After the demise of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb in 1707, the disintegration of
the Mughal Empire had gained a sharp momentum. The Mughal court at Delhi was
split into many factions comprising Irani, Turani and Hindustani groups, who
often indulged in mutual jealousies, antagonism and political conspiracies. Four
rulers namely, Farrukh Siyar, Raffi ud-Darajat, Raffi-ud-daula and Muhammad Shah
ascended the Mughal throne one upon another in quick succession within the year
During the 18th century the social and religious
condition of India was no better than its political condition.While Europe
during the said period was passing through the process of enlightenment and
renaissance. India was given to social apathy and inertness.
Social rigidity and out-of-date customs had become the
conspicuous features of the 18th century India. Retrogressive rituals and
superstitions had taken deep roots.
There was always the fear of being ostracised for
violating the caste rules. The practice of untouchability, another social
evil, was a result of this rigid caste system.
The position of women in the 18th century India was
likewise poor and pitiable owing to various social and religious
restrictions imposed on them. Prepuberty marriage of the girl child was one
such practice. As a result, not only the girls were deprived of proper
education and healthcare but also fell victim to early widowhood.
Another cruel social practice was sati. Under this
practice, women were forced to commit sati by burning themselves on the
funeral pyres of their dead husbands. The system of purdah, was one more
evil practice. The practice was not very popular among the lower caste
working women both in the rural as well as the urban areas and among the
women in southern India.
Birth of a girl child came to be regarded as unfortunate
among many Hindu castes. Hence, inhuman and cruel practices like female
infanticide also became popular.
The system of devadasi prevalent in some temples of the
Madras Presidency and Orissa presented one more pathetic instance of the
condition of women in contemporary India.
They were not entitled to own property. Hence, the life
of women remained mired in ignorance, illiteracy and poverty.
The disintegration of the Mughal Empire became rapid
after the death of Aurangzeb in 1707. By the reign of Shah Alam II
(1759-1806), its boundary had shrunk from ‘Alam to Palam’ i.e. from the Red
Fort in Delhi to its nearby village Palam.
The British had already conquered Delhi in 1803 though
the Mughal rule continued for namesake till 1857. After the death of
Aurangzeb. a tussle for power took place among his three sons - Muhammad
Muazzam, Muhammad Azam and Kam Bakhsh.
Azam was defeated at Jajau (between Agra and Dholpur) on
18th June, 1707 and died from war injuries in the ensuing battle. Muazzam
then declared himself the new Emperor and assumed the title of Bahadur Shah
I. He defeated the other surviving brother Kam Bakhsh near Hyderabad on 13
January, 1709, who also died of war injuries.
Bahadur Shah I defeated at Lohgarh in December 1710 but
the Sikhs could not be suppressed. Consequently in 1712, the fort of Lohgarh
again came under them.
The lack of administrative acumen on the part of Bahadur
Shah I and the depleting treasury worsened the health of the Mughal Empire.
Indeed, the situation was so pathetic that during his own lifetime, Bahadur
Shah I was being widely referred to as Shah-i-Bekhabar. He died on 27
Jahandar Shah ultimately got the better of his other
brothers and ascended the throne with the active support of Zulfikar Khan,
the powerful leader of the Irani group in his court. He appointed Zulfikar
Khan as his Wazir and, during the short span of his rule (March 1712 - Feb.
1713), lie tried to run the administration.
He did away with the hated jaziya tax. He also honoured
Rana Jai Singh of Amber with the title of Mirza Raja Jai Singh ‘sawai’ and
appointed him as the subahdar of Malwa. The king of Marwar, Raja Ajit Singh
was appointed as subahdar of Gujarat.
He strengthened friendly ties with the Jat leaders,
Churaman and Chhatrasal Bundella. He tried to improve his relations with
Shahuji and gave him the conditional rights of chauth and sardeshmukhi of
But his policy towards the Sikhs remained repressive.He
also tried to check the increasing powers of the jagirdars. Very soon his
nephew Farrukh Siyar made use of the opportunity to gain power and with the
support of the Saiyid brothers got him killed and became the Emperor himself
During the reign of Farrukh Siyar (1713-1719), the Saiyid
brothers - Abdulla Khan and Hussain Ali Khan, controlled the levers of
power. They were widely known as the -king makers’.
Farrukh Siyar in appreciation of their contribution
appointed Abdulla Khan as the wazir and Hussain Ali Khan as the mir bakshi.
The Saiyid brothers tried to gear up the administration. But they too had to
struggle against the Rajputs, the Sikhs and the Jats. Hussain Ali marched
against Ajit Singh of Marwar and forced him to enter into a treaty with the
Under the leadership of Banda Bairagi, the influence of
the Sikhs was increasing in Punjab. They had protected themselves in the
fort of Gurdaspur. The Mughal army after a lot of struggle succeeded in
capturing the fort in December 1715. Banda Bairagi along with his hundreds
of supporters was brought to Delhi in an iron lock-up and killed.
When Jats under the leadership of Churaman revolted
against the Mughals, Raja Jai Singh Sawai was sent to put them down. But
they entered into a compromise in 1718.
After the death of Farrukh Siyar, the Saiyid brothers
crowned two young princes in quick succession. They were Rafi-ud-darajat and
Rafi-uddaula. Their tenures were short-lived as both of them died shortly
after ascending the throne.
Finally, the Saiyid brothers’ choice fell upon Muhammad
Shah the fourth son of Bahadur Shah I) whose rule lasted from 1719 to 1748.
After Muhammad Shah’s accession, the Saiyid brothers fell victim to the
intrigue of the Turani Amris, who hatched conspiracies to kill them. On 9
October, 1720, Hussain Ali was murdered and the next month his elder brother
Abdulla Khan was imprisoned, where he was poisoned to death in 1722.