History Optional Paper-1 Solution – 2002: Q.5 (c)

Q.5 (c) Write a short essay on: “Mansabdari System”


The Mughal emperors maintained a large and efficient army till the reign of Aurangzeb. The credit of organising the Mughal nobility and army systematically goes to Akbar. The steel-frame of Akbar’s military policy was the mansabdari system. Through it he set up a bureaucracy which was half-civil and half-military in character.

The word mansab means a place or position. The mansab awarded to an individual fixed both his status in the official hierarchy and also his salary. It also fixed the number of armed retainers the holders of mansab was to maintain. The system was formulated to streamline rank of the nobles, fix their salary and specify the number of cavalry to be maintained by them.

Under the mansab system ranks were expressed in numerical terms. Abul Fazl states that Akbar had established 66 grades of Mansabdars ranging from commanders of 10 horsemen to 10,000 horsemen, although only 33 grades have been mentioned by him.

Initially a single number represented the rank, personal pay and the size of the contingent of the mansabdar. Later the rank of mansabdar came to be denoted by two numbers- Zat and Sawar.

The Zat denoted personal rank of an official and the Sawar indicated the size of contingents maintained by the mansabdars.

Depending on the strength of contingent Mansabdars were placed in three categories.

  1. In the first Zat and Sawar ranks were equal.
  2. In the second, Sawar rank was lower than the Zat but stopped at half, or fifty percent, of the Zat rank.
  3. In the third, Sawar rank was lower than fifty percent of the Zat rank.

Thus the Sawar rank was either equal or less than the Zat.

The mansabdar’s position in the official hierarchy was decided by the Zat rank and not the Sawar rank. For example, a mansabdar with 4000 Zat and 2000 Sawar was higher in rank than a Mansabdar of 3000 Zat and 3000 Sawar. But there were exceptions to this rule particularly when the mansabdar was serving in a difficult terrian amidst the rebels. In such cases the state often increased the Sawar rank without altering the Zat rank. Some times Sawar rank was also increased for a temporary period to meet emergency situations.

Jahangir introduced a new provision in the Sawar rank. According to it a part of Sawar rank was termed du-aspa sih-aspa in case of select mansabdars. For this part additional payment at the same rate 8,000 dams per Sawar was sanctioned. Thus if the Sawar rank was 4000 out of which 1000 was du-aspa sih-aspa, salary for this Sawar was calculated as 3,000 × 8,000 + (1,000 ×8,000’ × 2) = 40,000,000 dams. Without du-aspa sih-aspa, salary for the 4,000 Sawar would have stood at (4,000 × 8,000) = 32,000,000 dams. Thus the mansabdar was to maintain double number of Sawars for the du-aspa sih-aspa category and was paid for it. Jahangir probably introduced this provision to promote nobles of his confidence and strengthen them militarily. By this provision he could increase the military strength of his nobles without effecting any change in their Zat rank. Any increase in their Zat rank would not only have led to jealously among other nobles but also an additional burden on the treasury.

Shahjahan introduced the month-scale in the, mansabdari system to compensate the gap between Jama (estimated income) and hasil (actual realisation). The mansabadars were generally paid through revenue assignments Jagirs. The biggest problem was that calculation was made on the basis of the expected income (Jama) from the Jagir during one year. It was noticed that the actual revenue collection (hasil) always fell short of the estimated income. In such a situation, the mansabdar’s salary was fixed by a method called month-scale. Thus, if a Jagir yielded only half of the Jama, it was called Shashmaha (six monthly), if it yielded only one fourth, it was called Sihmaha (three monthly). The month scale was applied to cash salaries also. There were deductions from the sanctioned pay also. During the reign of Shahjahan the mansabdars were allowed to maintain 1/5 to 1/3 of the sanctioned strength of the Sawar rank without any accompanying reduction in their claim on the maintenance amount for the Sawar rank.

Aurangzeb continued with all these changes and created an additional rank called Mashrut (conditional). This was an attempt to increase the sawar rank of the mansabdar temporarily. Aurangzeb added one another deduction called Khurak-I dawwab, towards meeting the cost for feed of animals in the imperial stables.

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