V. Rebels and Local Powers
After Aurangzeb¡¯s death, weakened central authority created new opportunities for aggrandizement by provincial officers. During the
first three decades of the eighteenth century, nascent regional kingdoms in several northern provinces began to appear. The rajahs, or
governors of the area, reorganized their administrations, all with the aim of strengthening their powers while still paying lip service to the
emperor¡¯s authority. The northern provinces were edging toward stability within a loosened, decentralized imperial structure.
In Rajasthan, the leading Rajput emirs energetically overturned the intricate imperial administrative controls imposed on that province.
Rajputs dedicated considerable efforts into expanding their home territories, in order to build near-autonomous regional kingdoms.
Furthermore, as the Mughal empire was gradually being burdened with difficulties, rajas stopped paying tribute.
The desire for independence partially arose from the harsh treatments they were granted, dating back to the reign under Aurangzeb.
The ruthless campaigns of Aurangzeb in Rajasthan as well as his religious intolerance, including revival of jizyah, significantly aroused
anger of many rajputs: ¡°The insults which had been offered to their chiefs and their religion and the ruthless and unnecessary
severity of Aurangzeb¡¯s campaigns in their(rajputs) country left a sore which never healed. A race which had been the right
arm of the Mughal empire at the beginning of the reign was now hopelessly alienated, and never again served the throne
without distrust. ¡° (7)
V.2 The Sikhs
Religious intolerance launched under the Aurangzeb¡¯s reign also provoked opposition from Sikh. Since Sikh had a firm religious belief of
its own, Aurangzeb¡¯s religious intolerance was harsh enough to induce opposition. Sikh established its distinct culture with the leader as
Guru Gobind Singh, formalizing the religious practice in March 1699. Generally Sikhism has had amicable relations with other religions.
However, under the punishments imposed by Aurangzeb, prominent Sikh Gurus were martyred by the Mughals for opposing its
persecution of non-Islamic religious communities. Subsequently, Sikhism militarized to oppose Islamic hegemony.
Some excerpts show that Sikh was a formalized religious group, and religiously intolerant attitudes toward them could greatly arouse them:
¡°Guru Teg Bahadur rightly refused to accept the standard which the Emperor Aurangzeb had in his mind to judge the so-called
non-moslem goodness and Guru Teg Bahadur exhibited the spirit of a true spiritual hero, when he kept steadfast in showing that
he himself was the greatest miracle of all miracle ... Aurangzeb, after having tried his utmost to convert Guru Teg Bahadur to Islam,
and waiting for months in vain, ordered finally his beheadal¡± (8) As shown in the excerpt, Sikh was a
religiously unified group who devoted their cause for their belief, but Aurangzeb¡¯s punishment and oppression has produced deep
hostilities that would be continued throughout 18th century.
As the Mughal Empire declined in power, Sikhs raided the empire as far as Delhi practically every year for plunder. They entered Delhi
three times in 11 years from 1772 to 1783: in 1772, 1778 and 1783. In 1799, under the leadership of Maharajah Ranjit Singh, Sikh Empire
was established, which was characterized by religious tolerance and pluralism with Christians, Muslims and Hindus in positions of power.
The empire included Kashmir, Ladakh, and Peshawar.
V.3 The Nawabs
Whereas the rebellions by Rajputs and Sikh were primarily motivated by the religious suppression under Aurangzeb, quite a different story
happened in Hyderabad. The uncertain circumstances of the Mughal Empire, combined with absurdness and jealousness of the emperor,
provoked the independent feelings of Hyderabad.
The founder of the present dynasty was Chin Kilich Khan, a capable man of courage who rapidly rose in favor of the Emperor. Although
young, he was made Viceroy of the Deccan. He exercised absolute power in the area that he eventually excited the jealousy of the
Emperor, who gave orders for his assassination. The task was entrusted to Mobariz Khan, the local Governor of Hyderabad; however,
he not only failed in the attempt but he himself was slain.
The following excerpt from Hyderabad affairs which demonstrates this event, suggests that the authority of the Mughal Empire was deteriorated
to an embarrassing extent: ¡°The Nizam(of Hyderabad), who was a humorist, if of a somewhat grim kind, wrote to the Emperor
congratulating him on the successful suppression of the revolt, sending him at the same time the head of the " traitor" Mobariz.
