Akbar And His Nobility

In the same period when the Turani Revolts were taking place that Akbar decided to recruit Rajput Chiefs employed by the previous rulers as well: the difference however between Akbar’s policy and that of the others was that the policy now initiated was a policy of en mass recruitment. This resulted in a basic transformation in the basic character of the Mughal nobility and the empire. In 1562 was recruited Bharamal with his entire Kachhwaha clan.

Akbar wanted to establish a new group to counterbalance the Turani faction in the nobility. Simultaneously, from the āīn-i nuāzdeh sālā, an inference can be drawn that in the 10th RY an attempt was made by the authorities to accomplish a less inflated jama’ by calculating separate price lists for the provinces year by year. Thus, probably, to meet an important problem agitating the nobles, these measures were adopted in 1566-67. But then this is only an inference!

But before we start a discussion on this topic, let us first deal with the concept of the term ‘noble’: the amir (pl. Umara). Generally speaking, a mansabdar holding a mansab of 500 or above was considered a noble. In the contemporary surces, the personnel in the Mughal service are actually divided into two categories: the ordinary mansabdars and the umara. Abul Fazl includes every one holding the rank of 500 or above into the category of the amir. Similarly in other Mughal sources up till the 18th Century as well, we find two terms being applied: umara-i reza and umara-i ‘uzzam. Reza for ordinary and ‘uzzam for higher grades. M. Athar Ali who makes a study of the Mughal nobility [The Apparatus of Empire & Mughal Nobility under Aurangzeb] also uses the same criteria.

What were the characteristic features of this class? First, it was not a hereditary class but comprised individuals, many of whom were recruited in the service as mercenaries. Each had to make a start as a fresher from a low rank and would then progress to a high grade. They did not have any hereditary claim, titles, offices, assignments or privileges. But all the same, at the same time the element of continuity within the institution of nobility was quite considerable. This was represented by the presence of khānazāds in the ranks.  Khānazāds were those people who were descendants of the nobles. But again, the khānazāds would be accepted in the nobility on an individual basis according to their individual capacity. The element of continuity can be gauged from the fact that towards the end of the reign of Akbar, the khānazāds represented 40 % of the nobility, the list of which is given by Abul Fazl in the Ain. According to Atahr Ali’s calculations for the subsequent period, the khānazāds stood at 60 %. So we see that the element of continuity became stronger with the passage of time.

Another feature of the Mughal nobility was that it was a heterogeneous group in which persons having different kinds of ethnic or racial background, different culture and religious tradition were represented in considerable strong strength.

It is also quite apparent that the norms and notions that governed the behaviour of this group and its relationship with the sovereign was derived from different traditions represented in the heterogeneous body of different racial, religious, cultural and ethnical groups.

In the Mughal Empire, the share of the nobility in the total resources of the Empire was enormous: in fact [according to AJQaisar & Moosvi] around 80 to 85 % or more of the total revenues of the empire were earmarked for payments to nobles for services they rendered, mostly in the form of jagirs and sometimes in cash as well ( naqdis).

Within the category of this group of mansabdars to whom 85 % revenues were actually made available, the share of nobles of higher grade was much larger than the share of a large number of ordinary mansabdars.

For Akbar’s reign, the important question that needs to be discussed at some length with regard to the nobility are as follows:

First is the aspect of the changing composition of the nobility from 1556 to 1594-96; and the corresponding changes that occurred in the notion or principles that governed the behaviour, rights and privileges of the group.

Secondly the question as to what was the exact share of the nobility in the total revenues and resources?

Thirdly, What were the changing forms of the disbursement of the nobility’s share amongst the individuals constituting the group? Which would mean as to what were the stages through which the jagirdari system was evolving under Akbar?

Lastly the question of the organization of this nobility under Akbar: this is to be seen in the perspective of the changes made in this system – the origin and the growth of the mansabdari system under Akbar.

