The Mughal Administration

Date: December 10, 2014

                                Mughal Administration      


The Mughal empire was a centralized disposition based on military power. It rested on two pillars : the absolute authority of the emperor and the strength of the army. The emperor was the supreme commander of the armed forces, and all other commanders were appointed and – if necessary – removed by him. He determined the rank of every mansabdar and allotted jagirs for the maintenance of the mansabdar. He was the fountain of justice as also the supreme judge. He made laws and issued administrative ordinances which had the force of laws, although the principles of the shariat (Islamic law) were generally adhered to. Yet the Mughal system of centralization was universally effective under Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb.

               Like other medieval states, the Mughal empire followed “the policy of the individualistic minimum of interference” i.e. it contented itself with discharging only the police duties and the collection of revenue.

               The Mughal administration presented a combination of Indian and extra-Indian elements, or more correctly, it was the “Perso-Arabic system in Indian setting”. The bifurcation of authority in the provinces – the division of power between the subahdar and the diwan – was based on the system prevailing under the Arab rulers in Egypt. The revenue system was a resultant of two forces – the time-honoured Hindu practice and the abstract Arabian theory. The mansabdari system was of Central Asian origin.

               In the days of Babur and Humayun there was a prime minister, known as vakil, who was entrusted with large powers in civil and military affairs. During the early years of Akbar’s reign, Bairam Khan, as vakil, virtually served as regent for the minor sovereign. After Bairam Khan’s fall the office of vakil was not abolished, it was gradually shorn of all powers because it was not considered prudent to allow concentration of authority in a single person. At the end of Akbar’s reign the office became ‘more or less honorific’ and continued till the reign of Shah Jahan.

               The all-important department of finance, taken away from the vakil, was placed in charge of the wazir (or diwan). After the virtual disappearance of the vakil, the wazir became the emperor’s ‘minister par excellence’ i.e. prime minister. He was the intermediary between the emperor and the rest of the official world. Among the wazirs who have left their impress on the Mughal history are Raja Todarmal, Raja Raghunath, Sadullah Khan and Jalar Khan.

               The emperor was the commander-in-chief of the entire army. The minister who looked after the administration of the army was called mir bakshi. He was in charge of recruitment, equipment and discipline of the troops. The salary bill of all mansabdars had to be calculated and passed by his office. Towards the end of Aurangzeb’s reign the expansion of the empire necessitated the appointment of four bakhshis: the chief or first bakshi, and the second, third and fourth bakhshis.              

               The khan-i-saman held independent charge of the household department and the karkhanas.

               The sadr-us-sudur had three important functions. He acted as the emperor’s chief adviser in ecclesiastical matters. He was in charge of the disbursement of imperial grants for religious, educational and charitable purposes. He was the chief justice of the empire, and his judicial authority was subordinate to that of the emperor only.

High Officials – The muhatasib (censor of public morals) was primarily an ecclesiastical officer whose duty it was to regulate the lives of the people. He also performed certain secular duties, such as the examination of weights and measures, enforcement of fair prices in the market, recovery of debts and restoration of fugitive slaves to their owners.

               There was a diwan of the khalisa in-charge of the crown lands. The diwan-i-tan looked after matters relating to the jagirs.

               Apart from military and judicial officers, mention should be made of the mustaufi or the auditor-general, the daroga-i-dak chauki who was in charge of the imperial post, the mir-i-arz who was in charge of petitions, the mir-i-mal or the officer in charge of the privy purse and the mir tuzuk or the master of ceremonies.

               The central government kept itself informed of the occurrences in all parts of the country by means of public news-reporters and secret spies. There were four classes of such agents : waqianavis (news-writers), swanith-nigar (news-writers), khufia-navis (secret letter-writer), harkarah (spy and courier).

Provincial Government

Subahs : The administrative division of the Mughal territories in the reigns of Babur and Humayun were districts rather than provinces. Sher Shah appointed military governors in the Punjab, Malwa and Ajmer, but Bengal was divided into several sarkars which corresponded to districts. In 1580, Akbar divided the empire into twelve provinces (subahs) : Agra, Delhi, Allahabad, Awadh, Ajmer, Ahmedabad (Gujarat), Bihar, Bengal, Kabul, Lahore (Punjab), Multan and Malwa. By the end of his reign the number of provinces had increased to fifteen with the addition of three newly annexed provinces in the Deccan : Berar, Khandesh and Ahmadnagar (that part of the Nizamshahi Sultanate which was brought under Mughal administration). After the conquests of Bijapur and Golcunda (1686-87) and the fall of Sambhaji (1689), the empire was divided into twenty-one subahs (one in Afghanistan, fourteen in North India and six in South India) as follows : Kabul, Agra, Ajmer, Allahabad, Awadh, Bengal, Bihar, Delhi, Gujarat, Kashmir, Lahore, Malwa, Multan, Orissa, Thatta (Sind), Khandesh, Berar, Aurangabad, Bidar Bijapur and Hyderabad.

