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A Look at the Mughal Empire in India:how Power Was Transferred in the Dynasty

MG is a senior air warrior who is an alumnus of the Staff College and a notable writer on military history.



I have been reading various articles by Syed Firdaus Ashraf. He is a Muslim journalist who considers India his motherland and though he suffered in the 1993 anti-Muslim riots he says that he as a Muslim can travel all over the country freely, but no Hindu can go back to his home in Srinagar. He says bigotry has crept into the Muslim world. There is a need for objectivity in the Muslim world and he characterizes the hypocrisy of the Muslim world in particular Pakistan and Turkey which shed tears for the Rohingya Muslims in Burma and the banning of the label halal in Sri Lanka, yet are silent on the atrocities committed by the Chinese on the Uighur Muslims, where the burka is banned and so is fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. I happened to have read some articles by him about Muslim rulers in India and my interest was ignited about one of the biggest empires in world history- the Mughal empire. It is worth examining how the succession and passing of the baton took place in this empire.
The Mughal empire occupied almost 200 years of the history of India from Babar(1526) to Aurangzeb. The decline began after the death of Aurangzeb in 1707 and coincided with the coming to power of the Marathas and. Sikhs. The last titular Mughul emperor Bahadur Shah II was imprisoned by the British in 1857 and sent to Rangoon in Burma where he died.

A fact that must be mentioned is that both Hindus and Muslims recognized the Mughal empire as nationalist and when the 1857 Revolution or as we call the First War of Independence took place the Hindus and the Muslims accepted Bahadur Shah as the supreme leader. This speaks volumes for the unity of Hindus and Muslims in India.

The foundation of the Mughal empire was laid by Babur in 1526, when he defeated the Sultan of Delhi, Ibrahim Lodi, at the first battle of Panipat. This set in motion a chain of macabre wars of succession

The cardinal rule for Mughal rulers was 'Ya Takht, Ya Takhta' (the throne or the funeral pyre). The ruling Mughul family thus went to battle against their brothers, even their father, to become emperor.

It is interesting to note that the wars of succession were completely obviated in the Ottoman Empire where they carried out a macabre ritual where all the male brothers were executed before they became adults leaving only one man to rule the empire. This did not happen in the Mughal Empire leading to wars of succession.


Birth of the empire

On February 14, 1483, a momentous event took place. It was the birth of Zahiruddin who in history is known by his nickname Babur which means tiger. He was a resolute man but when he was only 12, he was orphaned when his father Omar Shiekh Mirza died in an accident. Babur was a Mongol and he could trace the lineage from his father's side to the warrior Taimur and from his mother's side, to Genghis Khan.

Babar was a resident of present-day Uzbekistan where he inherited a small kingdom called Fergana. His rule was very shaky as his uncles attacked him from all sides and wanted to make his younger brother Jahangir the ruler. Babur fled Fergana to Kabul where he was given refuge by his uncle Ulugh Beg Mirza. Babur felt extremely insecure after the death of his uncle in Kabul as he feared an attack and at the age of 43 he left Kabul looking for a kingdom. He directed his energy towards Hindustan and with a small army crossed the Indus River and rode towards Delhi. In the famous battle of Panipat, he won. This was the beginning of the Mogul empire. It must be mentioned here that Babur's victory was due to the fact that he had cannons and gun powder while Ibrahim Lodi the Sultan of Delhi had a vast regiment of elephants. It was an unequal battle and the elephants panicked with the smoke and fire of the cannons and the Sultan was killed leaving Babur to crown himself as emperor of Hindustan.

The Mughal empire thus took shape.


Wars of succession

The death of Babur is generally considered as the beginning of wars between the siblings. Babur had two sons Humayun and Kamran. The younger son Kamran was given Kabul and Kandhar while the rest of the territory beyond the Indus was given to Nasiruddin Muhammad Humayun. He was up against a very determined and fearless warrior by the name of Sher Shah Suri who defeated Humayun and all he could do was to escape with his life to Iran where Shah Tahmasp of the Safavid dynasty gave him refuge. The ruler of Iran now wanted his pound of flesh and he instigated Humayun to attack Kabul. Huyamun attacked Kabul and captured his brother Kamran. He ordered that he be blinded and sent on Haj to Saudi Arabia. Not much is known about him after that. Humayun consolidated his rule and attacked Delhi after the death of Sher Shah Suri and after 15 years became emperor of Hindustan. Historians have not recorded whether he felt any remorse in having blinded his younger brother.

