly, formed private trading companies at the turn of the 17th century to challenge the Portuguese.

Mughal officials permitted the new carriers of India's considerable export trade to establish trading posts (factories) in India. The Dutch East India Company concentrated mainly on the spice trade from present-day Indonesia. Britain's East India Company carried on trade with India. The French East India Company also set up factories.

An engraving titled "Sepoy Indian troops dividing the spoils after their mutiny against British rule" gives a contemporary view of events from the British perspective.

During the wars of the 18th century, the factories served not only as collection and transshipment points for trade but also increasingly as fortified centres of refuge for both foreigners and Indians. British factories gradually began to apply British law to disputes arising within their jurisdiction. The posts also began to grow in area and population. Armed company servants were effective protectors of trade. As rival contenders for power called for armed assistance and as individual European adventurers found permanent homes in India, British and French companies found themselves more and more involved in local politics in the south and in Bengal. Plots and counterplots climaxed when British East India Company forces, led by Robert Clive, defeated the forces of Nawab through treachery,[citation needed] Siraj-ud-Dawlah at Plassey (Pilasi) in Bengal in 1757.


Maratha chieftains were originally in the service of Bijapur sultans in the western Deccan, which was under siege by the Mughals.

Shivaji Bhonsle (1630–80) Shivaji was a fighter regarded as the "father of the Maratha nation," who took advantage of this conflict and carved out his own principality near Pune, which later became the Maratha capital. Adopting guerrilla tactics, he waylaid caravans in order to sustain and expand his army, which soon had money, arms, and horses. Shivaji led a series of successful assaults in the 1660s against Mughal strongholds, including the major port of Surat. Shivaji's battle cries were swaraj (translated variously as freedom, self-rule, independence), swadharma (religious freedom), and goraksha (cow protection). Aurangzeb relentlessly pursued Shivaji's successors between 1681 and 1705 but eventually retreated to the north as his treasury became depleted and as thousands of lives had been lost either on the battlefield or to natural calamities. In 1717 a Mughal emissary signed a treaty with the Marathas confirming their claims to rule in the Deccan in return for acknowledge the fictional Mughal suzerainty and remission of annual taxes.

The Marathas, despite their military prowess and leadership, were not equipped to administer the state or to undertake socioeconomic reform. Pursuing a policy characterized by plunder and indiscriminate raids, they antagonized the peasants. They were primarily suited for stirring the Maharashtrian regional pride rather than for attracting loyalty to an all-India confederacy. They were left virtually alone and without supplies before the invading Afghan forces, headed by Ahmad Shah Abdali (later called Ahmad Shah Durrani), who routed them on the at the Third Battle of Panipat|Panipat in 1761. The shock of defeat hastened the break-up of their loosely knit confederacy into five independent states and extinguished the hope of Maratha dominance in India.

Nizams of Hyderabad

Maratha raids into Berar, Kandesh, Gujarat and Malwa resumed after the death of Aurangzeb, and loosened Mughal control in the Deccan. In 1724 Asaf Jah, the Mughal Nizam ul Mulk, or viceroy, of the Deccan, defeated several contenders for control of the Mughal southern provinces, and established himself of ruler of an independent state with its capital at Hyderabad. He and his successors ruled as hereditary Nizams, and their state, known as Hyderabad after the capital, outlasted the Mughal empire, persisting until it was incorporated into newly-independent India in 1948. Nizam-ul-Mulk Asaf Jahi was a strong ruler and established an orderly system of administration. He also attempted to reform the revenue system. The dynasty founded by him came to be known as the Asaf Jahi dynasty and lasted until the accession of Hyderabad to Independent India


