Today we are looking at the last of the so-called 'Gunpowder Empires': the Mughals. The Mughals are perhaps one of the most influential of India's empires with many aspects and images of India which the West has originating from the Mughal Empire. Since the 1990s India's Hindu right has been on the rise, currently the Hindu nationalist party (the BJP) is in power, and memory of the Mughals has been tense for them. The Mughals were Muslim ruling largely over Hindus and many of the Mughal's actions went on to be integral part of Indian culture, and even then many of the early conquests of the Mughals were against other Islamic rulers. Today we'll look at the Mughals to see how important they were in shaping India. We'll start with the first ruler, Babur, and go until the end of the reign of Aurangzeb so we can briefly look at how the empire started to collapse before British rule came about.
Babur and Foundations
|Babur in a painting done years after his death|
Late many of the other states which we've been looking at the Mughals owed their existence to the Mongols - in fact the word 'Mughal' or 'Moghul' comes from 'Mongol' and was invented in the nineteenth century to describe the empire. The Mughal Empire would be founded around 1526 by Zahir-ud-din Muhammad Babur, or Babur, who was from the Safavid Empire. Babur made claim that on one side of his family he was a direct descendant of Genghis Khan and the other side Timur. For that reason they were often called the 'House of Timur'. It is believed that his autobiography, Baburnama, was written to clarify his legitimacy based on his apparent descent. Babur would often spend his early life waging war to subjugate new areas; he managed to besiege Samarkand and win at the age 14 but he would soon lose it. After 1504 he set out for good taking his mother with him - according to the Baburnama he would occasionally give the only tent to this mother to sleep in. The same year he took Kabul which would remain his favorite place in the world; it was also a key city along the Silk Road setting up later rule in India. Kabul was very diverse with many languages and cultures coexisting, much like India whom the Mughals would later rule over. However, city life never suited Babur and Kabul's revenue was too small for him. He wrote: My desire for Hindustan had been constant. It was in the month of Shaban, the Sun being in Aquarius, that we rode out of Kabul for Hindustan. In 1505 he set out attacking the Afghans and continued the Timurid tradition a swift attacks and brutality for opponents (and those who disobeyed). Anyone who missed the night watch had their nose split in two. In 1519 he even named his son Hindal meaning 'Take India'. To show his devotion to his forces he publicly gave up drinking and claimed he was leading a jihad against the Indian forces. That way he could appeal to the piety of his forces who could martyred if they died. He also made an alliance with the Safavid shah to help his forces.
In the northern India the Islamic Delhi Sultanate had been in power. Due to the alliance with the Safavids Babur claimed his was Shia whereas the Lodi dynasty of Delhi were Sunni. This was how Babur managed to call a jihad. The Delhi Sultanate had been steadily shrinking which benefited the Mughals. Babur mixed traditional cavalry with muskets, hence why the Mughals are considered a 'Gunpowder Empire', which allowed his 1,500 soldiers to defeat the Lodi's forces of 100,000 cavalry and 1,000 elephants at Panipat outside Delhi in 1526. He soon moved into Delhi visiting the mausoleums of two holy men, Nizamuddin Auliya (d.1325) and Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki (d.1235), and Delhi soon was made his new capital. The Lodis crowned a new leader and allied themselves with the Rajputs, who wanted to expand into lands held by the Delhi Sultanate, and as they marched on Agra in 1527 they met in battle. At the Battle of Khanwa through a mixture of Babur's skill, use of cannons, and when a Hindu chief joined Babur's forces the Rajputs and Lodis were defeated. The new Mughal Empire now stretched across most of northern India.
Babur loathed and liked his new empire in India. In the Baburnama he wrote:
Hindustan is a country that has few pleasures to recommend it. The people are not handsome. They have no idea of the charms of a friendly society, of frankly mixing together, or of familiar intercourse. They have no genius, no comprehension of mind, no politeness of manner, no kindness or fellow-feeding, no ingenuity or mechanical invention in planning or executing their handicraft works, no good flesh, no grapes or musk melons, no good fruits, no ice or cold water, no good food or bread in their bazaars, no baths or colleges, no candles, no torches, not a candlestick.
