Mughal Nobility and Aurangzeb

The unique feature of the Mughal Empire was that the Mughals had an international ruling class. Chandra Bhan Brahman, a contemporary of Shahjahan in his book Chahar Chaman ( or Guldasta) observed that the Mughal nobility was composed of various races, people of various nationalities, various countries, and of various faiths. He further emphasised that the Mughal nobility consisted of the Irais, Turanis, Tajiks, Turks, Arabs, Abbysinians, Afghans, Shaikhzadas, Rajputs, Armenians etc. He is of the opinion that it was an important feature of the Mughal Empire that the Mughals had an international ruling class where the entry of different groups into the aristocracy cut across religious, racial and geographical considerations.

For the countries of Iran and Turan, India was considered the El Dorado, where fortunes could be made. The Safavid Empire and the Uzbek Khanate were places where the beaurocrats were trained as administrators or financiars or military generals, and then migrated to India and absorbed in the Mughal nobility. So in that way the Safavid and Uzbek Khanate were the training ground for the Mughal aristocracy. Most of the begs and bahadurs of Babur were of Turani origin. And after the death of Babur, Humayun was faced with a difficulty of facing or dealing with a comparatively independent and hostile aristocracy. Most of the difficulties with which Humayun was faced were the creation of his nobles because the tribal outlook of the Afghan nobility during the reigns of Babur and Humayun had influenced the central outlook of the Mughal nobility to the extent that the Mughal nobles were not so obedient to Humayun as they should have been: More so at a time when the empire was faced with a serious crisis.

After the re-establishment of the Mughal Empire in India and the accession of Akbar in 1556, at the initial stages, the nobility of Akbar also consisted of mostly the Turanis, with a small sprinkling of Iranis. Akbar being an intelligent person realised the danger to the empire in the light of an exclusive presence of the Turanis and Iranis. If the empire solely depended on these two elements, it was not a healthy sign for the expansion and consolidation of the Mughal Empire: the moment support was withdrawn by them, it could endanger the very existence of the empire. The aggressive attitude of a section of nobles during the early years of Akbar’s reign was also an eye-opener. Thus to counterbalance the growing influence of this foreign element in the nobility Akbar started a new policy of recruiting the Rajputs and the Shaikhzadas into the Mughal aristocracy. One thing which we should remember is that the Rajputs started being recruited in 1562, that is much before the initiation of his new religious policy. Thus these recruitments were not a result of his tolerant policy. Till now he was not a tolerant king. The recruitment of the Rajputs was in view of administrative necessity. Once recruited in service, the religious attitude was bound to change. Precisely this was also the period when the Shaikhzadas – the Syeds of Baraha, the Syeds of Amroha, the shaikhzadas of Delhi and Hisar Firuza etc were all promoted to counterbalance the growing power of the Iranis and Turanis. Akbar was hostile to the Afghans that is why no Afghan officer worth the name was recruited or promoted. He could not forget that they had expelled his father from Hindustan. So during the reign of Akbar there was a predominance of Turanis, Rajputs and Shaikhzadas. Jahangir promoted the Khurasanis on a large scale mainly because of the political compulsions. He also promoted the Shaikhzadas as he had a very high opinion about the Syeds of Baraha. He used to cite a saying of Mirza Aziz Koka that the Syeds of Baraha are responsible for warding off evil against the empire. Jahangir said that the Baraha Saadat were brave by birth and there was no important engagement in the empire in which they did not distinguish themselves. He also promoted the family members of Shaikh Salim Chishti of Fathpur Sikri. He also promoted the Bundelas and the Hill Rajput rajas. That is why Mirza Aiz Koka wrote in a very strong letter to Jahangir (surviving in the collection of letters of Sh. Jalal Hisari) in which he alleged that Jahangir was discriminating against the Turanis and the Rajputs, the two main supporters of the empire.

Whether this allegation is correct or not, we must not forget that the Bundelas and the hill rajas were Rajputs par excellence. What Mirza Aiz Koka was reflecting was the dominating opinion of the Sisodias and Kachhwahas that they were the real Rajputs.

There is nothing to deny the fact that Iranis were in a pre-dominant position in the Mughal court and the role of Nur Jahan Begum in promoting Iranis was also substantial.

When Shahjahan ascended the throne he was conscious of the fact that the Iranis occupied a pre-dominant position and some check was to be excercised on their recruitment to remove intolerance which was thus caused. So Shahjahan emphasised his Turani origins and was very proud of it. He also adopted the title of sahib qiran-i sani. In the early years of his reign he promoted the Turanis just to reduce the Iranis. Iranis were to be taught a lesson. Yet the fact remains that in spite of this over-emphasis of Turanis, the Iranis continued to occupy important positions as they were very competent as financiers and administrators. Their services could not be dispensed with without risking administrative efficiency of the Empire. They were extremely cultured. Anand Ram Mukhlis in his Mirat ul Istilah (compiled 1740) says that the Badakhshis were boorish and vulgar, while the Iranis were considered highly cultured.

