The Mughals were the last powerful descendants of the great Mongol warriors, Ghengis Khan and Timur. They were, however, quite distant from their original ancestors. The Mughals had become Islamic and they had thoroughly absorbed Persian culture (the Persian word for Mongol is 'Mughal').

Despite their illustrious ancestors, the Mughals began humbly. When the great Mughal conqueror, Babur, came to power in AD 1483, he ruled over a very small kingdom in Turkestan. With the smallest of armies, he managed to conquer first Afghanistan and then the Delhi Sultanate and this led to the foundation of the Mughal rule in India.

Faced with overwhelming odds, he fought the decisive battle of Panipat in AD 1526 against Ibrahim Lodhi with an army of only twelve thousand men. But, popularly called Babur the Tiger, he overcame his enemies with a new technology; firearms. For this reason, Western historians have dubbed the Mughal Empire, the first gunpowder empire.

Before his death in AD 1530, he had almost conquered the entire India and laid the foundation of a dynasty, which was to change the course of history. He was succeeded by his son, Humayun, but he failed to keep one of the largest empires in the world intact. He had to live most of his life in exile and had to face several rebellions. When he died in AD 1556, he had lost nearly two-third of his kingdom. The task of finishing the reconquest fell to his son and successor, Akbar, whose name means in Arabic, 'The Great.'

Muslim, Indian, and Western historians all see Akbar as the greatest ruler of Indian history. There was not a single field in which he did not show his excellence. By the time he died in 1605, his Empire was greater than that of Babur and included almost all of northern India. The Mansabdari System was the back bone of his administration. A large part of Akbar's administrative efforts were in winning over Hindu populations and this he did successfully.

Akbar was succeeded by, Jahangir, who ruled the empire from AD 1605 to AD 1628. The period of Jahangir's tenure as Emperor is considered the richest period of Mughal culture. Jahangir's successor, Shah Jahan ruled from AD 1628 to AD 1658. One of his major innovations was moving the capital from Agra to Delhi and he was also one of the greatest builders of Mughal Dynasty. Shah Jahan was succeeded by Aurangzeb in AD 1658 and ruled for a long period up to AD 1707. Mughal Empire expanded to its greatest limits under his tenure but his orthodoxy brought the downfall of the empire. He insisted that the Shariah become the law of the land. Individual states, especially those ruled by Hindu kings, rebelled against the new policies, but the most serious opposition came from two groups: the Marathas and the Sikhs.

After the death of Aurangzeb in AD 1707, the empire was divided and formed into many independent and semi-independent states. In AD 1739, Nadir Shah of Iran attacked Delhi, and this was followed by the attack of Ahmad Shah Abdali and soon the fragility of the power of the Mughals led to the declaration of independence by the vassal states.

In spite of all these, the Mughals ruled the country till 1857 mostly as puppet governments of the East India Company, which was making its presence felt in the country. The end of Mughal rule in India came when the soldiers who led the rebellion of 1857 marched to Delhi and announced the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah II, as the ruler of India. The rebellion was soon crushed and Bahadur Shah Zafar was deported to Myanmar by the East India Company. Thus putting and end to a dynasty, which rewrote the history of a nation.

Many features of the Mughal administrative system were adopted by Great Britain in ruling India, but the most lasting achievements of the Mughals were in the field of architecture, painting and music.

Updated on 27th October, 2020


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