The Mughals

Origins


   The Mughals were the last powerful descendants of the Mongols; descended from Mongol stock in Turkestan, in the early 1500's they engaged in the last series of conquests to bear the Mongol name. They were, however, quite distant from their original ancestors. The Mughals had become Islamic, for the Middle Eastern Mongol invaders had converted to Islam long before. They had also thoroughly absorbed Middle Eastern culture, especially Persian culture (the Persian word for Mongol is "Mughal," from which we get the English word, "mogul," meaning "tycoon"), and their wars of invasion spread Persian culture throughout India. Much of Persian culture was based on Shi'a Islam and its mystical doctrine of a Divine Light present in the earth in the form of the Imam, or religious guide on earth. It was equally influenced by Sufi mysticism, a branch of Islamic religion that stressed the mystical union of human with god. Much of Persian culture was also derived from Mongolian culture, particularly art, which was based on Chinese models of painting. In many ways, then, the Mughal invasion of India and its importation of Persian culture was a roundabout way of importing far eastern culture into India.

   India was no stranger to Islam; it had been invaded by Muslim forces as early as the seventh century AD, and since the early 1300's, the south-eastern portion of India, the Rajput, was dominated by the Dehli sultan, a Turkish invader.

   Despite their illustrious ancestors, the Mughals began humbly. When the great Mughal conqueror, Babur the Tiger, came to power in 1483, he ruled over a very small kingdom in Turkestan. With the smallest of armies, he managed to conquer first Afghanistan and then the Dehli sultanate and all of Hindustan. Faced with overwhelming odds (when he fought the Dehli Sultan he was outnumbered ten to one), he overcame his enemies with a new technology: firearms. For this reason, Western historians have dubbed the Mughal Empire, the first gunpowder empire.

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1997, Richard Hooker
Updated 3-1-97