THE MUGHAL EMPIRE is a fascinating mosaic in the history of India. Its power wealth, territoriality, exquisite and surreal character, and more so its 'decline', have engaged historians for several decades in a complex , contentious debate. the writings in this book by prominent scholars focus on the various paradigms and assumptions that have shaped the interpretations of this decline.
Was the downfall of this once vast and seemingly stable empire a mere deterioration of power over the final few decades, or did the decentralizing tendencies of the empire merely become more apparent and aggressive during this year? The Decline of the Mughal Empire seeks answers to these questions by analysing the various factor that have influenced the collapse.
These include areas such as the Mughal administrative structure, the nature of the jagirdari system and the agrarian crisis, the imperical crisis in the Deccan, and the rise of Shivaji and the marathas.
Taking into consideration a wide range of research and new interpretations, the volume shows how despite the decline of the imperial power at the centre, the economy and polity of the subcontinent as a whole showed resilience and patterns of growth development.
The Mughal Empire has been a fascinating and overwhelming chapter in the history of India, whether one considers its power, its wealth, its stability, its extent, its character, or its decline in the eighteenth century. It is the latter that has engaged historians for over three decades in contentious debate. Many propositions and counter-propositions have been made. It may be pertinent to pose a question: what does 'decline'- one of the most value-loaded and emotional concepts in historical analysis-actually mean? Certainly, the notion of decline envisages a prior state of perfection, efflorescence, harmony, and cohesion, in contrast to corruption, moral degradation, and loss of ethical values, principles, and customs. Historians therefore wish to understand the phenomenon of change and its causes. For instance, social decay, deterioration of the previous order, and brief or long spells of chaos and disorder are all considered to be causes of decline.' Conscious, then, of the different meanings of the term, and the emotions it can arouse, we look at the kind of responses that the decline of the Mughal Empire has evoked over the years.
Was it merely a deterioration of power over a period of roughly thirty to fifty years, or did the empire's decentralizing tendencies become more apparent and aggressive during these years? Did the decline of the Mughal Empire lead to a 'dark age' when 'the gates were opened to reckless rapine, anarchy and foreign conquest'? Notwithstanding the decline, 'intricate layers of interconnections and continuities" prevailed, although changes or restructuring within the Mughal structure remained equally significant.
While the weakening and collapse of the Mughal Empire overshadowed much of the eighteenth century, it was by no means the only phenomenon of that period. Regional political structures emerged and thrived amidst the waning of Mughal power. In these provincial and regional political configurations, Mughal institutions generally continued. Yet some, like Hyderabad, were able to move beyond Mughal patterns of governance even while maintaining the fiction that they were Mughal dependencies. Ultimately, however, as Munis Faruqui argues, Hyderabad emerged as neither a poor imitation nor a miniature version of the Mughal Empire." These developments suggest that the disintegration of the Mughal Empire meant neither the eclipse of political authority nor the economic stagnation of the entire society. The economy visibly moved in new directions, leading to decentralization and economic density at local levels, which remained integrated by networks of trade and monetary transactions. The period also acquired significance as it coincided with the rising power of the East India Company. As European influence grew, the regions came into contact with institutions that threatened to erode the foundations of the erstwhile social order,' and which heralded the unmistakable rise of a new one as an inqilab-a world turned upside down."
In view of these historical processes, should we then follow Frank Perlin and call this phase the 'late pre-colonial period' of Indian history and rescue it from its long-standing characterization as a chaotic or 'black' century?" Or should we perhaps use the term 'Early Modern' for these pre-colonial centuries? Sanjay Subrahmanyam argues that this is necessary not merely for reasons of justice to the history of the period, but also for reaching a better understanding of the colonial intervention." Maybe there is also a need, as several scholars have argued, to re-think this era 'whose core was the eighteenth century, but whose antecedents were earlier and whose consequences extended well into the nineteenth century'."
The present volume, however, attempts something more modest, which is to identify the divergent views and debates that surround the withering of the 'mammoth imperial banyan tree',10 and to focus on the different paradigms or assumptions that have shaped interpretations of the decline of the Mughal Empire. A few core issues or groups of issues that form the basis of the debate can be identified here, namely: (a) the personality and religion of the Mughal emperors, in particular the religious policy of Aurangzeb (or 'Alamgir, r. 1658-1707), which alienated large sections of the population; (b) the nature of the assignment system, or the jagirdari system, which was intrinsically exploitative of peasants; (c) the role of bankers and merchants and their failure to support the empire fiscally or commercially; (d) cultural, scientific, or other transregional forces, since three large empires (Mughal, Safavid, and Ottoman) all faced their decline at roughly the same time; and (d) the failure of the centre to retain the loyalty of regional elites.
PERSONALITY AND THE RELIGIOUS POLICY OF THE MUG HAL EMPERORS
The decline of the Mughal Empire, together with its courtly pomp and luxury, its rituals of power, and its enormous wealth, was described in some detail by contemporary European travelers, in particular Francois Bernier (d. 1688). These accounts influenced the perceptions of early historians of Mughal India-both British imperialist and Indian nationalist historians of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries-and their characterization of the eighteenth century. Indeed, these historians tended to conflate developments of eighteenth century India with developments in the Mughal Empire. They also held the empire's administrative and religious policies and the weak personalities of the post-1707 emperors and their nobles responsible for the decline.
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