Short notes on Nadir Shah’s Invasion to India


One of the most important events of the Reign of Muhammad Shah was the invasion of Nadir Shah in 1739. Nadir Shah had become the Ruler of Iran in 1736. He was ambitious and sought the extension of his dominions at the expense of his neighbours. He conquered Qandhar in March 1738. He entered Northern Afghanistan in May 1738. Ghazni was captured in same month. Kabul was occupied in June. Jalalabad was captured in September and Peshawar surrendered in November 1738. Lahore fell in January 1739.

A battle was fought in February 1739 between the Mughal troops and those of Nadir Shah near Karnal and the latter was successful. Khan-i- Dauran died fighting. Before his death, he gave the following warning: “Never take the Emperor to Nadir, nor conduct Nadir to Delhi, but send away that evil from this point by any means that you can devise.” About the battle of Kamal, Dr. Satish Chandra says that the disaster which befell the Mughal army at Kamal was not the result of any organised treachery but was due to the want of daring, imagination and unity on the part of the Mughal Nobles.

No attempt was made by the Mughal Court to aid and asset the Governor of Kabul to withstand Nadir Shah. The passes into India were not defended. The Delhi Court seems to have imagined that Nadir Shah would turn back after the conquest of Kabul. Khan-i-Dauran was among those who poohed most vigorously the alleged threat of a Persian invasion. Perhaps a more plausible explanation is that the Mughal court was watching the outcome of the conflict between Nizam-ul-Mulk and the Marathas awaiting the return of the armies of Nizam-ul-Mulk to Delhi.


Although Nizam-ul-Mulk was able to persuade Nadir Shah to go back after receiving Rs. 50 lacs, Saadat Khan who was the enemy of Nizam-ul-Mulk and also jealous of him, prevailed upon Nadir Shah to capture the Mughal Emperor and Nizam-ul-Mulk and secure a bigger booty by going to Delhi. The result was that Nadir Shah marched to Delhi where the Khutba was read in his name in the Mosques of Delhi. Unfortunately, a rumour was spread that Nadir Shah was dead and the inhabitants of Delhi attacked and murdered a few Iranian Soldiers.

The result was that on 11 March, 1759, an order went forth from Nadir Shah for the wholesale slaughter of the inhabitants of Delhi, Chandni Chowk, the fruit market; the Dariba Bazar and the buildings around the Jama Masjid were set on fire and reduced on ashes. The inhabitants, one and all, were slaughtered.

There was opposition at some places but most of the people were butchered without any resistance. The Iranians laid their hands on everything and everybody. All the royal jewels and property and contents of the treasury were seized by him. The Peacock Throne of Shah Jahan was also seized. Elephants, horses and precious stuffs were seized.

Nadir Shah left Delhi after a slay of 57 days. Before his departure, he put the Crown on the Head of Muhammad Shah, the Mughal Emperor who offered to Nadir Shah the provinces of the Mughal Empire West of the River Indus from Kashmir to Sind and in addition the Soobaas of Thatta and the forts subordinate to it.


The view of Sir Wolseley Haig is that the departure of Nadir left the Mughal Emperor and his courtiers stupefied with the blow which had fallen on them. For two months, nothing was done or proposed to regard to the state of affairs in the Empire. Even this blow did not change the attitude of the Mughal Emperor and his courtiers.

There is a difference of opinion among historians regarding the factors which were responsible for the invasion of India by Nadir Shah. Some attribute it to the non-observance of the accepted standards of diplomatic niceties on the part of Emperor Muhammad Shah who failed to felicitate Shah Tahmasp II on the occasion of his restoration. Some put emphasis on the failure of the Mughal Emperor to drive out the Afghans beyond the Indian borders in spite of his promises.

Another view is that the invitations of Saadat Khan and Nizam-ul-Mulk to Nadir Shah were responsible for the invasion. Those writers who accuse the Mughal Emperor of lack of polite disposition and breach of faith try to justify Nadir Shah’s act of unprovoked aggression.

Some of the Afghans who had been defeated by Nadir Shah made their way into India through difficult passes and unknown roads and came into contact with those sections of the people who were sympathetic towards them for their sufferings. It is possible that some of the fleeing columns of Afghans might have eluded the frontier guards and entered Indian Territory.


The Iranian officers could not pursue them beyond their own frontiers and Nadir Shah asked the Mughal Government to take effective steps to drive out the Afghan fugitives from India. The Mughal Emperor received Nadir Shah’s embassies with every mark of respect, provided them with princely comforts and gave them lacs of rupees in the form of gifts. He also promised to take necessary section against the enemies of Nadir Shah. He never asserted his claim over Qundhar. He did not oppose Iranian attempts for its conquest. He gave no encouragement to Afghan resistance in Qundhar.

No official support was given for their entry into India. However, any effort to chastise the Afghans meant the launching of a military expedition which he could not afford at a time when his own difficulties were on the increase. On account of his continued warfare against the Marathas, the Mughal Emperor confessed his inability to meet the demands of Nadir Shah. The truth is that the obligation of repelling the Afghans was “beyond the capacity of his power and Government.”

The insistence of Nadir Shah on the expulsion of the Afghans creates doubts about his real intensions in invading India. It appears that Nadir Shah was merely using this as a pretext to prepare the ground for an attack on India. He was obviously aware of the limited resources of the Mughal Government and the serious crisis it was facing. That situation encouraged him “to invade India and pave the way for another military success.” It is difficult to determine the number of Afghans who had taken shelter to India.

Moreover, they were scattered and stripped of their resources and hence could not be source of danger to Nadir Shah. There could not be any apprehension that the Mughal Emperor in collusion with Afghan fugitives would be able to defy the might of Nadir Shah. There is not truth in the contention that the Mughal Emperor did not want to risk a break with the Afghans and hence kept himself aloof from the war between Nadir Shah and the Afghan.


His active participation was not called for as it had no direct bearing on his fortunes. In the light of these facts it is clear that there is no element of truth in the charges of breach of faith and lack of courtesy leveled against Muhammad Shah. Lockhart rightly observes that “Nadir Shah’s express desire to punish the Afghans was only a pretext and that he had for some time harboured the design of conquering India.”

The real cause of invasion of India was that he was attracted to India by the fabulous wealth of the country. Continual campaigns had made Persia virtually bankrupt. Money was needed desperately to maintain his mercenary army. Spoils from India could help him to solve the problems. The visible weakness of the Mughal Empire made such spoliations possible.

As regards the impact of Nadir Shah’s invasion, it left a deep impact on the course of Indian History. It gave a severe blow to the already tottering Mughal Empire and expedited the process of its disintegration. The quick victory of Nadir Shah demonstrated the hollowness of the authority of the Mughal Emperor and encouraged the Governors of far off provinces to assert their independence.

As a result of the invasion, the Mughal Emperor surrendered the territories lying to the West of the River Indus which was a permanent loss to the Mughal Empire. The Mughal Emperor lost not only the provinces of Western Punjab and Sindh but also lost permanently Kabul which was annexed to Afghanistan.


The invasion paved the way for future invasions on India from the North-West. As a result of the loss of the territories to the West of the River Indus, the natural defence boundaries of the; Mughal Empire were weakened and that made the job of the future invaders of India easy. The invasion also demonstrated the weakness of the Mughal Empire and encouraged the future invaders to come to India.

The complete political chaos and confusion which prevailed in North-West Frontier after the invasion of Nadir Shah led to a series of foreign invasions after 1739. The invasion also ruined the country financially. Nadir Shah not only caused large-scale destruction of life and property but also carried with him booty of over 70 crores of rupees. That made the bad financial condition worse.

V.A. Smith writes, “Nadir Shah proceeded systematically and remorselessly to collect from all classes of population the wealth of Delhi, the accumulation of nearly three centuries and a half. After a stay of fifty-eight days, he departed for his own country laden with treasure of incalculable richness, including the world-famed peacock throne of Shah Jahan.”

The view of Dr. Bisheshwar Prasad is that “the defeat at the heads of Nadir Shah exposed the incapacity and lustful luxuriousness of the nobles who commanded the army. It showed the inanity of the central authority with its factious and impotent jealousies in the court circles. This exposure was a death-knell of the Empire, the central edifice which had kept the centrifugal forces in restraint.

The consequence was the disintegration of the Mughal Empire into a large number of provincial or local states, which, while maintaining the facade of obedience to the Crown, strengthened their autonomy. The central Government was soon reduced to a mere shadow, its authority scarcely prevailing beyond the suburbs of Delhi in time to come.”

Dr. Satish Chandra writes that the effects of the invasion continued to be felt along after the departure of Nadir Shah. The invasion proclaimed the real weakness of the Mughal Empire to the entire world, particularly to the European Adventurers who were gradually increasing their commercial activities and were watching the political situation in the country with keen interest. The invasion of Nadir Shah demonstrated forcefully that a new political situation had been created in Northern India.

The loss of post for the country’s defense and advantage point for following West Asian affairs. All the Indian powers including the Marathas were made aware that a new force had arisen in West Asia and the Indians could no longer bank on her North-West Regions being safe from recurrent foreign invasions. Whether those invasions would be in the nature of plundering raids only or would also aim at the creation of a dynastic empire remained to be seen.

The parties at the Mughal Court were also affected by the invasion of Nadir Shah. Among the old leaders, Saadat Khan and Khan-i-Dauran were dead. Nizam-ul-Mulk and Qamar-ud-Din Khan had forfeited the confidence of the Emperor for their sorry part in the Battle of Karnal. Nizam-ul-Mulk decided once again to leave the Mughal Court and sought an agreement with the Marathas for maintaining his position in the Deccan. Safdarjang, Amir Khan and a number of other nobles gradually rose into prominence. The decline in the imperial prestige led to a resumption of the old struggle for Wizarat. The wealth extorted by Nadir Shah from the Emperor, his nobles, the commercial classes and the citizens of Delhi represented a big drain on the resources of the country.

It not only dealt crippling blow to the power and authority of the Emperor who was left with no cash reserves for an emergency, but also affected the position of impoverishment of the nobles led a sharpening of the struggle for the possession of Jagirdars. The tendency towards rack-renting of the peasantry became more marked. The realisation of land revenue became more and more a kind of military operation and a large number of peasants were massacred. The invasion of Nadir Shah also led to the introduction of the quick firing musket and improved light artillery in India.

The Rohilla Afghans were the first to adopt them but the Marathas continued with very light cavalry warfare. The rise of Nadir Shah and his invasion of India ended the close cultural contact between India and Persia which has subsisted between the two preceding centuries. The Indian frontier no longer marched with Iran and Turan so that the adventurers from these countries into India finally stopped.

It had an indirect beaming 01: India and its social and cultural development. The Irani and Turani immigrants who had settled down in India found it difficult to stand aside as a separate cultural and social group or to adopt an attitude of social and cultural superiority. The result was that the forces making for the creation of a composite culture and society in the country were strengthened in the long run.

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