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Modern India

The Post-Moghul States of India

Compiled by Peter Kessler, 1 April 1999. Updated 14 March 2009



Nawabs of Bengal

Originally placed in Bengal as the Moghul governors (diwan), the decline of Moghul power resulted in effective independence for the nawabs. The first of them, Nawab Murshid Quli Khan, built the Katra Mosque in Murshidabad in 1723 as a centre of learning, but it also served as his tomb when he was buried under the main stairs.

The clash with British power, however, spelled the end of independence and the beginning of British India. Clive became the effective founder of the British Empire in India, and the Battle of Plassey one of the supreme moments of British Imperial history.

The titular line of nawabs continued despite the loss of power, and it survives to the present day. The title also passed into English, as 'nabob'.


Nawabs & Kings of Oudh (Awadh)

Oudh was another Moghul province which drifted into independence. The growth of British influence after 1764 led to a treaty in 1801 which required "sound government". British judgement that there wasn't such government became the pretext for deposing the king and imposing direct British rule in 1856.

This and other resentments over British rule in India helped spark the Great Mutiny of British Sepoy troops in 1857-1858. Oudh was a centre of the rebellion. The British were besieged in Cawnpore and Lucknow. The siege of Cawnpore ended in a massacre of the whole British garrison, women and children included - to which the British later retaliated with their own massacre.

The siege of Lucknow ended better. One relief force simply joined the besieged, then another rescued the garrison but abandoned the city. Finally the city was retaken in 1858. This all led to a transformation of British rule in India, with the East India Company being disbanded and Her Majesty's Government taking responsibility for the country.


Nizams of Hyderabad (Haydarabad)

Hyderabad, originally consisting of most of the Deccan plateau, was yet another Moghul province which drifted into independence. Despite the collapse of Moghul power, becoming surrounded by the British, and then becoming allied to them, the nizams still listed the Moghul emperors on their coins all the way to the end of the line in 1858.

British sovereignty was not acknowledged until 1926.

Although Hyderabad was relatively impoverished compared to the surrounding British territories, the last nizam eventually accumulated enough wealth to be considered the richest man in the world.

He did not outlive British rule by long. When India was partitioned, the Moslem nizam chose to go to Pakistan. Since Hyderabad was overwhelmingly Hindu, the new Dominion of India, ironically with King George VI of England still as official head of state, already fighting with Pakistan over Kashmir, soon invaded and attached Hyderabad to India by force.



Text copyright © P L Kessler. An original feature for the History Files.