Mughal Empire

Dafato Team | Mar 3, 2023

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The Mughal Empire was a state existing on the Indian subcontinent from 1526 to 1858. The heartland of the empire was in the Indus-Gangetic plain of northern India around the cities of Delhi, Agra and Lahore. At the height of its power at the end of the 17th century, the Mughal Empire encompassed almost the entire subcontinent and parts of present-day Afghanistan. Between 100 and 150 million people lived on 3.2 million square kilometers. In 1700, its share of the world's population was estimated at about 29 percent.

Today, Muslim rulers are referred to in German as "Mogul," "Großmogul" or "Mogulkaiser. Similar designations can also be found in other, mainly Western languages. In the state and court language Persian, which had replaced the original mother tongue of the Mughals - Chagataic, an Eastern Turkic language - the ruler's title was Padishah (پادشاه, DMG pād(i)šāh). It was comparable to the title of an emperor.

The first Great Mogul Babur (r. 1526-1530), a prince of the Timurid dynasty from Central Asia, conquered the Delhi Sultanate from the territory of today's Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. Akbar (r. 1556-1605), who consolidated the empire militarily, politically and economically, is considered the most important Mughal ruler. Under Aurangzeb (r. 1658-1707), the Mughal empire experienced its greatest territorial expansion. However, it was so overstretched financially and militarily by the territorial expansion that it degraded to a regional power in the political structure of India in the course of the 18th century. Several heavy military defeats at the hands of the Marathians, Persians, Afghans and British, as well as internal dynastic power struggles to gain dominion and the intensification of religious antagonisms at home between the Islamic "ruling caste" and the subjugated majority population of peasant Hindus, further favored its decline. In 1858, the last Great Mogul of Delhi was deposed by the British. His territory was absorbed into British India.

Rich evidence of architecture, painting and poetry influenced by Persian and Indian artists has been preserved for posterity.

The name "Mughal" as a designation for the rulers of northern India was probably coined in the 16th century by the Portuguese (Portuguese Grão Mogor or Grão Mogol "Great Mughal"), who established a Jesuit mission at Akbar's court as early as 1580, and later adopted by other European travelers in India. It derives from the Persian مغول mughūl meaning "Mongol." Originally, "Mog(h)ulistan" referred to the Central Asian Chagatai Khanate. The latter was the homeland of Timur Lang, founder of the Timurid dynasty and direct ancestor of the first Mughal ruler Babur. Thus, the name correctly refers to the Mongol descent of the Indian dynasty, but ignores the more precise relationship to the Mongol Empire. This is expressed in the Persian proper name گوركانى gūrkānī of the Mughals, which derives from the Mongolian kürägän "son-in-law"-an allusion to Timur's marriage into Genghis Khan's family. Accordingly, the Persian name for the Mughal dynasty is گورکانیان Gūrkānīyān. However, in Urdu, the Mughal emperor is called مغل باد شاہ Mughal Bādšāh.

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Prior to the founding of the Mughal Empire, the Delhi Sultanate existed in northern India since 1206 and reached the height of its power under Ala ud-Din Khalji (r. 1297-1316). Ala ud-Din subjugated large parts of the Deccan, at the same time repelling Mongol attacks from the northwest. Sultan Muhammad bin Tughluq (r. 1325-1351) sought the complete incorporation of the central and southern Indian empires. His plan failed, however, and by moving the capital from Delhi to Daulatabad on the Deccan, he weakened the sultans' position of power in the north Indian plains. The decline of the empire began, culminating in Timur's conquest and sack of Delhi in 1398. Although Timur quickly withdrew, the sultanate never fully recovered from the devastating consequences of the defeat. All provinces gained their independence, so that the sultanate was now limited to the area around Delhi. Even a temporary expansion under the Lodi dynasty (1451-1526) could not restore the empire's former size and power.

1504-1530: Emergence under Babur

The Delhi Sultanate finally declined in 1526, when Zahir ud-Din Muhammad, called Babur (Persian "tiger"), defeated the last sultan. Babur came from Fergana, now Uzbekistan, one of the many Muslim petty principalities of Transoxania ruled by the Timurids. Babur was a direct sixth-generation descendant of Timur on his father's side; his mother even traced her lineage directly back to Genghis Khan. After inheriting his father's estate in Fergana and twice briefly gaining possession of Samarkand, he was forced to flee his homeland in 1504 in the face of the strengthening Uzbeks under Shaibani Khan. He retreated to Kabul, which he henceforth ruled as a kingdom. Since the extinction of the last other remaining Timurid court in Herat in 1507, he held the title of padeshah (emperor), formally superior to a shah (king), and thus claimed the leadership position among the Timurid princes. From Kabul, he made initial exploratory forays into northwestern India (into what is now Pakistan) via the Chaiber Pass, but then allied himself with the Shah of Safavid Persia, Ismail I, to regain Samarkand, which he actually captured but was unable to hold. In return for the shah's support, he had to publicly profess Shiite Islam, but later returned to the Sunni faith, of which he was probably also inwardly convinced. This is supported by the fact that Babur raised his son Humayun in the Sunni faith. The renewed failure of the Samarkand enterprise seemed to have finally ripened the decision to turn to India, especially since Babur, thanks to his ancestor Timur, could lay claim to the possessions of the Delhi Sultan. The latter, however, refused to submit to Babur.

In preparation for his Indian campaign, Babur introduced Ottoman-style cannons and guns that had never before been used in a field battle in northern India. In 1522 Kandahar fell, and by early 1526 he had extended his rule far into the Punjab. There, on April 20 of the same year, he had a decisive clash with the vastly outnumbered army of Sultan Ibrahim II: the use of firearms, the high mobility of mounted archers on the flanks, and defensive tactics inspired by the Ottoman army helped Babur to a superior victory over the last Delhi sultan at the Battle of Panipat. After occupying Delhi and Araga, which had become the capital of the Lodi dynasty two decades earlier, he proclaimed himself emperor of Hindustan, thus establishing the Mughal Empire.

Nevertheless, Babur's rule was far from being consolidated, for a new enemy had arisen in the form of the Rajput prince Rana Sanga of Mewar. The latter sought to restore Hindu rule in northern India and had formed a confederation with other Rajput rulers for this purpose. Babur had to persuade his soldiers, whom he urged to return to Kabul, to stay with generous rewards from the defeated sultan's treasury. Only with the victory over the Rajput confederacy on March 17, 1527, at the Battle of Khanua was his rule in Hindustan somewhat secure.

Babur subsequently toured his new empire extensively, quelled several revolts and distributed generous gifts to his subjects and relatives, which placed a heavy burden on the state treasury. He was resolutely liberal and conciliatory toward his subjects, but he retained virtually unchanged the administrative structures of the Lodi dynasty, which were based on the granting of jagir (fiefdoms) and thus local loyalties. In 1530, Babur's son Humayun inherited an internally fragile empire that stretched from the Hindu Kush to Bihar.

1530-1556: Humayun's reign and Surid interregnum

Humayun's time was marked by setbacks that temporarily deprived the emperor of control over his empire and nearly ended Mughal rule in India after less than 15 years. According to Timurid tradition, all legitimate sons of a ruler were entitled to succeed to the throne. Humayun, who was considered pliant and superstitious, even childish at times, therefore found himself embroiled in disputes with his half-brothers. In addition, there were external threats. In the southwest, Sultan Bahadur of Gujarat was expanding, while in Bihar in the east, Sher Khan Suri was preparing a rebellion as the leader of a group of Pashtuns who had entered military service with the Lodi dynasty. Both had refused to swear allegiance to Humayun after his accession to the throne.

Humayun, who preferred to devote himself to planning a new capital, did not decide to launch a campaign against Gujarat until 1535, which was initially successful. The outbreak of Sher Khan's rebellion in Bihar forced him to return to Agra and abandon the conquered territories. In 1537 he moved against Sher Khan, who sacked the Bengal capital of Gaur before the encounter and henceforth called himself Sher Shah. At Chausa, east of Varanasi, in 1539, Humayun was defeated by Sher Shah, who had at first agreed to the retreat of his army, but then raided Humayun's camp by night and drove his soldiers into the Ganges, where most of them drowned. Humayun himself almost perished, had not a servant saved his life. Meanwhile, his half-brother Hindal had tried unsuccessfully to usurp the throne. Nevertheless, the sibling quarrel divided and demoralized Humayun's troops. The Battle of Kannauj in 1540 sealed Hindustan's loss. Humayun fled to Persia, to the court of Tahmasp I. Only with the help of a Persian army was he able to regain Kabul in 1545.

