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Introduction To The Mughal Dynasty

The Mughal rulers governed India for more than 200 years. They reformed government, encouraged artistry, and tried to unite their subjects. The last Mughal emperors allowed the empire to break apart, however. As a result, the Mughal Empire came to an end, and India came under British control. The Mughals were a Muslim dynasty that lasted for seven generations. They were descended from the Turkic conqueror Timur Lenk and the Mongol ruler Genghis Khan. The empire was founded when a ruler from Turkestan, Baber, raided India, defeated the sultan of Delhi in 1526, and expanded his holdings. The next notable Mughal ruler perhaps the greatest of the dynasty was Baber's grandson Akbar, who reigned from 1556 to 1605. He made the Mughal throne more secure and greatly expanded the empire. India was difficult to rule because it was basically a Hindu culture governed by Muslims and because of the variety of languages and traditions of its people. Akbar succeeded because he reformed the government to make it fairer and allowed Muslims, Hindus, and Christians alike to practice their beliefs. He was also a great promoter of art and learning. To this day certain works dating from the empire are known by such names as Mughal painting, Mughal glass, and Mughal carpets. It was during the reign of Akbar that India entered into relations with Great Britain. Some present-day provincial governments in India and Pakistan are based in part on reforms made more than 300 years ago by Akbar. Akbar's son Jahangir ruled after him (1605-27), and his grandson Shah Jahan (1628-58) followed. Shah Jahan's son Aurangzeb (1658-1707) was the last great ruler of the empire. His rule began well, and he brought the Muslim Deccan kingdoms of Bijapur and Golconda under Mughal control. He was intolerant of other religions, however, and persecuted the Hindus. This led to rebellions, and the cost of suppressing these rebellions emptied the imperial treasury. When he died, the rulers that followed could not successfully regain control of the land. During the reign of Muhammad Shah (1719-48) the empire began to shrink, and within a few years the Mughals ruled only Delhi and a small area around it. By 1803 the British had taken control. The last Mughal was Bahadur Shah II, whose reign began in 1837. He was expelled from India for taking part in a mutiny against the British in 1857 known as the Sepoy Revolt.


Babur was the first Mughal, or Mongol, emperor of India (1526-30) and founder of the Mughal Dynasty there was Baber. He also won distinction as a military commander, a gifted poet and diarist, a statesman, and an adventurer. As ruler of the principality of Fergana in Turkestan, his birthplace, Baber first tried to recover Samarkand, the former capital of the empire founded by his Mongol ancestor Timur Lenk, or Tamerlane (see Timur Lenk). He occupied the city briefly in 1497 and in 1501, but could not hold it. He lost his own kingdom in 1503, seized Kabul, Afghanistan, the next year, and made a final unsuccessful attempt to capture Samarkand in 1511-12. Raiding India repeatedly, he defeated the sultan of Delhi, Ibrahim Lodi, at the battle of Panipat (1526). He extended his domain in 1527 when, fighting with an outnumbered army, he defeated Rana Sanga, who led an army formed by a confederacy of Indian kingdoms. In 1529 Baber subdued the last major resistance in northern India. His grandson, Akbar, consolidated the empire. A descendant of the first Mongol conqueror, Genghis Khan, Baber was born on Feb. 15, 1483. His original name was Zahir-ud-Din Muhammad. His prose memoirs, the 'Babur-nameh', were translated from Turki into Persian (1589) in Akbar's reign, and later into English (1921-22). His poems and diaries show him to be a man of wit, generosity, and culture. He died in Agra, India, on Dec. 26, 1530.


Babur's son Humayun succeeded him in 1530, but was defeated by Sher Shah, an Afghan who ruled north India for 15 years, in 1540. Humayun only just managed to regain his father's territories before his death and the accession of his 13 year old son, Akbar, whose 49 year reign laid the foundation of empire, and the development of a new style of architecture.