Thus as they were highly cultured and experienced administrators, throughout the Mughal period they had a very prominent position at the Mughal court.

During the reign of Aurangzeb, the numerical strength of the Turanis declined as degeneration and decline had set in the Uzbek Khanate with the result that the trained bureaucrats were not available in the Mughal Empire from Central Asia. It was also precisely the period when decline also set in at the Safavid Empire. But the decline in the Safavid Empire was not so fast as in the Uzbek Khananate: The result was that although the Turanis continued to migrate, their number declined. The Iranis maintained their strength in the Mughal court even during this period because the nobles who came from Golcunda etc from the Deccan were mostly Iranis. So in spite of the sharp decline in Safavid Empire and the migration from Iran, the Iranis maintained their strength as those from Bijapur and Golcunda added to their strength.

Another reason for the decline of Turanis and the still continued direct recruitment of the Iranis was that unlike Shahjahan, Aurangzeb was not at all interested in the North West Frontier for expansion. He had reconciled himself with the loss of Qandhar. So their services were not a must. Aurangzeb was convinced that there was no threat from the Uzbeks. His hands were brimming with the affairs of the Deccan. He had spent about 27 years of his life in the Deccan in the process of trying to annex it. Now his policy was what Mirza Raja Jai Singh had advocated in 1666. and once the objective was to annex, the people their were to be given the status of the ruling class. Thus the Marathas were recruited on a large scale. The Deccani Afghans also joined at a large scale. These new entrants in the Mughal aristocracy were recruited obviously at the cost of the Turanis and the Rajputs. Thus both these groups resented the inclusion of Marathas and the Afghans as they considered the Mughal Empire as their reserve. Now there was competition which they faced in their turf.

The tremendous increase in the numerical strength of the Marathas and the Afghans led to an increase in the strength of the Mughal bureaucracy under Aurangzeb. Under him there were around 31% non-Muslims, while under Akbar there were only 22% – and yet the communal historians call him a bigot!

But at the same time, the inclusion of the Marathas in the second half of Aurangzeb’s reign must not be considered that he was following a secular policy or a more tolerant policy than that of Akbar: It was an administrative necessity which was needed to annex and consolidate the Deccan. The primary factor governing the policy of a Mughal emperor was his political necessity.

But the policy of Aurangzeb to pacilfy Marathas was not a success because unlike the Rajput society, the Maratha society was not clan based. Further, both these new recruits, the Afghans and the Marathas, were not loyal to the empire as such. In fact two disturbers to peace were promoted by no less a person than Aurangzeb himself.

Factional Struggle in the Ruling Class:

One cardinal principle of the Mughal ruling class was that in spite of it having an international character, and consisting of, as Chandrabhan says, of many clans and nations, there was unity in diversity. There was unity on one point: loyalty to the ruler, which was taken for granted. And that is why the Mughals permitted that each group should maintain their cultural identity. But then sometimes the maintenance cultural identity provided a basis for factional struggle. There were two probable causes for this:

A) By convention the share in the usufruct of the land was fixed for each group: so much for the Iranis, that much for Turanis and so forth. The index of determination in the usufruct of the empire was award of mansabs. And whenever there was an imbalance in this conventional division of loaves and fishes, the section which was adversely affected in this division, resented the curtailment of the share. More often than not, the expression of this resentment was rebellion.

B) When the nobles lost confidence in the economic stability of the empire and when they were convinced that for their survival the pressure tactics were a must, so exercise pressure on the administrative machinery of the empire, the formations of the groups was a must and when the groups were to be formed there should be some basis for these formations. The cultural identity served as the basis for the formation of the groups.

When the groups were formed, each group would start thinking in terms of their group and not in the term of the Empire. Result was the dis-integration of the Empire. This group politics in the Mughal Empire originated from the Jagirdari crisis.

During the second half of Aurangzeb’s reign it became apparent that the groups were thinking in their own interests and not in terms of the Empire. Even before Aurangzeb we have seen a political crisis in which there were groups. At the death of Akbar, the Turanis and some Rajputs had supported Khusrau while the Shaikhzadas and a section of Rajputs were with Salim. Thus groups had formed even before on racial basis. But towards the end of Aurangzeb’s reign, there was a subtle change. Before whenever there was formation of groups, it was on cultural basis and due to personal equations. This was apparent not only on the accession crisis after the death of Akbar but also in 1658 during the War of Succession. On both the occasions, the guiding spirit was the personal loyalty to the fighting princes. That was not a dangerous development. Groups which were formed in the second half of Aurangzeb’s reign, and more so after Aurangzeb’s death assumed dangerous proportions with each group trying to consolidate their position at the expense of the Mughal Empire. It was this which sounded the death knell of the Mughal Empire.