When Aurangzeb died in 1707, the Mughal Empire was at its peak. The annexation of the Deccan kingdoms of Bijapur and Golconda had spread the Mughal Empire to the Southern Edge of the Deccan.
However, the mighty Mughal Empire collapsed within 40 years of Aurangzeb’s death, reduced to rectangular territory about 250 miles around Delhi.
Reasons for decline of Mughal Empire
- Aurangzeb’s Misguided Religious Policies: Religious bigotry pursued by him alienated Sikhs, Jats, Bundelas, Rajputs, and Marathas. For example, Demolishing temples and breaking idols, Imposition of Jizya
- Aurangzeb’s Expansionist Deccan Policies: Annexation of Deccan Sultanates of Bijapur and Golconda which offered local checks against Marathas turned Marathas against Mughals and drained the royal Mughal treasury.
- Weak successors of Aurangzeb: The success of the Mughal empire, which was a despotic rule, relied on the abilities and characteristics of its monarchs.Almost all Mughal emperors after Aurangzeb were weak and lacked the deft and interest in administration and were more interested in arts and other pleasures.
- Degeneration of Mughal Nobility: The later Mughal rulers and elites prioritised luxury and pleasure over military responsibilities, leading to a decline in leadership and a shortage of competent administrators and military figures
- Afghan invasions: Nadir Shah’s invasion of India in 1739 left the Mughal empire prostate and bleeding. Invaders looted the Mughal treasury and their military weaknesses were exposed. Ahmad Shah Abdali captured the frontier provinces of Punjab, Sindh, Kashmir etc. After the Third Battle of Panipat, Abdali placed Rohilla leader Najib-ud-Daula as the dictator in Delhi.
- Rise of Marathas under Peshwas: Marathas assumed the role of national defenders against Abdali in the Third Battle of Panipat.
Peshwas consolidated the Maratha empire in Western India and focused on building a national empire known as Greater Maharashtra and popularised the ideal of Hindu-pad Padshahi, the ideal Hindu empire.
They engulfed northern India and emerged as the most powerful force in Indian politics. They assumed the role of national defenders against Abdali in the Third Battle of Panipat. Even the rise of the Marathas did not lay the foundation of a stable empire but they accelerated the decline of the Mughal empire.
- Factionalism among Mughal nobility: Nobles towards the end of Aurangzeb’s rule organised themselves as pressure groups formed on clan, race, and family relationships. There were four prominent factions:
(i) Turanis: Descendants from Central Asia, mostly Sunni with leaders like Asaf Jah and Nizam-ul-Mulk
(ii) Persians: Descendants from Iran, mostly Shia with leaders like Saadat Khan.
(iii) Afghans: Descendants from Afghanistan, mostly Sunni.
(iv) Hindustani: Mostly comprised Muslims born in India, whose ancestors though originally foreign immigrants had settled in India for generations. This party got support of Rajput and Jat chiefs and powerful Hindu landlords. Sayyid Brothers came from this faction.
- Subordinate Rebellion: Power-hungry subedars of Bengal, Oudh and the Deccan behaved as semi-independent rulers and took the help of Mughal enemies and Europeans.
- Economic challenges: Long wars against Deccan Sultanates emptied the royal treasury and ruined trade and industry.
- Rise of European Trading Companies: European companies, particularly the East of India company challenged the Mughal Empire’s control over the economy.
- Agrarian Crisis: Mughals collected very steep revenues for funding their army and nobility. This ruined the peasantry and destroyed the revenue-paying capacity of the farming class. Since mansabdar’s were transferred frequently, they aimed to collect revenue and not invest in long-term investment for agricultural growth. Towards the end of the Mughal Empire, revenue collection from the farming class became more exploitative as pressure on limited grew. This prompted a series of revolts among the agricultural classes.
Mansabdari & Jagirdari
- These two were the most important institutions of the Mughal Empire. Manasbdari System: Mughal nobility formed the core of bureaucracy and was given ranks corresponding to their status and hierarchy. These ranks were called mansabs.Each holder of mansab (mansabdar) was paid in the assignment of land revenues (jagir).Mansabdars were expected to maintain a cavalry force, who were paid and maintained out of the revenue of the Jagir.
- Jagirdari System: It was a land revenue system used in medieval India, where the king granted land to nobles or officials as a reward for their services. These officials or nobles, called jagirdars, collected revenue from the land and kept a portion of it for themselves while giving the rest to the king.
- Jagirdari Crisis: The decline of the Mansabdar-Jagirdari system towards the end of Aurangzeb’s reign contributed to the downfall of the Mughal empire. This was due to the annexation of Golconda and Bijapur which increased the size of the nobility and thus there was a shortage of jagirs. Thus, nobles competed for better jagirs, which were increasingly rare leading to erosion in the political structure of the Mughals.
- Military weakness: The Mughal army was organised on a feudal basis when soldiers owed allegiance to the mansabdar and not to the emperor.
- Defective system of succession: The lack of established succession practices among the Mughals resulted in a destructive war of succession between contenders, which weakened the empire both financially and militarily
- During the early times, this principle meant that the strongest person became the ruler, later court politics and factionalism resulted in weaker individuals ascending to the throne, with influential nobles such as the Sayyid Brothers acting as kingmakers.
Alliance among Mughal nobility
- Turanis, Persians & Afghans were considered Mughals or Foreigners and competed against the Hindustani faction. The strength of Turani, Irani, and Afghan nobles increased significantly during the last phase of Aurangzeb’s rule.
- Descendants of these foreigners held important military and civil offices in India.These factions competed against one another and tried to win Emperor to their viewpoint. They could not forge unity even in face of foreign invasions. Ex. Nizam-ul-Mulk aligned with Nadir Shah against the Mughal emperor.