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The Great Mughal Emperors of India

1526 - 1707


Link to the Taj Mahal Page




1483 - 1526 - 1530 (47)


1508 - 1530 - 1540 - 1556 (48)


1542 - 1556 - 1605 (63)


1569 - 1605 - 1627 (58)

Shah Jahan

1592 - 1627 - 1658 - 1666 (74)


1618 - 1658 - 1707 (89)













Another V&A blockbuster exhibition
















Background - The Delhi Sultanate - 1211 - 1526


During the last quarter of the 1100s, Muhammad of Ghor invaded the Indo-Gangetic Plain.  Qutb ud-Din, one of his generals, proclaimed himself Sultan of Delhi and established the first dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate, the Mamluk Dynasty (mamluk means "slave") in 1211.  Various Moslem dynasties succeeded the Mamluks over the years 1211 to 1526.   They presided over a flowering of Moslem / Hindu arts, and were powerful enough to insulate India from the rampaging Mongol hordes in the north in the 1200s, though Tamerlane did get through to sack Delhi in 1398.   The Sultanate period came to an end with the arival of Babur in 1526 .....



The Mughals were a Moslem dynasty which originated in central Asia.  One of the secrets of the success of the greatest of the Mughal Emperors like Akbar was their religious tolerance, and indeed their enthusiasm for embracing all the religious groups within their domains.


Babur   1483 - 1526 - 1530 (47)


The first of the Great Mughals was Babur ("The Tiger"), who invaded and conquered India in 1526.  He was also a diarist, an enthusiastic hunter and lover of gardens.


He died in the Ram Bagh gardens in Agra, and his tomb lies in gardens bearing his name in Kabul, Afghanistan. 


Babur was the great great great grandson of the Mongol Warlord Tamerlane.  




Humayun 1508 - 1530 - 1540 - 1556 (48)

Born in Kabul, Humayun was the eldest of Babur's sons, and had helped his father with the conquest of India.   He ascended the throne at Agra on December 30 1530 at the age of 23, but did not have the skills to manage the immature empire, Afghan warlords, Hindu Rajput princes and his own brothers.  He would have liked nothing better than to pursue his passions of mathematics and astronomy, but he had not been dealt that hand! 


In 1540 he lost his empire to Afghan leader Sher Shah, but he hung in and managed to get it back 16 years later in 1556.  However, only six months later he died as a result of falling down the steps of his library.  Had he known all of this at the time, he might not have chosen a name which meant "the fortunate".


Humayun did, however, do one memorable thing for posterity, and that was to introduce Persian artists who blended with the locals to produce what we now know as the classic mughal artistic tradition.


Humayun's tomb in Delhi was built by his widow Baga Begam in 1565 - 1569.  It is the earliest  example in India of large scale Mughal architecture - not just the building itself, but the large formal gardens with water channels and fountains, which led to the perfection of the Taj Mahal 70 years later. 



It was here in Humayun's Tomb that the last Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar II (1775 - 1862 (87)), was hunted down and taken prisoner by a certain Lieutenant Hodson following the Indian Mutiny in 1857, a prelude to direct rule of India by the British from 1858. 


Hodson was the son of an Archdeacon in the Diocese of Lichfield in Central England.  After public school, Cambridge University and the Grenadier Guards he was tasked with raising and operating an irregular cavalry unit which became known as Hodson's Horse.   He was killed and buried at Lucknow in 1858, just a year after capturing Zafar.  Monuments to dad Hodson and Hodson of Hodson's Horse were later put up in the south choir aisle of Lichfield Cathedral.


Akbar   1542 - 1556 - 1605 (63)


The greatest of the Mughal Emperors, Akbar,  was born in exile and ascended the throne at the age of 13 after his father's short restoration. 


In many ways Akbar was the Indian equivalent of Suleiman the Magnificent (1494 - 1520 - 1566).  He conquered massive new territories including much of Rajasthan, created a long lasting civil and military administrative system (called Mansabdari), introduced standard weights and measures, tax structures and a workable police force.


Akbar was married to at least seven wives, one of them a Rajput Hindu princess from Jaipur.  He was enormously liberal for his time, promoting religious tolerance (and even his own hybrid Islamic / Hindu / Christian / Zoroastrian religion called Din - i llahi), abolishing slavery and forbidding forced sati.


Akbar collected Persian poets, painters and musicians (including Tanzen) at his court like they were  going out of fashion.


Finally he gave full vent to the emerging Mughal architectural style in a new purpose built 7.5 sq km administrative capital at Fatehpur Sikri near Agra (1570 - 1582).  This  was the least practical of his ventures because a lack of water forced its abandonment 16 years after its completion.  However the state buildings have been well looked after over the intervening 400+ years and can be visited today as perhaps the finest example of Mughal architecture (after the Taj Mahal).


Akbar died in Agra in 1605 and is buried in Sikandra.

Above and below right:  Fatehpur Sikri (built 1570 - 1582)


source - Wikipedia

Mughal Emperor Akbar holds a religious assembly in the Ibadat Khana (House of Worship) in Fatehpur Sikri.

The two men dressed in black are the Jesuit missionaries Rodolfo Acquaviva and Francisco Henriques



The British East India Company is Born

On 31 December 1600, England's Queen Elizabeth I (1533 - 1558 - 1603 (70)) signed the Royal Charter which created the British East India Company. Originally a monopoly joint stock trading company, it grew to being the administrator of the whole of India until, in the wake of the rebellion of 1857, India was made a Crown Colony and the assets of the Company were taken over by the British Government.




Jahangir  1569 - 1605 - 1627 (58)

Named (again inappropriately) "Conqueror of the World", Jahangir smoked opium and was into the grog, but was surprisingly effective at keeping things under control, and he found time to lay out a few gardens, including the one where he is buried at Shahdra in Lahore. 


He let the newly arrived English in on a lot of good deals (for them), but he also had the good sense to have a woman of staggering beauty and intellect as his favourite wife (Nur Jahan - Light of the World), and to leave a lot of the empire running to her.  His tomb, in a 4 acre garden in Lahore, contains some beautiful decorative tiles and paintings.




Shah Jahan     1592 - 1627 - 1658 - 1666


The entry gates to the Red Fort in Agra, and an inlaid marble capital inside


Shah Jahan ("Ruler of the World") inherited a near bankrupt empire from his father Jahangir.  He turned this around, in the process becoming the best remembered of the Mughal builders, largely because of the Taj Mahal.


Shah Jahan initially chose to rule, like his predecessors, from the Red Fort at Agra, and it was a few miles away from here that he built the Taj Mahal as a monument to his wife, known as Mumtaz Mahal ("Ornament of the Palace" or "Exalted of the Palace" depending on the translator), who died in 1631 after the birth of their 14th child. The construction of the Taj Mahal was begun in 1632 and it took 20,000 labourers 17 years to complete the job.   Several of the stonemasons involved had earlier been part of the construction team for the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, designed and built by the Ottoman Imperial Architect Mehmet Aga in 1609 -16.  The Taj Mahal , a much much more ambitious work, was built on two platforms - sandstone then marble - and  constructed in white marble with inlaid semi precious stones (see them glinting in the early morning sun!).  Believe it or not, the original idea was to have a similar structure in black marble as Shah Jahan's tomb on the other side of the river.


In 1638 Shah Jahan moved his capital to the Red Fort at Delhi, though it took a further 9 years for the palace complex there to be completed.  He ruled from here until he became very sick in 1658, precipitating a succession battle amongst his sons which was won by Aurangzeb his third son (who became first by killing his brothers). 


Poor old Shah Jahan recovered, but too late to keep his throne, and he spent the last eight years of his life locked up in the Red Fort at Agra, only being able to glimpse the Taj Mahal in the distance through the river mists.  His tomb is there, however, unsymmetrically placed next to that of the his wife - the great love of his life - because his own black marble Taj was never built! 


The Red Fort at Agra (a couple of Ks from the Taj Mahal)

Link to more photos of the Taj Mahal (near Agra)  -  built 1632 - 1649




The Emperor's Great Durbar Hall in the Red Fort at Agra
Above and below:  The (originally Peacock before it got swiped - see below) Throne and Audience Hall in the Red Fort in Delhi


Aurangzeb 1618 - 1658 - 1707



Aurangzeb was an intolerant religious (Muslim) zealot and kill-joy.  He forbade music, put a stop to Mughal painting and left behind none of the architectural wonders that earlier members of his dynasty had produced. 


The Hindus and Sikhs fared even worse, with suppression, destruction of temples, the reintroduction of a poll tax and public executions. 


Just a generally nasty little man as far as most of the population were concerned, and it is not surprising that his 50 year reign was the beginning of the end for the Mughal dynasty. 



This photo of the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore was taken by Grandmother Paradox in 1922.  The mosque, also known as The Emperor's Mosque, was built by Aurangzeb and completed in 1673.  Grandmother had been told that it was Jahangir's Tomb, which it is how it is titled in her little photo album and how we originally described it here - our thanks to an astute Paradoxplace visitor for picking this up and letting us know.




In 1739, India was invaded by the legendary Iranian soldier Nadir Shah.  Despite having superior numbers, the Mughal forces were defeated by the Persians.  Later, after an attempt was made on Nadir Shah's life, the Persian forces retaliated with a bloody vengeance and sacked Delhi in the style of the Venetian led 4th Crusade's sack of Constantinople 500 years earlier in 1203.  Amongst the loot they took was the famous Peacock Throne of Shah Jahan.


In 1756 the Nawab of Bengal, aged 27 and wanting to register his dislike of British administration, captured Calcutta from the British East India Company.   Amongst other things he thoughtlessly imprisoned 146 Brits in a 20' square airless cellar, and by the next morning all but 23 were dead and the "Black Hole of Calcutta" had sealed the fates of the Nawab and indeed India.


Robert Clive's forces beat the Nawab decisively at the Battle of Plassey the next year (June 23 1757), and Clive became the first British Governor of Bengal.  Actually the so called (and famous) "battle" lasted only a couple of hours, if that, as large numbers of the Nawab's soldiers had previously been bribed to throw away their weapons and surrender prematurely. 





Dom Paradox (aka Adrian Fletcher) has a close family connection with these times.  His 6 x grt grandfather Charles Hampton arrived in Calcutta  in July 1710 in the Galley "King William", and presented his credentials as an indentured writer (= junior clerk) in the East India Company.



Read more about Charles, Samuel and Mary Hampton's life and times (and wealth / will) and the early days of British India


Charles' son Samuel Hampton was born in Calcutta on 5 October 1735, and was commissioned into the Bengal Native Infantry on 2 October 1759.  He became a Colonel and was in command of Calcutta's New Fort William in 1784 before being posted to the command of the 2nd Brigade at Berhampore, where he died on 7 May 1786.  His portrait was painted by Johann Zoffany - where is it now ?


Samuel's daughter Mary Sarah married John Palmer, for a time "the Richest East India Merchant".





Jawaharlal Nehru, in "The Discovery of India" (1946), pointedly describes Clive as having won the battle "by promoting treason and forgery", and notes that British rule in India had "an unsavoury beginning and something of that bitter taste has clung to it ever since."


Another commentator states that "Clive thought of the battle as the climax to his career, a striking testimony to the extraordinary shallowness of his character ..... but in one fundamental respect, the battle of Plassey signified the state of things to come: few British victories were achieved without the use of bribes, and few promises made by the British were ever kept."


Anyway, after this the already fracturing Mughal Empire started to crumble, and before too long was reduced to a symbolic presence in Northern India until, 100 years after Plassey and in the wake of the Indian Mutiny, the British Government took over everything and the last Mughal Emperor - Bahadur Shah Zafar II (1775 - 1862 (87)) (below - portrait c1854 in Lahore Fort - taken from the excellent book "The Last Mughal" by William Dalrymple), hiding in Humayun's tomb in Delhi, was run to earth by Lieutenant Hodson



"The Last Mughal" by William Dalrymple


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