No period in the Indian history has enjoyed as much attention and scholarly research efforts as the period in history that corresponds with the Mughal rule. The Mughal Empire is known as one of the largest centralized states recorded in pre-modern history1. At its zenith, the Mughal Empire commanded resources unprecedented in Indian history and covered virtually the entire subcontinent. The empire lasted from the date of Babur’s victory over the Lodis in 1526 to the time of Muhammad Shah’s accession in Delhi in the 1720, and during its heydays, this large and glorious empire was a ‘fairly efficient and centralized organization, with vast complex of personnel, money and information, dedicated to the service of the emperor and nobility’2.
Richards3 reports that at the peak of the Mughal rule the empire could boast of a population of well over 100 million people. Together with their vast military success, the Mughal emperors displayed considerable wealth, ceremonies, etiquettes, music, poetry and exquisite paintings and objects of imperial court that all come together to form a distinctive aristocratic culture.
The purpose of this essay is to consider the historical facts that contributed to the immense success of the Mughal Empire, while it lasts.
The Mughal Empire was founded by Zahir-ud-Din Muhammad Babur, a Chagatai Turk and descendent of Changez Khan4. Before he founded the Mughal Empire, in 1504, he became the ruler of the country north of the Amu Darya, in what is now a part of Afghanistan.
During his reign there, he had learnt the use of canons from the Turks, the use of guns helped in his defeat against the Indian Kings, who were still using traditional warfare methods, in the first invasion of 1517. Finally, in 1526, Babur defeated the army of Ibrahim Lodi at the battle of Panipat. Although this day is usually regarded as the beginning of the Mughal Empire, Babur still had to defeat an alliance of Indian rulers in 1527 before the new empire was birth5, 6.
From the birth of the empire, its rapid expansion can be attributed to two primary factors: the huge success of the Mughal rulers numerous war campaigns, and the growing commercial and cultural contact with the outside world. It is important to say that war-making was not a uniquely Mughal practice, but the centrality of military campaigns both in administration and expansion does stand out, and several of the Mughal rulers’ policy goes a long way in confirming this fact.
Capitals were frequently moved to centers more suited to the conduct of specific military campaigns; alliances were sought with the Rajput rulers because of their ability to contribute to Mughal war efforts; huge investments were made in upgrading weapons of war to make sure that the Empire retained its military advantage and all Mughal princes and elites were trained in the art of war, through real battle experiences in combination with early military training7.
Commercially, the 16th and 17th centuries were periods of rapid growth in the India sub continent. These centuries saw the establishment and expansion of European and non-European trade organizations in the sub continent for the procurement of Indian goods which were in high demand abroad.
This rapid trade growth brought Indian regions close to each other by means of dense overland and coastal trading networks. While this effectively helped the growth of the Indian trade networks, it also considerably increased the rate of growth of the empire.
The foundation of the Mughal Empire were laid down by the abilities and achievements of the early Mughals rulers; Babur, Humayun. These two leaders fought against heavy odds to set the stage for success the empire recorded later. The reign of Babur and Humayun lasted till about 1556 and at this time, the empire was still only but a stretch of land8.
While the victory of Babur laid the foundation for the Empire, the defeat his son and successor, Humayun, suffered in the hands of Sher Shah Suri probably also contributed to the expansion of the empire. Sher Shah, earlier known as Sher Khan, was born and raised in India, thus taking advantage of the hollow support for the second Mughal ruler, Shah succeeded in subduing Mughal holdouts and unifying Punjab and the Gangetic plain.
He also effected the construction of Grand Trunk Road and launching of new and specialized manufacturing towns in the plains. These changes facilitated the rapid expansion of trades and industry. Administrative changes and social reforms that helped in creating a stable tax base and a modicum of legitimacy for the kingdom were also introduced. As a result, when Humayun returned to the throne in New Delhi, he inherited the foundations of a potentially larger and wealthier empire than he left9.
