Modern History-Decline of Mughal Empire


Aurangzeb, the last Great Mughal emperor had-died and left his Empire in chaos. The leadership that emerged was weak and ineffective.

  • Therefore, from then onwards the Empire descended into anarchy whenever an emperor was dead. It opened opportunities for not only the royal princes but also whoever was influential enough to rule the Empire.
  • A similar thought had taken shape in the minds of Zulfiqar khan & Sayyid brothers (nobles in Mughal court) who witnessed the ineffectiveness of the Mughal rulers before them. History is replete with such people who rise whenever a weakness in the old leadership became apparent.

Thus began the era of NOBLES in Indian history where rulers became puppets and the real decision making power was with the nobles.


Here is a brief chronology of important Mughal rulers (also refer to the image showing the genealogy in a tree format)-

  • 1658 – 1707 – Aurangzeb
  • 1707 – 1712 – Bahadur Shah (son of Aurangzeb)
  • 1712 – 1713 – Jahandar Shah (Son of Bahadur Shah)
  • 1713 – 1719 – Farukhsiyar (nephew of Jahandar Shah)
  • 1719 – Quick succession of two princes – Rafi-ud-daulah (Shah Jahan II) and Rafi-ud-dar-Jat- Both of Whom died quickly
  • 1719 – 1748 – Muhammad Shah-Rangeela (grandson of Bahadur Shah); Delhi suffered the invasion of Nadir-Shah of Persia in 1739 during his reign after which the disintegration was profound
  • 1748 – 1754 – Ahmad Shah Bahadur (son of Muhammad Shah); the emperor was deposed and blinded by his own Wazir Imad-ul-mulk who placed Alamgir II on the thorne
  • 1754 – 1759 – Alamgir II (second son of Jahandar Shah); Murdered by conspiracy of Imad-ul-mulk and Maratha ruler Sadashivrao Bhau
  • 1759 – Shahjahan III (grandson of Aurangzeb); deposed within a year
  • 1759 – Shah Alam II (son of Alamgir II) came to the thorne but spent most of the time away from Delhi. He was finally defeated by the british in Battle of buxar in 1764.

BAHADUR SHAH (1707-1712): After 1707, with the death of tyrant and radical Aurangzeb, a fight among his three sons for the thorne was witnessed and 65 year old Bahadur Shah came out victorious. Unlike his father, Bahadur Shah was broad-minded, religiously tolerant and was focused to make peace with the neighbouring states and not wages war.

Bahadur Shah’s was supported by the Jat chief, Churaman in the campaign against Sikhs. Struggle continued with the Sikhs till 1712 (the year in which Bahadur Shah died). Bahadur Shah also made peace with the Bundela chief, Chhatrasal who remained loyal to him.

Due to the conciliatory behavior and reckless grants of Jagirs and Zamindaris, the state finances deteriorated immensely in his reign. (approx 13 crores in 5 years). Before he could take actions to improve the finances of the state, he died in 1712, which once again put the state into Chaos and pitted nobles and prince against each other to control power.


JAHANDAR SHAH (1712 – 1713): After Bahadur Shah’s death Jahandar Shah, one of the less abled sons came to thorne with the help of ‘Zulfiqar Khan’. One of the nobles from the times of Aurangzeb. Jahander Shah was weak and was too indulgent in his pleasures to take control of the state. This gave opportunity to Zulfiqar khan to gain control of Mughal affairs.


FARRUKHSIYAR (1713 – 1719): Farukhsiyar accredited the success to Sayyid brothers- Abdullah Khan & Hussain Ali Khan Barha. He made these two wazir (manager of home & finance) & Mir Bakshi (manager of Army) respectively. The two brothers acquired control of the state with the most important functions viz. controlling the army & finances. Farukhsiyar was inefficient in ruling as he was not only a coward and undependable person, but also lacked the capacity to control the Sayyid brothers.

MUHAMMAD SHAH (1719 – 1748): Muhammad Shah was installed as Mughal emperor by Sayyid brothers who look de-facto control of the Empire in his name. They needed to reform the administrative structure to take effective control and consolidate their authority. Hence the brothers look following steps to reform the current administrative structure.


