XVI. Mughal Administration

*The Central Government* == *Provincial Administration* == *Finances* == *Military Organization* == *The Judiciary*

        [[209]] BEFORE following the fate of the Mughal empire under Aurangzeb's successors in the eighteenth century, it will be useful to outline the main features of administration under the four great emperors. The most prominent features of the administrations of the different rulers have already been noted, but a general view is necessary in order to understand the Mughal contribution.

The Central Government

        First of all, it should be recognized that the Mughals drew heavily on the past, for the organization of their government was on essentially the same lines as that of the sultanate. The principal officers of the central government were four: 1) diwan; 2) mir bakhshi; 3) mir saman; and 4) sadr. The first of these dignitaries, the diwan, often called the wazir (the chief minister), was mainly concerned with revenue and finance, but as he had a say in all matters where any expenditure was involved, the work of other departments also came under his control. All the imperial orders were first recorded in his office before being issued, and the provincial governors, district faujdars, and leaders of expeditions came to him for instructions before assuming their duties. All the earning departments were under his direct control, and could spend only what was allotted to them by the diwan.

        The mir bakhshi performed those duties which had been the responsibility of the ariz-i-mamalik during the earlier period. Owing to the organization of the civil services on military lines, his power extended far beyond the war office, and some foreign travelers called him the lieutenant-general or the captain-general of the realm. The main departure from the sultanate was in respect to work relating to state karkhanas, stores, ordinance, and communications, now so important that the dignitary dealing with it, called the mir saman, ranked [[210]] as an important minister often senior in rank to the sadr. The sadr (or, more fully, sadr-i-jahan) was, as in the earlier period, director of the religious matters, charities, and endowments.

        Occasionally a higher dignitary, superior to the wazir and other ministers was also appointed. He was called the vakil, and functioned like the naib (deputy) of the sultanate period. This appointment, as under the sultanate, was sporadic, depending on the wish of the monarch and the requirements of the situation. During the reigns of Akbar, Jahangir, and Shah Jahan, a period of ninety-seven years (1560–1657), there were ten vakils whose terms of service totaled about thirty-nine years. Ibn Hasan, the author of the Central Structure of the Mughal Empire, argues that the post was primarily for show and honor, with the vakil as the head of the nobility but not of the administration./1/ To a large extent this is true, and normally the vakil was less effective than the wazir, who controlled the purse, but theoretically the vakil was the king's deputy and even the wazir referred to him whatever was "beyond his own ability." Abul Fazl calls him "the emperor's lieutenant in all matters connected with the realm and the household," adding that "although the financial offices are not under his immediate superintendence, yet he receives the returns from heads of all financial offices and wisely keeps abstracts of their return."/2/

        The splendor and stability of the Mughal rule was due to a succession of very capable rulers who attempted to build up an efficient administrative system, choosing their principal officers on the basis of merit. The most famous diwan under Akbar was Raja Todar Mal, who for a time acted as the chief minister of the realm, but the contribution of Khwaja Mansur and Mir Fathulla Shirazi to the building up of Akbar's revenue administration was perhaps equally great. Under Jahangir, Itimad-ud-Daula, the father of Nur Jahan, who was a diwan even before his daughter married the emperor, remained the chief wazir and diwan until his death. He was succeeded by his son, Asaf Khan, who became the vakil just before the death of Jahangir. [[211]] Itimad-ud-Daula and Asaf Khan were able, efficient officers. Asaf Khan maintained his position until his death, but his successors were selected on the basis of their scholarship and technical efficiency. Allami Afzal Khan remained Shah Jahan's diwan for ten years, and the office was held from the nineteenth to the thirtieth years of Shah Jahan's reign by the celebrated Saadulla Khan who, like his predecessor, had won his post because of his learning, wisdom, and resourcefulness.

        The diwan, who can perhaps be called the finance minister, had under him two principal officers, called diwan-i-tan and diwan-i-khalsa, who were in charge of salaries and state lands respectively. It is interesting that all the assistants of the diwan-i-khalsa under Shah Jahan's reign were Hindus, and five out of the seven under the diwan-i-tan belonged to the same community. Raja Raghunath Rai, who had been diwan-i-khalsa for some years, became sole diwan in the thirty-first year of Shah Jahan's reign, and maintained this position until his death, during the reign of Aurangzeb. Aurangzeb's principal wazir, who held office for thirty-one years, was Asad Khan, originally his mir bakhshi. Next to him, the most famous mir bakhshi of the Mughal period was Shaikh Farid, who played a decisive role in the enthronement of Jahangir.

