Mughal Empire

Learning Goals:

During the reign of Akbar, the jagirs were carefully assessed. This was done to ensure that their revenues were roughly equal to the salary of mansabdar. But during Aurangzeb’s reign, the actual revenue was less than the granted sum. The number of mansabdars increased exponentially. This meant they had to wait for long before they received a jagir. There was shortage of number of jagirs. As a result, many jagirdars tried to extract maximum possible revenue from their jagirs. Aurangzeb was unable to control these developmens and hence the peasants suffered a lot during the last years of his reign.


Zabt and zamindars

Tax on the produce of peasantry was the main income of the Mughal rulers. Taxes were paid through the rural elites in most places. Rural elites included the headman or the local chieftain. The Mughals used one term – zamindars for referring to all intermediaries, whether they were local headmen of villages or powerful chieftains.

Principles of Akbar’s rule

Financial Aspects: Todar Mal was Akbar’s revenue minister. He carried out a careful survey of crop yields, prices and areas cultivated for a 10-year period i.e. from 1570 to 1580. Based on this data, tax was fixed on each crop in cash. Each province was divided into revenue circles. Each circle had its own schedule of revenue rates for individual crops. This revenue system was called zabt. It was prevalent in the areas where Mughal administrators could survey the land and keep very careful accounts. But it was not possible in provinces; such as Gujarat and Bengal. The zamidars exercised great deal of power in some areas. Their exploitation by Mughal administrators forced them to rebel against it. These revolts collectively by zamindars and peasants challenged the stability of the empire from the end of the 17th century.

A closer look at Akbar’s policies

Abul Fazl wrote a book titled Akbar Nama. Its last volume is called the Ain-i-Akbari. It contains elaborate discussion of the broad features of administration laid down by Akbar. According to Abul Fazl the empire was divided into provinces called subas-

The subadar was supported by ‘other officers’ for the maintenance of peace and order. The ‘other officers’ included:


Akbar Nama and Ain-i Akbari

Abul Fazl was Akbar’s close friend and courtier. He was given the responsibility of writing the history of his reign. He wrote a three-volume history of his reign titled Akbar Nama.

Akbar's Nobles

They commanded large armies and had access to large amounts of revenue. Till they were loyal, the empire functioned very efficiently. But by the end of the 17th century many nobles had built independent networks of their own. Their self interest was responsible for weakening their loyalties to the empire.

Akbar’s approach to religion

Akbar started discussions on religion with the ulama, Brahamanas, Jesuit priests who were Roman Catholics, and Zoroastrians; when he was at Fatehpur Sikri during the 1570s. These religious discussions took place in the ibadat khana. He was interested in the religion and social customs of various people. Through these interactions he could realize that religious scholars who emphasized ritual and dogma were often bigots. Divisions and disharmony amongst people was created by their teachings. Eventually; this led Akbar to the idea of sulh-i kul or universal peace. This idea of tolerance was universal in nature i.e. it did not discriminate between people of different religions. It instead focused on a system of ethics (comprising of honesty, justice and peace) which were universally acceptable.

Akbar framed a vision of governance around the idea of sulh-i-kul; with thelp of Abul fazl. Jahangir and Shah Jahan followed this principle of governance.


The scenario in the seventeenth century

There was great economic and commercial prosperity in the Mughal Empire due to the administrative and military efficiency. There were contradictory conditions during that time. On one hand, there was so much prosperity that international travellers called it the fabled land of wealth. On the other hand, the same visitors were appalled at the state of poverty that existed parallelly. A mere 5.6 % of the total number of mansabdars received 61.5 % of the total estimated revenue of the empire as salaries for themselves and their troopers. This glaring inequality was revealed by the documents of the twentieth year of Shah Jahan’s reign.

Expenditure

A great deal of income of the Mughal emperors and mansabdars was spent on salaries and goods. This benefited the peasants and artisans who supplied them with produce and goods. The scale of revenue collection was so high that it left very little in the hands of the primary producers for investment. The poorest among them were struggling for subsistence and could hardly consider investing in additional resources in the form of tools and supplies. The gainers in this economic world were wealthier peasantry and artisanal groups, the merchants and bankers.

In the late seventeenth century the Mughal elite who had enormous wealth and resources, became an extremely powerful group of people. The servants of the Mughal emperors emerged as powerful centres of power in the regions, with the decline of the power of the Mughal emperors. They constituted new dynasties and held command of provinces like Awadh and Hyderabad. Although they continued to recognize the Mughal emperor in Delhi as their master, the provinces of the empire had consolidated their independent political identities by the eighteenth century.



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