It was a big challenge for any ruler in the Middle Ages to rule a territory as large and diverse as the Indian subcontinent. The Mughals were the pioneers in building an empire for a long period of time, contradicting their predecessors who ruled only for short periods of time. They expanded their kingdom from the latter half of the sixteenth century from Agra and Delhi to almost all parts of the subcontinent in the seventeenth century. Their structures of administration and ideas of governance had a place even after their reign was over. In other words, they left a political legacy that even the succeeding leaders of the subcontinent could not ignore.
Two great lineages of rulers were the ancestors of the Mughals. From their maternal side they were the descendants of Genghis Khan (who died in 1227) who ruled the Mongol tribes, China and Central Asia. From their paternal side they were the descendants of Timur who ruled Iraq, Iran and modern-day Turkey. Timur died in the year 1404. They did not like to be called Mughal or Mongol. The reason for this is that Genghis Khan’s memory was associated with the massacre of innumerable people. It was also associated with Uzbegs, their Mongol competitors. However, they were proud to be in the lineage of Timur; to some extent because of his capture of Delhi in 1398. They celebrated their genealogy pictorially; with each ruler getting a picture made of Timur and himself.
Babar (1526 – 1530) was the first Mughal emperor. He succeeded the throne of Ferghana in 1494; at the age of 12. But another Mongol group (the Uzbegs) attacked and forced him to leave the ancestral throne. He wandered for many years and then seized Kabul in 1504.
Succession traditions of the Mughals: The succession tradition of Mughals was not that of primogeniture. Instead, they followed the Mughal and Timurid custom of coparcenary inheritance. In primogeniture, the eldest son inherits his father’s estate. In coparcenary, the inheritance is divided amongst all the sons.
The Mughals campaigned constantly against rulers who did not accept their authority. With a rise in their power, many rulers voluntarily joined them, e.g. the Rajputs. Many Rajputs married their daughters into Mughal families. This enabled them to secure high positions. However, many Rajputs resisted the Mughals as well.
Opponents of Mughals: For a long time the Sisodiya Rajputs refused to accept the authority of the Mughals. They were defeated by the Mughals but were not humiliated by them. They were given their lands (watan) back as assignments (watan jagirs). Mughals followed the principle of defeating but not humiliating. This was the main reason for helping them to extend their influence over many kings and chieftains. But Shivaji was humiliated by Aurangzeb; which was contrary to the norms of the Mughals.
With the expansion of the empire, the Mughals recruited diverse bodies of people. What began as a small nucleus of Turkish nobles (Turanis) expanded to include Iranians, Indian Muslims, Afghans, Rajputs, Marathas and other groups. The Mughals enrolled these people as mansabdars.
This term refers to an individual who holds a mansab which means a position or rank. It was a grading system for fixing rank, salary and military responsibilities.
A numerical value; known as zat; was used to determine the rank and salary of a mansabdar. A higher zat meant a higher rank in the court. It also meant a higher salary.
Duties of Mansabdar: Their military responsibilities included maintaining a specified number of sawar or cavalrymen. Their duties towards cavalrymen were as follows:
Rights of Mansabdar: They received their salaries as revenue assignments called jagirs which were somewhat like iqtas. Most of them did not reside in or administer their jagirs, unlike muqtis. They only had rights to the revenue of their assignments. The revenue was collected by their servants. The mansabdars themselves served in other part of the country.
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