        The organization of public services was perfected during Akbar's reign, and was based on the mansabdari system, borrowed originally from Persia. Every important officer of state held a mansab or an official appointment of rank and emoluments, and, as members of an imperial cadre, were liable for service anywhere in the empire. In 1573–74 Akbar classified the office holders in thirty-three grades, ranging from commanders of ten to commanders of ten thousand./3/ The principal categories of Mughal mansabdars, however, were three: those in command of ten to four hundred were commonly styled mansabdars (officers); those in command of five hundred to twenty-five hundred were amirs (nobles); and those in higher ranks belonged to the category of umara-i-kabir or umara-i-azim (grandees). The highest amir in the third category was honored with the title of amir-ul-umara. In [[212]] the eighteenth century this title was usually given to the mir bakhshi. Until the middle of Akbar's reign, the highest rank which any ordinary officer could hold was that of a commander of five thousand; the more exalted grades between commanders of seven thousand and ten thousand were reserved for princes of royal blood. Toward the end of his reign and under his successors these limits were relaxed.

        Originally each grade carried a definite rate of pay, out of which the holders were required to maintain a quota of horses, elephants, beasts of burden, and carts. But even in Akbar's days and in spite of safeguards introduced by him, the number of men actually supplied by the mansabdars rarely corresponded to the number indicated by his rank, and under Akbar's successors greater latitude was allowed. The mansabdars were paid either in cash or by temporary grant of jagirs. Theoretically, the mansabdars received enormous salaries, which appear all the more excessive when it is realized that they did not normally maintain all the troops expected of them. It was probably an awareness of this that led Shah Jahan to introduce the practice of paying salaries to the mansabdars for only four months of the year instead of twelve, the implication being that the actual income for part of the year was equivalent to what the emperor had originally intended for the whole year./4/ Even with this reduction, the mansabdars lived extravagantly. The tendency to luxurious expenditure was undoubtedly heightened by the mansabdar's knowledge that on his death, his whole property would be taken over by the state, pending satisfaction of any outstanding claims by the treasury. But while there may have been little incentive to save within the system, the high scale of salaries enabled the state to attract the ablest and most ambitious individuals from almost the whole of southern and western Asia.

        Appointment to the ranks of mansabdars was made by the emperor, usually on the recommendation of military leaders, provincial governors, or court officials. In addition to the mansabdars, there was a class known as ahadis, who though holding no official rank, were employed in posts in the palace. They were usually young men of good families, who were not fortunate enough to secure a mansab on [[213]] their first application. Given an opportunity to show their worth, they could then be promoted to the ranks of mansabdars. These mansabdars have been compared to the Civil Service during British rule in that they formed an all-India cadre of officials, liable to transfer anywhere in the empire and providing the personnel for all major offices. The existence of a single imperial cadre undoubtedly gave a cohesion and unity to the Mughal empire that was lacking during the sultanate.

Provincial Administration

        Provincial administration was greatly improved under Akbar, and in this respect the Mughal period differs substantially from the sultanate. The boundaries of the provincial units were more definitely fixed; and a uniform administrative pattern, with minor modifications to suit local conditions, was developed for all parts of the empire. Further, drawing upon the experiments introduced by Sher Shah, the provincial administration was strengthened, and each province was provided with a set of officials representing all branches of state activity. By the introduction of a cadre of mansabdars, liable to be transferred anywhere at the behest of the central government and by the introduction of other checks, the control over the provinces was made more effective.

        The principal officer was the governor, called sipah salar under Akbar and nazim under his successors, but popularly known as subahdar and later only as subah./5/ Next to him in official rank, but not in any way under his control, was the provincial diwan, who was in independent charge of the revenues of the province. He was usually a mansabdar of much lower status than the governor, but he was independent of the governor's control and was directly under the imperial diwan.

