• From the fourteenth century, following the disintegration of the Mongol empire, new, liberal thinking arose in West and Central Asia, and was reflected in the state founded by Timur. Although the successors of Timur were keen to be portrayed as orthodox Islamic rulers they were not prepared to give up the yassa of Chingiz which, among other things, enjoined upon the ruler to consider “all sects as one and not to distinguish them from one another”.
  • The Timurid belief that they had the divine right to rule was widely respected so that none of the begs aspired to sit on their throne.This provided a certain stability once a ruler had demonstrated his capacity to rule.
  • It were these traditions that Babur brought with him when he laid the foundations of the Mughal state in India. Humayun followed in his foot-steps.
  • In India, too, the fifteenth century saw a wide diffusion of the liberal sufi orders in which love of God, and devotion to Him was given precedence over formal worship, and no distinction was made between devotees of different faiths. Bhakti sants, like Kabir, Raidas and Nanak laid emphasis on unity of all bhakts, irrespective of their caste or religions.
  • In many provincial kingdoms which arose during this time, Hindus were admitted into the service of the state at high levels, a policy of broad religions toleration generally followed and patronage given to local languages and literatures.
  • Thus, Akbar had a rich, liberal tradition to draw on when he assumed the reigns of governments after the end of Bairam Khan’s regency.
Akbar’s Concept of Suzerainty
  • Akbar’s religious ideas, and his concept of suzerainty have been put forward in detail by his biographer, Abul Fazl. According to Abul Fazl, “Royalty is a light emanating from God, and a ray from the sun“. This light was called farr-iizidi (the divine light), and it was “communicated by God to kings without the intermediate assistance of any one, and men in the presence of it bend the forehead in submission”. Thus royalty was a divine gift. The ruler was not dependent on it on the ulama, and everyone had to submit to one who possessed it.
  • The concept was by no means a new one. It was based on the preIslamic Sassanian concept of royalty in Iran, and was known to Balban when he tried to adopt Iranian forms of royalty.
  • But Abul Fazl combines this old concept with a number of features, drawn from Muslim and Hindu thinking. Thus, a ruler endowed with farr-i-izidi had a paternal love towards the subjects; a large heart which implied a sense of discrimination, courage and firmness and attending to the wishes of great and small; and a daily increasing trust in God, and prayer and devotion so that he is not upset by adversity, punishes the tyrant and behaves with moderation and with reason.
  • Abul Fazl’s concept of state and sovereignty have to be seen in the context of his understanding of society, as also his religio-spiritual notions. Following the ancient Hindu traditions, as also influenced by Muslim thinkers such as Jalaluddin Dawwani,
  • Abul Fazl classified human being into four categories: (1)warriors, (2) artificers and merchants, (3) learned, (4) husbandmen and labourers.
  • By relegating the learned i.e. the religious classes (brahmans, ulama) to the third, not to the first category as in the Dharmashastras, Abul Fazl tried to downgrade these highly pretentious and self-opinionated sections. He also based himself on the existing social reality.
  • Abul Fazl cites the ancient Greek tradition of classifying human being into three on the basis of their qualities: nobles, base and intermediate.
  • The noble included those who had pure intellect, sagacity capability of administration or of composition or eloquence, personal courage for military duty. The base and intermediate sections included the various professions.
  • The ignoble or base comprised those who were opposed to common weal of mankind, such as the hoarding of grain, those opposed to any virtue, such as buffoonary; and trades such as a barber, a tanner, a rope-dancer or a sweeper from which “the disposition is naturally averse from”. Butchers and fishermen “who had no other profession but to take life” were also included in this category. They were relegated to separate quarters of the city, and were forbidden under threat of fine from associating with others. This section was marked by “evil disposition and conduct”.
  • The intermediate section comprised various callings and trades; some that “are of necessity such as agriculture, and others which could be dispensed with such as dyeing and others again, simple, such as carpentry, iron-mongery, and the manufacturing of scales or knives”. Elsewhere, the intermediate category of men were those characterized by good views on account of amiableness of disposition, and who spoke charitably of all men.
  • Abul Fazl’s view about human beings, particularly the lower classes called the base or the ignorable, reflected in large measure the prejudices of the contemporary upper classes. It was implied that the lower orders should not aspire for a share in state power, and that the task of administering the state should be the preserve of those belonging to noble families, and to the upper castes. Prevalence of evil sections in society was a justification for royal depotism, for only a king who possessed the necessary qualities could control these sections.
  • Secondly, it was necessary for a king endowed with farr-i-izidi to establish social stability by not permitting “the dust of sectarian strife to arise”. It was also “obligatory” for him “to put each of these (sections) in its proper place, and by uniting their personal ability with due respect for others, to cause the world to flourish”. Thus, stability, even dignity implied the maintenance of one’s due station in life. Akbar is quoted as saying that the daroghas should be watchful “to see that no one from covetousness abandons his own professions”. Elsewhere, we are told that Akbar quoted with approval Shah Tahmasp’s statement that “When a menial takes to learning he does so as at expense of his duties”
  • Despite his strong belief in hierarchy, Abul Fazl was concerned with the need of absorbing into the king’s service men of talent, irrespective of their social background. Thus, he states that Akbar was moved by the spirit of the age for he “knows the value of the talent, honours people of various classes with appointments in the ranks of the army, and raises them from the position of a common soldier to the dignity of a grandee”. These views were reiterated by Akbar in the advice given by him to Prince Daniyal when he Was sent to Allahabad. “Judge nobility of caste and high birth from the personality (of the individual), and not goodness from ancestors, or greatness from (the nobility) of the seed”.
  • Abul Fazl’s basic concept was of a liberal absolutism under a ruler of high endeavour endowed with the highest moral and spiritual qualities, and enjoying heaven’s mandate, so that he was not dependent on any set of religious leaders for legitimization.
  • Although Abul Fazl tried to portray this concept of state and sovereignty in terms of old Iranian traditions, there can be little doubt that the type of secularist poly-religious state, based on a composite ruling class drawn from different ethnic and religious groups, hierarchical in nature yet open ended to a fair extent, and humane in its dealing with the masses, based on the concept of equal justice for all, irrespective of birth, religion or status, was an ideal which was far in advance of anything postulated or practised in Asia, or in Europe at that time.
  • Abul Fazl nowhere uses the words dar-ul-lslam or dar-ul-harb to describe the polity of his times, because such distinctions had ceased to be meaningful, this being one of the justifications advanced by him for the abolition of jizyah. Abul Fazl was convinced, or would have us believe that Akbar’s conquests were not based on a spirit of aggrandisement, but was part of a larger plan to establish an all-India polity based on justice and tolerance, in other words, a state which could be called a dar-ul-sulh.
Structure of Government, Central and Provincial 
  • Akbar inherited a structure of government based on the experience of the Delhi Sultanat. Babur and
Humayun had no time to revise the system, a new impetus to it being given by Sher Shah. After Akbar
had taken the reins of government in his own hands, and after dealing with the rebellions of Uzbek
nobles and the Mirzas, and the conquest of Gujarat, Akbar turned his attention to the task of
reorganisation of government. The system he devised had some novel features. The functions and
responsibilities of the various departments were carefully laid down so that they did not encroach on
each other, and at the same time balanced and supported each other. Thus, a system of checks and
balances was devised. In this way, Akbar infused new life into the system.
Akbar hardly made any changes in administration at the district and sub-district levels, the sarkar and
the parganas continuing to function as before with some changes in the designation of officials. An
important contribution of Akbar was
the development of a provincial administration, patterned on the central system of government.
Detailed rules and regulations were devised for controlling both the provincial and district
administration. We have some idea of these from the Ain-i-Akbari of Abul Fazl. New regulations
continued to be devised, and these were later brought together as Dastur-ul-Amals or Rule Books. Thus,
an essentially bureaucratic system of government gradually emerged. However, the ruler remained the
kingpin of the system.
The Vakil
Although there were a number of departments of government in the Islamic countries outside India, as
well as in the Delhi Sultanat, the Central Asian and Timurid tradition was of a single wazir who
supervised the various branches of government, including the revenue and the military. Thus, Babur’s
wazir, Nizammuddin Khwaja, was the political and financial head of the government. He was, however,
primarily a military man, and took a leading part in Babur’s military campaigns, and commanded troops
at Panipat and Khanua. Humayun’s wazirs, Amir Wais and Hindu Beg, were very influential, and
supervised all the branches of government. They, too, were primarily military men.
