Mughal Empire

شاهان مغول
Mughal Empire


The Mughal Empire (green) around its greatest extent, c. 1700.

Capital Lahore, Agra and Delhi
Language(s) Persian (initially also Chagatai; later also Urdu)
Government Absolute monarchy, unitary government
with federal structure
– 1526–1530 Babur
– 1530–1539, 1555–1556 Humayun
– 1556–1605 Akbar
– 1605–1627 Jahangir
– 1628–1658 Shah Jahan
– 1658–1707 Aurangzeb
– Established April 21, 1526
– Ended June 20, 1858
4,600,000 km2 (1,776,070 sq mi)
– 1700 est. 150,000,000
Currency Rupee

The Mughal Empire (Persian: شاهان مغول Shāhān-e Moġul; self-designation: گوركانىGūrkānī),[1][2] or Mogul Empire in former English usage, was an Islamic imperial power that ruled the Indian subcontinent which began in 1526, invaded and ruled most of Hindustan (South Asia) by the late 17th and early 18th centuries, and ended in the mid-19th century.[3] The Mughal Emperors were and descendants of the Timurids of Turkistan, and at the height of their power around 1700, they controlled most of the Indian Subcontinent—extending from Bengal in the east to Balochistan in the west, Kashmir in the north to the Kaveri basin in the south.[4] Its population at that time has been estimated as between 110 and 130 million, over a territory of over 4 million sq. km (1.5 million sq. mi.).[5]

The “classic period” of the Empire started with the accession of Jalaluddin Mohammad Akbar, better known as Akbar the Great, in 1556. It ended with the death of Emperor Aurangzeb in 1707,[6][7] although the Empire continued for another 150 years. During this period, the Empire was marked by a highly centralized administration connecting the different regions. All the significant monuments of the Mughals, their most visible legacy, date to this period which was characterised by the expansion of Persian cultural influence in the Indian subcontinent, with brilliant literary, artistic and architectural results.

Following 1725 the empire declined rapidly, weakened by wars of succession, agrarian crises fueling local revolts, the growth of religious intolerance, the rise of Maratha Empire as well as Durrani Empire and Sikh Empire, and finally British colonialism. The last king, Bahadur Zafar Shah II, whose rule was restricted to the city of Delhi, was imprisoned and exiled by the British after the Indian Rebellion of 1857.

The name Mughal is derived from the original homelands of the Timurids, the Central Asian steppes once conquered by Genghis Khan and hence known as Moghulistan, “Land of Mongols”. Although early Mughals spoke the Chagatai language and maintained Turko-Mongol practices, they were essentially Persianized.[8] They transferred the Persian literature and culture[8] to India, thus forming the base for the Indo-Persian culture.[8]

Early history

The foundation for the empire was established around the early 1500s by the Timurid prince Babur, when he took control of the Doab and eastern regions of Khorasan, which controlled the fertile Sindh region and the lower valley of the Indus River.[9] In 1526, Babur defeated the last of the Delhi Sultans, Ibrahim Shah Lodi, at the First Battle of Panipat. To secure his newly founded kingdom, Babur then had to face the formidable Rajput confederacy led by Rana Sanga of Chittor, at the Battle of Khanwa. Rana Sanga offered stiff resistance but was defeated due to treachery within his own ranks.

Babur’s son Humayun succeeded him in 1530 but suffered major reversals at the hands of the Pashtun Sher Shah Suri and effectively lost most of the fledgling empire before it could grow beyond a minor regional state. From 1540 Humayun became a ruler in exile, reaching the court of the Safavid rule in 1554 while his force still controlled some fortresses and small regions. But when the Pashtuns fell into disarray with the death of Sher Shah Suri, Humayun returned with a mixed army, raised more troops and managed to reconquer Delhi in 1555.

Humayun crossed the rough terrain of the Makran people with his wife, but left behind their infant son Jalaluddin to spare him the rigours of the journey. Akbar, as Jalaluddin would be better known in his later years, was born in the town of Sindh in where he was raised by his uncle Askari. There he became an excellent outdoorsman, horseman, and hunter, and learned the arts of war. The resurgent Humayun then conquered the central plateau around Delhi, but months later died in an accident, leaving the realm unsettled and in war.

