The Mughal empire which had reached its zenith during the rule of Shah Jahan and his son, soon began to decline after the rule of Aurangzeb. In fact, the decline began during the last days of Aurangzeb. Of course the decline cannot be related to just one cause. There were many causes for the downfall of this great dynasty. The strength and stability of an empire depend on strong emperors, a good administration and the support of the subjects. Let us, therefore, view the causes that hastened the fall of the Mughal empire after Aurangzeb.
Aurangzeb, no doubt was a great emperor but he was largely responsible for the downfall of the empire. His predecessors like Akbar and Jahangir did a lot to win over the loyalties of their subjects particularly the Rajputs and the Hindus. But Aurangzeb was a fanatic and could not tolerate the non-Muslims. He came down very harshly upon them and adopted various measures which offended them. He imposed Jeziah (1679) and forbade the celebration of the Hindu festival. He thus lost the friendship and loyalty of those brave men whom Akbar had tried to befriend. His execution of the Sikh guru and his enmity with the Marathas forced them to raise arms against him and cut at the very roots of the Mughal empire. His excessive obsession with the Deccan also destroyed the Mughal army, the treasury and also adversely affected his health. He was also of a very suspicious nature and trusted no one, not even his sons. He concentrated all the power in his own hands and as a result, after his death, there was no one experienced enough to carry on the administration efficiently. Being a fanatic Sunni Muslim he could not tolerate even the Shias. They too turned against him. He laid too much stress on simplicity and was against singing, dancing and drinking which were common habits of the Muslim nobles. They did not like a king who was so much against their ways. Aurangzeb, thus “himself gave a green signal to the forces of decay” and so after his death, the mighty empire was shattered and it disintegrated into smaller states and there was no strong central authority to save it.
The successors of Aurangzeb were both weak and incompetent. Capable rulers like Akbar could alone control such a vast empire but weak kings like Jahandar Shah and Farukh Siyar could not. They became puppets in the hands of powerful men like the Ali brothers. The later Mughals spent more time in their harems and in pleasure and soon lost control of the state.
No Definite Law of Succession:
The Mughals did not follow any definite law of succession. After the death of every emperor, there ensued a bloody war of succession amongst his sons. Each one, used nobles and members of the royal family to get the throne thereby dividing the nobles who fought for their self-interest only. This created anarchy. Nobles resorted to conspiracies and made the Mughal power weak and vulnerable. These wars also resulted in the loss of lives and depletion of the treasury.
The economic stability of the empire was ruined because of the constant wars. Each Mughal ruler spent enoromous amounts on war. Some of the wars did not add even an inch to the Mughal empire, and only proved to be a finanical burden. Example- the loss of kandhar during Shah Jahan’s rule and Aurangzeb’s wars in the Deccan.
Besides this, the Mughal rulers spent lavishly on buildings and monuments. The reign of Shah Jahan is often compared to a wall picture which appears beautiful on the front but behind the picture, one gets to see only the nails. The buildings erected by him are no doubt beautiful and magnificent but they cost the treasury a lot. The extraordinary grandeur of the Mughal court during Shah Jahan’s reign and the luxurious lifestyle of the nobles were a big drain on the treasury. Finally, foreign invasions completely shattered the economy.
Moral Degradation of the Soldiers:
An excess of wealth and luxury made the Mughal army lazy, corrupt and inefficient. The soldiers and the generals became pleasure-loving and easygoing. Often they proved to be disloyal. Now they could not even go to the battlefield without their train of attendants and women. Sometimes they only fought for money and easily succumbed to bribes. They did not fight wholeheartedly. Their impotency became quite evident in the war against Kandhar.
The Mansabdari System:
The Mansabdari system degenerated in the time of Aurangzeb and his successors. Jagirs were in short supply. Transfers were frequent and the allotment of a new jagir took a long time. Even when a jagir was allotted, its real income was generally far below its paper income. The result was that many nobles could not keep their quota of troops. That weakened the army and affected adversely the administrative efficiency. The practice of farming lands to the highest bidder made the position of the peasants miserable. The old landed nobility (Zamindars) was replaced by a new type of business-cum-oppressor class.
Rise of New Powers:
New powers such as the Sikhs, Jats and Marathas came onto the scene. Rulers like Aurangzeb did not understand their importance. He did nothing to win them over. Gradually they broke off from the Mughal domination and established their own independent states.
Coming of the Europeans:
The Europeans, especially the British, played an important role in putting an end to the Mughal empire. They first obtained a firman to trade with India, but gradually began interfering in Indian politics and tightened their grip over the Indian States. They not only wiped off the traces of other European powers, but also defeated the Indian princes one after the other and gradually set up a British empire in India that lasted for 200 years.
The invasions of Nadir Shah and Ahmad Shah Abdali proved fatal for the Mughal empire. Not only were the Indians defeated but their weakness was exposed and India became as easy prey to other foreign powers too.