Mughal Empire

An Overview of the Mughal Empire in Indian History

India’s Mughal Empire was mighty. It was the second of two Islamic empires that governed India from the 13th to the 18th century. The Delhi Sultanate was first. The Mughal empire marks the zenith of Indian culture before the arrival of Europeans. Instead, it ushered in contemporary India.

Mughal Empire during Babur

Mughal Empire during Babur
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Babur conquered northwest India in 1525. The king of the Delhi sultanate, which spanned most of northern India, approached him. In April 1526, they fought at Panipat. Babur assassinated the last Delhi sultan there. Mongol-born Babur claimed descent from Genghis Khan. His descendants were named Mughals (Afghan for “Mongols”). Babur fought for three years in northern India until he was victorious in 1530. But unfortunately, he died without establishing order in the enormous territory he ruled.

Mughal Empire during Sher Shah and Humayun

Humayun succeeded Babur. He battled rebellions and couldn’t keep his reign, and was forced from India to Afghanistan during the next decade.

One of Babur’s previous generals, Sher Shah, was his greatest opponent. He became a successful military leader and king in northern India. He restructured currency, taxes, and roads.

Sher Shah died in 1545, like Babur before him. On his death, internecine battles broke out since he hadn’t had time to consolidate control. Humayun, who had been in Afghanistan, mounted a successful counterattack and recovered the throne in 1555.

Fate interfered again. Humayun died in his library the following year. Akbar, his 12-year-old son, consolidated Mughal rule in northern India.

Mughal Empire during Akbar The Great

Akbar The Great
Credit: Hindustan Times

In 1564, when he was 20 years old, Akbar gained control from his regents. Akbar crushed all opposition, including significant rebellions. He expanded the Mughal empire across northern and central India and instituted measures that strengthened Mughal dominance. These were religious toleration as most of his people were Hindus, and there was governmental centralization.


Akbar revealed his religious views by marrying a Rajput (and hence Hindu) lady. He removed the non-Muslim tax and brought Hindu nobility (particularly Rajputs) into governance. In keeping with his liberal religious ideas, he removed Islam as the Mughal empire’s official religion.

Centralizing Power

Akbar organized the empire’s provinces to concentrate authority in his own hands.

Reforming Taxes

He surveyed the empire’s territories to improve tax collection. He re-enacted and polished Sher Shah’s innovations. For example, he required that peasants pay taxes in cash rather than in-kind and surveyed agricultural land to make it equitable.


Akbar built roads to connect northern and central India with central Asia (and the Silk Road), Bengal, and Indian Ocean ports.


Akbar transferred the Mughal capital from Agra to Fatehpur in 1571. Despite the massive amounts Akbar invested into its development and the splendid palaces he erected there, it proved inadequate for the job. It lacked water and couldn’t host a significant population comfortably. 1585: He relocated the capital to Lahore, then Agra.

Mughal Empire during Jahangir

Akbar died in 1605 and left his successor, Jahangir, an extensive, peaceful empire. But, as customary in Indian politics, a dying ruler sparked a revolt. Jahangir faced a mutiny from his son, not a noble or general. Jahangir maintained Mughal progress in central India, although Persia’s victories in Afghanistan offset advances. Rebellions and palace intrigues marred Jahngr’s last years. Shah Jahan succeeded him in 1627. (reigned 1627-58).

Mughal Empire during Shah Jahan

Shah Jahan
Credit: Taj Mahal

As usual, palace intrigues marred Shah Jahn’s succession, culminating in the death of his brothers and cousins. Later in his rule, Mughal and Hindu leaders rebelled.

His reign witnessed significant Deccan development and the return of Afghan land lost by his father. However, Afghanistan and central Asia missions were unsuccessful. Shah Jahan transferred his capital from Agra to Delhi in 1648 to fortify the northeast.

Shah Jahn patronized the arts, and at his court, he had the best poets and painters. Moreover, he built the unparalleled Taj Mahal.

