Sovereignty Under Akbar: Inspirations and Innovative Ideas Dictating the concept of Mughal Kingship

Abul Fazl presenting Akbarnāma to the Emperor

We know that the dual influences of the Turkish and Mongol concepts of sovereignty were inscribed on the polity of the early Mughals, Babur and Humayun. Though contradictory to each other, the Turkish and Mongol theories had certain commonalities as well: both were universal and both were divine. And both the pre-Islamic concepts had been tempered by the new concepts of Islam! But the major difference between the two was marked by the fact that the Mongol sovereignty was divisive, while Turkish sovereignty was not: in the Turkish tradition even the sons of the king had no share. In the Chingizid tradition, as per the Yasa or Tura, all the divine sons enjoyed equal rights and had a legitimate share. Secondly in Turkish concept, the king as compared to the nobles was quite powerful: in fact the nobles were bandagān i Dargah, slave of the threshold, with no powers. Their property could be escheated. In Turā i Chaghtai, the nobles were at par with the khaqan, the king!

In pre-Mughal India the best example of prevalence of Turkish concept of Kingship was represented by Balban’s Theory of Kingship: he was the divine king, given the position by God, and next only to the Prophet. The nobles were the slaves who could not sit before him and had to perform prostration.

Babur being a Timurid, a Turk, was influenced by all this. Plus, he was also under the influence of the Mongol concept. Not only a large number of nobles were of Mongol origin, his mother too was a woman tracing ancestry from Chingiz.

But by the period of Akbar, if we believe Badauni, these concepts were generally fading, especially the Mongol traditions as far as court practices were concerned: they were like “nakhsha bar āb”, tracings over water! However Mongol influences like division of Empire, the primacy of various princes, continued: each son had equal right to the throne! Though noble were treated theoretically as bandagān. Now new concepts started exerting their influences, some of which were quite unique. We will see that now the king was not a “shadow of God”, zillallāh, but he was “light emanating from God”, farr i izadi. Shadow is darkness, thus negative; Light after all is opposite of darkness, thus positive.

On Akbar there were many influences: secular, religious, mystic, indigenous as well as foreign. Akbar’s theory had something or the other to attract and engulf all! It also had elements based on rationalism and scientific reasoning: thus appealing to all irrespective of their religious affiliation!

He was not a Khalifa, but some non-Muslims considered him avatar of Vishnu!

Let us see what concepts went into the making of the theory of Sovereignty under Akbar.

Social Contract

Abul Fazl in the Rawai-i Rozi in Ain-i Akbari put forward the well known theory of Social Contract to justify the sovereign’s Absolute claims over the individual subjects. The social contract was put forward as a justification for sovereignty. The way Abul Fazl puts it, one is reminded of Hobbes. He describes the contradiction of society before the emergence of the sovereign: there was complete instability and anarchy – no man was safe from another. Property, life, honour – nothing was safe. Indeed, property could not emerge, life was short and honour non-existent. In desperation men went to someone, who was able and strong and solicited him to protect them. For this the protector employed soldiers, for whose pay he needed resources. These were provided by the protected people. Out of this arrangement arose the sovereign, taxes and subjects.

Thus in his introduction, Abul Fazl pointed out that no dignity was higher in the eyes of God than royalty. Why? Because: ‘royalty is a remedy for the spirit of rebellion, and reason why people obey’.

Even the term pād in the pādshāh signifies stability and possession. ‘Shah’ on the other hand means origin, lord. A king is therefore, Abul Fazl argues, the origin of stability and possession. He goes on to argue:

“If royalty did not exist, the storm of strife would never subside, nor selfish ambitions disappear. Mankind, being under the burden of lawlessness and lust, would sink into the pit of destruction; the world, this great market place, would lose its prosperity, and the whole earth become a barren waste. But by the light of imperial justice, some follow with cheerfulness the road of obedience, whilst others abstain from violence through fear of punishment; and out of necessity make choice of th path of rectitude.”

Did this ‘contract’ place some limitations on sovereignty? No, says Abul Fazl. It is the moral duty of the subject to submit to the will of the sovereign in respect of his property as well as life. The Sovereign in fact protects the greatest thing of all – the subject’s honour! If in practice there are limitations on the share of subject’s property (i.e. taxes), it is the discretion of the King on grounds of compassion.

