Fiscal and Monetary System, Prices In Mughal India
Land revenue was the most important source of income in Mughal India. Besides this, there were other sources of income for the state. In the first section of this unit we will discuss the latter.
The contemporary sources provide detailed information about land revenue but on other taxes it is sketchy and brief.
In the second section, we will discuss the monetary system. The Mughals had a developed system of metallic currency. The Empire was dotted with mints issuing coins of gold, silver and copper. Here we will discuss the relative value of various currencies, system of minting and the location of mints.
In the third section, we will take note of prices. Among other things, we will also discuss the impact of price fluctuation on the production and commercial activities of the period.
It is very difficult to ascertain the exact share of taxes other than land revenue in the total income of the Empire. Shirin Moosvi has calculated them to be around 18% and 15% for the subas (provinces) of Gujarat and Agra, while in rest of the subas it was less than 5% .
Here, we will not go into the details of various taxes. We will confine ourselves to what these taxes were and what was the mechanism to collect them.
1) Taxes other than Land Revenue
The main sources were tolls and levies on craft production, market levies, customs and rahdari (road tax) both on inland and overseas trade, and also mint charges. Apart from these, the state treasury received huge amounts by way of war booty, tributes and gifts from various quarters.
Almost everything sold on the market was taxable. The main articles taxed were clothes, leather, food grains, cattle, etc. Every time the merchandise was sold, a certain tax was to be paid. We do not have enough data to calculate the exact rate of taxation. The general accounts suggest that these taxes were quite harsh. Peter Mundy (1632) complains that the governor at Patna was harsh in realizing taxes, and even women bringing milk for sale were not exempted. Another contemporary writer says that every trader-from the rose-vendor down to clay-vendor, from the weaver of fine linen to that of coarse cloth had to pay tax.
Apart from merchants, all the artisans also paid taxes on their products. Katraparcha was a tax levied on all sorts of cotton, silk and wool cloth. Indigo, saltpetre and salt were other important commodities subjected to taxation. In some cases as in Panjab, the tax on salt during Akbar’s time was more than double the prime cost.
Customs and Transit dues:
When the goods were taken from one place to another, a tax was levied. We have some information on the rate of custom levies. All merchandise brought through the ports was taxable. Abul Fazl says that during Akbar’s time the duties did not exceed 2.5% per cent. One early seventeenth century account suggests that at Surat the charges were 2.5% per cent on goods, 3 per cent on provisions and 2 per cent on money (gold & silver). Towards the close of the 17th century, the customs ranged from 4 to 5 per cent.
Aurangzeb levied separate transit taxes for separate groups. The rate fixed was 2.5% from Muslims, 5% from Hindus and 3.5 % from foreigners. These rates were applicable throughout the Empire.
The articles valued at less than 52 rupees were exempted. For some time, Aurangzeb exempted the Muslims from all custom dues but after a short period the levy of 2.5% was reimposed.
In spite of the Emperor’s instructions, the merchants were often charged more than the prescribed customs. We find the foreign merchants complaining about the custom dues. The English in 1615 complained that three separate duties were collected on goods brought from Ahmedabad into Surat. Time and again the English and the Dutch obtained farmans for the exemption of customs, but they were made to pay duties at the custom-houses.
Apart from the Mughal territory, the autonomous chieftains also levied customs and duties on goods passing through their territories. Moreland says that it is not possible to define the burden on commerce in quantitative terms, since any one might claim a tax of any amount, even if goods had paid taxes in an adjoining jurisdiction.
Apart from customs, another tax called rahdari or transit tax was collected. This was a road-toll collected on goods passing through various territories. Though the amount at each place was small, the cumulative charge became heavy. Even the zamindars used to collect tools on goods passing through their territories. According to one contemporary account of the 17th century (Khafi Khan), rahdari was considered illegal but large amounts were collected from merchants and traders. This tax was collected on river routes also.
Income from Mints:
The tax generated at mint was another source of income for the Empire. The state mint-fee was called mahsul-i darul zarb. The charges were around 5% of the value of the money minted. Besides, two other charges were also collected. These were rusum- i ahlkaran (perquisites of officials) and ujrat-i karigaran (wages of artisans).
2) Mechanism of Collection
Like land revenue there was a well organised machinery for collection of these taxes. The effort of the state was to keep separate accounts for the income from land revenue and other taxes. For this purpose, the taxes were classified into two: mal o jihat and sair jihat. The former related to land revenue and the latter to taxes charged on merchandise and trading.
For the convenience of assessment and collection, separate fiscal divisions called mahalat-i sair or sair mahals were created in big cities and towns. The mahal was a purely fiscal division and was different from the pargana which was both a revenue and territorial division.
The Ain-i Akbari gives separate revenue figures for towns and sair mahals for places like Ahmedabad, Lahore, Multan and Broach, etc. In case of Bengal, these market dues are separately mentioned in the A’in. In most of the 17th century revenue tables, the sair mahal figures for each town are given separately. (For example: the list given for Surat contains revenue mahals such as mahal farza, mahal khushki, mahal namakzar, mahal chabutra-i kotwali, mahal dallali, jauhari wa manhari, mahal darul zarb, mahal ghalla mandi and mahal jahazat.
These revenue districts were either given in jagir or their collections were sent to the state treasury. Except custom houses and mints, most of the officers responsible for the collection of taxes carried the same designations as land revenue officials (amin, karori, qanungo, chaudhari).
Ports had a separate set of officers. The mutasaddi was the chief official or superintendent of port. He was directly appointed by the Emperor.and was responsible for the collection of taxes. The rates of commodities in the market were fixed according to the prices settled by merchants at the custom-house.
The Mutasaddi had a number of officials working under him who assisted him in valuation and realization of custom dues and maintaining accounts. Some of them were the mushrif, tahwildar, and darogha-i Khazana. These also were directly appointed by the court. A large number of peons and porters were also attached to custom-houses. In the absence of relevant data it is difficult to calculate the net amount-collected. It has been estimated by Shireen Moosvi that the share of these taxes was around 10% of the total income of the state.
1) The Coinage
The Mughals had a well-organized and sophisticated monetary system. The imperial coinage was unprecedented both in quantity as well as in quality. The credit for attempting to establish a coinage free from any trace of debasement goes to Sher Shah, but it was under Akbar that the currency system fully matured.
Mughal Empire had a tri-metallic currency with a high level of purity and uniformity throughout their vast empire. They coined gold, silver and copper. However, the silver coin was the base of the Fiscal and Monetary System.
The silver coin has a long pre Mughal history. It was used during Delhi Sultanate for long as tanka. Sher Shah for the first time standardized the silver coin. It was call rupaya and had a weight of 178 grains (troy). For minting purposes, an alloy was added which was kept below 4 percent of the weight of the coin.
Akbar continued the rupaya as the basic currency with more or less the same weight. Under Aurangzeb the weight of the rupaya was increased to 180 grains (troy). The silver rupaya was the main coin used for business and revenue transactions.
The Mughals issued a gold coin called ashrafi or mahr. It weighed 169 grains (troy). This coin was not commonly used in commercial transactions. It was mainly used for hoarding purposes and also for giving in gift.
The most common coin used for small transactions was the copper dam which weighed around 323 grains. The weight of the copper dam was reduced by one third during Aurangzeb’s reign presumably because of the shortage of copper.
Further, for very petty transactions kauris (sea-shells) were used in coastal areas. These were brought mainly from the Maldive islands. Around 2500 kauris equaled a rupaya.
Apart from the silver rupaya other types of coins were also used. The most important of these were mahmudis, a long standing silver coin of Gujarat. Even after the establishment of the Mughal rule in Gujarat it continued to be minted and used in Gujarat for commercial transaction.
In the Vijayanagar Empire, a gold coin called hun or pagoda was used. After the disintegration of Vijayanagar, its circulation continued in the kingdoms of Bijapur and Golkunda. In many Deccan kingdoms, an alloy of copper and silver called tanka was in use. After the expansion of the Mughals in Deccan a number of mints were established in that region to produce Mughal silver coins.
Exchange Value of Coins:
The exchange value of gold, silver and copper coins kept fluctuating depending on the supply of these metals in the market. The silver value of gold kept fluctuating throughout the Mughal period, ranging from 10 to 14 rupaya for one gold coin.
As for copper coin, taking 1595 as the base year, Irfan Habib shows that by the early 1660’s it rose to 2.5 times, but by 1700 it came down to the double and again by 1750 it reached the level of the 1660’s.
For transaction purposes during Akbar’s period, 40 copper dams were considered equal to one rupaya. After his death, as the rate of copper appreciated sharply, this ratio could not be maintained. Since all the land revenue assessment and calculations were done in dams, it became necessary to use it as notional fractional units of rupaya. Silver coins of small fractions called ana were also used. It was one-sixteenth of a rupee.
2) The Minting System
The Mughals had a free coinage system. One could take bullion to the mint and get it coined. The state had the sole authority to issue coins and no other person could issue them. A very strict standardization was followed to maintain the purity of coins.
A large number of mints were established throughout the Empire. Attempts were made to have these mints in big towns and ports so that the imported bullion could be taken to mints easily. Every coin carried the name of the issuing mint, and the year of minting and ruler’s name.
Loss in value with time
The newly minted coin in the current or previous year was called taza sikka (newly minted). The coins issued and in circulation in the reign of an emperor were called chalani (current). While the coins minted in the earlier reigns were calledkhajana. Except for the taza all other coins were subjected to reduction in value.
A certain amount was deducted on the value of the coin for successive years from the year of issue. If a coin was for more than one year in circulation around 3 per cent was deducted; if it was for more than 2 years then 5 per cent was to be reduced.
Loss in value with weight
Apart from the factor of age, a deduction in the value was made on account of the loss of weight of coin. Abul Fazl says that if the loss of the weight was less than one rati it was to be overlooked and the coin was treated as standard. If the loss of weight was between 1 and 2 ratis, a deduction of two and a half per cent was made, and if it exceeded 2 ratis the coin was treated as bullion.
The above stated deductions were decided by state, but in actual practice arbitrary deductions were decided by sarafs (money changers) depending on the market.
Working of Mints:
Any person desirous of getting money minted was to carry bullion or old currency for reminting to a mint. The quality and purity of the metal was scrutinized. The currency was minted and delivered to the concerned person. A specific sum was charged as minting charges. This amounted to around 5.6% of the bullion minted.
In the process of minting a large number of personnel and craftsmen were involved. A mint was headed by an officer called darogha-i- darul zarb. The duties of this officer were to supervise the overall working of the mint. He was assisted by a number of officials, skilled artisans and workmen. The sarraf was employed by the mint as assessor. He was to judge the purity, weight and age of the coin and fix deductions on their value. Themushrif was to maintain accounts. The tahwildar kept accounts of daily profit and kept coins and bullion in safe custody. The muhr kan (engraver) was a person who engraved and made dies.The Wazan kash (weightman) weighed the coins. There were many artisans like the zarrab (coin maker), sikkachi (stamper), etc.
It is difficult to estimate the output of mints because it depended on the size of the mint and the commercial activities of the area where the mint operated. By the close of the 17th century, the output of Surat mint was estimated around 30,000 rupaya per day. Aziza Hasan studied the pattern of the issue of coins in 16th & 17th century. According to her estimates in 1639 the total rupees in cirulation were three times than that of 1591. After 1639 there is a decline and by 1684 the total was double of 1591. After 1684 there is an ascent again and by 1700 the total coins in circulation were three times than those of 1591.
Location of Mints:
Abul Fazl gives a list of mints in the Aim-i Akbari. According to him, copper coins were issued by forty-two mints, silver coins by fourteen and gold coins by four mints. The number of mints issuing silver coins increased by the end of the 17th century to forty.
M.P. Singh compiled a detailed list of mints on the basis of a large number of numismatic sources. According to him, a large number of mints which figure on coins do not find a mention in either the A’in or other literary sources.
The prices for a large number of commodities are listed in the Ain-i Akbari. These prices generally relate to the Agra region around the end of the 16th century. For the subsequent period, there are no systematic records of prices for comparison purposes. For the seventeenth century, the prices available pertain to different areas of the Empire in different years. In such a situation, it becomes difficult to trace a definite trend in the movement of prices of different commodities throughout the Mughal period. lrafan Habib has studied the movement of prices in 16th and 17th centuries. Below are a brief account of price movements as provided by Irfan Habib.
Gold, Silver and Copper:
Around 1580’s, the value of gold to silver was 1 : 9, by 1670’s, after various fluctuations, it reached 1 : 16, but it came down again to 1: 14 by 1750.
The price of copper coins also increased from the end of the 16th century to 1660’s by 2.5 times; by 1700 it came down to double of the 16th century. Again by 1750 it rose to the level of 1660’s.
The main problem in analysing the prices of food grains is that they had a lot of fluctuations and variations. The prices depended on the cultivation of the specific food grains in a particular region. Again, the prices varied due to the level of production in a particular year. There could be large variations in the prices of the same commodity at two places at the same time, depending on how far it was carried from the place where it was grown.
The prices of some food grains recorded in the A’in are given below:
The prices of food grains doubled between 1595 and 1637. Between 1637 and 1670, the increase was about 15 to 20 per cent. By 1670 the prices were 230 per cent of 1595. A systematic data is available for Eastern Rajasthan. Here the agricultural prices show a small increase between 1660’s and 1690’s, but a sharp increase by the second decade of the 18th century. After this, they maintained a level more than twice of that in the 1690’s.
Sugar and Indigo:
Two widely grown cashcrops in Mughal India were sugar and indigo. In northern India, the rise in the sugar prices is negligible till 1615; it rose to 140 per cent by 1630 and remained high till 1650’s; while in Gujarat, the price of sugar doubled by 1620.
The price movement of indigo shows separate trends for two major varieties, i.e. Bayana indigo and Sarkhej indigo.
The price for Bayana indigo given in the A’in (1595) is Rs. 16 per man-i Akbari. Till around the first quarter of the 17th century, the prices remained more or less at this level. In the 1630’s we notice a sudden rise which declined after a short period but remained much above than those of the 1620’s. Again, there came a sharp rise in the 1660’s which came down a bit but remained around 3 times than those of 1595.
The prices of the Sarkhej indigo increased by 1.5 times by 1620. By the 1630’s, there was a sharp rise followed by a decline by the 1640s, but it remained at the double level compared to that of 1595.
Fluctuations in indigo prices were affected by overseas demand also.
The A’in-i Alrbari provides figures for the wages of a large category of workers. In the absence of any such data for the 17th century, it is difficult to discover any definite wage trend over a period of time. The scattered figures for the 17th century do show that by 1637 an increase of 67 to 100 per cent takes place; but these are not enough to draw broad conclusions.