A new situation, arose with the appointment of Bairam Khan as Vakil and ataliq (guardian) of the
emperor. He was all powerful, directing policy, appointing and dismissing officials at the highest level,
and controlling both revenue and military affairs. Thus, as Vakil, Bairam Khan exercised the functions of
an all-powerful wazir.
As Akbar took the reins of government in his hands, he devised ways and means to ensure that such a
situation did not arise again. As we have seen, some of the successors of Bairam Khan, with Maham
Anaga behind the scene, thought that they could continue to exercise the type of powers which Bairam
Khan had enjoyed. The drastic punishment of Adham Khan for stabbing Atka Khan signalled that Akbar
would not allow the vikalat to be the tool of factional politics.
Munim Khan was made the Vakil, but he ceased to be the moving spirit of the state, and the effective
head of the administration. In 1564-65, Muzaffar Khan Turbati, an Iranian who had been diwan of
Bairam Khan, was made diwan of the Empire, with Todar Mal as his assistant. Gradually, the revenue
and financial affairs were separated from the office of the vakil. After the downfall of the
Uzbeks in 1567, Munim Khan was appointed governor of Jaunpur, and then of Bihar. Thus, his role in the
central government came to an end. After that the post of vakil was not filled for seven years. It was in
the nineteenth year (1575) that Muzaffar Khan was appointed vakil, combining the posts of vakil and
diwan. But he worked more as a financial expert, and held a comparatively modest rank of 4000. Raja
Todar Mal and Shah Mansur who were joint-diwans at the time, were ordered to work in consultation
with him. But in the beginning of the twenty-fourth year (1579), Muzaffar Khan was posted to Bengal
and he ceased to have any connection with the central government. Thereafter for ten years, between
1579 and 1589, no vakil was appointed. In this way, Akbar made it clear that the post of a vakil was a
favour for him to bestow but which was not indispensable for the administration.
In 1595, Mirza Aziz Koka, a favourite of Akbar and his playmate, was made vakil, and he remained in that
post till Akbar’s death. Though personally very influential, he does not seem to have played any role in
administration. Thus, like Munim Khan earlier, his term of office was more for show and personal dignity
than for any real power or substantial work. As a modern historian, Ibn Hasan, says:
“The power (of the vakil) was gone but the show of power and marks of outward distinction and
prestige were retained”.
The Ministries
While dealing with the problem posed by the vakil or an all-powerful wazir, Akbar tackled the problem
of organising the ministries. These were four in number, the revenue department headed by the diwan
or the wazir; the military department headed by the Mir Bakshi; the department of Imperial
establishments (karkhanas) and the royal house-hold under the Mir Saman, and the judicial and
revenue-free (inam) grants departments under the sadr. Although four was a traditional figure
suggested by Ibn Khaldun, all departments were not equal in power or importance. In course of time,
the wazir’s position became the most powerful and influential, closely matched by that of the Mir
According to Abul Fazl, the person who headed the department of income and expenditure was the
wazir, also called diwan. In
practice, under Akbar, the word diwan or diwan-i-ala was used more generally. There were several
reasons for this. The diwans of Akbar were often men of humble social backgrounds who had attracted
the emperor’s attention by their knowledge and skill of revenue affairs. Although very influential and
close to the emperor, they were generally nor given high mansabs. Also, Akbar was still experimenting,
and sometimes appointed two or even three persons as diwans to discharge the duties of diwanship.
The duties of a diwan are fairly well known. He was the lieutenant of the emperor in financial matters,
superintendent of the Imperial treasures, and checked all accounts. Underplaying his political role, Abul
Fazl calls him “in reality a book keeper”. The mustaufi or Auditor of Accounts, and the accountants of
the various ministries—the army, the royal court, the household, the Imperial work-shops, and diwan of
the khalisa, were “under his orders, and act by the force of his wisdom”. (Abul Fazl).
The diwans were drawn from the class of writers or ahl-i-qalam as distinct from warriors. However, a
few of them, such as Muzaffar Khan who was in addition the vakil for some rime, and Raja Todar Mai
were also employed in military operations, thus emphasising the point that there was no hard and fast
dividing line between civil and military affairs during those time.
The growth of the diwan’s department began with the appointment of Muzaffar Khan Turbati in the
ninth year (1565). Muzaffar Khan who had been Bairam Khan’s vakil, had been imprisoned after his
downfall. Knowing his competence, Akbar released him, and appointed him amil of pargana Pasrur, and
then diwan of bayutat or the Imperial karkhanas. His varied experience made him eminently fit for the
post, and soon he acquired so much influence that the Emperor consulted him in the matter of
appointment of high officials, even ministers. During his diwanship of eight and a half years (1563-1572),
he carried out several important financial reforms. But Muzaffar Khan fell out of favour because power
had turned his head: he first annoyed Akbar when he abused him while playing a game of chaupar with
him. He was exiled to Mecca, but recalled while he was on the way, and made vakil. He was removed for
opposing certain financial and military reforms.
Muzaffar Khan was undoubtedly a competent diwan who was associated with the finance department
for sixteen and a half years. During the period, some very competent officials such as
Raja Todar Mai and Khwaja Shah Mansur were inducted into the ministry. It was this band of expert,
knowledgeable, loyal and hard working officials who carried out the new revenue system, called the
dahsala or Ten Yearly system. This band broke up when in 1579 Muzaffar Khan was appointed governor
of Bengal.
In popular memory, the dahsala system is associated with Todar Mal. As is well known, Todar Mal
earned his reputation as a military engineer by building fort Rohtas under Sher Shah. His precise role in
the revenue reforms of Sher Shah is not clear. Todar Mal was associated with the revenue department
for several years before he was made diwan of Gujarat in 1573. He was soon brought to the central
finance department and was made mushrifi-diwan in 1575. According to Abul Fazl, the post of mashrif-idiwan was higher than diwan but lower than vakil.
It was the team of Todar Mal and Shah Mansur who divided the empire into twelve provinces, each with
a governor and a diwan. But it was Shah Mansur who implemented the new dahsala system which had
been worked out earlier: Todar Mai had been asked to implement it, but he was deputed to Bengal at
the time. Shah Mansur fell in disfavour for his strictness in enforcing the dagh system or branding of
horses in the newly conquered areas of Bihar and Bengal. Though he was restored to favour soon
afterwards, he came into trouble again in 1581, being charged, I falsely, for being in league with Akbar’s
step-brother, Mirza Hakim, and was executed. It is widely believed that it was Todar Mal who had the
forged letters prepared on the basis of which he was executed. Akbar either did not know it, or ignored
it. Shortly afterwards, Todar Mal was appointed Diwan-i-ala. During the next ten years, till his death,
Todar Mal played an important role in carrying out further reforms in implementing the dahsala system.
As was his usual practice, during the period Akbar also associated others with the revenue system. Mir
Fathullah Shirazi was one of these. He was a great favourite of Akbar, and for some time, Todar Mal was
asked to work under him.
After Todar Mal’s death, we do not hear of any great diwan. But the work of the department was now
set, and could continue under men of a lower calibre.
All in all, Akbar assembled a team of highly skilled financial experts, and gave them his full support and
backing. None of them, however, was allowed to feel that he was indispensable. Akbar took the
important step of separating the financial from the
military and political powers and functions, so that the wazir, instead of being a danger to the state and
a source of intrigues, brought efficiency and responsibility to his task. Akbar respected the diwans for
their efficiency and loyalty but he never sacrified discipline, and stern action was taken whenever
necessary. There were at times signs of rivalries and personal animosities concerning official rank, but
the vigilance of Akbar kept them under control and they were not allowed to effect the admin istration.
Mir Bakhshi
The post of Mir Bakhshi had been in existence in the Delhi Sultanat since the time of Balban under the
name of diwan-i-arz. It was well recognised that in order to limit the powers of the wazir, a separate
military department was a necessity. The recruitment of the army, the inspection of horses, and the
muster of troops at regular intervals were some of the permanent duties of this ministry. The Mir
Bakhshi of the Mughals enjoyed all the powers of the diwan-i-arz, but his influence was even greater
since all nobles were given a military rank or mansab, and it was the Mir Bakhshi who presented all
candidates for appointment to the Emperor. He kept a register of all the mansabdars who were
employed for civil and military duties. All promotions, including appointments to all high officials of the
state, such as vakil, wazir, sadr passed through the Chief Bakhshi. He was not the commander- in-chief
but was the pay master-general, and could be asked to arrange for disposition of troops in battle. The
soldiers and horses of the mansabdars were also presented by the bakhshi after the branding of the
horses and verification of the soldiers. Similarly, the horses and soldiers of all mansabdars were
periodically inspected by the bakhshi.
