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Administrative System Under Akbar

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Mughal emperor Akbar ascended the throne in 1556. Initially, he paid attention to the expansion of the empire. Then, he realized the reforms in the administrative system are necessary to keep the empire intact. In order to strengthen his authority and consolidate his empire, Akbar carried out various reforms in Mughal administrative system. They are as under:

Central Administration:

Akbar was head of the central government, in fact, the fountainhead of all authorities. All the executive, legislative, and judicial powers were concentrated in him; and powers of the state were also present in him. It would not be wrong to say that his word was law. But being an enlightened ruler, he didn't try to abuse his power. Benevolence was present in his despotism. Akbar made sincere efforts to run his empire and carried out reforms in almost every branch of administration. He introduced a practice of balcony appearance called Jharokha-I-darshan at his palace, a good practice to communicate with the subjects. Such practice was continued by his successors too, but discontinued by Aurangzeb (the last powerful ruler of the Mughal dynasty). Then, Akbar also used to hold an open court which lasted for more than 4 hours, listen to the complaints of his subjects without discrimination of sexes and try his best to pacify them. Further, Akbar used to meet his advisers, ministers, and officials to get the reports about his administration (internal, external, foreign relations, trade, and commerce, the military system, etc.). The most important ministers and officials in Akbar's empire were:

  • Diwan: Often called Wazir, he was in charge of finance and revenue, he had say in all matters of expenditure, he had control over Jagir and Khalsa (crown or reserved) lands.
  • Mir Bakshi: He was Paymaster general, head of the military department and nobility, who had to maintain the records of all the Mansabdars and distribute pay among the high ranking officials. He was also the head of information and intelligence agencies of the empire. His official duties were similar to that of Diwan-i-Ariz of the sultanate period in Medieval India.
  • Sadar-us-Sadur: He performed three duties mainly: acted as a religious adviser to the king, disbursed royal charity, and discharged the functions of the Chief Justice of the empire. Akbar, later, reorganized his administrative system, separated religion from government; and then, Sadar-us-sadr was no more the supreme religious adviser.

Besides, these ministers and officials, there were other ministers and officials of lower rank:

  • Khan-i-Saman or Mir-Saman: He was in-charge of the royal household and karkhanas. He checked whether the supply of all the provisions and articles for the use of the member of the harem or the female apartments is proper.
  • Muhtasib: He checked that the people led a highly moral life i.e. any vulgar or obscene activities are not occurring in public places. He was a censor of public morals.
  • Daroga-i-Dak Chowki: He was an officer, in-charge of the postal and intelligence department. He was the supervisor of the mail system.

Provincial Administration

Akbar divided his vast empire into 15 Subas or provinces. In each Suba or province, there was a Subedar, a Diwan, a Bakshi, a Sadar, a Qazi, a Kotwal, a Mir Bahr, and Waqa-i-Nawis.

  • The Subedar (Governor): Subedar was the head of the provincial administration, enjoyed vast powers, and was in-charge of the provincial military, police, judiciary, and the executive.
  • The Diwan (of a province): In-charge of the provincial finance and all bills of payments were signed by him.
  • The Bakshi: In charge of the provincial army, appointed by the emperor on the advice of central Mir Bakshi.
  • The Sadar: He was in-charge of the judicial charity department, appointed by the emperor on the advice of Sadr-us-sadar. As a Sadar, he watched the religious activities of the people. As a Qazi, he performed judicial functions. He also supervised the work of Qazis in the districts and towns. Generally, the same officer was appointed to perform the duties of Qazi and Sadar.
  • The Kotwal: All the ‘Thanas’ (police stations) of the province were under his control and he was responsible for the maintenance of law and order in all the cities.
  • The Mir Bahr: Mir-Bahr was in-charge of the customs and taxation department, also used to check the port duties in coastal towns.
  • The Waqa-i-Nawis: He was in-charge of posting news reporters and spies in different places of the province. Actually, intelligence services were under his control.

Sarkars: The provinces were further divided into Sarkars, their important officials are as under:

  • Faujdar: The administrative head of the Sarkar was Faujdar who kept his own local militia to maintain law and order in his area. He was assisted by a number of other officials (Amalguzar) who collected the revenue, maintained the accounts, and deposited the money into the state treasury.
  • Amalguzar: An important official at Sarkar level. He was a revenue collector.
  • Kotwal: Maintenance of law and order and appointed to discharge municipal duties in important towns.

Parganas: Sarkars were divided into Parganas.