               Initially each subah had one governor who was officially called sipah salar (commander of the forces). Abul Fazl calls him the ‘Viceregent of the emperor’. In later times, the designation was changed to nazim (regular of the province) but usually known as subahdar. In 1586, Akbar made an important change; the governing authority in every subah was bifurcated and the office of the provincial diwan was created.

               The subahdar was appointed by the Emperor. He was usually a mansabdar of high rank and enjoyed a salary depending upon his rank in the mansabdari system. He was the commander of the provincial army. His essential duties were to maintain law and order, to supervise general administration, to administer criminal justice, to help the smooth collection of revenue (including the tribute due from vassal chiefs) and to execute the imperial decrees and regulations sent to him. The subahdars were periodically transferred from one province to another or given other assignments in the imperial service.

Diwan : The diwan was, in a way, the rival of the subahdar, “the two had to keep a strict and jealous watch on each other”. This division of provincial administrative authority was a continuation of the early Arab system of government in Egypt. He was responsible for the collection of land revenue and other taxes, for accounting and auditing, as also for the administration of civil justice. He appointed collectors (kroris and tahsildars). He was directed to “cause the extension of cultivation and habitation in the villages.”

Faujdar and kotwal : The faujdars were placed in charge of those subdivisions of the province which were important an account of the presence of zamindars or provided large revenue or contained towns. They were the chief assistants of the subahdar in the discharge of the executive functions and in the maintenance of peace.

               The kotwal was primarily the chief of the city police. Apart from enforcing law and order, he had to discharge many functions of a modern municipality, control weights and prices and enforce the Quranic rules of morality.

               The administrative agency of the provinces was in some respects “an exact miniature of the central government. Apart from the subahdar and the diwan, the subah had its own high officials – bakhshi, sadr quiz, buyutat, muhtasib, waqai-navis and mir bahr – who discharged the same duties in the province s officers bearing the same titles did for the whole empire.

               The bakshi was the paymaster of the provincial army. The provincial buyutat was the keeper of government property and official trustee. The muhtasib was the censor of public morals. The mir bahr looked after bridges required for military use, port duties, customs, boat and ferry taxes, etc.

               Akbar made significant changes in the legal status of the Hindus. He amended the personal laws of the Hindus in certain matters. He tried to control early marriage, polygamy and sati. He permitted Hindu widows to remarry. Under Aurangzeb the unqualified supremacy of the Islamic law was restored. Akbar’s legal reforms were repealed.

               During the Mughal period – as during the period of the Sultanate – criminal justice was administered according to the Islamic law. Even Akbar did not make any basic change in this system. A comprehensive legal digest (fatwa-i-alamgiri) was prepared by a syndicate of theologians under Aurangzeb’s directive. Punishments for crimes were of four kinds : (a) had (censure, exposing the offender to public scorn, scourging, imprisonment, exile); (b) qiyas (retaliation, killing of the offender by the murdered man’s next of kin); (c) tashhir (shaving the offender’s head and parading him on an ass through the streets, etc.); and (d) offences against the state – misappropriation of government funds, etc – were punished according to the emperor’s pleasure.

               The emperor was the highest court of appeal and sometimes acted as a court of first instance as well. Next to the emperor was the Chief qazi (qazi-ul-quzat) who held the office of Chief Sadr (sadr-us-sudur) as well). Apart from disputes relating to the religious and personal laws of the Muslims and the Hindus, criminal and civil cases were generally decided by the subahdar, the faujdars, the shiqdars and the kotwals on the basis of customary law, ordinances issued by the emperors and equity. The diwan did not hear criminal cases. Akbar took away from the subahdars the power of inflicting capital punishment.

Fiscal System – The major heads of imperial revenue were land revenue, customs duties, mint, inheritance, tribute paid by feudatory princes, presents, monopolies and indemnities. Of these the most important was land revenue. A considerable revenue was derived from customs and inland transit duties. The duties on foreign imports were levied at all ports. The administrative officer of a port was called shahbandar.