This was in 1724, and henceforth Chin Kilich Khan, who assumed the title of Nizam-ul-Mulk conducted himself as an independent
The incident further strengthened the Nizam in his independence. Embarrassed with his mistake and frightened of retaliation, the Mughal
emperor honored his Viceroy with the title of Asaf Jah, and with instructions "to settle the country, repress the turbulent, punish the
rebels, and cherish the people." (11). This somewhat humiliating incident for the emperor itself reflects
the devastated authority of the Mughal Empire.
Kingdom of Awadh was no exception in that it protested to the rule of the Mughal Empire and initiated its own rule over the area. Saadat
Khan Burhanul Mulk, who was appointed Nawab in 1722 and established his court, took advantage of a weakening Mughal Empire in
Delhi to lay the foundation of the Awadh dynasty.
The region of Awadh was characterized by disorder and frequent absence of governors. In response to disorder in Awadh, later governors
were given unprecedented powers, notably over the fiscal and revenue system. In 1722, Burhan al-Mulk, the founder of the kingdom of
Awadh, bundled all administrative authority in the province into his own grasp.
Moreover, the majority of zamindars were engaged in widespread defiance of the Mughal authority and its revenue demands. For
example, the Bais Rajputs of Banswara, who had been turbulent since the last years of Aurangzeb¡¯s reign, united under the banner
of a single war leader and fought the Awadh governor in a three day battle at their central fortress. Besides, Afghan zamindars in
Lucknow district remained in armed resistance to the governor throughout 1714. In the same year, virtually all the Rajput chiefs in
Awadh district itself were in revolt. Such frequent resistance made collections from Awadh erratic, or modest at best. The financial
situation of the Mughal Empire, therefore, severely deteriorated.
Beginning from its third Nawab, the Awadh kingdom began to decline. It fell out with the British after aiding Mir Qasim, the Nawab of
Bengal, who lost in the Battle of Buxar by the British East India Company. Over time, the British gained control of more territories and
authority in the state. In 1798, the fifth Nawab received opposition from both his people and the British, and was forced to abdicate. Then
the British enthroned a puppet king, who in the treaty of 1801 ceded half of Awadh to the British East India Company and also replaced
his troops with the British-run army. The treaty virtually made Awadh a vassal to the British East India Company; the state continued to be
part of the Mughal Empire in name till 1819.
V.3.3 The Nawab of Bengal
From 1717 until 1880, three successive Islamic dynasties-the Nasiri, Afshar, and Najafi, ruled Bengal. The first dynasty, the Nasiri,
ruled from 1717 until 1740. The founder of the Nasiri, Murshid Quli Jafar Khan, entered the service of the Emperor Aurangzeb and rose
through the ranks before becoming Nazim of Bengal in 1717, a post he held until his death in 1727.
Bengal was one of the wealthiest parts of the Mughal Empire. As the Mughal Empire began to decline, the Nawabs in the region grew in
power, although nominally sub-ordinate to the Mughal emperor. They exerted great power in their own right and ruled as independent rulers,
wielding virtually independent power over the region.
After the last independent ruler of Bengal was defeated by the British forces of Sir Robert Clive in 1757, the Nawabs became puppet
rulers dependent on the British. Mir Jafar, who was personally led to the throne by Robert, briefly tried to re-assert his power by allying
with the Dutch. This plan, however, failed. The Nawabs were deprived of any real power and finally in 1793, when the nizamat(governorship)
was also taken away from them, they remained as the mere pensioners of the British East India Company.
V.4 The Marathas
Not unlike all other powers that emerged and moved against the Mughal Empire, Maratha also had a history of suppression by the empire,
especially in the War of 27 years, which started with an invasion of the Maratha empire by Mughals under Aurangzeb in 1681:
¡°The Mughal strategy toward Maharashtra (during the War of 27 years) was not subtle, just thorough. It consisted of steady
pressure on Maharashtra¡¯s forts, beating Maratha forces in the field when they could bring them to a
battle, and devastating Maharashtra¡¯s countryside¡± (14)
We can infer that the brutal attitude of the
Mughal troops toward the Maratha partially functioned as a basis for hostility between two groups. Furthermore, since the Marathi
believed in Hinduism, the religious intolerant positions adopted by the Muslim Mughal Empire provoked the resentment of the Marathi.
