The Mansabdari System of the Mughals was the basis of civil and military administration of the country. The system was introduced by Akbar who borrowed it from Persia. It differed fundamentally from the feudal system of Europe in the sense that it had nothing to do with land and was also not hereditary. The Mansabdari System provided the Mughals with a civil service.
The literal meaning of the word Mansab or Manseb is office, rank or dignity. According to Irvine, the object of the Mansabdari system was to settle precedence and fix gradation of pay. Mansabdars belonged both to the civil and military departments. As a matter of fact, there was no distinction between the two departments in the Mughal Period. Officials were transferred from the civil side to the military department and vice versa. The word Mansabdar was generally restricted to those who were high officials and the title of Rouzindar was given to the inferior Government servants.
There were many grades of the Mansabdars, but their main division was into two parts. The one part was known as the Omrahs and the other ordinary Mansabdars. Those Mansabdars who held the rank of one Hazari or two Hazari or any higher rank up to 12,000 were known as the Omrahs. Those whole held a rank lower than that of 1,000 but not below 20, were called Mansabdars. That is why Bemier stated that Mansabdars were inferior Omrahs.
There is a difference of opinion among the various writers with regard to the distinction between Omrahs and Mansabdars. According to Bernier, there was distinction between Omrahs and Mansabdars and no Omrah was less than one Hazari. Sir Thomas Roe does not refer to any distinction between the two. Manucci seems to make a distinction between the two. The reason is that when he discusses the smaller Mansabdars up to 900 horses, he simply uses the words “Do
Bisti”, “Ce Bisti”, “Chahar Bisti”, etc. However, when he refers to Mansabdars of 1,000 or more, he also uses the word ‘Omrahs’ along with them. Thus, the holder of 1,000 horses is called by him by the name of “Yak Hazari Omrah”. Manucci also tells us that offices up to 900 were given to Mansabdars, but it was difficult to get the rank of a Hazari. The king granted that rank very sparingly and that also to those who worked hard for it. However, those who got the ra. . of a Hazari, also got the title of “Omrah”.
According to Hawkins, the rank of the captain varied from 12,000 to 20,000 horses. The rank of 12,000 was given to the king, his mother, eldest son and one more member of the royal blood. Other Mansabdars were known as Dukes, Marquesses, Earls, Viscounts, Barons, Knights, Esquires, Gentlemen and Yeomen. According to Tavernier, the least of these Omrahs commanded 2,000 horses. There is every possibility of Tavernir being confused as he wrote his account much later.
The number of the Mansabdars was greater than that of the Omrahs. Although their pay was less, they belonged to same class as Omrahs, and performed duties similar to those of the Omrahs. The Mansabdars were to be found not only at the court but also in the army and in the provinces.
According to Bernier, the number of the Mansabdars was not fixed, but according to Kawkins, those who held the rank from 2,000 to 20,000 horses, numbered 2,950. At the time of the writing of the Ain-i-Akbari, there were 148 Omrahs of 500 and above. Their number rose to 439 under Jahangir. The number was 405 in 1637 and 466 in 1647. The total number of Mansabdars was 1,658 in 1590, 2,069 under Jahangir, 8,000 in 1637 and 11,400 in 1690.
Zat and Sawar
A distinction has to be made between Zat and Sawar ranks of the Mansabdars. However, scholars are not unanimous on this point. The view of Blochman was that the word Zat indicated the number of troops which a Mansabdar was expected to maintain, while Sawar indicated the actual number of horses under the command of a Mansabdar.
If a Mansabdar held the rank of 1,000 Zat and 500 Sawar, then he had a rank of 1,000, while he actually commanded 500 horses. The view of Irvine was that the Sawar rank had nothing to do with the actual number normally commanded by £n officer. It was an honour and it merely pointed out the actual number of horses over and above those of the Zat.
The view of Dr. R. P. Tripathi is that the Sawar rank implied an additional honour but there was no obligation on the part of a Mansabdar to maintain the number of horsemen indicated by it. However, he was paid an extra allowance for that. The view of S.K. Rao is that the Zat rank of a Mansabdar indicated the number of infantry while the Sawar rank indicated the number of cavalry under him.
