REASONS FOR THE DECLINE OF THE MUGHAL EMPIRE 1707-1857:

Posted by Usman Hameed on 09 November, 2019

The Mughal Empire reached its greatest extent in the time of Aurangzeb Alamgir, but it collapsed within a few decades after his death. The Mughal Empire owes its decline and ultimate downfall to a combination of factors;

 Firstly Aurangzeb’s policies are regarded as a cause for the decline of the Mughal Empire as it led to disunity among the INDIAN people. Aurangzeb was largely responsible for the downfall of the empire. His predecessors did a lot to win over the loyalties of their subjects, particularly the Rajputs and the other Hindus. But Aurangzeb was a fanatic and could not tolerate the non-Muslims. He imposed Jazia and forbade the celebration of Hindu festivals. He thus lost the friendship and loyalty of the Rajputs. His execution of the Sikh guru and his hatred with the Marathas forced them to raise arms against him. Being a fanatic Sunni Muslim, he could not tolerate even the Shias. They too turned against him. He laid too much stress on simplicity and was against singing, dancing and drinking which were common habits of the Muslim nobles. They did not like a king who was so much against their ways.   His excessive obsession with the Deccan also destroyed the Mughal army, the treasury and also adversely affected his health. So after Aurangzeb’s death the mighty empire disintegrated into smaller states.

 

 Another reason was unworthy and incompetent successors of Aurangzeb. The character of Mughal kings had deteriorated over a period of time. The successive rulers after Aurangzeb were weak and lacked the character, motivation and commitment to rule the empire strongly. They had become ease loving and cowardly. They totally disregarded their state duties and were unable to detain the declining empire from its fall. These later Mughal rulers were proven neither good generals nor good statesmen who could control or administer the large empire which covered nearly the whole of the subcontinent during Aurangzeb’s rule. The later rulers were renowned for living an extravagant lifestyle with little thought to the effect it had on the economy of the empire. They also lacked courage, determination and training. Money was spent lavishly on fine buildings, jewellery, fine clothes and food. No infrastructure was created for the improvement of administration, industry or agriculture.

The absence of any definite law of succession was another important factor. The war of successions not only led to bitterness, bloodshed, and loss of money and prestige of the empire over a period of time, but to its eventual fall. After the death of a ruler, the princess fought for the throne. This eroded the strength and led to the instability of the Mughal Empire. Jahangir, as prince Salim, revolted against his father Akbar. Shah Jahan revolted against Jahangir. Aurangzeb revolted against Shah Jahn. Aurangzeb also fought against his brothers Dara Shiko and Shuja, and later got Kamran killed. Infighting continued even after Aurangzeb like Moazzam who succeeded the throne under the name of Bahadur Shah after Aurangzeb, defeated his brothers Azam and Kam Baksh and killed them. Bahadur Shah ruled for 5 years and died in 1712. His sons also fought for the throne. The infighting for the throne greatly weakened the Mughal Empire.

Local revolts also made the Mughals weak. Marathas were the major opponents of Mughals. They were from central and south India. Aurangzeb fought with them but could not control them. Until 1750, they had become a major threat for the Mughals. However, Marathas were defeated in 1761 in the battle of Panipat and powerless Mughals got some more time to rule India, In Punjab, Sikhs were also a major threat for the Mughals.

 Besides that, two major invasions took place from Afghanistan and Persia. In 1738, Persian General Nadir shah invaded Delhi and looted their wealth. Between 1747 and 1769, Afghan General Ahmed Shah invaded India ten times. All these invasions and revolts made the Mughals virtually bankrupt and they lost their power completely. 
Mughal Kingdom was reduced to an area 300 miles long and 100 miles wide near Delhi within 100 years after the death of Aurangzeb.

