History of early modern period of India

| August 19, 2012 | Reply

Early modern period

Mughal Empire

Mughal Empire

In 1526, Babur, a Timurid descendant of Timur and Genghis Khan from Fergana Valley (modern day Uzbekistan), swept across the Khyber Pass and established the Mughal Empire, covering modern day Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. However, his son Humayun was defeated by the Afghan warrior Sher Shah Suri in the year 1540, and Humayun was forced to retreat to Kabul. After Sher Shah’s death, his son Islam Shah Suri and the Hindu king Samrat Hem Chandra Vikramaditya, who had won 22 battles against Afghan rebels and forces of Akbar, from Punjab to Bengal and had established a secular Hindu rule in North India from Delhi till 1556. Akbar’s forces defeated and killed Hemu in the Second Battle of Panipat on 6 November 1556.

The Mughal dynasty ruled most of the Indian subcontinent by 1600; it went into a slow decline after 1707. The Mughals suffered sever blow due to invasions from Marathas and Afghans due to which the Mughal dynasty were reduced to puppet rulers by 1757. The remnants of the Mughal dynasty were finally defeated during the Indian Rebellion of 1857, also called the 1857 War of Independence. This period marked vast social change in the subcontinent as the Hindu majority were ruled over by the Mughal emperors, most of whom showed religious tolerance, liberally patronising Hindu culture. The famous emperor Akbar, who was the grandson of Babar, tried to establish a good relationship with the Hindus. However, later emperors such as Aurangazeb tried to establish complete Muslim dominance, and as a result several historical temples were destroyed during this period and taxes imposed on non-Muslims. During the decline of the Mughal Empire, several smaller states rose to fill the power vacuum and themselves were contributing factors to the decline. In 1739, Nader Shah, emperor of Iran, defeated the Mughal army at the huge Battle of Karnal. After this victory, Nader captured and sacked Delhi, carrying away many treasures, including the Peacock Throne.

The Mughals were perhaps the richest single dynasty to have ever existed. During the Mughal era, the dominant political forces consisted of the Mughal Empire and its tributaries and, later on, the rising successor states – including the Maratha Empire – which fought an increasingly weak Mughal dynasty. The Mughals, while often employing brutal tactics to subjugate their empire, had a policy of integration with Indian culture, which is what made them successful where the short-lived Sultanates of Delhi had failed. Akbar the Great was particularly famed for this. Akbar declared “Amari” or non-killing of animals in the holy days of Jainism. He rolled back the jizya tax for non-Muslims. The Mughal emperors married local royalty, allied themselves with local maharajas, and attempted to fuse their Turko-Persian culture with ancient Indian styles, creating a unique Indo-Saracenic architecture. It was the erosion of this tradition coupled with increased brutality and centralization that played a large part in the dynasty’s downfall after Aurangzeb, who unlike previous emperors, imposed relatively non-pluralistic policies on the general population, which often inflamed the majority Hindu population.

The Maratha Empire (orange) was the last Hindu empire of India.

Maratha Empire

The post-Mughal era was dominated by the rise of the Maratha suzerainty as other small regional states (mostly late Mughal tributary states) emerged, and also by the increasing activities of European powers (see colonial era below). There is no doubt that the single most important power to emerge in the long twilight of the Mughal dynasty was the Maratha Empire. The Maratha kingdom was founded and consolidated by Shivaji, a Maratha aristocrat who was determined to establish Hindavi Swarajya (self-rule of Hindu people). By the 18th century, it had transformed itself into the Maratha Empire under the rule of the peshwas (prime ministers). Gordon explains how the Maratha systematically took control over the Malwa plateau in 1720-1760. They started with annual raids, collecting ransom from villages and towns while the declining Mughal Empire retained nominal control. However in 1737, the Marathas defeated a Mughal army in their capital, Delhi inteslf, and as a result, the Mughal emperor ceded Malwa to them. The Marathas continued their military campaigns against Mughals, Nizam, Nawab of Bengal and Durrani Empire to further extend their boundaries. They built an efficient system of public administration known for its attention to detail. It succeeded in raising revenue in districts that recovered from years of raids, up to levels previously enjoyed by the Mughals. The cornerstone of the Maratha rule in Malwa rested on the 60 or so local tax collectors (kamavisdars) who advanced the Maratha ruler ‘(Peshwa)’ a portion of their district revenues at interest. By 1760, the domain of the Marathas stretched across practically the entire subcontinent. The defeat of Marathas by British in three Anglo-Maratha Wars brought end to the empire by 1820. The last peshwa, Baji Rao II, was defeated by the British in the Third Anglo-Maratha War.

Sikh Empire (North-west)

Sikh Empire

History of Sikhism

The Punjabi kingdom, ruled by members of the Sikh religion, was a political entity that governed the region of modern-day Punjab. The empire, based around the Punjab region, existed from 1799 to 1849. It was forged, on the foundations of the Khalsa, under the leadership of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780–1839) from an array of autonomous Punjabi Misls. He consolidated many parts of northern India into a kingdom. He primarily used his highly disciplined Sikh army that he trained and equipped to be the equal of a European force. Ranjit Singh proved himself to be a master strategist and selected well qualified generals for his army. In stages, he added the central Punjab, the provinces of Multan and Kashmir, the Peshawar Valley, and the Derajat to his kingdom. His came in the face of the powerful British East India Company. At its peak, in the 19th century, the empire extended from the Khyber Pass in the west, to Kashmir in the north, to Sindh in the south, and Tibet in the east. This was among the last areas of the subcontinent to be conquered by the British. The first and second Anglo-Sikh war marked the downfall of the Sikh Empire.

Other kingdoms

There were several other kingdoms which ruled over parts of India in the later medieval period prior to the British occupation. However, most of them were bound to pay regular tribute to the Marathas. The rule of Wodeyar dynasty which established the Kingdom of Mysore in southern India in around 1400 CE by was interrupted by Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan in the later half of 18th century. Under their rule, Mysore fought a series of wars sometimes against the combined forces of the British and Marathas, but mostly against the British, with Mysore receiving some aid or promise of aid from the French.

The Nawabs of Bengal had become the de facto rulers of Bengal following the decline of Mughal Empire. However, their rule was interrupted by Marathas who carried six expeditions in Bengal from 1741 to 1748 as a result of which Bengal became a vassal state of Marathas.

Hyderabad was founded by the Qutb Shahi dynasty of Golconda in 1591. Following a brief Mughal rule, Asif Jah, a Mughal official, seized control of Hyderabad and declared himself Nizam-al-Mulk of Hyderabad in 1724. It was ruled by a hereditary Nizam from 1724 until 1948. Both Mysore and Hyderabad became princely states in British India.

Around the 18th century, the modern state of Nepal was formed by Gurkha rulers.

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