Akbar succeeded his father on 14 February, 1556, while in the midst of a war against Sikandar Shah Suri for the throne of Delhi. He soon won his eighteenth victory at age 21 or 22. He became known as Akbar, as he was a wise ruler, set fair but steep taxes. He was born in a Hindu Rajput household. He was a more inclusive in his approach to the non-Muslim subjects of the Empire. He investigated the production in a certain area and taxed inhabitants one-fifth of their agricultural produce. He also set up an efficient bureaucracy and was tolerant of religious differences which softened the resistance by the locals. He made alliances with Rajputs and appointed Hindu generals and administrators. Later in life, he also came up with his own brand of religion based on tolerance and inspired by views from both Hinduism and Islam. However, after his death this religion did not catch on but is still remembered for its noble intentions of bringing people and minds together.

Jahangir, son of Emperor Akbar, ruled the empire from 1605–1627. In October 1627, Shah Jahan, son of Emperor Jahangir succeeded to the throne, where he inherited a vast and rich empire. At mid-century this was perhaps the greatest empire in the world. Shah Jahan commissioned the famous Taj Mahal (1630–1653) in Agra which was built by the Persian architect Ustad Ahmad Lahauri as a tomb for Shah Jahan’s wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to their 14th child. By 1700 the empire reached its peak under the leadership of Aurangzeb Alamgir with major parts of present day India, Pakistan and most of Afghanistan under its domain. Aurangzeb was the last of what are now referred to as the Great Mughal kings.

Mughal dynasty

The Mughal Empire was the dominant power in the Indian subcontinent between the mid-16th century and the early 18th century. Founded in 1526, it officially survived until 1858, when it was supplanted by the British Raj. The dynasty is sometimes referred to as the Timurid dynasty as Babur was descended from Timur.

The Mughal dynasty was founded when Babur, hailing from Ferghana (Modern Uzbekistan), invaded parts of northern India and defeated Ibrahim Shah Lodhi, the ruler of Delhi, at the First Battle of Panipat in 1526. The Mughal Empire superseded the Delhi Sultanate as rulers of northern India. In time, the state thus founded by Babur far exceeded the bounds of the Delhi Sultanate, eventually encompassing a major portion of India and earning the appellation of Empire. A brief interregnum (1540-1555) during the reign of Babur’s son, Humayun, saw the rise of the Afghan Suri Dynasty under Sher Shah Suri, a competent and efficient ruler in his own right. However, Sher Shah’s untimely death and the military incompetence of his successors enabled Humayun to regain his throne in 1555. However, Humayun died a few months later, and was succeeded by his son, the 13-year-old Akbar the Great.

The greatest portions of Mughal expansion was accomplished during the reign of Akbar (1556-1605). The empire was maintained as the dominant force of the present-day Indian subcontinent for a hundred years further by his successors Jahangir, Shah Jahan, and Aurangzeb. The first six emperors, who enjoyed power both ‘’de jure’’ and ‘’de facto’’, are usually referred to by just one name, a title adopted upon his accession by each Emperor. The relevant title is bolded in the list below.

Akbar the Great initiated certain important policies, such as religious liberalism (abolition of the jizya tax), inclusion of Hindus in the affairs of the empire, and political alliance/marriage with the Hindu Rajput caste, that were innovative for his milieu; he also adopted some policies of Sher Shah Suri, such as the division of the empire into sarkars, in his administration of the empire. These policies, which undoubtedly served to maintain the power and stability of the empire, as the Hindu populace had shown resistance to the Islamic conquest in its years in the Indian subcontinent. These were preserved by his two immediate successors but were discarded by Aurangzeb, who followed a more strict interpretation of Islam and followed a stricter policy of intolerance to the practice of religions than his own. Furthermore, Aurangzeb spent nearly his entire career seeking to expand his realm into the Deccan and south India, Assam in the east; this venture sapped the resources of the empire while provoking strong resistance from the Marathas, Sikhs of Punjab, Ahoms of Assam and some elements within Hindu Rajputs. Ahoms in Assam successfully resisted the Mughal invasions, the last battle being the Battle of Saraighat. It is interesting to note in this regard that while the Mughals ruled India for a nearly three hundred years they never ruled the complete geographical extent of the subcontinent that is known as India in the modern day context. The power was mostly centered around Delhi which was for historical reasons considered a strategic stronghold but there always existed strong independent Hindu