The Mir Bakhshi presented before the king all high officers of state coming from the provinces or leaving
the court for their posting. Embassies and distinguished visitors were all presented to the king by the
Chief Bakhshi. Thus, he or his representative was present in the public darbar, or the private audience
The Mir Bakhshi was also the head of the intelligence department, and all news-reports sent by the
waqia navis from different provinces where put by him before the king.
The influence of the Mir Bakhshi was added to by the fact that he made arrangements for the palace
guard and made recommendations for rewards to them. He accompanied the king
on his tours and looked to the arrangements of the royal camp, especially the allotment of places within
the camp to the mansabdars.
Thus, as Ibn Hasan observers, the Mir Bakhshi’s “influence extended beyond his own department and his
nearness to the king in the darbar added much to his prestige”. The wazir and the Mir Bakhshi were the
two leading officials in the government, and checked and supported each other. Thus, all appointments,
after confirmation, had to go to the wazir’s office for allotment of jagir, and presented to the emperor
by the Bakhshi on return. The same procedure was followed in case of promotions.
Mir Saman
Under the Delhi Sultanat and in the system of administration in the Islamic countries of West Asia, there
was no separate household department as under the Mughals. The Mir Saman who was in charge of the
royal household, was considered to be in charge of a department, like the wazir and the Mir Bakhshi.
Neither the word Mir Saman or Khan-i-Saman was used in Akbar’s time, but came in use under Jahangir
and Shah Jahan. Under Akbar, it seems that the office of the Mir Saman had not emerged. We do
however, hear of the diwan-i-bayutat who was in charge of the karkhanas. The karkhanas included
factories and stores maintained by the central government. They dealt with every article from precious
stones, pearls to swords and daggers guns and artillery. The diwan-i-bayutat maintained horses and
elephants for the army, beasts of burden such as camels, mules etc. for baggage, and other animals
(elephants, horses etc.) for the royal hunt. Thus, the diwan-i-bayutat was an important officer who dealt
with the household, the darbar and the army, and was close to the king. Hence, as Mir Saman he rose in
course of time to be head of a separate ministry.
The department not only purchased and stored all kinds of articles of use for the king, and the inmates
of the haram, but was the greatest manufacturing agency in the country for weapons for war and
articles of luxury. As such, the Mir Saman had to be in close touch with the Mir Bakhshi. Each karkhana
had a darogha who had special knowledge of the article being manufactured, and an account and a
mushrif to look after the administration. We are told that Akbar made it a point to visit the workshops
frequently, and that he did not “shrink from watching and even
himself practising for the sake of amusement the craft of an ordinary artisan.” (Monserrate)
The sadr or sadr-us-sadur was the head of the ulama and was considered to be the chief advisor of the
king regarding the enforcement and interpretation of sharia or the holy law. He was also called the qaziul-quzzat, or head of the judiciary, and appointed qazis all over the empire. However, the king himself
was the final court of appeal, and heard cases with the help of the mufti. As the most distinguished
scholar of Islam and its religious head, the sadr exercised a kind of censorship over the education, ideas
and morals of the people. According to Ibn Hasan, “It was in this capacity that he exercised an immense
influence, and his hands reached every individual of the state”.
A major responsibility of the sadr was to award subsistence allowances (madadd-i-maash) to deserving
scholars, divines and weaker sections such as women of noble families. The subsistence allowance could
be in cash or in terms of grant of land. This was, in fact, a tremendous power of patronage which some
of the sadrs used for personal enrichment. The most powerful of the sadrs under Akbar was Shaikh
Abdun Nabi. According to Badayuni, he distributed enormous areas in land to the people as madadd-imaash, and that after him no one alienated a tenth part of what he gave in religious endowments.
Akbar had great respect for Shaikh Abdun Nabi because of his learning, and having come from a family
noted for piety and learning. Akbar not only attended his discourses, but once or twice reverently picked
up the Shaikh’s shoes and placed them before his feet. But Akbar became disgusted with him when
bribery, mismanagement and rapacity was revealed in an enquiry into the grants of lands made at his
instance. The Shaikh was also found to be narrow and bigoted, and he lost Akbar’s sympathy when he
executed a prominent brahman of Mathura on a charge of blasphemy. He was exiled to Mecca in 1579.
Thereafter, Akbar carried out reforms separating aima or revenue-free grant lands from khalisa, and
consolidated them so that the grantees were not harassed by being given scattered lands in different
parts. Later, they were grouped into six circles under individual sadrs. The powers of the sadr of granting
subsistence lands were largely taken away: they could only make recommendations to the Emperor.
Akbar was keen that deserving Hindu scholars and religious men should also benefit from these grants.
He therefore appointed as chief sadr men who had more tolerant views, and “ought to be at peace with
every party” (Akbar Nama). Grants to the Hindu holy men had not been unknown earlier but such grants
become more widespread under Akbar due to this policy. Hindu Rajas and zamindars continued to make
such grants to Hindu holymen, temples etc.
Provincial government
As we have seen, under the Delhi Sultanat there was no clear division of the empire into provinces with
definite boundaries. The holders of iqtas, who were called muqtis, had executive and military power and
were expected to help in the collection of land revenue and maintenance of law and order, particularly
protection of the royal pathways. Some of the muqtis who had larger and strategically important areas
under them were called walis or amirs. The stable administrative unit was the sarkar.
Akbar inherited this system and continued it till 1580. In 1580 the empire which by then had extended
to include Gujarat, Bihar and Bengal, was divided into twelve subahs or provinces. The head of
administration in the subah was called sipahsalar or commander, though later the word subahdar began
to be used. The head of the subah, or governor, was assisted by a diwan, a bakhshi, a sadr-cum-qazi, a
mir adl for justice, a kotwal, a mir bahr or superintendent of rivers and ports, and a waqia-navis or news
writer. These officers were subordinate to the governor but were not appointed by him. They were
appointed directly by the emperor, and were answerable to him, and to the head of their ministry at the
centre. Thus, the principle of checks and balances was carried to the provincial governments.
Under Akbar, Orissa which had been conquered later was included in Bengal, while Kashmir was
included in subah Kabul. Modern U.P. and Haryana formed four provinces— Allahabad, Awadh, Agra
and Delhi. Later, after the expansion of the empire into the Deccan, three more subahs—the subahs of
Khandesh, Berar and Ahmadnagar were formed. They were put under the control of a viceroy who was
often a prince of blood.
In 1586, as an experimental measure, Akbar decided to appoint two governors in every province.
According to Abul Fazl, this step was taken because if one governor had to be absent for duty
at court, or fell ill, the administration would continue unhampered. Perhaps, a real purpose was to limit
the powers of the governor. But it led to needless acrimony and had to be abandoned. Interestingly, in
many subahs, such as Kabul and Agra, a Muslim and a Rajput Raja were given joint command, while
Lahore and Ajmer were placed exclusively under Rajput rajas.
The Ain-i-Akbari gives the geographical boundaries of the subahs along with a brief account of the
climate, general conditions, products, history, etc. of each province. The provinces are divided into
sarkars and parganas, and the assessed income of each sarkar, the castes of the zamindars, and the
military forces— cavalry, infantry, elephants at their disposal is also given. This was so because the
autonomous rajas were not listed separately as states, but included in the subahs as sarkars and
parganas. Thus, Mewar was included in sarkar Chittor, Kota is mentioned as a pargana of sarkar
Ranthambhor, while Jaipur (Amber) was a pargana of sarkar Ajmer. There was a considerable range in
the size, assessed income etc. of the subahs, with Bengal having twenty-four sarkars with an assessed
income (jama) of about one and a half crore rupees and, on the other end, Multan with three sarkars
with an assessed income of only about thirty seven lakh rupees. Other provinces fell in between these
two extremes.
The provincial governors have been called viceregents of the emperor. The governor was the
commander of the provincial army, and was responsible for law and order, the general administration as
well the welfare and prosperity of the people of the subahs, as the letters of appointment of the
governors indicate. He was to help the diwan in collecting the land-revenue by controlling and, if
necessary, punishing the recalcitrant or rebellious zamindars. He was also to help the diwan in extending
cultivation, construct reservoirs, wells, water-courses, gardens, sarais and other useful public works, and
to repair old ones. He was entrusted with the administration of criminal justice, but was to use the
utmost deliberation before inflicting the capital punishment on anyone. He was asked to undertake
tours of the province and to keep himself in touch with all important happening in his province through
trusted spies and news-writers. It is significant that the governor was also instructed not to “interfere in
anyone’s creed”. The governor was also responsible for collecting the tribute from vassal chiefs in the
province. There was no definite term for a governor, but governors were constantly transferred.