This whole theory was something unique: it simply meant that Akbar, as sovereign, theoretically would enjoy absolute powers till he ‘performs’ his part of the contract: the welfare of the people. The strength of this theory lay in its secular character: Akbar was the king, not because it was divinely ordained, or that he belonged to an illustrious lineage. He was no khalifa but a person ‘chosen’ to perform certain duties. If he did not, he could then, as per this theory have no claim to rule. This was but an attempt towards rationalism.

Religious & Mystical Ideas

But then this was not all. After exaltation of blue blood and resorting to rationalism, religious and  mystic philosophical elements were also resorted to. Certain mystical ideas and traditions were invoked to take forward Akbar’s theory of sovereignty.

We know that both the other two contemporary empires had based their sovereignty on religious authority. The Safavids had successfully utilized their past as religious leaders to base their authority on spiritualism: they declared themselves as the leaders of the Shi’ites and the successors of the Twelve Imams. The Ottomans on the other hand took up the mantle from the Abbasids and declared themselves as the Caliphs of the Sunni world.

Akbar’s position on the other hand was quite peculiar: He could not declare himself as the Caliph as that post was not vacant – it lay with the Ottomons. Even otherwise, he presided over an empire which did not comprise a population which would be effected or affected by this idea.

He thus on the one hand resorted to rationalism and the concept of social contract, on the other; he resorted to certain mystical ideas and traditions.

In Ain-i Rahnamuni (The Regulations on Guidance), Abul Fazl lauds Akbar as the insane-i kamil (Perfect Man). According to Badauni, this idea was derived from the pantheistic traditions of Ibn-i Arabi. According to Irfan Habib, however, this doctrine of Perfect Man was derived from Mahmud Pasikhwani, the early 15th Century originator of Wahidiya or Nuqtawiya sect. According to the Nuqtawis, great spiritual souls are born at particular periods of time.

Thus as a Perfect Man, born at a particular point of time in history, Akbar would enjoy absolute powers to shape the lives and destiny of men under him.

Now with this theory, the Sovereign, i.e., Akbar, enjoyed three distinct powers: powers derived as the legitimate successor of Timur and Chingiz, the power derived from the Social Contract between the ruler and the ruled; and now, thirdly, as an obvious ‘Perfect Man’ who was born once in a while to shape society.

The Millennium

Akbar was living at a time when the first millennium was ending and there were speculations that there was no prophecy for the period after that. The change of the millennium meant a change in everything. The Islamic history as known was coming to an end. There was thus much speculation what would come to pass in the new millennium. It was during this period that people talked about a new law and a new leader as per the new needs. There was a rise of new movements like that of Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi who came up with the title of mujaddid-alf sani the redeemer of the second millennium. There was also a growth of Mahdavi movement (eg Shaikh Mubarak). Akbar too minted new coin and started a new calendar and asked for a history of the millennium (Tarikh-i Alfi) to be compiled.

As a ‘protector’ of the society and as the Perfect Man, the Mughal Emperor (read Akbar) tried to regulate not only the marriages of his nobility but also their educational curriculum. Thus the syllabus was formulated by Akbar: he tried to include rational sciences like arithmetic, agriculture, household management, rules of governance, medicine etc in the educational curriculum. Along with it there was stress on reason (aql) which was to be given precedence over traditionalism (taqlid). This stress on rationalism and reason was something quite unique.

Irfan Habib points out that among the two most important functions which Abul Fazl assigns to a just king (kar giya), one is that such a sovereign “shall not seek popular acclaim through opposing reason (aql)”. If there was an attempt in the ain-i rahnamuni to define the relationship between the ruler and the ruled, the subjects, the ain-i rawai-i rozi (Regulations for the Provision of Livelihood) justified the necessity of political authority in the light of the theory of social contract.

In 1579 was added a new dimension: the position of imam-i adil and mujtahid, the arbiter and interpreter of Islamic law. This was something with which the theory of social contract cannot be fully reconciled. Shaikh Mubarak had often pleaded for a special position for th king within the juridical world of Islam. Thus in 1579 the mahzar was drafted by Shaikh Mubarak and a number of other ulema. Through this Akbar was tried to be elevated to the position from where he could interpret law and even legislate – a position enjoyed by great Muslim jurists like Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Shafi’i Imam Malik and Imam Hanbal. The door of ijtihad had since then been closed in the Sunni world by Ghazali. It was now sought to be opened for Akbar. With this position under his belt, there was no need for Akbar to be declared a Caliph. It was a sort of religious justification for his kingship.