Sher Shah founded the short-lived Surid dynasty as Sultan of Delhi. Extensive reforms in the areas of administration and finance were intended to consolidate the rule, but a succession dispute plunged the Surids into chaos in 1554, thus enabling Humayun's return to India a year later. Building on Sher Shah's reforms, Humayun planned to establish a new administrative system. His sudden death in 1556 prevented this project.

1556-1605: Consolidation by Akbar

Humayun's eldest son Akbar was undisputed within the dynasty, but his empire was threatened by the Surid descendants. Taking advantage of their discord and the weakness of the newly restored Mughal empire, the Hindu Surid general Hemu arbitrarily occupied Delhi and proclaimed himself Rajah in October 1556, but was defeated by Akbar's army in the Second Battle of Panipat on November 5. Within a year, the remaining Surids were also finally defeated. The Mughal Empire was thus militarily secure for the time being.

Through numerous campaigns and political marriages, Akbar enlarged the empire considerably. In 1561, the central Indian sultanate of Malwa was subjugated. In 1564 Gondwana fell, in 1573 Gujarat and in 1574 Bihar. Bengal was administered by Suleiman Karrani for Akbar. After his death, there were revolts, which Akbar suppressed in 1576. The territories were now formally annexed to the Mughal Empire and placed under provincial governors. Of great importance was the subjugation of the militarily strong Rajput states, whose full integration had never before been achieved by any Islamic empire. Through a clever marriage policy, Akbar gradually weakened the Rajputs. At the same time, he took military action against the princes who were hostile to him. In 1568, Mughal troops captured the strongest Rajput stronghold of Chittor after several months of siege and massacred the civilian population. Within a few years, all Rajput princes except the Rana of Udaipur had finally recognized the supremacy of the Mughal Empire. The Rajputs thereafter provided important support for the army, at least until Aurangzeb turned them against him with his intolerant policies.

In addition to his conquest campaigns, Akbar was the first Mughal ruler to devote himself extensively to the internal consolidation of the empire. One of the most important foundations was religious tolerance toward the Hindu majority of the empire's population. Although there had been cooperation between the two faith groups under previous Muslim rulers on the Indian subcontinent, the extent of religious reconciliation under Akbar went far beyond that of previous rulers. For example, more Hindus entered government service under Akbar than ever before, and special taxes on non-Muslims were abolished. Akbar himself moved further and further away from orthodox Islam and even proclaimed his own religion called din-i ilahi ("Divine Faith"). He also continued the reform of provincial administration and tax collection begun by Sher Shah, largely replacing the feudal system still in use under Babur with a more rational, centralized civil service. In the social sphere, Akbar sought, among other things, to abolish child marriages and widow burnings (sati), to standardize units of measurement, and to improve the educational system. However, many of his modern ideas had only limited effect as a result of widespread corruption.

Akbar's policy of religious tolerance and departure from orthodox Sunni Islam prompted some conservative religious scholars to call on his half-brother Hakim to rebel in Kabul. The Mughal Empire found itself in a threatening situation, as Hakim received succor from the Pashtuns living in Bengal, who had once already supported Sher Shah and were now breaking up a rebellion. In the summer of 1581, Akbar entered Kabul and crushed Hakim's rebellion, thus restoring the unity of the empire. The pacification of the western and eastern provinces was followed by the conquest of the Kashmir Valley in 1586, Sindh in 1591

From 1593 onward, Akbar undertook several campaigns to conquer the Deccan, but with only moderate success. Thus, although the Shiite Deccan Sultanate of Ahmadnagar was defeated in 1600, it was not fully integrated. After Akbar's death in 1605, it temporarily regained its independence.

Nevertheless, Akbar's rule had consolidated the Mughal Empire internally and externally to such an extent that it was able to rise to become the undisputed supreme power of South Asia. Akbar's centralized administrative system made the Mughal Empire one of the most modern states of the early modern era. No earlier empire in Indian history was able to administer such a large territory permanently and effectively, although the ancient Maurya Empire under Ashoka and the medieval Delhi Sultanate under the Tughluq dynasty surpassed Akbar's Mughal Empire in size.

1605-1627: Period of relative peace under Jahangir

Akbar's eldest son Selim ascended the throne in 1605 under the name Jahangir (Persian for "conqueror of the world"). Under him, the Mughal Empire experienced a period of relative peace that contributed to its further consolidation. Jahangir's wife Nur Jahan and her family played a decisive role in this, increasingly influencing imperial policy. Jahangir's son Khurram, who later succeeded him as Shah Jahan, also attained an important position of power at court during his father's lifetime. Akbar's liberal policies were continued, including the mitigation of inheritance laws and improved protection of property. In addition, Jahangir's reign was a period of pronounced artistic creativity, in keeping with the ruler's inclinations.

In 1614, the final pacification of Rajputana was achieved by subjugating the last still independent Rajput state of Udaipur (Mewar). Khurram, who had been entrusted by Jahangir with the campaign against Udaipur, ravaged and plundered the lands of the Rana of Udaipur and finally forced the latter to pledge allegiance to the Mughal Empire through diplomatic negotiations. Among the few military conquests, the Himalayan principality of Kangra (1620) was the most significant. In contrast, the attempts made from 1616 onward to shift the border on the Deccan southward were less successful. The guerrilla tactics of Malik Ambar, a commander in Ahmadnagar's service, prevented the Mughal empire from expanding into the Deccan.

In the last years of Jahangir's reign, a power struggle between the unofficial ruler Nur Jahan and Khurram, who by this time was already calling himself Shah Jahan (Persian for "King of the World"), led to unrest. When Kandahar was threatened by the forces of the Persian Shah Abbas I in 1622, Shah Jahan entered into rebellion with an army he commanded on the Deccan. The deployment of the Mughal army against him denuded Kandahar, which soon fell to Persia. Shah Jahan's rebellion lasted four years.

After Jahangir's death in 1627, the vizier Asaf Khan deposed Nur Jahan and helped Shah Jahan to the throne by having all other pretenders to the throne assassinated.

1628-1658: Cultural flourishing under Shah Jahan

Shah Jahan is considered the most glamorous Mughal ruler, under whose reign the court reached the peak of its splendor and architecture in the Indian-Islamic mixed style reached its highest flowering. The most famous Mughal building, the Taj Mahal in Agra, was built as a tomb for Shah Jahan's wife Mumtaz Mahal, as were a number of other outstanding architectural monuments. However, Shah Jahan's patronage of the arts placed a heavy burden on the state coffers. Inflation could only be kept in check with difficulty, and higher taxes on crop yields triggered a rural exodus.

Costly military failures also had a negative impact on the empire's economy. Although the war on the Deccan, which had been waged since Akbar's time, showed its first tangible successes-in 1633, Ahmadnagar was defeated and finally annexed; in 1636, Golkonda submitted, albeit only symbolically; and in the same year, the second Deccan sultanate, Bijapur, which still existed, was forced to pay tribute by treaty-the initial victories were followed by a series of setbacks. In 1646, unrest in Transoxania prompted Shah Jahan to campaign against the Uzbeks to regain the Mughals' ancestral homeland, especially Samarkand, which his ancestor Babur had briefly occupied three times. The campaign ended in defeat a year later. In addition, a dispute with Persia ignited over the important trading city of Kandahar, which had returned to the possession of the Mughal Empire in 1638 as a result of high-handed negotiations between the Persian governor and the Mughals. In 1649, Kandahar again fell to Persia. Three successive sieges did not change this, mainly because Persian artillery was superior to Mughal. Persia increasingly became a threat to the Mughal Empire, especially since its Shiite neighbor was on friendly terms with the Deccan Sultanates, who were also Shiite. Persia's antagonism and the associated decline in Persian influence at the Mughal court may also have been a reason for the Sunni ulama's rise to power in the Mughal Empire, although Akbar's and Jahangir's principle of religious tolerance was not completely eroded.

The rivalry between Shah Jahan's sons Aurangzeb and Dara Shikoh over the succession to the throne characterized the last years of his reign. Dara Shikoh prevented progress on the Deccan through intrigue, where Aurangzeb moved against Golkonda in 1656 and Bijapur in 1657. When Shah Jahan fell seriously ill at the end of 1657, his sons Shah Shuja - governor of Bengal - and Murad Bakhsh - governor of Gujarat - each proclaimed themselves emperor to prevent a possible seizure of power by their eldest brother Dara Shikoh. Aurangzeb, meanwhile, was able to convince Murad to give him his army to march against Delhi with combined forces. Shah Shuja was defeated by Dara Shikoh at Varanasi in February 1658, and the latter was defeated by Aurangzeb near Agra on May 29, 1658. At Agra, Aurangzeb captured his father, who died in prison in 1666. After Aurangzeb had his brother Murad arrested as well, he proclaimed himself emperor in the same year.

