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Mughal empire and mansabdri system



The mansabdari system under the Mughals in India was the product of an evolutionary process. This institution was borrowed in some form from Western Asia and modified to suit the needs of the time in India.
The mansabdars were an integral part of the Mughal bureaucracy and farmed, as Percival Spear says, ‘an elite within elite’. They were appointed in all government departments except the judiciary. They held the important offices of wazir, bakshi, faujdar and the subadar, etc
The word mansab means a place or position and therefore it means a rank in the mansab system under the Mughals.
During Babur’s time, the term mansabdar was not used; instead, another term wajhdar was employed. The latter differed in some ways from the mansab system that evolved under the Mughals after Babur.
Akbar gave mansabs to both military and civil officers based on their merit or service to the state. To fix the grades of officers and classify his soldiers, he was broadly inspired by the principles adopted by Chingiz Khan. The latter’s army had been organised on decimal system. The lowest unit was of ten horsemen, then came one hundred, one thousand and so on. Abul Fazl states that Akbar had established 66 grades of mansabdars ranging from commanders of 10 horsemen to 10,000 horsemen, although only 33 grades have been mentioned by him.
Mansab denoted three things:
i) It determined the status of its holder (the mansabdar) in the official hierarchy.
ii) It fixed the pay of the holder.
iii) It also laid upon the holder the obligation of maintaining a specified number of contingents with horses and equipment.
Initially a single number represented the rank, personal pay and the size of contingent of mansabdar, In such a situation if a person held a mansab of 500, he was to maintain a contingent of 500 and receive allowances to maintain it In addition, he was to receive a personal pay according to a schedule and undertake other obligations specified for that rank. After some time, the rank of mansabdar instead of one number, came to be denoted by two numbers zat and sawar. This innovation most probably occurred in 1595-96.
The first number (zat) determined the mansabdar’s personal pay (talab-khassa) and his rank in the organisation. The second number (sawar) fixed the number of horses and horsemen to be maintained by the mansabdar and, accordingly, the amount he would receive for his contingent (tabinan).
There has been controversy about the dual rank. William Irvine thought that the double rank meant that the mansabdars had to maintain from his personal pay two contingents of troops. Abdul Aziz, close to modem point of view, held that the zat pay was purely personal with no involvement of mops. He rejected the theory of Irvine by stating that it meant the maintenance of one contingent and not two. Athar Ali clarified the position. ‘He says that the first number (zat) placed the mansabdar in the appropriate position among the officials of the state and, accordingly, the salary of the mansabdar was determined. The second rank (sawar) determined the number of horses and horsemen the mansabdar had to furnish.
In 1595-96, the mansabdars were classified into three, groups:
a) Those with horsemen (sawar) equal to the number of the zat;
b) Those with horsemen half or more than half of the number of the zat, and
c) Those whose sawar rank was less than half of their zat rank.
The sawar rank was either equal or less than the zat. Even if the former was higher, the mansabdar’s position in the official hierarchy would not be affected. For example, a mansabdar with 4000 zat and 2000 sawar (4000/2000 in short) was higher in rank than a mansabdar of 3000/3000, although the latter had a higher number of horsemen under him.
But there are exceptions to this rule particularly when the mansabdar was serving in a difficult terrain amidst the rebels. In such cases, the state often increased the sawar rank without altering the zat rank. Obviously the system was not a static one. It changed to meet the circumstances. Thus reforms were undertaken without modifying the basic scheme. One such reform was the use of conditional rank (mashrut), which meant an ‘ increase of sawar rank for a temporary period. This was an emergency measure adopted in the time of crisis, that is, the permission to recruit more horsemen at the expense of the state.