Akbar The Great

AKBAR (1542-1605). The Mughal Empire ruled India for about 200 years, from 1526 through the early part of the 18th century. The Mughals were a Muslim power governing a basically Hindu country, but the greatest of their emperors, Akbar, managed to enlist the cooperation of Hindu leaders in conquering and governing virtually the whole of the Indian subcontinent. Akbar was born in the province of Sind (now in Pakistan) on Oct. 15, 1542. He was a descendant of the great Mongol conquerors, Genghis Khan and Timur Lenk (Tamerlane). Akbar's father, Humayun, had a very weak hold on his throne and was, in fact, driven from it for a period of more than ten years. He returned to power in 1555, only to die a year later. It was left to the young Akbar to consolidate the power of the monarchy and extend Mughal rule over India from his base in Punjab. This he did in a series of campaigns from 1561 to 1601. Akbar's reign was noted for good government and a flourishing cultural life. He reformed the army, the civil service, and the collection of taxes. Foremost among his accomplishments was the centralization of all authority in the person of the emperor. This helped prevent abuses of power by local administrators and tax collectors. Inequalities of wealth and poverty persisted in India despite Akbar's efforts to institute reforms. The emperor urged those who had great wealth to use it to become patrons of the arts. Although he was himself illiterate, his intelligent and inquiring mind led him to establish an elaborate court in which culture and the exchange of ideas were welcomed. Akbar promoted tolerance in religion and invited Muslims, Christians, and Hindus to debate before him. By the time Akbar died in 1605, his kingdom included most of the Indian subcontinent, Baluchistan, and Afghanistan. Such was the excellence of his administrative reforms that vestiges of them survive in the provincial governments of present-day India and Pakistan.


The Mughal administration functioned well under his son Jehangir from 1605 to 1627. There was not a great deal of architectural activity during Jehangir's reign, with one exception. This was the tomb Jehangir and his wife Nur Jahan built for Nur Jahan's father, Itimad-ud-Daulah, who was Jehangir's most important courtier. While the structure itself is fairly simple, the manner in which it has been carved and inlaid with semi-precious stones demonstrates the mastery over this craft which was to find such perfect expression in the Taj Mahal. Lapis lazuli, onyx, jasper, topaz, and carnelian have been combined with marble of various hues to create designs of unsurpassed elegance, interspread with finely carved screens.

Shah Jahan

SHAH JAHAN (1592-1666). The Taj Mahal, one of the most beautiful structures in the world, was built by Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his wife, Arjumand Banu Begum. Shah Jahan was the Mughal emperor of India from 1628 until 1658. The Mughals were an Islamic dynasty that ruled large parts of India from the early 16th century until the middle of the 18th. Shah Jahan was the third son of the emperor Jahangir and a grandson of the emperor Akbar. He was born in Lahore on Jan. 5, 1592. In 1612, when his title was still Prince Khurram, he married Arjumand Banu Begum. He was ambitious to gain the throne, though he was third in line. In 1622 he staged an unsuccessful rebellion against his father. As a consequence he spent the following three years traveling around the kingdom waiting for his father to forgive him. They were reconciled in 1625, and Jahangir died two years later. With support from his wife's family, Shah Jahan proclaimed himself emperor at Agra in February 1628. Shah Jahan's reign was notable for its military successes against states in southern India. There was also a temporary extension of Mughal power in the northwest. In 1638 the Persian governor of Kandahar surrendered that fortress to the Mughals. In 1646 Shah Jahan's forces occupied Badakhshan and Balkh, but Balkh was lost the next year. The Persians regained Kandahar in 1649. In 1657 Shah Jahan became ill. This precipitated a struggle for power among his four sons. The winner was Aurangzeb, who declared himself emperor in 1658. He kept his father under house arrest at the fortress of Agra until Shah Jahan died there on Jan. 22, 1666. Shah Jahan is most famous for building the Taj Mahal, but he also built a new city called Shahjahanabad at Delhi. His name has been given to a school of 17th-century architecture.

Aurangzeb ( The Decline )

Reigning from 1658 to 1707, Aurangzeb was a stern puritan and a religious bigot who sought to impose orthodox Islam on all of India. He dismissed Hindus from public service, reimposed tax on them, and destroyed their temples. Aurangzeb spent the latter half of the reign trying to conquer southern India. Although he brought the Mughal Empire to its greatest extent, his wars helped weld the Marathas into a powerful enemy and exhausted imperial resources.

Although patronage declined after the reign of Shah Jehan, elaborate architectural projects were undertaken for later Mughal rulers. The Badshahi Mosque in Lahore and the Pearl Mosque in the Delhi fort are but two examples built for Aurangzeb. Aurangzeb chose to be buried in a simple open-air grave, but the tomb of his wife (Bibi-ka-Maqbara) at Aurangabad, is quite elaborate. Although small, the Pearl Mosque in particular, represents a continuation not only of the architectural vocabulary established during the reign of Shah Jehan but also of the use of expensive building materials such as white marble, though the elongated shape of domes and arches signals a change in taste.

Soon after Aurangzeb's death the empire broke up. The 19th. and last Mughal ruler, Bahadur Shah II was deposed by the British in 1858.

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