Shifting Power

The 18th and early 19th centuries were a time of great political change in India. Following the death of Emperor Aurangzeb in 1707, the Mughal dynasty was beset by internal conflict and weak rule. Mughal power collapsed completely in 1739, when the Iranian ruler Nadir Shah sacked Delhi and looted the imperial treasury. Although the dynasty survived in name, it wielded no real authority. Mughal regional governors, although still technically allied to the emperor, laid claim to territories as independent rulers. Elsewhere, successful warrior leaders emerged to fill the political vacuum, carving out new kingdoms.

These newly formed states often engaged in a struggle for dominance with each other and with older kingdoms that had freed themselves from Mughal vassalage. This period also saw the English East India Company transform from a trading body into a major military and political power.

सत्ता का अंतरण

18वीं एवं प्रारंभिक 19वीं सदी एक ऐसा समय था जब भारत में बहुत सारे राजनीतिक बदलाव हो रहे थे| 1707 में बादशाह औरंगजेब की मृत्यु के पश्चात, मुगल राजवंश में अन्दरूनी झगड़े एवं कमजोर शासन आरंभ हो गया| 1739 में मुगल सत्ता पूर्ण रूप से टूट गयी, जब इरानी शासक नादिर शाह ने दिल्ली पर आक्रमण करके साम्राज्य के राजकोष को लूट लिया| वह राजवंश नाम मात्र में मौजूद था| उसके पास कोई वास्तविक अधिकार नहीं थे| हालांकि मुगल क्षेत्रीय गवर्नर तकनीकी रूप से बादशाह के साथ जुड़े हुए थे, फिर भी उन्होंने अपने क्षेत्रों पर स्वतंत्र राजा के रूप में दावा करना आरंभ कर दिया| अन्य जगहों पर, सफल योद्धा नेता उत्पन्न होने लगे, जो राजनीतिक रिक्त स्थान को भर रहे थे, एवं नए राज्य बना रहे थे|

यह नए निर्मित राष्ट्र प्रमुखता प्राप्त करने के लिए प्रायः एक दूसरे के साथ लड़ते थे| वे उन पुराने राज्यों के साथ भी लड़ते थे जिन्होंने अपने आपको मुगल दासता से मुक्त कर लिया था| इस अवधि ने, अंग्रेजी ईस्ट इंडिया कंपनी को एक व्यापारी निकाय से एक प्रमुख सैन्य एवं राजनीतिक शक्ति में परिवर्तित होते हुए देखा|


The Marathas

In the late 17th century Shivaji, a Maratha warrior from central west India, established a successful powerbase through adroit military campaigns. By the early 18th century the Marathas had evolved into a political confederacy whose nominal head was the Raja of Satara, but whose de facto leader was the peshwa based in Pune.

By the 1750s Peshwa Nana Saheb was the most powerful ruler in India. He might have taken control of most of the subcontinent, but for his defeat at the hands of Afghan warriors at Panipat in 1761. Individual Maratha generals subsequently carved out kingdoms for themselves, among them Gwalior, Indore and Baroda. By 1818, however, the East India Company had gained control over all of these individual states.

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The Rajputs

Claiming descent from the sun, moon or fire, the Rajputs spanned from Gujarat in the west, across the Thar Desert and to the foothills of the Himalayas. Many of the rulers of these ancient kingdoms entered into subsidiary alliances with the Mughals, but with the collapse of imperial authority in the 18th century they re-asserted their autonomy. However, they soon came into conflict with the Marathas, Sikhs and other emerging powers.

In treaties with the East India Company, they secured protection of their borders in exchange for formal recognition of British supremacy. They also had to accept a Company presence in their court, in the form of a Resident or Agent who kept a close eye on their activities. In addition, many states had to pay sizeable tribute.

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Tipu Sultan of Mysore

Tipu's father was an army officer who in 1766 seized power from the Hindu ruling dynasty of Mysore. Tipu came to the throne in 1782 and transformed the state into a centre of military and economic power and artistic patronage. He adopted the tiger as his personal emblem and used tiger motifs on many of his possessions.

A devout Muslim, Tipu Sultan saw himself as God’s instrument for driving the British out of India. The East India Company fought four wars against him, finally defeating him in 1799 at the Battle of Seringapatam with the assistance of the Nizam of Hyderabad and the Marathas. Tipu died during the battle and part of his kingdom was restored to its former Hindu rulers, but under British control.

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The Sikhs

Over his forty year reign Ranjit Singh, the 'Lion of the Punjab', united the various Sikh clans to build a north Indian kingdom centred on the city of Lahore. A brilliant general and strategist, he successfully negotiated with surrounding powers – the Afghans, the Marathas and the Rajput chiefs of the hill states – and managed to halt the advance of the British into the region. He also promoted agriculture, industry, trade and the arts.

Ranjit Singh's death in 1839 was followed by a bitter struggle for power. His son Sher Singh eventually seized the throne in 1841, but was murdered two years later. Ranjit Singh’s youngest son, the five-year-old Duleep Singh, was then placed on the throne. He held nominal authority until 1849, when the Punjab was annexed by the East India Company.

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The Courts of Awadh

As imperial authority declined, powerful Mughal governors established independent rule in various parts of the subcontinent. Awadh, in north central India, became an important refuge of Islamic court culture, with the cities of Faizabad and Lucknow developing into major centres of patronage.

When Shuja-ud-daula, the third nawab, was defeated by British forces at the Battle of Buxar in 1764, the state entered into a subsidiary alliance with the East India Company, paying tribute in exchange for protection. The nawabs then set out to redefine their identity in the changed political climate. To establish a new style that marked an ideological separation from Mughal taste, they turned to European-inspired art and architecture.

Despite this, relations with the British remained strained, and the state was annexed in 1856 on the grounds of alleged misrule.

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