Aurangzeb reversed Akbar’s policies of diplomacy and religious tolerance. He reimposed the jaziya and permitted the destruction of temples. His revenue collectors oppressed the peasants. These factors led to revolts such as those of the Jats, the Bundelas, the Satnamis and the Sikhs, which greatly weakened the empire. Aurangzeb also lost the loyalty of the Rajputs by interfering in their internal matters. During his long absence from North India (1681-1707), Aurangzeb became involved in the affairs of the Deccan and neglected the administration of his empire. This allowed the ambitious nobles to become powerful.
After Aurangzeb’s death, the three main groups of nobles—the Turanis of Afghanistan, the Iranis of Persia and the Hindustanis of India—assumed the role of kingmakers.
They hatched conspiracies to depose kings and raise rival candidates to the throne. The frequent change of rulers caused political instability. This allowed provinces to break away and also attracted foreign invasions.
Aurangzeb’s successors, called the Later Mughals, ruled for 150 years (1707-1857). Important among them were Bahadur Shah I, Jahandar Shah, Farrukhsiyar and Muhammad Shah. The Later Mughals were not as capable as the Great Mughals, and the intrigues of their nobles made it all the more difficult for them to rule efficiently.
Under them the Mughal Empire broke up, and Mughal rule ultimately ended in 1857.
During Muhammad Shah’s reign, some ambitious nobles established states that were virtually free from Mughal control. Some of these states were economically and culturally prosperous, and had strong armies.
However, they failed to unite against invaders. Bengal: Murshid quli had been made the governor of Bengal in 1717, became almost independent. He and his successors reorganised the administration of Bengal, and promoted agriculture and trade. Under them, Bengal became a prosperous state. They, however, neglected the army and navy and failed to check corruption among their officials.
Awadh: The state of Awadh became more or less independent under Saadat Khan, who became its governor around 1724. Saadat Khan and his successors introduced many administrative reforms, raised a strong army and improved the economic condition of Awadh. The ‘Lucknavi culture’ developed under them and Lucknow became a centre of art and literature. A new form of architecture based on the Mughal style developed, which is best represented in the Imambara at Lucknow. Hyderabad: In 1724, Chin Quilich Khan, better known as the Nizam-ul-Mulk, forced Muhammad Shah to give him the title Asaf Jah and recognise him as the governor of the Deccan.
Thereafter, he became virtually an independent ruler and established the state of Hyderabad. He crushed the rebelliouschiefs, and the state of Hyderabad progressed under his administration. Jaipur: The Rajput state of Amber (later Jaipur) rose to prominence under Sawai Raja Jai Singh. Jai Singh founded the city of Jaipur and made it a centre of art and scientific learning. He was deeply interested in astronomy and built observatories at Delhi, Jaipur, Ujjain, Varanasi and Mathura.
Bharatpur and Rohilkhand: The Jats of the regions around Delhi, Agra and Mathura established the state of Bharatpur, while the Rohilla Afghans formed the state of Rohilkhand covering the territories of Moradabad, Bijnore and Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh. : Taking advantage of the unstable political situation in India, the Persian ruler Nadir Shah invaded India. He defeated the Mughal Emperor Muhammad Shah at Karnal in 1739. Muhammad Shah was restored to his throne only after he ceded (gave up) all the territories west of the Indus. Afghanistan thus went permanently out of the control of the Mughals. Nadir Shah carried away enormous wealth, including the Kohinoor diamond and Shah Jahan’s jewel-studded Peacock Throne. Nadir Shah’s invasion exposed the weakness of the Mughals. After this invasion, the Marathas expanded northwards and threatened Mughal authority.
Between 1748 and 1761, the Afghan ruler Ahmad Shah Abdali invaded India several times. In 1761, Ahmad Shah Abdali inflicted a crushing defeat on the Marathas in the third battle of Panipat. This destroyed the possibility of the Marathas replacing the Mughals as the supreme power in India. This event also cleared the way for the British to emerge as a political force in India.