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India: Mughals, Sikhs and Europeans

Muslims into a Weakened India | Akbar, Eclectic Religion and a New Order | Rule by Akbar's Descendants | The Sikhs, 1500 to 1700 | Europeans in India, 1542 to 1700

Mughal Empire

Muslims into a Weakened India

By the 1500s, internal trade linked much of India. In each region of the country people grew a variety of crops. Cotton and silk were produced. More was being sold abroad than was being imported – the imports including horses, a few black slaves and ivory from Africa. India's economy was slowly growing, but because India was divided politically it was not strong enough to prevent or discourage an invasion from the northwest.

The Muslim conqueror Babur (1483-1531), from Central Asia, had succeeded in laying the basis for the Mughal dynasty in Asia – Babur tracing his patrilineal bloodline back to the legendary Timur (Tamerlane) and his matrilineal bloodline to Genghis Khan. Babur had made a series of raids through the Khyber Pass and into the Indus Valley, seeking plunder. Finding forces against him weak, he chose to stay. In 1526, at Panipat (about fifty miles north of Delhi), he routed the forces of the Sultan Ibrahim Lodi – an Afgan who had ruled much of India since 1489. Babur went on to defeat others, spreading his rule in India but well short of all of India.

With Babur's death in 1531, his rule passed to his twenty-two year-old son, Humayun. Humayun made some of his warriors provincial governors or other government officials. And the governors were paid lavishly. They had troops at their disposal, ranging from several hundred to several thousand. Their households used numerous male and female slaves and in some instances discreet sex services for masters or mistresses. Some of the slaves had been castrated as young boys after having been bought at slave markets in Bengal.

In 1540, Humayun was dislodged from power by Islamic nobles from the old Lodi regime, who were allied with Afghans. Humayun went into exile and allied himself with the Safavid sultan in Iran. He returned to India with 14,000 Safavid troops and began retaking territory. In 1545 he captured Kabul. The leader of the regime in India that had driven him into exile had died. Squabbling over succession had weakened the regime, and, by 1555, Humayun drove them from power and recaptured that part of India that he had inherited from his father.  

Humayun had come from Iran influenced by the Iranians, including ideas that had apparently made him acceptable to Iran's Shia ruler, Tahmasp I. In 1556, the year after Humayun returned to Delhi, he rushed immoderately to prayer, fell down steps from his library and died. Humayun was succeeded by his son Muhammad Akbar, who had been born thirteen years before by the Iranian wife that Humayun had taken while in exile.


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