Looking back at the Mughal rule

ByZoya Ansari

Designation: She has a good deal of teaching experience and possesses a keen historical sense


June 3, 2023

Looking Back At The Mughal Rule

Zoya Ansari emphasises the impact of the Mughal Empire

Looking Back At The Mughal Rule – Mughal period is the most written about period in the history of the subcontinent and it never fails to fascinate historians and people in equal measure. The Mughal quest for expansionism may appear rather outlandish factor now but it was the fact of life then and still could be traced in the hegemonic designs of states. It was quite understandable that war campaigns were the essential ingredient of the existence of Mughal rule and were a crucial part of Mughal decision-making and administration. Mughals were war-mongers in the agreed definition of the term but this tendency was also present in dynasties and powers that preceded and succeeded them. In this context they were not different than rest of the empires with a land-hunger. However, one thing stands out about the Mughals, as unlike many of the earlier conquerors and rulers the Mughals were relatively more conscious of being in a foreign land as is borne out by Babar’s memoirs that are replete with exhortations to his companions to follow a secular policy in a country that was predominantly non-Islamic. In this respect, the Mughals were much more aware of the need to gain legitimacy and to win political allies in an alien land.

Their taste for the fine things in life particularly for beautifully designed artifacts and the enjoyment and appreciation of cultural activities made them to stand out differently than the previous conquerors who dominated the subcontinent. In this respect the reigns of Akbar and Aurangzeb are cases to study as they were marked by a shrewd approach in the conduct of their political and military strategies. Several aspects of their policy illustrate the importance of their military campaigns particularly their tendency to remain in the saddle and moving their capitals accordingly. They tried hard to retain alliances with Rajput rulers that were initially sought based on their ability to contribute to the Mughal war efforts. Investments were made in upgrading the weapons of war and ensuring that Mughal military technology maintained its edge. Every Mughal prince was groomed in the battle arts not only through early training but through hands-on experience in real battles. So entrenched was the culture of war that it pit brother against brother in battles of succession. The militarist character of the Mughals was very natural and apt to the requirements of the times as their rule was the outcome of their military efforts.

Mughals could no more be treated as nomadic warriors with the difference that they were cultured to a great degree. Their need to resort to war and conquest was necessitated by the lack of agricultural territories that could be tapped for their surplus, the only means to wealth in such parts of the globe were raids on settled civilizations or taxing of trade caravans. Trading in slaves was another source of income. Seasoned and practised in the art of warfare, the nomadic warrior clans often prevailed with considerable ease over the armies of the settled civilizations who were usually taken by surprise and were inexperienced at handling the unconventional tactics of the invaders.

Though Muslim conquerors defeated Hindu rulers to gain ascendancy but they proved more adept at preventing conquests from new invaders. In this context, the initial victory of Babar over the Lodhis was not a particularly remarkable event as it was a victory of gunpowder over traditional bow-and-arrow battle system. However, an event of far greater consequence was the defeat of Humayun at the hands of Sher Shah Suri. This event transformed the Mughal outlook profoundly and when Humayun returned to the throne in Delhi, he thus inherited the foundations of a potentially larger and wealthier empire by following on the exceptional contribution made by Sher Shah in the fields of administrative, monetary and fiscal activities. Moreover, the Mughals devised a ruling policy that ensured enough financial and logistic means to defend the empire as well as to expand it.

During Akbar’s reign and to a much greater extent during the reign of Jahangir, trade activities were further facilitated by the construction of numerous inns and hospitals along the Grand Trunk Road, built by Sher Shah Suri and improved upon by the Mughals, especially in Punjab and the north-west border area. The Mughal state commissioned factories that amply produced high-quality luxury goods for use in the courts and for export. Income from agriculture and trade filled the Mughal imperial coffers and was used to expand the Mughal rule to far-flung areas of the south and deep into the Deccan plateau.
The depth of the Mughal revenue collection practices enabled them to fully exploit the fertile plain of the Ganges enabling Akbar to entice the allegiance of the most powerful warrior Rajput class who were liberally endowed with tax collection rights on parts of the agricultural areas under cultivation. Akbar initiated inter-communal marriage alliances cementing the relationship with Rajputs who consequently became a valuable part of the Mughal war machine. These strategies enabled the Mughal Empire to expand vastly covering almost the entire length and breadth of the subcontinent.

It was a fact that the Mughals had to rely mainly on agricultural taxes and trade was not heavily taxed. This policy was aimed at gaining the support of the mercantile classes in legitimising their rule. Beyond the main trade routes that linked Northern India to the rest of the world, the Mughal state invested in agricultural expansion and in manufacturing or infrastructure to promote trade. Since the bulk of the Mughal manufacturing towns were located either along the Yamuna and Gangetic plains or along the Indus, it is no coincidence that Mughal legitimacy not only survived in these regions but also spread over to its far corners. Mercantile caste categories also had a stake in the success of Mughal rule with the result that Hindu money-lenders and shop-keepers did quite well in the prosperous Mughal towns. The participation of the majority community in important revenue raising positions ensured that the benefits of the Mughal rule trickled down well towards wider segments of population.

On the other hand, Mughal courtly culture remained somewhat apart from the folk traditions of the Indian masses through the promotion of Persian as the language of culture, and Urdu as the language of administration. Though Mughals could not boast of having a robust record of furthering the needs of gradually expanding educational portfolio utilised to educate the populace but they were scrupulous about imparting due education to their ruling class. Jahangir was particularly keen on scientific knowledge but the Mughal interest in modern education was at best considered peripheral.
The most endearing characteristic of the Mughals was they soon merged themselves in the subcontinent shedding their alien instincts and the proof of this was given by rallying of masses around them in 1857 indicating that they were treated as one of their own by the people. Their policy of inter-marriage with Rajput princesses not only served a tactical purpose in the realm of military policy but it also had the effect of indigenizing Mughal tastes. Most importantly, the Mughal legacy of fine arts and architecture remained in India embellishing it for all times to come. The Weekender


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