Another development that took place was the introduction of do aspa sih aspa under Jahangir. Mahabat Khan was the first to get it in the 10th year of Jahangir’s reign. According to this a part or full sawar rank of mansabdar was made do aspa sih aspa. For example, if a mansabdar held a mansab of 4000 zat 4000 sawar, he may be granted huma do aspa sih aspa (all two-three horses), In this case the original sawar rank would be ignored, and the mansabdar will maintain double the number of do aspa sib aspa (here 4000 + 4000 = 8000). Again, if the rank was 4000 zat 4000 sawar of which 2000 was do aspa sih aspa, then it would mean that out of the original sawar rank of 4000, the ordinary or barawardi troopers will be only 2000 and the additional rank of 2000 do aspa sih aspa will double itself to 4000 ordinary troopers. Thus the total number of horsemen would be 6000.
What could have been the reasons for adopting do aspa sih aspa system? Our sources do not help us in this respect, but we can visualize the following: 
Jahangir, after becoming emperor, wanted to promote nobles of his confidence and strengthen them militarily, but there were some practical problems. Generally the sawar rank could not be higher than zat rank. In such a situation, any increase in sawar rank would have meant an innease in zat rank also. The increase in the latter would have led to additional payment as personal pay thereby increasing the burden on treasury. Moreover, there would have been an upward mobility of the noble in the official hierarchy which was likely to give rise to jealousy among the nobles.
In fact, do aspa sih aspa was a way out to grant additional sawar rank without disturbing the zat rank or mansab hierarchy. It also meant a saving for the state by not increasing the zat rank.
The mir bakshi generally presented the candidates to the Emperor who recruited them directly. But the recommendation of the leading nobles and governors of the provinces were also usually accepted. An elaborate procedure involving the diwan, bakshi and others followed after which it went to the Emperor confirmation. The farman was then issued under the seal of the wazir. In case of promotion the same procedures were followed.
Granting of mansab was a prerogative of the Emperor. He could appoint anybody as mansabdar. There was no examination or written test as it existed in China Generally, certain norms seems to have been followed. A survey of the mansabdars appointed during the reigns of the Mughal Emperors show that some groups were more favoured than the others.
The most favored category were the sons and close kinsmen of persons who were already in service. This group was called khanazad.
Another group that was given preference was of those who held high positions in other kingdoms. The main areas from which such people came were the Uzbek and Safavi Empires and the Deccan kingdoms. These included Irani. Turani, Iraqi and Khurasani. The attraction for Mughal mansab was such that Adil Shah of Bijapur in 1636 requested the Mughal Emperor not to appoint mansabdars from among his n
The rulers of autonomous principalities formed yet another group which received preferential treatment in recruitment and promotions. The main beneficiaries from this category were the Rajput kings.
Promotions were generally given on the basis of performance and lineage. Manucci, writing during the last years of Aurangzeb’s reign. says: 
‘To get the hazari or the pay of one thousand, it is necessary to wait a long time and work hard. For the kings only grant it sparingly, and only to those who by their services or their skill in affairs have arrived at the stage of deserving it. In having this rate of pay accorded to you, they give you also the title of Omera (Umara) — that is noble.»
However, in actual practice racial considerations played important role in promotions. Unflinching loyalty was yet another consideration.


Mansabdars were asked to present their contingents for regular inspection and physical verification. The job of inspection was performed by the mir bakshi’s department. It was done by a special procedure. It was called dagh o chehra. All the horses presented for inspection by a particular noble were branrded with a specific pattern to distinguish these from those of other nobles through a seal (dagh). The physical description of troops (chehra) was also recorded. This way the possibility of presenting the same horse or troop for inspection was greatly reduced. This was rigorously followed. We come across a number of cases where a reduction in rank was made for nonfulfilment of obligation of maintaining specified contingents. Abdul Hamid Lahori in his book Badshahnama mentions:
«under Shah Jahan it was laid down that if a mansabdar was posted in the same province where he held jagir, he had to muster one-third of the contingents of his sawar rank In case he was posted outside, he had to muster one fourth. If posted in Balkh and Samarqand, he had to maintain one-fifth.»
The scale of salary was fixed for the zat rank, but one rank had no arithmetical or proportionate relationship with the other. In other words, the salary did not go up or go down proportionately.
Under Akbar, zat rank above 5000 was given only to the princes. In the last years of Akbar, the only noble who got the rank of 7000 zat was Raja Man Singh.