        The next provincial functionary was the bakhshi, or the paymaster. He performed a number of duties, including, occasionally, the functions of the provincial newswriter. The diwan-i-buyutat was the provincial representative of the khan-i-saman, and looked after roads [[214]] and government buildings, supervised imperial stores, and ran state workshops. The sadr and the qazi were entrusted with religious, educational, and judicial duties.

        The faujdar and the kotwal were the two other important provincial officials. The faujdar, who was the administrative head of the sarkar (district), was appointed by the emperor but was under the supervision and guidance of the governor. The kotwals were not provincial officers, but were appointed by the central government in the provincial capitals and other important cities, and performed a number of executive and ministerial duties similar to the Police Commissioners during British rule in Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras. The ports were in charge of the mir bahr, corresponding to the modern Port Commissioner, but with powers over customs also.

        The Mughals interfered very little with the local life of the village communities, for they had no resident functionary of their own in the villages. The muqaddam was normally the sarpanch (head of the village panchayat, or council) and these panchayats continued to deal with local disputes, arrange for watch and ward, and perform many functions now entrusted to the local bodies.


        The tax structure of the Mughal empire was relatively simple in its theoretical formulation, however much it was complicated by changing needs and local circumstances. Both revenue and expenditure were divided between the central and the provincial government. The central government reserved for itself land revenue, customs, profits from the mints, inheritance rights, and monopolies. Land revenue was the most important source of income, as it has been throughout Indian history, and more than doubled in value between the reigns of Akbar and Shah Jahan. The principal items of expenditure for the central government were defense, the general civil administration of the empire (including the religious organizations), maintenance of the court and the royal palace, and the cost of buildings and other public works. The provincial sources of income were the assignments of land revenue granted to the provincial governor and his officials as a remuneration [[215]] for their services, a variety of local taxes and cesses, transit dues and duties, and fines and presents./6/

        The Mughal revenue system was based on the division of the empire into subas or governorships, sarkars or districts, and parganas, consisting of number of villages which were sometimes styled mahals. (These were replaced during British rule by the somewhat large tehsils or talukas.) The revenue staff had also to perform miscellaneous administrative duties, including the keeping of the public peace, and recruitment of the military forces. The suba was modeled after the central imperial structure. The sarkar was in the charge of the faujdar, or military commander, who combined the functions of the modern district magistrate and superintendent of police. The revenue work in the sarkar was looked after by the amalguzar, who would correspond to the modern afsar-i-mal (revenue officer).

        The levy of land revenue was based on survey settlements calculated after a detailed measurement and classification of the cultivated areas. The nature of the crops grown and the mean prevailing market prices were also taken into consideration in fixing the final assessment. This assessment system, evolved after many experiments, became the basis of the survey settlement of the British period. Akbar's revenue system in most areas was raiyatwari, the revenue being collected directly as far as possible from the individual cultivator, and was payable in cash. Akbar introduced the system in the greater part of northern India, and during the viceroyalty of Aurangzeb, it was extended to the Deccan. The revenue system as evolved under Akbar was thoroughly sound, but the government demand was heavy and amounted to one-third of the produce. Abul Fazl tried to justify it by referring to the abolition of many miscellaneous cesses and taxes, but it is not certain whether all the cesses abolished by royal order were given up by subordinate officials. In the settlement of the Deccan during Aurangzeb's viceroyalty, the state share was reduced to one-fourth./7/

        Mughal emperors, particularly Akbar and Aurangzeb, continued [[216]] to make cautious experiments and improvements in the land-revenue system. The basic data was collected by detailed measurement of land and assessment of the yield and estimates of productivity of each pargana or assessment area. When sufficient data had been collected the system of group assessment was introduced, with the alternatives of measurement and sharing being held in reserve.

