Nadir Shah (Napoleon of Iran) was one of the greatest rulers of Persia. He was originally a shepherd but by the dint of his merit, he rose to the position of the king of Persia. In 1738-39, he invaded India. In 1738, Kabul, Jalalabad and Peshawar were captured by the Persian invader and Lahore fell in January 1739. When Nadir Shah began his rapid advance towards Delhi, the Mughal Emperor decided to oppose his advance and sent an army under Nizam-ul-Mulk, Qamir-ud-din and Khan-i-dauran to check the invader. Saadat Khan also joined them later. In the ensuing battle fought between the Mughal troops and those of Nadir Shah near Karnal in February 1739, within three hours of the actual engagement the Mughal troops were totally routed and Khan-i-dauran was killed in action. Although Nizam-ul-Mulk was able to persuade Nadir Shah to go back after receiving Rs. 50 lakhs, Saadat Khan (of Awadh), who was opposed to the Nizam, suggested to Nadir Shah “to take the emperor, the Nizam and others into custody, march to Delhi and make himself master of the immense treasurers in store there”. Nadir Shah accepted the suggestion and entered Delhi on March 20, 1739.
Two days after his arrival in Delhi, rumours were spread in the city that Nadir Shah had met with an untimely death or had been seized or imprisoned by the orders of the Emperor. Nobody cared to verify the truth. Mobs collected at various places and attacked the Persian troops and about 300 of them were killed. At first, Nadir Shah refused to believe the reports of the disturbance but when he rode through the streets in Chandni Chowk, a bullet missed him but killed one of his officers. Red with anger, he ordered a general massacre of the inhabitants of Delhi. The Persian soldiers forced their way into shops and houses killing the occupants and looting everything. The money-changers Bazar and the shops of jewellers and merchants were set on fire and destroyed, all the occupants perishing in the flames. No distinction was made between the innocent and the guilty, male and female, old and young. The massacre continued for about six hours. Sir Jadunath Sarkar puts the number of those dead at 20,000 besides several hundred women who committed suicide. The streets of Delhi remained littered with corpses for several days till they were burnt with the timber from the wrecked houses. Nadir Shah obtained from the Emperor, his nobles and the people of Delhi about Rs. 70 lacs. Nadir Shah demanded the hand of a Mughal princess for his son Nasrullah and a great grand-daughter of Aurangzeb was married to him. To celebrate the occasion, Nadir Shah ordered illumination, display of fire-works and other entertainments. All this was done when the people of Delhi were in a state of mourning. The Peacock throne and the Koh-i-Noor diamond of Shah Jahan were seized by Nadir Shah. Likewise, elephants, horses and precious stuff were seized.
Nadir Shah left Delhi after a stay of 57 days. Before his departure, he put the crown on the head of Muhammad Shah, the Mughal Emperor who offered to Nadir Shah the provinces of the Mughal Empire West of the river Indus from Kashmir to Sind and in addition the Subah of Thatta and the forts subordinate to it. The view of Sir Wolseley Haig is that the departure of Nadir Shah left the Mughal Emperor and his countries stupefied with the blow which had fallen on them. For two months, nothing was done or proposed in regard to the state of affairs in the Empire. However, even this blow did not change the attitude of the Mughal Emperor and his courtiers.
Nadir Shah’s speedy success revealed the Mughal emperor’s incapacity to defend even his capital and to preserve the integrity of the empire in a sector which was vital to its security. There was a complete exposure of the political, military and moral decay of the Mughal empire. This was not a sudden revelation; the process had started many decades ago, and the disgrace, spoliation and dismemberment which the empire suffered in 1739 was the inevitable effect of creeping paralysis. Nadir Shah did not cause the decline of the empire; he merely proved that it was already dead. “He broke the speel under which men had been regarding a gorgeously dressed corpse as a strong man”.