The view of Abdul Aziz and S.R. Sharma is that the Zat rank imposed an obligation on a Mansabdar to maintain a fixed number of elephants, horses, beasts of burden and carts, but no horsemen or cavalry. However, the Sawar rank represented the actual number of cavalry under a Mansabdar.
According to Dr. A.L. Srivastava, “Blochman’s interpretation seems to approximate to the actual state of affairs as it existed after the institution of the Sawar rank. It appears that for several years after the establishment of the Mansabdari System, Mansabdars of various ranks failed to maintain and bring to muster the number of cavalry fixed for their several ranks.
Moreover, the bringing together of horses, horsemen (cavalry), elephants, camels, oxen, etc., in each rank caused confusion. It was probably to put an end to this confusion and to secure an absolute compliance of the number of horsemen fixed for each rank that Akbar instituted the Sawar rank, as distinct from Zat Rank. Thereafter, The Zat Rank indicated the number of horses, elephants, beasts of burden and carts required to be maintained by a Mansabdar, but not horsemen or cavalry.
The Zat Rank was not a personal rank as has been wrongly supposed by modern scholars. The Sawar rank, on the other hand, indicated the actual number of horsemen to be maintained by a Mansabdar in Akbar’s reign. Under his successors, this regulation became a little lax and the number of horsemen fell below the Sawar Rank.”
There were three classes of the Mansabdars. A Mansabdar belonged to the first class if his Zat and Sawar ranks were equal. He belonged to the second class if the Sawar rank was the half on his Zat Rank. He belonged to the third class if his Sawar Rank was less than half the Zat Rank or there was no Sawar Rank at all.
The institution of Do-Aspa and Si-Aspa was introduced in the reign of Jahangir. This was different from the Sawar rank. It is difficult to say to what exactly was the meaning of the rank of two horses and three horses. According to Abdul Aziz, “It was a very rare rank which was granted to a rare Mansabdar. The holders of these ranks were required to maintain some additional horsemen under them and they were paid a special allowance for that.”
Dr. M. Athar Ali says: “The du-aspa sih-aspa rank was theoretically regarded as a part of sawar rank. The usual official formula for stating the rank, is, for example, 4,000 Zat, 4,000 sawar all (Hama) du-aspa sih-aspa” which would mean 4,000/4,000 + 4,000; or 4,000 Zat, 4,000 Sawar, of which 1,000 du-aspa sih-aspa, i.e. 4,000/4,000 + 1,000. It could, therefore, never exceed the Sawar Rank. If any portion of the Sawar rank became du-aspa sih-aspa, the rest of the rank was termed barawurdi.
That is, if out of 4,000 Sawars, 1,000 were du-aspa sih-aspa, the remaining 3,000 were Barawurdi. For the latter portion the noble was paid at the same rate as for the ordinary rank and his obligations were also on the same scale, while for the du-aspa sih-aspa, his pay and obligations both were doubled.
In other wods, from the point of view of pay and military obligations, the rank of 4,000 Sawar of whom 1,000 were du-aspa, shi-aspa, really meant 5,000 Sawars (i.e., 3,000 ordinary + 1,000 2.3 h = 3,000 rodinary + 1,000 * 2 ordinary = 5,000 ordinary). From this it may be deduced that when the emperor wanted to favour a man or desired that he should maintain a larger contingent without raising his Zat rank (which had usually to be higher than the Sawar), he did so by granting a du-aspa sih-aspa. ”
According to Bernier, “The Omrahs were the pillars of the Empire.” They enjoyed the highest honours and occupied the most prominent position in the army, provinces and at the court. Their salary was proportionate to the number of horses assigned to each. They maintained a lot of outward pomp and show. They were never out of doors but in the most superb dresses.
Sometimes, they mounted an elephant, sometimes on horseback and very often in their palanquins. They were usually attended by many horsemen and servants on foot who went in front of them. They presented themselves before the king thrice a day. When the king went on an excursion in a plaquin they were bound to accompany him on horseback. They were forced to make presents to the king on the occasion of certain annual festivals.
According to Pelsaert, “Their (Mansabdars) Mahals are adorned internally with lascivious sensuality, wanton and reckless festivity; superfluous pomp, inflated pride and an ornamental daintiness.”