When the Mughal Empire began to decline after death of Aurangzeb, Maratha constantly plundered the empire. In the northern half of
Maharashtra, Maratha bands regularly assaulted the Ahmadnagar area and plundered the suburbs of Burhanpur. In 1710, a Maratha
band defeated the Mughal governor of Aurangabad and plundered part of the city. The same pattern continued in following years. The
Mughal governor of Burhanpur was killed in 1711 defending the city from a Maratha band.
The Maratha Empire was at its height in the 18th century under Shahu. However, the Third Battle of Panipat in 1761 suspended further
expansion of the empire in the Northwest and reduced the power of the Peshwas. In 1761, after severe losses in the Panipat war, the
Peshwas slowly started losing the control of the kingdom.
VI. Foreign Invasions
VI.1 Nadir Shah
Nadir Shah became the prominent leader of Persia, after conquering the Safavid and defeating Afghans. His thoughts now
turned to Mughal Empire of the south, which was greatly declining in its power. He defeated the Mughal army at the
huge Battle of Karnal in 1739. After this victory, Nadir captured Mohammad Shah and entered with him into Delhi.
When a rumor broke out that Nadir had been assassinated, some of the Indians attacked and killed Persian troops. Nadir
reacted by ordering his soldiers to massacre the people of the city. During the course of one day (March 22) 20,000 to 30,000
Indians were slaughtered by the Persian troops. Mohammad Shah begged for mercy; in response, Nadir Shah agreed to
withdraw, but Mohammad Shah had to hand over the keys of his royal treasury, and even yield the Peacock Throne to the
Persian emperor. The Persian troops left Delhi in May 1739. The invasion of Persia caused India to severely suffer from a
great amount of loss, in terms of population, military power, and treasury.
From the invasion by Nadir Shah, we can infer that the mid-18th century India was remarkably weakened. Many excerpts
support this point. The following excerpt describes the event when Mohammad Shah begged for mercy on March 22 when
Indians were massacred by Persian soldiers: "The Moghul Emperor had come to the Persian camp that day to sue for peace.
He had returned after some hours of bitter humiliation ... (he was reminded to send) at once fifty of the most beautiful maidens
of India, and as many slave boys, for the Shah's approval ... the women of India, except a few peasants, he (Nadir Shah) had not
yet seen, and it was said that they were not without beauty" (15)
. It can be inferred that the dignity
of the emperor of the Mughal Empire could be found nowhere; the empire was weakened to the helpless degree.
A conversation between Nadir shah and an Indian girl also vividly demonstrates the fragmented and deteriorated situation of India in the period:
¡°Nadir smiled. ¡®They (the Mughal troops) could do nothing when they met my troops.' The girl said, ' My Lord, they have no leaders.
The Moghul lords know nothing of war, and many are faithless to their salt.¡± (16)
. Not only did
the Mughal empire was viewed as a helplessly faded empire by Nadir Shah, but it also lost credibility among its own people.
VI.2 Ahmad Shah Abdali of Afghanistan
Ahmad Shah first crossed the Indus river in 1748; his forces sacked Lahore during the invasion. In the following year, the Mughal ruler had
to cede Sindh and all of the Punjab to Ahmad Shah, in order to save the capital from being attacked. In his fourth invasion of India in
1756/1757, Ahmad Shah invaded many provinces in India, including Delhi. He did not, however, displace the Mughal dynasty, which
remained in nominal control as long as its ruler acknowledged Ahmad's hegemony over the Punjab, Sindh, and Kashmir. He instead installed
a puppet Emperor, Alamgir II, on the Mughal throne. He married the daughter of the Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah. In 1757, Ahmad
Shah captured Amritsar and sacked the Golden Temple, initiating the long lasting hostility between Sikhs and Afghans.
