The Decline of the Mughal Empire


Pakistan Studies 2059

The Decline of the Mughal Empire

The Decline of the Mughal Empire
Key Question 2: What were the causes and consequences of the decline of the Mughal Empire?

Aurangzeb (1618 – 1707)


• He was born in November 1618 at Dahod.

• His father was Shah Jahan and he was the youngest among brothers.

• He was the viceroy of Deccan kingdoms from 1636 to 1644 and 1654 to 1658.

• He dethroned his father and became emperor.

Aurangzeb as a Person:

• He was deeply religious, self-disciplined and industrious.

• He spent his time writing copies of the Holy Quran.

• He was ruthless but avoided shedding blood unnecessarily.

• His courage in battle was undeniable.

Aurangzeb as an Emperor:

• Shah Jahan left the Empire larger than ever, but Aurangzeb spent most of Empire’s wealth in wars.

• He was very religious and his religious reforms against Non-Muslims received much criticism.

• He appointed theologians to assemble a book of Islamic law, named as ‘Fatawa-al-Alamgiriya’.

• His goal as a ruler was to rule all over India.

Aurangzeb’s Role in the Decline:

• Aurangzeb was the last great Mughal empire and he spent most of his rule fighting Marhattas and Rajputs. 

• During the final years of Aurangzeb's rule, the problems in the Mughal Empire started to rise.

Following are the major reasons that led to the decline of the Mughal Empire:

The War Against Marhattas:

• He started the war against Marhattas and created enemies for Mughals in the south region.

• The Marhattas defeated the Mughal army in 1737 and took over Malwa.

• It was a long war that continued for twenty-five years due to which the state was left unattended and weakened the empire.

The Downfall of Economy & High Tax:

• The war costed the treasury drastically and the Empire’s economy in a miserable state.

• To cover up the loss, Jizya (tax) was imposed on Muslims and the people started disliking him.

Religious Reforms:

• He destroyed Hindu temples.

• He enforced Hindus and Sikhs to live their life with respect to Quran.

• He made Hindus agitated by banning Satee.


• He spent money on his luxuries.

• He built a pearl mosque for his personal use.

• He built palaces.

• His luxuries further weakened the economy.

The War of Succession:

• To get the throne, Aurangzeb had to fight with his brothers but this war for throne turns out to be heavy on the treasury.

• Therefore, to avoid this situation among his three sons, he divided the entire empire but in vain.

• They still fought over the throne, Prince Muazzam rise as the victor but he died after a few years. 

• Jahandar Shah was murdered within a year of being a victor.

• The succession disputes also affected the army strength because different fractions of the army men were supporting different princes making the empire vulnerable.

• After the death of Aurangzeb, there were 12 claims on the throne within ten years.

• In 1719, Muhammad Shah became the emperor. He was the last to claim the throne.

Eventual Break of the Mughal Empire After 1707

• After the death of Aurangzeb, the Mughal Empire eventually declined and inevitably broke. However, since it was a very successful Empire, it still took 150 more years for its definite end.

Following are the reasons that made the Mughal Empire fall:

The Challenges of The Empire:

• It was an empire that was difficult to administrate.
• The disputes of succession take a huge toll on the treasury. Aurangzeb tried to defend from it but failed.
• The cost on the wars to stop rebellions like Nadir Shah was heavy.

Rebel by Locals:

• Since the empire was very large, it became to keep an eye on everyone and stop rebellion from the locals.
• The locals who were in power such as the Zamindars (landlords) built their armies.
• After the death of Aurangzeb, they grew stronger, denied to make tax payments and accept any new emperor.

Rebel by Princes:

• As the Mughal Empire weakened, the Princes started rebelling to rule areas independently.
• They tried to rule areas that are far from the Emperors reach and didn’t make any contributions to the Empire’s treasury.

Rebel by Nawabs:

• The provincial governors, known as the ‘Nawabs’ were very important in carrying out the instructions for the Emperor and Empire.
• Their loyalty towards the Mughals weakened as they became stronger and powerful.
• In the 1720s, The Nawabs separated themselves from the Imperial control and stopped sending revenues to the Empire's treasury.

Rebel by Marhattas:

• It was considered as the most serious reason for the decline of Mughals.
• Aurangzeb failed to defeat Marhattas before his death.
• Under the leadership of Sivaji, the Marhattas power expanded.
• In 1737, they defeated the Mughal army outside Delhi and took over Malwa.
• In 1760, the even captured Delhi.

• They became the most powerful people during the middle of the century.

