Decline of Mughal Empire – Later Mughals, Causes of Decline of Mughal Empire

By BYJU'S Exam Prep

Updated on: September 20th, 2023

The later Mughals were the emperors who followed after the death of Aurangzeb, the last renowned ruler of the Mughal Empire. The death of Aurangzeb in 1707 CE led to the decline of the Mughal Empire. After Aurangzeb’s death, a war started among his three sons for succession to the throne.

The later Mughals were called so because their reign saw a major decline of the Mughal Empire and their real influence and kingdom were only confined to a few kilometres around Delhi. In the subsequent years, they were left as mere pensioners by the British government in India.

Later Mughals

The era preceding that of the later Mughals was an era of growth, development, and increased political strength under Aurangzeb. He had three sons; Muazzam who was the governor of Kabul, Kam-Baksh who was the governor of Deccan, and Azam who was the governor of Gujarat. In the war of succession that broke out after Aurangzeb’s death, Muazzam won and assumed the title of Bahadur Shah I and sometimes also called Shah Alam I.

  • Bahadur Shah I was the first and the last Mughal Emperor among the later Mughals who exercised authority.
  • His short reign of four years was full of trouble. Bahadur Shah had tried to extend his control over the Rajputs but they revolted.
  • He could not do very much as meanwhile, the Sikhs had also revolted. The Maratha Raja Shahu had accepted a mansab (rank) in the Mughal administration.

Downfall of Mughal Empire – Later Mughals

Aurangzeb’s death had already initiated the decline of later Mughals along with that of the entire Mughal Empire. The successors of Aurangzeb were weak rulers. They were unable to prevent the breaking up of the empire.

The death of Bahadur Shah in 1712 again started a war of succession among his sons. Finally, Muhammad Shah succeeded and tried to pull up the empire together. However, he was countered by the strong Sikh army under Banda Bahadur who was adamant about establishing an independent Sikh empire.

  • The Marathas were reorganizing themselves under a new system of government, that of the Brahmin ministers—the Peshwas.
  • The Afghans who had settled in Rohilkhand were also in revolt against the Mughal government. Three important provincial governors established three kingdoms: Hyderabad, Bengal, and Avadh.
  • The later Mughals also faced invasions from the northwest. The first invasion was in 1739 when Nadir Shah of Iran, who had already taken Kabul from the Mughals swept into the Indian plains from the northwest and invaded the city of Delhi.
  • Nadir Shah’s army looted the city and left it deserted. The famous Peacock Throne of Shah Jahan and the Koh-i-nur diamond were taken to Iran.
  • The second was Ahmad Shah Abdali, who conquered Punjab and added it to his territory in Afghanistan.
  • Meanwhile, the Marathas, under the Peshwas, were gaining strength and acquiring territory in western India. Marathas came into conflict with Ahmad Shah Abdali and were drawn into battle.
  • The third battle of Panipat was fought in 1761 between the Afghans and the Marathas. The Marathas were defeated and forced to withdraw from northern India.
  • The Mughal empire was now reduced to the area around Delhi. Mughal emperors continued to rule until 1857.

Factors for the Decline of Mughal Empire – European Traders

The Mughal Empire had come to an end and completely declined in the eighteenth century. With this, the rise of new kingdoms to power started. At the same time, there were other people who were trying to establish their hold on India – Europeans. They had the following two big advantages:

  • Firstly, in place of the Mughal empire, a number of states had arisen, such as those of the Marathas, Hyderabad, Avadh, and Bengal.
  • The second advantage that the Europeans had was that they came by sea and they were all good sea fighters. The Mughal emperors had never thought of the importance of sea power and, therefore, had no good navy. So, when Europeans began to capture the towns along the coast of India, neither the Mughals nor the army of the other states could stop them.
  • Taking advantage of their naval supremacy, they forced the Indian and other Asian merchant ships to pay money for permission to carry on trade and thus, began to dominate Indian overseas trade. But in the seventeenth century, a number of other European traders came to India, branded as trading companies.

Causes of Decline of Mughal Empire

There are a number of reasons attributed to the decline and disintegration of the Mughal Empire. The later Mughals gradually approached their end after about 50 years of Aurangzeb’s death who had left the largest empire in their hands. The major causes of the decline of the Mughal Empire are as follows.

Aurangzeb’s Policy

Aurangzeb mistreated Hindus which ultimately resulted in the disintegration of the Mughal Empire. This led to the instability of the empire. Losing the support of the Rajputs, who were the pillars of the strength of the empire was one of the major reasons for the downfall. Akbar who was accredited for instituting religious tolerance, had largely won the trust of the Hindus. But, Aurangzeb’s policies turned them against him. He re-introduced the jizya policy. The conflict with the Sikhs, Jats, Marathas, and Rajputs had taken away major resources from the Mughal Empire, leading to its weakening.