VI.3 British East India Company, or EIC
The 18th century was an era when two notable European powers, France and Britain, struggled to achieve the superiority in India. The British
East India Company (or EIC) was enlarging its power in India from early in the 17th century. It gained a number of trading posts and succeeded
in a trade. Mughal emperors also showed some degree of favor to the company, especially toward the traders in Bengal (in 1717 completely
waived customs duties for the trade). On the other hand, France also struggled to exert influence on the Indian subcontinent. Joseph François
Dupleix, who was appointed the governor general of all French establishments in India in 1742, endeavored to acquire for France vast territories
in India, and for this purpose he entered into relations with the native princes in the Indian subcontinent.
Two powers¡¯ conflicts reached climax in the Seven Years' War (1756 ? 1763). As a result of the war, the French forces were defeated and
their imperial ambitions were limited. Although French could maintain some territories, French ambitions on Indian territories were effectively
laid to rest, thus eliminating a major source of economic competition for the EIC. In contrast, the EIC, with the endorsement of a disciplined
and experienced army, was able to assert its interests in the Carnatic from its base at Madras and in Bengal from Calcutta, without facing further
obstacles from other colonial powers.
The EIC engaged in military conflicts with local rulers during its expansion. Robert Clive led company forces against Siraj Ud Daulah, the last
independent Nawab of Bengal to victory at the Battle of Plassey in 1757, resulting in the conquest of Bengal and becoming the first British
Governor of the area. This victory estranged the British and the Mughals, since Siraj Ud Daulah was a Mughal feudatory ally. However, the
Mughal empire was already on the wane, being broken up into pieces and enclaves. Haidar Ali and Tipu Sultan, the legendary rulers of Mysore,
gave a tough time to the British forces. Having sided with the French, the rulers of Mysore continued their struggle against the EIC. However,
Mysore finally fell to the EIC forces in 1799, with the slaying of Tipu Sultan.
Military actions, threats, and shrewd diplomacy aided the Company in preventing the local rulers from putting up a united resistance against it.
From the Battle of Plassey in 1757 to the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, the EIC consolidated and began to function more as a nation and less as a
It is interesting to note some reasons why the EIC could succeed in the rapid conquest of the subcontinent of India. First is that India was totally
fragmented and destabilized in the 18th century, with several local powers emerging and contending for dominance. The following excerpt describes
such a favorable background for the EIC to expand its conquest of the Indian subcontinent: ¡°we may trace the rise of those powers (that of EIC),
in the Peninsula of India, which appeared during this reign, partly from the Hindoo States and Princes reclaiming their independence,
and partly from the officers, who had commanded in the Mogul Provinces, beginning to lay the foundations of those lesser sovereignties¡±
Other factors also contributed to the rapid colonization of India by the East India Company. The EIC possessed highly advanced technology
and enhanced military equipments, thanks to the Industrial Revolution that was opportunely on its progress during the era. Equipped with high-tech
weapons, the East India Company of Britain could conquer the Indian troops handily, although the EIC had only a few soldiers. Another
significant factor that had led the company to take over India is that the company had a strong urge to colonize India. Due to the Industrial
Revolution in its homeland, the EIC ardently sought for a place where manufactured goods could be sold and raw materials could be achieved.
Such a trend of the period rendered the East India Company to be highly obsessed with imperialism, by colonizing the declining empire and
seeking to enlarge its profit to the maximum degree.
Throughout the paper, we could see that India in the 18th century was characterized by extreme chaos and fragmentation. The Mugal Empire
which had dominated the Indian subcontinent before the 18th century, had to suffer from chaos after death of Aurangzeb; it not only had to
experience a number of local powers emerging in the subcontinent, but also underwent a series of invasions by neighboring countries, notably
by Nadir Shah. Most importantly, the British East India Company extended its influence into the area, signaling the beginning of colonization
of the entire Indian subcontinent.
Such domestic fragmentations as well as foreign invasions of India, clearly seem to derive partially from the exorbitant conquest and religious
intolerance of the Mughal Empire that began under the reign of Aurangzeb. Enlarged territories gave the succeeding Mughal Emperors difficulty
of maintaining the empire, and the harsh policies enacted toward local powers, particularly in terms of religion, severely aroused their oppositions.
The disordered situations in India enticed foreign powers into the territory, especially the EIC, which was equipped with a strong imperialistic
urge to colonize the area.