Abul Fazl thus claimed that Sovereignty was in the nature of divine light (farr-i izadi) : it was not enough to be just the zill allah or zill-i ilahi (shadow of God). Faizi, in one of his rubaiyat (quatrains) says:

He (Akbar is a king whom on account of his wisdom, we call zu funūn (possessor of the sciences) and our guide on the path of religion. Although kings are the shadow of God (zil allah) on Earth, he is the emanation of God’s light (farr-i īzadi). How then can we call him a shadow?

This stress on Light (nūr) was derived from the Illuminationist (Ishrāqi) philosophy of Shihabuddin Suhrawardi Maqtul (d.1191). Shihabuddin is regarded, besides Ibn Arabi, as one of the most significant exponents of the movement which attempted to explain the Quran and the doctrine of Islam largely in esoteric and allegorical way. His philosophy is traced to Plato’s Republic, where God is presented under the symbol of the Sun without which nothing would exist. He held that ‘the source of all being and thought is…beyond essence, beyond the ideas themselves. To it, man should turn…with his entire soul’. To the Ishraqis the Sun is the symbol of God-derived spiritual light or the Light of Lights (nūr ul anwār), i.e., God, from which, by irradiation emanate the Anwār ul Qahira, the Great Lights.

Shihabuddin’s concluding words in the Partau Nama were to creat a great impression on Akbar’s court:

‘Whoever knows wisdom and is assiduous in praising and revering the Light of Lights (nūr ul anwār), they give him the khurra-i kiyani (Kingly Light) and bestow upon him the farr-i nurani ‘luminous ray’ and the barq-i Ilahi (the lightening-flashing (cloud) of God), clothing him in the robe of authority and status’.

 The ishrāqi (Eastern) School was an Iranian school of philosophy which regarded ‘Being and Knowledge as irradiations of the Pure Light which rises in the East’. All life, all ‘reality’ in the world, according to Suhrawardi, is light given existence by the constant blinding illumination of ‘light of lights’ (nūr ul anwār), i.e., God.

From the disapproving Badauni we learn that his emperor lent an open ear to such associations:

“…Brahmins collected  another set of one thousand and one names of  His Majesty the Sun,’ and told the emperor that he was an incarnation, like Ram, Krishna, and other infidel kings.”

 At Akbar’s court Light (nur) was often regarded as the greatest Divine Blessing – indeed a symbol of God. That is why Raushaniyyas (of Bayazid Ansari) are called Tārkiyyah(followers of Darkness). Since Sovereignty was a Divine Ray of Light, the sovereign, though himself not divine, was called upon to work as an Agent of God, and thus partook of the authority and burdens that were fashioned, as it were, ‘in the image of God’. Just as God’s favours (sunlight, rain etc) fell on all irrespective of religious beliefs, so too the sovereign could not discriminate, in dispensing favours, between the votaries of the different faiths. This became the doctrine for justifying the tolerant religious policy initiated by Akbar.

The concept of divinely illumined kingship could be associated  to both the Indian and Persian tradition, and such multicultural concepts held a special attraction for the Mughals in their attempt to legitimate themselves as padshahs of a highly diverse empire. Akbar  elaborated on  his father Humayun’s  associations with the sun, he appeared at sunrise like a traditional Indian king or a Hindu deity for  public viewing (darshan)  and his subjects prostrated themselves before him.

Being derived directly from God, sovereignty need not be restricted by association with any particular sect, or faith. Thus this was a theory of sovereignty which suited a multi-religious country like India. It was not a totally ‘secular’ concept in the modern sense of the term. For being God’s agent, there were certain spiritual obligations: promote certain religious beliefs, eg of God, his Light as His Symbol as well as in promotion of inter-sectarian peace, the sulh-i kul. However it was a theory which rested on two contradictory positions: the rationalistic theory of Social Contract and the other a non-rationalistic theory of divine origin.

Thus the theory of sovereignty of Akbar was based on Heredity, Rationalism as well as mystical and religious traditions. He had the power to rule as he was the successor to the imperial authorities of Chingiz and Timur, then as per a social contract, he was there as he could formulate civil order. And then, he was the possessor of a mystical power. He had esoteric knowledge and authority greater than the recognized interpreters of the Shariat (i.e., the mujtahid of the age). His knowledge and authority were greater than the most saintly sufi masters (pir) or of that of the most renowned of the charismatic saviours: the Mahdi. He was the mujtahid, the pir-o murshid as well as the imam-i adil. According to Abul Fazl, he possessed refulgent (shining very brightly) power which was the gift of the ‘World-Adorning Creator’.