Akbar’s, Jahngr’s, and Shah Jahn’s reigns saw palace intrigues and rebellions, but they were all handled smoothly and promptly, without harming stability and prosperity. Under these three rulers, the Mughal empire grew and created great art and architecture. However, the following emperor’s long reign saw the Mughals’ fortunes shift.

Shah Jahn’s illness in 1657 sparked a war among four of his sons (1657-9). Aurangzeb succeeded, imprisoning his father and beginning his lengthy rule. Shah Jahn died in 1666.

Mughal Empire during Aurangzeb’s Rule

Aurangzeb maintained his predecessors’ expansionist policies. His expeditions extended Mughal dominance further south, and the empire grew under him.


Even before Aurangzeb’s arrival, the Mughals were losing Hindu support, and his austere religious practices didn’t help. So Aurangzeb, a sincere Muslim who lacked tolerance for his predecessors, tried to reinstate Islam as the empire’s official religion. He reimposed the non-Muslim fee and banned the construction of new Hindu and Sikh temples.


Jats (a northern Indian tribe) rebelled in 1669, Pathans (an Afghan clan) in 1667 and 1672, Sikhs in the 1660s (1675 saw the death of their leader, Guru Tez Bahadur), and Rajputs from the 1660s to the 1680s. But, most dangerously (though it didn’t seem so), the Marathas rebelled. Between 1655 and 1680, Shivaji humiliated Mughal armies and created the groundwork for future Maratha triumph.


Aurangzeb managed these revolts for a while. After a short respite, the Marathas refused to admit defeat and resumed fighting. Aurangzeb spent virtually his entire Deccan rule dealing with them. They gradually overcame Mughal troops. By Aurangzeb’s reign, they had asserted their independence from the Mughals and dominated much of southern India.


Not just Maratha’s victory signaled Mughal demise. Aurangzeb’s anti-Hindu and Sikh policies prompted massive quiet opposition from the Hindu majority and their leaders in the areas. Many of Araungzeb’s nobility fought his measures and didn’t completely follow them. Because taxes from the provinces were going down, taxes had to go up in areas the Mughals ruled.

Aurangzeb’s death in 1707 shattered the Mughal empire.

Mughal Empires Governance

Mughal Empires Governance
Credit: Youngisthan. In

The Mughal empire survived 150 years because it was well-built. These were established during Akbar the Great’s reign.


The Mughals originated in Afghanistan when nobles shared authority with the king. Unfortunately, this was not a prescription for adequate, stable governance and contradicted Akbar’s desire to wield as much state authority as possible. He promoted numerous Indian Muslims, Persians, and Hindu Rajputs to high rank in the Mughal imperial service.

Mughal Empire Aristocracy

Akbar formed a unified imperial aristocracy based on military ranks to encourage cooperation. The generation of tax money happened from land allotted to its members (mansabdar) based on their position in the organization.

These portions of land were at the emperor’s discretion, not inheritable, and not for sale. Other than collecting taxes, they had little governmental power over farmers and other residents. Depending on their rank, mansabdars had to give between 10 and 5000 troops to the imperial army from the money they made.

Men from the backgrounds mentioned earlier might ascend in the imperial service. This service aristocracy was only half non-Indian, reflecting India’s ethnic and religious diversity. Promotions and other benefits kept its members loyal to their imperial masters.

Administration of the Mughal Empire

Centralized Bureaucracy

Akbar created an efficient central government with just four departments: prime minister, finance minister, paymaster general, and chief justice (who was also responsible for religious affairs). The emperor nominated and removed these ministers at will. Each department’s tasks were explicit; thus, ministers had transparent personal accountability.


The provincial government underwent bureaucratic streamlining. Each province had a governor, military commander, religious administrator, and judge. This division of responsibility creates conflicts and increases central authority over regional authorities. Agents in each province kept the court informed of what was happening, which helped.


