The Mughal Empire The Mughal Empire was an empire that at its greatest territorial extent ruled most of the Indian subcontinent between 1526 and 1857. It consolidated the Islam culture in South Asia and in result it spread the arts of the Muslim culture and its faith. The Mughal ruling class included the Muslims despite most of the subjects in the empire being Hindu. Zahiruddin Mohammad Babur was the founder of the empire. Under his rule the dynasty remained unstable, and was eventually exiled, until the reign of Akbar.
Akbar, being unofficially involved with the dynasty since adolescents to adulthood, had the ideas, concepts, and most importantly foundation needed to make the Mughal dynasty into a powerful empire. Under Akbars rule the court abolished the poll tax on non-Muslims and got rid of the use of the lunar Muslim calendar in favor of a solar calendar that became more useful to agriculture. Akbar had many useful ideas, especially regarding religion. One of his most unique ideas regarding religion was his idea of having an eclectic mix of Hinduism, which was a version of Sufi Islam, Zoroastrianism and Christianity.
As a major influential leader of the Mughal empire Akbar still to this day is remembered as a tolerant ruler, enlightened thinker, and a philosopher king who had a genuine interest in all creeds and doctrines at a time when religious persecution was prevailing throughout Europe and Asia. He even started a new faith in an attempt to blend Islam with Hinduism, Christianity, Jainism, along with many other faiths. In India the Muslims came before the Mughals. The first Muslims to arrive came in the 8th Century. During the first half of the 10th Century Muslim ruler of Afghanistan took over Punjab several times. Punjab is a major plain in Western India where many Muslims reside). Later on a more successful invasion that took place during the 12th Century was the formation and invasion of the city of Delhi. Eventually the Mughals matured out of being descendants of the Mongol Empire and then made a transitioned into becoming Muslim and assimilated their culture with the Middle East. They then also retained major military skills of placed Mongol empires. The Mughals used the Mansabdar system to generate land revenue. This system used a military -type grading of all imperial officials.
The mansabdars governed the empire and commanded its armies in the emperor’s name. The emperor would grant revenue rights to a Mansabdar in exchange for promises of soldiers in war-time. For example, the bigger the size of land the emperor granted, the greater the number of soldiers the Mansabdar had to promise. The Mughal dynasty had many rulers during its reign. The Mughal Emperors are famous for the creation and management of one of the greatest empires. They set the prime example of “unity in diversity”. The most influential emperors were Babur, Humayun, Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan, and Auranzeb.
Each of these emperors made a huge impact on the Mughal Empire and its people. Zahiruddin Mohammad Babur was the founder of the Mughal Empire. He ruled the empire from 1483 to 1530. Babur was 14 years old when he ascended the throne of the Central Asian kingdom of Farghana. In 1504, he led his army into what is now Afghanistan and conquered Kabul. After waging fierce battles against the Rajputs and Lodhis, Babur managed to take possession of Delhi and Agra. After that he rapidly started to spread his territory and conquered most of Indian sub-continent and Afghanistan.
When he died in 1530 he had conquered all of Hindustan and controlled an empire that extended from the Deccan to Turkestan. Babur’s armies were very technologically advanced and he was the first Islamic conqueror to employ muskets and artillery. Babur was succeeded by his son Humayun. Humayun inherited one of the largest empires in the world, and between 1530 and 1540 and he managed to lose all of it to rebellions, from Afghanistan to India. He went into exile in Persia, and slowly put together an army to reconquer his lost territory.
By 1555, he managed to do this, despite his unfortunate first decade in charge. Just as he was on the verge of completing his reconquest, he fell down a flight of stairs and broke his neck. Despite his great success at reconquest, both Islamic and Western history has marked him down as one of the major failures of history. Humayun’s defeat, however, had an intense influence on Mughal culture. In his years of exile in the Persian court, Humayun developed a deep understanding and love for Persian culture, and instilled that in his son Akbar.
Akbar is known as being the greatest ruler of Indian History. Once in power, Akbar instantly began seizing more territory throughout Hindustan. In order to govern this territory, Akbar developed a bureaucracy and a system of autonomy for the imperial provinces. He put military governors, or mansabars, in charge of each region. Each governor was responsible for the provincial military and was directly responsible for all abuses. Abuses of power and mistreatment of the poor or weak resulted in severe punishments and death.
