The Mughal Empire was the first gunpowder empire in the subcontinent that gave the Turkish invaders accompanying Babar a huge advantage over the armies they encountered whose main weapon of war were cumbersome elephants. Turks of highland Anatolia and Safavid Empire of Persia had till then employed guns and gun powder in the battles although gun powder was invented first by the Chinese that came down to the Turks and the Persians later. If Babar did not have the decisive advantage of guns and gunpowder it would have been not possible to defeat the large armies of Sultan Ibrahim Lodhi at Panipat in 1526. Similarly the gun-powder factor played a decisive role when Babar fought the Rajput confederacy in the battle of Kanawha in 1528 and broke the Rajput power for years to come.
Usually the first six rulers of the Mughal dynasty are highlighted in the history of the Mughal Empire. These six rulers are known as Great Mughals although Babar’s Indian kingdom was not founded on sure footing when he passed away just four years after conquering Delhi. The epithet of great Mughal looks a misnomer on Humayun who actually lost the kingdom won after hard and bloody campaigns by his father. Humayun spent fifteen years in wilderness and after obtaining the support of the Safavid ruler came back to claim his lost kingdom and ultimately succeeded though the architect of his victory at the second battle at Panipat in 1555 was his Irani general Bairam Khan. Humayun did not have time to enjoy his success as within months of wresting his throne, he fell of the narrow staircase of his library and died instantly though the news was hidden as the courtiers wanted ample time to put his 13-year old son Akbar on the throne.
Akbar is usually considered the real founder of the Mughal Empire and he strongly established it during his fifty-year rule. The fourth Great Mughal was Jahangir who ruled for 22 years and was succeeded by his son Shahjahan who ruled for 30 years and then was dethroned by his son Aurangzeb in 1658. Aurangzeb was also a long-ruling emperor pulling on through half a century but at the end of his days, tremendous weakness crept in the structure of the Empire and Aurangzeb was the last of the great Mughal to rule over a unified empire.
The disintegration of the mighty Mughal Empire which Aurangzeb had ruled for so long began upon his death in 1707. His three surviving sons, Muazzam, Muhammad Azam and Muhammad Kam Baksh entered into bitter quarrels for the possession of the throne of Delhi. The elder two marched towards Agra and the proposal to divide the empire according to their father’s will was turned down by them. Nothing but sword could decide the issue and soon they resorted to it. The result was that Muazzam ascended the throne as Bahadur Shah in 1707 after having killed his brothers in the battle field, under the title of Bahadur Shah who was also known as Shah Alam-I. A person of mild temper, learned and dignified, he was too old. He could not prevent the decline of the empire due to his sudden death in 1712.
Bahadur Shah’s death followed a fresh war of succession among his four sons, Jahandar Shah, Azim-us-Shah, Jahan Shah and Rafi-us-Shan. The last three were killed in the course of war and Jahandar Shah managed to ascend the throne. Fate did not allow him to rule, and Azim-us-Shah’s son Farrukhsiyar took his chance and ascended the throne removing Jahandar Shah just a year after in 1713.
Son of Prince Azim-us-Shan, Farrukhsiyar was feeble, cowardly and contemptible. He owed his elevation to the throne to two Sayyid brothers who were the real power in the state. His attempt to assert his own power made his reign agitated and perplexing ending in another imperial tragedy. He was deposed, blinded and executed by his own Sayyid ministers and he could rule only for six years between 1713 and 1719.
In quick succession the King-makers (the Sayyid brothers), Abdullah and Hussain Ali, raised to the throne two phantom kings, Rafi-ud-Darajat and Rafi-ud-Dalulah, sons of Rafi-us-Shan. But within few months the Sayyids who determined to rule through the imperial puppets thought that a youth of eighteen named Roshan Akhtar, son of Jahandar Shah could be a better docile agent of them.
Muhammad Shah was the title he took when Roshan Akhtar ascended the throne in 1719 and ruled till 1748. The new emperor did not prove to be a docile agent of Sayyid brothers as Sayyid brothers were soon killed by Muhammad Shah. Young and handsome Muhammad Shah, with all the pleasures was addicted to an inactive life. Though destiny granted him a long reign, he let affairs drift in their own way and soon province after province slipped out of imperial control. The Marathas established their power again, Jats became independent near Agra, the Ruhelas founded Ruhelkand and the Sikhs became active in Punjab. The invasion of Nadir Shah of Persia in 1737 hit the empire a great blow. The mighty Mughal Empire ceased to exist within three decades of Aurangzeb’s death and the result was the appearance of numerous independent states.
The next emperor, Ahmad Shah, son of Muhammad Shah, was unable to hold the forces together that had grown so alarming. His tenure was from 1748 to 1754 but the empire abruptly reduced to a small district round Delhi. The emperor was deposed and blinded in 1754 by the Wazir Ghazi-ud-din Imad-ul-Mulk, a grandson of the deceased Nizam-ul-Mulk of the Deccan who now played role of king maker.
Aiiz-ud-din, son of Jahandar Shah was placed on the throne by the new king maker. He adopted the same title as the great Aurangzeb and called himself Alamgir-II. The new ruler was a kind of prisoner on the throne in the hand of king maker. His attempt to free himself resulted in his ruin. The emperor was put to death by Ghazi-ud-din Imad-ul-Mulk’s orders. He lasted from 1756 to 1759.
The son and the successor of Alamgir-II, Shah Alam reigned from 1759 to 1806. He had to move as a wanderer from place to place because of the hostility of the ambitious and unscrupulous wazir. Having been blinded by the Afghan chief Ghulam Qadir Rohilla, he was saved by the Maratha Sindhia. After 1803, when the British took control of Delhi this unlucky sovereign had to throw himself ultimately on the protection of the English and live as their pensioner till his death in 1806.
Akbar II (1806 – 1837) and Bahadur Shah II (1837 – 1858) reigned under the British control in all that remained by way of an empire. Theirs was the shabby residence in Delhi’s Red Fort, where they were allotted a home. A symbol of the durability of a once glorious empire, the Great Mughal was still officially recognised as the potentate. British maintained the authority of the puppet dynast to legitimise their presence. But in 1857, it backfired during the Sepoy rebellion. In order to counter the British power, the sepoys proclaimed Bahadur Shah-II emperor of Hindustan. But after the mutiny at Meerut, the British emerged victorious, and Bahadur Shah-II was accused of disruption, treason and rebellion. He was condemned to exile in Burma and descendants were executed sweeping away the Mughal Empire once for all. TW