               The Mughal coinage reached a high standard in respect of purity of metal, fulness of weight and artistic execution. Coins were made of gold, silver and copper. Apart form the imperial mint in Delhi there were provincial mints. The gold and silver used for coinage had to be imported from abroad; gold for coinage had to be imported from abroad; gold from East Africa (through the Portuguese settlements) at Safola and Mozambique) and silver from other countries.

               There was a regular department of the state called bait-ul-mal where the property of all nobles and officers of the state (as also the property of all persons dying without heirs) had to be kept in deposit after their death.

               The revenues of the subah were drawn from assignments of land (jagirs) granted to the subahdar, diwan and other officials in lieu of cash salaries, miscellaneous taxes and cesses, transit dues and duties, fines, presents etc.

Army – The Mughal government was military in its origin, and though in time it became rooted to the soil, it retained its military character to the last. Every government official holding a military or civil post was enrolled in the army list and treated as the commander – real or nominal – of a specified number of horsemen.

The emperor was the head of the army and its commander-in-chief. Each field army was placed under a general. The troops available for purposes of war and internal defence were divided into four categories : (a) forces of the tributary chiefs; 9b) the mansabdari contingents – chiefly cavalry – in accordance with the grade of the – mansabdars in the official hierarchy; (c) dakhili troops, directly managed by the state and paid from the imperial treasury; and (d) the ahadis, the gentlemen troopers who were young men of position and good family recruited by the emperor and owed allegiance to him directly. They were placed under the command of an amir and had a separate bakhshi (paymaster). They were employed on a variety of duties, including civil duties.

The fighting forces of the great Mughals were composed of cavalry, infantry, artillery and sea and river flotillas. The cavalry was the most important of these four branches and was regarded as the ‘flower of the army’. The infantry was the largest branch of the army. The artillery-men were paid by the state and administered as a Department of the Household. The officer-in-charge of artillery was called mir-i-atish or daroga-i-topkhanah. The department which maintained sea and river flotillas was under mir-i-bahri.

The Mughal army was never an integrated forces, but a heterogeneous force of different races. The great Mughals also did not create an adequate and self-sufficient standing army, recruited and paid directly by the state. A serious organizational defect was the very low proportion of officers to men on active service. Though the army was numerically strong, the infantry was virtually useless and there was no naval wing. There was no commissariat service and each man had to make his own transport arrangement. The Mughal army on the march looked like ‘an unwieldy moving city’. The weakening of military power rendered the decline and fall of the Mughal empire inevitable.

The Mansabdari System – The mansabdari system introduced by Akbar was a unique feature of the administrative system of the Mughal empire. The term mansab (i.e. office, position or rank) in the Mughal administration indicated the rank of its holder (mansabdar) in the official hierarchy. The mansabdari system was of Central Asian origin. According to one view Babur brought it to North India. But the credit of giving it an institutional framework goes to Akbar who made it the basis of Mughal military organization and civil administration. The mansabdars formed the ruling group in the Mughal empire. Almost the whole nobility, the bureaucracy as well as the military hierarchy, held mansabs. Consequently, the numerical strength of the mansabdars and their composition during different periods materially influenced not only politics and administration but also the economy of the empire. Since the mansabdars of the Mughal empire received their pay either in cash (naqd) or in the form of assignments of area of land (jagir) from which they were entitled to collect the land revenue and all other taxes sanctioned by the emperor, the mansabdari system was also an integral part of the agrarian and the jagirdari system.

Basic Features : The mansabdars belonged both to the civil and military departments. They were transferred from the civil side to the military department and vice versa. The Mughal mansab was dual, represented by two members, one designated zat (personal rank) and the other sawar (cavalry rank). The chief use of zat was to place the holders in an appropriate position in the official hierarchy. In the early years of Akbar’s reign the mansabs (ranks) ranged from command of 10 to 5,000 troops. Subsequently the highest mansabs were raised from 10,000 to 12,000; but there was no fixed number of mansabdars. From the reign of Akbar to Aurangzeb their number kept on increasing. In or about 1595 the total number of mansabdars during the reign of Akbar was 1803; but towards the close of Aurangzeb’s reign their number rose to 14,449. In theory all mansabdars were appointed by the emperor, who also granted promotions on the basis of gallantry in military service and merit. The mansabdars holding ranks below 500 zat were called mansabdars, those more than 500 but below 2,500 amirs and those holding ranks of 2,500 and above were called amir-i-umda or amir-i-azam or omrahs. The mansabdars who received pay in cash were known as naqdi and those paid though assignments of jagirs were called jagirdars. The jagirs were by nature transferable and no mansabdar was allowed to retain the same jagir for a long period. The watan-jagirs were the only exception to the general system of jagir transfers. The watan-jagirs were normally granted to those zamindars who were already of possession their watans (homelands) before the expansion of the Mughal empire. The mansab was not hereditary and it authomatically lapsed after the death or dismissal of the mansabdar. The son of a mansabdar, if he was granted a mansab, had to begin afresh. Another important feature of the mansabdari system ws the law of escheat (zabti), according to which when a mansabdar died all his property was confiscated by the emperor. This measure had been introduced so that the mansabdars did not exploit the people in a high-handed manner.