Each military governor was put in charge by the padshah, or ruler, himself, so he could be dismissed at will. The most important part of the bureaucracy Akbar set up was tax collection. His tax, like all other states, was a land tax that amounted to one-third of the value of the crops produced on it each year. However, the tax was assessed equally on every member of the empire. Akbar introduced a policy of reconciliation and assimilation of Hindus who represented the majority of the population.
He recruited and rewarded Hindu chiefs with the highest ranks in government; encouraged intermarriages between Mughal and Rajput aristocracy; allowed new temples to be built; personally participated in celebrating Hindu festivals such as Deepavali, or Diwali, the festival of lights; and abolished the jizya (poll tax) imposed on non-Muslims. By the end of Akbar’s reign, the Mughal Empire extended throughout north India even south of the Narmada River. After the death of Akbar in 1605, his son, Prince Salim, ascended the throne and assumed the title of Jahangir, “Seizer of the World”.
Jahangir married a Persian princess whom he renamed Nur Jahan (Light of the World). She emerged as the most powerful individual in the court besides the emperor. As a result, Persian poets, artists, scholars, and officers lured by the Mughal court’s brilliance and luxury, found safety in India. Jahangir is the central figure in the development of the Mughal garden. The most famous of his gardens is the Shalimar Bagh on the banks of Lake Dal in Kashmir. The period of Jahangir’s rule from 1605 to 1628 is considered the richest period of Mughal culture.
Indian, Muslim, and Western scholars have named this period, the age of Mughal splendor. Jahangir’s successor, Shah Jahan ruled from 1628 to 1658. Shah Jahan inherited Akbar’s obsession with the military and wars of conquest. Between 1636 and 1646, Shah Jahan sent Mughal armies to conquer the Deccan and the lands to the northwest of the empire, beyond the Khyber Pass. Even though they aptly demonstrated Mughal military strength, these campaigns drained the imperial treasury. Jahan’s reign is remembered more for monumental architectural achievements than anything else.
The single most important architectural change was the use of marble instead of sandstone. He demolished the austere sandstone structures of Akbar in the Red Fort and replaced them with marble buildings such as the Diwan-i-Am (hall of public audience), the Diwan-i-Khas (hall of private audience), and the Moti Masjid (Pearl Mosque). Shah Jahan’s most famous building project, however, was the Taj Mahal in Agra. When his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, died at the age of 39 while giving birth to her fourteenth child, the grieving emperor set about building the most lavish tomb he could manage for her.
The Taj Mahal took over twenty years to build and demanded the labor of over twenty thousand men. Like all other Muslim tombs, the primary architectural design is based on building an equivalent of the Muslim paradise that the dead are certain to be in. Combining both Persian and Indian architectural styles, the tomb and the grounds are meant to bring into reality the Muslim idea of Paradise. Shah Jahan’s excessive architectural indulgence had a heavy price. The peasants had been impoverished by heavy taxes and by the time his son Aurangzeb ascended the throne, the empire was in a state of bankruptcy.
The last of the great Mughals was Aurangzeb Alamgir. During his fifty-year reign, the empire reached its greatest physical size but also showed unmistakable signs of decline. The bureaucracy had grown corrupt and the huge army used outdated weaponry and tactics. Aurangzeb restored Mughal military dominance and expanded power southward. Peasant uprisings and revolts by local leaders became extremely common, as did the manipulating of the nobles to preserve their own status at the cost of a steadily weakening empire.
From the early 1700s the campaigns of the Sikhs of Punjab under leaders such as Banda Bahadur, inspired by the martial teachings of their last Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, also posed as a large threat to Mughal rule in Northern India. The growing connection of Aurangzeb’s government with Islam and his religious prejudice further drove a wedge between the emperor and his Hindu subjects. Aurangzeb’s policies towards his Hindu subjects were harsh, and intended to force them to convert. Temples were destroyed and the harsh jiziya tax was re-introduced.
During this time, many men were competing for the Mughal throne, and the reigns of Aurangzeb’s successors were short-lived and filled with conflict and rivalry. The Mughal Empire experienced dramatic reverses as regional governors broke away and founded independent kingdoms. In the war of 27 years from 1680 to 1707, the Mughals suffered several heavy defeats at the hands of the Marathas. They had to make peace with the Maratha armies, and Persian and Afghan armies invaded Delhi, carrying away many treasures, including the Peacock Throne in 1739.