Decline of Mughals

Decline of Mughal Empire (1707-1757)


The great Mughal Empire lost its glory and power during the mid of 18th century. The decline of Mughal Empire reveals some of the defects and weaknesses of India’s medieval social, economic, and political structure which were responsible for the eventual subjugation of the country by the English East India Company.

Aurangzeb, the last Great Mughal emperor had-died in 1707 and left his Empire vulnerable. The leadership that emerged after was quite weak and ineffective. It opened opportunities for not only the royal princes, rebellious governor in several provinces who were desperately looking for the opportunity of declaring themselves independent from Delhi.

Here is brief chronology of Mughal Emperors after the death of Aurangzeb till the Battle of Buxar:

Years Rulers
1707 – 1712 Bahadur Shah (son of Aurangzeb)
1712 – 1713 Jahandar Shah (Son of Bahadur Shah)
1713 – 1719 Farrukhsiyar (nephew of Jahandar Shah)
1719 Quick succession of two princes – Rafi-ud-daulah (Shah Jahan II) and Rafi-ud-dar_Jat- Both of Whom died quickly
1719 – 1748 Muhammad Shah-Rangeela (grandson of Bahadur Shah); Delhi suffered the invasion of Nadir-Shah of Persia in 1739 during his reign after which the disintegration was profound
1748 – 1754 Ahmad Shah Bahadur (son of Muhammad Shah); the emperor was deposed and blinded by his own Wazir Imad-ul-mulk who placed Alamgir II on the throne
1754 – 1759 Alamgir II (second son of Jahandar Shah); Murdered by conspiracy of Imad-ul-mulk and Maratha ruler Sadashivrao Bhau
1759 Shahjahan III (grandson of Aurangzeb); deposed within a year
1759 Shah Alam II (son of Alamgir II) came to the throne but spent most of the time away from Delhi. He was finally defeated by the British in Battle of Buxar in 1764.


BAHADUR SHAH (1707-1712)





  • After death of Aurangzeb, his three sons fought among them for the throne which saw emergence of 65 year old Bahadur Shah emerged as victorious.
  • He was learned, dignified and more tolerant towards the Hindu chiefs and rajas.
  • He was supported by Jat chief, Churaman in the campaign against Sikh leader Banda Bahadur.
  • Bahadur Shah also made peace with the Bundela chief, Chhatrasal who remained loyal to him.
  • Due to his excessive reckless grants of jagirs and promotions royal treasure amounting to some 13 crores of rupees were exhausted.
  • Bahadur Shah was heading towards a solution to the problems destabilizing his Empire but he died in 1712.


JAHANDAR SHAH (1712 – 1713)










  • After Bahadur Shah’s death, a new element entered Mughal politics i.e. the succeeding wars of succession. While previously the contest for the power had been between royal princes only, and the nobles had hardly any interference to the throne; now ambitious nobles became direct contenders for the power and used princes as mere pawns to capture the seats of authority.
  • In the civil war, one of Bahadur Shah’s weak sons, Jahandar Shah, won because he was supported by Zulfiqar Khan, the most powerful noble of the time.
  • Jahandar Shah was a weak and degenerate prince who was wholly devoted to pleasure. He lacked good manners, dignity, and decency.
  • During Jahandar Shah’s reign, the administration was virtually in the hands of the extremely capable and energetic Zulfiqar Khan, who was his wazir.
  • Zulfiqar Khan believed that it was necessary to establish friendly relations with the Rajput rajas and the Maratha Sardars and to conciliate the Hindu chieftains necessary to strengthen his own position at the Court and to save the Empire. Therefore, he swiftly reversed the policies of Aurangzeb and abolished the hated jzyah (tax).
  • Jai Singh of Amber was given the title of Mira Raja Saint and appointed Governor of Malwa; Ajit Singh of Marwar was awarded the tide of Maharaja and appointed Governor of Gujarat.
  • Zulfiqar Khan made an attempt to secure the finances of the Empire by checking the reckless growth of jagirs and offices. He also tried to compel the (nobles) to maintain their official quota of troops.
  • An evil tendency encouraged by him was that of ‘ijara’ or revenue-farming. Instead of collecting land revenue at a fixed rate as under Todar Mal’s land revenue settlement, the Government began to contract with revenue farmers and middlemen to pay the Government a fixed amount of money while they were left free to collect whatever they could from the peasant. This encouraged the oppression of the peasant.
  • The cowardly Emperor could not dismiss the powerful wajir (Zulfiqar Khan), but he began to intrigue against him secretly.

