Chapter-4 : India on the Brink of Colonial Rule

Arora IAS Modern History Notes

Decline of the Mughals (Early 18th Century)

Mughal Decline under Aurangzeb (1658-1707)

  • Policies weakened state stability.
  • Wars of succession and weak rulers after his death accelerated decline.

Muhammad Shah’s Reign (1719-1748)

  • Incompetent ruler, failed to revive the empire.
  • Witnessed rise of independent states (Hyderabad, Bengal, Awadh, Punjab).
  • Marathas emerged as contenders for power.

External Challenges

  • Neglect of North-Western Borders:Mughals vulnerable to invasions.
  • Nadir Shah’s Invasion (1738-39):
    • Conquered Lahore and defeated Mughals at Karnal.
    • Looted Delhi, seized treasures.
    • Gained Mughal territory west of Indus (including Kabul).
  • Ahmad Shah Abdali’s Invasions (1748-1767):
    • Repeatedly attacked Mughals, harassed them.
    • Forced Mughal concessions (Punjab in 1751-52).
    • Briefly captured Delhi in 1757, installed Afghan caretaker.
    • Faced conflicts with Marathas over control.
    • Defeated Marathas at Third Battle of Panipat (1761).

Result: Mughal Empire weakened, vulnerable to further invasions from the northwest.

Weak Mughal Rulers After Aurangzeb

Bahadur Shah I (1707-1712):

  • Son of Aurangzeb.
  • Pacifist policy towards Marathas, Rajputs, Jats.
  • Suppressed Sikh rebellion under Banda Bahadur.

Jahandar Shah (1712-1713):

  • Appointed Zulfikar Khan as Prime Minister for financial reforms.
  • Abolished Jizya tax.

Farrukhsiyar (1713-1719):

  • Rose to power with Sayyid brothers’ help.
  • Religious tolerance (abolished Jizya and pilgrimage tax).
  • Granted trading rights to the British (1717).
  • Murdered by Sayyid brothers.

Rafi-ud-Darajat & Rafi-ud-Daula (1719):

  • Brief reigns controlled by the Sayyid brothers.

Muhammad Shah (1719-1748):

  • Luxurious lifestyle earned him the nickname “Rangeela”.
  • Killed Sayyid brothers with Nizam-ul-Mulk’s help.
  • Nizam-ul-Mulk founded Hyderabad (1724).
  • Faced Maratha invasions (1737).
  • Defeated by Nadir Shah (1739) who looted Delhi.

Ahmad Shah (1748-1754):

  • Incompetent ruler, left power to his mother (Udham Bai).

Alamgir II (1754-1758):

  • Faced Ahmad Shah Abdali’s invasion (1757).
  • Battle of Plassey happened during his reign (1757).

Later Mughal Rulers (1758-1857):

  • Witnessed decline of Mughal power.
  • Battles of Panipat (1761) and Buxar (1764).
  • Became dependent on British East India Company after 1765.
  • Bahadur Shah Zafar (last Mughal emperor) captured by British after 1857 revolt.


Why Panipat Was a Favorite Battlefield

Strategic Location:

  • Located between fertile plains of Ganga and Indus rivers.
  • Easy access from Khyber Pass for invaders aiming for Delhi.
  • Less risky terrain compared to deserts or dense forests.
  • Preferred by Delhi rulers for confrontation.

Logistical Advantages:

  • Proximity to Delhi simplified troop and supply movement.
  • Capital remained insulated from immediate conflict zone.

Favorable Battlefield Conditions:

  • Flat terrain suited cavalry warfare, dominant at the time.
  • Grand Trunk Road (built by Sher Shah Suri) facilitated travel.
  • Short monsoon season allowed for uninterrupted battles.
  • Local artisans readily provided weaponry and supplies.


Causes of Decline of Mughal Empire

Two Main Views on Decline:

  • Empire-related view:Internal factors within Mughal structure caused decline.
  • Region-related view:Instability in different regions contributed to decline.

Mughal Decline Gained Momentum After Aurangzeb (1707):

  • Even though the empire faced challenges, a strong ruler could have prevented collapse.
  • Incompetent successors weakened the empire.