        That the Mughal rulers wanted the revenue system to operate fairly is evident from the guidance to collectors of revenue given in the Ain-i-Akbari. "The Collector was directed to be the friend of the agriculturist; to give remissions in order to stimulate cultivation … to grant every facility to the raiyat, and never to charge him on more than the actual area under tillage; to receive the assessment direct from the cultivator and so avoid intermediaries; to recover arrears without undue force; and to submit a monthly statement describing the condition of the people, the state of public security, the range of market prices and rents, the conditions of the poor and all other contingencies."/8/

        The specifications were high—at least on paper, but anyone who studies the procedure for giving relief to the raiyats in case of hardships, the general instructions to the collectors, and the details of the assessment system and mode of recovery is bound to be struck by the professional competence of men like Todar Mal, Shah Mansur, and Amir Fathullah Shirazi, as well as the statesmanlike benevolence motivating the state's basic policy. The British paid special attention to revenue administration, and introduced many significant improvements, but it can be said without injustice that on certain points the Mughal system compared favorably with the one that evolved over a long period in British India. As an example, one may take the assessment of lands newly brought under cultivation or reclaimed after having fallen out of cultivation. A variety of scales of assessment was applied to such lands, such as a low initial rate, rising to the full amount after five years. The collector was also able to vary the revenue demands to encourage wasteland being cultivated. Regulations under the British were neither so liberal nor so flexible for this particular kind of cultivation.

        [[217]] Another important difference between the British and the Mughal systems was the position of the village accountant, or patwari. Throughout the Mughal period the patwari, who was responsible for the maintenance of the financial records, was an employee of the village, not of the revenue administration. Under the British system, however, he became an employee of the government. This altered his relationship to the people, because previously he had been an agent for the people, but now he became an instrument of government. This was one factor that led to the weakening of village autonomy.

        The Mughal theory and practice of revenue administration must be seen as the essential elements underlying the later administrative structure of India. The great memorial to Mughal rule is not so much the great architectural monuments that fill the subcontinent, but the governments of the great successor states, India and Pakistan, which following the model of the period of British rule, have maintained an administrative pattern that derives from the Mughals. "The District system with the district officer as head of the public services and general factotum or Poo Bah, the erection of an administrative hierarchy upon the basis of land revenue collection, and the development of an involute maze of office procedure, these features of Mughal rule were all accepted as the foundation of British rule; and, indeed, to an astonishing degree, in India and Pakistan today local administration is Mughal in spirit."/9/

Military Organization

        The weakest part of Mughal administration was the military organization, precisely the area where one might have expected the most efficient centralized control. But instead of a large standing army, the emperors depended upon four different classes of troops for the maintenance of order and the defense of the empire's borders. There were, first of all, the soldiers supplied by the mansabdars; the number a mansabdar was expected to provide upon the demand of the emperor were specified in his warrant of appointment or were indicated by his rank. Another class of troops under the command of a mansabdar [[218]] was known as dakhili, whose services were paid for by the state. A third class were the ahadis, or "gentlemen troopers," drawing higher pay than those in the ordinary service; according to the Ain-i-Akbari, they might get as much as five hundred rupees a month, in contrast to the seven or eight rupees of the regular troopers. Finally, the chiefs who had been permitted to retain a degree of autonomy were required to provide contingents under their own command.

        The artillery was paid wholly out of the imperial treasury. Recognizing its importance, Akbar had given it his special attention, but his efforts to secure from the Portuguese some of their better pieces were unsuccessful. European gunners were employed later on in appreciable numbers, but no permanent improvement was effected. During the eighteenth century the Mughal army shared in the decline of the other imperial institutions, and little advantage was taken of technical improvements in weaponry. When Nadir Shah invaded India in 1739 the jazair or swivel guns employed by his troops were superior to anything the Mughals could bring against them.

        There are no existing statistical records of the strength of the Mughal army. The best estimate is probably that of Sir Jadunath Sarkar, who concluded from evidence from the reign of Shah Jahan that in 1648 the army consisted of 440,000 infantry, musketeers, and artillery men, and 185,000 cavalry commanded by princes and nobles. The army could still count on the personal valor of the commander of an individual contingent, but pitted against disciplined European soldiers, or hardy, resourceful Maratha horsemen, it did not prove effective. The loose organization of the army, the paucity of officers, the failure to build up a well-knit and active pyramidical organization, reduced the efficiency of the army. There were no uniforms, and discipline was poor, particularly in lower ranks. The cavalry was the only branch which was considered respectable and fit for a gentleman to join, while the ordinary "Indian foot soldier was little more than a night watchman and guardian over baggage."/10/ The Mughal practice of taking along a great number of camp followers, including occasionally [[219]] the families of the soldiers and the royal harem, made the army a very cumbersome, slow-moving organization.