Not only that, but his tolerant policy, which in the first place was because of the reasons discussed above, also a tool to extend his universal theory of kingship. In a letter to Shah Abbas, written in 1549, Akbar expresses that his own tolerant stance towards different religions and cultures gave him the right to rule on them:

‘As it has been our disposition from the beginning of our attaining discretion to this day not to pay attention to differences in religion and variety of manners and to regard the tribes of mankind as the servants of God, we have endeavoured to regulate mankind in general’.

Thus tolerance could also serve as an instrument of rulership.

Akbar associated himself not only with historical, mythical and spiritual kingship to strengthen his own authority as a ruler; he widened this frame of references and sought access to the contemporary family of rulers of the world. He states this explicitly in his letter of 1582 to Philip II whom he tried to win for an alliance against the Ottomans:

“..we are, with the whole power of our mind, earnestly striving to establish and strengthen the bonds of love, harmony and union among the population, but above all with the exalted tribe [ ta`ifa, here better “family”] of princes [sultans], who enjoy the noblest of distinctions in consequence of a greater (share of the) divine favour, and especially with that illustrious representative of dominion, recipient of divine illumination and propagator of the Christian religion…”

Akbar implied that he was superior to other rulers, like Philip II or Shah `Abbas, because they accepted only one religion and acted merely within one culture while he his tolerance gave him the moral authority to take care of all mankind and thus he was a true universal king.

Turco-Mongol Theories of Sovereignty and the Mughal Polity

When we talk of Timurid state, we talk of all those principalities of Central Asia and Khurasan from 1407, i.e., after the death of Timur down to Babur’s coming to Hindustan. After his death, Timur’s Empire had split into splinters. When Babur comes on the scene, there were three main Timurid states:

The principality of Farghana, ruled by Babur’s father Umar Shaikh Mirza.

The Principality of Samarqand ruled by Babur’s uncle. It was ruled by Miranshahi dynasty. Miran being the eldest son of Timur. It was in the region of Mawra un Nahr (Trans Oxiana). In the Persian tradition it was known as Turan.

The most powerful Timurid state was the territory of Khurasan (Herat) ruled by Mirza Husain Baiqara, the successor of Mirza Shahrukh, Timur’s second son. Khurasan was situated south of river Oxus. Oxus was the boundary of the Turkish & Persian speaking areas.

All these states have to be kept in mind when one talks of the Timurid State.

What was the Timurid Theory of kingship is one of the problems which have drawn the attention of the modern historians.

Rushbrooke Williams in his analysis has tried to explain Babur’s success over the Afghans in terms of the theory of kingship which he brought with him and which to Williams was “the very embodiment of Absolutism”. According to Williams this theory of Kingship was fortified greatly and conducive to the development and establishment of a highly centralized political structure which was so essential for holding together far-flung regions which the Mughals controlled in Hindustan. The Afghan theory, on the other hand, he says, tended to lead to fragmentation. And thus it was overcome.

R. P. Tripathi in his Some Aspects of Muslim Administration also wrote a separate chapter on the Turko-Mongol Theory of Kingship in which he fully endorsed the characterization of Rushbrooke Williams.

These two views give rise to a view that the position of the king was quite strong under Timurids due to the fact that both the Turkish & Mongol notions of kingship were present. King was strong vis-à-vis the nobles.

Let us examine this sweeping generalization by these two historians. A critique to these views is given by Iqtidar Alam Khan.

First of all let us examine the evidence. Within the Timurid theory, different traditions have a pull. And these pulls were often leading to contradictions within the theory and tension in the polity.

We know that in spite of claims of Mongol background, the Turkish Theory & tradition of kingship was heavily influencing the Timurid polity. In fact what we have in mind is actually a combination of Pre-Islamic Turkish notion of governance of state along with Islamic Sharia and a number of notions of governance of state that were developed in the various Turkish Sultanates that were established following the dis-integration of the Abbaside Caliphate. Some of these well-known Sultanates in West Asia & N. India were the Ghaznavides & the Ghurid empires in Ghazni & then in Hindustan; the Ottoman Empire in Anatolia; the Seljuq Empire in Palestine, Syria & N.Anatolia. In these empires the Turkish notions of Kingship as enforced by Islamic Shariat gradually developed. These traditions have been recorded in Treatises compiled in these states. We know about the Siyasatnama of Nizamul Mulk Tusi. There are a number of other similar works compiled anonymously in the Ottoman Empire which was entitled as Kanun Namelev. We also have Fatawa-i Jahandari of Barani. There were other minor works as well. The Siyasatnama was written in the Seljuq Empire. Kanun Namelev represented the experience of governance in the Ottoman Empire. The Fatawa rendered the experience of the Delhi Sultanate and the Gaznavide Empire if Zia Barani is to be believed.

