Medieval India

Mughal Empire

The Muhgals were the descendents of Mongols and Turks. Zahiruddin Muhmammad Babar the founder of Mughal Empire in India was related to Timur from his father’s side and to Changez Khan through his mother. The rule of Mughal starting from 1526 to 1857 has greatly contributed to the history of India.

Mansabdari System in Mughal Empire

Akbar organized the nobility and his army by means of the Mansabdari system. Every officer was assigned a rank valued in terms of a certain number of mounted soldiers. The ranks normally given to top officers and nobles were valued from 10 to 5000 later raised to 7000.The ranks were divided into two: zat and sawar. Zat means personal where by the status and salary of the individual was fixed. Out of this salary in addition to meeting his own personal expenses, he had to maintain a stipulated quota of horses, elephants, camels, mules and carts.

The other rank indicated the number of cavalrymen (sawar) a mansabdar was required to maintain. For every sawar, a mansabdar was paid at a rate of Rs 240 per annum over and above his salary. A person was required to maintain as many sawars as his zat rank was placed in the first category of that rank; if he maintained less than half then in the third category. Thus there were three categories in every rank.No one could have a higher quota of sawars than his zat rank.The mansab was not hereditary.

The sawar rank was distinguished by two special features: For every 10 cavalrymen the mansabdar had to maintain 20 horses and a provision was made that the contingents of the nobles should be mixed ones that is drawn from all the groups- Mughal, Pathan, Hindustani and Rajput.This was intended to weaken the spirit of tribal and ethnic exclusiveness. The mansabdars were assigned a jagir in lieu of cash payment. Although modifications in the system were made from time to time this remained the basic structure as long as the Empire held together. The number of mansabdars rose from 2069 at the time of Jahangir’s accession in 1605 to 8000 in 1637 during Shah Jahan’s reign and to 11,546 during the latter half of the Aurangzeb’s reign.

Land Revenue System in Mughal Empire

Initially Akbar adopted Sher Shah’s system. But in 1580 Akbar instituted a new system called Dahsala.Under this the average produce of different crops and their average prices prevailing over the last 10 years were calculated and 1/3rd the average produce fixed in rupees per bigha was demanded as the state’s share.

Later a further improvement was made. Not only were local prices taken into account,parganas which were the largest fiscal and administration having the same type of productivity were grouped into separate assessment circles. Thus the peasant was required to pay on the basis of local produce as well as local prices. This system continued till the end of the 17th century.

Central Administration in Mughal Empire

In Islam the real sovereign of the world in Allah and Khalifh is his representative on the earth. Muslim rulers in India prior to Akbar recognized the authority of Khalifa but the institution of Kingship as mentioned by Abul Fazl in Aziz-i- Akbari that the Padshah or Shahansha is the vice-regent of god on earth,Farr-i-Izadi has given new dimension to the theory Kingship in India.

Emperor- The form of Mughal government was despotic,monarchy,the emperor was the head of the executive,legislature,judiciary and the Army,the only limits on the autocracy of the King were the mobility and the Ulema.

Vakil- Vakil was the representative of king and hence exercises all powers on behalf and in the name of king.Bairam Khan was the Vakil during Akbar’s time. Wazir or Diwan- In his capacity as Diman-i-kulk he was the head of the revenue dept when there was no vakil,he acted as the PM as well and hence called the wazir. Mir Bakshi- Head of the military dept and also the pay master general after the introduction of the mansabdari system.

Sudr us Sadar- Head of the ecclesiastical dept regulation of religion and charitable works was his prime concern. Khan-i- Saman- Head of Royal household and karkhans. Qazi-ul-Quzat- Head of the justice dept.

Mughal Empire map
Mughal Empire map

Provincial Administration of Mughal Empire

The Empire under the Mughals was divided into provinces which were known as Subhas. In the beginning Akbar’s reign total number of subhas were 12 later on at the time of his death it were 15.During Shah Jahan ‘s time there were 19 subhas.During the Aurangzeb’s reign Mughal Empire had 21 subhas. Some of the important officials were: Subedar or Sipalibalar- He was the governor, his function were the maintenance of law and order, enforcement of imperial decrees and administration of criminal justice in the subha.He was appointed by the Emperor. Diwan-He was in charge of revenue administration of the province. Bakshi-Discharged the duties as Mir Bakshi at the central level. Qazi, sadr, Muhtasib were other official in the provinces.

Every province was divided into many sarkars or districts. The Faujdar was in charge of the sarkar. He was to carry out the orders of the Governor and also keep himself in touch with them.Every sarkar was divided into many parganas or mahals. In every pargana there was a shiqdar, amil, potdar and a few bitikchis. Shiqdar was in charge of the administration of the pargana. His duty was to maintain law and order within his jurisdiction. The Kotwal was the chief administrator of a town. Every city was divided into many wards or mohallas.


The head of the province was known as the Sahib- i- Subahdar or Nazim.He was assisted by the Diwan, Bakshi, Faujdar, Kotwal, Qazi, Sadar, Amil,Potdar,Qanungo and Patwari.Provinces were divided into Sarkars and parganas.All the administration of the province was centralized at the capital town. The Mughals were essentially urban people. Villages were left free and were not interfered with so long as there was no violent crime or defiance of royal authority.

The subedar possessed both civil and military authority. He was the representative of the king in the province. He could not declare war or make peace without the permission of the Emperor. He heard appeals from the decisions of the Qazis and Mir Adils but could not inflict capital punishment without the approval of the Emperor. He was in charge of the provincial forces and collection of revenue and to execute the royal decrees and regulations sent to him. He was to send reports regarding the state of affairs in his province. The subedars were transferred after intervals of two- three years. It was feared that if they continue to work at one place for a long time they might become too powerful.


The Diwan was the second important official in the province after Subedar. His position was to keep check on the working of subedar. The Diwan-i- Ashraf selected him. It was his duty to carry out the orders of the Imperial Diwan. He was to collect revenue, try revenue cases and improve agriculture. He had control over the finances of the province and no payment could be made without his sanction. He was required to cooperate with the subedar in the administration of the province. If there were differences between subedar and Diwan the matter was referred to the Emperor.


Faujdars were appointed by the central government and his main duty was to help subedar. They were put in charge of important sub divisions of the province. Their appointment and dismissal was in the hands of subedar. They were the commanders of the provincial troops. They helped the subedar to maintain law and order in the province and punish the rebellious elements.


Sadar was appointed by the central government to supervise the rent-free lands granted for religious and charitable purposes. He had a separate office of his own. He was more independent than the Diwan. He could grant lands and allowances on his own initiative. Qazis and Amils worked under him.


Amil was a revenue collector and had many duties to perform. He was required to deal with the rebels even if it led to the land remaining uncultivated. It was his duty to see the quality of land improved and wasteland was brought under cultivation. He was to supervise the work of revenue collection.

Bakshi was the paymaster of the provincial forces .He worked under Mir Bakshi.


Bitikchi acted as a check on the Amil and enjoyed the same status as that of the Amil.He prepared abstracts of revenue every season and was required to send an annual report to the Emperor. He had to supervise the work of Qanungo.

Potdar or Khizandar

His duty was to receive money from the cultivators and keep the same in the treasury. Whenever a payment was made to him he issued receipts and kept their account. He was not to make any payment without a voucher signed by the Diwan.


The duties of the Kotwal included magisterial powers in some cases. He was responsible for the maintenance of law and order in the city. He examined weights and measures and made of list of property of those who had no heirs and will. He employed spies from the residents to keep a check on the dissenters and rebels.

Waqai- Navis

He was the record keeper of occurrences in the province. The central government was kept in touch with the affairs of the provinces.

Local Administration in Mughal Empire

The Subha’s were further divided into sarkars which was headed by Shiqdar.Sarkar was divided into Parganas which was a group of villages. Village was the lowest unit of administration and Patwari and Qanuongo were the financial officials. Mahals were the group of villages combined for fiscal purposes.

Economy in Mughal Empire

Agriculture has been mainstay of economy in India since time immemorial. During Mughal time also it was not only the largest source of income to state but it was also the source of livelihood to the large majority of people in India. Main crops that were grown were cereals, millets, oilseeds, sugarcane, cotton, hemp, chilli, indigo and betel.

Tobacco and potato were introduced by Portuguese in India during Jahangir’s reign. Ajmer was famous for the best quality of sugar cane. Gujarat and Agra was famous for indigo cultivation.Babur introduced many central Asian fruits to India. During Akbar’s reign Firoz Shah’s Yamuna canal was repaired for the first time. In the reign of Shah Jahan,Nahr-i-Bihisht was built by opening the canal at Khizrabad for irrigation purposes.

The Muslim ruling class preferred to settle in the towns and cities. The artistic life style of Mughal ruling clan encouraged handicrafts, art and architecture and trade in India. The merchants and trader class was divided into big business magnates owing hundreds of ships, rich merchants and traders and petty shopkeepers. Hundi system was developed by shroffs for carrying out large transactions. Trade both intra country and outside India grew tremendously during the Mughal period particularly because of the following factors:

The political and economic unification of India under the Mughal rule and establishment of law and order over extensive areas created the favorable environment for trade and commerce. The improvement of transport and communications by the Mughals.Encouragement given by the Mughals to the monetization of economy. Arrival of European traders from the beginning of 17th century onwards and the growth of the European trade. Decca was the famous centre of muslin and textiles. Agra, Fatehpur Sikri and Lahore were the main centers of silk weaving. Surat, Cambay, Braoch in Gujarat was the main ports for foreign trade.

Mughal Coinage

The Mughals attached a great importance to the coinage as Akbar started to practice of issuing coins and established royal mint with Abdus Samad the famous painter being the head of it. The Mughal coinage was mainly based on the rupee and dam issued by Sher Shah Suri.The rupee was the most famous of all Mughal coins.

Muhar was the standard gold coin of about 170-175 grain and it was very popular. Jalali was a silver coin in square shape issued by Akbar. Nisar,Nur Afshan and Khair qasul were the smaller silver coins issued by Jahangir. Daun was the copper coin used by the common people in day to day transactions. The copper Daun also known as falus, sikah falus, Nisfi, damra and damri.

Education under the Mughals

Under the Mughal rule special attention was given to education. During the Akbar’s reign important changes were introduced in the syllabus of education through the efforts of Shah Fathullah Shirazi.Islamic schools were attached to mosques, Khanqah of the Sufis and tombs. Special buildings were also constructed for imparting education. Their expenses were met from endowments.

During the Mughal period the principal centres of learning were at Lahore,Delhi,Ajmer,Sialkot,Multan,Ahmadabad,Allahabad,Lucknow,Murshidabad,Dacca.Many scholars were attracted to these institutions from Persia and Central Asia. Students received education free of cost. Famous scholars received fixed stipends from the royal treasury.

Provisions were made for the teaching of Persian; the official language of the government in the Maktabs.Nizamiyah system of education became popular during the later days of the Mughals. The aim of this system was to create such ability in the scholar so that he is able to acquire perfection in any branch of learning through self-study and personal efforts. While Muslims received education in Maktabs,Hindus had their pathsalas for imparting religious instructions.

Literature in Mughal Empire

The Mughal period saw great developments in the field of literature. Many Mughal emperors and members of the royal family were great men of letters. Babar the first Mughal emperor was one of the pioneers of Turkish poetry and also the author of a very valuable autobiography in Turkish BabarNama which was later translated into Persian.Gulbadan Begum sister of Humayun wrote the Humayun Nama.Jahangir the great connoisseur of painting wrote his autobiography the Tuzuk-i- Jahangiri.Aurangzeb also was a prolific writer and the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar was a notable Urdu poet.

Hindi literature made significant progress during Akbar’s reign.Tulsidas and the Surdas wrote in this period.Keshavdas a great poet wrote on themes of love.Rahim’s dohas or couplets are extremely popular. It was also in Akbar’s time that the great Sanskrit work on styles of writing, the Alankarashekhara by Keshava Misra appeared. This was the period of many notable writings in the Persian language.Abul Fazl wrote the Ain-i-Akbari and Akbar Nama.Abul Fazl’s brother Faizi was a great poet of Persian and was responsible for the translation of many Sanskrit works into Persian.Akbar had started a whole dept for translation of works like Mahabharata, the Ramayana, the Atharva –Veda, the Bhagvad Gita and the Panchatantra.

Many important historical works were produced under the emperors after Akbar.Some of the important historians were Abdul Hamid Lahori,Khafi Khan,Muhammad Kazim and Sujan Rai Bhandari.Literature in modern Indian languages also continued to grow. The famous book of Bihari called the Satsai in Hindi belongs to this period. One of the most significant developments during the medieval period was the birth of the Urdu language. This new language soon developed one of the richest literatures as a modern Indian language. It produced great poets like Wali,Mir Dard,Mir Taqi Mir,Nazir Akbarabadi,Asadullah Khan Ghalib.

Many original prose works in Urdu were written like Muhammad Hussain Azad’s Darbar-i-Akbari.The Urdu novel was one of the earliest development in the Indian languages. Urdu became the language of the urban people of northern India and the Deccan.

Mughal Society

Society in Mughal times was organized on a feudal basis and the head of the social system was Emperor. He enjoyed an unparallel status. He was the ultimate authority in everything. Next in rank were the nobility along the zamindars.The Mughal nobles monopolized most of the jobs in the country. Socially and economically the Mughal nobility formed a privileged class. There were men of every type and nationality among the Mughal nobles. Clan or family links were the most important considerations for recruitment and admission to the aristocratic class of the society.Zamindars or the chieftains also constituted the nobility. They had their own armed forces and generally lived in forts or garhis which was both a place of refuge and a status symbol. There was a large class of merchants and traders. They had their own rights based on tradition and protection of life and property. They also maintained a high standard of living.

During Mughal period the Indian society was in the process of developing into a common society for the religious groups of Hindus and Muslims.Inter-mixing and adaptation of each others culture was fairly common. Among the prevalent social practices the purdah system was one of that but it was practiced more by the women of upper classes. The child marriage was prevalent. Though polygamy was prevalent in upper sections of society the common people followed monogamy.

Dowry system was common in Hindu society. The sati was prevalent though Akbar tried to discourage sati by issuing orders but he could not forbid it altogether.Aurangzeb was the only Mughal who issued definite orders in 1664 forbidding sati. The Muslim society was also divided based on the place of origination. The widow remarriage was prevalent in the society. Economically Muslim woman was entitled to a share in the inheritance.

The Hindu society was divided into four castes. The coming of Muslims and their constant condemnation of the caste system made the system more rigid. The Hindu society in order to strengthen itself recasted the Smritis and tried to bring back from the Islamic fold those Muslims who were converts from Hinduism.

Mughal Army

The Mughal government was military in origin and it retained its military character. The emperor was the head of the army and its commander-in-chief. All the govt officials were enrolled in the army and were commanders of a specified number of horsemen. The Mughal force consisted of five branches of infantry, cavalry, fire-arms, elephants and war boats. The cavalry was the most important and was regarded as the flower of the army. Infantry was the largest branch of the army but it was ill paid and rugged branch. The firearms men consisted of gunners and musketeers.

The Mughals had no navy of their own. They delegated the navel defense of the western coast to the Abysinians and Sidis of Janjira. In lower Bengal the govt maintained a flotilla of boats of various types. These boats were placed under a darogha and were equipped with artillery. There was no regimental drill or discipline and no real training. The actual number of troops was only a fraction of the normal strength as recorded in Mir Bakshi’s register. There was no contract between the commander-in-chief and the individual troops who looked upon the Mansabdars as their immediate chiefs. The pay of the troops was generally in arrears.

During the time of the later Mughals sometimes their salaries for three years or more were not paid. Originally the strength of the Mughal army depended upon the mobility of the cavalry. This mobility was lost in the hills and deserts of Rajputana and Maharashtra.During the later days of Aurangzeb’s reign it became a prey to Marathas and in the 18th century it proved hopeless against the European trained battalions.

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