• The Mughal Empire declined rapidly after the death of Aurangzeb in c. 1707 CE. This year is generally considered the differentiating year to separate the era of the Great Mughals from that of the lesser Mughals, also known as the Later Mughals.
  • The period between c. 1707 CE and c. 1761 CE (the time of Aurangzeb’s death to the period when the Third Battle of Panipat took place, wherein Ahmad Shah Abdali defeated the Maratha chiefs), witnessed the resurgence of regional identities and highlighted a sad state of affairs for the once-mighty Mughals. The Mughal court became the scene of factions among the nobles. The weakness of the empire was exposed when Nadir Shah imprisoned the Mughal Emperor and looted Delhi in c. 1739 CE.
  • The period after Aurangzeb’s death in 1707 was marked by
    • Weak successors
    • War of succession
    • Increase in power of nobles, who either became ‘kingmakers’ or carved out semi-independent/ independent kingdoms.
    • Court intrigues
    • Religious tolerance
    • Decline in authority of the Emperor
    • Decline in area of effective control

Later Mughals and important events

  • After the death of Aurangzeb in c. 1707 CE, a war of succession broke out among his three sons – Muazzam (the governor of Kabul), Muhammad Kam Baksh (the governor of Deccan) and Muhammad Azam Shah (the governor of Gujarat).
  • Muazzam emerged victorious and ascended the throne with the title of Bahadur Shah Ⅰ.

Bahadur Shah-I / Shah Alam/ Muazzam (1707-1712)

  • Muazzam ascended the throne and assumed the title of Bahadur Shah, at the age of 63.
  • He followed a liberal policy towards the nobles, granted them the territories of their preferences and promoted them. This led to the worsening of the state finances. It is also believed that the real power was in the hands of the wazir, Zulfiqar Khan.
  • He showed a tolerant attitude towards Hindus, though he never abolished jizya
  • During his reign, the independence of Marwar and Mewar was acknowledged. However, the settlement could not restore these states to become fully committed warriors for the Mughal cause.
  • His policy towards the Marathas was also half-hearted reconciliation. He did not recognize Shahu (whom he released) as the rightful Maratha king. He granted Maratha the sardeshmukhi of the Deccan, but failed to grant the Chauth and thus could not satisfy them fully. Marathas, thus, continued to fight among themselves as well as against the Mughals. 
  • Jat chief Charuman and the Bundella chief Chattrasal joined him in his campaign against the Sikhs. High mansab was granted to the tenth Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh. He, however, had to face rebellion from Banda Bahadur and it was during the course of his campaign against Banda Bahadur that he died (in c. 1712 CE).
  • He was given the title of “Shah-i-Bekhabar” by Mughal historians like Khafi Khan.

Jahandar Shah (1712-13)

  • After the death of Bahadur Shah, a new form of politics emerged in the Mughals’ political sphere wherein the nobles became ‘king makers’ and the kings mere ‘puppets’ in their hands.
  • Jahandar Shah was the first puppet ruler in Mughal India. He was supported by Zulfiqar Khan (wazir) who had the reins of the executive in his hands. 
    • Zulfiqar Khan built friendly relations with the Marathas, the Rajputs and different Hindu chieftains. He abolished jizya and gave the title of “Maharaja” to Ajit Singh (Marwar) and Mirza Raj Sawai to Jai Singh of Amber. He also granted the Chauth and Sardeshmukhi of the Deccan to Shahu. However, the old policy of suppression was continued against Banda Bahadur and the Sikhs. 
    • Zulfiqar also tried to improve the financial situation of the empire by checking reckless grants of jagirs and offices. He also made mansabdars maintain the official quota of troops.
    • However, he is infamous in history for introducing the evil practice of Ijarah (revenue farming). He encouraged ijarah or revenue farming, which resulted in oppression of the peasants.
  • Jahandar Shah’s favourite lady, Lal Kanwar (a dancing girl) dominated the court.  
  • He was defeated by Farrukh Siyar supported by Saiyad brothers.