FARRUKHSIYAR (1713 – 1719)








  • Farrukhsiyar accredited the success to Sayyid brothers- Abdullah Khan & Hussain Ali Khan Barha.
  • He made these two wazir (manager of home & finance) & Mir Bakshi (manager of Army) respectively.
  • The two brothers acquired control of the state with the most important functions viz. controlling the army & finances.
  • Faruksiyar was inefficient in ruling as he was not only a coward and undependable person, but also lacked the capacity to control the Sayyid brothers.

MUHAMMAD SHAH (1719 – 1748)




  • Muhammad Shah was installed as Mughal emperor by Sayyid brothers who look de-facto control of the Empire in his name. They needed to reform the administrative structure to take effective control and consolidate their authority. Hence the brothers look following steps to reform the current administrative structure.
  • They took up the policy of religious tolerance as they were convinced that India could be ruled harmoniously only by associating with Hindu chiefs, nobles and common people.
  • They sought to conciliate with Jats, Bundelas, Rajputs and Marathas by giving them high ranks in administration.
  • They abolished Jizya (which is the extra tax imposed on non-Muslims who live under Muslim rule according to the Quran and Hadith).
  • They Abolished pilgrim tax.
  • They reached an agreement with Shahu by granting Swarajya and the right to collect Chauth and Sardeshmukhi of six provinces of Deccan. In return Shahu Agreed to provide military support with 15,000 mounted soldiers.
  • Mohammad Shah’s long reign of nearly 30 years (1719-1748 A.D.) was the last chance of saving the empire.









  • The condition of India with its incompetent rulers, weak administration and poor military strength attracted foreign invaders.
  • Nadir Shah, the ruler of Persia, attacked Punjab in 1739.
  • Mohammad Shah was easily defeated and imprisoned.
  • Nadir Shah marched towards Delhi. Nadir Shah was a ferocious invader.
  • He massacred thousands of people in Delhi. Delhi looked deserted for days.
  • Mohammad Shah, however, was reinstated on the throne. Nadir Shah carried with him the Kohinoor diamond and the Peacock throne of Shah Jahan. By plundering a big city like Delhi, he got enormous wealth.
  • Nadir Shah’s invasion gave a crushing blow to the already tottering Mughal Empire and hastened the process of its disintegration.
  • Mohammad Shah’s kingdom was practically confined to Delhi and its neighborhood. He died in 1748.

Mohammad Shah was succeeded by a number of inefficient rulers such as

  • Ahmad Shah (1748-1754): Ahmed Shah inherited a much weakened Mughal state and after ruling unsuccessfully for 6 years, he was deposed by the Vizier Ghazi ud-Din Khan. He spent the remaining years of his life in prison and died of natural causes in January 1775. His son Bidar Baksh II temporarily rose to power in 1788 as puppet of Ghulam Qadir.
  • Alamgir II (1754-1759): During the rule of Alamgir II, the East India Company fought the Battle of Plassey in 1757 and defeated Siraj-ud-Daulah, the Nawab of Bengal. They thus got a foothold in Bengal.
  • Shah Alam II (1759-1806): In 1761, during the reign of Shah Alam II, Ahmad Shah Abdali, the independent ruler of Afghanistan, invaded India. He conquered Punjab and marched towards Delhi. By this time, the Marathas had extended their influence up to Delhi. Hence a war between the Marathas and Ahmad Shah Abdali was inevitable. In the Third Battle of Panipat the Marathas were completely defeated. They lost thousands of soldiers along with their very good generals. They were forced to retreat to the Deccan. Ahmad Shah Abdali’s invasion further weakened the Mughal Empire.
  • Akbar II (1806-1837)
  • Bahadur Shah II (1837-1857)

