Decline and Disintegration of the Mughals in India!

The Mughal rule in India established in 1526 by Babur gradually consolidated itself under the great Mughals: Akbar, Jahangir and Shahjahan and reached its pinnacle of glory as a vast empire in the first half of the reign of Aurangzeb, the last great Mughal.

The twilight of the Mughal rule set in 1707 after the death of Aurangzeb and the decline and disintegration of the Mughal rule saw its logical end by AD 1761 and the empire lingered as a nominal power till 1857, the year in which the last of the Mughals, Bahadur Shah Zafar was deported to Rangoon in Burma and he was executed in 1862.

The causes for the decline and disintegration of the Mughal rule attracted the attention of a number of scholars, Indian and foreign.

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Many attempts were made to explain the process of decline and disintegration from different approaches and perspectives. The historiography of the decline and disinte­gration of the Mughal rule in India can be divided into two phases – pre-independent and post-independent approaches and perspectives.

In the pre-independent era, the historians Jadunath Sarkar, Stanley Lanepoole, V.A. Smith, and W. Irvine followed the empire-centric approach and attributed the decline to deterioration in the characters of rulers and their nobles. J.N. Sarkar, who had analysed the developments in the empire in the context of law and order, is of the view that Aurangzeb was mainly responsible for the decline and disintegration of the Mughal Empire and in particular by his religious fanaticism, Aurangzeb alienated the support of the Hindus to the empire.

Further, it is argued that the Deccan policy was also responsible for the decline and V.A. Smith goes to the extent of saying that “The Deccan was the grave of his reputation as well as of his body”. It is suggested that the despotic rule of Aurangzeb turned majority of the governors of the Subas hostile and ready to revolt waiting for an appropriate time. The death of Aurangzeb sounded the death knell of the empire by the revolts of provincial governors.


Another cause offered was the weak successors of Aurangzeb. It is true that the later Mughals were mostly weak, imbecile and steeped in luxury and were partly responsible for the decline. Further, the deterioration in the velour and strength of the rulers coupled with the degeneration of the nobility and army hastened the process of disintegration.

Added to the empire and emperor-centric perspective, the other causes that led to decline and disintegration of the Mughal rule were the alienness of the Mughals, widespread prevalence of corruption, the invasions of Ahmed Shah Abdali and Nadar Shah Abdali, financial bankruptcy and neglect of navy. In the post-independent India, historians Satish Chandra, M. Athar Ali, S. Nurul Hassan and Irfan Habib, after analysing the political power structure of Mughal India offered crisis in the Jagirdari and agrarian spheres as mainly responsible for the decline and disintegration of the Mughal Empire.

In this approach, the focus was shifted from personalities and policies of individual rulers to the study of the key institutions, Mansabdari and Jagirdari on which the Mughal super-structure was built. Irfan Habib is of the view that the mechanism of collection of revenue of the empire was inherently flawed and as a result of the peasant protests in different parts of India the political and social fabric of the empire was weakened. J.F. Richards, M.N. Pearson and P. Hardy undertook the re-examination of the crisis and differed in their conclusions from those of Satish Chandra, M. Athar Ali, S. Nurul Hassan and Irfan Habib.

Pearson too suggests that the Jagirdari distress sounded the death knell of the Mughal system. Contradicting the empire-centric approach of the above learned scholars, Muzaffar Alam and Chetan Singh follow the region-centric approach to explain the decline of the Mughal Empire basing on the develop­ments in the Mughal Sub has of Awadh and Punjab. Muzafar Alam holds the view that the Mughal Empire acted as a coordinating agency between the interests of the conflicting communities and the various indegenous socio-political systems at different levels.


Muzafar Alam concludes that the Mughal decline in the 18th century was because of its failure to maintain checks and balances between the key institution holders, i.e., the Mansabdars, Jagirdars and the local indigenous elements. The decline and disintegration of the Mughal Empire appears to be very complex as many factors, empire-centric and region-centric were cumulatively responsible for bringing together the core and the periphery and for the emergence of regional identities in the successor states of Mughal India.

In the end, we may conclude that the decline of the Mughal Empire was not the consequence of administrative maladjustment which led to the Jagirdari crisis which in its turn led to the emergence of regional powers as successor states of the Mugjial-power in India. There is not one single common cause applicable to the whole of India but there are many factors which caused disequilibrium to the fragile political edifice of the Mughal polity and led to the revival of the regional identities as reflected in the emergence of regional powers.