  1. Took up the policy of religious tolerance as they were convinced that India could be ruled harmoniously only by associating with Hindu chiefs, nobles and common people.
  2. Sought to conciliate with Jats, Bundela, Rajputs and Marathas by giving them high ranks in administration
  3. Abolished Jiziya (which is the extra tax imposed on non-Muslims who live under Muslim rule according to the Quran and Hadith)
  4. Abolished pilgrim tax
  5. Reached an agreement with Shahu by granting Swarajya and the right to collect Chauth and Sardeshmukhi of six provinces of Deccan. In return Shahu Agreed to provide military support with 15,000 mounted soldiers.


With the growing animosity among nobles against Sayyid brothers, there was a group, headed by Nizam-ul-mulk- Asaf Jah I (who later became the first Nizam of the state of Hyderabad), who started conspiring against them. With the killing of Farukhsiyar, these nobles were convinced that if the Emperor can be murdered then there was no security for the commoners & even themselves. They looked down upon them as traitors or “Namak Haram”. Ever Muhammad Shah aligned with these nobles as he wanted to free himself from the clutches of Sayyid brothers.

Finally, Hussain Ali Khan, younger of the two brothers was assassinated in 1720. In the meantime Nizam-ul-Mulk was instated as the Grand Vizier of the Mughal Empire, by Muhammad Shah on 21 February 1722, to overthrow the Sayyid Brothers. The remaining brothers, Abdullah Khan who tried to fight back, were defeated near Agar and Killed in November, 1722. Thus, ended the domination of “King Makers” in The Mughal Empire

INVASION OF NADIR SHAH OF PERSIA – 1739: During this time, Nadir Shah – the Emperor of Persia, with his continual campaigns against his neighbours and rivals, had virtually bankrupted his treasury. As he was always attracted towards the end of 1738. He came up till Lahore without meeting any resistance. This happened due to the weak organization of defenses in North Western provinces by the Mughals.


Nadir Shah gave lower importance to religion. For him, religion was to be subservient to political power. The previous Safavid rulers had introduced Shia Islam as the state religion. However, Nadir Shah believed that Safavid Shaivism had intensified the conflict with the Sunni Ottoman Empire. Nadir Shah’s army was a mix of Shia and Sunni and included his own Qizilbash (the label given to a wide variety of Shia militant groups that Flourished in Anatolia and Kurdistan from the late 13th century onwards) as well as Uzbeks, Afghans and other soldiers. He wanted Persia to adopt a form of religion that would be more acceptable to Sunnis. He banned certain Shia practices which were particularly offensive to Sunnis.


The effects of Nadir Shah’s campaign on Mughal Empire were:

  1. i) Complete loss of central authority
  2. ii) Opportunity for Marathas and foreign trading companies to take higher control.

iii) Fights ensued between Nobles & Zamindars at different levels predominantly to take control of the Zamindaris in order to protect their own estates and advance their influence.

  1. iv) Higher exploitation of peasantry as the powerful tried to extort their lost fortunes from people at the base of society.


In 1764, Shah Alam II joined Mir Qasim of Bengal & Shuja-ud-Daula of Awadh in an attempt to regain lost ground and check the British challenge to his falling Empire. At the battle of Buxar (1764) (details of which will be provided in the next chapter) these three were defeated and as a result Shah Alam II stayed in Allahabad for six years till 1772, under British pension. On the one hand the Mughal Empire’s influence declined rapidly, whereas the Maratha Empire rose to prominence on the other. In 1771, the Marathas had established a protectorate over Delhi when the Maratha ruler, Mahadji Shinde (also known as Mahadji Scindia), recaptured it. Now, Shah Alam II returned to Delhi in 1772 under the protection of Mahatmas who themselves were facing a decline at this time. Thus, it was an attempt to install the Mughal Emperor on the thorne as a puppet of the Maratha Sardars.


Finally, the British East India Company acquired Delhi in 1803 from the Marathas after the 2nd Anglo Maratha war. The royal Mughal family kept the tittle for sometime but as the power and influence of British increased, Mughals lost all their power. The house of Mughals was finally extinguished after the revolt of 1857.

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