Shah Alam II granted the Dewani of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa to the East India Company in 1765. This allowed the Company to collect revenue from these areas. It also showed that Mughal authority was recognized by the Indian rulers. Mughal rule formally came to an end when Bahadur Shah was deposed and deported to Rangoon, Myanmar by the East India Company (1857).

Causes of Disintegration of Mughal Empire

Role of Aurangzeb in disintegration of Mughal Empire

  • According to Jadunath Sarkar, Aurangzeb was responsible for disintegration of Mughal Empire because he departed from liberal & progressive policy laid out by Akbar.
  • It is emphasized that Rajput policy, religious policy & Deccan policy of Aurangzeb were drastically different from that of his predecessors. This departure ruined Mughal Empire.
  • The closer examination of policies of Aurangzeb reveals that he didn’t depart fundamentally from policies initiated by Akbar.
  • Some changes were witnessed in the religious Rajput & Deccan Policy of Aurangzeb but these were outcome of changing geopolitical environment.
  • The impact of changes wasn’t very significant so Aurangzeb alone can’t be held responsible for disintegration of Mughal Empire.

Role of Agrarian Crisis

  • According to Irfan Habib, Mughal Empire destroyed by the severe agrarian crisis faced by it during latter half of 17th century.

Agrarian Crisis- Capitalist crises of agricultural overproduction. They are reflected in the increase of unmarketable reserves of agriculturalcommodities, the decline of prices paid to farmers for them, the destruction of a portion of agricultural produce for whichthere is no demand, a decline in the net profit of farmers, the acceleration of the processes of ruin and expropriation of small and middle agricultural producers, the worsening of agrarian overpopulation—the growth of hidden unemployment and the decline of wages of agricultural workers.

Role of Jagirdari Crisis

  • According to Satish Chandra, Jagirdari crisis was responsible for disintegration of Mughal Empire.

Role of Scientific & Technology backwardness

  • According to Mohammad Ather Ali, Mughal Empire didn’t keep pace with Europe in science & technology while Europe witnessed science revolution in 17th No such revolutionary progress was witnessed in India. As a result, the industrial & military technology in Mughal Empire couldn’t progress with passage of time. A small European force having advanced weapons could defeat much bigger Indian army easily.
  • The technological backwardness didn’t allow Indian industries to transform with passage of time. No industrial revolution took place in India. These factors adversely affected the inner strength of Mughal Empire & it started declining.

Role of Monetary Crisis

  • According to Shireen Moosvi, Mughal Empire was destroyed by the severe monetary crisis faced by it in 18th
  • On basis of his research, he found out that large number of silver coins was issued by Mughal ruler in 18th century to use big stock of silver accumulated by state.
  1. Price of silver had fallen sharply in international market. There was no significant use of silver in external trade & it was used to maintain a coin.
  • Issuing of silver coins on large scale resulted in a severe inflationary challenge in Mughal Empire. The economic hardship being faced by common masses increased enormously. The agrarian Jagirdari & other crisis got intensified all these challenges triggered disintegration procedure of Mughal Empire.

