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  • Hi, I’m John Green, this is Crash Course World History and today were going talk

  • about the Mughal Empire. And were also going to talk about the two most important Mughal

  • emperors, Akbar and Aurangzeb and how their historical reputations were made.

  • Mr Green, Mr Green? Don’t you mean the Mongol Empire?

  • Oh, Me From The Past, that reminds of the

  • time that you conflated the word forte with the word forté - which of course you pronounced

  • fort. But on this occasion you aren’t entirely

  • wrong the Mughals were kind of the Mongols. But well get to that in a minute.

  • So, the Mughals were Muslims who created an

  • empire in India that held power for roughly 200 years between the early 16th and early

  • 18th centuries, although, technically the Mughal empire didn’t come to an end until

  • after the Indian Rebellion against the British in 1857.

  • Now the Mughals weren’t the first Muslims in India, those would have been merchants,

  • and they weren’t even the first Muslims to rule significant parts of India. That honor

  • goes to the Delhi sultanate which began in 1206 in northern India.

  • But the Delhi Sultanate didn’t last very long, and it was replaced by a bunch of regional

  • kingdoms, and one of them, the Lodi sultanate had the misfortune of falling to the founder

  • of the Mughal dynasty, Babur in 1526. Not Babar, although that would have been awesome.

  • Babur was descended from Timur, the last great Central Asian conqueror in the Mongol tradition,

  • and also from Chinggis Khan, which explains why Babur and his followers are called the

  • Mughals; it’s the Persian-Arabic word for Mongols.

  • Now I know what youre saying, something like 12% of human beings currently living

  • in the world are descended from Chinggis Khan, but Babur got in on the ground floor of it.

  • Anyway, I think we have some footage of Babur raiding the Lodi sultanate, don’t we Stan?

  • Ehhh… I don’t feel like that was actual file footage from 1206. I feel like that was

  • a racist Hercules movie from Italy in the 1950’s.

  • So the Mughal Empire is really important in India’s cultural history. I mean, the Taj

  • Mahal was built during this time. In architecture and painting, we see a blending of Indian

  • and Persian styles that demonstrate how cosmopolitan the empire was.

  • But probably the most important aspect of the Mughals at least as far as the contemporary

  • world is concerned, is that they consolidated Muslim rule over much of India and theyre

  • largely the reason that today there are so many Indians who are also Muslims.

  • And the Mughals were also a really interesting example of like how to build and maintain

  • an empire. All right, Let’s go to the Thought Bubble.

  • Muslims were a small minority ruling class vastly outnumbered by Hindus, and like many

  • empires they relied on military power and pursued expansionist policies.

  • Like most of the Mughal rulers, especially Akbar and Aurangzeb spent a considerable amount

  • of time trying to extend Mughal control over the entire Indian subcontinent. And they created

  • a pretty effective empire. They were able to incorporate Indian princes into the ruling

  • class while still retaining top positions for Muslims. They reorganized the bureaucracy

  • and instituted an effective tax collection system, which was important because the empire

  • was of course very expensive to run - as empires always are.

  • This meant that it was important to make accurate tax assessments and taxes were usually collected

  • by local leaders called zamindars. Taxes had to be paid in cash, and this contributed to

  • the growing commercialization of the Mughal empire. Reliance on zamindars, who were important

  • men in their communities, meant that the empire could collect revenue without being too disruptive

  • to local village life. And although almost all of the revenue came from taxes on agriculture,

  • the Mughals also taxed trade. Another way that the Mughals were a typical

  • empire is that their rulers engaged in building projects to enhance their prestige. From Persepolis

  • to Rome to the Forbidden City, building monuments to one’s greatness is what emperors do,

  • and the Mughals were no exception. As Muslims, many of their building projects were mosques,

  • but the Mughals also built forts and, most spectacularly, mausoleums.