He did however praise it for being 'a large country with lots of gold and money. The weather turns very nice during the monsoon.' He praised the generations of tradespeople and how there were many, and he loved the wildlife. Babur would long for Kabul and when he died he would be buried there. Furthermore, the Baburnama would be written in Turkic, and a few poems in Persian, instead of Persian or Hindi which were more widely spoken. The Mughals are well renowned for their construction but it was more limited under Babur. Mostly they were mosques, to show his piety, including the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya which was demolished in 1992 by a Hindu mob as it was believed that a Temple of Ram was demolished to make room for it - something quite pertinent as Ayodhya is where Ram was apparently born.
|The Babri Masjid|
Mughal Administration and Rule
Before we look at the other Mughal rulers and how they shaped India we need to understand how the state functioned. Of course, throughout Mughal rule this did change. The empire was multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and multi-caste. After the royal family those at the top of society were the ashraf, the nobility, who were made of Muslim families who had migrated from the Persian, Arabian or Turkish-central Asian regions. There were also the mansabdar, a rank introduced by Akbar, often revolving around the military and sometimes the civil service. A mansabdar earned his standing (of course society was patriarchal) based on his zat and suwar. Zat was his rank bestowed by the emperor which often determined the maximum limit of soldiers they had, and suwar was his horses and riders. A mansabdar of 3000-zat 1500-suwar during war had to provide 1500 cavalry but during peace it would be a lot less as that way they could get more money. This system does appear confusing as it was subject to change and historians still are debating what zat and suwar were at any time. There was also a zamindar, landowner, who were stronger in northern India compared to the south as Mughal rule was always stronger in the north. Traditionally zamindars acted a tax collectors for emperors collecting revenue from ryots (peasants) but under the Mughals their role expanded to include police, judicial and military positions as well. Thanks to the mansabdars and zamindars the Mughal system continued when time of trouble happened - something periodic at the start of the reign of each new ruler - although by the end of the Mughals this did cause issues for the state. For this reason some historians, like J.C. Heesterman, have argued that the Mughals were really of confederation of princes with the emperor being more of a powerful figurehead, however, this view has been contested. Of course, regardless the emperor was at the top of society. During military campaigns they often personally went out to war, or their sons would. Like with the early Ottomans and Safavids succession wars would break out unless powerful or favorite sons managed to remove them early on. Babur's son, Humayun, learnt this the hard way when he made his brothers governors and went on to regret it when they vied for power themselves. The harems could also hold sway. Women in court could hold informal power and female relatives of the emperor could exert influence through their husbands.
|The expansion of the Mughals|
Humayun and the Sur Interregnum
Humayun (1530-40 and 1555-6) has largely been shafted by historians due to the successes of his father and son. Unlike his father he was more interested in magic, mysticism, and astrology compared to fighting, but he was intensely religious - a court figure, Abdul Karim, would be called Abdul due to Karim being a name of God. As mentioned earlier women could play a great influence in court and Humayun's half-sister, Gulbadan, wrote one of his biographies showing how he was peaceable and humane as a ruler. However, Humanyun's rule was never as secure as Babur's. In 1532 a Pashtuni leader, who had started to become prominent under Babur, Sher Khan Suri took hold of Rohtas in Bihar who managed to smuggle in his soldiers who were disguised as women. Soon enough Gaur, Bihar, and Jaunpur (all in the lower Ganges region) fell to Suri. In 1538 Humayun set out to confront Suri in Bengal 'and unfurled the carpet of pleasures', i.e. his stay in Bengal would be in luxury. Everything went wrong at once. His brother, Hindal, executed Humayun's spiritual guide as his older brother Kamran marched from Punjab to stake his claim. In June 1539 Humayun's forces met Suri's at Chausa and the Mughals were roundly defeated. As they had dug in this made the artillery became useless and a bridge collapse caused a great part of the Mughal forces to drown where they were 'dragged by the crocodile of death down into the waters of annihilation'. Humayun himself was almost drowned until he was saved by Shamsuddin Atga of Ghazna whose wife, Jiji Anaga, was later made Akbar's nurse. With his brothers carving up their own domains and with Suri forming his own empire Humayun fled to Kandahar and then to the Safavid Empire.
