Passing of the Mughal Empire
The Mughal Empire was vast and extensive in the beginning of the eighteenth century. But by the close of the century it had shrunk to a few kilometres around Delhi. After the death of Aurangzeb in 1707, a war of succession began amongst his three surviving sons, Muazzam – the governor of Kabul, Azam-the governor of Gujarat, and Kam Baksh-the governor of Deccan.
Azam turned to Ahmednagar and proclaimed himself emperor. Kam Baksh too declared himself the sovereign ruler and conquered important places as Gulbarga and Hyderabad. Muazzam defeated both Azam at Jajau in 1707 and Kam Baksh near Hyderabad in 1708. Muazzam emerged victorious and ascended the Mughal throne with the title of Bahadur Shah I. He was the first and the last of the later Mughal rulers to exercise real authority. He was learned, dignified and tried to reverse some of the narrow-minded policies and measures adopted by Aurangzeb. He followed a conciliatory policy towards the Rajput’s and Marathas but a strict policy towards the Sikhs.
Bahadur Shah did not recognize Shahu as the rightful Maratha king thus keeping the fight for supremacy going between Tara Bai and Shahu. Marathas thus remained dissatisfied. He made reconciliation with Guru Gobind Singh and granted him high mansab. But after the death of the Guru, the Sikhs once again raised a revolt under the leadership of Banda Bahadur. The Mughal authority defeated Banda Bahadur at Lohgarh, a fort built by Guru Govind Singh. That was however recovered in 1712 by the Sikhs.
Bahadur Shah made peace with Chhatrasal, the Bundela chief and the Jat chief Churaman who joined him in the campaign against Banda Bahadur. He adopted a more tolerant attitude towards the Hindus. There was however a deterioration in the field of administration in his reign because he lavishly granted jagirs and promotions. He died in 1712.
In another war of succession following Bahadur Shah’s death, his four sons, Jahandar Shah, Rafi-us-Shan, Azim-us-Shan and Jahan Shah became involved. Jahandar Shah (1712-13) was successful in the war than the others. But he was a weak ruler and came to the throne chiefly with the help of Zulfikar Khan, the powerful noble who as a reward was made the wazir (prime minister). He quickly abandoned the policies of Aurangzeb and adopted a liberal attitude towards the Hindus. He abolished the jizyah; gave the title of Mirza Raja Sawai to Jai Singh of Amber and appointed him the governor of Malwa. He pacified Churaman Jats and Chhatrasal Bundela but continued a strict policy towards the Sikhs.
The inglorious reign of Jahandar Shah soon came to an end in 1713 when he was defeated by his nephew Farrukh Siyar at Agra. He was soon executed by the orders of the new emperor.
Farrukh Siyar came to power with the help of Sayyid brothers, Abdullah Khan and Hussain Ali Khan Barha – the kingmakers. They were given the office of the wazir and mirbakshi respectively. The two brothers soon acquired dominant control over the affairs of the state. Farrukh was himself incapable of ruling and was easily influenced by the others. It was during the reign of Farrukh that Banda Bahadur, the Sikh chief was captured and killed. However the struggle for power between the Emperor and the Sayyid brothers increased and the efforts of the emperor to overthrow the brothers failed repeatedly. Finally, the Emperor was deposed and killed in 1719.
As successors, Sayyid the brothers quickly raised two young princes, Rafi-ud-Darajat and Rafi-ud- Daula (Shah Jahan II), who died within months. Finally Roshan Akhtar, the son of Jahan Shah was placed on the throne under the title of Muhammad Shah.
They abolished the jizyah as well as the pilgrimage tax at many places. In order to maintain harmony, they advocated a policy of associating Hindu chiefs and nobles with Muslim nobles. In their struggle against Farrukh Siyar, the Sayyid brothers sided with the Rajput’s and the Marathas. Ajit Singh of Marwar and Jai Singh of Amber were won over by giving them high positions in the administration.
An alliance was made with Churaman Jat and later Shahu, by granting him Shivaji’s swarajya and the right to collect the chauth and sardeshmukhi in six provinces of the Deccan. In return Shahu promised them help in the Deccan with fifteen thousand soldiers.
The efforts made by the Sayyid brothers did not yield great results because they were constantly faced with rival factions and conspiracies in the court. The financial position of the empire was also dwindling as the rebellious elements refused to pay the land tax. This led to increased indiscipline amongst the soldiers.
The hostile nobles united themselves under the leadership of Nizam-ul-Mulk of the Deccan. Further the murder of Farrukh Siyar created a wave of terror and repulsion against the Sayyid brothers who were looked down upon as traitors. They were branded as anti-Islamic for their policies. The anti-Sayyid nobles were strongly backed by Muhammad Shah who wanted to free himself from the hold of the brothers. In 1720, Hussain Ali was killed by the rebellious nobles and Abdullah Khan died in 1722 after he was defeated at Agra. This ended the rule of the Sayyid brothers in the Mughal Empire.
After the fall of the Sayyid brothers, Muhammad Shah had a long reign from 1719-48 to save the empire. The Mughal rule was still held in high esteem by the people. The army especially the artillery was still the most important force; administration in northern India had deteriorated but not collapsed entirely. The Maratha sardars were still confined to the south and the Rajput’s were loyal to the Mughals.
Muhammad Shah was not a good ruler. His first Wazir after the fall of the Sayyid brothers was Muhammad Amin Khan. After his death, Nizam-ul-Mulk was appointed the Wazir in 1722. But instead of supporting the Nizam, the emperor suspected his own ministers. The attempts to reform the administration proved futile and disgusted with the inability and fickle mindedness of the emperor the Nizam chose to pursue his own ambitions.
He gave his office in 1724 and proceeded to the south and found the state of Hyderabad. He was the most pleasure-loving ruler of loose morals and is therefore called Muhammad Shah ‘Rangila’. After the fall of Sayyid brothers he fell into the clutches of a dancing girl Koki Jiu and the eunuch Hafiz Khidmatgar Khan.
The already declining Mughal Empire received another fatal blow when the Persian monarch, Nadir Shah invaded India in 1738-39. Nadir Shah was attracted to India by her fabulous wealth for which she was famous. The bankrupt Persian Empire found an easy prey in the weak Mughal rule with loose defences on the north-west frontier and used the golden opportunity. The disunity amongst the nobles too proved an added advantage for the invaders. The two armies met at Karnal in 1739 and the Mughals suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of Nadir Shah. The Emperor, Muhammad Shah was taken prisoner and Nadir Shah marched on to Delhi. He plundered the royal treasury at his own pleasure and carried back the immense wealth from India. He carried away with him the famous Koh-i-Noor diamond and the jewel studded Peacock throne of Shahjahan. Nadir Shah’s invasion inflicted a heavy damage on the Mughal Empire and its dwindling image suffered a severe blow.
The invasion affected the imperial finances and the economic life of the people adversely. Ahmad Shah Abdali, the successor of Nadir Shah invaded the kingdom for the first time during Muhammad Shah’s reign in 1748. Ahmad Shah Abdali was defeated at Manpur by Ahmad Shah, the Mughal heir-apparent and Mir Mannu, the son of the deceased wazir Qamruddin.
The later rulers were too weak and Bahadur Shah, the aged, old and infirm Mughal Emperor, was the last to sit on the throne at Delhi. He took part in the Revolt of 1857 and was captured by the British. His sons were murdered and he was exiled to Rangoon in Myanmar. This ended the three-hundred odd years of the Mughal Dynasty in India and marked the beginning of the British Empire on Indian soil.