Indian History: Political formation in the Eighteenth Century

Political formation in the Eighteenth Century

During the second half of the 17th century, the Mughal Empire faced many problems which led to its downfall. During the first half of the 18th century, the boundaries of the Mughal Empire were reshaped due to the emergence of a number of independent kingdoms.


Aurangzeb died in 1707. The kings who ruled after him came to be known as the Later Mughals.

Bahadur Shah I (1707-1712)

Bahadur Shah I ruled for a few years. He tried to win over the Rajputs by recognizing Ajit Singh as the ruler of Bahadur Shah’s full name was ‘Abul releasing Shahu, the grandson of Shivaji, and offering him a high administrative post. He also sought the friendship Jodhpur. He also tried to appease the Marathas by nasr Sayyid Qutb-ud-din Muhammad Shah Alam Bahadur Shah Badshah. He was the only Mughal Emperor who used the title of Sayyid, of the Sikhs.

Jahandar Shah (1712-1713)

After the death of Bahadur Shah I a war of succession broke out. Jahandar Shah emerged victorious and ruled for a few months. He was a puppet in the hands of Zulfiqar Khan, the most powerful noble of the time. Jahandar Shah was overthrown by his nephew, Farrukhsiyar.

Farrukhsiyar (1713-1719)

Farrukhsiyar was a ruler only in name. The empire was controlled by the Sayyid brothers-Abdullah Khan Baraha and Husain Ali Khan Baraha. They were known as the kingmakers’. In 1719, they removed Farrukhsiyar from the throne. Within a gap of a few months, they placed and removed two more rulers. Finally, they declared Muhammad Shah as the emperor.

Muhammad Shah (1720-1748)

He is known as Rangeela or colourful king due to his indulgences, He just remained a silent spectator to the actual break up of Mughal empire. However, he took the help of a group of nobles under the leadership of Chin Quilich Khan and got one of the Sayyid Brothers, Hassan, assassinated and Khan) was the viceroy of Deccan and most powerful of the nobles. He was made the wazir in 1722. He made some serious efforts to improve the affairs of the state. With the fun loving emperor as his head, he felt helpless and left the Mughal court. He ruled as an independent ruler in Hyderabad and maintained good relation with the Mughals. As the time of the death of Muhammad Shah in 1748, Mughal empire existed in name only. It was confined to a small strip of land around Delhi.

Period from 1748-1858

After Muhammad Shah, the Mughal Empire existed only in name. The regional kingdoms became very powerful during this period. The British had also started annexing Indian territories. In less than a century, they became the real masters of India.

The last Mughal emperor was Bahadur Shah Zafar. In 1858, the British removed him from 1. When did Aurangzeb die? the throne and brought an end to the Mughal Empire.

Foreign Invasions

With the mighty Mughal empire torn into bits and pieces during the eighteenth century, the Afghans rulers conducted a series of raids from the north-west of Delhi, looting and plundering people and temples. This further destroyed the Mughal empire. It was during one of these raids in 1739, when Nadir Shah, a powerful Persian general looted Delhi and took away the Kohinoor diamond and the fabulous Peacock Throne of Shah Jahan to Afghanistan.The Afghan ruler Nadir Shah was assassinated in 1747. Ahmed Shah Abdali was now the independent ruler of Afghanistan. In the beginning of 1748, he conducted a series of raids and conquered Lahore, Kashmir, Punjab and Sindh. He also plundered Delhi and Mathura. At this time Marathas too were emerging powerful in North India. They challenged the Afghan viceroy in Lahore and drove him away. Thus, the Marathas and not the Mughals, were locked in battles against foreign invaders, the Afghans. The second battle was fought at the famous battleground at Panipat in 1761. The Marathas were defeated and completely routed. The Sikhs of Punjab however, later put up a severe resistance to the Afghans and they could not consolidate their possessions in India.


With the declining power of the Mughal Empire in the eighteenth century, there emerged various autonomous states. Major regional powers arose in Bengal under Murshid Quli Khan, in Awadh under Sadat Khan Barhan-ul-Mulk, in Hyderabad under Nizam-ul-Mulk Asaf Jah, in Carnatic under Saadatulah Khan, in Mysore under Hyder All, the Jats under Churaman and Surajmal, and the Sikhs under Ranjit Singh.

The Jats

The Jats occupied the region around Delhi, Agra and Mathura. They were a hardy tribe and farmers by occupation. They are known for their vallour, energy, martial dash and perserverance. Churaman and Rajaram were their famous village headmen who increased their power. Badan Singh (1722-1756 CE) organised the scattered Jats into a strong army and constructed many forts including the forts of Bharatpur and Deej. He laid the foundation of a new ruling house of Bharatput. Mughal emperor Ahmad Shah gave him the title of Raja in 1752 CE. His son Surajmal (1756-1763 CE) extended his territories which included the districts of Agra, Mathura, Meerut, Aligarh, Etawah, Dholpur and some places of Haryana. Thus, he established the first Jat kingdom.