Gradual Changes in the Mansabdari System – While the basic elements of Akbar’s mansabdari system were retained in the seventeenth century, certain new features appeared during the reign of his successors. The reign of Jahangir saw an important innovation in the mansabdari system, namely the introduction of the du-aspah sih-aspah rank (literally, trooper with two or three horses) which implied that a mansabdar had to maintain and was paid for double the quota of troopers indicated by his sawar rank. Thus a mansabdar holding a zat rank of 3,000 and 3,000 du-aspah sih-aspah would be required to maintain 6,000 troopers. Fur du-aspah sih-aspah, both the pay and obligations of the mansabdars were doubled. Under Shah Jahan we have new scales of pay, monthly rations and new regulations prescribing the sizes of contingents under various sawar ranks. For the purpose of assigning jagirs the revenue department had to maintain a register indicating the assessed income (jama) of various areas, which was not indicated in rupees but in dams, calculated at the rate of 40 dams to a rupee. This document was called jama-dami or assessed income of an area based on damas. During the reign of Shah Jahan the jama-dami or value of the jagir increased in accordance with the price rise during the period. During the reign of Aurangzeb there was a large increase in the number of mansabdar, specially of the higher grades. The number of mansabdars became so large that there were complaints that no jagirs were left for being granted to them. The crisis became so acute that the emperor and his ministers repeatedly contemplated stopping all fresh recruitments, but the force of circumstances prevented them from doing so leading to the jagirdari and agrarian crisis which, in turn, precipitated the collapse of the mansabdari system after Aurangzeb.

The Ruling Classes –The nobility along with the zamindars formed the ruling class of the Mughal empire. Mansabdars formed the bulk of the Mughal nobility. They wee not only public servants but also the richest class in the empire and a closed aristocracy. Heredity was the most important factor in the appointment of the nobles. The khanazadas or sons and descendants of mansabdars had the best claim of all, and constituted a little less than half of the nobility during the period.

               The other portion of the nobility comprised persons who already had both distinction and power through hold over land. To this group belonged the zamindars or chiefs. Akbar gave great importance to them by granting mansabs to a large number of zamindars.  Their ancestral domains were treated as watan-jagirs.

               Then there were nobles and high officers of other states who were given a place in the Mughal nobility on account of their experience, status and influence or the contingents they command and the territories they controlled. A very small portion of the Mughal nobility was recruited from those who  had no claims to high birth but were pure administrators or accountants. Finally, mansabdari ranks were also awarded to scholars, religious divines, men of letters etc.

               The Mughal nobility during the early years of Akbar came to consist of certain well-organised racial groups. These were the Turanis, Iranis, Afghans, Shaikhzadas, the Rajputs etc. Later on, in the seventeenth century, with the expansion of the Mughal power in the Deccan, there was an influx of the Deccanis – the Bijapuris, the Hyderabadis and the Marathas – into the Mughal nobility.

               There was, therefore, great diversity in the Mughal nobility and there existed a certain amount of jealousy among various sections of the nobility. The Mughal nobles received very high salaries but their expenses were also extravagant and they lived a life of great pomp and luxury. Consequently, spending, not saving, was the chief characteristics of the ruling class. Still there were a large number of nobles who invested their money on interest and owned a fleet of mercantile ships and took part in trade and commerce, particularly foreign trade which was very profitable. But income from land, rather than trade and commerce, was the chief occupation and concern of the nobles.

The Jagirdari System – As stated earlier the Mansabdars of the Mughal empire received their pay in cash (naqd) or in the assignments of areas of land. The assignments were known as jagirs and the assignees as Jagirdars. Jagirs were usually granted to the mansabdars and the governing class of the empire. Whenever a person was assigned to him were such as bore a janadami in the imperial register exactly equal to his pay. The particular jagir was not usually held by the same person for more than three or four years. But the hereditary zamindars were granted jagirs in their homelands which were four years. But the hereditary zamindars were granted jagirs in their homelands which were known as watan-jagirs. Non-zamindars did not usually hold any watan-jagirs.