If one examines the different rules & regulations prescribed in these texts, we find the concept of Kingship is that of Universal Sovereignty & the Divine sanction behind it – ‘farr-i izadi’ as Abu’l Fazl puts it. Kingship would rest with one person with no sharing of power.

Then we find the relationship between the King and the nobles defined by the concept of bandagan-i dargah (slave of the Threshold). In the Ottoman Turkish, the equivalent word for this was Kapu kulu Slaves of the Gate).

This concept is well defined in Tusi’s Siyasatnama as well: What is this concept?

It is that the relationship, legally speaking, between the ruler and the nobles would be that of the slave and the slave-master. This would mean that strictly in the legal sense, the nobles would have no right to property. They would hold it only with the permission of the Sultan – Even their title and position would be at the pleasure of the Sultan. Corollary of this was that the Sultan was the legal heir of any property of that the noble left behind. There was thus the escheat of property of the nobles in the Mughal Empire. Thus there was no hereditary nobility.

In fact this particular feature in W.Asia accentuated in a much more rigid form: there was a practice through which the Sultan used to realize his kharaj from the subject non-Muslim people in Anatolia partly through recruiting their children in the service of the state as slaves. Every year thousands of children made slaves were brought to colleges & then were made to rise to the position of high nobles in the state. 95 % of the nobility in Anatolia was thus originally Christian.

Let us now come to the evidence which indicates that the Turkish theory of kingship exercised its influence on the Timurid theory.

From the very beginning, Timur himself started assuming, quite occasionally, titles that were peculiar to Turkish rulers. He was not a direct descendant of Chingiz Khan and thus thought not prudent to assume the Mongol title of Khaqan. Babur states that Timur entitled himself as a ‘Mirza’ only as he rose from a low born. He didn’t have scruples, however, to use such Turkish titles as ‘Shah’ which he frequently used – ‘Shah-i Sahib Qiran’.

He also emphasised in his sayings and his court histories that his kingship was a Universal Kingship, i.e., the king should be accepted as a ruler of the entire universe. Thus in Yazdi’s Zafarnama it is written that “Since God is one, therefore the vice-regent of God on earth should be one.” That is, the Sultan is the shadow of God on earth (zillallah): all others must be under his thumb.

Then we have Babur’s statements which censor those Timurid rulers who practiced division of Empire and were sharing power and sovereignty with many persons. Thus Babur criticises Mirza Husain Baiqara for making an agreement with one of his powerful nobles: Muzaffar Barlas, that after he had succeeded in conquering a certain territory that he would divide it in a ratio of 6:2 – 6 going to Baiqara himself and 2 parts to Muzaffar Barlas. Babur says: ‘How could it be right to make even a faithful servant a co-partner in rule! Not even a younger brother or a son obtains such a pact; how should then a Beg?”

Later part of this statement goes against the Mongol tradition where sovereignty lies in all the family. It was due to this division of the Empire among Princes after the death of a khaqan. But in the Turkish tradition it was unacceptable. Babur is talking in the framework of the Turkish Tradition.

Then there is another piece of evidence which shows a similar tendency: In the account of 1508, Babur in Kabul says:

“Up to that date people had styled Timur Beg’s descendants, a Mirza, even when they were ruling, now I order that people should style me Padshah!”.

This passage has two implications:

1) That down to Babur’s time, because of the great pull of Mongol tradition, Timurids felt shy of using the sovereign title. Sovereignty belonged to the direct descendant of Chingiz Khan.

2) That Turkish tradition was being used and accepted increasingly within their own system.

Then we also have a number of evidences that Babur sanctions to give his image out as a Turk. He would go to the extent of denouncing Mongols as uncouth and despised.

In 1519, while leading an expedition at Ghiva he recorded that because these territories he is marching on were held by Turks, thus no plunder was to be made. They were his own.

In 1526 at Agra, he sent a message to the Afghan governor of Bayana in the form of a couplet which he himself had composed:

Ba turk sateza na kun, Chālaki-o mardangi-i turk ayān ast.

“Don’t fight against the Turks for The manliness of the Turks is well known!”

He thus distinguished his officers as Turks. All this indicates that the influence of the Turkish theory was increasingly on the Timurid state.


(i.e.) The impact of Mongol tradition as refined by the Shariat:


Firstly Where the Mongol tradition was not at clash with shariat, it was to be followed.