Farrukh Siyar (1713-19)

  • Farrukh Siyar defeated his brother Jahandar Shah at Agra in c. 1713 CE.
  • He ascended the throne with the support of the Saiyyad brothers (the kingmakers) – Saiyyad Abdullah Khan (Wazir) and Hussain Ali Khan (Mir Bakshi). The Saiyyad brothers killed Zulfiqar Khan and appointed themselves to key positions. 
  • The Saiyyad brothers tried to make peace with the Marathas, the Jats, the Rajputs and were also successful in suppressing the Sikh revolt. It was during this time that Banda Bahadur, the Sikh leader, was executed.
  • In c. 1717 CE, Farrukh Siyar granted many trading privileges to the East India Company and also exempted customs duties for its trading through Bengal.
  • The Saiyyad brothers completely did away with jizya and also abolished pilgrimage tax at a number of places.
  • Due to the overwhelming powers of the Saiyyad brothers, differences grew between Farukh Siyar and the Saiyyad brothers. The emperor plotted thrice against the brothers, but failed to overpower them.
  • In c. 1719 CE, the Saiyyad brothers forged an alliance with Balaji Vishwanath (Maratha ruler) and with the help of Maratha troops, the Saiyyad brothers killed Farrukh Siyar.
Saiyad Brothers
  • Saiyad brothersAbdulla Khan and Hussain Ali Khan, were popularly known as ‘king makers’ for their role in enthroning and dethroning kings at will.
  • Their influence in administration increased substantially. They tried to save the empire from rebellions and administrative disintegration but failed due to court intrigues.

Rafi-Ud-Darajat (1719)

  • Rafi-Ud-Darajat, the son of Rafiush-Shan, became the Mughal Emperor after Farrukh Siyar.
  • Rafi-Ud-Darajat was very intelligent but was absolutely controlled by the Sayyid brothers, who carried on the administration in his name.
  • Rafi-ud-Darajat was succeeded by his brother, Rafi-ud-daulah.
    • Rafi-ud-daulah is also known as Shah Jahan II, after his death in June 1719.
  • Grandson of Aurangzeb, Nikusiyar revolted during his reign and occupied the throne at Agra with the support of Mitrasen (a Nagar Brahmin).

Rafi-us-Daula ( 1719 CE)

  • Hussain Ali Khan (the Saiyyad brother) marched upon Agra and imprisoned Nikusiyar.
  • Rafi-us-Daula was titled as Shah Jahan Ⅱ. He ruled for a very short period and died of consumption (Tuberculosis).

Muhammad Shah (1719-48)

  • Muhammad Shah Rangeela ascended to the Peacock Throne in 1719 which he occupied till his death in 1748. His name was Roshan Akhtar and was the grandson of Bahadur Shah I.
  • Brother of Jahan Shah who was fond of dancing and was himself an expert Kathak dancer.
  • In c. 1720, he successfully dislodged the Saiyyad brothers with the help of Nizam-ul-Mulk, Chin Qilich Khan and his father’s cousin Muhammad Amin Khan. He appointed Muhammad Amir Khan, who killed Hussain Ali Khan, as wazir under the title of Itmad-ud-Daula. However, independent states emerged during his reign, the Deccan under Nizam-ul-Mulk, Awadh under the leadership of Saadat Khan and Murshid Quli Khan reigned Bihar, Bengal and Orissa.
  • He neglected administration ofthe empire.
  • He himself indulged in court intrigues.
  • Area of effective control under the empire declined during his reign.
  • Nadir Shah invaded India during his reign. The weakness of the Mughal empire was exposed when Nadir Shah invaded India, imprisoned the Mughal emperor and looted Delhi in c. 1739 CE.

