Population In Mughal India

Population in Mughal India

  • The Indian population statistics properly begin only with the census of 1872.
  • For the Mughal Empire, there is practically absolute dearth of demographic data:
    • Akbar is said to have ordered a detailed account of population, but its result have not come down to us.
    • Even the Ai’n-i Akbari with all the variety of statistical information that it contains, offers no estimate of the number of people for the whole of Akbar’s Empire or any part of it.
  • Modern scholars are divided on the size of the population in Mughal India.
    • Initially the figure of a hundred million was widely accepted.
    • Subsequently, a re-examination of the data led to a considerable upward revision. It is now estimated that the population of the whole of India totaled between 140 to 150 million and at around 100 million in the Mughal territory.
  • No phase of economic history can be studied without allowing for demographic factor. For pre-modern societies, population growth is often considered as a major index of economic growth. It is, therefore, legitimate to attempt estimating the Indian population on the basis of quantitative data of diverse kind that are available to us.
  • No census was ever conducted in Mughal Empire, so any estimate can be made only on the basis of other data. The richest source of other data is Ain-i-Akbari, by Abul Fazl.

Moreland’s estimate

  • On the Basis of the Extent of Cultivated Area:
    • Moreland made the first attempt to estimate the population with the help of the data of the A’in-i Akbari.
    • He tried to determine the population of Northern India on the basis of the figures given in the A’in.
    • This work gives figures for arazi (measured area) for revenue purposes, which he took to represent the gross cropped area.
    • Moreland attempted to use these statistics,
      • first, to work out total area under cultivation at the end of 16th century, and
      • then to estimate on this basis total population of Mughal Empire.
    • Moreland assumed that arazi represented the gross cropped area.
    • He compared the arazi with the gross cultivation at the beginning of 20th century and assuming a constant correspondence between the extent of cultivation and the size of the population right through the intervening period.
    • On this basis, he calculated population from Multan to Monghyr as 30 to 40 million at the end of the 16th century.
  • Applying Civilian: Soldier Ratio (For the Deccan and South India):
    • Moreland took as the basis of his calculations the military strength of the Vijaynagar Empire and Deccan Sultanates.
    • Taking a rather arbitrary ratio of 1:30 between the soldiers and civilian population, he estimated the population of the reign at 30 million.
  • After calculating the population of other territories lying within the pre-1947 limits of India apart from two regions, he put the population of Akbar’s Empire in 1600 at 60 million, and of India as a whole at 100 million.
  • These estimates received wide acceptance. Nevertheless, Moreland’s basic assumptions (and therefore his figures) are questionable.
  • Objection to Moreland’s estimate:
    • He assumed that arazi represented the gross cropped i.e. measurement was made of the cultivated land only.
      • But it has been shown on the basis of textual and statistical evidence that the arazi of the A’in was a measured area for revenue purposes which included, besides the cultivated area current, fallows and some cultivable and uncultivable waste.
      • Moreover, measurement by no means was completed everywhere.
    • His assumption that the cultivated land per capital in 1600 same as in 1900 is questionable.
    • For Deccan and South India, the army: civilian ratio = 30 is arbitrary which was arrived by the comparison with the pre-World War I modern states like France and Germany.
    • This is apart from the fact that Moreland’s count of the number of troops in the Deccan kingdoms was based on very general statements by European travellers.

Kingsley Davis’s estimate

  • Moreland has given inadequate weight to the areas outside the two regions.
  • To make an appropriate allowance for these regions, Kingsley Davis raised Moreland’s estimate for the whole of India to 125 millions in his book ‘Population of India and Pakistan’.
  • This modification, reasonable insofar as it goes, does not, of course, remove the more substantial objections to Moreland’s method indicated above.

Ashok Desai’s estimate (by using total and per capita land revenue)

  • He compared the purchasing power of the lowest urban wages on the basis first of prices and wages given in the A’in and then of all India average prices and wages of the early 1960’s.
  • The yields and crop-rates given by Abul Fazl provide him with a means of measuring the total food consumption in Akbar’s time which was 1/5th of what it was in the 1960s.
  • He then calculated the average consumption at the end of the 16th century for each major agricultural item.
  • By using these data, Desai worked out the area under the various crops per capita which he then multiplied by the revenue rates, to estimate per capita land revenue.
  • Dividing the total jama (which Desai treats as the total land revenue) by this estimated per capita land revenue, the population of the Empire works out at about 65 millions which confirms Moreland’s estimate.
  • Objections to Desai’s estimate:
    • According to Shireen Moosvi, since the prices and wages in the A’in are those of the imperial camp and, therefore, apply to Agra (and possibly to Lahore), it is surely inappropriate to compare these with modern all-India average.
    • In the same way, the A’in’s standard crop-rates applied either to the immediate vicinity of Delhi. These are thus not comparable to all-India yields.
    • Moreover, Desai divided the total jama of the Empire by the hypothetical land-tax per capita without considering the fact that tax incidence might have been different for different regions.
    • Another assumption of his which requires correction is that the jama was equal to the total land revenue whereas, it could have only been an estimate of the net income from tax-realization by the jagirdars to whom the revenue were assigned.
    • Moreover, the pattern of consumption in Akbar’s India was not comparable to that of 1960’s.

Shireen Moosvi’s estimate

  • In spite of the various objections to the estimates of Moreland, it still remains legitimate to use the extent of cultivation to make an estimate of population. The arazi figures of the A’in can provide the means of working out the extent of cultivation in 1601.
  • Making allowance for cultivable and uncultivable waste included in the arazi and establishing the extent of measurement in various parts of the Mughal Empire, Shireen Moosvi in her book Economy of the Mughal Empire has concluded that:
    • Average agricultural holding in 1600 was 107 per cent larger than in 1900.
    • Total area under cultivation in Mughal Empire in 1601 was 50 to 55 per cent of what it was during the first decade of 20th century.
      • This estimate receives further reinforcement from the extent of cultivation worked out by Ifran Habib from a detailed analysis of the number and size of villages in various regions of the Empire in the 17th century.
    • The urban population was 15 per cent of the total and, thus, the rural population was 85 per cent of the total population.
  • Shireen Moosvi used the basic method suggested by Desai but modified it to meet objections raised.
  • Shireen Moosvi gave the estimate of the population of India (pre-1947 boundaries) in the 17th century between 140 and 150 millions and the population of Akbar Empire at 100 millions.

Average rate of population growth

  • Taking the population of India to be around 145 million in 1601 and 225 million in 1871-this being the total counted by the first census of 1872, the compound annual rate of growth of the country’s population for the period 1601 to 1872 comes to 0.21% per annum.
  • The rate of population growth during the last three decades of the 19th century (1872-1901) was 0.37 per cent per annum-a rate higher than the one we have deduced for the long period of 1601-1871, but not in itself a very high rate of growth.
  • Compared to the European population growth rates, the Mughal Empire was by no means exceptionally sluggish in raising its population.
  • The rate of 0.21 per cent on the contrary suggests an economy in which there was some room for ‘national savings’ and net increase in food production, although the growth, on balance, was slow.
  • The slowness must have come from natural calamities like famines as well as man-made factors (of which the heavy revenue demand could have been one).
  • In overall annual rate of growth of 0.2 per cent for the period 1601-1801 suggests some interesting inferences about the Mughal Indian economy.
    • If population growth is regarded as an index of the efficiency of a pre-capitalistic economy, the Mughal economy could not be deemed to have been absolutely static or stagnant for the population tended to grow between 36 and 44% in two hundred years.

Composition of population: Rural and Urban

  • Ifran Habib has made an attempt to estimate urban population on the basis of the pattern of consumption of agricultural produce.
    • The Mughal ruling class tended to lay claim on one half of the total agricultural produce, but all of it was not taken away from the rural sector.
    • Assuming that about a quarter of the total agricultural produce was reaching towns, and, making allowance for the higher ratio of raw material in the agricultural produce consumed in the towns, he assumes the urban population to be over 15 per cent of the total population.

Estimated Population in Various Towns

  • Nizamuddin Ahmad in his Tabaqat-i Akbari (c. 1593) records that in Akbar’s Empire there were 120 big towns and 3,200 townships.
  • Taking the total population of Akbar’s Empire to be nearly 100 millions and the urban population as 15 per cent of it, the average size of these 3,200 towns werks out at about 5000 each.
  • However, in the Mughal Empire there were quite a few big towns. The European travelers provide estimated population of some major cities as follows:


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