UPSC History The decline of the Mughal empire and Rise of Autonomous states NCERT Extracts - India in the Eighteenth Century

NCERT Extracts - India in the Eighteenth Century

Category : UPSC

Decay of the Mughal Empire


  • The great Mughal Empire declined and disintegrated during the first half of the 18th The Mughal Emperors lost their power and glory and their empire shrank to a few square miles around Delhi.
  • In the end, in 1803, Delhi itself was occupied by the British army.
  • The unity and stability of the Empire had been shaken during the long and strong reign of Aurangzeb. On Aurangzeb's death, his three sons fought among themselves for the throne.
  • The 65-years-old Bahadur Shah emerged victorious. He was learned and dignified.
  • He adopted a more tolerant attitude towards the Hindu chiefs and rajas.
  • Unfortunately, his death in 1712 plunged the Empire once again into civil war. A new element entered Mughal politics in this and the succeeding wars of succession,
  • While previously the contest for power had been between royal princes, and the nobles had merely aided the aspirants to the throne, now ambitious nobles became direct contenders for power and used princes as mere pawns to capture the seats of authority.
  • In the civil war following Bahadur Shah's death, one of his less able sons, Jahandar Shah, won because he was supported by Zulfiqar Khan, the most powerful noble of the time.
  • Jahandar Shah's inglorious reign came to an early end in January, 1713 when he was defeated at Agra by Farrukh Siyar his nephew.
  • Farrukh Siyar owed his victory to the Saiyid brothers, Abdullah Khan and Husain Ali Khan Barahow, who were therefore given the offices ofwazir and mir bakshi respectively
  • The two brothers soon acquired dominant control over the affairs of the state.
  • Farrukh Siyar lacked the capacity to rule. He was cowardly, cruel, undependable and faithless.
  • In 1719, the Saiyid brothers deposed and killed him. In his place they raised to the throne in quick succession two young princes who died of consumption.
  • The Saiyid brothers now made the 18-years-old Muhammad Shah the Emperor of India. The three successors of Farrukh Siyar were mere puppets in the hands of the Saiyids.
  • The Saiyid brothers, known in Indian history as the ‘king makers’.
  • In 1738, Nadir Shah, the ruler of Persia (Iran), descended upon the plains of northern India. He was attracted to India by the fabulous wealth for which it was always famous.
  • He entered Indian territory towards the end of 1738, without meeting with any opposition. The two armies met at Kamal on 13 February, 1739 and the invader inflicted a crushing defeat on the Mughal army.
  • The Emperor Muhammad Shah was taken prisoner and Nadir Shah marched on the Delhi. A terrible massacre of the citizen of the imperial capital was ordered by Nadir Shah as a reprisal against the killing of some of his soldiers.
  • The greedy invader took possession of the royal treasury and other royal property, levied tribute on the leading nobles, and plundered the rich of Delhi.
  • He also carried away the famous Koh-i-Noor diamond and the jewel-studded Peacock Throne of Shahjahan.
  • Ahmad Shah Abdali, one of Nadir Shah's ablest generals, who had succeeded in establishing his authority over Afghanistan after his master's death.
  • Abdali repeatedly invaded and plundered northern India right down to Delhi and Mathura between 1748 and 1767.
  • In 1761, he defeated the Marathas in the Third Battle of Panipat and thus gave a big blow to their ambition of controlling the Mughal Emperor and thereby dominating the country.
  • As a result of the invasions of Nadir Shah and Abdali and the suicidal internal feuds of the Mughal nobility, the Mughal Empire had by 1761 ceased to exist in practice as an all-India Empire.
  • Shah Alam II, who ascended the throne in 1759, spent the initial years as an Emperor wandering from place to place far away from his capital.
  • In 1764, he joined Mir Qasim of Bengal and Shuja-ud-Daula ofAwadh in declaring war upon the English East India Company.
  • Defeated by the British at the Battle of Buxar, he lived for several years at Allahabad as a pensioner of the East India Company. He left the British shelter in 1772 and returned to Delhi under the protective arm of the Marathas.
  • The British occupied Delhi in 1803 and from that year till 1857, when the Mughal dynasty was finally extinguished.


Indian States and Society


  • During the 18th century, on the debris of the Mughal Empire and its political system, arose a large number of independent and semi-independent powers such as the Bengal, Awadh, Hyderabad, Mysore and Maratha kingdoms.
  • Some of these states, such as Bengal, Awadh and Hyderabad, may be characterised as "succession states'.


