7 History

Decline of Mughal

Learning Goals:

  • Crisis of Empire
  • Emergence of new states

Eighteenth Century Political Formations: During the first half of the 18th century, many significant developments took place in the subcontinent. The boundaries of the Mughal Empire were reshaped by the emergence of a number of independent kingdoms. In major parts of eastern India, another power, the British had successfully gained control by 1765. Within a short span of time the political scenario in the 18th century India changed quite dramatically.

The Crisis of the Empire

The Mughal Empire started facing a lot of crises towards the end of the 17th century. The following were responsible for the same:

Aurangzeb’s Exploits in Deccan: He had caused depletion of the military and financial resources of his empire by fighting a long war in the Deccan. The efficiency of the imperial administration broke down under his successors.

Powerful mansabdars and nobles: The later Mughal emperors found it increasingly difficult to keep a check on their powerful mansabdars. Nobles appointed as governors often controlled the offices of revenue and also the military administration. This gave them extraordinary powers in the political, economic and military aspects of vast regions of the empire. There was a fall in the periodic remission of revenue to the capital because of the consolidation of control over the provinces by the governors.

Peasants and zamindars: They added to the problems by rebelling in many parts of northern and western India. These were caused by:

  • The pressures of mounting taxes
  • The attempts by the powerful chieftains to consolidate their own positions.

Challenges by rebellious groups: Though such challenges existed even before, the current challenges were of a higher degree. In other words, the groups were successful in seizing the economic resources of the emperors of the regions to consolidate their positions.

The successors of Aurangzeb failed to arrest the gradual shifting of political and economic authority into the hands of provincial governors, local chieftains and other groups.

Plunder: The ruler of Iran, Nadir Shah sacked and plundered the city of Delhi in 1739 and took away immense amounts of wealth. A series of plundering raids by the Afghan ruler Ahmad Shah Abdali, followed. He invaded north India five times between 1748 and 1761.

Competition amongst different noble groups: This further weakened the already dwindling empire. They were divided into two major factions: the Iranis and the Turanis. The later Mughal emperors became the puppets in the hands of either of these groups for a long time. The humiliation showed its ugliest form when the nobles assassinated/blinded some Mughal emperors. Farrukh Siyar (1713 – 1719) and Alamgir II (1754 – 1759) were assassinated, while Ahmad Shah (1748 – 1754) and Shah Alam II (1759 – 1816) were blinded by their nobles.

Emergence of New States

When the Mughal emperors’ authority declined; the governors of large provinces, subadars and the great zamindars consolidated their authority in different parts of the subcontinent. During the 18th century, the Mughal Empire gradually fragmented into a number of independent regional states. These states can be broadly divided into three overlapping groups:

  • States that were old Mughal provinces: These included Awadh, Bengal and Hyderabad. Though these were extremely powerful and quite independent, the rulers did not break their ties with the Mughal emperor.
  • States which had enjoyed considerable independence under the Mughals as watan jagirs. Rajput principalities were an example of this.
  • States under the control of the Marathas, Sikhs and others like Jats. These were of differing sizes and had seized their independence from the Mughals after an armed struggle for a long time.


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