1658-1707: Southern expansion and incipient decline under Aurangzeb

Aurangzeb's reign was characterized by two opposing tendencies: On the one hand, he expanded the Mughal empire far to the south to include almost the entire Indian subcontinent; on the other, he shook the economic foundation of the Mughal empire through continuous wars. With a policy of religious intolerance, he damaged the symbiosis of Muslim elite and Hindu subjects that his predecessors had fostered. Even the last third of his reign was dominated by the struggle against the threat of imperial decline.

Aurangzeb consolidated his rule by executing his brothers and rivals Dara Shikoh and Murad Bakhsh. His third brother and adversary, Shah Shuja, fled into exile to Arakan after being militarily defeated by Aurangzeb, and was tortured to death there in 1660 along with his family and parts of his retinue. Islam served as Aurangzeb's legitimation for rule, and unlike his predecessors, he applied its laws strictly to the empire. The most drastic measures were the reintroduction of the poll tax for non-Muslims (jizya), which Akbar had abolished in 1564, and the prohibition of new construction of Hindu temples and places of worship of other faith communities in 1679. Throughout the country, numerous temples built shortly before were destroyed. Aurangzeb's theocratic policies created tensions between Hindus and Muslims that severely disturbed the internal peace of the Mughal Empire and aroused the opposition of Hindu princely houses. Thus, the invasion of the Hindu Rajput state of Marwar in 1679, whose ruler had died without an heir, sparked unrest among the Rajputs that smoldered until Aurangzeb's death.

On the Deccan, a third strong enemy had emerged for the Mughal Empire alongside Bijapur and Golkonda. The Hindu Shivaji had been able to unite the Marathi tribes under his leadership since the middle of the 17th century and was busy building a Hindu state. Shivaji, like Malik Ambar half a century earlier, used guerrilla tactics and also made extremely successful use of diplomacy to play off his neighbors, including the Mughals, against each other. In 1664, he even succeeded in pillaging the Mughal Empire's most important port city, Surat. During a visit to Aurangzeb's court, he was captured but managed to escape and establish an empire on the western Deccan. In 1681, Aurangzeb's renegade son Akbar formed an alliance with Sambhaji, Shivaji's successor. This prompted Aurangzeb to concentrate all forces on the conquest of the Deccan. To this end, he moved the capital and thus the center of gravity of the empire to Aurangabad. The Deccan campaign was initially extremely successful: Bijapur fell in 1686 and Golkonda a year later. Both states were incorporated into the Mughal Empire, which now encompassed the entire subcontinent except for the Malabar coast and the areas south of the Kaveri. In 1689, control of the Deccan seemed finally secured with the capture and execution of Sambhaji. In fact, however, the Maraths had not been defeated, but merely fragmented into smaller factions. Shivaji had stimulated a new spirit of resistance that could not be broken by individual military victories. Aurangzeb spent the rest of his life on the Deccan fighting against Marathi tribal leaders. Meanwhile, his authority in Hindustan, the real heartland of the Mughal Empire, was noticeably waning. However, uprisings such as those of the Jats in the Delhi and Agra area and of the Sikhs in the Punjab were also the result of crushing taxes that had become necessary to finance the war campaigns.

Aurangzeb made the same mistake as Muhammad bin Tughluq in the 14th century by neglecting his power base in the north, thus disrupting the administration. The empire became overstretched and financially overburdened by expansion into the rugged, difficult-to-control Deccan, which also yielded far lower tax revenues than the fertile plains of the north. Only Aurangzeb's personal authority still held the empire together, while the emperor distrusted and even suppressed capable leaders - such as those possessed by previous rulers in the form of generals, ministers or relatives.

1707-1858: Decline and fall

After Aurangzeb died in 1707, his son Bahadur Shah became head of the state. He made peace with the Maraths and recognized their dominion in the western Deccan so that he could use the Mughal army to suppress the Sikh rebellion in the north. The renegade Rajputs, however, were getting increasingly out of control. His ambitious attempts to consolidate the empire once again through comprehensive reforms, following Akbar's example, failed due to the already advanced decay of the administrative structures. Many civil service posts had become hereditary, including the office of governor of Bengal, which made tax collection difficult. Bahadur Shah, who had ascended the throne at an advanced age, died in 1712 after only five years in power.

Bahadur Shah's successors failed to maintain imperial authority. His son Jahandar Shah was assassinated after only a few months on the throne. Responsible for the assassination were the Sayyids, two brothers who served as commanders at the Mughal court and rose to become a major power factor at the court in the years that followed. Farrukh Siyar ruled merely as a puppet of the Sayyids, who were allied with the Maraths. During his reign 1713-1719, the British East India Company, which had established itself as the leading European trading company on the Indian coast during the 17th century, was granted extensive concessions in the lucrative Indian trade. However, the improvement in the financial situation hoped for by stimulating foreign trade failed to materialize, as the British knew how to exploit the Mughals' increasing economic dependence on the Europeans' maritime trade. The provinces of the Mughal Empire could also only be held by concessions that turned them into semi-autonomous states.

In 1719, the Sayyids also had Farrukh Siyar killed, who proved unable to restore the empire to its former strength. A bloody power struggle ensued, from which Muhammad Shah (r. 1719-1748) emerged victorious. He had the Sayyids executed, but otherwise left power to the other interest groups that had formed at the imperial court since Bahadur Shah. Administration was limited to the appointment of governors, whose provinces were only nominally under the emperor. In 1724, Muhammad Shah's vizier Asaf Jah I resigned. He de facto detached his province of Deccan from the imperial union and ruled it as the Nizam of Hyderabad. As a result, the empire lost one-third of its state revenue and nearly three-quarters of its war material.

The weakness of the empire was exploited by the Afsharid ruler of Persia, Nadir Shah. He defeated the Mughal army in 1739 at the Battle of Karnal north of Delhi, not far from the historic battlefields of Panipat, and after an agreement moved peacefully into Delhi. When a rebellion broke out against him, he ordered a massacre, looted the entire city, including the Mughal treasury, and returned to Persia. He had thus finally dealt the Mughal empire a death blow: The process of "regionalization of power" that had already begun earlier now continued rapidly, soon limiting the Mughals' actual territory of rule only to the region around Delhi and Agra. Bengal and Avadh gained de facto independence, even though they formally recognized the suzerainty of the Mughal emperor and paid symbolic tribute. The Persian border was moved to the Indus River. At the same time, the Maraths expanded into Malwa and Gujarat.

The Mughal Empire won its last military victory in 1748 at Sirhind, northwest of Delhi, over the Afghan ruler Ahmad Shah Durrani, but Muhammad Shah died a few days later, leaving his weak successors no match for the Afghans. The latter annexed the Punjab, Sindh and Gujarat. In 1757, they sacked Delhi. In the same year, the British East India Company defeated the Nawab of Bengal at the Battle of Plassey and forced him to cede the territory around Calcutta. This marked the beginning of British territorial rule in India, which in the following years was extended to the whole of Bengal and, after the victory at the Battle of Baksar in 1764, to Bihar as well. The British, expanding from the east into formerly Mughal territory, had become a serious threat to the Mughal Empire. The Maraths also rapidly advanced further and further north, but were defeated by the Afghans in the Third Battle of Panipat in 1761.

It was not until 1772 that the Great Mogul Shah Alam II (r. 1759-1806), who had been in exile in Allahabad during the Afghan-Marathi War, was able to return to Delhi with Marathi support. Blinded by marauding Afghans in 1788 under Ghulam Qadir, he was forced to accept as a protecting power in 1803 the British East India Company, which had already imposed a treaty of protection on Avadh two years earlier. Although the Great Mogul formally continued to possess ruling dignities, actual power now rested with the British Resident. The Mughal territory was limited to the Red Fort of Delhi.

In 1858, the nominal rule of the Great Mughals also ended after the British put down the Great Rebellion that had broken out the year before. Bahadur Shah II (r. 1838-1858), whom the rebellious soldiers had proclaimed the symbolic leader of the mutiny against his will, was found guilty of complicity in the revolt by a court martial in March 1858, deposed and exiled to Rangoon in the British-occupied part of Burma, where he died in 1862. His territory, along with all other territories under the direct control of the British East India Company, was transferred to the newly established colony of British India on August 2, 1858, effective November 1. British Queen Victoria assumed the title of Empress of India in 1876 in connection with the Mughal rule.

