Mughal Empire

muslim feudal state in India, 1526–1857

The Mughal, Mogul or Moghul Empire (Persian: هند مغولان, Hind-e Moǧulān) was an early modern empire in South Asia. For some two centuries, the empire stretched from the outer fringes of the Indus basin in the west, northern Afghanistan in the northwest, and Kashmir in the north, to the highlands of present-day Assam and Bangladesh in the east, and the uplands of the Deccan plateau in south India.


  • The Great Mogol is a foreigner in Hindustan, a descendent of Tamerlane, chief of those Mogols from Tartary who, about the year 1401, overran and conquered the Indies. Consequently he finds himself in a hostile country, or nearly so; a country containing hundreds of Gentiles to one Mogol or even to one Mahometan. To maintain himself in such a country… he is under the necessity of keeping up numerous armies, even in the time of peace.
    • François Bernier. Travels in the Mogul Empire. Quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Also quoted in part in in Islam in India and Pakistan - A Religious History by Dr.Y P Singh, British India by R.W. Frazer
  • [Francois Bernier, late in the seventeenth century, talks of originally “real Mongols”, “White men, foreigners”. He also says] “that children of the third and fourth generation, who have the brown complexion... are held in much less respect than new comers, and are seldom invested with official situations: they consider themselves happy, if permitted to serve as private soldiers in the infantry or cavalry.”
    • François Bernier. Travels in the Mogul Empire. Quoted from Lal, K. S. (1990). Indian muslims: Who are they.
  • [According to Bernier, the Mughals maintained] “a large army for the purpose of keeping people in subjection… No adequate idea can be conveyed of the sufferings of the people. The cudgel and the whip compel them to incessant labour… their revolt or their flight is only prevented by the presence of a military force.”
    • François Bernier. Travels in the Mogul Empire. Quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 4
  • [The Mughal Empire was] a military state and nothing else, and it was overwhelmingly dependent on the military ability of the Turks and to a lesser degree of the Persians, all of whom came from outside India. ... No Muslim ruler in South India had any affiliation with the native people of the south-they were all adventurers from the north or officials from the court of Delhi, and their authority rested mainly on Muslim soldiers from north India and even from outside India. Even more than in the north, Muslim rule in the south was military colonialism. So for the natives, the later establishment of British rule was the replacement of one kind of foreign rule by another.
    • Nirad C. Chaudhuri, Clive of India, quoted in Ibn, W. (2009). Defending the West: A critique of Edward Said's Orientalism. Amherst, N.Y: Prometheus Books.
  • The glitter of gems and gold in the Taj Mahal or the Peacock Throne ought not to blind us to the fact that in Mughal India, man was considered vile; - the mass of the people had no economic liberty, no indefeasible right to justice or personal freedom, when their oppressor was a noble or high official or landowner; political rights were not dreamt of... The Government was in effect despotism tempered by revolution or fear of revolution.
    • Jadunath Sarkar, A Short History of Aurangzib, p. 464. quoted from Lal, K. S. (1999). Theory and practice of Muslim state in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 2
  • The hundred years (1556-1658) of Mughal rule comprising the reigns of Akbar, Jahangir and Shahjahan were a shade different. But for their fits of rage, Akbar and Jahangir were kind kings... [But] a hundred years of religiously less oppressive administration does not make the twelve centuries of Muslim rule secular. These three Mughals proved an exception when they, more or less, left the religious beliefs of their subjects alone.
    • Lal, K. S. (1999). Theory and practice of Muslim state in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 2
  • Barring the one short generation under Akbar when the moral and material condition of the people was on the whole good, the vast majority of our population during 1526-1803 led a miserable life.
    • A.L. Srivastava The Mughal Empire (Agra, 1964), quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 3
  • From the least to the greatest right up to the King himself everyone is infected with insatiable greed.
    • Pelsaert, Jahangir’s India, quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan.
  • We knew nothing but despotism. That is why the very rich Mughal empire could break up into nothing. Turn to dust at the merest touch of a foreign power. There was no institution, there was no creative nation, no university, no printing press, there was nothing but personal power.
  • [In the seventeenth century John De Laet (1631) summarised the information he had collected from English, Dutch and Portuguese sources regarding the Mughal empire as a whole.] “The condition of the common people in these regions (south and west) is exceedingly miserable; wages are low; workmen get only one regular meal a day, the houses are wretched and practically unfurnished, and people have not got sufficient covering to keep warm in winter.”