The rise of British power was the main reason of the decline of the Mughals.  The British took full advantage of the weakness of the Mughals and gradually increased their power. The British expanded the territory under their control with the help of their superior administration and organization. A series of battles and annexations, through steps like ‘Subsidiary Alliance’ and ‘Doctrine of Lapse’ and effective administration the British gradually assumed control over a vast territory in the subcontinent.  They also had clear military advantage because of Industrial development in England (1750-1850). The British had better weapons, superior war techniques and a well-trained and disciplined army. The British also possessed a strong naval force .The result was that by 1803 the British took over Delhi and placed Shah Alam under British protection with a pension.

MINOR REASONS:

The degeneration of the rulers had also led to the moral degeneration of the nobility. Under the early Mughals, the nobles performed useful functions and distinguished themselves both in war and peace. But the elite under the later Mughals was more interested in worldly pursuit and self-enhancement. The nobles who had once been talented men with integrity, honesty, and loyalty, turned selfish and deceitful. Growth of hostile and rival group in the court also undermined the strength of the government. Widespread corruption in the administration started and taking bribes became common.

One of the most potent causes of the fall of the Mughal Empire was the deterioration and demoralization of the army. The military had not only become inefficient but also lacked in training, discipline and cohesion. The army was out-dated in regard to equipment. It consisted of groups maintained by various nobles, which was the main source of Army's weakness. As the weakening of the nobles occurred, so did the army. This was because of the soldiers, instead of identifying and uniting as Mughal Indians, identified themselves with different ethnic groups like Persian, Afghans and Central Asians. The Mughals had no navy and only maintained small ships that were no match for the well-equipped ships of the foreign traders. It was this weakness that the French and the British used to their advantage, and were eventually able to establish their control over India

Another factor contributing to the decline was the financial position of the Mughals, which had become deplorable. The war of successions, rebellions and luxurious style of living had depleted the once enormous treasury and had led to financial bankruptcy. During the time of Aurangzeb, the Mughal Empire had expanded to reach its maximum size. This vast area had become impossible for one ruler to control and govern from one centre. It was during the later Mughals that Deccan, Bengal, Bihar and Orissa declared their independence.

 

Summary

  • Aurangzeb’s policies
  • Absence of any definite line of succession and Infighting
  • Unworthy and incompetent successors
  • Raids by Nadir Shah (1739) and Ahmad Shah Abdali (1761)
  • Raise of Marathas in Deccan and the Sikhs in Punjab
  • Rise of British and the French
  • Moral degeneration of the nobility
  • Deterioration and demoralization of the army
  • Lack of naval power
  • Financial position of the Mughals
  • Vastness of the Empire
  • Failure of Mansabdari system

 

Past Papers Questions Topic 1:

Question No.1: Was the infighting between Aurangzeb’s successors the most important reason for the collapse of the Mughal Empire? Explain your answer. (14) November 2001. (Q.1.c)

Question No.2: Briefly explain three reasons for the decline of the Mughal Empire.

(7) June.2002. (Q.1.b)

Questions No.3: “Aurangzeb’s successors failed to live up to his courageous and determined personality”. Was this the most important reasons for the decline of the Mughal Empire? Give reasons for your answer.                                                                                                                                                                                                                          (14)November 2003 (Q.1.c) 

Questions No.4: Why were the British able to replace the Mughals as the dominant force in the Sub Continent by 1850?        

(7)  November 2004. (Q. 1.b)

Question No.5: Were the weak and greedy characteristics of Aurangzeb’s successors the most important reasons for the collapse of the Mughal Empire? Explain your answer. 

 (14) November 2005. (Q.1.c)

Questions No.6: Explain why the Mughal Empire declined following the reign of Aurangzeb.   

(7) June 2006. (Q.1.b)

Question No.7: “The coming of the British was the main reason for the decline of the Mughal Empire”, do you agree or disagree? Give reasons for your answer. 

(14)  June 2007(Q.1.c)

Question No.8: Explain why the successors of Aurangzeb failed to prevent the decline of the Mughal Empire.   

 (7) November 2008 (Q.1.b)

Question No.9: ‘The policies of Aurangzeb were the main reason for the decline of the Mughal Empire’. Do you agree or disagree? Give reasons for your answer.