Hyderabad and the Carnatic

  • The state of Hyderabad was founded by Nizam-ul-Mulk Asaf Jah in 1724.
  • The Carnatic was one of the subahs of the Mughal Deccan and as such came under the Nizam of Hyderabad's authority.
  • Thus Nawab Saadutullah Khan of Carnatic had made his nephew Dost Ali his successor without the approval of his superior, the Nizam. Later, after 1740, the affairs of the Carnatic deteriorated.                                



  • Taking advantage of the growing weakness of the central authority, two men of exceptional ability, Murshid Quii Khan and Alivardi Khan, made Bengal virtually independent.
  • Murshid Quii Khan died in 1727, and his son-in-law Shuja-ud-din ruled Bengal till 1739.
  • In that year, Alivardi Khan deposed and killed Shuja-ud-din's son, Sarfaraz Khan, and made himself the Nawab.
  • These three Nawabs gave Bengal a long period of peace and orderly administration and promoted its trade and industry.
  • Murshid Quii Khan effected economies in the administration and reorganized the finances of Bengal by transferring large parts ofjagir lands into khalisah lands by carrying out a fresh revenue settlement, and by introducing the system of revenue- farming.
  • They compelled the servants of the English East India Company to obey the laws of the land and to pay the same customs duties as were being paid by other merchants.
  • Alivardi Khan did not permit the English and the French to fortify their factories in Calcutta and Chandranagar.



  • The founder of the autonomous kingdom ofAwadh was Saadat Khan Burhan-ul- Mulk who was appointed Governor of Awadh in 1722.
  • He also carried out a fresh revenue settlement in 1723. He is said to have improved the lot of the peasant by levying equitable land revenue and by protecting him from oppression by the big zamindars.
  • He was succeeded by his nephew Safdar Jang, who was simultaneously appointed the wazir of the Empire in 1748 and granted in addition the province of Allahabad.
  • Safdar Jang gave a long period of peace to the people of Awadh and Allahabad before his death in 1754.



  • Next to Hyderabad the most important power that emerged in South India was Mysore under Haidar Ali.
  • The kingdom of Mysore had preserved its precarious independence ever since the end of the Vijayanagar Empire and had been only nominally a part of the Mughal Empire.
  • Haider Ali, born in 1721 in an obscure family, started his career as a petty officer in the Mysore army.
  • He established a modem arsenal in Dindigal in 1755 with the help of French experts.
  • In 1769, he repeatedly defeated the British forces and reached the walls of Madras.
  • Sultan Tipu, who ruled Mysore till his death at the hands of the British in 1779, was a man of complex character.
  • He showed a keen interest in the French Revolution. He planted a 'Tree of Liberty’ at Srirangapatam and became a member of a Jacobin Club.
  • His infantry was armed with muskets and bayonets in the European fashion which were, however, manufactured in Mysore. He also made an effort to build a modem navy after 1796.
  • He was fond of saying that it was “better to live a day as a lion than a lifetime as a sheep” He died fighting at the gates of Srirangapatam in pursuance of this belief.
  • As a statesman, he more than any other 18th-century Indian ruler, recognised to the full extent the threat that the English posed to South India as well as to Other Indian powers.
  • He was known as the 'Tiger of Mysore". He had the image of the tiger on his flag.



  • The four most important states were those of Calicut, under the Zamorin, Chirakkal, Cochin and Travancore.
  • The kingdom of Travancore rose into prominence after 1729 under King Martanda Varma, one of the leading statesmen of the 18th century.
  • Trivandrum, the capital of Travancore, became in the second half of the 18th century, a famous centre of Sanskrit scholarship.
  • Rama Varma, successor of Martanda Varma, was himself a poet, scholar, musician, renowned actor, and a man of great culture.


Areas around Delhi: The Rajput States


  • The most outstanding Rajput ruler of the 18th century was Raja Sawai Jai Singh of Amber (1681-1743). He was a distinguished statesman, law-maker, and reformer.
  • He founded the city of Jaipur and made it a great seat of science and art.
  • Jaipur was built upon strictly scientific principles and according to a regular plan. Its broad streets are intersected at right angles.
  • Jai Singh was above everything a great astronomer.
  • He erected observatories with accurate and advanced instruments, some of them of his own invention, at Delhi, Jaipur, Uijain, Varanasi, and Mathura.
  • He drew up a set of tables, entitled Zij Muhammadshahi. to enable people to make astronomical observations.
  • He had Euclid's “Elements of Geometry” translated into Sanskrit as also several works on trigonometry, and Napier's work on the construction and use of logarithms.
  • Jai Singh was also a social reformer. He tried to enforce a law to reduce the lavish expenditure which the Rajputs had to incur on their daughters' weddings. This had given rise to the evil practice of infanticide.
  • This remarkable prince ruled Jaipur for nearly 44 years from 1699 to 1743.
  • The Jats
  • The Jats, a caste of agriculturists, lived in the region around Delhi, Agra and Mathura-
  • The Jat state of Bharatpur was set up by Churaman and Badan Singh.
  • Jat power reached its highest glory under Suraj Mat, who ruled from 1756 to 1763 and who was an extremely able administrator and soldier and a very wise statesman. He was the Plato of the Jat tribe.


Bangash Pathans and Rohelas

  • Muhammad Khan Bangash, an Afghan adventurer, established his control over the territory around Farrukhabad, between what are now Aligarh and Kanpur, during the reigns of Farrukh Siyar and Muhammad Shah.
  • Ali Muhammad Khan carved out a separate principality, known as Rohilkhand, at the foothills of the Himalayas between the Ganga in the south and the Kumaon hills in the north with its capital at first at Aolan in Bareilly and later at Rampur.


The Sikhs

  • After Gum Gobind Singtfs death the institution of Guruship came to an end and the leadership of the Sikhs passed to his trusted disciple Banda Singh, who is more widely known as Banda Bahadur.
  • Banda rallied together the peasants and the lower castes of the Punjab from Delhi to Lahore and carried on a vigorus though unequal struggle against the Mughal army for eight years. He was captured m 1715 and put to death.
  • The Sikhs were organised into 12 misis or confederacies which operated in different parts of the province. These misis fally cooperated with one another.


The Punjab under Ranjit Singh

  • At the end of the 18 century, Ranjit Singh, chief of the Sukerchakia Misi, rose to prominence.
  • He soon brought all Sikh chiefs west of the Sutlej under his control and established his own kingdom in the Punjab.
  • Ranjit Singh built up a powerful, disciplined, and well-equipped army along European lines with the help of European instructors.
  • He set up modem foundries to manufacture cannon at Lahore and employed Muslim gunners to man them.
  • It is said that he possessed the second best army in Asia.


The Rise and Fall of the Maratha Power


  • The most important challenge to Ac decaying Mughal power came from the Maratha Kingdom which was the most powerful of the succession states.
  • In fact, it alone possessed the strength to fill the political vacuum created by the disintegration of the Mughal Empire. Moreover, it produced a number of brilliant commanders and statesman needed for the task.
  • But the Maratha sardars lacked unity, and they lacked the outlook and programme which were necessary for founding an all-India empire.
  • Shahu grandson of Shivaji, had been a prisoner in the hands of Aurangzeb since 1689.
  • He was released in 1707 after Aurangzeb’s death.
  • Very soon a civil war broke out between Shahu at Satara and his aunt Tara Bai at Kolhapur who had carried out an anti-Mughal struggle since 1770 in Ac name of her son Shivaji II after the death of her husband Raja Ram.
  • Balaji Vishwanath, a brahmin., started life as a petty revenue official and then rose step by step. He excelled in diplomacy and won over many of the big Maratha sardars of Shahu's cause. In 1713, Shahu made him his Peshwa (chief minister).
  • Balaji Vishwanath gradually consolidated Shahu's hold and his own over Maratha sardars and over most of Maharashtra except for the region south of Kolhapur where Raja Ram's descendants ruled.
  • In fact he and his son Baji Rao I made the Peshwa the functional head of the Maratha Empire.
  • Balaji Vishwanath took full advantage of the internal conflicts of the Mughal officials to increase Maratha power,                                
  • He had induced Zulfiqar Khan to grant the chauth and sardeshmukhi of the Deccan. In the end, he signed a pact with the Saiyid brothers.
  • In 1719, Balaji Vishwanath, at the head of a Maratha force, accompanied Saiyid Hussain Ali Khan to Delhi and helped the Saiyid brothers in overthrowing Farrukh Siyar.
  • Balaji Vishwanath died in 1720. He was succeeded as Peshwa by his 20-year-old son Baji Rao I.
  • In spite of his youth, Baji Rao was a bold and brilliant commander and an ambitious and clever statesman. He has been described as "the greatest exponent of guerrilla tactics after Shivaji".
  • The Maratha families of Gaekwad, Holkar, Sindhia, and Bhonsle came into prominence during this period.
  • In 1733, Baji Rao started a long campaign against the Sidis of Janjira and in the end expelled them from the mainland. Simultaneously, a campaign against the Portuguese was started. In the end Salsette and Bassein were captured.
  • Baji Rao's 18-years-old son Balaji Baji Rao (known more widely as Nana Saheb) was the Peshwa from 1740 to 1761.
  • Balaji Baji Rao followed in the foot-steps of his father and further extended the Empire in different directions taking Maratha power to its height. Maratha armies now overran the whole of India. Bengal was repeatedly invaded and, in 1751, the Bengal Nawab had to cede Orissa.
  • From Delhi they turned to the Punjab and soon brought it under control after expelling the agent of Ahmad Shah Abdali.
  • Ahmad Shah Abdali soon formed an alliance with Najib-ud-daulah of Rohilkhand and Shuja-ud-daulah of Awadh, both of whom had suffered at the hands of the Maratha sardars.
  • Recognising the great importance of the coming struggle, the Peshwa despatched a powerful army to the north under the nominal command of his minor son, the actual command being in the hands of his cousin Sadashiv Rao Bhau.
  • An important arm of this force was a contingent of European-style infantry and artillery commanded by Ibrahim Khan Gardi.
  • The two forces met at Panipat on 14 January, 1761. The Maratha army was completely routed.
  • The Peshwa's son, Vishwas Rao, Sadashiv Rao Bhau and numerous other Maratha commanders perished on the battlefield as did nearly 28,000 soldiers.
  • The Maratha defeat at Panipat was a disaster for them. They lost the cream of their army.
  • The 17 years-old Madhav Rao became the Peshwa in 1761.
  • In 1771, the Marathas brought back Emperor Shah Alam to Delhi, who now became their pensioner.
  • Among the Maratha rulers in the North, Mahadji Sindhia was the most important. He established his own ordnance factories near Agra.
  • The British divided the mutually warring Maratha sardars through clever diplomacy and then verpowered them in separate battles during the second Maratha War, 1816-19. While other Maratha states were permitted to remain as subsidiary states, the house of the Peshwas was extinguished.


Social and Economic Condition of the People


  • India of those days was also a land of contrasts. Extreme poverty existed side by side with extreme riches and luxury.
  • India's most important article of export was cotton textiles which were famous all over the world for their excellence and were in demand everywhere.
  • Since India was on the whole self-sufficient in handicrafts and agricultural products, it did not import foreign goods on a large scale.
  • Political factors which hurt trade also adversely affected urban industries. Many prosperous cities, centers of flourishing industry, were sacked and devastated.
  • Even so India remained and of extensive manufactures. Indian artisans still enjoyed fame all the world over for their skill. India was still a large-scale manufacturer of cotton and silk fabrics, sugar, jute, dye-stuffs, mineral and metallic products like arms, metal wares, and saltpetre and oils.
  • Ship-building industry flourished in Maharashtra, Andhra and Bengal.
  • In fact, at the dawn of the 18th century, India was one of the main centres of world trade and industry. Peter the Great of Russia was led to exclaim: "Bear in mind that the commerce of India is the commerce of the world and... he who can exclusively command it is the dictator of Europe".




  • Education was not completely neglected in 18th century India. It was traditional and out of touch with the rapid developments in the West.
  • Warren Hastings even wrote in 1813 that Indians had in general "superior endowments in reading, writing and arithmetic than the common people of any nation in Europe". Though the standard of primary education was inadequate by modem standards, it sufficed for the limited purposes of those days.


Social and Cultural Life


  • Ahilya Bai administered Indore with great success from 1766 to 1796.
  • Raja Sawai Jai Singh of Amber and the Maratha General Prashuram Bhau tried to promote widow remarriage but failed.
  • Culturally, India showed some signs of exhaustion during the 18th century; but the 18th century was no Dark Age.
  • Music continued to develop and flourish in the 18th century both in the North and the South. Significant progress was made in this field in the reign of Muhammad Shah.
  • It produced brilliant poets like Mir, Sauda, Nazir and, in the 19th century, that great genius Mirza Ghalib.
  • Tayaumanavar (1706-44) was one of the best exponents of sittar poetry in Tamil.
  • Shah Abdul Latif composed his famous collection of poems,
  • Sachal and Sami were the other great Sindhi poets of the century.


Some Important Facts


  • In 1817, James Mill, a Scottish economist and political philosopher, published a massive three-volume work, A History of British India.
  • In this he divided Indian history into three periods - Hindu, Muslim and British. This periodisation came to be widely accepted.
  • British rule. Mill felt, could civilise India. To do this it was necessary to introduce European manners, arts, institutions and laws in India.
  • Mill, in fact, suggested that the British should conquer all the territories in India to ensure the enlightenment and happiness of the Indian people. For India was not capable of progress without British help.
  • Under British rule people did not have equality, freedom or liberty. Nor was the period one of economic growth and progress. Many historians therefore refer to this period as ‘clonial’.


NCERT Extracts - India in the Eighteenth Century
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