Numerous elements typical of today's modern states, such as centralized administration, tax assessment based on precise land surveying or the existence of a state bureaucracy, can be observed in India for the first time in the Mughal Empire. For this reason, it can certainly be compared with the contemporary absolutist states of Europe and, like them, described as an "early modern" state. However, the Mughal Empire had some clear differences compared to contemporary states in Europe: The Mughal Empire was not a state with clearly defined borders, but rather a patchwork of different territories with - in terms of their way of life - very different population groups. Accordingly, the exercise of power was by no means uniform. Arable regions with a sedentary population were far more effective to control than forest and barren land with a partly nomadic or semi-nomadic tribal population, which was logistically difficult to control. Between such tribal areas, such as those of the Gond, Bhil and other peoples in central India or those of the Pashtuns in present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the directly controlled parts of the empire, there were fluid borders that subdivided the empire internally. Nevertheless, a dense network of roads and paths connected all regions, including the tribal areas, with the urban centers and thus enabled the mobilization of resources across the internal borders.


The Mughals differed from the earlier Delhi sultans in their continuity-oriented administration, which was primarily the work of Akbar. He, his ministers and successors (with the exception of Aurangzeb) strove to govern primarily from a political rather than a religious point of view, as had not yet been the case with the most powerful of the Delhi sultans. Accordingly, the Mughal Empire was more stable.

The Lodi dynasty administered the Delhi Sultanate by granting conquered territories as military fiefdoms (jagir) to military retainers, who could thus be quickly satisfied. This system allowed a certain degree of control by the sultan over the provinces thus granted, but at the same time carried the risk that the fiefs would be transformed into hereditary territories, which could then break away from central authority. Moreover, only a relatively small proportion of the taxes levied were passed on to the central government. When Babur subjugated the Delhi Sultanate, thus establishing Mughal rule, he adopted the jagir system of his predecessors. His son Humayun organized the administration less systematically along astrological lines, assigning state offices to the four elements of earth (agriculture), water (irrigation), fire (army) and air (other departments, including religion). Politically, these approaches to a reformed administration remained meaningless.

Only the comprehensive administrative reforms that Akbar implemented during his nearly 50-year reign ensured the long-term success of Mughal rule. Akbar built on Sher Shah's tax system, which set property tax rates in the provinces based on local prices. Akbar also determined the tax rates, taking into account the sometimes considerable regional price differences, by collecting all fiefdoms, having them remeasured, and collecting tax and price data from the provinces over a period of ten years. On the basis of the average values determined, he had the tax rates assessed and updated. Under Akbar, the tax was levied on the harvest yield, and one-third of the production had to be paid in cash or in kind. The advantage for the peasants was that no taxes had to be paid in the event of a bad harvest; the disadvantage was that the state could do nothing with the in-kind revenues from a series of good harvests. Akbar's successors abandoned the taxation system at an unknown date: they reintroduced flat-rate taxation. In general, there were taxes on land - by far the most important source of revenue in the agrarian Mughal Empire - customs duties, coinage and inheritance taxes, and the poll tax for non-Muslims (jizya). Akbar abolished the latter in 1564, but Aurangzeb reintroduced it in 1679. Later, it was abolished and reintroduced on various occasions, but at a time when the Mughal tax system was already no longer fully functional.

Since Akbar, the territorial division into tax districts has included crown lands (khalisa) in addition to the traditional jagirs. The latter were under the direct administration of the Mughal emperor, and the taxes collected there were paid directly to the state treasury. The jagir was assigned to a military noble (jagirdar), who was responsible for tax collection. However, the land always remained the property of the state. The jagirdars were only allowed to retain a fixed portion of the resulting tax revenue as private income; anything beyond that had to be paid to the treasury under the supervision of imperial officials. In addition, the jagirdars were regularly exchanged to counteract the danger of dynasty or household power formation in the provinces. The downside of this procedure was that the jagirdars had little interest in the prosperity of their fiefdom, since they could not keep it. Instead, they often sought to squeeze out the highest possible tax levies for their own benefit before being transferred to another part of the empire.

Government and civil service

One of the main features of the Mughal administrative system was its high degree of centralization, in contrast to the loose structure of the Delhi Sultanate. The central government was subordinate to the provinces (suba), which in turn were divided into districts (sarkar), whose subunits were called pargana. The central administrative apparatus was headed by the prime minister (wakil), whose most important subordinate was the finance minister (diwan-i kull or wazir-i mamalik). The latter was responsible for coordinating the cooperation of several senior financial officials, significantly the diwan-i khalisa (responsible for state revenues), the diwan-i tan (salary disbursements), the mustaufi (audit), and the mir saman (administration of the court and imperial workshops). Another subordinate of the finance minister was the mir bakshi, who took care of army affairs and thus, since all officials held a military rank, also had to ensure the functioning of the administration. The sadr as-sudur, who was responsible for religious affairs, was directly subordinate to the emperor and always held the highest judicial office (qadi al-qudat) of the state, because the administration of justice was based on Islamic law, the sharia.

This administrative structure was also reflected in the provinces, headed by the governor (sipasalar, nizam-i suba or subadar). The provincial officials, however, were subordinate not to the governor but to the imperial official of their respective department. This resulted in a pyramidal administrative hierarchy, which on the one hand enabled effective supervision of the provinces by the central government, but on the other hand greatly inflated the state apparatus as a result of the size of the Mughal empire. The bureaucratic burden was enormous. Nevertheless, the administrative system under Akbar was extremely efficient, at least in the crown lands. It was only under his successor Jahangir that corruption and excessive ambition gradually spread: Increasingly, officers were paid with land, and generals and ministers fought over power in the administration.


Although Muslims of foreign origin or descent generally constituted the Mughal upper class, the status of hereditary nobility, as known in Europe, did not exist in the Mughal Empire. A person's status depended solely on his position in the army, regardless of whether he was actually employed in military service or in civil administration. Even the artists at the Mughal court held military rank. Official posts could thus only be attained through a military career. Conversely, not every military rank holder was also an office holder.

In keeping with the military character of the Mughal administration, the salary of higher and middle officials corresponded to their military rank (mansab), which in turn depended on the number of cavalry units maintained. The bearer of a mansab was called mansabdar. However, the mansabdars decreased their military strength more and more in peacetime, so that their salary had to be raised in wartime to restore the old number of mounted units. To curb this inflationary trend, Akbar introduced a dual rank system that regulated the grade of pay (zat) independently of the strength of the cavalry (suwar) to be maintained. Only the Mughal emperor could appoint, promote, or demote a mansabdar; ranks were not hereditary. The mansabdars were remunerated either in cash or by a jagir. Their increasing number meant that under Akbar 75 percent, and under Jahangir already 95 percent, of all land was allocated as jagir.

The progressive shortage of arable land to be given as jagir therefore made the expansion of the empire an economic necessity. Only through territorial gain could the growing number of followers be satisfied indirectly by enriching themselves in the conquered territories. For Aurangzeb, at the subjugation of the Deccan in 1686, the following stood

The loyalty of the mansabdars was indispensable to the Mughals primarily because the vast majority of all mounted and unmounted units of the army were distributed among them. In addition, there was a small standing army, which consisted mainly of cavalrymen and represented the elite of the army. Probably, however, its strength never exceeded 45,000 men. Including the contingents of the mansabdars, the empire was able to mobilize 100,000 to 200,000 cavalrymen at the height of its power. The total strength of the army, including all regional militias, is said to have exceeded 4.4 million soldiers at the time of Akbar, an exceedingly large number compared to the total population of 100 to 150 million. Like most great Indian empires, however, the Mughal Empire was a purely land-based power. The rulers had little interest in building a powerful navy. Akbar and Aurangzeb did have a few seaworthy gunboats built, but they were not equal to the ships of the European naval powers represented in India.

Collapse of the civil service state

The collapse of the Mughal bureaucratic state was initiated by Aurangzeb, who greatly neglected the administration of the provinces and thus central control of the periphery toward the end of his reign in favor of military goals. After his death in 1707, regional forces grew stronger under weak rulers. The governors of Bengal, Avadh and the Deccan (Hyderabad) bequeathed their provinces to their descendants, thus establishing dynastic regional empires, but without openly breaking with the Mughals. Although the governors were still officially appointed by the emperor, in fact they only legitimized their dynastic rule. This independence was expressed in the withholding of tax revenues and the refusal to provide military aid to the Mughal Empire.