Weak Successors And Foreign Invasion

The successors of Aurangzeb were weak rulers. They were unable to prevent the breaking up of the empire. The later Mughals did not follow any law of succession and each time a ruler died, another war broke out. It weakened the Mughal Empire and the absence of a fearless ruler, an inefficient bureaucracy and a weakened army made the Mughal Empire lose all its strength. The invasions from the northwest and other parts of the world further drained the remaining strength and resources of the later Mughals.

Financial Troubles – Another Cause of Decline of Mughal Empire

Another important reason for the decline of the Mughal empire was that it was met with financial troubles. By this time, there was neither enough money nor enough jagirs to assign to various officers. The zamindars got dissatisfied with the control imposed upon them by the government. On occasion, the protest of the zamindars took the form of revolts.

Weak Military Administration

The military administration of the Mughals had also become weaker. The proportion of high officials was far too big. Moreover, the efficiency of the army was not maintained. The artillery arm which had once been the pride of the Mughal army was now backward in its technology as compared to other armies.

Economic Failure – Major Cause of Downfall of Mughal Empire

The luxurious living of the aristocracy was another aspect of Mughal India, which consumed much of the income from the land and from trade. If the peasants and the artisans had a difficult life, the aristocrats and the wealthy traders in the towns had an equally easy life.

Size of the Empire and Threat from Regional Powers

The Mughal Empire had grown to a size that could no longer be governed from a single location, namely Delhi. Although the Great Mughals were effective and had control over their army and ministers, the later Mughals were ineffective administrators. The far-off regions consequently gained independence. The Mughal Empire fell apart as a result of the emergence of independent states.

Theories of Decline of Mughal Empire

The Mughal Empire held influence over a big part of India for almost 3 centuries, however, a drastic downfall in its authority and status passed off around the first half of the eighteenth century. Each historian has specific theories on the decline of the Mughal Empire as follows:

  • Jagirdari Crisis by Satish Chandra
  • Agrarian Crisis by Irfan Habib
  • Jagirdari Crisis by M. Athar Ali
  • Bejagiri by J.F. Richards
  • Region-centric approach of Muzaffar Alam
  • Jadunath Sarkar’s theory on ‘Deteriorating Characters of the Emperors and their Nobles’.

Later Mughal Rulers

Babur was a mighty and famous ruler who founded the Mughal Empire. Until the reign of Aurangzeb, the Mughals saw a royal period spanning the whole of India. Post his death, the decline of the empire started with the weak succession of the later Mughals. Refer to the table below for information on all the later Mughal rulers.

Year Later Mughal Ruler Significance
1707 – 12 Bahadur Shah I Original name was Muazzam
1712 – 13 Jahandar Shah Succeeded on the throne with the help of Zulfikar Khan
1713 – 19 Farrukh Siyar Sayyid brothers helped him grab the throne
1719 – 48 Muhammed Shah Nadir Shah was a weak successor, although he raided India
1748 – 54 Ahmad Shah Raided India

The later Mughals ceded Punjab and Multan after sometime

1754 – 59 Alamgir II Delhi was occupied by Ahmad Shah Abdali and later plundered
1759 – 06 Shah Alam II Lived outside Delhi
1806 – 37 Akbar II Pensioner of East India Company

He conferred the title Raja on Raja Ram Mohan Roy

1837 – 57 Bahadur Shah II 1857 Revolt took place under his nominal leadership.

Was deported to Burma.

The Decline of Mughal Empire UPSC

The topic of later Mughals in Indian history is one of the most important ones for the candidates preparing for the UPSC exam. It is advisable to delve deep into the history of the Mughal Empire, its decline, and the causes of the decline of later Mughals. To score well, go through the article above and make your notes.

Mughal Empire UPSC Questions

It is important for the candidates to keep practising the UPSC questions to gain proficiency in the subjects. Having the knowledge of the core concepts will help the candidates in solving the questions accurately. Check the list of sample questions, and test your level of preparation.

Question: During which period the Mughal Empire declined? [A] First half of 18th Century [B] First Half of 19th Century [C] First half of 17th Century [D] First half of 16th Century
Answer: (Option A) First half of 18th Century

Question: Who was the last Mughal ruler? [A] Aurangzeb [B] Bahadur Shah II [C] Tipu Sultan [D] Babur
Answer: (Option B) Bahadur Shah II

Question: [1] The Mughal rulers turned out to be more tolerant and liberal. [2] Local leaders protested and announced independence from the Central Government, accelerating the decline of the empire. [3] The Marathas and then the British took charge of much of the territory.
Which of the following statement/s is/are correct? [A] 1 and 2, [B] 3 only, [C] 2 and 3, [D] 1,2 and 3
Answer: Option C (2 and 3) Local leaders protested and announced independence from the Central Government, accelerating the decline of the empire. The Marathas and then the British took charge of much of the territory.

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