Each district had a military officer, tax collector, judge, public works official (sanitation, police, administration), chief clerk, and treasurer. In addition, towns and villages had councils with wide-ranging duties.

Collection of Revenue

Credit: Baldwin’s

Akbar and his ministers modified the revenue structure via trial and error to be fair to farmers while generating huge government income. The ultimate arrangement taxed peasants between a third and half of their output. It considered land productivity and cropped growth, and copper coins paid the tax. Peasants had to sell products to pay their taxes. It promoted market economic growth and expansion. It led to rural moneylenders and grain traders.

Well-trained professionals ran the system. Local elites, notably zamindars, supported it—local landowners. In exchange for tribute, the emperor’s officials reaffirmed their positions. This system was in place throughout the Mughal empire’s northern and central Indian heartlands, but it was never in implementation in the border areas.


Akbar established a unified coinage across the Mughal empire as he reformed money. Copper coins were in use initially. In the 17th century, silver from the Americas replaced copper as a popular currency.

Mughal Empire Army

Mughal Empire Army
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The Mughal empire’s founder, Babur, utilized rifles and cannons in his army. Modern academics consider the Mughal empire one of the three Islamic “gunpowder empires”; the other two were the Safavid Empire and the Ottoman Empire. Babur employed gunpowder weapons well in Panipat, and they became standard in Mughal forces. Long before they appeared in Europe, rockets and grenades were in use. William Congreve modeled his early-19th-century rockets on Indian rockets.


The formation of the military happened along with traditional Indian traditions. Infantry, cavalry, artillery, and navy began the Mughal army. Various methods recruited them.

As we’ve seen, Mughal nobility (mansabdars) were supposed to recruit and maintain armies (together with the weapons and animals they needed) from the jagirs provided to them for their services. This act was true for public servants and soldiers. Mughal public workers were expected to be competent in both and might be able to switch at any moment. In addition, the requirement from each mansabdar was to raise cavalrymen and foot soldiers.

Small army

The Mughal monarchs’ regular standing army might be as little as several thousand. These were royal clan members or close relatives, and many were also palace officials and royal bodyguards. The standing military included artillery. Mansabdar cavalry and infantry troops formed the bulk of the Mughal army in emergencies or foreign wars.

Mansabdar boosted the navy. It had a few battleships, primarily for anti-pirate missions, but its primary purpose was presumably to ferry troops down the large rivers to where they were required.

Mughal Empire Society and Economy


The Indian economy multiplied under the Mughal dynasty. It benefited from the empire’s peace and stability, especially during Akbar, Jahangir, and Shah Jahn, who ruled for a century. Mughal policies also boosted prosperity. The Mughal administration developed, renovated, and maintained the empire’s roads, seaports, and river ports. Large-scale irrigation systems were also government-funded. In addition, Akbar’s tax changes helped grow the market economy. The demand for luxury goods boosted manufacturing and trade.


An increasing banking sector boosted India’s money utilization. Moreover, big bankers helped the landed aristocracy and the Mughal court engage in large-scale economic activities. Bills of exchange were in use to transport money from provinces to the capital as banking activities evolved. In addition, moneychangers and grain merchants helped peasants pay in coins. As a result, this era boosted trade and manufacturing.


Textiles were India’s top export. Until the mid-18th century, cotton textile (particularly calicos and muslins) dominated international trade. After that, the export of jute and silk happened heavily. Spices, peppers, and indigo were among significant exports. Even the export of gunpowder ingredient saltpeter occurred.

This period’s trading arrangements favored India. European textiles, spices, and other agricultural products couldn’t meet European demand in India. Mostly in silver bullion, which came ultimately from the Americas, was coined into silver coins in India, boosting trade and manufacturing. The European Union, Southeast Asia, and Japan were the three main destinations for the sale of Indian goods. Foreign trade growth increased domestic commerce. Moreover, it enhanced urban elites’ income and desire for luxury products.


