The Mughal Empire of India was one of the great empires of world history. This was the second of two great Islamic empires which dominated the history of the Indian subcontinent from the early 13th to the early 18th centuries. The first of these empires was the Delhi Sultanate.
The Mughal Empire was founded by a minor Turkish ruler called Babur in 1526, after his defeat of the last of the sultans of Delhi. He thus gained control of the territories of the Delhi Sultanate, which at that time covered a large part of northern india.
Under Babur’s son, Humayan (reigned 1530-56), most of these territories were lost, and Humayan himself forced back into Afghanistan. However, at the end of his reign he was able to regain most of his father’s conquest and restore Mughal power in northern India. Like his father, he made the city of Agra his capital.
Akbar the Great and his successors
Humayan’s son Akbar (reigned 1556-1605) was one of the great rulers of world history. He greatly expanded the empire until it covered all of northern India and reached far into the Deccan. He centralized administrative control in his own hands to a greater extent than had previously been the case. Internally, he presided over a period of peace and prosperity.
This internal stability largely continued (except at times succession, when a brief period of warfare between rival Mughal princes was practically an institution) under Akbar’s successors. Jahangir (reigned 1605-27) and Shah Jahan (1628-57) expanded the empire to the north and east, and most of all southwards to cover most of the Deccan and much of south India.
It was in Shah Jahan’s time that the magnificent Taj Mahal was built, probably the best-known example of Indo-Muslim architecture.
Aurangzeb and the decline of the empire
After Shah Jahan’s death, the by-now obligatory war between his sons brought Aurangzeb to the throne (reigned 1658-1707). Aurangzeb continued the Mughal policy of expansion, bringing Mughal power almost to the tip of India. His last major conquest was over the Marathas, but this was short-lived.
From then on he had to face increasing challenges to his rule, and after his death Mughal power started to unravel. The Marathas took great chunks of territory for themselves; the Rajputs asserted their independence; a great Sikh rebellion gathered pace; and to cap it all, powerful Mughal governors ceased to obey the central imperial power. By the mid-century the Mughal Empire was an empire in name only. However, dominion of the subcontinent was to pass to none of the above-mentioned players, but to an alien power from far away. The age of British India was about to dawn.