The capital of the Mughal Empire was the official residence of the respective ruler, where the imperial court and the imperial family also lived. For political and strategic reasons, the Mughals moved their seat of power several times. A total of five cities served as capital at different times: Agra (1526-1540, 1556-1571, 1598-1648), Delhi (1540-1556, 1648-1682, 1707-1858), Fatehpur Sikri (1571-1585), Lahore (1585-1598) and Aurangabad (1682-1707).

At the beginning of the 16th century, Sikandar II had moved the capital of the Delhi Sultanate from Delhi, which had given the state its name, to Agra, some 200 kilometers to the south and until then insignificant, where Babur also resided as the first Mughal from 1526. Humayun planned a new capital called Din-panah ("Refuge of Faith") on the southern outskirts of Delhi. The foundation stone was laid in 1533, but the city was not completed at the time of Humayun's expulsion from India by Sher Shah in 1540. Sher Shah moved the residence back to Delhi and had the Purana Qila fortress, which has survived to the present day, built on the site of Humayun's planned capital.

Akbar again held court in Agra until 1569, when he decided to build a new residence in the village of Sikri, 35 kilometers southwest of Agra. In Sikri lived a member of the Muslim Chishti order, with whom Akbar maintained a friendly relationship. In 1571, construction was so advanced that Akbar moved his court there. The new capital was named Fatehpur Sikri, but lost its importance as early as 1585, when Akbar and his court moved to Lahore to be closer to the campaigns in the northwest of the empire. Only a small part of the city continued to be inhabited; presumably, a lack of water worsened living conditions. Lahore also remained only a temporary seat of power. After the successful expansion of the Mughal Empire to the northwest, Akbar returned to Agra in 1598.

Shah Jahan founded a new city in Delhi in 1638 on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of his accession to the throne. Shahjahanabad (now Old Delhi), named after him, was largely completed by 1648 and remained the residence of the Mughals until 1858, with an interruption from 1682 to 1707, when Aurangzeb stayed in Aurangabad to lead campaigns on the Deccan from there.

In fact, however, the Mughal rulers usually spent only a short time in their respective capitals. As a modern study has shown, between 1556 and 1739 the Mughal rulers spent around 40 percent of their reigns in tent camps, either because they were traveling, on campaigns or on extended hunting excursions. The Mughals' mobile court was thus not merely a relic of the nomadic lifestyle of their Turkomongol ancestors, but a characteristic of Mughal rule. In this way, not only could local control be exercised, but loyalties could also be strengthened and the "omnipresence" of the ruler could be suggested to the subjects.

Kashmir had been a favorite place of residence since Akbar, but the Mughals also paid regular visits to the northwest of the empire and to the troubled Deccan for a few months at a time. Shah Jahan alone changed his place of residence 36 times during his 30-year reign. When traveling, the Mughals lived in extensive tent camps, whose equipment was always carried in duplicate, so that during the emperor's stay a second, identical camp could be set up at the next intended place of residence. They were accompanied by the entire court as well as a varying number of foot soldiers and mounted units, depending on the purpose of the journey. Camels, horses, oxen and elephants served as pack animals. As European observers of the 17th century unanimously reported, the traveling Mughal court resembled a wandering city in which several hundred thousand people and just as many animals could be present.

General economic system

The Mughal Empire was an agrarian state whose prosperity was based on agricultural production surpluses, which were skimmed off in the form of land taxes and added to the state treasury. India around 1600 had sufficient fertile arable land and a labor productivity roughly equivalent to that of a Western European farmer, so that a quarter to half of the crop yield could be collected as tax, leaving the peasants with little more than they needed to survive. Under Akbar, monetary payments increasingly replaced the previously customary taxes in kind. Tax revenues were mainly spent on or hoarded for the military (including the military-organized administration) and the Mughals' court. Under Akbar's successors, especially Shah Jahan, tax pressure on the peasants increased in order to finance the increasingly ostentatious court and costly war campaigns. Nevertheless, the average standard of living of an Indian peasant at the time of Shah Jahan was still about a third higher than that of a European farmer.

Although Akbar had important trade routes repaired and encouraged the promotion of trade and crafts, for example through state loans, state investment in productive economic sectors and infrastructure remained the exception. In the larger cities, there were highly specialized state manufactories (Persian kārchāne, "factory, plant, enterprise") for metalworking and the production of textiles, jewelry and various luxury goods, but their overall economic importance was low. In the countryside, artisans produced commodities with the simplest means, often exchanging them for goods in kind. Most village communities were thus more or less self-sufficient, and economic cycles were small-scale.


Most of the population worked in agriculture. The most important crops were, as they still are today, wheat, rice (especially in the east of the empire), millet and pulses, and also cotton and jute (in Bengal). Beginning in the second half of the 16th century, many crops were imported from the Americas, including tobacco, peppers, potatoes, corn, and fruits such as guavas, pineapples, and netannas. From Persia came grapes, first cultivated under Jahangir, and honeydew melons, introduced during the time of Shah Jahan. Cultivation methods changed little throughout the Mughal period. Peasants were not serfs, but worked for a feudal lord (jagirdar) or a noble landowner (zamindar) who collected a portion of the harvest as tax. The amount of the tax depended on the crop. Commercial crops, such as indigo or opium poppies, were taxed more heavily than food crops. The average size of the cultivated clods was very small, and droughts often led to famine.


Craftsmen were mainly based in the cities, where they mostly worked in their stores and displayed their goods either in the store itself or in the bazaar. Only for luxury goods were there larger private workshops with permanent employees. In addition, there were the aforementioned state-owned manufactories (karkhana). By far the most important craft was weaving. The stronghold of cotton weaving was Gujarat, one of the richest provinces, which also held a leading position in the manufacture of weapons, perfumes, dyes and furniture, as well as in shipbuilding. Bengal produced jute and raw silk. Wool processing was concentrated in Lahore and Kashmir. Carpets were woven mainly in the provinces of Agra and Lahore and in Sindh. Agra was also famous for gold and silver work. In the wider area there were rich deposits of ore and saltpetre. Salt was mined near Jhelam in the Punjab and Ajmer in Rajasthan. Bihar produced wood and paper.


The increasing importance of the monetary economy under Akbar presupposed a functioning monetary system. Sher Shah had already introduced the silver rupee weighing about 11.5 grams, which finally became the commonly accepted silver coin of the empire under Akbar. One rupee was divided into 40 copper dams. In addition, Akbar introduced the golden mohur with a value of eight rupees. Fluctuating precious metal prices led to changing coin values at times. There were dozens of mints scattered throughout the country. Even after the decline of the Mughal Empire, numerous Indian states, up to and including the British East India Company (in Bengal since 1717), adopted the monetary system and minted Mughal-style coins.

Foreign Trade

India itself being poor in silver and gold deposits, foreign trade had to ensure a steady inflow of precious metals for coinage. The most important export product was textiles, initially silk fabrics, which were in demand primarily in Europe (there again mainly in the Netherlands), but also in Southeast Asia, Japan and East Africa. At the time of Jahangir, two-thirds of the world's silk production came from the Mughal Empire. At the same time, cotton fabrics increasingly penetrated the European market. Other important exports included spices, cane sugar, ivory, tea, opium and dyes such as ultramarine, indigo and Indian yellow. Besides precious metals, the main imports were horses and coffee from Arabia, textiles, carpets and wine from Persia, Chinese porcelain, ebony from East Africa and luxury goods from Europe. The slave trade with East Africa, which flourished until the early 16th century, had been banned since Akbar.

Since the Mughals had no state-owned merchant fleet, the Portuguese dominated maritime trade between Europe and the Mughal Empire in the 16th century (see India trade). In the 17th century, other European maritime powers, most notably England and the Netherlands, destroyed the Portuguese trade monopoly. Land trade was mainly conducted through Afghanistan. From Delhi, one of the most important trade routes led via Lahore and Kabul to Central Asia and from there on to the Chinese Empire, and another via Lahore, Multan and Kandahar to Persia. To the east, a trade route ran along the Ganges via Allahabad and Varanasi and through Bengal to Burma. Of utmost importance for the connection to overseas trade was the connection between Agra and the main port of Surat, which ran in two alternative routes via Burhanpur and Gwalior, respectively.

However, its close involvement in world trade also made the Mughal Empire dependent on internal developments in its main market, Europe. While the outbreak of the Thirty Years' War had initially caused a surge in saltpetre exports, its devastating economic consequences for Central Europe were increasingly reflected in the Mughal trade balance: from 1640 onward, foreign trade volumes declined, and by 1653 exports of cotton had fallen by 20 percent and of spices and dyes by 15 percent compared with their pre-war levels. In the 18th century, when the progressive loss of control over its provinces deprived the Mughal Empire of a large proportion of its land tax revenues as its most important source of funds, the British East India Company took advantage of the empire's growing dependence on foreign trade by demanding far-reaching concessions from the Mughals.

