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  • Print publication year: 2006
  • Online publication date: June 2014

5 - Sixteenth-century north India: empire reformulated


A visitor touring South Asia in the year 1500 would have found a land divided into many different polities and a variety of elite cultures. By 1600, on the other hand, virtually all the northern half of the subcontinent had been brought under the umbrella of one state, the Mughal empire. This empire was a top-down enterprise: the many local societies it ruled were not eliminated or merged but rather kept together through the imposition of a set of administrative practices and a class of ruling nobles. Over time, however, imperial ideology and institutions were disseminated throughout its many constituent units and served as a catalyst for the growth of a new kind of elite Indian culture and society, one that was both composite and widespread. This chapter examines the stages leading to the revival of empire in north India and the main architect of the Mughal state, Emperor Akbar. We consider how Akbar's concept of state evolved over time and its impact on politics and policies regarding India's multi-cultural, multi-ethnic population. In addition, we analyze how state policies affected cultural production, both on an imperial as well as subimperial level, arguing that the use of specific languages and the production of architecture and even manuscripts were all part of a carefully planned political campaign.

Toward empire

Delhi under the Lodis

Timur's sack of Delhi in 1398 left the traditional capital of the north Indian Sultanate a mere shadow of its former self.