The diwan was the second most important officer in the subah. Although, at first, the governors were
permitted to appoint the diwans to assist them, from 1595 the diwans began to be appointed centrally,
possibly on the recommendation of the chief diwan. Henceforth, the diwan ceased to be a subordinate
of the governor, but a colleague, though the governor remained the head of the administration. We can
postulate the duties of the diwan from later records since Abul Fazl gives us no such information for
Akbar’s reign. The provincial diwan had to send fortnightly reports to the Central diwan on financial
matters and the cash-balances with him. He was responsible for collection of the land revenue and
other taxes, and for their auditing and accounting. A principal duty of the diwan was to extend and
improve cultivation with the help of amils in the sarkars. But he was also to check extortion of the amils,
and to supervise their work. He also supervised the lands given for charitable purposes.
It is not necessary to describe in detail the duties of the bakhshi and the sadr in the subah, their duties
being on the model of their ministries at the centre. The bakhshi also acted as the head of the
intelligence service, and this sometimes brought him into conflict with the governor, if he sent
complaints against his conduct to the court. The sadr recommended grants to religious men and was
also head of the judiciary department. Akbar was not satisfied with the work of the qazis and had
appointed a mir adl as a judicial officer in the provinces. The qazi was to act as his assistant.
The kotwal was in charge of law and order in the city. He also looked after the general amenities in the
city, such as weights and measures, as also control of gambling houses and houses of prostitution etc.
The point to note is that the governor of the province was the head of a team, and it needed tact and
skill on his part to deal with officers each of whom was zealous of his privileges, and had direct access to
the centre. But these checks and balances could only operate when there was a capable sovereign at the
centre, with a skilful and cohesive team of officials to assist him. Akbar’s policy of keeping a careful
watch on the conduct of the provincial governors with the help of other officials, the news-reporters
and spies, constant tours where he heard the grievances of the people, and taking steps against those
who were guilty of oppression were effective in preventing the forces of regional separatism
raising their head. On special occasions, the emperor also appointed high officials to enquire into
complaints against provincial or local officials.
Thus, Akbar tried to establish a provincial system of government which acted as a link to the local
administrative units, and as a transmission belt for information to the centre.
District and local government
As we have noted earlier, for purposes of administration the provinces were divided into sarkars and
parganas. Each sarkar was headed by a faujdar who was responsible for the general government, and
law and order including safety of the roads. He was also to assist the amalguzar who was responsible for
the assessment and collection of land revenue. The faujdar may be considered the man on whose
shoulders rested the day to day functioning of the administration. In that sense, he has been compared
to the collector in a district under British rule, though the precise duties of the two varied considerably.
Unlike the collector under British rule, the faujdar also commanded the local armed forces, but was not
directly responsible for the assessment and collection of land-revenue. The qazi was responsible for
criminal justice, as also civil law among Muslims, or when one of the party to a dispute was a Muslim.
Each sarkar was divided into a number of parganas. Each pargana had a shiqdar for general
administration, an amil for assessment and collection of land revenue, a treasurer, a qanungo who
determined the pargana and village boundaries and kept the local revenue records, and clerks or
The Working of Government
The Ruler
Since the ruler was the centre of government his attitude towards public business set a standard and a
norm. These, in turn, were widely emulated by the nobles. Akbar set the standard of appearing three
times everyday for state business. The first appearance was in the morning after sunrise, after which a
public darbar was held. The morning appearance which was called jharoka darshan was an innovation of
Akbar, and was designed to establish a personal bond between the ruler and his subjects. This was an
occasion when people could submit their petitions and present their cases without
hindrance. A decision could be taken on the spot, or, as under Shah Jahan, the clerks of the judicial
department took notes, and placed them before the ruler in the open darbar, or in the private audience
chamber. The jharoka darshan was sometimes used for witnessing animal fights, or reviewing the
contingents of nobles. In course of time, as Akbar’s prestige rose, some people made it a rule not to eat
or drink till they had the darshan of the king. This was a practical demonstration of the old Indian
traditions of attaching divinity to1 the office of the king.
After jharoka darshan, Akbar retired to the public audience hall, or the diwan-i-khas-o-am where
everyone, high or low, was allowed to present petitions and present cases in person. According to
Badayuni, “Huge crowds assembled and there was much bustle.” Officers posted or returning from a
campaign or from a posting were received, and news-letters from the provinces read-out. All the nobles
present in the capital or the camp were required to be present. Akbar spent one and a half pahars, or
about four and a half hours every day at the public audience hall.
The second appearance was in the afternoon when Akbar reviewed the condition of the horses,
elephants and transport animals maintained by the state. An even more important function was to go
round to the various karkhanas, or to conduct other routine business. According to Monserrate, the
Jesuit priest whom Akbar had invited from Goa, Akbar had built a work-shop near the palace where the
finer and more reputable arts, such as painting, goldsmith work, tapestry and carpet making etc. and
even manufacture of arms were carried on. Monserrate says, “Hither he very frequently comes and
relaxes his mind with watching those who practice their arts.” In between these two appearances, Akbar
retired to the royal household for a meal and rest, and to hear and dispose of petitions from the ladies
of the haram.
Confidential business of the state was conducted in the evening in a building called ghusal-khana (bathroom). This was so called because in between the diwan-i-am and the female apartments was a building
where Akbar used to take a bath, after which a few trusted persons were admitted to see him. Later, the
diwan and the bakhshi and a number of other nobles were also admitted. Shah Jahan renamed it the
Daulat Khana-i-Khas, but the term ghusal khana continued, so much so that the post of darogha or
supervisor of the ghusal-khana became an influential post because
the holder of the post could regulate entrance to it, or knew who came and went.
The Diwan-i-Khas was also used for bringing together “the learned, the wise and the truth seekers” who
held discussions on various topics (Ain-i-Akbari). Generally, Akbar retired late at night after hearing
It will thus be seen that the Emperor tried to see a cross-section of the people, and to be accessible to
them. The Jesuits were struck by Akbar’s pleasant spoken and affable manner of talking to nobles or
common people, and that “It was hard to exaggerate how accessible he (Akbar) makes himself to all
who wish audience to him”. In fact, this wish to be close to the people sometimes made him adopt
unconventional methods. Thus, we are told by Abul Fazl that in 1560-61, when there was a large
gathering near Agra for people going for celebrations at the tomb of the popular saint Salar Masud
Ghazi at Baharaith (modern West U.P.), Akbar, according to habit, went incognito, “observing the
various sorts and conditions of humanity.” He was almost recognised by some ruffians, but he escaped
by rolling his eyes to change his appearance. There is no record of any earlier Muslim ruler in India
having the confidence of venturing out alone in this way among the people.
Akbar’s significant contribution in the functioning of government was to establish a routine which was
strictly followed by his successors till the time of Bahadur Shah I, and of bringing the monarchy closer
and more accessible to the people in various ways.
The Land Revenue System
The land revenue system as it emerged under Akbar may be considered the culmination of
developments which had started much earlier, even before the establishment of the Delhi Sultanat, as
we have noted in the earlier volume. Thus, the attempts of the state to realize the land revenue in cash,
and preparing a system of measurement in order to obviate the need of a large army of officials to
assess the collection of produce at the time of the cutting of the crops, and demanding the share of the
state out of it, has been attempted in some areas in India before the arrival of the Turkish rulers. But we
do not know much about the details of these measures.
Under Alauddin Khalji, an attempt was made to assess the land revenue on the individual cultivator in
the upper doab area, so that the burden of the strong did not fall on the weak. To what extent it
succeeded is a matter of speculation. He also introduced a type of measurement of the cultivated land.
But it was different from the systems of measurement which was introduced by Sher Shah, and
developed further by Akbar.
Before we discuss the actual system of land-revenue administration which was virtually the basis of the
financial system of the state, we may first ascertain the basic approach of the ruler or the ruling classes
on the subject. Ziauddin Barani clearly enunciates this when he says that Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq’s policy
was that “The Hindus (i.e. the cultivators) were to be taxed so that they may not be blinded by wealth,
and so become discontented and rebellious, nor, on the other hand, be so reduced to poverty and
destitution as to be unable to pursue their husbandry.” Some modern historians call this a policy of
reducing the peasants to a level of bare subsistence. However, this tends to conceal the fact that there
were big differences in the villages even at that time regarding the size of holding, agricultural assets
(ploughs, bullocks etc.) and economic status. We have to see how the land-revenue system effected
these different sections.
Again, it has been argued that the efforts of all medieval rulers was to maximise the collection of landrevenue. This, again, presents a picture of growing pressure of the state on the cultivators, whereas,
from the time of Muhammad bin Tughlaq, it was constantly emphasised that the land-revenue demand
having reached a maximum, further increase of land-revenue could only be effected by expansion and
improvement of cultivation. However, there were situations and phases when the lives of the cultivators
became unbearable, leading to a crisis and a breakdown. Such situations need to be analysed concretly,
not as part of a general proposition.
The evolution of the revenue system under Akbar, leading to what is called the dahsala or Ten-Year
system in the 24th year of his reign (1579), was the logical evolution of the system of measurement
(zabt) adopted by Sher Shah, which had continued to operate in Hindustan, that is, the area from Lahore
to Ilahabas (Allahabad), till the early years of Akbar’s reign. During Bairam Khan’s regency, because the
number of claimants was large, the jama or assessment was artificially inflated, leading to considerable
discontent and infighting among the nobles, as has been noticed earlier. After assuming full charge of
the administration in 1562, Akbar tried to reform the system. Asaf Khan, an Irani, was appointed wazir,
but could do little and was removed. However, Aitmad Khan, a trusted eunuch, who had been appointed
diwan of the crown-lands (khalisa), effected reforms which relieved Akbar of his immediate financial
worries. He separated the khalisa lands from jagirs lands, after an enquiry had been made regarding the
income of different kinds of lands. Apparently, the most productive lands were included in the crown lands. Badayuni simply says that unprecedented economy was effected in expenditur e.
Till the tenth year (1566), no change was made in Sher Shah’s crop-rate (ray) which was converted into a
cash-rate, called dastur-ul-amal or dastur, by using a single price-list. However, this caused much
distress because the prices on which the crop-rates were converted into cash-rates were those
prevailing in the royal camp. Since prices in the countryside, and in areas away from the royal camp
were generally lower, the peasant would have had to pay more. But the major problem was that the
state still had little idea of the actual state of cultivation, including productivity, the area sown, etc. No
proper assessment of land-revenue could be made in the absence of such information.
In the eleventh year (1567), Muzaffar Khan and Raja Todar Mal effected a major change. Qanungos were
asked to provide information about the area of land cultivated and uncultivated, produce of the land,
and the land revenue-figures or statistics (taqsimat). The statements of the area under direct
administration (khalisa) for the years 1567-71 were checked by ten superior qanungos, and on that basis
the assessment, called jama-i-raqmi which had continued since the time of Bairam Khan, was set aside,
and a new estimate of the revenue for the empire was made. It was on the basis of the information
provided by the qanungos that, instead of a single price-list for the whole empire, the crop-rates began
to be converted into cash on the basis of the prices prevalent in differing regions.
These different prices are reflected in the rate list (dasturs) from 1562 to 1579 called the nineteen-year
price rates for different provinces given by Abul Fazl in the Ain. The rates are in the form of maximum
and minimum. Thus in subah Agra, the cash-rate (dastur) for wheat varied from 56 to 60 dams per bigha
in the
eleventh year, and from 36 to 74 in the seventeenth year. It is not clear whether the cash-rates or
dasturs reflected not only variation in prices, but also of productivity. In the beginning the state demand
was calculated on the basis of measurement every year. But later, this was replaced by estimation or
This system was better than the previous one but proved unsatisfactory for a number of reasons. The
qunungos being local zamindars, were not interested in revealing in full the actual state of affairs. Thus,
neither the crop-rates, nor the jama based on the record of the actual produce were found to be
correct. Also, the system of kankut or estimation provided loop-holes to local officials for corruption.
Finally, since the price-lists from the regions had to be scrutinized and approved by the court, and the
movements of the emperor being uncertain since the empire had expanded, there were interminable
delays. In consequence, in the terse words of Abul Fazl, “abundant distress used to occur.”
The Dahsala System
Thus, incomplete information, and the rapid expansion of the empire aggravated the problem. This, in
essence, was the background of the Dahsala or the Ten-Year rates proclaimed in the twenty-fourth year
(1579), on the basis of which state demand was expressed as a cash rate based on local productivity and
local prices. But before this measure was enforced, two preliminary steps were taken. In the nineteenth
year (1574), officials, called (amil) but popularly known as karoris, were placed in charge of lands which
could yield a krore of tankas or two and a half lakh rupees. The karori, assisted by a treasurer, a surveyor
and other technical staff was to measure the land of a village, and to assess the area under cultivation.
According to some observers, he was also to survey the banjar i.e. uncultivated land, and to encourage
the peasants to bring it gradually under cultivation, preferably within three years. This was an
impossible task, and we are told that many karoris were brought to book for their failure. The primary
purpose of the karori experiment, it seems, was to carry out the measurement of the cultivated area
because it was in the same year that a new jarib, or measuring rod consisting of bamboos joined by ironrings was introduced. This replaced the old jarib of hempen rope which expanded when wet, and was a
cause of much abuse. This karori experiment was introduced in the settled provinces, from Lahore to
A second step was taken in 1576 when the areas of Hindustan (from Lahore to Allahabad), were brought
under khalisa, or direct administration of the crown. This, combined with the introduction of the
branding of the horses, or the dagh system, led to serious discontent in a section of the nobility, as has
been noted earlier. However, it appears that the steps was meant to gain first-hand experience of
agricultural conditions, rather than a desire to do away with the jagir system, as some modern historians
have argued. Having gathered the needed information, the system of jagirs was restored.
By 1579, sufficient experience had been gained regarding produce of land, local prices etc. On that basis,
and on the basis of their yield, lands were grouped into assessment circles which were also called
dasturs. According to Abul Fazl, the crops, the area sown, and the price of produce in every pargana
during the last ten years was “ascertained”, and “one-tenth thereof was fixed as annual revenue.” The
state demand was no longer based on a single crop-rate which was then converted into a cash-rate on
the basis of prevailing prices, but on a series of cash-rates based on the crop and the area sown. The
advantage of this system to the state was that as soon as the crops were sown, and the measurement
(Zabt) of the sown area carried out, it knew what its rough income could be. To some extent it benefited
the peasant also. But it also meant that the risk of cultivation was largely thrown on to the shoulders of
the peasant.
Before we discuss the specific features of the system, it should be clarified that the did not mean a ten
year settlement but was based on average of the produce and prices during the last ten years.
The manner in which the average prices of the various crops was worked out was a complex one.
According to a modern study, they were not based on an average of the prices on which crop-rates were
converted into cash rates during the past ten years. Instead, the productivity and local prices during the
past ten years were worked out afresh on the basis of information, and then averaged out. But this was
not followed in the case of cash-crops or high grade crops such as cotton, indigo, sugar-cane, oilseeds,
poppy, vegetables which were always charged in cash. Since such crops had wide price fluctuations, a
good season was chosen, and became the basis of the revenue demand.
For purposes of laying down the state demand, both productivity and continuity of cultivation were
taken into account. Lands which were continually under cultivation were called polaj. Lands which wer e
fallow (parauti) for a year, paid full rates when they were brought under cultivation. Chachar was land
which had lain fallow for three to four years due to inundation etc. It paid a progressive rate, the fullrate being charged in the third year. Banjar was cultivable waste-land. To encourage its cultivation, it
paid full rates only in the fifth year.
The lands were further divided into good, bad and middling. One-third of the average produce was the
state share. However, in some areas, such as Multan a nd Rajasthan, one-fourth was charged. In
Kashmir, where saffron was sown, the state share was half.
The state demand should not be confused with what the peasant had to part with in practice. The landrevenue demand did not include various other kinds of imposts such as cess on cattle, trees etc. There
was also the share demanded by zamindars, the local officials, (qanungo, muqaddam, patwari, etc.), and
the expenses of village upkeep. We shall discuss this when we discuss village life and standard of livin g.
However, the land revenue demand was undoubtedly the heaviest demand which the peasant had to
meet under threat of severe action, including ejectment and loss of life, if he failed to meet it.
The Working of the dahsala System
The dahsala system based on measurement or zabt, was introduced in the region extending from Lahore
to Allahabad as also Gujarat, Malwa, and parts of Bihar and Multan. However, as a modern historian,
Irfan Habib, says, it is “improbable that the Zabt covered the whole land in any province”. According to
the Ain, the amalguzars were instructed to accept any system of assessment which the husbandman
preferred. The prevalent systems mentioned, in addition to zabt are kankut or appraisement, and batai
or crop-sharing. In kankut, the whole land was measured, either by using the jarib or pacing it, and the
standing crops estimated by inspection. If there was any doubt, the crops were cut, and estimated in
three lots—the good, the middling, and the inferior, and a balance struck. Abul Fazl says, “Often, too,
the land taken by appraisement gives a sufficiently accurate return”.
The second method was crop-sharing. This, again, was of three types: first was bhaoli where the crops
are reaped and stacked, and
divided by agreement in the presence of the parties. The second type was khet batai where the fields
were divided after they were sown. The third type was lang batai where after cutting the grain it was
formed in heaps and divided. This system needed a large number of intelligent inspectors, otherwise
there was deception.
There was another system in Kashmir where, following the practice in some parts of Central Asia, the
produce was computed on the basis of ass loads (kharwar), and then divided.
Another system of assessment mentioned by contemporaries is nasaq. There is considerable
controversy among modern historians about its nature. Moreland called it group assessment. R.P.
Tripathi disagreed but was not sure of its exact nature. Irfan Habib considers it estimation on the basis
of previous assessment. The peasants were given an estimation on the basis of the previous assessment,
whether based on zabt or batai, or any other method. If they refused to accept it, a new assessment
could be carried out. In this way, annual measurements, or appraisement could be avoided. It seems
that gradually nasaq based on zabt became the standard system, but the option of batai was always
there, particularly when there had been a series of crop failures.
Similarly, although the state preferred cash, the peasant had the option of paying either in cash or in
kind on the basis of crop-sharing. Sometimes, crops of one season (winter or summer) were paid in cash,
and the other in kind. Whenever the state share was paid in kind, it was inevitably sold and converted
into cash, as revenue-papers from Rajasthan during the seventeenth century indicate. Thus, the system
was much less rigid than the official accounts indicate.
There is a controversy whether the state dealt with the individual cultivator, or which the village as a
whole. As in the case of Alauddin Khalji earlier, the Mughal theory was that group-assessment would
mean the burden of the rich being passing on to the poor. However, this belief was not based on
support to some kind of peasant egalitarianism: medieval societies both urban and rural were basically
hierarchical, with a rigid division between the privileged or ashraf, and the unprivileged, or the ajlaf.
Group-assessment was objected to become in essence it concealed the true state of agriculture in the
village, thereby, government losing the opportunity of charging as much as the village could pay. Hence,
the entire emphasis was on ascertaining the true state of agriculture in the village, both its actual paying
capacity and
the potential. For the purpose, it emphasised the need to assess the land-revenue on the individual
cultivator on the basis of his actual cultivation. Further, the state encouraged the cultivator to pay
directly to the state, which implied to the imperial treasury if the area was under khalisa, or to the agent
of the jagirdar if it was assigned in jagir. But here village realities came into play. Much of the country
was under the control of zamindars or chiefs. These chiefs paid only a stipulated sum of money as landrevenue by way of peshkash. Since the time of Alauddin Khalji, the state had been trying to carry out a
survey of the state of agriculture in the village in order to levy a land-revenue based on actual
cultivation. Measurement or zabt was the most effective way of ascertaining the real state of agriculture
in a village. Akbar’s great contributions was that he was able to procure in a large measure the co operation of the zamindars, represented by the qanungo, in this task. But this was largely confined to
the settled area extending from Lahore to Allahabad. In order to get their co-operation, the zamindars
were allowed to collect their traditional dues from the area under their control, as well as to collect land
revenue for which they were granted a percentage of the collections. Much emphasis has been laid on
the state issuing a patta or qabuliat (letter of acceptance) to the peasant, setting out the area sown, the
crop, the schedule, and the amount due from him. Since the peasant was illiterate, the patta had little
meaning for him. But it was a devise on the basis of which the state could check the actual collection
made by the village headman, or by the zamindar.
Thus, while assessment was based on the individual cultivator, the responsibility of collection vested
with the village headman or the zamindars or both. In practice, there was still a considerable leeway by
which the zamindars, or the more prosperous cultivators could manipulate the assessment in their
favour, or conceal their holdings. The zamindars also remained socially strong in many regions on
account of difficult terrain, and their caste/clan links with the dominant sections of the peasants.
Despite these limitations, the control of the state over the villages in this area was more extensive than
ever before.
The question has been raised whether the dahsala assessment was permanent, or whether it was meant
to be revised periodically. It has been pointed out that it was permanent for all practical purposes,
because no settlement was carried out either during the remaining years of Akbar’s reign or by his
successors. But this
does not mean that state gained nothing from the expansion and improvement of cultivation, or that
the peasant has no redress on account of natural disasters, or fall in prices. Expansion and improvement
of cultivation was one of the principal aims of the Mughal government. We have already seen that
banjar or uncultivated wasteland which was extensive in those days, paid land-revenue at a concessional
rate for four years when brought under cultivation. According to the Ain, the amalguzar or revenue collector was instructed to “strive to being waste-land under cultivation and take care that what is in
cultivation fall not waste”. He was further told, “Should there be no waste land in a village and a
husbandman is capable of adding to his cultivation, he should allow him land in some other village.” The
amalguzar was further instructed to give agricultural loans or taqavi for seed, implements etc. in case of
drought, or for bringing banjar land under cultivation. Such help was available for digging and repair of
wells also. Concessions were also given for increase of superior or cash crops.
Thus, the state promoted and shared the benefits of the expansion and improvement of cultivation. This
also applied to prices. We are told in the Akbar Nama that in the 43rd year (1598) as a result of Akbar’s
prolonged stay at Lahore, and the resulting rise in local prices, the revenue-demand in the region was
raised by 20 per cent; and when, on his departure, the prices fell, this was discontinued. In the 30th and
the 31st year, (1585, 1586) when there was a sharp fall in prices due to exceptionally favourable
production, substantial reduction in demand was made in the three provinces of Delhi, Allahabad and
Awadh. Remissions were also made in case of drought by declaring a portion of the cultivated area as
“not sown” (nabud).
Thus, although the peasant was to some extent safeguarded against the risks of cultivation, the system
was rigid enough that remissions were often tardy as well as insufficient. This, and the high scale of
revenue-demand seems to have led to the piling up of arrears. It seems that under Todar Mal, the
government dealt harshly with the amils to realize these arrears which, in turn, would have led to
harshness against the peasants. The situation was sufficiently serious for Akbar to have set up a
Commission in 1585. The recommendations of the Commission show how some of the regulations were
abused: the arrears were sometimes inflated on account of the demand being based on guess and
computation, not on the basis of the area actually sown. Sometimes, even lands which had fallen out of
cultivation were assessed. The amils were harassment by arresting them arbitrarily or holding back a
portion of their salary against possible arrears without sufficient reason, or not paying the amils for the
additional men they had employed for measurement or as soldiers to overawe the cultivators. Corrupt
amils were also ordered to pay back the amounts they had collected from the peasants illegally. It was
partly due to the recommendations of the Commission that a standard rate was fixed for the
remuneration of the measuring parties, a charge which was payable by the cultivators.
It was at this time, also, that a new yard, gaz-i-Ilahi was introduced, replacing the old gaz-i-Sikandari. It
was 41 digits or about 33 inches, being 14 per cent longer than the previous yard. In consequences, the
bigha which was 60×60 yards, also became bigger in size by 10.5 per cent. This needed a revision of the
dasturs for the kharif and rabi crops. Moreland who had written on the subject more than fifty years ago
was doubtful whether such adjustment was made. But recent statistical study shows that the rates given
in the Ain were actually the revised rates based on the change in the size of the bigha.
Thus, the picture which emerges is of a system in which a uniform set of grain rates per bigha, valued at
a uniform, and then at local prices, gave way to local grain-rates valued at local prices. When this broke
down due to rapid expansion of the empire, schedule of cash-rates were fixed on the basis of
productivity and the crops sown, based on past experience. This system continued, although periodic
adjustment were made. The measurement system (zabt) remained the preferred system, though other
systems continued side by side, or following a break-down. However, annual measurements gradually
fell into the background as the system stabilised, giving way to appraisement (nasaq). Stability also
helped in the process of expansion and improvement of cultivation, although its extent and impact is a
matter of controversy.
The Mansabdari System and the Army
Mansabdari was a unique system devised by the Mughals in India. In its broadest aspect, the mansab or
rank awarded to an individual fixed both his status in the official hierarchy as well as his salary. It also
fixed the number of armed retainers (tabinan) the
holder of a mansab was supposed to maintain for the service of the state. The holder could be given any
administrative or military appointment, or kept in attendance at the court. Thus, mansabdari was a
single service, combining both civil and military responsibilities. The salary could be paid in cash, but
generally it was paid by grant of a jagir. Grant of a jagir implied the right of collecting all the payments
due to the state.
The mansabs granted to nobles ranged from 10 to 5000, forming sixty-six categories in multiples of 10
upto 100 and thereafter by 50 or 100. But it is not certain that all these sixty-six grades were actually
granted, the number sixty-six being a notional, sacred number. Although the word mansabdar was a
generic term, popularly only those holding ranks upto 500 were called mansabdars, those from 500 to
2500 were called amirs, and those from 2500 and above amir-i-umda, or amir-i-azam. Later, all those
holding ranks below 1000 began to be called mansabdars. Since it was a single service, theoretically, a
person was supposed to enter at the lowest level, and work his way up. But the king could and often did
appoint distinguished people at a higher level. This was also extended to hereditary chiefs or rajas.
Mansabs above 5000 upto 10,000 were reserved for princes of blood. However, towards the end of
Akbar’s reign, two nobles, Mirza Aziz Koka and Raja Man Singh, the former being Akbar’s milk-brother,
and the latter being related to him by ties of matrimony, were raised to the rank of 7000. Till the end of
Aurangzeb’s reign, 7000 remained with one exception the limit of the mansab any noble could aspire to.
However, during the period the ranks granted to princes rose to the dizzy height of 40,000 zat.
Evolution of the Mansabdari System
The numbered gradation of the mansabs has often been traced back to Chingiz who had divided his
army from 10 to 10,000. Due to the influence of the Mongols, we begin to hear of nobles holding the
rank of 100 (yuz-bushi) or 1000 (hazara). But such numerical ranks had not become general. Some
nobles were called commanders of a tuman or 10,000, but this was utilized to denote the highest rank,
rather than the actual number of troops I commanded which in practice could be only one-tenth of it.
Under the Lodis and Surs, we hear of nobles who held ranks of 20,000 or 10,000 or 5,000 sawars. Here,
again, we have no idea of
the actual numbers of horsemen these nobles commanded. Thus, the division of the service from 10 to
5000 into a regular hierarchy of grades was a unique contribution for which credit has to be given to
There is a general agreement that this numerical division of the mansabs was effected by Akbar in the
eleventh year of his reign (1567). Although Abul Fazl gives the mansab ranks to nobles such as Bairam
Khan who had died earlier, it seems that this was only a way by which Abul Fazl tried to indicate the
status of these nobles in the hierarchy. Significantly, other historians of the time, including Nizamuddin
who was the bakhshi and dealt with the military organisation, does not ascribe ranks to any noble who
had died before 1567.
It is difficult to be certain how many horsemen a mansabdar actually entertained during this period
because the jama was highly inflated at the time. As the state gradually gained a better knowledge of
the state of cultivation, and of the likely realization (hasil), Akbar took steps to reduce the gap betwee n
the number of horsemen on paper and those actually employed. The chief means of this was the
introduction of the branding or dagh system in the eighteenth year (1573-74). The dagh system implied
that the descriptive roll of every soldier entertained by the mansabdar was noted, and the number and
quality of the horses were periodically inspected. Those who failed to do so were penalized. Promotions
also depended upon conforming to it. According to the historian, Badayuni, who was himself a
mansabdar of 20, first a mansabdar would be awarded a mansab of 20 so that he could serve in the
guard, or the palace or the fort as required. When he had presented those twenty horsemen through
the brand (dagh), according to regulations, he could be given a mansab of 100. Thereafter, when he had
brought this number of muster, according to his capacity and imperial favour, he could attain a mansab
of 1000 or 2000 or even 5000.
The dagh system was resisted by the nobility, and some of the senior nobles, such as Munim Khan and
Muzaffar Khan who was vakil were reluctant to present their contingent for the brand. Mirza Aziz Koka
was degraded and put under surveillance for refusing to implement the measure. The dagh system
placed enormous power in the hands of junior officials who sometimes used it to harass even senior and
respected nobles. Some of the diwans also adopted harsh methods which were responsible for a serious
rebellion in
Bengal and Bihar in 1580. Akbar tried to rectify the situation as we have noted.
Despite the strictness of the dagh, it was found that in practice the mansabdars were not maintaining
the number of sawars they were required to. According to Badayuni, not only did he himself fail to bring
the requisite number of cavalrymen to the brand, his fellow mansabdars did not maintain the fixed
number of cavalrymen, brought borrowed men and borrowed horses to the muster, and dismissed them
soon after and kept the jagirs the revenues of which were assigned to them in lieu of the salaries of the
troops, and their own expenses.
Zat and Sawar Ranks
This was the background to the introduction of the dual rank, the zat and the sawar in the 40th regnal
year (1595-96). According to Abul Fazl, the mansabdars were grouped into three categories. Those who
maintained sawars equal to their mansab number were placed in the first category. The second category
comprised those who maintained half or more than that, and the third those whose sawars where less
than half of their mansab number. It was at this time that the word zat began to be used in the sense of
a personal rank. According to Abul Fazl, in the 41st year, “the rank of Mirza Shahrukh has been
enhanced and pay assignment made to him for 5000 zat, with half the sawars.”
There has been a great deal of controversy for a long time regarding the meaning of zat and sawar. This
was so because it was not realised that the mansab system evolved gradually under Akbar. Thus, it was
different in the early phase upto 1594-95 when there was only a single rank. For our purposes, the
earlier controversy can be disregarded, and left to specialists. In the dual zat and sawar system which
came into being after 1595-96, zat indicated the personal pay and status of a noble, and the sawar rank
the actual number of horsemen he was expected to entertain. This implied that a mansabdar of 4000
zat, but only 2000 sawars, was higher in rank than a mansabdar of 3000 zat and 3000 sawars. The zat
rank also indicated the number of horses and elephants and beasts of burden and carts a mansabdar
was expected to maintain. Thus, a mansabdar of 5000 zat, was required to maintain 340 horses, 100
elephants, 140 camels, 100 mules, and 160 carts. Mansabdars of the rank of 400 or less were exempt
from this. The quality of the horses— Iraqi, Turki, Yabu (mixed), Jungla (Indian) was clearly laid dow n.
So also the quality of the elephants. There is some uncertainty whether the cost of the maintenance of
these animals and beasts of burden was met by the mansabdar out of his zat salary, as a modern
historian Abul Aziz thinks, or was an additional payment, as Shireen Moosvi argues, “so that the keeping
the animals was an advantage and not a burden.” We might also argue that since the Mughal army was
meant to be a highly mobile force, and since the nobles were frequently on the march or under transfer,
the maintenance of such a transport corp was essential. Abul Fazl makes it clear that not only the sawars
and their mounts, but the beasts of burden were also to be presented for the dagh.
The Zat and Sawar Salaries
The state carefully regulated both the number and quality of horses a sawar was expected to maintain.
The general rule was that for 10 sawars there should be 20 horses. This was called the dah-bisti or tentwenty system (3×3 horses = 9; 4 x 2 = 8 horses; 3 x 1 = 3 horses; total 20 horses.) This was done to
ensure the mobility of the cavalry which was the main fighting force of the Mughals. A second horse was
needed as a replacement if the mount was tired, or injured or dead. The salary of the sawar was fixed
both on the number of horses (one, or two or three) and the quality of the horses a trooper kept. Thus,
the monthly salary of a trooper with an Iraqi horse was Rs. 30 per month, with a mujannas (mixed) Rs.
25, Rs. 20 for a Turki, Rs. 18 for a yabu and so on.
The salary of a sawar in Akbar’s time before the dagh was as follows: Mughals, Afghans, and Indian
Muslims drew a salary of Rs. 25 per month if they had three horses; Rs. 20 per month if they had two
horses, and Rs. 15 per month if with one horse. A Rajput with three horses received Rs. 20 per month,
and Rs. 15 if with two horses. The salary of a Rajput with one horses is not mentioned by Abul Fazl, but it
may have been Rs. 12 per month. The lower salaries awarded to Rajputs, was discriminatory, but also
had the effect of encouraging non-Rajput nobles to employ Rajputs. Although Mughals and Rajput
nobles were allowed to employ only men drawn from their ethnic group, all others had to employ mixed
contingents. The salaries were finally fixed after dagh on the basis of the quality of the horses
On the basis of the ten-twenty-system the average salary of a sawar before dagh under Akbar calculated
by a modern historian,
Moreland, was Rs. 240/- per annum. The mansabdar was allowed to keep 5 per cent of the total salary
of the sawars for his general expenses.
The jagir awarded to a mansabdar was, therefore, a total of his zat salary, and the salary allowed to his
contingent based on his sawar rank.
The zat salaries were fixed on the basis of whether a noble was in the first, second or third category i.e.,
had a sawar rank equal to his zat, or half or more than that; or less than half. It might be mentioned that
the salaries of the mansabdars and soldiers were calculated in terms of dams, a rupee being considered
equal to 40 dams. The value of all jagirs was also calculated in dams. Hence, the revenue assessment for
purposes of grant of jagir was called jamadami. The zat salary of a noble of 5000 of the first rank was Rs.
30,000 per month, or Rs. 3,60,000 per annum. If he was in the second category he received Rs. 29,000
p.m. or if in the third category Rs. 28,000. This was carried down to the lowest mansabdar. Thus, a
mansabdar of 1000, received Rs. 8100 p.m. if he was in the second, and Rs. 8000 p.m. if in the third
Thus, although the salaries of the sawars were paid for separately, a noble was rewarded in his zat salary
if he maintained a larger contingent. The nobles had to make annual presents to the Emperor who
sometimes returned to them more than they gave. The nobles also had to incur the cost of
establishment for collecting land-revenue from their jagirs. Moreland estimated that the cost of
collection from the jagirs did not exceed one-fourth of the salary.
Even then the salaries were extremely handsome on any account, and attracted able men far and wide.
According to the historian Badayuni, “Scarcely a day passes away on which qualified and zealous men
are not appointed to mansabs or promoted to higher dignities. Many Arabians and Persians also came
from distant countries in the army, whereby they obtain the object of their desires.” It is difficult to
estimate the number of mansabdars in service at any one time under Akbar. The figures given by Abul
Fazl in the 40th year, includes all the nobles, dead or alive, who served during the last forty-years.
Moreover, both he and Nizamuddin Ahmad list only those who held mansabs of 500 or above. Du Jarric
who wrote in the early years of jahangir’s reign, gives a list of 2941 mansabdars from 10 to 5000.
Although both Man Singh and Aziz Koka held ranks of 7,000, Du Jarric’s list appears
reasonable. Of these 150 or 5.1 per cent held ranks of 2500 or above.
It were these 150 individuals who held all the important civil or military posts in the empire. It was a
kind of a carefully selected, personalized bureaucracy which was wholly dependent on the ruler, and
whose skill, dedication and organising ability were vital for the proper functioning of the empire. It has
been argued that the empire would have been more stable if Akbar had paid the nobles in cash. This
argument is based on ignoring the complex social realities of the time. The task of collecting landrevenue in a situation in which the local population was armed and headed by landed elites, the
zamindars, who often had close clan and caste bonds with the cultivating community, bristled with
difficulty. By allotting jagirs to the nobles, they were given a vested interest in collecting the landrevenue due to the state. Although it opened the door for local oppression, it could be dealt with more
easily than the state dealing directly with a mass of recalcitrant peasants. Akbar did take the area from
Lahore to Allahabad under khalisa or direct administration for some time in 1576. But it was mainly to
acquire more accurate information about the actual state of cultivation. Hence, the allotment of jagirs
to the nobles was resumed after a lapse of a few years. It should also be mentioned that control over
land was a matter of social prestige, and a security for payment. As a noble later wrote to his son,
“service has its foundation in a jagir, an employee without a jagir might as well be out of employment.”
The Army
The Mughal army consisted of cavalry, infantry, artillery, elephants and camels. There was no navy in
the modern sense of the word but there was a flotilla of boats which was under an amir-ul-bahr (Lord of
the sea or Admiral). There has been a great deal of misunderstanding regarding the strength and
efficiency of the Mughal army. The success of the Mughal armies during Akbar’s reign was not based on
luck alone, though luck certainly played a part, but on the quality of its leadership and the confid ence it
could inspire. But above all it was based on a skilful combination of cavalry, artillery and the elephant
corp, with the infantry playing a supporting role. The cavalry was considered, according to Monserrate,
“… in every way to flower of the army”, and the emperor spared no expense in order to maintain an
efficient and well equipped force of cavalry. The dagh system was the main means of ensuring this.
Apart from employing choice horses from
Iraq, Iran and Arabia, the cavalrymen were protected by iron-helmets and other defensive armours, and
their horses had their necks, chests and backs fully covered. The sawars were armed with swords, lances
and bows.
The state did not pay for the horses or the armour of a trooper. The trooper had to purchase his own
horse, and bring it to the muster before he was granted his pay. This understandably caused a lot of
harassment and was the basis of corruption. Hence, a rule was made that on appointment, a mansabdar
was granted an ad hoc pay which was called barawardi for his contingent. This was adjusted when the
full pay was granted to the sawars after the muster. But this itself became a means of corruption: nobles
delayed the muster, and continued to keep a nominal force, and drew the barawardi salaries for the full
contingent. In some cases, the state directly employed soldiers and sent them to high mansabdars. Such
troopers were called dakhili.
In addition to the above, there was a separate category of people who were called ahadi or gentlemen troopers. These were individuals who were allowed five horses or more and were paid handsomely.
They had a separate muster-master or diwan. The ahadis could be appointed anywhere in the army, or
served as messengers. On some occasions, they could even be appointed with a mansabdar.
The artillery had developed rapidly in India after the advent of Babur. Apart from siege guns there were
heavy guns mounted on forts. These siege guns were not easily manoeuvrable, and sometimes
elephants and thousands of bullocks were used to transport them. Though often considered symbols of
prestige they could hardly be used in battles being slow in firing. Their efficacy against forts was also
doubtful, as the siege of Chittor showed. Mining under the fort-walls by use of gun-powder was,
therefore, resorted to.
In addition to the heavy artillery, there were several types of light artillery. If carried on the back of a
man, they were called narnal; if carried on backs of elephants gajal, if on backs of camels shutrnal. These
were really light swivel-guns. The camels were trained to lie down when the gun mounted on its back
was fired.
We do not know anything at this time about field-guns, or guns on wheeled-carriages (arraba) which
were used at Panipat and Khanua. Guns on wheeled-carriages may have already been in existence
before these battles.
Akbar made great efforts to improve the casting and easy transportability of guns. Thus, he invented a
gun which could be taken to pieces and put together again when required. Wheeled carriages for guns
were improved. We are told that of an invention whereby 17 guns could be joined together in such a
way that they could be fired with one match. Irfan Habib thinks that the guns were placed close
together, and were fired not simultaneously but one after another by the effect of the heat. Akbar had
great interest in the manufacture of hand-muskets also which he improved. These match-locks could be
of three feet to two yards in length. A devise was invented whereby the barrels of the hand-guns could
be bored and cleaned by means of a machine drawn by an ox.
Under Akbar, thousands of elephants were used for war purposes. They were carefully graded and
armed. Apart from carrying materials of war, and for carrying royalty and important nobles, the
elephants, combined with cavalry, formed a kind of a battering ram or a protective shield. But they
tended to be helpless when surrounded by hostile cavalry.
The infantry, though numerous, consisted of both fighting and non-fighting classes. The fighting men
were mainly matchlock-men, called banduqchis. These had a separate organization, with clerks, a
treasurer and a darogha. They were subdivided into various classes, their salaries ranging from 110
dams to 300 dams per month. The dakhili soldiers recruited and directly paid for by the central
government and handed over to high mansabdars were foot-soldiers, and matchlock-men. A quarter of
the fighting force consisted of bearers of match-locks, carpenters, black-smiths, water-carriers and
pioneers who cleared the way.
There were also runners for carrying messages, palki-bearers, wrestlers, slaves etc. who may be called
ancillaries. Their services were necessary for maintaining the efficiency of the army, but they are often
confused with the fighting forces, leading to inflation of its numbers. The palace-guards and spies were
in addition to these.
There is no easy way to assess the strength of Akbar’s army. According to Monserrate writing in 1581.
“There are forty-five thousand cavalry, five thousand elephants, and many thousands infantry, paid
directly from the royal treasury.” The strength of the cavalry maintained by the mansabdars cannot be
assessed because in the early part, a mansab did not indicate the number
of sawars actually maintained. Later, when the sawar rank was instituted, the sawar ranks of only a few
have been given. All that we can say is that the number of sawars maintained by the mansabdars would
not have been less than those maintained centrally.
Thus, the cavalry force, both central and that provided by the nobles could not have been less than
100,000. We have no idea of the strength of the infantry and the artillery.

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