    • Moreland, India at the Death of Akbar, quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 7
  • “In addition to the poll-tax and public degradation in dress and demeanour imposed on them, the non-Muslims were subjected to various hopes and fears. Rewards in the form of money and public employment were offered to apostates from Hinduism. The leaders of Hindu religion and society were systematically repressed, to deprive the sect of spiritual instruction, and their religious gatherings and processions were forbidden in order to prevent the growth of solidity and a sense of communal strength among them. No new temple was allowed to be built nor any old one to be repaired, so that the total disappearance of all places of Hindu worship was to be merely a question of time. But even this delay, this slow operation of Time, was intolerable to many of the more fiery spirits of Islam, who tried to hasten the abolition of ‘infidelity’ by anticipating the destructive hand of Time and forcibly pulling down temples.”
  • Jahangir in the seventeenth century confessed that “the number of the turbulent and the disaffected never seems to diminish; for what with the examples made during the reign of my father, and subsequently of my own, …there is scarcely a province in the empire in which, in one quarter or the other, some accursed miscreant will not spring up to unfurl the standard of rebellion; so that in Hindustan never has there existed a period of complete repose.”
    • Jahangir. Tarikh-i-Salim Shahi, trs. Price, 225-26. quoted from Lal, K. S. (1994). Muslim slave system in medieval India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 6
  • The above remarks about conservatism could be made with equal or even greater force about the Mogul Empire. Despite the sheer size of the kingdom at its height and the military genius of some of its emperors, despite the brilliance of its courts and the craftsmanship of its luxury products, despite even a sophisticated banking and credit network, the system was weak at its core. A conquering Muslim elite lay on top of a vast mass of poverty-stricken peasants chiefly adhering to Hinduism. In the towns themselves there were very considerable numbers of merchants, bustling markets, and an attitude towards manufacture, trade, and credit among Hindu business families which would make them excellent examples of Weber's Protestant ethic. As against this picture of an entrepreneurial society just ready for economic "takeoff" before it was a victim of British imperialism, there are the gloomier portrayals of the many indigenous retarding factors in Indian life. The sheer rigidity of Hindu religious taboos militated against modernization: rodents and insects could not be killed, so vast amounts of foodstuffs were lost; social mores about handling refuse and excreta led to permanently insanitary conditions, a breeding ground for bubonic plagues; the caste system throttled initiative, instilled ritual, and restricted the market; and the influence wielded over Indian local rulers by the Brahman priests meant that this obscurantism was effective at the highest level. Here were the social checks of the deepest sort to any attempts at radical change. Small wonder that later many Britons, having first plundered and then tried to govern India in accordance with Utilitarian principles, finally left with the feeling that the country was still a mystery to them.
    • Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (1987), pp. 12-13
  • So far as the Hindus were concerned, there was no improvement either in their material and moral conditions or in their relations with the Muslims. With the sole exception of Akbar, who sought to conciliate the Hindus by removing some of the glaring evils to which they were subjected, almost all other Mughal Emperors were notorious for their religious bigotry. The Muslim law which imposed many disabilities and indignities upon the Hindus ... and thereby definitely gave them an inferior social and political status, as compared to the Muslims, was followed by these Mughal Emperors (and other Muslim rulers) with as much zeal as was displayed by their predecessors, the Sultans of Delhi. The climax was reached during the reign of Aurangzeb, who deliberately pursued the policy of destroying and desecrating Hindu temples and idols with a thoroughness unknown before or since.
    • R. C. Majumdar, ed., The Mughul Empire (Bombay, 1974), p. xi. also quoted in Bostom, A. G. M. D., & Bostom, A. G. (2010). The Legacy of Jihad: Islamic Holy War and the Fate of Non-Muslims. Amherst: Prometheus.
  • Although the first two Timurid emperors and many of their noblemen were recent migrants to the subcontinent, the dynasty and the empire itself became indisputably Indian. The interests and futures of all concerned were in India, not in ancestral homelands in the Middle East or Central Asia. Furthermore, the Mughal empire emerged from the Indian historical experience. It was the end product of a millennium of Muslim conquest, colonization, and state-building in the Indian subcontinent.

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