The Timurid Dynasty


The Mughals (or Timurid dynasty) traced their descent from Timur the Great, Amir of Transoxania and better known to history as Tamerlane. A minor Khan of the great horde, he carved out an Empire stretching including all the lands between and including Egypt, in the East, to India, in the West. His capital was established at Samarkand, in present day Uzbekistan, (which see). His vast empire disintegrated into warring states almost immediately after his death. His sons and successors ruled independent and semi-independent kingdoms; the most important of which were Khorassan in Persia, and Samarkand. They lost Samarkand to the Uzbeks under Shaibani in 1496, briefly regained it, but lost it again in 1500. Babur, Amir of the minor principality of Farghana, and a descendant of Timur, attempted to regain the kingdom of his fathers several times. He conquered and lost Samarkand on three occasions. After enduring a wanderer's life for several years, he succeeded in conquering Afghanistan in 1506. Making Kabul his capital, he assumed the title of Padshah (Supreme King) in 1507 and gradually expanded his empire into the surrounding territories. Invading India in 1525, his armies defeated the Sultan of Delhi at the battle of Panipat in 1526. However, the dynasty was not secure. Babur's son, Humayun II, lost his throne and empire to Sher Shah Suri in two decisive battles at Chain in 1539 and at Kanauj, the following year. Thereafter he retreated into Persia, where the Safawi's gave him succour. Fifteen years later he launched a new invasion, taking Afghanistan and the Punjab, before soundly defeating Sikandar Shah, in June 1555.

Humayun's successors gradually extended their control over India by defeating and annexing the remaining Muslim sultanates of the continent. Akbar, Humayun's son and successor skilfully secured the allegiance of powerful Hindu rulers by strategically allying himself and his family in marriage. Jahangir, Akbar's son, further consolidated the dynasty in India, ensuring that thereafter the focus of their attention would be in the sub-continent, rather than, hankering after Samarkand and their ancestral lands in Central Asia.

Shah Jahan succeeded his father in 1627. His reign is rightly famed as a period when the arts flourished. The Emperor, himself, being responsible for the construction of a number of architectural marvels, not least of which is the Taj Mahal at Agra. Built as the mausoleum of his favourite wife, it stands as a timeless testament to love. However, his own end was far from romantic. Deposed and imprisoned, after a bitter and bloodthirsty war of succession between his sons, he ended his days without fulfilling his ambition, his own mausoleum, and a black marble mirror of the Taj.

The victor of the succession war, Aurangzeb, augured a reign of evil and terror. His example instigating a serious of succession disputes and civil wars this gradually sapped the dynasty of its power and authority. Machiavellian ministers, tribal leaders, regional governors and military leaders, all vied with each other to play the role of Kingmaker. Northern India became prey to Afghans, Marathas, Nepalese, Rohillas, and other tribal freebooters. Prince after prince became pawns in a vast game of chess, played out over two and half centuries. The Blinding, castration, and poisoning of princes became commonplace. In time, the kingmakers carved out their own principalities or proclaimed their independence. The European powers, particularly the British and French saw rich pickings for themselves, and increasingly joined in the fray. By the end of the eighteenth century the Emperor was little more than a prisoner of the Marathas, commanding little more than the environs of his own palace.

The last of the regional kingmakers, Daulat Scindia of Gwalior, was defeated and expelled from Delhi by Lord Lake on 14th September 1803. Thereafter Emperor Shah-i-'Alam II and his family became British pensioners. The permanent provision of 23rd May 1805 established a pension of Rs 90, 000 per mensum (raised to 100, 000 in 1809 and 125,000 in 1833), and extended British civil and judicial control over Delhi and its environs. The Emperor retaining exclusive civil and criminal jurisdiction, but not military, within the walls of the Red Fort only.

Shah Alam's two successors ceased to be recognised as Emperors, being styled and addressed as "Kings of Delhi" only in any dealings with Europeans. His grandson, Bahadur Shah II, was destined to be the last of his line. Aged eighty-two when Delhi fell to the sepoys during the Indian Mutiny of 1857, he had little choice but to accept the position allotted to him. Nvertheless, he issued proclamations for the expulsion of Europeans, appointed his sons to military commands, encouraged other rulers to revolt, sanctioned further mutiny and condoned murder, repression and extortion by the rebels. When Delhi eventually fell to the conquering British forces, several of his sons were shot and killed at the Mausoleum of Emperor Humayun. The Emperor was deposed and exiled to Rangoon in Burma, where he expired at the ripe old age of eighty-seven.  

Royal Standard: a lion couchant, shadowing part of the body of the sun.

The Sovereign: each Emperor assumed a distinct reign name and series of titles on succeeding to the throne - see under each Sovereign for details. Styled His Majesty, and Emperor of India, when addressed by Europeans*.
The consorts of the Sovereign**: senior wives of the Emperor were usually styled Nawab (personal name or title) Begum Sahiba. The next senior were styled Mahal. Lesser wives and concubines being styled Bibi Sahiba, Khanum, etc.
The sons of the Sovereign: Shahzada (personal name) Mirza, together with a series of unique personal titles. From titme to time, senior princes were raised to the title of Shah (King), during the lifetime of their fathers.
Other male descendants of the Sovereign, in the male line: (personal name) Mirza or Mirza (personal name).
The unmarried daughters of the Sovereign, and certain other female descendants in the male line: Shahzadi (personal name) Begum Sahiba.
The married daughters of the Sovereign, and certain other female descendants in the male line: Nawab (personal name) Begum Sahiba.

* No territorial designations were actually used by the Emperors themselves, the tile "Emperor of India" being and entirely European cpnstrution. The name India itself being a European name for the sub-continent, but unknown there until European concepts were generally accepted. The term Hindustan, from which the name India derives, applied to a nebulous landmass in the north-central area of the sub-continent, roughly centered on Delhi. Historical sources from the Deccan, Sind, Bengal, Kashmir, Bihar, or Gujarat, refer to people coming from and going to Hindustan, even as late as the end of the eighteenth century.
** the first lady of the Empire was not usually the wife of the reigning Emperor, but his mother, if alive, or an elder sister, if she was dead. These ladies also received unique personal titles when appointed to that position.

Status and nobility in Mughal India was usually dependant upon the size of the mensab held by the individual. These were originally military commands with estates or revenues attached to enable payment of those troops. Mensabs of 10,000 horse or foot, or above, were reserved for the Imperial Princes. The highest rank bestowed on a noble or vassal prince was 7,000. Those holding ranks above 500 horse or foot were styled Amirs, following ancient Timurid custom. They received personal titles according to rank. The titles becoming increasingly elaborate in time. The hierarchy of titles was adapted from Persia and Central Asia. However, each title recived on appointment to a higher rank was added to any existing title, it did not replace it. These titles, in ascending order, were as follows:
Khan Bahadur
Nawab Bahadur
Jah (usually limited to senior princes of the Imperial family, but in rare instances also granted to senior regional rulers).
Shah (limited to senior princes of the Imperial family only).
The formal style of rendering the titles for a Muslim of the highest rank was as follows - (personal title) Jah, (personal title) ul-Umara, (personal title) ul-Mulk, (personal title) ud-Daula, Nawab (personal name) Khan Bahadur, (personal title) Jang. When conferred on Imperial princes, the title of Shahzada replaced Nawab.

None, the strongest prince, be he son, grandson, or other male relative, ascended the throne after a war of succession.



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Dr. Morris Bierbrier, FSA.
Fasahat Begum Sahiba
Husnain Lotia
Mirza Jalal ud-din Muhammad Akbar [J M Akbar].
John McLeod.
Hasan Arif Nomani.
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