Sikh and Maratha states gained territory after Mughal empire’s decline. Map showing territories in 1700 and 1792

After Aurangzeb’s death in 1707, the empire fell into decline. Beginning with Bahadur Shah I, the Mughal Emperors progressively declined in power and became figureheads, being initially controlled by sundry courtiers and later by various rising warlords. In the 18th century, the Empire suffered the depredations of invaders like Nadir Shah of Persia and Ahmed Shah Abdali of Afghanistan, who repeatedly sacked Delhi, the Mughal capital. The greater portion of the empire’s territories in India passed to the Marathas, who sacked Delhi, reducing the once powerful and mighty empire to just lone city before falling to the British. Other adversaries included Sikh Empire and Hyderabad Nizams. In 1804, the blind and powerless Shah Alam II formally accepted the protection of the British East India Company. The British had already begun to refer to the weakened Emperor as “King of Delhi,” rather than “Emperor of India.” The once glorious and mighty Mughal army was disbanded in 1805 by the British; only the guards of the Red Fort were spared to serve with the King Of Delhi, which avoided the uncomfortable implication that British sovereignty was outranked by the Indian monarch. Nonetheless, for a few decades afterward, the BEIC continued to rule the areas under its control as the nominal servants of the emperor, and in his name. In 1857, even these courtesies were disposed. After some rebels in the Sepoy Rebellion declared their allegiance to Shah Alam’s descendant, Bahadur Shah Zafar (mostly symbolically, as he was just a figurehead for the purpose of rebellion), the British decided to abolish the institution altogether. They deposed the last Mughal Emperor in 1857 and exiled him to Burma, where he died in 1862. Thus the Mughal dynasty came to an end, which formed a momentous chapter in the history of India.

There are still many Mughals living in the Indian Subcontinent. The term Mughal in the current socio-political context also does not have decisive meaning as the blood lines of the original Mughals are now mixed with the local population and have South-Asian identities which are stronger than any original Turkic or Mongoloid origins [Citation reqd]. The language spoken by the Mughals also slowly adapted itself to a form of Hindustani known as Urdu. Though a script was invented for it close to Arabic (known as Nastaliq) the basic vocabulary is mostly Sanskrit based and it is very similar in form and content to modern day Hindi. [Controversial topic – biased commentary as indicative also of unwieldly English]

List of Mughal Emperors

Certain important particulars regarding the Mughal Emperors is tabulated below:

Emperor Birth Reign Period Death Notes
Zahir ud-din Muhammad Babur Feb 23, 1483 1526-1530 Dec 26, 1530 Founder of the Mughal Dynasty.
Nasiruddin Muhammad Humayun Mar 6, 1508 1530-1540 Jan 1556 Reign interrupted by Suri Dynasty. Youth and inexperience at ascension led to his being regarded as a less effective ruler than usurper, Sher Shah Suri.
Sher Shah Suri 1472 1540-1545 May 1545 Deposed Humayun and led the Suri Dynasty.
Islam Shah Suri c.1500 1545-1554 1554 2nd and last ruler of the Suri Dynasty, claims of sons Sikandar and Adil Shah were eliminated by Humayun’s restoration.
Nasiruddin Muhammad Humayun Mar 6, 1508 1555-1556 Jan 1556 Restored rule was more unified and effective than initial reign of 1530-1540; left unified empire for his son, Akbar.
Jalaluddin Mohammed Akbar Nov 14, 1542 1556-1605 Oct 27, 1605 Akbar greatly expanded the Empire and is regarded as the most illustrious ruler of the Mughal Dynasty as he set up the empire’s various institutions; he married Mariam-uz-Zamani, a Rajput princess. He eventually founded Din-i-Ilahi, a syncretic religion based on Hinduism and Islam. One of his most famous construction marvels was the Lahore Fort.
Nuruddin Mohammed Jahangir Oct 1569 1605-1627 1627 Jahangir set the precedent for sons rebelling against their Emperor fathers. Opened first relations with the British East India Company. Reportedly was an alcoholic and his wife Empress Nur Jahan became the real power behind the throne and competently ruled in his place.
Shahabuddin Mohammed Shah Jahan Jan 5, 1592 1627-1658 1666 Under him, Mughal art and architecture reached their zenith; constructed the Taj Mahal, Jama Masjid, Red Fort, Jahangir mausoleum and Shalimar Gardens in Lahore. Deposed and imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb.
Mohiuddin Mohammed Aurangzeb Alamgir Oct 21, 1618 1658-1707 Mar 3, 1707 More conservative in behavior and far less extravagant as the previous emperors; brought back Islamic law, and the jizya tax. He is well-known for his personal piety and for leading an extremely simple and pious life. His conquests expanded the empire to its greatest extent, incorporating much of southern India. A major and last desperate attempt was also made to conquer Assam during his rule but with no success at Battle of Saraighat; the over-stretched empire would face challenges after his death. He wrote the Quran in his own Handwriting twice.
Bahadur Shah I Oct 14, 1643 1707-1712 Feb 1712 First of the Mughal emperors to preside over a steady and severe decline in the territories under the empire’s control and military power. After his reign, the emperor became a progressively insignificant figurehead.
Jahandar Shah 1664 1712-1713 Feb 1713 He was merely a puppet in the hands of his Chief Minister Zulfikar Khan. The acts of Jahandar Shah brought down the prestige of the Mughal Empire.
Furrukhsiyar 1683 1713-1719 1719 In 1717 he granted a firman to the English East India Company granting them duty free trading rights for Bengal, and confirmed their position in India.
Rafi Ul-Darjat Unknown 1719 1719
Rafi Ud-Daulat
a.k.a Shah Jahan II
Unknown 1719 1719
Nikusiyar Unknown 1719 1743
Muhammad Ibrahim Unknown 1720 1744
Muhammad Shah 1702 1719-1720, 1720-1748 1748 Suffered the invasion of Nadir-Shah of Persia in 1739.
Ahmad Shah Bahadur 1725 1748-54 1754
Alamgir II 1699 1754-1759 1759
Shah Jahan III Unknown In 1759 1770s
Shah Alam II 1728 1759-1806 1806 Suffered the invasion of Ahmed-Shah-Abdali in 1761; granted the ‘Nizami’ of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa to the BEIC in 1765, formally accepted the protection of the BEIC in 1803.
Akbar Shah II 1760 1806-1837 1837 Titular figurehead under British protection
Bahadur Shah Zafar 1775 1837-1857 1862 Deposed by the British and exiled to Burma following the Great Mutiny.

Influence on the Indian Subcontinent

The Taj Mahal in Agra, India built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan

The Red Fort in Delhi was the main palace of the empire during the reign of Shah Jahan.

The Alamgiri Gate is the main entrance to the Lahore Fort built during the reign of Aurangzeb.

A major Mughal contribution to the Indian Subcontinent was their unique architecture. Many monuments were built by the Muslim emperors, especially Shahjahan, during the Mughal era including the UNESCO World Heritage Site Taj Mahal, which is known to be one of the finer examples of Mughal architecture. Other World Heritage Sites includes the Humayun’s Tomb, Fatehpur Sikri, Red Fort, Agra Fort and Lahore Fort.

The palaces, tombs and forts built by the dynasty stands today in Delhi, Aurangabad, Fatehpur Sikri, Agra, Jaipur, Lahore, Kabul, Sheikhupura and many other cities of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.[10] With few memories of Central Asia, Babur’s descendents absorbed traits and customs of the Indian Subcontinent[11], and became more or less naturalised. The Mughal period would be the first to witness the blending of Indian, Iranian and Central Asian customs and traditions.

Contributions such as[12]:

  • Centralised, imperialistic government which brought together many smaller kingdoms.[13]
  • Persian art and culture amalgamated with Indian art and culture.[14]
  • New trade routes to Arab and Turkic lands.
  • The development of Mughlai cuisine.[15]
  • The Urdu language developed from the Hindi language by borrowing heavily from Persian as well as Arabic and Chaghatai Turkic. Urdu developed as a result of the fusion of the Indian and Islamic cultures during the Mughal period. Modern Hindi which uses Sanskrit-based vocabulary along with loan words from Persian and Arabic, is mutually intelligible with Urdu.[16]
  • Mughal Architecture found its way into local Indian architecture, most conspicuously in the palaces built by Rajputs and Sikh rulers.
  • Landscape gardening