“I shall speak of the houses which are built here. They are noble and pleasant, with many apartments, but there is not much in the way of an upper storey except a flat roof on which to enjoy the evening air. There are usually gardens and tanks inside the house; and in the hot weather the tanks are filled daily with fresh water drawn by oxen from wells.
The water is drawn or sometimes raised by a wheel in such quantity that it flows through a leaden pipe and rises like a recreation unknown in our cold country. These houses last for a few years only because the walls are built with mud instead of mortar, but the white plaster of the walls is very noteworthy and far superior to anything in our country.
They use unslaked lime which is mixed with milk, gum and sugar into a thin paste. When the walls have been plasetered with lime, they apply this paste rubbing it with well-designed towels until it is smooth, then they polish it steadily with agates, perhaps for a whole day, until it is dry and hard and shines like alabaster or can even be used as a looking glass.”
“They have no furniture of the kind we delight in, such as tables, stocks, benches, cupboards, bedsteads, etc., but their cots or sleeping places and other furniture of kinds unknown in our country, are lavishly ornamented with gold or silver, and they use more gold and silver in serving food than we do, though nearly all of it is used in the Mahal, and is seen scarcely by nybody except women.
Outside the Mahal, there is only the Diwan Khana or sitting place which is spread with handsome carpets and kept very clean and neat. Here the Lord takes his seat in the morning to attend his business, whatsoever it is and here all his subordinates come to Salam him.”
According to Mandelslo, “There is no king in Europe that has so noble a court as the Governor of Gujarat nor any that appears in public with greater magnificence.” Accordint to Manucci, Daud Khan spent Rs. 25,000 a year on his pet birds alone. Islam Khan, Governor of Bengal in the time of Jahangir, spent Rs. one lakh on dancing girls alone.
It is pointed out that the Mughal Mansabdars were paid very high salaries if we take into account the fact that living was very cheap in those days. Thus, Mansabdars spent their money on their own luxuries and patronising all sorts of studies and arts. Some of the nobles received a pension on retirement. It is stated that Mohammad Yar Khan, Governor of Delhi, resigned in 1702 and was given a pension of Rs. 3,000 a year. Arz Khan, the Faujdar, was given a pension of Rs. 4,000 a year.
According to Bernier, the Omrahs were not expected to maintain the number of horses which was fixed by their titles. It was the duty of the king to fix the effective number of horsemen which any Omrah was to maintain. It did not matter much whether a Mansabdar was one of 2,000 to 7,000. Bernier’s master, Danishmand Khan, was an Omrah of 5,000 horses, but as a matter of fact he maintained only 500 horses.
According to Manucci, the king allowed the Omrahs to keep not more than one quarter of the number indicated by their title. Thus, if the title was that of 1,000 and the Mansabdar got pay for 1,000, he was to maintain only 250 horses. According to Irvine, Lutfullah Khan held the rank of 7,000 but he did not maintain even 7 asses, much less horses or riders on horses. If the king wanted to show favour to a Mansabdar, he could give him a high title and allow him to maintain a smaller number of horsemen. If he wanted to punish him he would give him a smaller title and ask him to maintain a large number of horsemen. This was done by Aurangzeb in the case of nobles of Bijapur and Golconda whom he wanted to punish.
Sir Thomas Roe also agrees with the view that the number of horses kept by Omrahs was less than what their title indicated. Mir Jamal-ud-Din Hussian, Governor of Patna, was a Pancha- Hazari Mansabdar but he maintained only 1,500 horses.
There were two methods of making payments to the nobles. One was of giving them Jagirs where from they got their salaries. The second method was that of cash payment. In this case the Mansabdar got his salary from the royal treasury. The Jagir from which the Mansabdar was to get his salary may be in the neighbourhood of the place where a Mansabdar was posted. It was never to be at the place where he was employed. The object of this regulation was to lessen the chances of corruption and extortion.
Nobles were paid at the rate of Rs. 25 for every horse per month. Sir Thomas Roe fixed the amount of £25 annually. According to Hawkins, the Mansabdars were allowed Rs. 20 for every horse every month. They were paid Rs. 2 per horse for the maintenance of their stable.
There was no hereditary nobility among the Mughals. Everything depended upon the will of the king who had absolute control over the whole Mansabdari system. The appointment and advancement of a Mansabdar depended entirely on the will of the Emperor.
To quote Bernier, “The Mughal raises them to dignities or degrades them to obscurity, according to his own pleasure and caprice.” It was not necessary for a Mansabdar to pass through all the stages in order to become a high Mansabdar. A person could be appointed directly a Mansabdar of 5,000 if the king so wished. He could be given a lift of 2,000 at once if the Emperor so pleased. The same person could have been appointed a Mansabdar of 200 and allowed to progress by slow degrees.
All the Mansabdars did not necessarily come from the nobility as such. Such a class could not come into existence. Most of the Omrahs were adventures from different countries and were generally persons of low descent. If any one wanted to rise, he was to go up by degrees and that also as a result of hard efforts. No Person could claim a particular Mansab on account of his birth. The son of a Mansabdar of 5,000 did not succeed to his father as a Mansabdar of 5,000.
A reference may be made to what is known as the law of escheat. According to this law, when a Mansabdar died, al his property was confiscated by the Kings.’ Sir Thomas Roe puts this in the form of a metaphor. According to him, all the property of a Mansabdar came “to the king like rivers to the sea.”
It is difficult to say as to what exactly was left by the king for the dependents of the deceased Mansabdars.
According to Manucci, “The king ‘seized everything left by his generals, officers an other officials at their death.” Only a trifle was given to their widows for their maintenance.
According to Bernier, the king usually gave a small pension to the widow and also some allowance to the family.
According to Tavernier, the king inherited the property of the Mansabdar and his wife got jewels.
According to Hawkins, the king got possession of the property of the Mansabdars after their death and gave to their children whatever he pleased. “Commonly, he dealeth well with them.” The children were given certain favours, especially the eldest son. However, this remark does not tally with the statement of Bernier that after the death of an Omrah, his sons and grandsons were generally reduced to beggary and were compelled to enlist themselves as mere troopers in the cavaliy of some Omrah.
According to Sir Thomas Roe, the king left to the sons of the Mansabdars their “horses, stuff and some stock.” He gave them a small lift for advancement. It was up to the children of a Mansabdar to secure their advancement by any means they could.
It cannot be denied that the working of the law of escheat must have enriched the king because he came to have a lot of money from this source. The law of escheat must have created a good effect on the conduct of the Mansabdars while in office. Since they knew that whatever money was extorted from the innocent people, will not pass to their children and thereby make their lives comfortable, they desisted from temptations of bribery and other acts of highhandedness.
However, there is every reason to believe that this law must have resulted in extravagance on the part of Mansabdars. As the Mansabdars knew that they could not leave anything to their children and whatever was left behind them, whould be confiscated by the king, there was a tendency to become reckless in expenditure.
The result was that in certain cases, nothing was found after the death of a Mansabdar. According to Manucci, when a Mansabdar died and his belongings were collected, nothing was found but boxes full of horns and old shoes. This gives an inkling into the working of the minds of the Mansabdars.
According to J.N. Sarkar, “It (the law of the escheat) made the Mughal nobility a selfish band, prompt in deserting to the winning side in every war of succession of foreign invasion
According to J.N. Sarkar. “Thus the military accounts could never be cleansed and no officer’s exact duties and liabilities to the state could be ascertained in life-time and even after his death. Under the circumstances, the safest course for the emperor was to escheat the dead man’s property immediately after his death and then think of setting his account with the Government treasury.”
because they knew that their lands and even personal property were not legally assured to them but depended solely on the pleasure of the king de facto.” Again, “Thus generation after generation, an Islamic country witnessed the same process of building up fortunes from the smallest beginning and undoing of life’s work at death by the confiscation of the private property of the deceasen man to the state and reduction of his son in the rank of poor commoners.”
The Mansabdari system worked with great efficiency in the time of Akbar. Every c-ffort was made to make the system as efficient as possible. The number of the Mansabdars was small. However, as time passed on, the number of Mansabdars rose and great care was not takt’ at the time of their appointment.
A large number of Mansabdars were created in the time of Jahangir when he was busy in his war in the Deccan. The system completely deteriorated during the Deccan wars of Aurangzeb which lasted for a quarter of a country. The system collapsed after the death of Aurangzeb.