While in the Safavid Empire Humayun became close to Shah Tahmasp and Tahmasp finally managed to get the Mughal nobility to convert the Shia Islam, the attempts to convert Babur were largely unsuccessful. For a long time after Safavid-Mughal relations remained strong - when Kamran asked Tahmasp to hand over his brother in return for Kandahar the shah refused. Tahmasp later offered Humayun his aid in retaking India in return for Kandahar, something which he agreed to. Thanks to this period in exile the Mughal nobility would become greatly influenced by Persian culture and when Kabul went back into Humayun's hands it became a major center for Safavid artists. Meanwhile, back in India Suri's reforms proved to greatly shape India and later Mughal rule functioned due to his reforms. The precursor to the modern rupee began under the Sur dynasty; the Grand Trunk Road was constructed which still links Bengal to Peshawar; 1,800 caravanserias and numerous fountains were set up between Sonargon in Bengal and the Indus; an efficient policing system was established to keep the roads safe; and on the Jhelum river, near modern Islamabad, the fortress of Rohtas was built which is a UNESCO Heritage Site today. Suri's reign ended quickly in 1545. He would expand the Mughal lands and while sieging the Kalinjar fort of the Rajputs a rocket ricocheted off of the fort's walls and exploded near Suri. Just as he died the fortress fell. His sudden death left his new empire weakened so Humayun could retake his empire in 1555. After dealing with Kamran he reinstalled himself in Delhi. Humayun's reign would soon end. As the call to prayer was issued Humayun tripped down the steps of his library tower leading to his death three days later. One scholar quite unflatteringly wrote that he 'stumbled into death as he had stumbled through life'. His tomb would become a place of pilgrimage after completion.
Akbar, sometimes called Akbar the Great, is seen as the greatest Mughal, and sometimes Indian, ruler. However, a great part of this was due to looking at his reign retroactively from the reign of his great-grandson Aurangzeb. Akbar has been seen as the humane ruler compared to Aurangzeb's tyranny despite how early in his reign Akbar would have many of his enemies who surrendered executed. He also personally threw a foster brother from a balcony in order to execute him. Also, in order to test whether children could learn to speak without being taught he had infants raised in isolation by nurses who refused to speak to them and a few years later it turned out they were mute and mentally retarded. Although he was barely literate, John Keay believed that he may have been dyslexic, Akbar was a great patron of the arts and is one of the most well recorded Mughal emperors thanks to scholar and Grand Vizier Abu Fazl. Akbar saw himself as being Indian instead of Turkic - he had great respect for his nurse Jiji Anaga, and Shamsuddin Atga would become an important official under him. He had the Baburnama translated into Persian and he oversaw a library of over 24,000 books of Hindi, Persian and Turkic origin. His own book, Akbarnama, has been seen as a great text of Indian literature. Art, literature and architecture boomed under Akbar's patronage although only the nobility could truly engage with this. Using firearms effectively with elephants and cavalry until his death in 1605 the Mughal Empire expanded exponentially. Kabul, Kandahar, modern Pakistan, Gujarat and Bengal were all added into the empire. This brought millions more people into the empire, Abu Fazl believed that around 100 million people lived there, bringing in more ethnicities, religions and economies. As a result the mansabdars were made.
