The Mughal Empire: History, Rulers & Decline

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  • 0:02 Melting Pot of Cultures
  • 1:40 Akbar the Great
  • 3:09 Akbar's Successors
  • 4:44 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

From the hopes of Babur and Akbar to build an empire that all people could be proud of, to the obsession of Shah Jahan for his lost wife and the sheer cruelty of Aurangzeb, the Mughal Empire's history offers something for everyone.

Melting Pot of Cultures

By the 16th century, Islamic rule in India appeared to be exhausted. Ever since Tamerlane had raided the Delhi Sultanate, the government had been unable to reestablish any sort of control over northern India. Hindu sentiment was rising in the villages, tired of years of abuse from a minority government that viewed them as an inconvenience rather than as citizens. In fact, the Sultanate couldn't even defend itself as new raids were launched against the country, originating among the Turkic groups who lived just beyond the Himalaya and the Hindu Kush.

One of these raids was led by a man named Babur, and he would go on to be much more than a mere barbarian interloper. He was himself a descendant of Tamerlane on his father's side, but claimed ancestry from a far greater conqueror, Genghis Khan, with his mother's family. In the ruins of the Delhi Sultanate, Babur would establish an empire honoring his mother's heritage, calling it the Mughal Empire in deference to his Mongolian ancestors. Babur proved to be effective, defeating every Hindu army sent to kick him out of the country, but also proved to be a fair leader. He gave Hindus important jobs within the administration and helped to create a sense of shared ownership of the new rule.

One very real legacy of this combination of Muslim, whether Turkic or Persian, and Hindu cultures can still be heard on the streets of Northern India and Pakistan. The Muslim ruling class spoke Persian and Turkish, which merged with the Indian dialects of the Hindus to create a completely new language, Hindustani, which has since split into Hindi and Urdu.

Akbar the Great

That said, Babur's grandson would eclipse his grandfather in greatness. Akbar the Great was only thirteen years old when he ascended to the throne, but he immediately understood the problems before him. Akbar worked quickly to ensure that he would be not just a ruler for the Muslims of India, but for all Indians. As a result, he married a Rajput princess, long a rival group to the Muslims in India, and placed Hindu culture on an elevated platform. As a Muslim, he used the opportunity to marry women of different beliefs, having two Hindu wives, as well as a Muslim wife and a Christian one, too. While his love of Persian poetry was well known, Akbar also worked to elevate the status of Hindi, establishing a poet laureate for that language and allowing him to recite his work in the imperial court.

Akbar also kept an eye to administration, both to prevent economic destabilization as well as to limit religious violence. Non-Muslims no longer had to pay taxes as punishment for not being Muslim, each province had a tax collection system that reported straight to Akbar, and religious groups were tried by their own laws. However, Akbar's greatest contributions came in setting an example for religious tolerance, inviting Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, and Hindu intellectuals to come debate religious teachings in hopes of finding a common ground, all while displaying respect for all.

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