Empire in Asia

A New Global History

The Mughal World: India's Tainted Paradise

Book Cover

Book Title

The Mughal World: India's Tainted Paradise. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2007

Author

Eraly, Abraham

Synopsis

Eraly writes comprehensively in an easy-to-follow narrative about the Mughal emperors, systems and society. Chapters such as "The Land and the People" and "The Right Royal Lifestyle" illuminate readers on the background of the Mughal empire, as well as the elite institutions in the Mughal empire. Yet, the history is also seen from the perspective of the commoners, as seen in "Producers and Predators", which provides a comprehensive exploration of the relationship between the ruling powers with commoners. Akbar's religious tolerance and the unusual practice of founding a syncretic religious fraternity of his own called Din Ilahi (Divine Faith) are cited as way ahead of its time and thus rendered incapable of surviving Akbar, the only one who held its vision and future. Yet, contrary to the expectations of imperial successions being an element of despotic rule and Asiatic barbarism, Eraly argues that the fight of son against father, and of brother against brother for the throne was the norm among the Mughals, as it is with royal successions in European empires. Central themes include religious tolerance, syncretism among Persian and Islamic ruling structures and imperial succession conflicts as a norm of the Mughal imperial centre highlight discovery of imperial systems not within the Western sphere .

Scope (Topics Covered, Time Period)

Eraly focuses on the young emperor Akbar's succession to the throne that swept a Second Golden Age for the classical civilization of India. However, Eraly also discusses the origins of the Mughal empire in the form of Akbar's grandfather, Zahiruddin Muhammad (known as Babur) and how after several failed conquests manage to secure the throne of Kabul. From this, the empire had expanded to Hindustan, Afghanistan and finally India, conquered under Akbar's rule when in 1560 the eighteen-year-old Akbar launched a rapid series of conquests which enlarged the Mughal kingdom in India into a vast sub-continental empire.

Argument (Methodology, Significance)

Eraly's central argument is that the Mughal empire came to an end not because of Aurangzeb's theocratic policies, but that the main reason for the Mughal collapse was that the empire had grown far too large, beyond the capacity of the emperor to hold it together or to govern it efficiently. His second central argument that the Mughal Golden Age was only golden for the elite was substantiated by how there was no fundamental transformation in different facets of life and on different socioeconomic communities of commoners. Instead, he espoused that the emperors' lavish lifestyle had translated into poverty for his people, and that Mughal culture was largely derived from these external Persian elements; thus when the latter declines the Mughal culture experienced a setback as well.

Finally, the author puts forth a controversial argument that while the Mughals had major political and economic achievements to their credit, consolidating most of India under a central rule, provinces were in the process of becoming independent domains upon Aurangzeb's death. Thus, the British arrival was argued to be saving the integrity of the territorial domain of India. The institutions the British established, which became a foundation on which a modern economy, society and nation could be built thus remained the primary role of Britain in contributing to Indian progress.


Annotated by Michelle Djong