|A scene from Akbar's Ramayana|
Akbar has been noted for his religious tolerance - although it could be due to pragmatism being a Muslim ruler in a primarily Hindu state. Akbar ended the jizya, the tax on non-Muslims, had a Muslim scholar al-Badauni to translate the Mahabharata and Ramayana, and had a personal copy of the Ramayana in 1588 depicting 176 superb illustrations. He encouraged Muslim, Hindu, Jat, and Christian scholars to have debates and after a spiritual moment while hunting in 1578 he took up yogic and Sufi practices, became a vegetarian, and started promoting religious syncretism more. He ate with the third Sikh guru and even created his own religion, Din-i-Ilhai. This religion primarily took from Hinduism and Islam but also brought elements from Jainism, Buddhism, Christianity and Zoroastrianism, and Akbar never had it enforced. At most 18 people joined the new religion and that was likely due to them trying to get into good graces with Akbar. However, his tolerance did upset the ulema (the Islamic religious community) and when Muslim revolts broke out some did issue fatwas against him. The economy expanded and changed under Akbar's rule as well, so much so that caste distinctions started to become blurred. Vaishyas (merchants), especially in coastal cities, started becoming richer than kshatriyas (warriors) and brahmas (religious elite and teachers). Lower castes could even get involved by converting to Islam and joining the civil service. Textiles and cotton soon became profitable and the Mughals soon became one of the leading producers of cotton. Akbar ensured that the Khyber Pass and Grand Trunk Road were well defended to ensure trade could happen unaffected by crime and sea trade expanded when the empire expanded into Bengal and Gujarat. The empire came into proper contact with Portugal, who established themselves in Goa in 1510, and with the Ottoman Empire further out.
Jahangir and Shah Jahan
Akbar's last years were faced with a revolt from his son Salim but they made amends thanks to Akbar's mother so that upon his death in 1605 Salim could become emperor Jahangir. He was truly India - his mother, Jodhai Bai, was a Rajput princess. Jahangir's reign has often been viewed through the lens of his later reign which was consumed by drink and opium. Despite being much shorter his reign was very similar to his father's: conquest, crushing of rebellions, and consumption of the arts. Curiously he could be tolerant to rebels unless he had a severe hatred for them: one, Malik Ambar, was an Abyssinian eunuch whom was depicted in a painting being decapitated and shot with an arrow by Jahangir surrounded by angels. Women in court became very powerful under Jahangir, especially during his times of indulgence in opium, and one in particular was his wife Nur Jahan. Competent, athletic and intelligent she managed to ensure that she could be the true power behind the throne. She even got Jahangir's most loved son Khurram was married to her niece, Arjumand Banu, who in turn would become very powerful herself. Chinese historian Craig Clunas has written extensively on how conspicuous consumption shows social power - we see this in the Mughal court. To show that Safavid-Mughal relations were strong the painter Bishndas shows Jahangir hugging, or more like crushing, the Safavid ruler. Many paintings were done by Ustad Mansur depicting animals in his menagerie, and later Khurram's court, including a Siberian crane (which was not formally described until the 1770s) and even a dodo! It is believed that two dodos were gifts from the Portuguese. Similarly, the English East India Company seeking trade with India sent Sir Thomas Roe to meet with Jahangir. Roe described the life at court and lamented Jahangir's desire for luxury goods: wine, unusual games, European paintings, and even a carriage for Nur Jahan. He even once lamented how his personal gift to Jahangir was turned down as it was only worth 400 rupees.
|Ustad Mansur's depiction of a dodo|
|The Red Fort today|
Aurangzeb has been known as a tyrannical and intolerant emperor ruling with an iron fist and enforcing Islam onto South Asia. Especially compared to Akbar he has been seen as the stereotypical Oriental despot draining the peasants dry as he enforced his religion onto them. However, in recent years his idea has been challenged, such as by Ayesha Jalal. It is true that Aurangzeb did rule with an iron fist, as did many rulers, and was deeply pious his rule has started to be seen as being more pragmatic than anything else. He did strictly enforce prohibition, poetry, and wearing gold colored clothing in court his other policies are seen as combining piety with pragmatism. Bringing back the hated jizya and reducing spending on lavish tombs (his own mausoleum is quite small) and consumption has been seen as a way to save money after the battering the treasury received under Shah Jahan. His destruction of Hindu temples have now been noted as being in retaliation for rebellious Hindu nobles. At times he did build Hindu temples and brought many more Hindus into the buraeucracy. Of course, this pragmatism was still at the expense of the non-Muslim citizens of the empire who became very disgruntled. For one, when Sikhs refused to convert he had Guru Tegh Bahadur executed in 1675. Under Aurangzeb three things from earlier Mughal rulers continued: expansion, economic growth, and conspicuous consumption. The consumption was different to that of earlier emperors combining piety with Shah Jahan's construction projects. Many mosques were made under Aurangzeb and some could be very extravagant, like the Babshahi mosque in Lahore. Expansion of traditional industries (like textiles), trade and taxation allowed the Mughals to be the largest economy in 1690 with it having a quarter of the estimated GDP of the world and monthly income was ten times that of Louis XIV's France (who made Versailles). Conquest had brought most of southern India under Mughal rule, only the southern tip of the subcontinent escaped Mughal rule, by his death in 1707.