               The jagirdar was entitled to collect from his jagir the land revenue and various cesses and petty taxes due to the state. The jagirdars had to employ their own agents to collect the revenue and taxes within the jagir. During the later years of Aurangzeb’s reign, due to the increase in the number of mansabdars and limited availability of land, administrative and financial dislocation of the empire caused a crisis in the jagirdari system. People appointed to mansabs found it very difficult to get jagirs and a wit said at the court that a boy mansabdar, newly appointed, would have turned grey before he could obtain his jagir. After a person had been granted a jagir, there was no certainty that it would not be transferred to someone else. Soon jagir assignments by the Mughal court became mere paper orders, and a large number of persons who were granted mansabs never got jagirs. The jagirdari system was one of the important factors responsible for the agrarian crisis in the Mughal empire.

The Zamindars – In the Mughal official records the term zamindar was used in a very wide sense. It covered petty landholders in the villages, descendants of old ruling families who retained small portions of their ancestral lands as well as the Rajput and other chiefs who exercised autonomous administrative authority in their principalities. The zamindars had hereditary rights of collecting land revenue from a number of villages which were called his talluqa or zamindari. For the collection of land revenue they used to get a share of revenues which could go up to 25 percent of the revenue. In Bengal the zamindars paid the state a fixed sum as the revenue of a village, making collection from the individual peasants at rates fixed by custom or by himself. The difference between his collections and the amount he paid to the state was his personal income. Where the state demand reached the maximum that the peasant could pay, a deduction of 10 percent was made from the total amount of revenue and paid to the zamindars as malikana either in cash or in the form of revenue-free land.

               The zamindar was not the owner of the land of his zamindari and peasants could not be dispossessed of land as long as they paid land revenue. The zamindars served the state as an agency for collection of revenue and exercised considerable local influence in administrative and social affairs. They often command armed forces and had fortresses. According to Abul Fazl, their combined troops exceeded 44 lakhs. Sometimes the state had to use military force against recalcitrant zamindars for the realization of revenue. The general attitude of the Mughal ruling class towards zamindars was unfriendly, if not hostile. Writing in Aurangzeb’s reign Munucci says : “Usually there is some rebellion of rajas and zamindars going on in the Moghul Kingdom”. The zamindars were a very powerful class and were to be found all over the Mughal empire under different names, such as deshmukhs, patils, nayaks, etc. In some respects of zamindars and the peasants were natural allies in any struggle against the Mughal government. The higher class of zamindars, i.e. tributary chiefs, also rendered military service to the Mughal government. Hereditary succession to zamindari was the general rule. Zamindari was divisible among legal heirs and could also be freely bought and sold. Normally in the Mughal empire villages were divided into zamindari and rayati (non-zamindari) areas.

Agrarian Relations – Before beginning the general survey of the agrarian relations in Mughal India, it is necessary to examine the land revenue (mal, kharaj), which constituted a large part of the agricultural surplus. Mal essentially represented a claim on behalf of the state to a share of the actual crop.

Land Revenue Systems – Akbar was the founder of the Mughal revenue system, which he evolved through experiments that continued till 1585. In the beginning, he adopted Sher Shah’s system in which the cultivated area was measured and a central schedule was drawn up fixing the dues of peasants cropwise on the basis of the productivity of the land. The state’s share was one-third of the produce; the produce under the schedule being valued at prices fixed by the emperor. In fixing the prices, the rates current in the vicinity of Delhi were probably taken as the basis. This arrangement created difficulties, because one uniform schedule of prices of crops could not reasonably be applied to the whole empire. Prices were lower in rural areas which were far away from the urban centres and the cultivators found it difficult to pay in cash at the official rate.  In the tenth year of his (Akbar’s) reign, prices of crops prevailing in different regions were substituted for the uniform schedule and the emperor reverted to a system of annual assessment. In 1573, the annual assessment was given up and karoris were appointed all over North India to collect a crore of dams as revenue and to check the facts and figures supplied by the qanungos regarding the actual produce, state of cultivation, local prices etc. These karoris were also known as amils or amialguzars. On the basis of the above facts and figures, a new system was development in 1580 called the dahsala system. This system was an improved version of the zabti system which was the standard system of revenue assessment during the greater part of the Mughal empire. The credit for developing this system goes to Todarmal who became the head of the wizarat or revenue ministry.