The salary for the sawar rank was the sum total of the remuneration given to each trooper that was fixed and uniformly applicable, whatever the number of the sawar rank might be. In the time of Akbar, the rate of payment was determined by a number of factors such as the number of horses per trooper (presented for dagh), the breeds of the horses etc. The rates fluctuated between Rs.25 to 15 per month.
The mansabdars were generally paid through revenue assignments (jagirs), The biggest problem here was that the calculation was made on the basis of the expected income (jama) from the jagir during one year. It was noticed that the actual revenue collection (hasil) always fell short of the estimated income. In such a situation, the mansabdar’s salaries were fixed by a method called month-scales. For example, if a jagir yielded only half of the jama, it was called shashmaha (six-monthly). If it yielded only one fourth, it was considered sihmaha (3 monthly). The month-scale was applied to cash salaries also.
There were deductions from the sanctioned pay. The largest deductions were from the Deccanis, who had to pay a fourth part (Chauthsi). There were other deductions known as khurak dawwah (fodder for beasts) belonging to the Emperor. Those who received cash (naqd), two dams in a rupee were deducted (dodami). Often there were fines (jarmana) imposed for various reasons. With the reduction of salaries, there was thus a definite decline in the income of the nobles.
The revenue resources of the Empire were distributed among the ruling class. It is estimated that 80% of the total revenue resources of the Empire was appropriated by 1,571 mansabdars. This shows how powerful the mansabdars were.
Many contemporary accounts, especially those of the European travellers, refer to the practice whereby the Emperor took possession of the wealth of the nobles after their death. The practice is known as escheat (zabt). The reason was that the nobles often took loan from the state which remained unpaid till their death. It was duty of the khan saman to take over the nobles’ property and adjust the state demand (mutalaba), after which the rest of the property was given to the heirs or sometimes distributed by the Emperor among the heirs himself without any regard for the Islamic inhaitance laws. It seems that in most cases it depended on the will of the Emperor.
Sometimes the state insisted on ascheating the entire wealth. In 1666, Aurangzeb issued a farman that after the death of a noble without heir, his property would be deposited in the state treasury. This was confirmed by another farman in 1691 which also instructed the state officers not to attach the property of the nobles whose heirs were in government service because the latter could be asked to pay the mutalaba.
Despite the theoretical position that mansabdari was open to all, the Mughals, in practice, considered heredity as an important factor. It appears that the khanzads (house-born; descendants of mansabdar) had the first claim. Out of a total number of 575 mansabdars holding the rank of 1000 and above during the reign of Aurangzeb, the khanzads numbered about 272 .Apart from the khanzads, a number of mansabdars were recruited from the zamindars (chieftains). Out of 575 mansabdars in 1707. there were 81 zamindars. The Mughals also welcomed Persian. Chagatai.,Uzbeks as well as the Deccanis in the mansabdari. Certain racial groups were well entrenched. They were the Turanis (Central Asians). Iranis . Afghans. Indian Muslims (shaikhzadas), Rajputs. Marathas and the Deccanis, the last two were recruited by Aurangzeb on larger scale due to military reasons.


Mansabdari was the main institution of the Mughal Empire, which embraced both civil and military sectors of administration. The system was developed to create a centralized administrative system as well as creating a large force. Mansabdars and their large forces were used to expand the empire and administer it effectively. The main features of mansab system were as follows:
• Mansabdars held dual ranks — zat and sawar, the former indicated the status of the officer in the administrative hierarchy, and which also determined the personal pay. The latter denoted the contingent they were expected to maintain.
• Mansabdars were divided into 3 classes on ,the basis of the ratio between their zat and sawar ranks.
• The salaries and obligation of maintaining troops were governed by a definite set of rules which underwent changes from time to time.
For revenue purposes, all the land was divided into two — the jagir and khalisa. The land revenue collected from the khalisa went to the royal treasury while that from the jagir to mansabdars.
Mansabdars were paid through the assignment of jagirs. The jagir system as an institution was used to appropriate the surplus from the peasantry. At the same time it was used for distributing the revenue resources among the ruling classes.

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