The later collapse of the Mughals began in proper under the reign of Aurangzeb, Annemarie Schimmel even says 1707 is the end of the Mughals despite the last emperor being deposed by the British in 1858. Many revolts broke out with several coming from the Jats, Pashtuns, and Sikhs. The most important, however, is the rise of the Marathas. The Marathas were founded under a warrior called Shivaji Bhonsle who began almost a guerrilla campaign against originally the Sultanate of Bijapur and later the Mughals after a brief stint of imprisonment in Agra in 1668. Shivaji was crowned in 1674 founding the Marathas and began plundering Mughal, and Bijapur, lands to enrich his kingdom. Maratha forces would demand money from villages and towns, or they would burn it down, and then the Mughals would take their share leading the settlement to become impoverished. As Shivaji was Hindu and pushed Marathi over Persian he attracted local support and had locals blame the Mughals for their woes. Aurangzeb could have easily crushed the Marathas but he chose a defensive course by securing forts in Deccan assuming if they couldn't take forts they would be cut off from income and weapons. This failed and Aurangzeb's son, Muhammad Akbar, even fled to the Maratha court declaring himself emperor in 1681. After Shivaji's death in 1680 his son and widow continued the power of the Marathas. Within a century the Marathas had replaced the Mughals as South Asia's most powerful empire. However, the mansabdari and zamindari system meant that the empire retained control despite these setbacks. Despite some arguments that the empire began to fall in 1707 with Aurangzeb's death things only really went downhill after 1712 with his son's death.
Mughals and the World
The Mughals were integrated into a global world - originally Turkic they spoke Persian at court and ruled over a variety of peoples. A constant love-hate relationship emerged with the Safavids - both were Islamic empires whose origins were closely linked but this close proximity brought issue. When the Safavids retook Kandahar from the Mughals a painting was issued of Shah Jahan hugging the Safavid shah, and also making the emperor taller than the shah. The Mughals large population, in both the cities and country, allowed the production of many goods which in turn allowed trade. Their position allowed them to engage with both the Silk Road and Indian Ocean trade. Indian ivory, spices and cotton to name a few goods found their way to the Swahili coast in West Africa, China, Indonesia, and Arabia. Relations with the Ottomans were constant and one of Humayun's rebellious brothers were exiled to Mecca. Relations also opened with Europe - Portugal even established themselves in Goa sixteen years before the Mughals established themselves in Delhi. Indian states viewed their sovereignty as ending at the coast where the sea was free game. What can be seen as piracy was even encouraged - out of season fishers would go on raids and return the profits back home which would be collected by the Mughals or even kingdoms through taxes. This differed to the European idea of Mare Nostrum (Our Sea). First Portugal and the later English, French and Dutch wanted a monopoly on sea trade so edged out Indian sailors. Portugal issued a cartaz, or license, to sailors to operate and those without one were declared pirates. This enabled Europeans to edge out local traders or declare Indian enemies pirates. This was also utilized by locals to their advantage. The Mughals managed to convince the English that the Marathan navy was in fact a pirate navy.
|A depiction of the British battling the Maratha navy whom they called pirates|
Compared to later initial Europeans were respectful to Indian rulers as they were not in the position of power; however, in private they would portray Indians in an Oriental view, just one less derogatory of eighteenth century depictions. Sir Thomas Roe caused outrage in the court when he asked for a chair, for example. Europeans were dependent on local rulers and as a result Europeans were eager to lend their services to Mughals, or others like the Marathas, if it meant that they could get an edge over competitors. The Dutch and English East Indian Companies by the end of the seventeenth century had largely ousted the Portuguese and even the Scottish tried to get involved; bankruptcy through the failed attempt to colonize Panama prevented them from having any form of presence. England established trading posts in Surat (1619), Madras (1639), Bombay (1668), and Calcutta (1690) forming over forty 'factories', heavily armed trading posts, to take part in Indian trade.
