Downfall and Decline of the Mughal Empire

The Mughal Empire, which was founded by Muhammad Babur (1526) and consolidated by Akbar, fell to pieces within thirty years of the death of Aurangzeb (1707). During the reign of Aurangzeb, the extent of the empire reached its zenith, as well the beginning of the end also started. Various causes were re­sponsible for the decline and downfall of the vast and powerful Mughal Empire.

  1. Smooth running of a despotic government depends much on the ability and personality of the despot. Up to the time of Aurangzeb the Mughal emperors were all able and men of personality. But Aurangzeb’s successors were not able make any serious impact.
  2. According to Jadunath Sarkar, the Mughal nobility was the ‘steel frame’ of the Mughal Empire and degeneration of the nobility was the most important factor for the fall of Mughal Empire. At the beginning of the Mughal rule, the nobles were faithful, hardy and brave warriors. In course of time wealth, luxury etc. made available to them in India led to their degeneration. They became lazy, ease-loving and corrupted class. The emergence of different groups and rivalry among these groups had sapped the very foundation of the empire. After Aurangzeb’s death, during the rule of his weak successors, the nobles were deeply involved in factionalism. Taking advantage of the civil war in the Royal family, the nobles involved themselves in that to fulfill their selfish ends. Even some of the nobles curbed out independent princi­palities and damaged the integrity of the state.
  3. Deployment of contractors for collection of revenue from the jagirland multiplied the harassment of the peasants. As a reaction of all these, peasants and smaller Zamindars rose in revolt against the authority time and again during and after the rule of Aurangzeb.
  4. The absence of law of succession amongst the Mughals resulted in ‘frequent wars of succession’ after the death of almost all emperors. As Erskine has said, “The sword was the grand arbiter of right and every son was prepared to try his fortune against his brothers.”  In that fratricidal contest the highest nobles involved themselves to promote their personal interests. Ultimately the nobles emerged de facto ruler of the state.
  5. In spite of a strong civil service, the military was the main strength of the Mughal Empire. But towards the end of the 17th century the effectiveness of the Mughal army deteriorated leading to the decline and downfall of the empire.
      • The army did not receive adequate compensation towards the end of Aurangzeb’s reign. Naturally lost energy to fight.
      • As no appreciable success had been secured, the morale of the army began to break down. Resultless continuous struggle against the Marathas, failure in Central Asian expedition etc. degenerated the morale of the army.
      • Mughal military organization was based upon the feudal principle. The emperor was dependent on the mansabdars for supply of force. Later on weak Mughal rulers were not able to exercise effective control over the mansabdars.
      • Little attempt was done to improve the quality of standard of the arms and ammunitions.
      • Above all, luxurious habits, indiscipline, want of cohesion led to the loss of efficiency in the army.
  6. At the beginning of 18th century, economy of the Mughal Empire had deteriorated extremely. The long wars in the Deccan emptied the Royal treasury which became an important factor for the downfall of the Mughal Empire. The sufferings of the people were further aggravated by the large-scale destructions by the Marathas. To come out of the problem the latter Mughal rulers imposed heavy taxes on the people which ultimately hampered the popular base of the empire.

By Amit Agarwal