The Sikhs

Guru Gobind Singh transformed the Sikhs into a military community or Khalsa. When the Mughal empire weakened after the invasion of Nadir Shah and Ahmad Shah Abdali, the Sikhs became more powerful. The Sikhs gradually expanded their kingdom in the 18th century from Indus to the Jamuna. Finally, a Sikh chief named Ranjit Singh conquered Kashmir, Peshawar and Multan and established an independent Sikh state with his capital at Lahore.

Punjab flourished under Maharaja Ranjit Singh who was a strong and courageous soldier, an efficient administrator Guru Gobind and a skillful diplomat. His presence held back the East India company. It was only after his death that Punjab was annexed in 1849. Ranjit Singh built up a powerful, disciplined and well equipped army with the help of European instructors.


The founder of the kingdom of Awadh was Saadat Khan. He was appointed first as governor of Agra (1720-22) and then of Awadh. He was a wiser ruler. He carried out a revenue settlement in 1723 which protected the interests of the ryots. He extended Awadh’s jurisdiction over Banaras (now Varanasi), Ghazipur, Jaunpur and Chunar. In the Battle of Karnal (1739) he was taken prisoner by Nadir Shah. He committed suicide to save himself from dishonour.

Saadat Khan’s nephew and son-in-law Safdar Jung (1739-1754) became the next governor of Awadh. He became the wazir of emperor Ahmed Shah. In April 1752, Safdar Jang entered into an agreement with the Marathas against Ahmed Shah Abdali. In return, the Marathas were to be paid 50 lakhs, granted the chauth of Punjab, Sindh and the Doab in addition to the subadari of Ajmer and Agra.

After Safdar Jang’s death in 1754, his son Shuja-ud-Daulah (1754-75) became subedar of Awadh. In 1762, he became wazir of emperor Shah Alam II. He entered into an alliance with the Nawab of Bengal, Mir Qasim as well as with Emperor Shah Alam II against the company. He suffered a crushing defeat in Battle of Buxar (1764). By the Treaty of Allahabad (1765) all the territories excepting Kora and Allahabad were restored to him. By this treaty the nawab of Awadh became a subordinate ally of the Company.


Murshid Quli Khan became the Governor of Bengal in 1717. This was the beginning of a new phase in Bengal’s history, marking the advent of independence from the authority and control of Delhi rulers. He shifted the capital of Bengal from Dhaka to Murshidabad (northern part of modern West Bengal). He declared himself the nawab and paid only nominal allegiance to the Mughal Emperor, Murshid Quli Khan had built the magnificent Katra Masjid. After his death in 1725, he was buried below the steps of the same mosque.

Mursid Quali khan was succeeded by his son-in-law Shauja-ud-din (1725-1739). He was a charitable, just and an impartial ruler, who greatly patronised learning, art and culture. Shuja-ud-Din died in 1739 and was succeeded by his son Sarfaraz Khan (1739-1740). He was a brave man but of a religious temperament. His brief career ended in 1740 when he was defeated at the Battle of Giria on 9 April 1740 by Alivardi Khan.

Alivardi Khan (1740-1756), who was earlier the Governor of Patna, became the nawab by defeating and killing Sarfaraz Khan in 1740 and ruled for 16 years thereafter. Though an efficient ruler, he had to face continual attacks by the Marathas and rebellion by the Afghans. To attain peace, he allowed many concessions to the Marathas. He maintained good relationships with the Europeans but did not allow them to increase their military presence. Siraj-ud-Daula(1756-57), Alivardi’s favourite Grandson ascended the rone after him.

The province of Bengal prospered under these rulers who reorganised the administration by moving the corrupt and inefficient Jagirdars.

Under them a new class of Bengali Hindu zamindars came up who looked into the collection

of revenue. They became the loyal supporters of the nawabs.

The nawabs also conducted a peace treaty with the Marathas and promised to pay Bengal.

However the province was finally annexed by the East India Company after the two fateful battles of Plassey (1757) and Buxar(1764).


Hyderabad or the Deccan became an independent kingdom under Chin Qilich Khan. He was also known as Nizam-ul-mulk. At the time of Aurangzeb’s death, Chin Qilich Khan was governor of Awadh in December 1707. In 1713, Farrukhsiyar appointed him governor of the six subahs of the Deccan. But intrigues at the Delhi court led to his recall from the Deccan. Nizam-ul-mulk was transferred to Muradabad. Later on the became governor of Malwa in 1719. In 1720, he showed his military power against the Sayyids by defeating the two generals-Dilawar Ali Khan and Alam Ali Khan.

After the fall of the Sayyids, the Nizam made himself master of the six subahs of the Deccan. He was appointed wazir by emperor Muhammad Shah. But Nizam-ul-mulk could not adjust himself with the intriguing politics of Delhi and left for the Deccan in disgust. Under secret instructions from the emperor, Mubarik Khan, Deputy Governor of the Deccan resisted him. Securing the support of the Marathas, Nizam-ul-mulk defeated and killed Mubarik Khan in Berar in October 1724. From this period may be dated Nizam-ul-mulk’s virtual independence and the foundation of the Hyderabad state. In 1725, Emperor Muhammad Shah recognised him as the viceroy of the south.