Although the land the Mughals once ruled has separated into what is now India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan their influence can still be seen widely today. Tombs of the emperors are spread throughout India, Afghanistan[17] and Pakistan. There are 16 million descendants spread throughout the Subcontinent and possibly the world.[18][19]

Mughal Society

The Indian economy remained as prosperous under the Mughals as it was, because of the creation of a road system and a uniform currency, together with the unification of the country. Manufactured goods and peasant-grown cash crops were sold throughout the world. Key industries included shipbuilding (the Indian shipbuilding industry was as advanced as the European, and Indians sold ships to European firms), textiles, and steel. The Mughals maintained a small fleet, which merely carried pilgrims to Mecca, imported a few Arab horses in Surat. Debal in Sindh was mostly autonomous. The Mughals also maintained various river fleets of Dhows, which transported soldiers over rivers and fought pirates. Among its admirals were Munnawar Khan and Muhammad Saleh Kamboh. The Mughals also protected the Siddis of Janjira. Its sailors were renowned and often voyaged to China and the East African Swahili Coast, together with some Mughal subjects carrying out private-sector trade. Cities and towns boomed under the Mughals; however, for the most part, they were military and political centers, not manufacturing or commerce centers. Only those guilds which produced goods for the bureaucracy made goods in the towns; most industry was based in rural areas. The Mughals also built Maktabs in every province under their authority, where youth were taught the Quran and Islamic law (such as: Fatwa-e-Alamgiri) in their indigenous languages, which later became very powerful religious institutions in South Asia.

The nobility was a heterogeneous body; while it primarily consisted of Rajput aristocrats and foreigners from Muslim countries, people of all castes and nationalities could gain a title from the emperor. The middle class of openly affluent traders consisted of a few wealthy merchants living in the coastal towns; the bulk of the merchants pretended to be poor to avoid taxation. The bulk of the people were poor. The standard of living of the poor was as low as, or somewhat higher than, the standard of living of the Indian poor under the British Raj; whatever benefits the British brought with canals and modern industry were neutralized by rising population growth, high taxes, and the collapse of traditional industry in the nineteenth century.

Science and technology


In the Mughal Empire, the 16th and 17th centuries saw a synthesis between Islamic astronomy and Indian astronomy, where Islamic observational techniques and instruments were combined with Hindu computational techniques. While there appears to have been little concern for theoretical astronomy, Muslim and Hindu astronomers in India continued to make advances in observational astronomy and produced nearly a hundred Zij treatises. Humayun built a personal observatory near Delhi, while Jahangir and Shah Jahan were also intending to build observatories but were unable to do so. The instruments and observational techniques used at the Mughal observatories were mainly derived from the Islamic tradition, and the computational techniques from the Hindu tradition.[20][21] In particular, one of the most remarkable astronomical instruments invented in Mughal India is the seamless celestial globe (see Technology below).


Fathullah Shirazi (c. 1582), a Persian-Indian polymath and mechanical engineer who worked for Akbar the Great in the Mughal Empire, invented the autocannon, the earliest multi-shot gun. As opposed to the polybolos and repeating crossbows used earlier in ancient Greece and China, respectively, Shirazi’s rapid-firing gun had multiple gun barrels that fired hand cannons loaded with gunpowder.[22]

The first prefabricated homes and movable structures were invented in 16th century Mughal India by Akbar the Great. These structures were reported by Arif Qandahari in 1579.[23]

Considered one of the most remarkable feats in metallurgy, the seamless globe and celestial globe were invented in Kashmir by Ali Kashmiri ibn Luqman in 998 AH (1589-90 CE), and twenty other such globes were later produced in Lahore and Kashmir during the Mughal Empire. Before they were rediscovered in the 1980s, it was believed by modern metallurgists to be technically impossible to produce metal globes without any seams, even with modern technology. Another famous series of seamless celestial globes was produced using a lost-wax casting method in the Mughal Empire in 1070 AH (1659-1960 CE) by Muhammad Salih Tahtawi (from Thatta, Sind) with Arabic and Persian inscriptions. It is considered a major feat in metallurgy. These Mughal metallurgists pioneered the method of wax casting while producing these seamless globes


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