Invasion of Nadir Shah (c. 1739 CE)

  • Nadir Shah was the Emperor of Iran. He was a national hero there who drove the Afghans out of Iran.
  • Reasons for invasion:
    • When Nadir Shah came to power in c. 1736 CE, Muhammad Shah Rangeela withdrew his ambassador from the Persian court and snapped all diplomatic ties with that country. Nadir Shah sent three envoys to the Mughal court and his third envoy was detained by Rangeela which enraged him.
    • When Nadir Shah invaded Afghanistan, some of the Afghan nobles took shelter under Rangeela.
    • Also, Saadat Khan and Nizam-ul-Mulk invited Nadir Shah to invade India.
  • Course of invasion:
    • He captured Jalalabad, Peshawar (c. 1738 CE) and then Lahore in c. 1739.
    • Battle of Karnal (c. 1739 CE)
      • Upon hearing of the advancing Persian army, Muhammad Shah marched his forces out of Delhi in order to meet the invading army and prevent their entry into his capital.
      • The two forces met at  Karnal for battle (about 120 km north of Delhi). The Persian soldiers wreaked havoc on the Mughal army.
      • Mughal Emperor Muhammad Shah surrendered and he had to take Nadir Shah to his capital. The entire treasury was looted and the soldiers indulged in a gruesome massacre of the general population including women and children at Delhi.
      • The sack of Delhi lasted for several days, after which Nadir Shah asked his men to cease. In May c. 1739 CE, Nadir Shah and his troops left the city.
      • Muhammad Shah was retained as the emperor of the Mughal empire but was compelled to cede to him all the provinces of the empire falling west of the river Indus.
      • Nadir Shah almost emptied the treasury and also took away the famous Kohinoor and the Peacock throne.
      • Nadir Shah’s invasion caused an irreparable loss of prestige and exposed the weaknesses of the empire to the Maratha Sardars and the foreign trading companies as well. 

Ahmad Shah (1748-54)

  • Son of Muhammad Shah Rangeela and Kudsiya Begum (a dancing girl).
  • Ineffectual Mughal emperor of India from 1748 to 1754, who has been characterized as good-natured but incompetent and without personality, training, or qualities of leadership.
  • Twice during his reign, the Afghan Ahmad Shah Abdali plundered the northwest Punjab area, extorting money and land from him.
  • The Marathas snatched Malwa and Bundelkhand.
  • His wazir, Imad-ul-Mulk, blinded him and imprisoned him at Salimgarh.

Alamgir II (1754-59)

  • He was the second son of Jahandar Shah and was raised to the throne by Imad-ul-Mulk after he deposed Ahmad Shah.
  • Had to face repeated invasions of Ahmad Shah Abdali.
  • The famous Battle of Plassey ( 23 June c. 1757 CE) was fought during his tenure. The Battle of Plassey helped the British East India Company to seize control of Bengal.
  • He was also murdered by his wazir, Imad-ul-Mulk.

Shah Alam II / Ali Gauhar (1759-1806)

  • During his reign, the Mughal power was so depleted that it led to a saying in Persian “Sultanat-e-Shah Alam, Az Dili ta Palam”, meaning “The kingdom of Shah Alam is from Delhi to Palam,” Palam being a suburb of Delhi.
  • Due to his conflict with the wazir, he fled to Awadh (c. 1761 – 1764 CE). He returned to Delhi when Marathas re-established their hold and invited him to the capital.
    • Shah Alam spent his last years under the protection of the Maratha chief Sindhia, and, after the Second Maratha War (1803-05), of the British.
  • The third Battle of Panipat (c. 1761 CE) was fought during his reign between the Marathas and Ahmad Shah Abdali.
  • The Battle of Buxar was fought in c. 1764 CE between the forces under the command of the British East India Company, led by Hector Munro and the combined armies of Mir Qasim (Nawab of Bengal), Shuja-ud-Daula (Nawab of Awadh) and the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam Ⅱ. The war was brought to an end by the Treaty of Allahabad (c. 1765 CE) under which Diwani rights (right to collect land revenue) of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa were granted to the British East India Company.
  • He was the first Mughal ruler who became an East India Company pensioner.
    • He was called ‘King of Delhi’ by the British, who issued coins bearing his name for 30 years after his death.