                                                                          (14) November 2009(Q.1.c)                                                                                             

Question No.10: The spread of Maratha power was the main reason for the decline of the Mughal Empire. Do you agree or disagree? Give reasons for your answer. 

(14) June 2011 (Q.1.c)

Question No.11: Explain why the Mughal Empire declined following the reign of Aurangzeb.  

(7) June 2012 (Q. 1.b)

Question No.12: Read the source below carefully to answer question (a).

The Mughal Empire took 150 years from the death of Aurangzeb in 1707 to break up. His empire was facing difficulties at the time of his death and following this, the tensions and problems only became worse. The most serious challenge to Mughal authority came from the Marathas.

(a) Describe what the Marathas did.                                                                                              (4) June 2013 (Q.1.a)

 

Question No.13: How did the successors of Aurangzeb contribute to the downfall of the Mughal Empire?

                                                                                                                                                               (7)November 2013 (Q.1.b)

 

Question No.14:  Were the invasions by the Persians and Afghans the main reason for the decline of the Mughal Empire? Explain your answer.                                                                                                                                                 (14)November 2015(Q.2.c)

Question No. 15: who were zamindars?   

(4) June 2017 (Q.2.a)

 

Question No.16: Was the infighting between Aurangzeb’s successors the most important reason for the break-up of the Mughal Empire? Explain your answer.                                                                                                                          (14) June 2017. (Q.2.c)

Question 17: who was Ahmed Shah Abdali?   

(4)  June 2019 (Q. 2 a)

 

MOST EXPECTED SHORT QUESTIONS:

MANSABDARI SYSTEM:

“Mansab” is an Arabic word which means a post, an officer a rank, or status. Therefore, Mansabdar means an officer or the holder of the rank, status, and post. Akbar introduced a new system for regulating imperial services which was called Mansabdari system. It was introduced in 1570 A. D. All the imperial officers of the state were styled as Mansabdars. They were classified from the rank of (10) to ten thousands (10,000) constituted. The (10) was the lowest rank and the ten thousand (10,000) was the highest. The Mansabdars belonged to both Civil and Military department.

AURANGZEB'S DECCAN POLICY:

Aurangzeb spent the last 25 years of his life (1682-1707) in the Deccan. During all this long period, he had practically no rest. The object of his Deccan wars was to conquer the states of Bijapur & Golconda & crush the power of Marathas. But the Marathas did not submit themselves and continued their struggle till the end. Thus his 25 years of campaign in Deccan resulted in nothing. The wars in the Deccan drained his resources & loosened his grip in the north. This led to his tragic end in 1707 at Ahamadnagar and slowly led to downfall of Mughal Empire.

SUBSIDIARY ALLIANCE:

The doctrine of subsidiary alliance was introduced by Lord Wellesley, (1798-1805).According to this the Indian rulers were not allowed to have their own armed forces. They were protected by the company’s forces but had to pay for them. If any ruler failed to make the payment, a part of his territory would be taken away.

PARAMOUNTCY:

Under Warren Hasting (1774-85), a new policy of paramount was initiated. The company claimed its authority was paramount or supreme as its power was greater than the Indian rulers. So they decided that they could annex or threaten to annex any state of India. It was applied by Lord Dalhousie in 1852.when a ruler didn’t govern his state the British would annex his land. (Oudh, Nagpur)

ZAMINDARS:

A zamindar in the Indian subcontinent was a lord. The term means "land owner" in Persian. Typically hereditary, zamindars held enormous territories of land and control over their peasants, from whom they reserved the right to collect tax on behalf of imperial courts or for military purposes. In the 19th and 20th centuries, with the advent of British imperialism, many wealthy and influential zamindars were granted with princely and royal titles such as Maharaja (Great King), Raja (King) and Nawab.

During the Mughal Empire, zamindars belonged to the nobility and formed the ruling class. Emperor Akbar granted them mansabs and their ancestral domains were treated as jagirs. Under British colonial rule in India, the permanent settlement consolidated what became known as the zamindari system. The British rewarded supportive zamindars by recognizing them as princes.

Nadir Shah:

Nadir Shah