Secondly In the Timurid polity, the influence of the Mongol tradition was modified further by a situation where the state was controlled not by a person of direct descent from Chingiz. In Mongol tradition the sovereignty lay in the direct descendant of Chingiz Khan.

Let us briefly examine the Mongol tradition.

Like the Turkish theory, there was the concept of Universal Sovereignty, but with one difference: It was divisible.

This principle of division was derived from the Mongol myth that Chingiz Khan was born of an ancestor who in turn was the off-spring of the Sun-god. There is a story that a certain lady in ancient Mongolia, named Alanqua, wife of a chief named Dobun, became pregnant after a long time after his death. She gave birth to three sons: Buku Khatagi, Bukhatu Salji & Boduanchar. She claimed they were the sons of the sun-god. The divine-light had penetrated her and had impregnated her. It was a divine – immaculate conception. She had conceived through the agency of god & not through a man!

Thus, being conceived such; her sons had the natural right to rule over the entire universe – Chingiz was the direct descendant of Baduanchar & thus put his claim that his ancestor was the son of god himself. All those persons having their genealogy from the other two sons also had claim to Universal Kingship.

By the time of Chingiz, number of such persons had increased to a very large number. Any one of them could be elected to kingship. But according to the rules formulated by Chingiz Khan, known as tura-i Chaghtai [or tura-i chingizi / yasa-i chingizi], the claim lay in his family. After the death of the king, the entire empire was to be divided in his sons. The division of the empire after each one of the khaqan resulted in the fragmentation of the Mongol Empire. But it continued in the successor states, particularly the Timurids.

When Timur died in 1407, the empire was divided between his sons Miran Shah & Shahrukh Mirza. After Miran, it was divided between his sons. Babur inherited a very small territory in Ferghana. This principle continued even after the establishment of the Timurid rule for some time.

When Babur died, in practice, the territory was divided between Humayun and Mirza Kamran who had Kabul and Punjab territory. The only thing is that one them was supposed to be considered the overlord.

Even after Humayun, down to 1585, till Mirza Abdul Hakim was alive, he controlled Kabul as an autonomous ruler as Hindustan was controlled by Akbar.

In Turkish polity, this type of division was quite un-conceivable. Practice of putting to death all claimants by the succeeding monarch had become the rule. In some Qanun Namas under the Ottomans, it was a duty of the Sultan to put to death brothers & other royal members who could be claimants to the throne.

Then again, we find that in a typically Mongol polity, the position of the noble’s vis-à-vis the monarch was considerably strong as compared to the Turkish polity:

First, a Mongol noble was a free-born person and was fully entitled to possess property: In Turkish system he was just a slave.

Second, according to the Mongol Tradition, at the death of the khaqan, the Mongol overlord, the selection of a new sovereign would be made at an assembly of the nobles drawn from all over the empire (known as qureltai).

This selection was made from this large group who claimed direct descent from Chingiz Khan. Thus the say of the nobles would be greater in this tradition than that of the nobles in the Turkish tradition who had no choice or voice.

Amongst the nobles, there were numerous groups who had different claims to privileges, positions and office in the state, which were enshrined in the tura:

One would be the claim of descendants from one of the three sons of the sun-god.

Then there were certain nobles who were the descendants of some of Chingiz Khan’s followers and officers whom Chingiz had by his decrees assured a number of privileges, which as per the tura could not be disturbed: A noble could be put to death but he could not be deprived of his rights laid down in the tura-i chaghtai.

Thus the Mongol polity would be much stronger as compared to the nobility in the Turkish polity.

What kind of influence did the Mongol traditions exercise on Timur’s state?

Although Timur was a very despotic ruler and built his power on his own and did not owe it to anyone or any group, yet the very fact that the area in which he originally established his empire was a region of Mughal chiefs, made him very conscious of the fact that he should not give them any provocation but secure their loyalty and co-operation.

He very wisely decided not to assume the sovereign title at any time – Even if he used it, it was at a very low key.

Formally he installed at Samarqand a person, Sayurghatimish Khan, as the formal Khaqan, as he claimed to be a direct descendant of Chaghtai Khan S/Chingiz Khan.

Throughout Timur’s reign, all formal declarations and letters were addressed by him, and were written in the name & seal of Sayurghatimish.

Now let us come to the sources through which we get information of the Mongol traditions.