Role of other factors

  • Limitation of character of Mughal polity contributed significant to disintegration of Mughal Empire.
  • Mughal Empire was despotic state; the participation of common masses in decision making was absent.
  • Mughal Empire was an example of military state. It was established through military conquest. It was sustained through power of military.
  • The fate of Mughal Empire were doomed by this own limitation.
  • De-nervation of Nobility also contributed to decline of Mughal Empire.
  • Nobel had become extremely powerful & ambitious. After death of Aurangzeb Nobel had started playing role of kingmakers. They placed weak rulers on throne so the real power could remain in their hands.
  • Foreign invasions also played important role in disintegration of Mughal Empire.
  • In1739, Nadir shah invaded Mughal Empire & defeated Mughal forces in battle of Karnal. This invasion of Nadir shah left Mughal Empire prostate & bleeding.
  • Ahmad Shah Abdali invaded India seven times during 1748-61. He annexed Punjab.

These invasions shattered power & prestige of Mughal Empire. The process of disintegration gained further momentum

Rise of Independent States in the 18th Century

With the decline of the Mughal Empire a number of provinces seceded from the empire and several independent states came into existence.


The State of Hyderabad was founded by Qamar-ud-din Siddiqi, who was appointed Viceroy of the Deccan, with the title of Nizam-ul- Mulk, by Emperor Farrukhsiyar in 1712. He established a virtually independent state but returned to Delhi during the reign of Emperor Mohammad Shah. In 1724, he was reappointed Viceroy of the Deccan with the title of Asaf Jah. He founded the Asaf Jah dynasty. His successors were known as the Nizams of Hyderabad.

Asaf Jah ruled the Deccan with a firm hand, crushed the rebellious and powerful zamindars and established a strong administration. He put his nominee, Anwar-ud-din, on the throne of Arcot. After his death in 1748, Hyderabad became an easy prey to powerful neighbours. European trading companies started interfering in the domestic politics of Hyderabad for their own selfish gains.

The Carnatic

The Carnatic was one of the provinces of the Mughals in the Deccan and was under the authority of the Nizam of Hyderabad. However, in practice, the Carnatic was virtually independent under its nawab.


Bengal in the 18th century comprised Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. Murshid Quli Khan was the Diwan of Bengal under Aurangzeb. Farrukhsiyar appointed him Subedar (governor) of Bengal in 1717.

Taking advantage of the growing weakness of the central authority, Murshid Quli Khan became practically independent. Murshid Quli Khan (1717-27) and his successors Shuja-ud-Daula (1727-39) and Alivardi Khan (1739-1756) gave Bengal a long period of peace and stable administration.

Murshid Quli Khan All these three rulers gave encouragement to trade but maintained strict control over the foreign trading companies. Alivardi Khan did not permit English and French trading companies to fortify their possessions in Bengal.

Tomb of Murshid Quli Khan However, the Nawabs of Bengal failed to build up a strong army and navy. They also failed to prevent corruption among the officials. Nor did they firmly destroy the tendency of the East India Company to use force. Their ignorance of the situation in Europe proved costly. Bengal was the first province to be conquered by the East India Company.


The subah of Awadh comprised Benaras and some districts near Allahabad. Saadat Khan Burhan-ul-Mulk was appointed Governor of Awadh by the Mughal Emperor. But he soon became independent. He established a strong administration, crushed the power of the big zamindari and brought about law and order in the country.

Nawab Safdar Jang

His successor Safdar Jang gave Awadh a long period of peace and prosperity. The authority of the Awadh rulers extended up to Rohil-khand, a territory to the east of Delhi.


Early in the 18th century, Mysore was ruled by a Hindu king. After the death of the king, Hyder Ali captured the throne. Though illiterate, Hyder Ali was an efficient administrator. He became the ruler of Mysore when Hyder Ali it was a weak and divided state.

Hyder Ali

But within a short span of time he made Mysore one of the leading Indian powers. He modernized the army and expanded his kingdom through conquests. He was strong enough to emerge as a rival of the British.