        Descendants of a people who knew nothing of the sea, the Mughals had little success in creating a navy. They had no large fighting vessels, and the ships that they maintained were primarily for the furtherance of the commercial operations of the state. After the conquest of Gujarat, the Mughal army reached the shores of the Indian Ocean, but Akbar failed to build a navy. He tacitly acquiesced in the Portuguese supremacy by making no effort to challenge their authority, and by taking out licenses from them for the ships which he sent to the Red Sea. To deal with the pirates in the Bay of Bengal, and also for the purpose of communication over the vast river system of Bengal, a river flotilla was maintained at Dacca. Under Akbar it consisted of 768 small armed vessels and boats, estimated to cost about 29,000 rupees a month. It was not effective against the Magh and Portuguese pirates, but it was reorganized under the efficient administration of Mir Jumla and Shayista Khan, and in 1664 the latter was able to inflict a decisive blow against the pirates./11/

        A few years later Aurangzeb had an opportunity to make at least tentative arrangements for the defense of the seas along the west coast of India. A coastal chieftain known as the Sidi of Janjira had provided protection for the ships and ports of the sultan of Bijapur. When the Sidi's territories were attacked by Shivaji, however, the sultan did not come to his assistance, and in 1670 the Sidi offered his services to Aurangzeb. Since Aurangzeb needed all the help he could get in the Deccan, he took the Sidi into his service, placing him under the Mughal governor of Surat, and subsidizing his fleet. The Sidi was assisted by another fleet based on Surat, and in every way treated as an official of the empire, but the Mughal command of the sea was too slight to make supervision of so independent a force possible. In course of time his descendants established themselves as the rulers of the state of Janjira south of Bombay.

The Judiciary

        [[220]] The judicial system of the Mughals was very similar to that of the sultanate. It became more systematic, particularly under Aurangzeb, but as compared with the judicial structure of British India, it was very simple, being based on a different approach to many categories of disputes. Normally no lawyers were allowed to appear. The disputes were speedily settled, often on the basis of equity and natural justice, though of course in the case of Muslims the injunctions and precedents of Islamic law applied where they existed. Many crimes—including murder—were treated as individual grievances rather than crimes against society. The complaints in such cases were initiated by the individuals aggrieved, rather than by the police, and could be compounded on payment of compensation. The aim of the judicial system was primarily to settle individual complaints and disputes rather than to enforce a legal code, as is indicated by the fact that the criminal court was normally known as the diwan-i-mazalim, the court of complaints.

        All foreign travelers have commented on the speedy justice of the Mughal courts and the comparatively few cases coming before them. The latter was partly due to the general prejudice against litigation, but even more to the fact that a large number of disputes, particularly those affecting the Hindus, were settled by the village and caste panchayats, and did not come before the official courts. The Hindus were not debarred from taking cases before the qazi or the governor—and frequently did so where other arrangements did not prove effective—but normally they had their own arrangements for settling their disputes. Badauni has recorded that according to Akbar's orders the cases of Hindus were to be decided by the Hindu judges and not by the qazis. The Jesuit Father Monserrate says that "Brachmane (Brahmans) governed liberally through a senate and a council of the common people" —referring presumably to the administration of justice by these agencies. Local usage and custom ruled in most rural areas, and, according to one estimate, perhaps not one person out of a hundred in the Punjab, for example, was governed by the provisions of either the classic Hindu or Muslim law./12/

        [[221]] The judicial courts provided by the Mughals were principally of two types—secular and ecclesiastical. Except during the reign of Aurangzeb, the principal courts for settlement of disputes were presided over by the emperor, the governors, and other executive officers. Akbar used to spend several hours of the day disposing of judicial cases, and governors followed the same procedure in the provinces. In the Ain-i-Akbari we find the instructions issued to a governor detailing the judicial procedure he should follow.

