India, 1707-c. 1850
The Mughal emperor Aurangzeb died in 1707, marking an end to his restrictive policies toward the Hindus. Various Hindu states were fortunate under weaker Mughal rulers to take over a very large part of the realm in the course of the 18th century. The plundering of Delhi in 1739 by the Persian Nadir Shah was also a serious blow to the Mughal Empire. Nadir Shah took such large quantities of booty from the Mughals’ treasuries home to Iran that his Persian subjects were exempted from taxes for several years. With few financial resources and a drastically reduced territory, the Mughals ceased to be a political and artistic force.
The Mughal Empire was split up at the same time, when the provincial governors in Bengal and Awadh in the east and the Deccan in the south gained de facto independence, though they still formally recognized Mughal suzerainty. These Muslim states survived for only a short while, since they were under constant pressure both from the Hindu states and from India’s new power player, Great Britain. This colonial empire had become the dominant force from around 1800 through the expansive East India Company. The British deposed the last Mughal in 1858. France’s hope of gaining influence in India, in contrast, had been shattered along with the southern realm of Mysore, whose militant Muslim leader, Tipu Sultan, was killed by British forces in 1799.
British expansion was finally stopped in the northwest at Afghanistan, after numerous failed invasion attempts. Throughout the Islamic period, the Afghan region had shared its fate with Iran and India, in turns, but in around the middle of the 18th century, a member of the local Abdali family, Ahmad Khan, founded an Afghan realm that for a period even controlled Sindh, Beluchistan, and most of Kashmir and Punjab.
The many artists who had previously worked for the Mughals sought employment during the empire’s decline in the new Muslim courts in Murshidabad, Lucknow, Faizabad, and Hyderabad. In Rajasthan, the Hindu rulers had been subject to the Mughals, but their brief period of independence revived local artistic production. A significant new style emerged in which the varied repertoire of motifs in Mughal art was combined with other elements that belonged to local, ancient Indian traditions. Colonial British influence on Indian artists also grew as they increasingly adopted European models for their work, among other things through commissions from employees of the East India Company.