India produced 25% of all manufactured items till the mid-18th century. Steel making (primarily for weaponry) and shipbuilding were prominent businesses in Mughal India. However, Europeans in the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia rated Indian ship repair better than Europeans.

The cotton industry’s needs gave direction to production technology innovations, particularly the cotton gin’s expansion, established during the Delhi sultanate across India in Mughal times.

Many farmers came into the economy for reasons other than paying taxes or growing export crops. Instead, many farmers supplemented their income with industrial work. For example, farmers bought raw cotton from merchants to spin into yarn, then sold it back to make it into apparel. This transaction was the “putting-out” system, a proto-industrialization that mirrored Europe’s industrial revolution.


Like other pre-19th-century societies, India was agrarian. However, Commerce, industrialization, and urbanization led to more market-oriented agriculture and less subsistence farming. During the Mughal dynasty, agricultural productivity helped boost India’s population.

The Mughal government-supported large-scale irrigation facilities, but local groups built most of them. From the 17th century, maize and tobacco enhanced farm productivity. This method allowed the production of crops on unsuitable ground. They cultivated additional land—this enhanced agricultural production. The development of cotton agriculture led to the proliferation of the cotton gin in Mughal India.

Mughal Empire Population

Mughal India’s population expanded rapidly. Estimates vary, but it probably doubled between 1500 and 1700.


Urbanization accompanied economic expansion. Delhi, Lahore, and Agra were among the world’s biggest cities. As the market economy evolved, market towns spread across the empire. Fifteen percent of the empire’s inhabitants resided in towns and cities, higher than in Europe at the time and for a century or more.

Mughal Empire Religion

By the time of the Mughal dynasty, the core religious boundaries of Indian civilization were obvious. Most Indians were Hindus, although a large percentage were Muslims. This fact was more important than the stats indicate after centuries of dominance by Muslim rulers, including the Mughal empire. In the Punjab, northwest of the subcontinent, a new religious group emerged when the Mughal empire began.

The Sikhs

Sikhs mixed Hindu and Muslim beliefs. For example, Guru Nanak (1469-1539) preached that there is only one God, that all people are equal before Him (no castes), and that following him means being honest and loving.

After Akbar, ties between the Sikhs and the Mughal empire deteriorated quickly. Jahangir suspected the Sikhs were plotting against him and imprisoned, tortured, and murdered Guru Arjun. This poisoned Mughal-Sikh relations. Sikhs militarized and battled Mughal soldiers. With Aurangzeb’s arrival as emperor, there was much persecution of them. They rebelled many times, adding to Aurangzeb’s woes. Sikhs became a military power, notably in Punjab, northwest India.

Mughal Empire Culture

Mughal Empire Culture
Credit: SU LMS

Under the Mughal dynasty, Indian and Islamic literature, art, and architecture merged. The Delhi sultanate, the Mughal empire’s precursor, began this process. The Mughal court was essential to the empire’s cultural development. It patronized some of the era’s most significant works. Shah Jahan’s reign was at its peak. The monarch gathered brilliant Indian and Persian philosophers, poets, and artists at his court. He commissioned the famed Mughal Peacock Throne and erected the Taj Mahal.


The Mughals spoke Persian. Unsurprisingly, the Mughals translated several Sanskrit writings into Persian. These included the Upanishads, Bhagavad-Gita, Ramayana, and the Vedas. However, the Mughal court under Akbar, Jahangir, and Shah Jahan was tolerant of Hindu works. Composing and reciting Persian poetry was popular in the Mughal court. Memoirs of Mughal rulers are considered literary masterpieces. Hindi literature was another example of Mughal tolerance.

Poetry, history, philosophy, science, and translations and adaptations of famous Sanskrit texts, flourished in the regional languages of India away from the court. Urdu began producing literature about this time. This new language evolved in northwest India when central Asians and Indians intermarried. Under the Mughals, this blend of Hindi and Persian produced its literature and became a dominating Indian language and literature.