Of these four questions, we would here deal with the first issue, while the rest would be dealt in the unit II. The question which concerns us here is what were the changes in the composition of the nobility and the corresponding changes in the theoretical framework determining the position of the groups within the polity? [See Afzal Husain, Iqtidar A Khan, Muzaffar Alam]

To begin with, the Mughal Nobility was predominantly a Turani concern. This can be gauged if one examines the racial and cultural background of individual nobles whose names are found in Abul Fazl’s list of officers who were with Humayun in 1555 on his expedition to Hindustan as given in the Akbarnama.

As a result of this examination as done by Iqtidar Alam Khan it can be established that on the eve of Akbar’s accession to the throne, out of a total number of highly placed nobles serving in Hindustan, 52.9 % were Turanis and 31.37 % were Iranis.

From these figures it is obvious that in the nobility which Akbar inherited from his father, Turanis were in a predominant position, but the Iranis were also represented in a sizeable strength. These Iranis were officers who had been recruited during Humayun’s stay in Persia between 1542-45; but most of them were holding minor positions as compared to their Turani counterparts.

But then the list we are analysing does not include a number of officers who were left behind by Humayun at Kabul to serve there under the command of Munim Khan. Names of such officers are mentioned by Bayazid Bayat. Their acknowledged position at Kabul goes to indicate that most of these nobles at Kabul were Turanis. It is quite understandable also as the governor of Kabul was a senior Turani noble. His sub-ordinates were naturally belonging to the same racial group.

Perhaps the strength of the Turanis in absolute number would thus be much greater than what is indicated by the percentage worked out basing on Abul Fazl’s list. This factor naturally influenced the norms that governed the position of the nobility or their relations with the sovereign.

Turanis had a great attachment, being Chaghtais who had served the Chaghtai ruler and had a great regard for the Mongol tradition of kingship.

We find that in the Mongol tradition of Kingship, the position of the noble was very different from that of the Turkish theory of Kingship, in the sense that unlike Turkish nobles, a noble serving in the Mongol polity would be regarded as a free person having a legal claim to property. This means, that, the notion of banda-i dargah would not carry much force within the nobility. So institution of bureaucracy would be absent from a typically Mongol polity.

We find that under Humayun, there was no scope of considering a noble as banda-i dargah. In 1542 when Humayun had taken a small loan from one Mughal officer, he was very anxious that this be written off in the presence of two formal witnesses. The right of the noble to his property had religious sanctity. Or for that matter, we find that the Mughal nobles under Humayun continued to assert independence, a thing which was inconceivable during the subsequent period when the Chaghtai tradition underlining the privileges of nobles were tending to disappear from Mughal polity.

Just before Humayun marched to Punjab in 1553, nobles en mass defied orders to march to Kashmir, as according to them, it was not a practical proposition. Again, in 1551, when Humayun was defeated in the Battle of Kipchaq by Mirza Kamran, the nobles forced Humayun to take an oath that he would not act or take significant steps without obtaining the consent of the nobles. This was being done to ensure that the king would always act according to the wishes of the nobles.

Firishta observes that each one of the Turani noble serving under Akbar during the period of regency considered himself as important as the ancient Sassanid rulers Kaikaus and Kaiqubad: that is Turanis had the eye to assert independence and it was difficult to manage them as they were granted privileges by Chaghtai traditions in the Timurid state.

Then we find that in the course of the struggle that took place between Akbar and the dominant groups of his nobility who were mainly Turanis, between 1560-67 there came about a radical change in the composition of the nobility. At the same time a time a significant change took place in the general composition of the nobility as well.

There are two specific features of these changes as a result of this struggle of Akbar and his Turani nobles which continued for around four years:

One factor of change was that Irani nobles emerged at par with the Turanis in the higher echelons of the nobility.

Secondly, there entered into the nobility Indian elements, the Rajputs and the Indian Shaikhzadas in considerable strength which resulted in the decrease and retrogression in both Turani and Iranis in absolute numbers and absolute strength of the nobility.

This is borne out by an analysis of the list of the nobles who were serving the Empire during the period of eight years from 1567-75 (by putting together occasional lists in Akbarnama together) and then by singling out persons in higher echelons by ascertaining their mansabs held at the time.

