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The Height of Mogul Power A.D. 1605-1707

WHEN Akbar died, the hope of a peaceful, prosperous India died with him. None of his successors was nearly so wise, open-minded, and farsighted. Even so, the Mogul Empire kept growing. The seventeenth century was, indeed, the height of Mogul power.

Akbar’s son Jahangir reigned from 1605 to 1627. His name, which meant “grasper of the world,” did not fit him at all well, for he added only a little territory to the empire. Although he was clever and well-educated, Jahangir was also lazy and pleasure-loving. He was content to leave affairs of state to his Persian wife and her relatives. As he admitted in his memoirs, he “only wanted a bottle of wine and a piece of meat to make merry.”

On Jahangir’s death, his two sons began to fight over which should succeed him. Before the question was settled, the winner had killed his brother and all but one of his other male relatives. In 1628, he was crowned as Shah Jahan. Three years later, his beautiful empress Mumtaz Mahal the name meant “jewel of the palace” died in childbirth. The grief-stricken emperor commanded the best architects in the land to create a monument worthy of his dead wife. Twenty thousand men worked on the project for fifteen years. The result was the world-famous white marble tomb known as the Taj Mahal, which many people consider the loveliest structure ever raised anywhere.

The cost of building the Taj Mahal was enormous. Shah Jahan could afford it, for his treasury contained the equivalent of a billion dollars, an unheard-of sum for those days. His subjects did not benefit from his wealth. Instead of prospering, as they had under Akbar, they suffered terrible hardships. Under Akbar, the state had collected land taxes, but Shah Jahan let his governors collect taxes within their provinces to save himself the expense of paying them salaries. The governors squeezed all the money they could out of the peasants. When crops failed and famine came, the state did nothing to help the people. Desperate with hunger, people ate the wasted flesh of those who had died. Others committed suicide with their friends, preferring a quick death to a slow and agonizing death by starvation.

To make matters worse, Shah Jahan reversed Akbar’s policy of promoting religious peace. He ordered that Hindu temples be demolished and Christian churches burned to the ground. Meanwhile, his armies occupied the state of Ahmadnagar and forced the Moslem rulers of Golconda and Bijapur to pay him tribute.

Shah Jahan placed his son Aurungzeb in charge of the unruly Deccan. In 1656 Aurungzeb led an army against Golconda and Bijapur. His aim was to change them from tributary states to outright possessions. When a messenger brought word that his father was sick, he turned north to protect his interests. At Agra, he quickly defeated and killed his three brothers and put his father in prison. In 1658, he had himself crowned emperor. Eight years later, Shah Jahan died in the Agra fort, still a prisoner.


Aurungzeb proved to be even more narrow-minded than his father. He was determined to make India a purer Islamic country. Not only did he order the destruction of more Hindu temples, he also brought back the hated tax on non-Moslems. He tried to rid his government of all officials who were not Moslems and only stopped when the resulting confusion threatened to bring state business to a standstill. At his command, former Moslems who had given up their faith were tortured and put to death by the thousands.

Having done all he could to stamp out all religions except Islam, Aurungzeb set out in 1681 to make his great-grandfather Akbar’s dream come true by bringing the whole of India under Mogul rule. In hard-fought campaigns against the Moslem kingdoms of central and South India and against the fierce Hindu hill people called Mahrattas, he nearly achieved his goal. By 1690, all but the southern tip of the subcontinent was his. This situation did not last long. Soon, the people in several parts of the empire rose against him. Year after year the elderly emperor moved about the country with his huge army, pursuing his foes. In the end, he failed. When Aurungzeb died in 1707 at the great age of eighty-nine, his enemies still defied him.

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