Akbar Shah / Akbar Ⅱ (1806-1837)

  • He was the second son of Shah Alam II and the father of Bahadur Shah II.
  • He sent Ram Mohan Roy as an ambassador to Britain and gave him the title of Raja.
  • During his regime, in 1835, the East India Company (EIC) discontinued calling itself subject of the Mughal Emperor and issuing coins in his name.
  • He was a great poet and is credited with the introduction of the Hindu-Muslim unity festival Phool Walon Ki Sair.

Bahadur Shah II / Zafar (1837-1858)

  • He was the last Mughal emperor of India who reigned 1837-58. He was an accomplished poet and his pen name was Zafar (victory).
    • He was a poet, musician, and calligrapher, more an aesthete than a political leader.
  • For most of his reign he was a client of the British and was without real authority.
  • He was chosen as nominal leader of the revolt of 1857. After the rebellion was put down by the British, he was exiled to Burma (Myanmar) with his family.
Mughal Empire Family Tree
Later Mughals

Causes of Decline of Mughal Empire

  • Responsibility of Aurangzeb:
    • Under the rule of Aurangzeb, the Mughal Empire reached its territorial zenith. But, it expanded beyond the control of the central authority. To control such a vast Empire at the time when means of communication was undeveloped was beyond the capabilities of weak successors of Aurangzeb.
    • Moreover, the religious policies of Aurangzeb created discontent in the Empire. It led to rebellions by the Sikhs, Jats, Bundelas etc. His Rajput policy alienated the Rajputs. His policy of aggressive imperialism against the Deccani states and the Marathas drained the resources of the Empire.
  • Weak Successors and Nobles:
    • A centralised rule like that of Mughals needed strong Emperors to control it. But the weak successors of Aurangzeb, who gave importance to luxurious life and ignored the administration, exposed the limitations of the centralised rule. The military too was ignored. This resulted into rebellions, rise of regional powers and strengthening of powers like the Marathas. It also led to foreign invasions which plundered the Empire of its resources.
    • The nobles followed the example of their weak Emperors. They either took to luxurious life or carved out independent states for themselves. They also played the role of ‘king-makers’ in the war of succession by organizing themselves in various factions. This factionalism was so strong that the nobles failed to unite even during foreign invasions.
  • Military Weaknesses:
    • The organization of the army on the feudal basis had its own limitations. The soldiers held mansabdar as their chief rather than towards the Emperor. This defect assumed alarming proportion during the later Mughals.
    • Also, the military lacked discipline, cohesion and modern equipment. The Mughal army was unwieldy to manage in wars. The military officials were infamous for changing sides. Due to financial crises soldiers remained unpaid a number of times. Such military without coherence and loyalty could not be expected to fight for the Empire.
  • Financial Crisis:
    • Aurangzeb’s Deccan campaign emptied the treasury and ruined the trade and commerce. The wars damaged the standing crops and thus demoralized peasantry gave up agriculture. This further affected land revenue collection.
    • Under the later Mughals the situation deteriorated further. The independence of regional powers affected imperial revenue. Moreover, the wars of succession, lavish living of the Emperors and the nobles emptied the treasury. The payments in the form of jagirs and foreign invasions also affected resources of the Empire.
  • Rise of the Marathas:
    • The Marathas were the most important external cause that brought about the collapse of the Mughal Empire. A policy of Hindu Empire envisaged by the Peshwas could only be realized with the fall of the Mughal Empire.
    • The Maratha ambitions were buttressed by the nature of the Mughal Empire which failed to unite Hindus and Muslims. Many Indian chiefs looked upon the Mughal rulers as foreigners and as enemies of India and of Hindu religion.
  • Invasions of Nadir Shah and Ahmed Shah Abdali:
    • The invasions by Nadir Shah and Abdali exposed the military weakness of the Mughal Empire. They plundered the Empire of its financial resources.
  • European Companies:
    • The medieval character of the Mughal Empire was challenged by the dynamic and progressive West. In the race of civilizations the Europeans outperformed the Indians.