Analysis of this list indicates that (a) there was considerable improvement in the position of the Irani nobles who came in the higher grades particularly at par with the Turani nobles; and (b) there emerged two entirely new groups, both of Indian origin: the Indian shaikhzadas and the Rajputs.

If previously in 1555 Turanis: 52.9 % and Iranis: 31.37 %. Now in 1567-75 the figures were:

Composition 1567-75

From this tabulation we see that the Iranis were getting higher promotions but there was no influx in their total strength, which in fact fell from 31.37 % to 27.27 %. The Indian shaikhzadas and the Rajputs, however, appear to maintain parity with each other. Akbar was thinking in terms of an Indian ruling group and not just about Rajputs as a counter weight against the foreign elements as a whole.

Then there is yet another shift in the situation. This shift is borne out by an analysis of the list of nobles from the period 1575 to 1595. The list of this period was again prepared by Iqtidar Alam Khan. He prepared it on the following manner: he takes Abul Fazl’s list in the Ain as the basis in which names of all nobles who served during this period are included. But this list as such is not a very faithful list for the study of the composition as it includes names of large number of those nobles was well who had either died or were eliminated from the nobility for some other reason before 1575. This list would become a good sample if we alienate all those names who had been removed from the ranks of nobility for one reason or the other before 1575. As Iqtidar is not sure how many were exactly excluded, he takes into account those who held the position of 1000 or above.

Composition 1575-95

Compare this now: the strength of the Turanis is further reduced in the Total list and in nobles of higher grades. In case of Iranis an interesting phenomenon is witnessed: Slight decline in total list again indicated here. The recruitment of Iranis is not seen keeping pace with others, particularly the Indian elements. In the higher grades, the strength of the Iranis undergoes a steep fall – as radical as the improvement witnessed in their position in the preceding period. It was in 1567-68 that the Iranis were promoted out of turn. But now there is a change in position. In case of the Indian elements, parity between the Indian Shaikhzadas and Rajputs in the higher position is strictly maintained. The Indian Shaikhzadas however almost double their strength. In the total numbers, however, the increase is there but not as radical as in the earlier phase. This indicates that the process of recruitment of Indian elements was growing, in the initial stages very rapidly, and continued even later.

Now let us look at the figures for 1580:

Composition 1580

In 1580 we find Iranis position affected. Along with the Turanis they were present in the rebellions and thus their position is low. It is however significant that the participation of the Indian elements in these revolts is very nominal and they continued to play the same role in 1580 as the Iranis in 1560-67.

According to Afzal Husain this trend continued up till the end of Akbar’s reign. There was a some fall in the total position of the Iranis, Turanis and the Rajput, although the later in fact rose in percentage. The only significant change was in a sharp decline in the numerical strength of the Indian Shaikhzadas.

Composition 1605

What kind of corresponding changes were occurring in the norms and principles governing the privileges of the nobles and their relationship with the king?

One basic fact and trend growing towards this time was the gradual erosion of the influence of the Mongol traditions in the Mughal polity due to the dwindling strength of the Turanis. As the Turanis were getting less and less, the influence of the Tura-i chaghtai was also getting less.

Let us mention one case to illustrate this point. It dates back to 1575. Badauni tells us that when the Chaghtai prince of Badakhshan, Mirza Sulaiman visited Akbar’s court, Akbar tried to revive many of the customs and court etiquettes prescribed by the tura that had gone into disuse. That such customs were being tried to be revived shows that the Chaghtai customs were declining. Badauni tells us that they remained in vogue only till Mirza Sulaiman was there and after he left, they disappeared like ‘naqsh bar āb’, painting over water.

Thus we see that the racial composition underwent a great change on account of political compulsion and measures adopted by Akbar to check the recalcitrant nobles. Akbr gave a fair degree of representation to not only Iranis but also to Indian elements to counter the old nobility. However, according to Afzal Husain, each group of nobles or more properly speaking – family groups – continued to enjoy a pre-eminent position as long as they remained loyal to the emperor. The temporary setback which these families experienced was usually the outcome of their own political conduct.

• Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi