Reasons for the Decline of Mughal Empire

This post gives an overview of the causes of the decline of the Mughal empire in the Indian subcontinent. The post also contains a link to a PowerPoint presentation on the downfall of Mughals in India. 


During the reign of the first four great Mughals emporers i.e. Akbar, Jahangir, and Shah Jahan, nobody would think about the fall of the Mughals. Unlike that people, both wise and laymen anticipated the formidable time awaiting the successors of Aurangzeb. 

This is what exactly happened. Mughal rule started to decline in the 18th century with the fall of the last great Mughal King, Aurangzeb in 1707. According to some accounts, the downfall began during the reign of Muhammad Shah (1719-1748) the decline has started. 

The secession of territories as a result of uprisings of Marathas, Rajputs, Sikhs with time led to the emergence of independent states. The governors under the control of the Mughal such as those of Orissa, Bengal, Awadh, etc. did no longer showed any allegiance to the Mughal king. 

Amidst the wars and conflicts among the local rulers and a situation of disunity and hatred, another force was consolidating its power that would subdue all local powers and rule them as its colonies for centuries. This was non-other than the British East India Company that made the whole of India its colony by exiling the last Mughal King Bahadur Shah Zafar for his involvement in the 1857 revolt. 

What were the reasons for the decline of the Mughal empire in India? 

Following were the reasons for the downfall of the Mughals who ruled India from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century. 

1. Religious Policies of Aurangzeb

According to different accounts, Aurangzeb sowed the seeds for the gradual decline of the Mughal empire because of his religious policies.  His predecessors adopted a policy of integration and religious tolerance which was the main reason for Rajput support during the reign of Akbar, Jahangir, and Shah Jahan.  

He replaced Hindu Diwans and court officials belonging to religions and sects other than his own. Aurangzeb imposed Jizya, a tax imposed on non-Muslims in a Muslim state. Akbar had abolished this controversial tax during his reign. His religious approach resulted in the revolts of the Jats, the Satnamis (a militant sect of Hindu worshipers), and the Sikhs. 

Though Aurangzeb successfully suppressed the insurgencies in his own life, his policies had inculcated a sense of resentment towards the Mughal empire in his non-Muslim subjects. This resentment appeared in later years in the form of the decline of the Mughal empire after the death of Aurangzeb. 

The religious policies adopted and wars fought by Aurangzeb drained the Mughal economy. As a consequence, the administration of the empire reached the extent of breaking down. He is said to have sat on the horseback for 28 years which symbolizes his continuous fighting against Sikhs, Hindus, Satnamis, etc.

2. Military Weaknesses

After the death of Aurangzeb, the Mughal military lost its valor and prestige. The Mughal military machine was set on feudal lines. The court nobility cared more about their own personal interests than the security of the empire. 

The incompetence and failure of the emperors to improve armaments and struggle strategies weakened thus demoralizing the Mughal army. It did no longer remained a battle force. New states were carved out of the Mughal empire one by one. 

3. The selfish and corrupt nobility 

The wazirs and nobles of the Mughal court had become more powerful as they influenced decision-making. The kings relied on their wazirs who little thought about the empire. Most of the time, they engrossed themselves in serving their own interests rather.  

Once committed, and honest nobles occupying the court of the first great Mughal kings no longer existed. The governors under Mughals also declined to accept Mughal lordship and broke their allegiance. This led to the emergence of new states carved out of the Mughal empire. 

4. Incompetence of Aurangzeb’s successors 

The successors of Aurangzeb lacked the acumen of the empire administration. After Aurangzeb, there was hardly any successor who would rightly deserve to be an emperor. Most of them were addicted to wine and women. No empire can maintain with such feeble leadership. 

5. Economic degradation of the empire

According to historians, King Shah Jahan had set the opening of the economic deterioration of the Mughal Empire. He spent most of the royal treasure in making monuments like taj Mahal at the cost of his poor subjects.

Similarly, revolts and the wars in the Deccan put an extra burden on the resources of the Empire during Aurangzeb’s time. Consequently, king Aurangzeb had to impose taxes to generate revenue to fight wars. 

The loot and plunder of Mughal courts as a result of the invasions of Persian commander Nadir Shah and Afghan warrior, Ahmad Shah Abdali broke the backbone of the remaining financial system of the Mughal Empire. 

6. The wars of succession 

There was no fixed rule of succession, the death of every emperor led to a conflict of succession among his sons. The wars resulted in the loss of property, the administrative system, and the royal status of the empire. 

 These wars and conflicts also provided opportunities for effective nobles to assert their independence and take undue gain from succeeding emperors.

7. Rivalry and factional division in the court

The later Mughals were incompetent administrators which encouraged the court nobles,  provincial governors, etc. to commit treachery, treason and factional politics in the courts. There were two different factions of nobles (a) the group consisting of Muslims with no Indian origin (b) the factions consisting of the Muslims with Indian Muslims.

Each of these factions struggled to influence the king and court decisions in their favor. In case of their failure to address any issue in between, they would turn to seek help from different powers.

According to some accounts, the faction consisting of indigenous Muslims did not shy away from pursuing the help of Marathas. Similarly, the faction consisting of nobles with non-local origin also sought the help of Ahmad Shah Abdali and Nadir Shah. 

This approach of the court nobility resulted in repeated invasions of the Marathas and foreign invaders who led invasions against the Mughals to rip it of its political, financial, and economical powers.

Click on the link given below for the PowerPoint Presentation on the decline of the Mughal empire

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