               During the reign of Akbar and his successors four main systems of revenue assessment were prevalent : (a) zabti or dahsala system; (b) batai,, ghallabakshi or bhaoli; (c) kankut and (d) nasaq

  • zabti or dahsala system – As stated earlier, the dahsala was an improvement on the zabti system. For the purpose of assessment the land was classified in Akbar’s reign in four categories : polaj (land which was cultivated every year and never left fallow); parati or parauti (land which had to be left fallow for a time to enable it to recover fertility); chachar (land which had to be left fallow for three or four years); and banjar (land which remained uncultivated for five years or more). Polaj and parauti lands were classified into three categories – good, middling and bad – and the average produce per bigha of these three categories was taken as the normal produce of a bigha. Parauti land, when cultivated, paid the same revenue as polaj land. The chachar and banjar lands were charged a concessional rate which was progressively increased to full or polaj rate (i.e. one-third of the produce) by the fifth or the eighth year. Under the dahsala system an attempt was made to work out the revenue rates. The state demand was given in maunds; but for the conversion of the state demand from kind to cash, a separate schedule of cash revenue rates (dasturu’l amals) for various crops was fixed. For a period of the past ten years, 1570-71, 1579-80, information on yields, prices, and area cultivated was collected for each locality. On the basis of the average prices of different crops in each locality over the past ten years the state demand was fixed in rupees per bigha. Each revenue circle had a separate schedule of cash revenues rates (dasturu’l amal) for various crops. Thus the peasant was required to pay on the basis of local produce as well as local prices. The dahsala was neither a ten-year nor a permanent settlement, and the state had the right to modify it. Since this system was associated with Raja Todarmal, it is also known as Todarmal’s bandabust or settlement, and the state had the right to modify it. Since this system was associated with Raja Todarmal, it is also known as Todarmal’s bandabust or settlement. This system prevailed from Lahore to Allahabad and in the provinces of Malwa and Gujarat. A major extension of it, occurred in the later years of Shah Jahan’s reign, when it was introduced in the Deccan by Murshid Quli Khan.

This system greatly simplified the process of assessment. The cash rates (dasturu’l amals) were not fixed by a “rule of thumb”, but were based on enquiries into the yields and prices of each crop in different localities.

  • Batai, ghalla-bakshi or bhaoli – This was a very old system which continued during the Mughal period. This was a simple method of crop-sharing in which the produce was arranged into heaps and divided into three shares, one of which was taken by the state. Under this system the peasant had the choice to pay in cash or kind, but in the cash of cash crops the state demand was mostly in cash.
  • Kankut – This system was already in use in the fourteenth century. Under this method, instead of actually dividing the grain (kan), an estimate (kut) was made on the basis of an actual inspection on the spot. One-third of the estimated produce was fixed as the state demand. In simple terms, it was a rough estimate of produce on the basis of actual inspection and past experience.
  • Nasaq – This was widely prevalent in the Mughal empire, particularly in Bengal. In this system a rough calculation was made on the basis of the past revenue receipts of the peasants. It required no actual measurement, but the area was ascertained from the records.

The zabti system was the standard system, but other methods of assessment were prevalent in different parts of the empire. In the subahs of Ajmer, Kashmir and southern Sind, crop-sharing and in Bengal nasaq were prevalent. There was however, a contradiction in the Mughal revenue system. Although the assessment was made by the state of the individual cultivator, the collection of revenue was made through intermediaries like zamindars, talluqdars, muqaddams, patils etc.

Land Grants –Over the large portion of the empire land was assigned to certain classes of persons of whom the jagirdars were the most important. The jagirs, however, were temporary assignments. Certain other grants were of a permanent nature, such as the madad-i-ma’ash (also called sayurghal) or grants for subsistence. Jahangir introduced the altamgha grant on the Central Asian model. Such a grant could be annulled only by order of the emperor. Another type of grants, namely aimma grant of land, was made to Muslim religious leaders. These grantees belonged largely to the Muslim theological and scholarly classes; they also comprised pensioned off officials, widows and other women belonging to families of some status. Being more or less permanently installed, the grantees often sought to acquire zamindari rights within their grants and elsewhere.

Khalisa – The revenue-yielding land administered directly by the imperial Revenue Department was known as khalisa. Ordinarily the most fertile and easily administered lands were brought within the khalisa. The extent of such lands varied from time to time. Jahangir reduced the extent of khalisa lands, but Shah Jahan increased it. Again in the later years of Aurangzeb’s reign lands were released from the khalisa area for jagir assignments. Khalisa lands were often converted into jagirs and vice versa.