The history of India in the 18th century demonstrates the procedure of deterioration and eventual collapse of a once powerful empire (Mughal),
and its gradual colonization by the foreign power. However, the situation of the Mughal Empire was not limited to the empire alone. In fact,
events that befell in the Indian subcontinent demonstrate the cosmopolitan trend (of colonialism and imperialism) that was beginning to spread
throughout the world. European powers, having a reasonable urge to find new markets to sell their mass-manufactured products and seek
places where they could achieve raw materials, began their centuries-lasting process of colonization throughout the world. Therefore, a series
of incidents in India in the 18th century should be viewed not only as specific to the area, but as a microcosm of the cosmopolitan trend of
imperialism initiated by the European powers.
(1) Lane-Poole 1896 p.67
(2) Lane-Poole 1896 p.87
(3) Lane-Poole 1896 p.104
(4) Sarkar 1917 p.53
(5) Lane-Poole 1896 p.143
(6) WHKMLA History of Rajasthan; used with permission
(7) Lane-Poole 1896 p.142
(8) Singh 1903 p.76
(9) WHKMLA Historical Atlas, Hyderabad; used with permission
(10) Ali 1889 p.205
(11) McAuliffe 1904 p.174
(12) WHKMLA Historical Atlas, Awadh, used with permission
(13) WHKMLA History of Maharashtra, used with permission
(14) Gordon 1998 p.92
(15) Durand 1908 p.79
(16) Durand 1908 p.105
(17) Bruce 1810 p.117
Note : websites quoted below were visited in June 2009
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2. Gordon, Stewart J. The New Cambridge History of India: The Marathas 1600-1818.
Cambridge University Press, 1998.
3. Singh, S.N. The Kingdom of Awadh. Mittal Publications, 2003
4. Vaikuntham. Y. State, economy and social transformation: Hyderabad State(1724-1948). Manohar, 2002.
5. Lane-Poole, Stanley. Aurangzeb, and the decay of Mughal Empire. Clarendon Press, 1896.
6. Sarkar, J. Anecdotes of Aurangzeb, translated into English with notes and historical essays.
M.C. Sarkar, 1917. < http://www.archive.org/details/anecdotesofauran00sarkuoft>
7. Singh, P. Anecdotes from Sikh History. Khalsa Agency, 1903.
8. McAuliffe, Robert P. The Nizam; the origin and future of the Hyderabad State,
being the Le Bas prize essay in the University of Cambridge. Cambridge University Press, 1904
9. Durand, Henry M. Nadir shah. London Constable, 1908.
10.   Bruce, J. Annals of the Honorable East-India Company. Black, Parry, and Kingsbury, 1810.
11. Wheeler, James T. India under British rule from the foundation of the East India company. Macmillan and co., 1886.
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20. Article : Sikhism, from Wikipedia
21. Article : Akbar, from Wikipedia
22. Article : Jizyah, from Wikipedia
23. Article : Marathas, from Wikipedia
24. Article : Rajiputs, from Wikipedia
25. Article : Bahadur Shah I, from Wikipedia
26. Article: Nadir shah, from Wikipedia
27. Article : Peacock Throne, from Wikipedia
28. Article : Guru Gobind Singh, from Wikipedia
29. Article : Maharaja Ranjit Singh, from
30. Article : Nawabs, from Wikipedia
31. Article : Awadh, from Wikipedia
32. Article : Nizam, from Wikipedia
33. Article : Hyderabad, from Wikipedia
34. Article : Asaf Jah, from Wikipedia
35. Article : Joseph Fran?ois Dupleix, from
36. Article : Robert Clive, from Wikipedia
37. Article : Battle of Plassey, from Wikipedia
38. Article : Mysore, from Wikipedia
39. Article : Aurangzeb.
Encyclopaedia Britannica Online.
40. Article : Nadir Shah.
Encyclopaedia Britannica Online.
41. Article : Robert Clive, 1st Baron Clive of Plassey.
Encyclop©¡dia Britannica Online.
42. History of Rajasthan, from WHKMLA,
43. History of Maharashtra, from WHKMLA,
44. Hyderabad, from
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46. Ali, Moulvi Syed Mahdi. Hyderabad Affairs.Talbot Bros, 1889.
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