The geographical spread of the major religions Islam and Hinduism in India at the beginning of the Mughal period largely corresponded to the situation today. In the northwest (roughly the area of the modern states of Afghanistan and Pakistan), Islam had firmly established itself as the leading faith at various times during the Middle Ages. In the central Gangetic plain, Muslims constituted only the numerically small urban elite, while the rural and much of the ordinary urban population adhered almost exclusively to Hinduism. Eastern Bengal (corresponding to present-day Bangladesh) was successively Islamized during the 16th and 17th centuries, i.e., the Mughal period, but without state guidance. Hinduism clearly dominated in central and southern India, but there were notable Muslim minorities there as well. Since public life in India was shaped by religion to an extraordinarily high degree, and still is to some extent today, the religious policy of the Mughals occupies a special place in historical observation.

Religious tolerance under Akbar

Akbar was the first Mughal to recognize that a balance between India's two great religions would strengthen the authority of the Muslim Mughals. In doing so, he sought not only to satisfy the Hindus, but to integrate them inseparably into the Mughal state structure. Akbar's policy of religious tolerance must therefore be seen primarily in the context of a balanced state policy aimed at securing lasting power, although it can be traced back in part to Akbar's personal views. This is reflected in Akbar's politically motivated marriages to Hindu Rajput princesses and the awarding of even high posts in the army and administration to Rajputs and other Hindus. This practice was by no means a novelty in Indian history-for example, the first minister of the Malwa Sultanate in the early 16th century had also been a Hindu-but it reached much deeper than under earlier Islamic rulers. The most significant measure was the abolition of special religious taxes: in 1563, the pilgrimage tax levied at Hindu pilgrimage sites and, a year later, the poll tax for non-Muslims (jizya) laid down in the Koran. Akbar also permitted the practice of Hindu rites at the Mughal court. He replaced the Islamic calendar with a new system beginning with his accession to the throne. In 1582, he even founded his own syncretic religion called din-i ilahi (Persian for "divine faith"), which, however, did not find a significant following. Akbar's personal and political departure from orthodox Islam occurred against the will of the influential Sunni ulama at the Mughal court, whose power he sought to limit by a decree in 1579, according to which the Mughal emperor had the final right of decision in theological legal matters.

Islamization through Aurangzeb

The first signs of a shift away from Akbar's liberal religious policy occurred during the reign of Shah Jahan. Gradually, orthodox Muslim legal doctrine gained strength, aided by the waning Hindu and Shiite family influence on the emperor. Nevertheless, measures against the Hindu majority, such as the 1632 order to destroy all recently built Hindu temples, remained the exception. Only the strictly devout Aurangzeb finally broke with the concept of approximate equality between Muslims and Hindus. He insisted on strict adherence to the laws of the Koran, especially the moral laws. Numerous customs at the Mughal court were abolished, such as musical and dance performances and the Mughal emperor's practice, introduced under Akbar, of showing himself to the people on a balcony. More significant, however, were the attempts to enforce Islamic Hanafi law in public. Aurangzeb had an extensive collection of laws (fatawa-i alamgiri) created to support Islamic jurisprudence and abolished taxes that were illegal according to Islamic legal understanding. In return, he had the jizya collected again starting in 1679; Hindus also had to pay customs duties twice as high as Muslims.

Aurangzeb's religious policy was aimed at strengthening the Islamic component in the Mughal state. It thus inevitably disadvantaged Hindus-many Hindus were removed from the civil service or demoted in rank-but it did not specifically persecute them. Although a law was directed against the construction of new Hindu temples, and indeed many newly built Hindu places of worship were destroyed, temples that had existed for some time were protected by the state. Disputes among Hindus continued to be settled according to their own, not Islamic, law. Aurangzeb's measures to Islamize the empire affected not only those of other faiths, but also Muslims who deviated from the Hanafite commandments. Often, religious justifications served only as a pretext for power-political decisions, as in the case of the execution of Aurangzeb's brothers or the curtailment of the power of the Rajput princes. Aurangzeb's attempts to consolidate the empire once again through a strict Islamic orientation were not the decisive cause of the internal disintegration of the Mughal empire after his death, but the negative perception of these measures by the Hindu majority contributed to the erosion of the Mughal position of power, along with economic-social, regional and military factors.

The era of the Mughals had a lasting impact on Indian art and culture, especially in the fields of architecture, painting, language and literature. Thus, some of the most important architectural monuments of the Indian subcontinent date from that period. The original language was Chagataic, in which Babur also wrote his autobiography. The tradition of miniature painting, adopted from Persia, was cultivated at court, as was poetry in Persian, and later in Urdu. Since court culture was promoted to varying degrees by the Mughal emperors, the individual preferences of the rulers had a strong influence on the art-making of their respective eras. The early Mughals Babur and Humayun were still deeply rooted in the Persian-influenced culture of their Central Asian homeland, but from about the middle of the 16th century an independent Mughal style emerged in the visual arts, merging Persian and Central Asian Islamic art with Indian, especially Hindu, elements and developing its own formal language. The numerous artists and scholars of foreign origin at the Mughal court reflect the various cultural influences, as well as the ethnic composition of the nobility: there were Persians (Iranis), Turks (Turanis) of various, mostly Central Asian origins, Muslim Indians, Pashtuns (Afghans) and Hindu Rajputs.


The epoch of Islamic architecture on the Indian subcontinent began toward the end of the 12th century, when the Ghurids gained a foothold in northern India. Already in late pre-Mughal times, a strongly Hinduized mixed style emerged in some peripheral regions of India, especially in Gujarat, in which Indian elements - such as the sculptural design of facades and the use of pillars and columns - break up the conception of Islamic architecture. The pre-Mughal Indo-Islamic architecture of the north is nevertheless dominated by strict ideas based more on surface than on form, which were oriented primarily on Arabic-Foreign Asian models. Many of the surviving buildings from Sher Shah's reign (1540-1545), including the Purana Qila fortress in Delhi and Sher Shah's tomb at Sasaram (they anticipate individual features of later Mughal architecture. The main building forms of Mughal architecture are the mosque (masjid), the mausoleum or monumental tomb (maqbara), the palace (mahal), and the fortress (qila).

During Akbar's reign (1556-1605), Indian and Persian influence increased to such an extent that the Mogul style was able to emerge, which is by no means merely an eclectic mixed style, but stands out from earlier buildings due to both a playful will to form stemming from Hindu tradition and an idiosyncratic penchant for decorative luxury. The delicate palace complexes in Akbar's capital Fatehpur Sikri, which rest on numerous columns and are modeled on the palace of the Rajahs of Gwalior, bear an unusually strong Indian character. They were not taken up again later, but reflect Akbar's tolerant attitude in artistic matters as well. Humayun's tomb in Delhi, built in red sandstone between 1562 and 1570, is regarded as the first building to set the trend for further development. Its high, dominant dome, in contrast to the flatter domes that had been common in India before, bears clear Persian traits, as do the arched niches (iwane) arranged around the octagonal main and substructure and open to the outside. Of West Indian origin (Rajasthan), on the other hand, are the small vaulted pavilions (chhatri) on the roof, characteristic of almost all Mughal buildings. The inlay work on the walls makes use of both abstract geometric patterns from Islamic tradition and plant motifs created under Indian influence.

The use of red sandstone as a building material, which gives the facades a special colorfulness, is one of the distinguishing features of early Mughal architecture. It even gives its name to the Red Forts of Delhi and Agra. Since Jahangir (r. 1605-1627), white marble was increasingly used for decorative purposes. An early example is Akbar's tomb, built between 1612 and 1614, at Sikandra near Agra. The projecting, towering portal (pishtaq) of the otherwise flat sandstone building is decorated with marble inlay work, and the numerous chhatris are also made entirely or partly of white marble. In addition, the entrance gate to the surrounding garden is crowned by four marble minarets - a feature again oriented more to Persian models, which was often imitated in later building projects.