Impact of the Mughal Rule


  • The political integration of the country brought about by the Turks was consolidated by the Mughals.
  • The system of administration established by the Mughals, though largely confined to northern India, it indirectly influenced other parts of India too.
  • The Mughal polity brought about institutionalization of the state i.e. number of institutions like Diwan-i-ala etc. were established by them.
  • For a long period extending over 200 years the Mughals were able to secure the north-west frontiers of India from foreign invasions. It was only during the reign of later Mughals that the security of the north-west frontier was breached.
  • As long as the Mughal Empire was strong, the European trading companies could not fullfil there territorial ambitions.
  • One of the important political failures of the Mughals that impacted the country was their failure to build a strong naval power. This allowed the European companies to dominate the seas, which subsequently led to acquisition of political power by them.
  • The Mughal polity was largely secular in character, except the reign of Aurangzeb. This helped in building harmony and tolerance in country.


  • As the state affairs were largely secular, it promoted harmony.
  • The establishment of the Mughal rule in India did not help in the improvement of the condition of the women. In fact the practices like purdah became widespread.
  • With the rise of nobility, the social inequality between various classes increased.
  • The caste system continued to dominate, despite the challenge posed by Islam. But encouragement to Sufi movement by the Mughal Emperors like Akbar helped in building mutual harmony.
  • The Mughal Emperors like Akbar tried to modernize the learning by introducing more science subjects of secular interest. But these efforts remained unsuccessful under the pressure of orthodox elements. (As the most of the history written during the Mughal period related to kings, nobles etc., the impact of the Mughal rule on the common people is difficult to ascertain).


  • Under the Mughals, the nature of Indian economy continued to be feudal. This resulted into economic disparities. The condition of peasants did not improve to a large extent.
  • Well-minted currency based on silver, the development of roads and sarais etc. had direct impact on the growth of trade and handicrafts. But, Indians could not take the advantage of growing international trade due to weakness in naval field.
  • The Mughal rule established peace in the Empire, which in turn helped cultivation. But the condition of peasants continued to remain hard.
  • The Mughal Emperors did not show interest in the field of innovation. Due to this the economy remained backward in the field of science and technology.


  • The Mughal Empire had the elements of a cultural state. This is because the Mughal Emperors patronized art and architecture along with the people of learning.
    • The Mughals built magnificent forts, palaces, gates, public buildings, mosques, sarais etc. The architecture with the use of red sandstone and white marble was notable in the Mughal era. The use of char-bagh style, pietra dura etc. were the important contributions by the Mughals.
    • Mughals made significant contribution to the painting. Especially, the contribution of Jahangir is notable, under whom notable progress in portrait paintings was made. The Mughal paintings also influenced the regional styles like Rajasthani Style, Pahadi Style etc.
    • The Mughal Emperors patronized the people of learning. For example, Abul Fazl was given patronage by Akbar.
    • In the field of Music important developments took place during the Mughal rule. For example, Akbar patronized Tansen of Gwalior who composed various ragas. Though Aurangzeb banned singing in his court, playing of musical instruments was not banned. Also, the reign of Muhammad Shah (1719-48) is known for the development of music.