Major Factors Contributing to Decline:

  • Shifting Allegiance of Zamindars:
    • Zamindars (hereditary land owners) gained power under Aurangzeb.
    • Regional loyalties grew, weakening central authority.
    • Zamindars aided nobility in carving out independent kingdoms.
  • Jagirdari Crisis:
    • Mughal nobles held jagirs (land grants) and mansabs (military ranks).
    • Divisions among nobles based on religion, region, and tribe.
    • Rivalry and competition for power weakened the empire.
  • Rise of Regional Aspirations:
    • Jats, Sikhs, and Marathas challenged Mughal authority under Aurangzeb.
    • Continuous struggle for regional power weakened the empire.
    • Rajput policies:
      • Aurangzeb and Bahadur Shah I’s suppression led to conflict.
      • Later Mughals’ reconciliation attempts failed due to broken trust.
    • Marathas’ growing power and ambitions threatened Mughal control.
  • Economic and Administrative Problems:
    • Too many nobles and not enough land for jagirs.
    • Aurangzeb’s solution (increased jagir income on paper) hurt peasants.
    • Wars, lavish lifestyles, and shrinking state land led to financial strain.
    • Stagnant economy with no technological advancements.
    • European traders impacted Mughal trade, reducing revenue.
    • Weak rulers after Aurangzeb failed to manage a vast, complex empire.


Rise of Regional States After Mughal Decline

Three Categories of Emerging States:

  1. Successor States:Mughal provinces that became independent.
    • Examples: Awadh, Bengal, Hyderabad.
    • Maintained nominal allegiance to Mughal emperor.
  2. Independent Kingdoms:Established due to weakened Mughal control.
    • Examples: Mysore, Kerala, Rajput states.
    • Did not acknowledge Mughal authority.
  3. New States:Formed by rebelling against Mughals.
    • Examples: Marathas, Sikhs, Jats.

Survey of Regional Kingdoms:

  • Hyderabad (Nizam-ul-Mulk):Founded by Asaf-Jah dynasty (Nizam).
  • Awadh (Saadat Khan):Founded by a Shia noble, later ruled by Nawabs.
  • Bengal (Murshid Kuli Khan):Became prosperous under his rule.

The Rajputs:

  • Attempted to regain independence in the 18th century.
  • Briefly challenged Mughals but ultimately failed.

Mysore (Wodeyars):

  • Ruled by Wodeyar dynasty.
  • Haider Ali and Tipu Sultan rose to prominence through constant warfare.

Kerala (Martanda Varma):

  • Established Travancore as the capital.
  • Expanded territory and modernized the army.

The Jats (Churaman & Badan Singh):

  • Formed the Jat state of Bharatpur (Suraj Mal).
  • Powerful under Suraj Mal’s rule, declined after his death.

The Sikhs (Guru Gobind Singh):

  • Transformed into a militant sect.
  • Organized into misls (confederacies) under Ranjit Singh.
  • Ranjit Singh established a strong Sikh kingdom in Punjab.

The Marathas:

  • Most formidable regional power.
  • Expanded under Peshwa leadership, challenged Mughal authority.
  • Faced setback at Panipat (1761) but recovered quickly.
  • Main rivals of the British East India Company.

Rohilakhand & Farrukhabad:

  • Founded by Afghan immigrants (Ali Muhammad Khan & Mohammad Khan Bangash).
  • Faced conflicts with other regional powers and the British.


Regional States After Mughals


  • Maintained symbolic ties to Mughal emperor.
  • Power based on collaboration with local groups (zamindars, merchants, nobles).
  • Exception: Mysore (rulers ignored local chieftains).


  • Weak financial, administrative, and military systems.
  • Lagged in science and technology.
  • Constant warfare between regional powers.
  • Strong enough to challenge Mughals, but not to create a stable all-India empire.
  • Jagirdari crisis worsened due to declining income and increasing contenders.
  • Economy stagnant despite flourishing trade.


Socio-Economic Conditions in 18th Century India

Poverty and Opulence:

  • Extreme poverty existed alongside immense wealth.
  • Common people struggled to survive, while elites lived luxuriously.
  • However, life for the masses was arguably better than under British rule.


  • Mainstay of the economy, but technically backward.
  • Peasants labored hard but received meager rewards.
  • Excessive taxes burdened farmers (state, zamindars, jagirdars, revenue-farmers).
  • Situation worsened under British rule.

Trade and Industry:

  • India largely self-sufficient in handicrafts and agricultural products.
  • Exports exceeded imports, creating a trade surplus.
  • India attracted precious metals (silver and gold).


  • Pearls, raw silk, wool, dates, dried fruits, rose water (Persian Gulf)
  • Coffee, gold, drugs, honey (Arabia)
  • Tea, sugar, porcelain, silk (China)
  • Gold, musk, woolen cloth (Tibet)
  • Ivory, drugs (Africa)
  • Woollen cloth, copper, iron, lead, paper (Europe)


  • Cotton textiles, raw silk and silk fabrics
  • Hardware, indigo, saltpetre, opium
  • Rice, wheat, sugar, pepper, spices
  • Precious stones, drugs

Manufacturing Centers:

  • Murshidabad, Patna, Surat, Ahmedabad, Broach
  • Chanderi, Burhanpur, Jaunpur, Varanasi
  • Lucknow, Agra, Multan, Lahore
  • Masulipatnam, Aurangabad, Chicacole
  • Vishakhapatnam, Bangalore, Coimbatore, Madurai


  • Flourished in Maharashtra, Andhra, and Bengal.
  • Kerala coast (Calicut, Quilon) also had a shipbuilding industry.
  • Zamorin of Calicut used Kunjali Maraikkars’ naval expertise.
  • Shivaji Bhonsle built a strong navy to counter the Portuguese.
  • Many Indian-made ships were used by European companies (Bipan Chandra).


  • Traditional system focused on literature, law, religion, philosophy, logic.
  • Ignored physical sciences, technology, geography.
  • Over-reliance on ancient learning discouraged new ideas.
  • Widespread elementary education (pathshalas, maktabs) for reading, writing, arithmetic.
  • Limited female education.
  • Chatuspathis/Tols offered higher education (Sanskrit, Persian, Arabic).
  • Varanasi, Tirhut, Nadia, Utkala – famous Sanskrit learning centers.
  • Azimabad (Patna) – renowned center for Persian education.

Social Structure:

  • Traditional, divided by caste, religion, region, tribe, language.
  • Patriarchal family system with caste as the central feature for Hindus.
  • Numerous sub-castes determined social status and professions (exceptions existed).
  • Caste councils (panchayats) enforced social norms.
  • Muslims also had divisions based on caste, race, tribe, and status.
  • Sunni-Shia differences, social hierarchies among Muslim nobles/officials.
  • Religious conversions occurred, caste remained a divisive force.

Position of Women:

  • Patriarchal system limited women’s individuality (exceptions existed).
  • Upper-class women confined to homes, lower-class women often worked outside.
  • Harmful practices like purdah, sati, child marriage, polygamy prevailed.
  • Plight of widows was especially difficult, dowry system widespread.
  • Attempts to promote widow remarriage (Raja Jai Singh, Prashuram Bhau) failed.

Development in Art, Architecture and Culture (18th Century)

Impact of Mughal Decline:

  • Artists sought patronage from new regional courts (Hyderabad, Lucknow, etc.).

Architectural Achievements:

  • Lucknow – Bada Imambara (Asaf-ud-Daula, 1784).
  • Jaipur – Pink City (Sawai Jai Singh, 1st half of 18th century).
  • Five astronomical observatories built by Sawai Jai Singh.
  • Padmanabhapuram Palace (Kerala) – known for architecture and murals.

New Art Movements:

  • Rise of Rajput and Kangra schools of painting (fresh styles).

Literary Developments:

  • Growth of Urdu language and poetry (Mir, Sauda, Nazir).
  • Malayalam literature flourished under Travancore rulers (Kanchan Nambiar).
  • Tamil “sittar poetry” (Tayumanavar).
  • Punjabi – Heer Ranjha epic by Warris Shah.
  • Sindhi literature – Shah Abdul Latif’s “Risalo” (poem collection).



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