The Mughal Empire

Akbar (1556-1605)

Jalal-ud-din Muhammad Akbar was one of the greatest rulers of India. He is regarded as the real consolidator of the Mughal Empire.

Akbar became the king in the year 1556, when he was only 13 years old. Bairam Khan was appointed as Akbar’s regent. At that time, the Mughal Empire was facing difficulties and external threats. However, within a short period of time, Akbar established Mughal power in the north.

Akbar also carried out reforms in the central administration. He centralised the financial system and made the tax collection process more efficient. Despite being illiterate his court became a cultural centre with many distinguished scholars, musicians, poets, sculptors and painters. He also engaged in debates with religious scholars from different denominations.

Jahangir (1605-1627 A.D.)

Akbar died in the year 1605A.D. His son, Jahangir succeeded him to the Mughal throne. He continued Akbar’s liberal and secular policies.

Military Campaigns

Jahangir inherited a large empire. He tried to consolidate it further. He first crushed the rebellion of his son, Prince Khusrau. Next, he strengthened Mughal control over Avadh and Bengal. In 1613, he defeated Rana Amar Singh of Mewar. Jahangir allowed the Rana to rule over his territories on the condition that he would remain loyal to the Mughals. He also conquered Kangra in 1620. Jahangir tried to expand the Mughal influence in the Deccan. The Mughal armies captured the fort of Ahmadnagar. However, Malik Ambar, the military commander of Ahmadnagar, put up a stiff resistance and did not allow the Mughals to conquer territories in the Deccan. Jahangir also lost Khandahar to the Persians. This was a huge loss to the empire as the major trade routes between India and West Asia passed through Khandahar.

Arrival of the English

Many English traders came to India during the reign of Jahangir. They tried to obtain trade concessions. In the year 1612, the English set up a factory at Surat. Sir Thomas Roe, the ambassador of the king of England, visited the court of Jahangir in 1615. Jahangir granted him trading rights and concessions.

Assessment of Jahangir

Jahangir provided stability to the Mughal Empire. He continued the secular policies of Akbar. He maintained friendly relations with the Rajputs and married into Rajput families. He also gave deserving Rajput chiefs high posts in the administration.

Like Akbar, Jahangir was a people’s ruler. He cared for his subjects and looked after their well-being. We hear from some sources that he installed a ‘Chain of Justice’ outside his palace. Whoever had a complaint against a public official could ring the bell and speak directly to the emperor.

Jahangir was interested in the cultural aspects of life. He was a well-read man and very fond of literature and painting. Mughal painting reached perfection during his reign.

Nur Jahan

Jahangir owed many successes of his reign to his wife, Nur Jahan. She was very ambitious and took a keen interest in the administration of the kingdom. Jahangir took her advice on all important issues. Once when Jahangir fell ill, she independently managed the affairs of the empire. Gradually, she became so powerful that coins began to be issued jointly in the name of Jahangir and Nur Jahan. Some historians believe that she was the real centre of power during the latter part of Jahangir’s reign.

Nur Jahan used her power to appoint her relatives to high posts in the administration. Her growing power and influence at the court alarmed Prince Khurram (later Shah Jahan). The struggle for power between them intensified during the last days of Jahangir. After Jahangir’s death in 1627, Nur Jahan retired from public life.

Shah Jahan (1628-1657 A.D.)

After the death of Jahangir, there was a war of succession amongst his sons. Finally, Prince Khurram ascended the throne. He took the title of ‘Shah Jahan’ (ruler of the world).

Military Campaigns

Shah Jahan had to face many revolts. The Bundela Rajputs of Bundelkhand revolted against Mughal authority. Shah Jahan crushed this revolt easily. Next, there was a revolt in the Deccan. Shah Jahan invaded the Deccan and annexed Ahmadnagar in 1633. Bijapur and Golconda also acknowledged Mughal supremacy and signed a peace treaty with Shah Jahan. They agreed to pay an annual tribute to the Mughal emperor. After consolidating his position in the Deccan, Shah Jahan sent an army to Balkh and Badakshan in central Asia. This campaign, however, failed. Shah Jahan also failed to recover Kandahar from the ruler of Persia.

European traders

European traders continued their trading activities during the reign of Shah Jahan. They established numerous trading outposts in different parts of the empire. Shah Jahan kept a close watch on them. When he came to know that the Portuguese were not paying custom duties, he defeated them and made them trade on his terms.

Assessment of Shah Jahan

Shah Jahan’s reign was largely peaceful. There was prosperity in the empire. Architecture witnessed tremendous growth. He built the Taj Mahal at Agra. He also built a new city called Shahjahanabad (now known as Old Delhi) and made it his capital. He also patronised literature, painting and music.

In 1657, Shah Jahan fell ill. A war of succession broke out among his four sons-Dara Sukoh, Shah Shuja, Aurangzeb and Murad Baksh. Aurangzeb defeated his main rival, Dara, and imprisoned Shah Jahan at the fort of Agra. Thereafter, he crowned himself the emperor.

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