  • Shikdar: The administrative head of the Parganas was called Shikdar whose functions were the same as those of the Faujdar and Kotwal in a Sarkar.
  • Fotadar: Treasurer of the Pargana.
  • Amil: Also called Munsif, he was a revenue official, determining revenue at the Pargana level. He was in direct contact with peasants.
  • Kanungo: He was also a revenue official. His duty was to survey land in the Pargana.
  • Karkuns: Maintained land records, they used to write them systematically (a kind of clerical work).

Villages: Each Pargana comprised several villages.

  • Muqaddam: Each village was under the charge of a Muqaddam.
  • Patwari: He was a village accountant.
  • Chowkidar: He was a watchman.

All these village functionaries carried on the work of administration with the help of village Panchayat.

Akbar in his court punishing an unruly courtier

Akbar in his court punishing an unruly courtier

Emperor Akbar's Court

Emperor Akbar's Court

Revenue Administration

Land revenue system:

Land revenue was the major source of state's income. Earlier, Akbar followed Sher Shah Suri's land revenue system, but he didn't find it much beneficial. Akbar paid personal attention to the land revenue system. He carried out various experiments with other revenue ministers in early years of his reign, finally he chose Raja Todarmal as his revenue minister and he took the following measures with Raja Todarmal:

  • Measurement of land: Gaz-i-Ilahi was introduced as a new unit to measure land, it was 33 inches in length. Area of land was measured into 'bighas'. It was 3600 sq. yd.
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Note:In Punjab, 4 bighas is equal to one acre (4046.86 sq. metre). In central India, bighas were standardised at 3025 yd2 (2529.3 m2) or 5/8 acre (0.2529 hectare). While in Rajasthan, 1 bigha is equal to 1,618.7 square metres (17,424 sq ft).

  • Classification of Land: All the cultivated land was divided into four categories:
  1. Polaj: Polaj was categorised as the best kind of land due to its fertility. It was always cultivated and was never allowed to fallow.
  2. Parauti: The land was left uncultivated temporarily after every harvest season to regain its strength.
  3. Chachar: Chachar land remained uncultivated for three or four years.
  4. Banjar: The land productivity was very low, considered unfit for cultivation. It had to be left fallow for five years or more.

There were further three categories of Polaj and Parauti lands: good, average, and bad. The total produce of each land was determined separately.

  • Zabti system or Dahsala system: Akbar introduced a new land measurement system , in 1580, called the Zabti system or Dahasala system, the system covered greater part of the Mughal empire. Under this system, the average produce of different crops along with the average prices prevailing over the last ten years were calculated. One third of the produce was given to the state as revenue. However, demand of state was stated in cash. This was done by converting the state share into money on the basis of a schedule of average prices over the past ten years. Under the Zabti system, the sown area was measured by means of the bamboos attached with iron rings.The Zabti system, originally, is associated with Raja Todar Mal, therefore, it is also called as Todar Mal's bandobast. Todar Mal was a brilliant revenue officer of his time. Earlier, he was in the service of Sher Shah’s court, but later joined Akbar.
  • Ghalla Bakshi: Besides Zabti system, a number of other systems of assessment were also introduced by Akbar. The most common was ‘batai’ or ‘ghalla-bakshi.’ Under this system, the produce was divided between the peasants and the state in a fixed proportion. The peasants were given the choice of paying in cash or in kind, though the state preferred cash.The peasants were allowed to choose between zabti and batai under certain conditions, such as drought, famine or other unexpected natural calamity.This system was in vogue in Thatta and in parts of Kabul and Kandahar. In case of certain crops, such as cotton, indigo, sugarcane, oil-seeds, etc., the state preferred cash only. Therefore, these crops were called as cash-crops and till today, they are known by the same name.
  • Kankut System: In this system, no actual measurement was made but a rough estimate of the produce of the land was made by the past experience, and inspecting the standing crops. State demand for revenue was 1/3 of the produce.
  • Loans facility: Farmers were provided loans with small interest from the state which could be paid in easy annual instalments, such loans were called Taccavi.
  • Remission of revenue: In bad seasons, when crop was not good, remissions of revenues were granted to the farmers.
  • Maintaining Records: Receipts were issued to farmers, for all the payments made by them. A record of all the holdings and liabilities of every farmer was maintained with the government .
  • Nasaq system: This system was widely used, particularly in Bengal. Most probably, under the Nasaq system, a rough calculation was made on the basis of the previous revenue receipts paid by the peasants. This system required no actual measurement, however, the area was ascertained from the records.

Land revenue was the main source of income for the government. However, there were other sources of income too, such as octroi, taxes on mines, salt tax, state trading, presents to the emperor by his nobles, fines imposed on guilty persons, income from minting of coins etc.

Mughal Artillery

Mughal Artillery

Infantry man

Infantry man

Military Organisation

Efficient military system is required to maintain a vast empire free from external attack, development takes place only in an environment of peace and security, merely financial resources are not enough. In medieval times, a strong and well organised military was needed; without military prowess a ruler couldn't keep his empire intact. There were always insecurity of external attack or internal rebellion. So, Akbar paid great attention towards the organisation, equipment, and discipline of his army. He systematically organised a system known as the Mansabdari System, first introduced by Babur in North India, to maintain an efficient military for the service of empire.

Mansabdari system:

Mansab” is an Arabic word, which means a ‘rank’ or a position. The holder of a Mansab was called Mansabdar. The system originated in Mongolia, Central Asia. In Medieval India, it was given an institutional framework by Akbar. This system was common to both the civil and the military department. In fact, mansabdari system proved to be the backbone of Mughal Administrative system. The system continued by Akbar's successors with little modifications. But Akbar provided a base to the administration. A Mansabdar had to maintain soldiers according to his grade or rank. The Mansab granted to a Mansabdar determined the following:

  • Salary of a Mansabdar
  • Status of a Mansabdar, higher the Mansab higher his position, honour and respect in the society and administration.
  • Number of soldiers, horse, elephants etc., he had to maintain.

Features of Mansabdari system:

  • There were 33 grades or Mansabs of these Mansabdars who maintained soldiers ranging from 10 to 10,000. Later the number of Mansabdars were increased.The higher Mansabs were reserved for the members of royal family i.e. princes, and nobles i.e. important Rajput rulers, for example, Raja Bhagwandas having Mansab of 5000 Zats, Raja Man Singh Tomar having Mansab of 7000 Zats etc. .
  • They were paid either in cash or in the form of assignments of lands (areas) called jagirs. From their land assignments or Jagirs, they were entitled to collect land revenue and other taxes as authorised by the emperor.
  • Mansabdars were directly under the charge of the emperor, and emperor was the sole authority concerning the appointment, promotion, degradation, or dismissal of a Mansabdar.
  • Mansabdars were transferred from civil to military department and vice-versa.
  • During the later years of his reign, Akbar reformed the Mansabdari system and introduced the concept of Zat and Sawar rank in it. Zat determined the personal status of a Mansabdar i.e his salary and position in administrative hierarchy, while Sawar rank determined the number of cavalrymen he had to maintain.
  • Classification of Mansabdars: Mansabdars were divided into following categories:
  1. Mansabdars - Officials who were granted rank below 500 zat were called Mansabdars.
  2. Amirs - Officials holding rank between 500 and 2500 Zat were called Amirs.
  3. Amir-i-Umda - Officials holding rank above 2500 Zat were granted the title of Amir-i-Umda or amir-i-umrahs.
  • Mansabdars receiving salary in cash were called Naqadi while those receiving assignments of lands were called Jagirdars.
  • Mansabdars had to supply a large number of troops to the emperor as per his command but Akbar had maintained a small standing army of his own. This trend was continued by his successors too.
  • Soldiers recruited by Mansabdars were called Dakhili while those recruited by Mansabdars were called Ahadi.
  • The Mughal army didn't have branches. But it was divided into sections according to their duties. It consisted of infantry (foot soldiers), cavalry-mounted soldiers, artillery, elephants, and navy. The cavalry was the superior section of the army, required special attention towards its management and resources.
  • The practice of maintaining records of the soldiers and branding the horses (horses were marked with a hot iron seal so as to identify its owner) i.e. Daag system, again appeared on the scene, which was started by Delhi Sultan Alauddin Khilji.

The system increased the military efficiency by regulating soldiers, recruiters (Mansabdars) and horses. Officials were provided handsome salaries. Property of a Mansabdar was not inherited. It was confiscated by the government after death. So he didn't save it for his issues or family by any illegal or immoral activity. However, no administrative system is perfect under any administrator or a ruler, so Akbar's was not an exception. The military organisation of Akbar had certain defects in comparison to other administrative structures, for example,

  • the Mansabdars, often, didn't maintain the required quota of horses and they showed full quota by borrowing horses from other Mansabdar during inspection;
  • the soldiers were more loyal to the Mansabdars than to the emperor as they were paid by their Mansabdar not by the emperor;
  • the practice of payment to the soldiers through the Mansabdars was not clear-cut and often led to abuses.

However, under Akbar military system worked well because of his exceptional ability as a leader and an administrator. He was also able to maintain great vigilance and discipline in his army.

From the above discussion, it is clear why Akbar could keep the empire intact till his death and even after his death, the empire remained at its peak for more than 100 years.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2017 Sonal Shrivastava


suyash on March 31, 2017:

very informative.

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