Regarding the early Mongol institutions, we have only one source: an anonymous history written by a person apparently in the service of Chingiz Khan. This was originally written in the Mongol dialect. It is now extinct. Now it is known to us through a Chinese version which was discovered during the 19th C. Since then, a number of English translations have been attempted; one of them was in this university by a Chinese scholar, Ku Kwer Sun, Secret History of the Mongol Dynasty.

Thus we come to know, that, after assuming power, Timur installed at Samarqand a person who claimed to be a descendant of Chingiz as Khaqan; and the orders which would be issued were in his name:

“By the order of Siyurghatimish, Amir Timur gurgan decrees…”

Gurgan means son-in-law.

Again under Timur, a myth was created or invented that Timur’s ancestor, Qachar Niyon – a mythical figure and ancestor of the entire Barlas tribe of Timur – was a brother of Chingiz Khan’s grandfather and that Chingiz Khan’s grandfather had made a compact with Qachar Niyon that while his own progeny would rule over Mongolia, the Central Asia would be ruled under Qachar Niyon’s progeny.

The thrust of this tradition is that the entire Barlas tribe was a descendant of at least one of the mythical sons of the sun-god. And thus Timur would also claim royalty to a certain extent. This was legitimising him by the tura-i chingizi while putting a direct descendant to the position of a khaqan!

It was an account of this polity that throughout 15th C, the Timurid Empire was regarded as darul harb, i.e., controlled by non-Muslims: In fact, Abdur Razzaq who was at Mirza Shahrukh’s court at Khurasan, says that Timur’s adversary Husain Sufi, the ruler of Khwarizm regarded Timur’s rule as  darul harb.

That is why we find that throughout Timurid History, down to Babur’s time, we come across evidences suggesting a state of tension within the Timurid polity on account of the contradictory pulls exercised by the Mongol & Turkish traditions. As the process of Islamization grew & progressed, there were simultaneous attempts of rejecting and then owning the Mongolian traditions.

In Timur’s own time, a copy of Tura-i Chaghtai was kept in the state treasury and used for reference.

If we are to believe the testimony of Muhammad Khan, the author of Tarikh-i Muhammadi, in 842 AH, i.e., first half of the 15th C, Mirza Shahrukh, Timur’s successor in Khurasan, had the only copy of the Tura in the treasury destroyed because he regarded it as an evil influence. He wanted to emancipate from the pagan tradition.

But then we find that Shahrukh’s successor, Ulugh Mirza, once again tried to revive the tura as a regulating code in the Timurid state. This evidence is borne out by Mirza Haidar Dughlat’s testimony in Tarikh-i Rashidi.

Dughlat says that Ulugh Mirza approached his grandfather, Amir Khudadad, with a request that he should help him to re-write the provisions of the Tura-i Chaghtai, the text of which had been destroyed. Amir Khudadad did not like this idea perhaps and thought it to be a pagan tradition. Ulugh Mirza then asked some old Mongols to re-write the text.

His successor, Abu Saeed Mirza, the grandfather of Babur, again retraced back. He expelled the so-called Khaqan. He told him explicitly that they were no longer to imagine themselves as the overlords of the Timurids.

Dughlat writes for Abu Saeed:

“Old order of things has been changed. You must now lay aside all your pretentions.”

That is to say, the mandates will be issued in the name of the dynasty of Timur because I am Padshah in my own right!

All this shows a constant state of tension caused by the Turkish & Mongol traditions. But it is significant that despite attempts made by the Timurids to abolish and reject the tura, it continued to exercise strong pull within the Timurid state down to Babur’s time.

Babur writes at one place, describing the proceedings of a meeting at Heart:

“Our forefathers through a long pace of time have respected the Chingizi tura, doing nothing opposed to it whether in assembly or court, in sittings down or risings up. Though it has no divine authority, so that a man obeys it of necessity, still a good rule of conduct must be obeyed by whomsoever there are left; just in the same way that, if a forefather have done ill, his ill must be changed for good.”

This shows that (a) the tura is a regulating code; & (b) Babur is slightly apologetic in accepting it saying it has no divine sanction. The tension is manifesting in Babur’s own mind: He accepts the tura because he considers it a good code.

We find a few puzzling passages in the Baburnama where Mongols are described as treacherous & uncouth. He demarcates himself as a Turk. At other places Babur goes out of his way on emphasising his link with Chingiz.

Babur’s mother was a sister of Yunus Khan, a descendant of Sayurghatimish Khan. He is displeased when not much respect & hospitality is shown to him at Kashgar saying ‘Am I not a grandson of the Khan of Kashgar?’