Qilich Khan was a capable ruler and Hyderabad prospered under him. Hyderabad became well known for its art, culture and cuisine. The successors of Nizam continued to rule the state till it

finally merged with the Indian Union in 1948 CE.

The Rajputs: Watan Jagirs

Aurangzeb’s religious policy had distanced the Rajputs from Mughals. The Rajput state of Mewar (now Udaipur), Marwar (now Jodhpur) and Amber (Jaipur) had become independent. Jodhpur and Jaipur came to play a more crucial role in post-Mughal period. Raja Jai Singh, himself a great astronomer, built the city of Jaipur. He also constructed astronomical observatories at Jaipur, Benaras, Delhi and Mathura. The Maharajas of Jodhpur and Jaipur controlled large territories from Agra to Surat. There were scores of other smaller Rajput kingdoms which however, never attempted any confederation even after the decay of Mughal empire and remained loyal to the British as well. Some of the powerful Rajput rulers were Raja Ajit Singh of Jodhpur and Sawai Raja Jai Singh of Malwa.

They tried to extend their territories by seizing portions of imperial territories neighbouring their watans Nagpur was conquered by Sawal Raja Jai Singh who got a subedari of Agra in 1722 Maratha campaign in Rajasthan in 1740 put a check on their further expansion.


Mysore became the most powerful kingdom in the Southern India under Hyder Ali (1761 CE-1782 CE) and his son Tipu Sultan (1782 CE-1799 CE). Hyder Ali was an efficient ruler who encouraged trade and crafts. He built a modern arsenal at Dindigul with the help of French. He was engaged in wars against the Marathas and the British. Tipu Sultan was called the Tiger of Mysore. The British found him very dangerous. He made efforts to modernise his navy, introduce modern industries and expand international trade. New coinage and calendar came into use in his reign. Tipu Sultan died heroically while defending his kingdom in a war against the British.


The Marathas arose as a great and mighty force under Shivaji (1627-80 CE), the son of Shahji who was an official in the court of Bijapur Since Shah was mostly away from home, the young Shivaji was placed under the guardianship of Daday Kondadeva. He grew to be a brave warrior who was well-trained in the art of guerrilla warfare.

Being ambitious, Shivaji dreamt of establishing a Maratha kingdom. He waged a long struggle against the sultan of Bijapur and the Mughal ruler Aurangreb. He was able to carve out a strong Maratha state.

Shivaji crowned himself as the king in a coronation ceremony in 1674 CE and assumed the title of Chhatrapati. His capital was at Raigad. When he died in 1680 CE, he Maratha empire was a force to reckon with.

Shivaji’s Administration

Shivaji developed an efficient administative system in his empire. He developed the whole territory into two divisions-

  1. Swarajya-the territory directly under his rule and
  2. Mughlai-the territon from which he collected Chauth and Sardeshmukhi.

Chauth: A tax or tribute imposed by the Maratha empire in India. It was nominally levied at 25 percent on revenue or produce.

Sardeshmukhi: An additional ten percent levy on top of the chauth.

Central Government

Shivaji was the supreme head of the civil government. He appointed a council of 8 ministers called the Astha Pradhan who were in charge of different departments of the state.

Provincial Government

The whole kingdom was divided into three provinces. Each province was under a governor called mamlatdar who as assisted by 8 chief officers. The provinces were divided into parganas and villages.

Revenue Administration

The land revenue was fixed at 2/5th of the gross produced, payable in cash or kind. Care was taken that no hardship was caused to the cultivators. They were given advanced loan to buy seeds, cattle, etc. The loans were payable in annual installment at the convenience of the cultivators. Besides the land revenue there were other sources of income such as chauth and sardeshmukhi from the Mughal territory.

Military Organisation

Shivaji established a highly organized military system. He had a well-equipped standing army

consisting both of infantry and cavalry. The commander-in-chief was called Senapati. The officers and soldiers were paid in cash and were not allowed to live on plunder. No jagirs were given to them. He evolved an excellent military discipline.

Successors of Shivaji

In 1681, Sambhaji, one of Shivaji’s two competing sons had himself crowned and resumed his father’s expansionist policies. In 1682, Aurganzeb headed south to conquer the sultanates of Bijapur and Golconda. In 1688, Sambhaji was caught and tortured. Rajaram, Sambhaji’s brother now assumed the throne. In 1700, Satara was sieged and surrendered to the Mughals. At about the same time Rajaram died. In the eighteenth century, power passed into the hands of the Peshwas. Under them, the Marathas became the dominant regional power.

Marathas under Peshwas

After Shivaji’s death the effective control of the Maratha kingdom fell into the hands of the Peshwas who served Shivaji’s successors. Their seat of power was at Pune. Under the Peshwas, there developed a successful military organisation. The Marathas fought against the Mughals and expanded their territories between 1720 and 1761. Malwa and Gujarat were seized by the Mughals during the 1720’s. After the 1737 raid on Delhi, the Marathas expanded their territories further towards the north in Punjab and Rajasthan, into Bengal and Odisha in the east and into Karnataka and Tamil Nadu in the south. The Marathas, however, only collected tributes from these areas but did not include them in the Maratha Empire.