The Mughal style of the Shah Jahan period (1628-1657) is less experimental, but more mature than Akbar's architecture. Islamic-Persian elements again come more to the fore - a tendency that was already indicated under Jahangir - without, however, imitating the Persian architecture of the period, for the Indian component remains omnipresent even under Shah Jahan. What is new is the use of stucco. At the beginning is the tomb of the minister Itimad ud-Daulah in Agra, built between 1622 and 1628. It consists mainly of white marble and now also has four minarets at the corners of the main building. The dimensions are still relatively modest, in contrast to the Taj Mahal, 73 meters high including the podium, again a tomb with which the Mogul style achieved the highest harmony and perfection of form. Shah Jahan had it built in marble for his wife Mumtaz Mahal in 1632-1648. It consists of a square central hall surmounted by an onion dome, around which four smaller, completely symmetrical halls are arranged, each with one large and four smaller iwans. At each corner of the square platform is a freestanding minaret. The facade is decorated with reliefs and mosaics made of precious and semi-precious stones. A secondary development is the northwestern regional style, represented mainly in Lahore, which is superimposed by the Persian style. Thus, instead of marble and sandstone, bricks are used as building material, and multicolored glazed tiles are used for wall cladding. Representative of this style is the Wasir Khan Mosque (1634

During Aurangzeb's reign (1658-1707), sacred buildings dominated, partly because of the personal inclinations of the Mughal emperor, who was considered to be a strict believer, and partly because of economic difficulties that made it impossible to continue building for secular, representative purposes on the previous scale. As a result, secular architecture did not attain the splendor of earlier buildings. The Bibi-ka Maqbara in Aurangabad, the tomb of one of Aurangzeb's wives, resembles the Taj Mahal in appearance but is much smaller and dispenses with precious decoration. In contrast, the delicate Pearl Mosque in the Red Fort of Delhi and the imposing Badshahi Mosque in Lahore are among the highlights of Mughal sacred architecture, alongside the Jama Masjid in Delhi built under Shah Jahan.

The incipient decline of the Mughal Empire toward the end of Aurangzeb's reign favored the development of regional styles, among which the Nawabi style stands out in Avadh. It is particularly associated with the city of Lucknow, where the most significant examples of this style can be found, including the Bara Imambara, a monumental, three-story Shiite assembly hall built in 1784, which is part of a complex of buildings that includes a mosque and several gateway buildings. Although the Bara Imambara was not used for defense, it picks up elements of Mughal fortress architecture, for example battlements. European influences intensified in the 19th century. Conversely, the Mughal style stimulated the emergence of eclectic colonial architecture.

The Mughals' preference for extensive walled gardens (rauza), which are usually part of a building complex and rarely stand alone, stems from Central Asian tradition. Babur had gardens laid out during his stay in Kabul, some of which have survived to the present day. Two schemes of Mughal gardens can be distinguished. The first type, called char bagh (quadrangle garden), is square and is crisscrossed by stone canals that divide the terrain into four symmetrical sections and z serve as sight lines. The best known example is the Shalimar Garden of Srinagar in Kashmir. Palace and burial grounds are often complemented by a char bagh. The second type is the terrace garden, which is prominently represented by the Shalimar Gardens in Lahore.


Although the Qur'an does not contain an explicit prohibition of images, the figurative depiction of living beings is often avoided in Islamic art to this day. Nevertheless, there was a high-level painting in the Mughal Empire that derived from Persian (Safavid) and Timurid painting traditions, but also absorbed Indian elements. The Mughal court school of painting originated under Humayun, who had introduced two Persian painters, Mir Sayyid Ali and Khwaja Abd as-Samad, to the Indian Mughal court upon his return from Persian exile in 1555. Painting of the Mughal period is limited to miniatures created to illustrate books, usually in portrait format. The subjects are predominantly secular. Common motifs include depictions of the court, hunting scenes, images of animals and plants, illustrations of chronicles and poetry, and - for the first time in Indian art history - portraits of leading personalities, including the rulers themselves.

Dating the miniatures is sometimes difficult, as many paintings, including the artists' names and dating information, were copied by artists of later periods. One of the earliest datable works is a manuscript of the Hamzanama written between 1558 and 1573 under Akbars (1556-1605), which originally contained about 1400 miniatures. Of the approximately 150 surviving illustrations, some follow the Persian painting tradition: lines of text are integrated into the two-dimensional, rather static-looking illustrations. Most, however, show clear Indian influences: The pictorial composition is far more flexible, the figure arrangement extremely dynamic, and image and text are usually juxtaposed. Unlike earlier Jain and Hindu manuscripts, each folio is accompanied by an illustration. In fact, the students of Akbar's school of painting, led by Persian artists, were almost exclusively Hindus. In further development, the dynamism and free-spiritedness of Indian painting increasingly merged with Persian-Timurid painting techniques to form an independent Mughal style characterized by the use of cavalier perspective, predominantly point-symmetrical compositions, and areas of color broken up by interior drawings. Many of the miniatures from Akbar's time illustrate historical events: Akbar had not only his biography, the Akbar-nāma, but also the chronicles of Babur and Timur richly illustrated. The miniatures of the "Parrot Book" (Tutinama) enjoy a high status in the art of the Akbar period. Well-known artists of the period were Daswanth, Basawan and his son Manohar.

Mughal art received new impetus under Jahangir (r. 1605-1627), who had an extraordinary interest in painting. Jahangir attached little importance to mass representations, as they were common under Akbar. Instead, he demanded that people and things be depicted as realistically as possible. This is expressed, among other things, in numerous naturalistic-looking depictions of Indian fauna and flora, as well as in extremely detailed portraits that were collected in albums. Indian landscapes also replaced the stylized Persian picture backgrounds that had been common before. The color scheme, however, remains Persian: bright colors and gold dominate. Whereas previously several artists had often worked on one painting, most paintings of the Jahangir period were individual works. This resulted in fewer works of art, but they reached a higher level. European influences also make themselves felt, although only to a small extent. European paintings had reached Akbar's court through Portuguese missionaries beginning in 1580, but it was Jahangir who instructed his court painters to study European works of art and copy their style. Subsequently, miniature portraits based on European models found their way into Mughal art, as did the halo taken from Christian depictions of saints, which now adorned the head of the ruler. Overall, the era of Jahangir is considered the heyday of Mughal painting. Many names of famous artists have survived from that period, including Abu al-Hasan, Mansur, Bichitr and Bishandas.

The painting style under Shah Jahan (reigned 1627-1657

Language and literature

In the early days of the Mughals, Persian, which was already widespread in the Delhi Sultanate as the language of officials, and Chagataic (known at the time as türki, "Turkish"), the mother tongue of Babur, the founder of the empire, competed for the status of court and official language, while most of the population of the Mughal Empire used an Indo-Aryan language in everyday life. By the end of Humayun's long exile in Persia at the latest, Persian had gained acceptance and was elevated by Akbar to the status of administrative language. Persian was henceforth the language of the king, the royal family, and the high nobility (Fārsī-e Darī, "Persian of courtly society"). This was due not only to Akbar's unusual interest in Persian language and literature and to the Mughals' close cultural ties with Persia, but also to the high recognition that Persian enjoyed as a lingua franca in much of the Near East and Central Asia in the 16th century. No doubt this development was also favored by the simultaneous decline of Chagataic among the Uzbeks. Nevertheless, Türki served as the private language of the imperial family for generations. The emperors' interest in türki was varied and changeable. Akbar and his son Jahangir, for example, were not particularly well versed, while Aurangzeb showed considerably more interest in the language of his ancestors, although he too preferred Persian in daily use. Azfari, who died in 1819, was probably the last Mughal prince to master the language. In the army camps of the Mughals, a mixed language of Persian, Arabic, Turkish and Indo-Aryan elements developed due to the ethnically heterogeneous composition of the people. The name Urdu goes back to the Turkish word ordu, meaning "army, armed force. Urdu replaced Persian as the court language in the first half of the 18th century and is still used today as a variant of Hindustani in Persian Arabic script by many Muslims in India and Pakistan. Urdu has been the national and state language of Pakistan since 1947.

The Persian language also dominated literature until the 18th century. Babur brought Persian poets to India, and later rulers did the same. While the Safavid dynasty showed only moderate interest in cultivating literature in Persia, the Mughal Empire produced some of the most important works of Persian literature. During Akbar's time, a complex style rich in imagery emerged, known as sabk-i hindi ("Indian style"). Early exponents were Faizi (1547-1595) and Muhammad Urfi (1555-1591), who were active at Akbar's court. The Indian style reached its peak with the philosophical, ambiguous ghazels of Abdul Qadir Bedil (1645-1721), who was close to the tolerant ideas of Sufism. A particularly popular form of poetry was the chronogram, in which each letter was assigned a specific numerical value. Added together, these resulted in a year in which the event described took place.

