Bahadur Shah I

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BAHADUR SHAH I (1643–1712), Mughal emperor (1707–1712). The eldest son of the Great Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, Bahadur Shah's original name was Muʿazzam. He was sixty-three years old when he succeeded his father in 1707, ruling for less than five years. Since there was no designated crown prince according to Mughal tradition, most successions had led to bloody struggles for power. This kind of dynastic Darwinism had guaranteed that only strong contenders could prevail. Aurangzeb's most ambitious son, Akbar, had rebelled against his father and had died in exile long before Aurangzeb's death. Muʿazzam, who was governor of Kabul when Aurangzeb died, had to fight and kill his brother, Azam Shah, before he could ascend the throne as Bahadur Shah I. He was a mild ruler confronted by determined enemies, among them the Rajput rulers of Jaipur and Udaipur. The Sikhs of the Punjab had also long resisted Mughal rule. Their tenth and last guru, Gobind Singh, had established the Khalsa in 1699 as a kind of martial order, with rites of initiation and visible marks of distinction. Bahadur Shah I had to fight against these indomitable warriors. Gobind Singh was killed in 1708, and there was no further guru, but Banda Bahadur emerged as a powerful Sikh military leader, whom the Great Mughal could not subdue.

Bahadur Shah I tried to make peace with the Marathas, the greatest threat to Mughal rule under Aurangzeb, who had kept Shahu, the grandson of Shivaji, as a hostage at his court. By installing Shahu as raja of Satara in the heart of Maratha country, Bahadur Shah I hoped to pacify the Marathas. Shahu was a mild courtier and seemed to serve the Great Mughal well, but he appointed as peshwa of Pune the wily Chitpavan Brahman Balaji Vishvanath, whose son Baji Rao then emerged as the greatest challenger to Mughal rule. Thus Bahadur Shah's policy ended in failure, and he precipitated the decline of the Mughal empire. He was succeeded by his son Jahandar Shah, whose reign was even less fortunate than his father's. Nevertheless, Mughal rule lingered on. Baji Rao commented, regarding Mughal rule, that once the trunk was cut, the branches would also fall. Rather, the Mughal empire simply became hollow, with many parties using it for their own purposes, and the successors of Bahadur Shah I became mere pawns in the power game of eighteenth-century India.

Dietmar Rothermund


Irvine, William. Later Mughals. Edited by Jadunnath Sarkar. Kolkata: South Asia Books, 1996.

Sarkar, Jadunnath. The Fall of the Mughal Empire. 4 vols. 2nd ed. Kolkata: South Asia Books, 1991–1993.