  • Thanks, Thought Bubble. So, most history classes that mention the Mughals focus on the contrast

  • between Akbar and Aurangzeb. Akbar comes off as a good ruler, and Aurangzeb is painted

  • as the guy who ruined the empire. The typically positive historiansview

  • of Akbar, who ruled from 1556 until 1605, can be summed up in this quote from Asher

  • and Talbot’s India before Europe: “Through his reforms of administration and

  • taxation Akbar created a sound and enduring foundation for Mughal governance, while his

  • tolerant attitude and inclusive policies toward Hindus and Jains helped create a state that

  • was more Indian in character.” That tolerance aspect is especially important.

  • Like Akbar rescinded the jizyathe tax that non-Muslims had to payand in 1580

  • he gave all non-Muslims the same rights as Muslims instituting a policy called sulh-i kul,

  • which translates touniversal toleration.” Now in part, this policy was designed to lessen

  • the power of Muslim religious scholars, who might have been disturbed by the way that

  • Akbar blended Islamic and Indian ideas of kingship, especially the idea that he was,

  • you know, kind of a little bit divine. Slightly problematic idea to a lot of Muslim

  • scholars given that the foundation of the Islamic faith is the statementthere is

  • no God but Godbut.. you know... In addition to the sulh-i kul, Akbar built

  • his reputation for toleration by sponsoring discussions of religion and philosophy. He

  • even commissioned a building for religious discussions, the Ibadat Khana, where Muslims,

  • and Brahmins, and Zoroastrians, Jains, Christians, all of them could talk theology.

  • Akbar’s support for intellectual pursuits are the kinds of things that modern historians

  • like, and it’s not all that surprising that he is remembered so favorably.

  • Historians are far less kind to Akbar’s grandson, Aurangzeb who ruled from 1658 until 1707.

  • This partly due to the work of J.N. Sakar who promoted the idea that Aurangzeb built

  • an Islamic state that discriminated against Hindus and other non-Muslims.

  • Which in turn led to a loss of unity across the Indian sub-continent and eventually the

  • decline of the empire. And it’s true that by the time of Aurangzeb’s

  • death in 1707 the Mughals were losing control of their empire. I mean the stark reality

  • of that decline came in 1757 when the British East India Company established itself permanently

  • in Bengal and began its inexorable efforts to colonize all of India.

  • But that was, you know, 50 years after Aurangzeb died so maybe he shouldn’t get all the blame.

  • In fact, whether these guys deserve their reputations really depends both on what aspects

  • of their reign you look at and how you interpret them. As conquerors Akbar and Aurangzeb had

  • a lot in common. Like Akbar might have sponsored high-minded

  • discussion but he was also willing to use extreme violence to keep his subjects in line.

  • For example, he slaughtered thousands of inhabitants of the fort at Chittor and ordered his generals

  • to pile up the skulls of Indian princes to frighten them into submission. That’s not

  • especially tolerant. And here’s another detail about Akbar’s

  • rule that’s meant to paint him as a modern, enlightened ruler. Because he was interested

  • in science, Akbar arranged an experiment. “… He had infants moved to a special house

  • where no person was to talk to them, so that the natural language of mankind might be revealed.

  • The experiment failed, but it is a reflection of Akbar’s desire to explore in a scientific

  • manner the nature of humans and what he believed to be their common condition.”

  • Now you can read that as a leader trying to understand the underlying connections among

  • all humans no matter their religious backgrounds. Or you can read it as horrifying child abuse.

  • And then we have Aurangzeb was a devout Muslim and did try to introduce Islamic principles

  • into Mughal rule, but the trend towards orthodoxy and away from Akbar’s toleration had begun

  • with his predecessor, Shah Jahan. He is best known for building the Taj Mahal

  • - good work. Stan, he build it by himself? Oh, apparently he had some help.

  • But the maintenance of the Taj Mahal took all the revenue from thirty villages, and

  • maybe Aurangzeb’s orthodoxy was less important than his desire to appear to be a sober and

  • frugal leader. Aurangzeb was also accused of destroying temples

  • in 1669, although in fact they were just damaged, and this was primarily done to send a political

  • message to opponents, not as an act of religious orthodoxy.