By the early 18th century, the Indian style had passed its zenith. Persian literature declined visibly, although it was still cultivated in isolated instances until the early 20th century. Instead, Urdu literature, which had previously received little attention from the Mughals, began to rise, and had already produced considerable output on the Deccan. During Aurangzeb's Deccan campaigns, the works of Muhammad Wali, called "Wali Dekkani," reached northern India and contributed significantly to the popularization of Urdu poetry. This poetry adopted Persian verse and rhyme schemes - especially the ghasel - as well as many of the traditional metaphors, but turned to simpler themes and forms of expression. The center of Urdu poetry was initially the Mughal capital Delhi, and after its decline, mainly Lucknow. The most important Urdu poet of the 18th century, Mir Taqi Mir (1723-1810), worked in both cities. One of the greatest Urdu poets is Mirza Ghalib (1797-1869), who was active in the circle of the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah II - himself the author of many famous poems.

The chronicles and biographies of the Mughal emperors have a special significance for historiography. Babur's autobiography, the Bāburnāma, is also an important testimony to the Chagataic language and was translated into Persian under Akbar. Akbar's own memoirs (Akbarnāma), which he dictated to the chronicler Abu 'l-Fazl, are among the most comprehensive chronicles of rulers ever written. Abu 'l-Fazl also penned the Āin-i-Akbari, a collection of imperial decrees that also contains notes on the history of the country. Akbar's official chronicles are contrasted with Badauni's critical annotations. The Dabistān-i-Mazāhib ("School of Religions") provides a historically significant insight into India's religious diversity around the middle of the 17th century.

Literary works emerged not only under the patronage of the Mughals. Mughal nobles and regional rulers also contributed to the development of regional language literatures in Bengali, Hindi, Kashmiri, Panjabi, Pashto, and Sindhi, among others. In addition, the relative peace and prosperity that the Mughals brought to at least the cities of the Indian subcontinent at the height of their power favored the development of poetry in India's numerous regional languages. The Hindu reform movement of bhakti was widespread throughout northern India in the 16th and 17th centuries. Tulsidas (1532-1623) adapted Hindu themes into Hindi. His major work, the Ramacharitamanasa, a version of the classical Sanskrit epic Ramayana, was written during Akbar's time. The latter had a number of ancient Indian works translated from Sanskrit into Persian, including the Hindu epics Mahabharata and Ramayana and the collection of fables Panchatantra, as well as Chagataic and Latin writings.


Akbar showed great interest in music, as did Shah Jahan. Both promoted musical culture at the Mughal court. Aurangzeb, on the other hand, had musical performances banned at court because they contradicted his religious views. In orthodox Islam, music plays a subordinate role, while in Sufism devotional songs are an important part of religious practice. The court music of the Mughals, however, served primarily for entertainment and is therefore secular. Most court musicians were Hindus, which gave Mughal music an exceptionally strong Indian imprint. Characteristic is the originally Hindu raga, the basic melodic structure, which often makes references to certain times of day or seasons and the mood associated with them. Chants increasingly gave way to pure instrumental music, in which Persian instruments such as the sitar were used in addition to native ones. The courtly music of the Mughals forms the basis of the classical music that is still cultivated in northern India today ("Hindustani music"). The Hindu Tansen (1506-1589) is considered the most important musician of the Mughal period. The courtly culture also decisively shaped the classical dance Kathak, which is cultivated today especially in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.

Although the central power of the Mughals rapidly declined after Aurangzeb's death, none of the newly emerging regional states declared independence. The de facto independent dynasties continued to rule formally in the name of the emperor, whose power served as legitimation of rule. A decisive factor in this was the firm ideological anchoring of the regional elites in the Mughal power structure and the associated strong penetration by Indo-Persian culture. In the 18th century, a veritable "Mughal myth" emerged, to which even the British submitted. They used Mughal titles and participated in formal displays of respect for the emperor until the British East India Company was able to establish itself as his protecting power in Delhi. The mogul's ritual prestige now stood in the way of the company's hegemonic aspirations. In 1814, it failed in its attempt to have the Nawab of Avadh recognized as sovereign ruler instead of the emperor by the other dynasties that had emerged from the Mughal Empire. The fact that Avadh finally declared independence a few years later was ignored by the other ruling houses. They continued to regard the pad(i)shah of Avadh as a nawab wazir under nominal Mughal suzerainty. Even during the 1857 uprising against British foreign rule, the de facto powerless last Mughal Bahadur Shah II played an important role as the symbolic leader of the rebellious Indians. The title "Empress of India" for Queen Victoria (1877) was intended not only to underscore the equal status of the British monarchy with the German emperor, but also to hark back to the authority of the Mughal emperors in India. Likewise, the Delhi Durbars, the splendidly staged celebrations marking the coronation of British monarchs as emperors of India, took up the tradition of Mughal darbars (gatherings of the court household).

The civil service apparatus of the Mughals in the 18th century was largely adopted by both the regional dynasties and the British. The division of large administrative units into districts headed by a senior revenue official still exists in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Until the first half of the 19th century, the majority of Indian officials in the service of the colonial rulers were recruited from Muslim official families who had already served the Mughals. Great Mughal Shah Alam II transferred diwani, or the right to collect taxes and exercise civil jurisdiction, in Bengal and Bihar to the British in 1765. The Mughal tax system continued until the Company's Permanent Settlement in 1793 made the zamindars, who originally collected taxes on behalf of the Mughals, de facto owners of the land they administered and the peasants who resided on it tenants.

While ownership and taxation were reshaped according to British ideas, the monetary system underwent no significant changes. The company minted silver coins in the name of the Mughal emperor until 1835. The rough weight of the rupee was adopted by the Mughals and remained unchanged until the abolition of the silver currency in 1945. This shows the lasting standardizing effect of the Mughal Empire. The reform of the coinage was closely accompanied by the standardization of weights and measures, some of which are still used today in South Asia alongside the official metric units, such as the ser (0.933 kilogram) and tola (11.66 grams). Terminological definitions also continue to have an impact today: The standardized political and administrative vocabulary of the Mughal period has helped shape the modern usage of North Indian languages. At the same time, the Mughals created lasting new local identities through the standardization of place names (regions, cities, streets). Titles and official designations of the Mughal period often became modern family names.

The cultural aftermath of Mughal rule is still omnipresent today. Elements of the Mughal style entered the eclectic colonial architecture. The British-Indian pavilion and country house style in particular borrowed numerous elements from the Mughals, as did garden and park design. Features of Mughal architecture continue to shape the perception of architectural monuments as "typically Indian" in the Western world to this day. Particularly noteworthy is the mediating role of the Mughal Empire in the cultural exchange between India and Persia. Although the Persian language had to give way to English as the language of education and officialdom in the British East India Company's sphere of power in 1835, its dominant position over the centuries as the language of the court, authorities and literature of the Mughals still manifests itself today in the high proportion of Persian loan words in North Indian languages and the cultivation of traditional forms of poetry. Classical Hindustani music makes use of various instruments of Persian origin that found their way to northern India during the Mughal period. North Indian cuisine (Mughlai cuisine) also shows Persian and Near Eastern influences in the use of certain ingredients (almonds, pistachios and raisins as spices) and in the names of many dishes (especially meat and sweet dishes).


  1. Mughal Empire
  2. Mogulreich
  3. Johnson, S. 85.
  4. Thomlinson (1975, Tabla 1).
  5. Im heutigen Persischen wird dieser Begriff für „König“ verwendet (vgl. Schah).
  6. Annemarie Schimmel: Im Reich der Grossmoguln. Geschichte, Kunst, Kultur. München 2000, S. 7.
  7. Keay (2000), pagina 313
  8. Stein (2010), p. 169
  9. ^ The title (Mirza) descends to all the sons of the family, without exception. In the royal family it is placed after the name instead of before it, thus, Abbas Mirza and Hosfiein Mirza. Mirza is a civil title, and Khan is a military one. The title of Khan is creative, but not hereditary.[5]
  10. Balfour, E.G. (1976). Encyclopaedia Asiatica: Comprising Indian-subcontinent, Eastern and Southern Asia. Nova Deli: Cosmo Publications. S. 460, S. 488, S. 897. ISBN 978-81-7020-325-4
  11. John Walbridge. God and Logic in Islam: The Caliphate of Reason. [S.l.: s.n.] p. 165. Persianate Mogul Empire.
  12. a b Gilbert, Marc Jason. South Asia in World History. [S.l.: s.n.] p. 75
  13. Stein, Burton (2010). A History of India. [S.l.: s.n.] p. 159

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