The decline of Empire
Due to the length of this post and as I want to expand on this more in two other posts we will only briefly look at the collapse of the Mughals. Crispin Bates has identified seven key factors behind the decline as well as various other smaller ones. English Whig historian T.B. Macauley (1800-59) described the emperors between 1707 and the 1740s as 'a succession of nominal sovereigns sunk in indolence and debauchery, sauntering away life in secluded palaces, chewing bhang, fondling concubines and listening to buffoons' and there is some claim to this despite being very Orientalist. This description is a symptom not a cause of decline although it did aid in it - unable to prevent decline emperors secluded themselves further preventing pushbacks against such decline. After Aurangzeb's death the empire became less centralized so when prosperity dropped mansabdars to ignore Delhi's power and this was made worse by 'tax-farming'. This is when the right to collect taxes was granted to individuals for a limited period in an area except that this was abused with tax-farmers keeping revenue themselves or taking more taxes from the land destroying certain prosperous areas. Meanwhile, the merchant class, which had been growing more and more independent, had started by Aurangzeb's death to cease paying taxes, or even fund opponents. The Marathas and Mysore were just two states to benefit from this and their wars chipped away at the empire. External opponents also affected the empire like the Afghans whose leader, Nadir Shah, sacked Delhi in 1739 and carried away the Peacock Throne. We also see the rise of peasant community rebellions, especially with the Jats, and according to Bates these rebellions differed to earlier ones. Taxation had often been decided following a rebellion but by the late-seventeenth and early-eighteenth centuries rebellions were from the bottom up. Rebellions with no noble leaders prevented negotiated settlements. These several factors were just some of the many factors which caused the decline of the Mughals.
|A British depiction of the Battle of Plassey, 1757, which saw Britain formally take over parts of India|
The achievement of the Mughals cannot be understated. Turkic in origin, speakers of Persian, and rulers of Hindus and various other religious groups they represent the diversity of South Asia. They were so successful that the attempted successor states and British India adopted the administration and bureaucracy of the Mughals. Today we've only explored a small section of Mughal India; we have hardly explored women, caste, and economics in the empire for one. The Mughals highlight India's diverse origins and this has placed successive Indian governments in an issue in constructing an Indian nation. Under the Mughals South Asia became a powerful state and the explosion of the arts, like the Taj Mahal and Red Fort, have become impossible to intertwine from Indian nationhood. However, as they were made by Muslims the current wave of Hindu nationalism has tried to reinterpret such grandeur and the legacy of the Mughals as being more Hindu than Islamic. The Mughals greatly shaped India and will continue to do so.
The next World History post will focus on the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan and how they shaped Japanese history. The sources I have used are as follows:
-Annemarie Schimmel, The Empire of the Great Mughals: History, Art and Culture, (London: Reaktion Books Ltd., 2004)
-Irfan Habib, (ed.), Akbar and his India, (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1997)
-John Keay, India: A History, (London: HarperCollins, 2000)
-Peter Robb, A History of India, Second Edition, (New York, NY: 2011, Palgrave Macmillan)
-Sugata Bose and Ayesha Jalal, Modern South Asia: History, Culture, Political Economy, (London: 1998, Routledge)
-Crispin Bates, Subalterns and the Raj, South Asia since 1600, (New York, NY: 2007, Routledge)
-Catherine Asher, 'India: The Mughals, 1526-1858', in Jim Masselos, (ed.), The Great Empires of Asia, (London: 2010, Thames & Hudson)