  • He also tried to limit expenses at court by prohibiting the use of gold in men’s garments

  • and he stopped the traditional practice of being weighed against gold on his birthday.

  • Unlike Akbar, who is seen as being a patron of the arts, Aurangzeb is remembered for getting

  • rid of court musicians and poets, but he got rid of them because of financial constraints.

  • Well, and also because of his interpretation of Islamic law. And that last point interests

  • me, for those who want to see him negatively, Aurangzeb’s orthodox Islam had no room for

  • musicians or poets. But it’s also possible to see that decision

  • as a prudent cost saving measure. Here’s another detail of Aurangzeb’s life

  • that has been used to paint him as a zealot. Aurangzeb, unlike his predecessors, was buried

  • in a simple, outdoor grave, rather than an elaborate, and expensive, tomb.

  • You could see that as a symbol of religious faith, or as a sign of humility or an attempt

  • by a thoughtful ruler to spare his subjects the expenses of like keeping up his tomb.

  • That said, in the long run the Taj Mahal has done pretty well in terms of generating tourist

  • money. Whereas I don’t think anyone is paying to see Aurangzeb’s grave.

  • But the thing is, Aurangzeb needed to save money.

  • If he was a bad ruler, it’s mostly because he spent so much time and treasure on fighting

  • rebellions in the south of his empire, and then neglected the north, where unrest grew

  • as well. It’s overly simplistic to say that the glory

  • days of the Mughal Empire were about tolerance and the downfall was about intolerance.

  • Really, there were lots of factors that played into the decline of the Mughal Empire including

  • growing factionalism at the Mughal court, the rise of regional powers, and the breakdown

  • of the system of governance by local nobles. Historians are in the business of making claims

  • about what happened and supporting those claims with evidence, and often this evidence provides

  • the details that make reading and learning about history so much fun.

  • Now, sometimes the details suggest only one interpretation, but in many cases they can

  • lead us to multiple conclusions. And the reigns of Akbar and Aurangzeb provide

  • good examples of why we need to be careful with our details. It’s possible that Aurangzeb

  • was a terrible ruler because he tried to impose Muslim orthodoxy on a Hindu majority

  • and no doubt many Hindus felt so, especially after he re-instituted the jizya. And he did

  • try to introduce sharia law as the governing principle in the Empire.

  • But it’s also possible that Aurangzeb’s bad reputation comes from a contemporary preference

  • for tolerance over piety in our rulers. Or from a general feeling that states are

  • better ruled by secular than religious laws. Or from the fact that it’s just hard to

  • rule a declining empire well. Ask President Obama.

  • Our experiences and biases make us more likely to see the dismissal of court musicians and

  • poets as an example of religious fanaticism than as like a cost saving measure.

  • And maybe Akbar, who could be as brutal in his military conquests as any emperor, comes

  • out in a good light because he did advocate religious toleration.

  • But it wasn’t totally, or even primarily, due to his religious tolerance that Akbar

  • was able to win most of his wars. And the many rebellions against his reign

  • suggest that he wasn’t as popular with his subjects as he is today with historians.

  • One last note about how the way that we look at the past can shape the present and

  • vice-versa. We need to be particularly careful here, because

  • the Mughals continue to play an important role in how Indians imagine themselves today.

  • One of the roots of contemporary Hindu nationalism is pride at India’s throwing off the shackles

  • of imperialism and for many Hindu Nationalists, that history of imperialism starts not with

  • the British, but with the Mughals. We often use history to define ourselves today,

  • and one of the most commons ways to do that is to make negative claims about the people that

  • we say we are not. And so when we look at historical figures

  • we need to be conscious of the fact that WE are looking at them. Thanks for watching.

  • I’ll see you next week. Crash Course is filmed here in the Chad and

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  • you for watching, and as we say in my hometown, “don’t forget to be awesome.”

Hi, I’m John Green, this is Crash Course World History and today were going talk

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The Mughal Empire and Historical Reputation: Crash Course World History #217

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    elenafaith posted on 2016/07/26
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