        Apart from the secular courts and the panchayats, the principal agency for the settlement of disputes was the qazis' court. The qazi, being the repository of Muslim law, attended the hearing of cases by the executive authority, whether governor, faujdar or kotwal, and assisted the latter in arriving at a decision consonant with Quaranic precepts. Presumably the civil disputes of Muslims were, as a rule, left to the qazis to be settled according to the canon law. When both parties in a dispute were Hindus, the point at issue was referred to Hindu pandits for an opinion. This principle was supported by the Fatawa-i-Alamgiri, the authoritative digest of Islamic law, where it is held that "Dhimmis … do not subject themselves to the laws of Islam either with respect to things which are merely of religious nature, such as fasting or prayer, or with respect to such temporal acts, as though contrary to [Islam], may be legal by their own, such as sale of wine or of swine's flesh, because we [Muslim jurists] have been commanded to leave them at liberty in all things, which may be deemed by them to be proper according to the precepts of their own religion."/13/ These provisions presumably related to religious matters. In the case of Muslims, the secular types of criminal suits went to the kotwal, while the religious and civil cases, such as concerning inheritance, marriage, divorce, and civil disputes went to the qazis' courts.

        The death penalty normally had to be confirmed by the emperor, but there seem to have been departures from the rule. A Dutch resident of India states that fines represented the normal mode of settling all disputes in Mughal India. Capital punishments and mutilations were frequent, and there are records of impaling, dismemberment, [[222]] and other cruel punishments. They were, however, limited in their incidence and were inflicted only under the royal orders. Furthermore, they were confined to those cases where an example was to be made of the individual concerned. Imprisonment was not a method of punishment that appealed to the Mughals. It was seldom used as a sentence in private cases, though it was sometimes resorted to for preventive purposes. Whipping was commonly used. The Muslim punishment of parading the offender in an ignominious condition seems to have been frequently used, as it coincided with the Hindu tradition as well.

        The assessments made by two acute British observers on Mughal government as they saw it in a period of decline may serve as summary of the Mughal achievement as administrators. Luke Scrafton, who was resident for the East India Company at the capital of Bengal in 1758, declared that until the invasion of Nadir Shah in 1739 "there was scarce a better administered government in the world. The manufactures, commerce, and agriculture flourished exceedingly; and none felt the hand of the oppression but those who were dangerous by their wealth or power."/14/ Mughal government was despotic, and official corruption increased from the reign of Jahangir, but on the whole, the judgment of the English historian, Sidney Owen seems just: "Whatever its defects, it was … a grandly conceived, well-adjusted, and beneficent structure of government. … Taxation was light; and its most productive source, the land revenue, was moderately assessed, and equitably adjusted. Foreign commerce was protected and favoured; and the English East India Company throve, and multiplied its factories, under the shadow of the Imperial authority. The judicial system, though what we should consider crude and capricious, as well as too often corruptly exercised, was not liable like our own to the tedious delays which have been its reproach, and which have so much tended to obstruct, and even defeat, the course of justice. And the right of appealing to the Emperor from inferior tribunals, though too generally a futile privilege, was sometimes really remedial, and probably was a standing check to judicial iniquity. Much the same may be said as to the provincial Governors."/15/


/1/ Ibn Hasan, The Central Structure of the Mughal Empire (London, 1936), pp. 138–39.
/2/ Abul Fazl, Ain-i-Akbari, trans. by H. Blochmann et al. (Calcutta, 1927–1941), I, 5.
/3/ S. M. Edwardes and H. L. O. Garrett, Mughal Rule in India (Delhi, 1956), pp. 164–65.
/4/ Edwardes and Garrett, p. 170.
/5/ Parmatma Saran, The Provincial Governments of the Mughals (Allahabad, 1941).
/6/ Edwardes and Garrett, pp. 194–95.
/7/ W. H. Moreland in Cambridge History of India (Cambridge, 1928), III, 468.
/8/ Edwardes and Garrett, pp. 204–5.
/9/ Hugh Tinker, India and Pakistan (London, 1962), p. 16.
/10/ William Irvine, The Army of the Mughals, p. 57, quoted in Edwardes and Garrett, p. 178.
/11/ R. K. Mookerji, Indian Shipping: A History (Bombay, 1912).
/12/ George C. Rankin, Background to Indian Law (Cambridge, 1946), p. 16.
/13/ N. E. B. Baillie, A Digest of Moohummudan Law (London, 1875), I, 174.
/14/ Luke Scrafton, Reflections on the Government of Indostan (London, 1770).
/15/ Sidney J. Owen, The Fall of the Moghul Empire (London, 1912), pp. 1–4.

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