  • At the beginning of the eighteenth century, Kerala was divided up among a large number of feudal chiefs and rajas. The four most important states were those of Calicut, under the Zamorin, Chirakkal, Cochin and Travancore.
  • The kingdom of Travancore rose into prominence after 1729 under King Martanda Varma, one of the leading statesmen of the eighteenth century
  • He subdued the feudatories, conquered Quilon and Elayadam, and defeated the Dutch, thus ending their political power in Kerala. He organised a strong army on the Western model with the help of European officers and armed it with modern weapons. He also constructed a modern arsenal.
  • Martanda Varma used his new army to expand northwards and the boundaries of Travancore soon extended from Kanyakumari to Cochin. He undertook many irrigation works, built roads and canals for communication, and gave active encouragement to foreign trade.
  • By 1763, all the petty principalities of Kerala had been absorbed or subordinated by the three big states of Cochin, Travancore and Calicut. Haidar Ali began his invasion of Kerala in 1766 and in the end annexed northern Kerala up to Cochin, including the territories of the Zamorin of Calicut.
  • The eighteenth century saw a remarkable revival in Malayalam literature. This was due in part to the rajas and chiefs of Kerala who were great patrons of literature. Trivandrum, the capital of Travancore, became in the second half of the eighteenth century, a famous centre of Sanskrit scholarship.
  • Rama Varma, successor of Martanda Varma, was himself a poet, scholar, musician, renowned actor, and a man of great culture.

The Rajput States

Taking advantage of the growing weakness of Mughal power, the Rajput states became virtually independent. But the Rajput chiefs continued to be divided as before. Most of the Rajput states were involved in petty quarrels and civil wars.

Raja Sawai Jai Singh of Amber (1681-1743) was a renowned Rajput ruler. He founded the city of Jaipur. He also erected observatories with accurate and advanced instruments at Delhi, Jaipur, Ujjain, Varanasi and Mathura. With the rise of the Marathas, Rajput influence began to decrease.


The Sukerchakia Misl was one of 12 Sikh Misls in Punjab during the 18th century concentrated in Gujranwala and Hafizabad district in Western Punjab (in modern-Pakistan) and ruled from (1752-1801). The Sukerchakia last Misldar (commander of the Misl) was Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, Maharaja Ranjit Singh united all the misls and established an independent kingdom in Punjab.

It was under the leadership of Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth and the last Guru of the Sikhs that the community became a political and military force. The invasions of Nadir Shah and Ahmad Shah Abdali and the consequent decline of Mughal power gave the Sikhs the opportunity to rise. Between 1765 and 1800 they brought the Punjab and Jammu under their control. At the end of the 18th century Ranjit Singh, chief of the Sukerchakia Misl brought all the Sikh chiefs west of the river Sutlej under his control and established a powerful Sikh empire in the Punjab.

After Ranjit Singh’s death, there was confusion in the Sikh state. The English, who were on the lookout for an opportunity to expand their territories, conquered the Sikh kingdom (1839-40).

The Maratha Empire, 1760

Shahuji, the grandson of Shivaji, who had been imprisoned by Aurangzeb, was released by Bahadur Shah in 1707. The Maratha state at that time was ruled by Tara Bai, the queen regent. A civil war broke out between the two Shahu was victorious.

Shahuji appointed Balaji Vishwanath as his Peshwa or Prime Minister in 1713. Balaji Vishwanath concentrated all power in his own hands and became the real ruler of the Marathas. The king was relegated to the background. Balaji Vishwanath assigned separate areas to the Maratha sardars (chiefs) for the collection of levies of chauth and sardeshmukhi.

Balaji Baji Rao (1740-1761) further extended the empire in different directions. Maratha power reached its height under him. The Marathas soon reached Delhi and offered their support to the Mughal emperor. The expulsion of Ahmad Shah Abdali’s agent from Punjab brought the Marathas into an open conflict with Ahmad Shah Abdali.

The battle between the two forces was fought in Panipat in January 1761. The Marathas were completely defeated. Nearly 28,000 soldiers were killed. The Peshwa died in June 1761.The Battle of Panipat destroyed the possibility of the Marathas emerging as the strongest power in India. For the British, this battle was of immense significance. The Maratha defeat cleared the way for the rise of British power in India.