Humayun was succeeded by his son, Akbar who is widely regarded as the greatest ruler of the Mughal Empire. If Babur and Humayun laid the foundation of the empire, then Akbar was responsible for consolidating the gains of his predecessors and also expanding the frontiers of the empire10, while also providing the theoretical framework that established the Mughal Empire as a truly Indian state.
His success can be seen from two lights. Akbar, though a Muslim, was tolerant of other religions. For example, he abolished tax previous rulers levied on non-Muslim. Due to his tolerance, Persian literature flourished in India during his reign. Akbar re-organized the Empire’s mode of governance by fostering the tradition of ruling through the local Hindu landed elites, and also created an efficient civil service11.
Secondly, Akbar enhanced trading activities and commerce in the empire through the construction of numerous caravansarais (inns) and hospitals along the Grand Trunk Road, especially in Punjab. He also commissioned several state owned karkhanas (factories) to produce high-quality luxury goods for use in the courts and for export. Due to these improvements, income from agriculture and trade increased the wealth of the empire in folds. This created the wherewithal to fund the series of war campaigns that took the Mughal armies deep into the Deccan plateau and as Far East as Assam, and westwards to the Afghan border with Iran, thereby expanding the frontiers of the empire severally12.
It must be stated, however, that the success of the several war campaigns that expanded the Mughal Empire during Akbar reign was in no small measure due to the partnership he was able to create with the Rajput and Bundelkhand armies through a combination of incentives and political coercion. The large tax base of the fertile plain of Ganges was a strong instrument Akbar used to entice the allegiance of the most powerful Rajput chiefs.
He granted these chiefs tax rights on parts of the Gangetic plain, while others were coerced into accepting the Mughal partnership on several unequal terms which often involves a combination of military threats and by holding members of the royal clan hostage in Delhi. The hill of Rajputs, the kingdoms of Datia, Jhansi and Orchha, were all forced to pay tributes to, and provide armies for Mughal war expeditions. Through this process, the Mughal Empire expanded to include virtually the entire length of the Indian subcontinent13, 14.
Akbar was succeeded by his son Jahangir, who continued in the foot steps of his father and by this means was able to expand the Mughal Empire to include the south of India15. The Empire reached its peak in strength and size during this period. Shah Jahan became the Mughal ruler in 1627, while the empire also flourished under him; he is most renowned for the building of the Taj Mahal, a building that took craftsmen and laborers 22 years to complete and a memorial he dedicated to his queen Mumatz Mahal16. However, Shah Jahan is also renowned for his reckless spending and his appetite for grand building projects and luxury imports which almost bankrupt the Empire. Aurangzeb staged a military coup against his father, putting an end to the reckless spending of his reign17.
Aurangzeb greatly expanded the Empire that it became impossible for a single person to rule, but his misdoing was that unlike his predecessors, he was intolerant of other religions. This created tensions and dissent within the Empire, setting the stage for the gradual fall of the Empire. Aurangzeb was succeeded by his son Bahadur Shah Zafar, who became the last ruler of the Mughal Empire, as it used to be known.
After his death in 1712, Mughal Empire was done. Powerful nobles were already breaking out of the Empire to form independent states, so much so, that, what used to be known as the Mughal Empire had become a collection of several small independent states. Although, the Mughal Empire disintegrated early in the eighteenth century, its ideology, political structure and military skills permeated the Indian subcontinent for a very long time afterwards.
India. In Encyclopedia Britannica, 2007. Retrieved November 25, 2007, from http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-46944
Irfan, Habib. An Atlas of the Mughal Empire. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1982.
Richards, F John. The Mughal Empire. London: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
The Rise Of The Mughal Empire. In, Brief History of India. Discover India, 2006. Retrieved November 25, 2007, from http://www.idiscoverindia.com/Discover_India/brief_history_india2.html
The Rise and Fall of the Mughals. In South Asian History: History of the Mughals,2003. Retrieved November 25, 2007, from http://india_resource.tripod.com/mughal.html
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