Invasion by Afghans & Persians:

• Since the Mughal Empire was divided within itself, it became vulnerable to external invasions.
• The first armed invasion was led by Afghans and Persians.
• In 1738-1739, under the leadership of Nadir Shah, the Persians launched an invasion.
• The invasion by Persians was nothing more than a successful looting expedition. 
• They looted the famous Peacock Throne, jewels and gold and returned home.
• During 1747 – 1769, ten invasions were launched by the Afghan leader Ahmed Shah in northern India.

Military Weakness & Extravagance:

• The Mughal army became over-confident that resultant in their downfall.
• The Mughals became self-observant and started spending their wealth on personal pleasures.

Role of East India in the Decline of Mughal Empire


• During the fifteenth century, as the sea routes opened, new trade opportunities created for the Western world.
• The extravagance, wealth and splendor of the Mughals attracted the Europeans to do business in India.
• At first, the Europeans seemed completely harmless business traders.
• They were interested in Indian spices, cotton, gold, jewels, and metalworks of India to trade.
• Trading posts were established along with military outposts by Europeans, Dutch, Portuguese and French with cooperation from the Mughals.
• Mughals saw the opportunity of higher profit by their trade and gave them their support.

The British Takeover 

• The East India Company was established by merchants.
• In 1750, the British East India Company gained supremacy among their competitors especially French, in the form of British East India Company.
• The East India Company created a private army and played an integral role in the establishment of British rule. 
• The decline of Mughals and the downfall of Marhattas allowed British to take hold of India.
• They wanted to take control of all trade routes to eliminate competitors as most of the trades passed through the sub-continent.
• The East India Company got bankrupt and after the War of Independence 1857.
• The British Government has seen the failure of the East India Company as an opportunity to take over India by blaming the company for the War of Independence
• The British Government seized assets of the company.

British Expansion in the Sub-Continent to 1857

Resistance to British:

• In 1686, the East India Company (EIC) refused to pay taxes to the Mughal Empire. 
• Aurangzeb sent forces and defeated the British.
• Due to this defeat, a heavy fine was imposed on them by Aurangzeb to continue their trade.
• Additionally, in 1756, Siraj-ud-Daulah, the Nawab of Bengal also attacked EIC’s base in Calcutta.
• The British were again defeated, and the city of Calcutta was captured.
• Both resistances show the power of Mughals had while Aurangzeb was alive as well as the bravery of local rulers after his death.

The Rise of British:

• In 1764, the rulers of Orissa, Bihar, Bengal, and the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II were defeated by British strengthening their position in the sub-continent.
• In 1782, Warren Hastings – the first Governor ended the first Marhattas War by signing an agreement removing the threat of Marhattas power looming over them.
• The Marhattas was strong and didn't allow the British to capture their land but rather agreed for negotiations. 
• Another Sikh ruler, Ranjit Singh was a threat and would not have let the British enter into Punjab but an agreement was signed of everlasting friendship in 1809.
• Tipu Sultan and Haider Ali, the Nawabs of Maysore also resisted British but were defeated and killed in 1799.

Tipu Sultan:

  • Tipu Sultan was a Nawab of Maysore.
  • Tipu Sultan along with Nawab Haider Ali fought with the British.
  • He didn’t let the British capture the lands and proved to be a successful resistance against them for some time.
  • However, in 1799, Maysore was invaded by Generally Wellesley and Tipu Sultan was killed.
• In 1903, the Mughal Emperor of Delhi, Shah Alam was forced by British that he was ruling under their protection making the British the indirect rulers of Delhi.
• The Industrial revolution and advanced weaponry of British also gave them an edge over the Indian rules who were using the outdated weaponry.

The Annexations by British:

Afghanistan (1839):

• Russia wanted to expand its territory which made the British afraid.
• They invaded Afghanistan but faced many difficulties including the locals and terrain.
• Within two years, the Afghans rebelled and killed all of the 4000 British men except a doctor who reported the incident.

Sindh (1843):

• After facing a shameful defeat by hands of Afghan, the British were enraged.
• Under the leadership of Sir Charles Napier, they invaded Sindh to not only restore their pride but also to capture Bolan Pass, which was an important route.
• It was a shameful act because they violated the signed agreement with the Amirs of Sindh.

Punjab & NWFP:

• The British were afraid of Ranjit Singh, Sikh ruler of Punjab and wanted the Khyber Pass and Indus River trade route in their control.
• The Sikhs were aware of the looming threat and attacked the British in 1845, it was the first Sikh War.
• In 1848 – 1849, the second Sikh War started, the British defeated them and took over Punjab along with NWFP.

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