The Afghan defeat of the Maratha armies accelerated the breakaway of Punjab from Delhi and helped the founding of Sikh overlordship in the northwest. Rooted in the bhakti movements that developed in the 2nd century BC. but swept across North India during the 15th and 16th centuries, the teachings of the Sikh gurus appealed to the hard-working peasants. Facing extended persecution from the Mughals, the Sikhs, under Guru Gobind Singh formed the Khalsa (Army of Pure). The khalsa rose up against the economic and political repressions in Punjab toward the end of Aurangzeb's rule. Guerrilla fighters took advantage of the political instability created by the Persian and Afghan onslaught against Delhi, enriching themselves and expanding territorial control. By the 1770s, Sikh hegemony extended from the Indus in the west to the Yamuna in the east, from Multan in the south to Jammu in the north. Jassa Singh Ahluwahlia entered Delhi with a large Sikh army in 1776, established hegemony, but then decided unilaterally to return to Punjab.

The Sikhs, however, were a loose and disunited conglomerate of twelve kin-groups. Ultimately, Ranjit Singh was able to unite these groups by force, and start Sikh rule that would extend from Afghanistan to the River Sutlej, and from Kashmir and Ladakh to the borders of Sindh. Ranjit Singh employed French and British officers and introduced strict military discipline into his army. It is said that his guns were cast with the utmost of excellence and quality, in that they were superior to any that the British had at the time. Further fired by the prayers of the Sikh Dharma, the Sikhs became a potent power in North-west India, plugging the Khyber pass from which numerous invasions had been launched into India, including by Alexander the Great, Chengiz Khan the Mongol nomad, Nader Shah the Persian king, and Mahmud Ghazni and Ahmad Shah Abdali the Afghans.

Ranjit Singh wrested Kashmir from Afghan rule after the Afghans backtracked on fulfilling their part of the promise for the conquest of Kashmir for which Ranjit Singh committed troops from the outside in the form of assistance, for which he was to be paid a certain sum from the Kashmir treasury. But, the ruler of Afghan instructed his brother, Dost Muhamed, the new Governor of Kashmir, to withhold payment to Ranjit Singh. At that insult, Ranjit Singh quietly withdrew his troops, and ambushed near Khyber pass the whole Afghan army returning from Kashmir. Only six people managed to escape that ambush—the ruler of Afghanistan, his brother, and four others—who ran from battle, leaving their army to be slaughtered by the Sikhs.

Establishment of the Europeans

An Indian depiction of a 17th century Dutch ship off the Coromandel Coast

The quest for wealth and power brought Europeans to Indian shores in 1498 when Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese voyager, arrived in Calicut (modern Kozhikode, Kerala) on the west coast. In their search for spices and Christian converts, the Portuguese challenged Arab supremacy in the Indian Ocean, and, with their galleons fitted with powerful cannons, set up a network of strategic trading posts along the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf. In 1510 the Portuguese took over the enclave of Goa, which became the center of their commercial and political power in India and which they controlled for nearly four and a half centuries.

Economic competition

Economic competition among the European nations led to the founding of commercial companies in England (the East India Company, founded in 1600) and in the Netherlands (Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie-- the United East India Company, founded in 1602), whose primary aim was to capture the spice trade by breaking the Portuguese monopoly in Asia. Although the Dutch, with a large supply of capital and support from their government, preempted and ultimately excluded the British from the heartland of spices in the East Indies (modern-day Indonesia), both companies managed to establish trading "factories" (actually warehouses) along the Indian coast. The Dutch, for example, used various ports on the Coromandel Coast in South India, especially Pulicat (about twenty kilometers north of Madras), as major sources for slaves for their plantations in the East Indies and for cotton cloth as early as 1609. (The English, however, established their first factory at what today is known as Madras only in 1639.) Indian rulers enthusiastically accommodated the newcomers in hopes of pitting them against the Portuguese. In 1619 Jahangir granted them permission to trade in his territories at Surat (in Gujarat) on the west coast and Hughli (in West Bengal) in the east. These and other locations on the peninsula became centers of international trade in spices, cotton, sugar, raw silk, saltpeter, calico, and indigo.

British influence

English company agents became familiar with Indian customs and languages, including Urdu and Persian, the unifying official language under the Mughals. In many ways, the English agents of that period lived like Indians, intermarried willingly, and a large number of them never returned to their home country. The knowledge of India thus acquired and the mutual ties forged with Indian trading groups gave the English a competitive edge over other Europeans. The French commercial interest—Compagnie des Indes Orientales (East India Company, founded in 1664)--came late, but the French also established themselves in India, emulating the precedents set by their competitors as they founded their enclave at Pondicherry (Puduchcheri) on the Coromandel Coast.

In 1717 the Mughal emperor, Farrukhsiyar (r. 1713-19), gave the British—who by then had already established themselves in the south and the west—a grant of thirty-eight villages near Calcutta, acknowledging their importance to the continuity of international trade in the Bengal economy. As did the Dutch and the French, the British brought silver bullion and copper to pay for transactions, helping the smooth functioning of the Mughal revenue system and increasing the benefits to local artisans and traders.

The fortified warehouses of the British brought extraterritorial status, which enabled them to administer their own civil and criminal laws and offered numerous employment opportunities as well as asylum to foreigners and Indians. The British factories successfully competed with their rivals as their size and population grew. The original clusters of fishing villages (Madras and Calcutta) or series of islands (Bombay) became headquarters of the British administrative zones, or presidencies as they generally came to be known. The factories and their immediate environs, known as the White-town, represented the actual and symbolic preeminence of the British—in terms of their political power—as well as their cultural values and social practices; meanwhile, their Indian collaborators lived in the Black-town, separated from the factories by several kilometres.

The British company employed sepoys--European-trained and European-led Indian soldiers—to protect its trade, but local rulers sought their services to settle scores in regional power struggles. South India witnessed the first open confrontation between the British and the French, whose forces were led by Robert Clive and François Dupleix, respectively. Both companies desired to place their own candidate as the nawab, or ruler, of Arcot, the area around Madras. At the end of a protracted struggle between 1744 and 1763, when the Peace of Paris was signed, the British gained an upper hand over the French and installed their man in power, supporting him further with arms and lending large sums as well. The French and the British also backed different factions in the succession struggle for Mughal viceroyalty in Bengal, but Clive intervened successfully and defeated Nawab Siraj-ud-daula in the Battle of Plassey (Palashi, about 150 kilometres north of Calcutta) in 1757. Clive found help from a combination of vested interests that opposed the existing nawab: disgruntled soldiers, landholders, and influential merchants whose commercial profits were closely linked to British fortunes.

Later, Clive defeated the Mughal forces at Buxar (Baksar, west of Patna in Bihar) in 1765, and the Mughal emperor (Shah Alam, r. 1759-1806) conferred on the company administrative rights over Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa, a region of roughly 25 million people with an annual revenue of 40 million rupees (for current value of the rupee). The imperial grant virtually established the company as a sovereign power, and Clive became the first British governor of Bengal.

Besides the presence of the Portuguese, Dutch, British, and French, there were two lesser but noteworthy colonial groups. Danish entrepreneurs established themselves at several ports on the Malabar coast and the Coromandel coast notably Tranquebar, in the vicinity of Calcutta, and inland at Patna between 1695 and 1740. Austrian enterprises were set up in the 1720s on the vicinity of Surat in modern-day southeastern Gujarat. As with the other non-British enterprises, the Danish and Austrian enclaves were taken over by the British between 1765 and 1815.


  1. ^
  2. ^ Plight of Mirza Sulayman
  3. ^ Shershah Suri's Tomb, Sasaram - Ticketed Monument - Archaeological Survey of India
  4. ^ Dalrymple, William (2006). The Last Mughal. London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. p. 44. ISBN 9781408800928. 
  5. ^ "Aurangzeb the Mughal Emperor". Retrieved 29 April 2010. 
  6. ^ R.B. Whitehead, Catalogue of Coins in the Panjab Museum, Lahore: Coins of the Mughal Emperors, Obscure Press,, retrieved 29 April 2010 

Further reading

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