The end of the Mughal Empire in 1857 was primarily tied to the Indian Rebellion of 1857, also known as the Sepoy Mutiny or the First War of Indian Independence. The Mughal Empire, which had once been a powerful and vast empire in the Indian subcontinent, had already undergone a gradual decline in the preceding centuries due to internal strife, external invasions, and the rise of regional powers.
The immediate cause of the rebellion was a series of grievances among Indian soldiers (sepoys) in the British East India Company’s army. These grievances included issues related to pay, service conditions, and the use of new cartridges rumored to be greased with cow and pig fat, which offended both Hindu and Muslim soldiers’ religious sensibilities.
The rebellion began in May 1857 in the town of Meerut, when sepoys refused to use the new cartridges and were subsequently court-martialed. This led to a larger uprising that quickly spread to other parts of northern and central India. The rebels sought to overthrow the British East India Company’s rule and restore Indian authority, and they found support from various sections of society, including peasants, landlords, and disgruntled nobility.
The Mughal Emperor at that time was Bahadur Shah II, also known as Bahadur Shah Zafar. Initially hesitant to join the rebellion, he was eventually proclaimed the leader of the uprising, providing it with a symbolic figurehead. The rebels captured Delhi, and Bahadur Shah II was declared the emperor of a restored Mughal Empire. However, the British responded swiftly and recaptured Delhi in September 1857.
After the recapture of Delhi, the British arrested Bahadur Shah II, who was tried for his involvement in the rebellion. He was found guilty and, in 1858, was exiled to Rangoon (present-day Yangon) in British-controlled Burma (present-day Myanmar). With the fall of Delhi and the suppression of the rebellion, the British Crown took direct control of India, marking the official end of the Mughal Empire.