Rise of Regional Powers and States

  • The decline of the Mughal authority gave rise to the emergence of a number of independent kingdoms. The later Mughal rulers were not in a position to militarily enforce its regulations in all parts of the empires; as a result, many provincial governors started to assert their authority. In due course of time, they gained independent status. At the same time, many kingdoms which were subjugated by the Mughals also claimed their independence. Some new regional groups also consolidated and emerged as political powers.
  • The states that arose in India during the decline of the Mughal empire and the following century (between c. 1700 – 1850 CE) varied greatly in terms of resources, longevity and essential character.
    • Some of them – such as Hyderabad had been in a region where there had been an older regional tradition of provincial states in the immediate pre-Mughal period too, whereas many of the other post-Mughal states were based on either ethnic or sectarian groupings – the Marathas, the Jats and the Sikhs. 
  • The regional states that emerged during this period can be divided into three categories-
    • States formed by former Mughal nobles – The founders of these states were important and influential high mansab Mughal nobles. They established some of the formidable provincial kingdoms on the basis of their growing strength and administrative ability. Though they had declared independence from the Mughal rule, they never broke ties with the Mughal state. The prominent states that belonged to this category were Bengal (founder – Murshid Quli Khan), Awadh (founder – Saadat Khan) and Hyderabad (founder – Nizam-ul-Mulk Asaf Jah). The founders of these states were either former governors of these provinces or powerful members of the Mughal nobility.
    • Watan Jagirs – The second category of regional states that emerged in the 18th century had served very well under the Mughals and as a result were allowed to enjoy considerable autonomy in their watan jagirs such as the Rajput states.
    • Rebellion states – The states that had emerged after rebelling against the Mughal authority belonged to this category. The Sikhs, the Jats and the Marathas belonged to this group, and among them, the Marathas over the course of time emerged as a formidable power.

Literature of Mughal Period
Tuzuk-i-BaburiTuzuk-i-BaburiMilitary tactics and administration during Babur’s reign
Qanun-i-HumayunKhwand AmirHumayun’s administration, festivities and architecture
Humayun NamaGulbadan BegumBiography of Humayun
Akbar NamaAbul FazlHistory of Akbar ‘s reign
Tobaqat-i-AkbariKhwaja Nizamuddin Ahmad BakshHistory of Akbar ‘s reign
Ain-i-AkbariAbul FazlHistory of Akbar ‘s reign
Muntakhab-ul-TawarikhBadauniHistory of Akbar ‘s rule
Tawarikh-i-AlfiMulla DaudHistory of Akbar ‘s reign
Tuzuk-i-JahangiriJahangirMemoirs of his own reign
Iqbalnama-i-JahangiriMutamid KhanHistory of Jahangir ‘s reign
Chahar ChamanChandra Bhan BrahmanHistory of Shahjahan’s rule
Padshah NamahAbdul Hamid LahoriHistory of Shah Jahan’s reign
Padshah NamahMumahad WarisHistory of Shah Jahan’s reign
Shahjahan NamahMuhammad SalihHistory of Shah Jahan’s reign
Shahjahan NamahInayat KhanHistory of Shah Jahan’s reign
Futuhat-i-AlamgiriIshwar DasAurangzeb’s history
Alamgir -namaMunshi Mirza Muhammad
An account of Aurangzeb’s first 10 years of rule
Massir -i-AlamgiriSaqi Mustaid KhanHistory of Aurangzeb’s reign written after his death
Nuskha-i-DilkushaBhimsen SaxenaAnalysis of Aurangzeb’s rule and character
Khulasat-ul-TawarikhSujan RaiHistory of Aurangzeb’s rule
Hamiai-HaidriMuhammad Rafi KhanHistory of Aurangzeb’s rule
Namah-e-AlamgiriAquil Khan ZafarHistory of Aurangzeb’s rule
Waqt-i-HyderabadNimat KhanAurangzeb’s Golconda conquest
Raqqat-e-AlamgiriAurangzebA compendium of his letters
Sirr -i-AkbarDara ShikohUrdu translation of Upanishad
Safinat-ul-AuliyaDara ShikohBiographies of Sufi Saints
Majma-ul-BahrainDara ShikohPhilosophical ideas discussed
Hasmat-ul-ArifinDara ShikohReligious ideas discussed
Nuriyya-i-SultaniyyaAbdul HaqTheory of Kinship during Mughal Period

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments