Categories Selfstudyhistory.com

Economy and Society in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries: Towns- Part I

Economy and Society in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries: Towns- Part I

  • According to Abdul Fazl, “People that are attached to the world will collect in towns, without which there would be no progress.
  • After the growth of towns and town-life during the Sultanat period, the process of the growth of towns became faster during the 16th and 17th centuries, and continued till the middle of the 18th century.
  • On account of the peace and law and order established by the Mughals in north and central India, and the consequent growth of commerce and manufacture, the period has been conceived of a “veritable golden age of urbanization”.
    • The process was not the same in different parts of the empire – Western U.P. and Eastern Punjab were the most rapidly developing till the end of the 17th century, while eastern U.P. and Bihar and Bengal forged ahead in the first half of the 18th century, due to the strong rule of the Nawabs or local rulers. Poona, Hugli etc. also developed under Maratha rule.
  • Mainly four types of urban centres emerged:
    • Administrative:
      • The administrative towns functioned primarily as seats of governance. Other roles, such as manufacturing or religion were of secondary importance.
      • For the Mughal Empire, towns, these were cities such as Agra, Delhi, Lahore, as well as many provincial capitals., Later, Poona, Faizabad, Haiderabad emerged as important centres of this type.
    • Religious:
      • There were the religious and pilgrim centres where some trade and craft activities also flourished, but which had a large floating population.
      • Cities such as Banaras and Mathura, Kanchi and Tirumalai fall in this category.
      • Ajmer was both religious and administrative in character.
    • Military/strategic:
      • The military or strategic towns developed essentially as military cantonment and, in due course of time attracted civilian population also. e.g: Attock and Asirgarh.
    • Commercial:
      • There were urban centres as the focus of large scale commercial activities or were predominantly production centres to which may be attached some administrative functions.
        • We have, for the Mughal Empire, towns like Patna and Ahmedabad falling under this category.
      • There were centres which flourished because of distinctive manufacturing technique or skill or local commodity.
        • Bayana for indigo,
        • Patan in Gujarat for dyeing,
        • Khairabad in Awadh for textiles fell in this category.
    • Note:
      • An average town in the Mughal Empire was in fact an extension of the village in the sense of social unities and attitudes.
        • This rural-urban continuum is thus a notable feature of urbanisation during the Mughal period.
      • Moreover, given the diversity of urban economies in the Mughal Empire, the stereo type of an Indian town would be a misnomer. Thus, the character of two apparently similar cities (at least functionally) would often be different.

URBAN LANDSCAPE

Even while accepting the caveat about Mughal towns, it is possible to identify some common features.

  • There is no agreement among scholars regarding the size of a town, though it is generally agreed that the size of a town depends on the population of a country.
  • The basic feature of a town is the existence of a market.
    • The smallest towns in India, the qasba, has been defined as a village with a market.
      • In other words, it had the characteristics of village life, viz. agricultural production, and a market.
      • Generally, a qasba was also a pargana headquarter.
    • There was a hierarchy of towns from the humble qasba to the district (sarkar) headquarter where the faujdar resided, to the provincial and imperial towns like Agra, Delhi, Lahore, etc.
  • In Akbar’s empire, there were 120 big cities and 3200 townships or rural towns (qasbas). These did not include the towns and townships in South India.
  • Large towns:
    • In the 17th century, the largest city was Agra with an estimated population of 500,000 which rose to 600,000 when the Emperor was in the town.
      • It still remained very large when the court shifted back to Delhi in the middle of the 17th Century.
    • Delhi was now held to be as populous as Paris which was then the biggest town in Europe.
    • According to a traveller, Coryat, in the beginning of the 17th century, Lahore was bigger than Agra, and was “one of the largest cities of the whole universe”.
    • Ahmadabad was estimated to be larger than London and its subarbs.
    • Patna had a population of 200,000.
    • Other large towns included Dacca, Rajmahal, Thatta, Burhanpur, Masulipatam.
  • However, what mattered was not so much the size as the nature of the towns and the role they played in the social, economic and cultural life of the country.
    • According to a recent estimate, during the 17th Century there was a very high ratio of urban to the total population of the country, as much as 15 per cent, a proportion which was not exceeded till the middle of the 20th century.
    • In Mughal India, the largest towns were “thriving centres of manufacuring and marketing, banking and enterpreneurial activities, intersections in a network of communications by land and water which crossed and re-crossed the sub-continent and extended far beyond, to South East Asia, to the Middle East, to Western Europe, and elsewhere.”

Physical Configuration

  • Fortification wall:
    • Most of the towns had some sort of a fortification wall with one or more gates.
    • The example of a typical Mughal town can be found in the description of Agra by John Jourdain at the beginning of the 17th century:
      • It is walled, but the suburbs are joined to the walls.
    • The nobles or princes built their mansions or gardens outside the gates of the town.
      • Thus, in many cities like Delhi, Agra, Patna, Ahmedabad and Allahabad these settlements developed as suburbs.
  • Markets:
    • In planned towns markets were properly laid.
    • Shops could be found on both sides of the main roads.
    • Many of these markets specialised in a particular commodity.
      • Names of various areas suggest their speciality for example in Agra-
        • Loha Gali (iron objects),
        • cheenitole (sugar mart),
        • sabzimandi (vegetable mart),
        • churiwala (bangles) etc.
  • Chowks:
    • All the streets were not narrow, crooked and unpaved. In each town there were one or two principal roads, which formed chowks.
    • The roads were generally paved.
  • Mohalla:
    • The residential area of the city was divided into wards or mohallas in which people of one caste or profession generally lived, though we have mohallas at Delhi consisting of both Hindus and Muslims.
    • The mohalla was locked up at night for security.
    • Mohalla were often identified by the professional groups that resided there.
      • A few names like mochiwara (shoemakers), kucha rangrezan (dyers) are notable instances.
      • In some cases these mohallas or wards were known by the names of influential men who resided there.
  • Sarai:
    • Another important feature of the town was the presence of sarais which were halting places for merchants or travellers.
    • Even the smallest towns had one.
    • The larger towns like, Delhi, Agra, Patna, Lahore,or Ahmedabad had sarais by the dozens.
    • Generally, nobles, royal ladies, big merchants or the state itself took up the job of constructing these sarais.
    • The travellers were provided with amenities including storage space to stock merchandise.
    • These were managed by the families of bhatiyaras who specialised as keepers of sarais.
  • Structure suited climatic conditions:
    • Describing the lay-out of the new city of Shahjahanbad, Bernier says that the style of housing had to suit the climate conditions of India, being airy was very important, as also having terraces to sleep in the open at night during the hot weather.
    • He says: “Very few of the houses are built entirely of brick or stone, and several are made only of clay and straw, yet they are airy and pleasant, most of them having courts and gardens being commodious inside and having good furniture. The thatched roof is supported by a layer of long handsome and strong canes, and the clay walls are covered with a fine white lime“.
  • Intermixed with these houses, and the shops above whom the merchants lived, were an immense number of small ones, built of mud and thatched with straw, in which lived the common soldiers, the vast multitude of servants and camp followers.
  • Note: 
    • The foreigners visiting the towns were supposed to inform the city administration about their arrival and departure.
    • On the whole, most of the towns lacked any detailed town planning. Except the major street, other, lanes and by-lanes were congested and muddy.

Administrative machinery of the city

  • It has been argued that cities in India did not have a specific legal character of their own, like many towns in Europe, and hence had no civic life. But this is not true.
    • Max Weber had said that oriental cities lacked corporate and civic character in contrast to European cities.

    • But this view is not correct because the Medieval evidences are suggestive of presence of such character.

  • The city had its own administrative machinery and regulations to run the day-to-day administration. The administrative structure of towns was such as to discharge in a satisfactory manner the effective purposes of town-life.
  • The state also created the system of governance and there are many evidences regarding that like:
    • Kotwal:
      • The general administration of the city in India was in the hands of the kotwal who had his own staff for watch and ward.
      • He was the head of law and order of cities.
      • In special cases, he could ask the faujdar for help.
      • Work:
        • Controlled economic activities:
          • regulating weights and measures,
          • keep track of prices,
          • prohibit illegal cesses etc.
        • Other civic duties:
          • to appoint persons to look after the water courses,
          • prohibit the selling of slaves,
          • set the idle to some handicrafts and to organize people in reciprocal assistance in the mohallas,
          • appoint a guild-master for every guild of artificers.
        • Also to act as an intelligence agent, keeping track of the coming and going of peoples, births and deaths, census operations etc.
    • Daroga
      • There were different kinds of Darogas like-
        • Daroga of market
        • Daroga of Daak
        • Daroga of public works
        • Daroga of gates
        • Daroga of royal karkhana
    • Mudasaddi
      • He was the incharge of administration.
    • Mir-i-Bakal:
      • Ain-i-Akbari (Abul Fazal) mentions that there was a proper system of provisioning in the city of Agra and food products were obtained from various areas.
      • There are evidences of Mir-i-Bakal and this office was incharge of provisioning in Agra.
  • There existed some urban autonomous institutions and there were self-administered institutions based on the socio-economic tradition- in coordination with state.
    • Mohallas/ wards also served as such institutions.
      • There are references of Mir-i-Muhalla– which represented superintendent of Muhallas, who supervised affairs of Muhallas.
    • Nagar seths (Merchant heads), also known as Malik-ut-tujjar and urban guilds (shreni) and their heads also played role in occupational regulation within the city. Sometimes they were based on a caste or religious basis.
    • Thus, there was a structure of local consultation and participation.

    Hence it can be said that there existed a degree of civic character in medieval towns.

Composition of Population (Urban Classes)

  • The urban population was not a homogenous one. Various categories of people were residing in towns. These can be classified into four broad groups :
    • Nobles and their retainers, officials of the state and troops;
    • Persons engaged in merchantile activities (merchants, sarrafs, brokers, etc.);
    • People involved with religious establishments, musicians, painters, poets, physicians, etc., and
    • Artisans, menials and workmen of sundry sorts.
  • The composition of different categories of people in different towns depended on the nature of towns, i.e., administrative centres, or commercial centres.,
    • In case of imperial headquarters, perhaps the biggest group was that of the retainers and troops of the king and nobles.
      • Bernier (1658) estimated the total strength of Shah Jahan’s great camp around 3-4 lakh.
    • As most of the big town were commercial centres of importance, the mercantile community of the towns was quite important.
      • At Ahmedabad it was estimated that there were around 84 castes and subcastes of Hindu merchants alone.
      • In 1640 there were 600 brokers in Patna.
  • Another important group in town comprised of people associated with the professions of medicine, learning, literature, art and music.
    • Generally, the religious and charitable grants were given in the vicinity of towns.
    • Besides, a large number of poets, musicians, physicians also made their abode in towns because here money could be earned or patronage of the king and nobles was available.
  • Artisans, workmen and labourers formed one of the biggest groups in towns having large commercial activities. The people working as artisans in various crafts may be divided in many groups:
    • The individual artisans working at their own places and selling their wares;
    • Artisans working in the karkhanas of the kings and, nobles, and in largescale building construction undertaken by the kings and nobles.
    • There was a large workforce of semi-skilled and unskilled workmen who would assist artisans or work in such largescale enterprises as shipbuilding, diamond-mining, saltpeter and saltmaking.
    • A number of workmen were employed as domestic help and daily wage labourers.

Urban Demography

  • The Tabqat-i Akbari (c 1593) says that during Akbar’s period there were around 120 big cities and 3200 qasbas (small towns).
  • In the 17th century, with the increasing trade and commerce this number would have grown further.
  • Irfan Habib estimates that around 15 per cent of the total population in Mughal India lived in towns.
  • As for the size of the individual towns is concerned, scattered references are provided by some European travellers.
Advertisements

Leave a Reply