The calligraphy and miniature art in Mughal books were of the highest quality. In addition, there was the depiction of Classic Persian and Sanskrit writings along with current originals. Not least were the beautifully adorned Mughal rulers’ memoirs. These tiny paintings covered portraiture, court, hunting, and war themes.

The Mughal court had its workshops, which established the benchmark for aesthetic brilliance in the empire. Over time, Hindu monarchs and nobles of the kingdom produced Mughal-style paintings. This act emphasized art’s new realism and naturalism.

European art impacted Mughal royal painters after Jahangir. In the Persian tradition, the application of perspective happened from various viewpoints. In the European style, a single view was in use; as a result, the images became more realistic. The pictures of birds, flowers, animals, and portraits were beautiful. Later, Mughal art became more stiff and rigorous. Nevertheless, even after the Mughal empire fell, the creation of great works happened.


Indian influences were more prominent in a building than in art, where Persian forms mingled. Islamic-Indian architecture, which began during the Delhi sultanate, achieved its magnificent culmination under the Mughal dynasty. The Taj Mahal, the tomb of Humayun, Fatehpur Sikri, the Red Fort, the Agra Fort, the Lahore Fort, and the Red Fort in Agra are just a few of the world-famous Mughal structures still surviving in Agra, Delhi, and other parts of northern India. In addition, Rajput and Sikh palaces and monuments bear a solid resemblance to Mughal architecture.

The Decline of the Mughal Empire

Decline of the Mughal Empire
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Aurangzeb’s successors were more tolerant of Hindus. They removed non-Muslim taxes and appeased Rajputs and Marathas. These efforts were successful, yet they reaffirmed both groups’ de facto independence.

Problems Abound

The Mughal regime’s finances were severe. It couldn’t adequately compensate its aristocrats and bureaucrats, undermining their devotion. Palace intrigues, succession conflicts, and court favorites made matters worse. Finally, political feuds for the monarchy erupted. 1719 saw the execution of Farrukhsiyar.

Unchecked Governors

In the lack of court control, provincial governors consolidated authority. As a result, Hyderabad, Bengal, Orissa, Ayodhya, and Punjab fell out of Mughal authority in these years. Since the provinces were worried about getting money, they had no choice but to acknowledge these powerful governors’ wide-ranging power in exchange for tribute.


In the 1730s, the Marathas pushed north and east, capturing most of central India. In 1739, Ndir Shah’s Persian army invaded India and devastated Delhi, the Mughal capital. He returned to Persia with priceless Mughal regalia. He pushed the Mughal court to grant him most of Afghanistan and northwest India.

Afghanistan chieftains regularly ravaged the Mughal empire’s northwest fortifications. Meanwhile, the Marathas raided from central India.

Mughal Prestige

The Mughal emperor and his entourage remained a potent emblem of power and authority. Afghans, Marathas, and increasingly autonomous governors wanted to dominate the court, not abolish it. They required its validity to retain influence over local communities.

By the mid-18th century, a confederacy of regional princes had arisen, each expressing devotion to the mysterious Mughal emperors in Delhi but pursuing its interests in conflict with the other power centers.

Proxy Kings

The Mughal empire no longer had a single center. Mughal rulers ruled in principle but couldn’t control the forces surrounding them. Only Delhi and the surrounding area were under their control. The Mughal emperors became puppet rulers as the British acquired control of more of the subcontinent.

During the Great Rebellion against the British in 1857 and 1858, the rebels used the last Mughal emperor to rally the Indian people and drive away the foreigners. The previous Mughal monarch died in British captivity as an exile.


The Muslim Mughal rulers and their primarily Hindu subjects made India’s golden age full of art, scientific progress, and beautiful buildings. However, later in the Mughal era, the French and the British started getting closer to the emperors. This proximity led to the fall of the Mughal Empire in 1857.

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