Humayun died in 1556 at the age of 48. He had only one son Jalal-ud -Din Akbar who ascended the throne and is generally considered the greatest of the Moguls. He was a secular ruler and many of his top generals were Rajputs. There were over 100 rebellions against him during his rule so he didn't have an easy time.

His son Salim revolted against him but was defeated but he was spared his life and on the death of Akbar ascended the throne of Delhi.

Salim -- or Jehangir (seizer of the world) was 36 when he ascended the Mughal throne. He had not yet settled down when his 18-year-old son Khusrau revolted and led an army against him. The rebellious prince who was the son of Jehangir was captured and Jahangir ordered he be blinded. He was handed over to his brother Shah Jehan's custody who got him killed in 1622.

Shah Jahan too revolted against Jehangir and was on the run for three years. But he escaped Khusrau's fate and lived on to succeed his father.

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Shah Jahan had four sons namely Dara Shikoh, Shuja, Aurangzeb, and Murad. The emperor favored Dara to be the ruler after him but Aurangzeb had other plans and he carried out a palace coup and imprisoned his father. At the same time, he met Dara in the battle of Samugarh on June 8, 1658, and defeated him.

Dara escaped to Rajasthan where the Raja of Marwar Jaswant Singh decided to help him and he began to collect an army but he was betrayed by a close confident Junaid Khan Barozai. Dara was brought in chains and paraded in the streets of Delhi. His head was cut and presented to Aurangzeb as proof that his elder brother was dead.

Aurangzeb now turned on his younger brother Murad who had joined forces against Dara on the promise that he would be given the eastern part of the empire. Aurangzeb had no such intention and Murad was drugged and captured. He was executed in 1661 on orders of Aurangzeb. He now went into battle against his brother Shuja who was the ruler of Oudh and defeated him in the battle of Khajwa in 1659.

Shuja fled and sought refuge with Kin Sanda Thudama, the king of Arakan (Burma). There are reports he was murdered there by the emperor's spies. Aurangzeb died in 1707 and was succeeded by Bahadur Shah I, under who the empire disintegrated.

There is an interesting account of a meeting between the imprisoned Shah Jehan and his son Aurangzeb. It is reported that the father chastised Aurangzeb for killing his brothers. Aurangzeb retorted to his father that he had also killed his brother to become the king.

Last word

The Mogul empire lasted roughly 180 years at its apex and during this time there was peace and stability in the country. In Western countries, India was known as the land of milk and honey and that is why the Europeans were searching for the sea route to India. This is a fascinating account of Indian history and perhaps what I have touched is just the surface.

What happened after Aurangzeb died? Suffice that the empire disintegrated but it's a fascinating period and calls for a separate article.


The Mughal Empire- John F. Richards1995 © Cambridge university press.

The Princes of the Mughal Empire 1504-1719 - Munis D Faruqui, Cambridge university press.


MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 22, 2021:

Thank you Sankhajit, so nice you spared time and commented.

Sankhajit Bhattacharjee from MILWAUKEE on October 21, 2021:

excellent piece of writing

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 21, 2021:

Bill, thank you, I am glad you liked the article.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 21, 2021:

Chitra, thank you for sparing time and commenting

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on October 21, 2021:

A well written account of the Mughal empire. It’s like a reminder of the history lessons.

Thank you for sharing another wonderful and informative article.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 21, 2021:

Half a globe away, hundreds of years removed, it is still fascinating to learn about it. Thank you for the mini history lesson. You never disappoint with your articles.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 21, 2021:

Thank you David. Mughul empire arouses strong feelings but truth is midway.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 21, 2021:

Thank you Pamela, a welcome comment.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on October 21, 2021:

This is a very well-written historical article, MG. I didn't know the Ottoman Empire killed off the brothers when one ruled. The Mughal Empire is a bit more civil. I enjoyed learned about this empire.

David Issac on October 21, 2021:

Very interesting article. There is no doubt this is a fascinating period in world history and brings out interesting facts.

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