               In the Mughal agrarian system there were a number of intermediaries such as the zamindars, the muqaddams or the mukhiyas, the chaudhuris, the talluqdars etc. Virtually the entire country was under the jurisdiction of one or another type of intermediary who played a very important political, administrative and economic role in the Mughal empire. Their principal duties were to submit revenue returns, to maintain law and order and to ensure that assessments were reasonably made. The Mughal empire was fundamentally dependant on the cooperation and support of the zamindars. Towards the close of Aurangzeb’s reign the burden of the share of different categories of zamindars as also of the imperial revenue demand ultimately fell on the cultivators, which placed a great strain on the agrarian economy. As the imperial authority declined and the pressure on jagirs increased, the agricultural economy had to face a crisis which began to deepen in the eighteenth century.

Agricultural Production – An important feature of Indian agriculture during the Mughal period was the large number of food and non-food crops. The Ain-i-Akbari gives revenues rates for sixteen crops of the rabi (spring) harvest, and twenty-five crops of the kharif (autumn) season. The seventeenth century saw the introduction and expansion of two major crops – tobacco and maize. Sericulture also witnessed enormous expansion during this century, making Bengal one of the great silk-producing regions of the world. Horticulture also witnessed some important developments.

               An interesting feature of agriculture during the Mughal times was the mobility of peasantry. In this connection we find two terms – the khudkasht and the paikasht or pahikasht – frequently mentioned in the contemporary sources. The interpretation of these terms is disputed, but according to the widely accepted meaning of the terms, khudkasht was a peasant proprietor who was “directly exercising proprietary rights over land either as a peasant proprietor or as a person cultivating his lands or as a person or as a person who had given out his land to his tenant farmers”.         Pahikasht referred to peasants who either cultivated the lands in other villages or took up cultivation of other’s lands as tenant farmers. During the sixteenth-seventeenth centuries there was no shortage of land and fresh virgin lands were being brought under cultivation.

               The Indian peasantry in the Mughal empire was highly stratified and there was considerable difference in the size of holdings, produce and resources of the peasants within the same locality. The difference in the size of holdings and resources of the peasants had its implications on the cultivation of different crops. The market and cash crops, such as cotton, sugarcane, indigo, opium, etc., which required larger investment, were cultivated only by the bigger peasants or small zamindars. During the seventeenth century, India produced enormous quantities of ‘industrial crops’.

               There were two factors – natural and human – which accounted for serious interruptions or violet setbacks in agricultural production. The first factor was climatic which in severe conditions often resulted in recurring famines leading to setbacks in agricultural production. The mortality in each major famine, which was often accompanied by pestilence, was frightening. The human factor related to agrarian exploitation which was so oppressive to the peasantry that no spectacular increase in agricultural production was possible.

Agrarian Crisis of the Mughal Empire – The agrarian crisis of the Mughal empire, which ultimately proved to be one of the most important causes for the decline of the Mughal empire, was brought about by a number of factors, particularly by the evils of the jagirdari system.

               The jagirs were divorced from any rights to land and were essentially assignment of revenue. The tendency in the imperial revenue department was to pitch the revenue demand at the highest possible rate so as to secure resources for the military operations of the empire. With the passage of time the revenue demand kept on increasing. There was also conflict between the interests of the imperial administration and those of the individual jagirdar. A jagirdar whose assignment was liable to be transferred any moment and “who never held the same jagir for more than three or four years, could never follow a far-sighted policy of agricultural development”. In the seventeenth century the belief had become deep-rooted that the system of jagir transfers led inexorably to reckless exploitation of the peasantry. Moreover, the jagirdars imposed and realized numerous other taxes from the peasantry. Frequently, “the peasants were compelled to sell their women, children and cattle in order to meet the revenue demand”. With the passage of time the oppression increased, the cultivation declined and the number of absconding peasants grew. During the early years of Aurangzeb, Bernier records that “a considerable portion of the good land remains untilled for want of labourers, many of whom perish in consequence of the bad treatment from the governors or are left with no choice but to abandon the country”. Beyond a point there was no choice left to the peasant but that between starvation or slavery and armed resistance.

               The flight of the peasants from their land was a common phenomenon. Some peasants abandoned agriculture altogether. The classic act of defiance on the part of the peasants was the refusal to pay land revenue. The ties of caste played an important role in rousing peasants to act collectively in defence of their interests. Religion also united the peasantry to fight for their common ideals. The inspiration for the two powerful rebellions of the Satanamis and the Sikhs against the Mughals came from a common religious faith. The discontent of the zamindars against the Mughals provided a leadership to these agrarian uprisings. The peasants and zamindars thus frequently joined hands in their struggle against the Mughals.

               The Jat and the Bundela rebellions, the Satanami uprising, the rise of the Sikh and the Maratha powers, were all caused by agrarian tensions. The whole empire was so full of contradictions that conflicts were inevitable. There were conflicts of interests between the various groups of landed class. Whenever the local intermediary of chieftain rose in rebellion he was able to muster behind him a very large section of primary zamindars as well as the tenant-farmers against the imperial government. All these factors ultimately led to the collapse of the whole system.

Later Mughals (1707-1806)

1707-1712, February

Bahadur Shah I, His actual name was Muazzam, who crowned himself Emperor with the title of Bahadur Shah. He defeated his brother Kam Baksh in the war of succession fought on January 13, 1709. He pursued a conciliatory policy towards the Rajputs and the Marathas. Released Shahu, son of Shambhaji, from the Mughal captivity. He was the last of the Mughal sovereigns who ‘reigned as well as ruled’. With his death commenced the era of puppet rulers.

1712, March -1713, January

Jahandar Shah : War of succession against his three brothers. He was utterly depraved in morals and was defeated and murdered in prison at Farrukhsiyar’s orders

1713, January – 1719, February

Farrukhsiyar : Came to power with the help of the notorious Saiyid Brother – Saiyid Hussain Ali Khan and Abdullah Khan, popularly known as the King Markers . In 1717, he issued farmans in favour of the English Company granting it the privilege to conduct their trade without the payment of custom duties in Bengal, Deccan and Gujarat, on the payment of an agreed amount annually to the Governors of the respective Subhas. The Sikh leader Bandar Bahadur defeated captured and killed. Farrukhsiyar was arrested imprisoned and killed at the orders of the Saiyid brothers.

After killing Farrukhsiyar, the Saiyid brothers placed two puppet rulers Rafi-ud-darjat and Rafi-ud-daulah on the throne and both of them died within six months.

1719, September – 1748, April

Muhammad Shah : His actual name was Rushan Akhtar, who was enthroned by the Saiyid brother. His only achievement was to manage the fall of the notorious Saiyid brothers in 1720. Abolished Jaziah in 1720. He is popularly known as Rangila or Rangile, an account of wine, women and music being his only past times. Peshwa Baji Rao I, captured Gujarat, Malwa, Bundelkhand from the Mughals and attacked Delhi in 1737. The Persian invader Nadir Shah invaded Indian in 1739, defeated Muhammad Shah in the battle of Karnal, sacked Delhi and took away the most precious wealth of the Mughals, including the Peacock Throne and Koh-i-noor diamond. The first invasion of the Afghan invader Ahmad Shah Abdali, who occupied Lahore (January 1748), also took place a few months before Muhammad Shah’s death (25 April, 1748). Under his rule the ‘Mughal imperial state lost its dignity, soul and the process of its disintegration became almost complete.’


Ahmad Shah : He remained under the total control of his mother Udhami Bai, a woman of poor intellect and immoral character. Ahmad Shah’s first Wazir was Safdag Jang, the second Nawab of Awadh. He was dismissed by the Queen mother, who appointed Itizam-ud-daulah, with the title of Itimad-ud-daulah, in his place. Ahmad Shah Abdali invaded India thrice in 1748 and 1752. Itizam-ud-daulah, the most nototrious Mughal Wazir, deposed Ahmad Shah and imprisoned him and the Queen mother.

1754 – 59

Alamgir II : He remained captive in the hands of his wazir Itimad-ud-daulah. The Mughal treasury became totally brankrupt. Fourth invasion of Ahmad Shah Abdali 1755, who departed from Delhi in 1757. Imad invited the Marathas to Delhi for saving the empire from Abdali’s invasion, involving the Marathas in the third battle of Panipat. Alamgir II was murdered by Imad.

1759 – 1806

Shah Jahan II and Shah Alam II : After murdering Alamgir II there were two Mughal emperor Shah Jahan II, a mere puppet in the hands of Imad in  Delhi and Shah Alam II, mostly living at Patna, at the mercy of Nawab Shuja-ud-daulah of Awadh, the Marathas and the English. He was twice reinstated to the throne by the Marathas and the English, but was blinded by the Ruhela Chief in 1788. He finally surrendered Delhi to the English in 1803 and became a pensioner of the English Company