Another very significant piece of evidence is that when Babur is talking of Turks & Mongols, he is not having in mind a racial category. Those people, whom he calls Turk, are also Mughals. What he means is that these are the people who have adopted Turkish traditions as against those Mughals who are still aloof from Shariat.

At one place of the early account, he says that “Andijanis are all Turks, not a man or town or bazaar speaks but Turkish”.

At another place he identifies Qasim Beg Quchin as one of “ancient army begs of Andijan”. Quchins are thus shown as Turks.

But according to Mirza Haider Dughlat, Quchins were one of the 3 main sections or classes of the Mongol society:

1. The Quchins: who were of fighting profession

2. The Aimaqs: agriculturists & land holders

3. The Jusrists: the people who studied law & practiced it.

Thus Qasim Beg Quchin was a Mughal migrant to Andijan speaking Turkish language. Thus different from those speaking Mongol dialects.

Thus the distinction is not racial but cultural.

Let us now come to some other evidences:

On the eve of the Battle of Ushtargram in 1551, there were negotiations between Humayun and Kamran. One proposal was that Akbar, hardly 9 – 8 yrs old, should be married to one of Kamran’s daughters & both be made joint Kings – as Mirza Baiqara’s sons in Khurasan – and be put up at Kabul. Humayun & Kamran then proceeded on to Hindustan. Thus Kingship could be shared by two persons. This shows the influence of  tura-i Chaghtai.

Again, Abdu’l Qadir Badauni says that in 1575, on the occasion of Mirza Sulaiman’s [Mughal ruler of Badakhshan] visit to Akbar’s court, Akbar had made an attempt to revise the court practices & ettiquittes prescribed in tura-i chaghtai. But this was not successful.

Author of Risala-i Asad Beg informs us that when there was going on a controversy among Akbar’s nobles in 1605 over the question of who should succeed to the throne – Salim or his son Khusrau – the whole debate was pinched by Saeed Khan Chaghta who referred to the tura & said that it was not permissible for a person to come to the throne in the presence of his father. It would be against the tura-i chaghtai.

• Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi

India on the Eve of Babur’s Invasion: The Communal Interpretation

Apart from what has been written by Babur himself on the conditions of Hindustan in his Baburnama, there is a communal interpretation which has been forwarded according to which Babur was a Muslim conqueror who came to India to defeat the infidel faiths and establish Islam. Secondly that India too was divided on the basis of religion and that, had Babur not come, Hinduism would have triumphed and the Muslim Sultans and Sultanates would have been replaced by Hindu kingdoms.

This was first articulated by Rushbrooke Williams who wrote the first detailed biography of Babur in English. According to his thesis there existed conflict between Hindu and Muslim states and that had Babur not intervened, there was every likelihood of Rana Sanga to establish Hindu Supremacy.

Let us examine this thesis. How far does our evidence support it?

The evidence, which perhaps Williams kept in mind while formulating his views are of two kinds:

First,those which have  been derived from Baburnama, mainly from the  Fathnama of Kanwa composed by Shaikh Zain Khawafi

Second those Evidences derived from Mirat-i Sikandari, the account of Muzaffar Shah II and the invasion of Malwa in 1515

Babur had at one place referred that Hindustan was divided into a number of states, 5 Muslim: i.e., Kingdom of Bengal (Lodis), Gujarat, Malwa, Bahmani and the Kingdom of the Deccan. Then there were two kafir states, viz. Mewar and Vijayanagar. Rushbrooke Williams takes cue from here.

Then Babur’s description of the Sisodias under Rana Sangram Singh is yet another piece of evidence taken by Rushbrooke to hold that the Sisodias under Rana Sanga were capable of annexing territory of neighbouring Muslim powers. Babur says that Sanga had succeeded in conquering strongholds in Malwa – Ranthambhore, Saranpur, Bhilsa & Chanderi.

Shaikh Zain in his Fathnama mentions 10 pagan chiefs, each a leader of pagans who had rallied around Rana Sanga. At another place, Zain mentions that just before Kanwa, Rana Sanga had succeeded in over-running 200 cities inhabited by people of faith and that he oppressed the Muslims.

Other kind of evidence is Mirat-i Sikandari. Here are statements which the author makes in the context of Muzaffar Shah II’s invasion of Malwa in 1515. Muzaffar had invaded to suppress Medni Rai. The ruler of Malwa had fled to Gujarat. In this context the author of Mirat says this was a Hindu revolt and Muzaffar invaded to put down the kafirs.

At another place he says that Medni Rai was getting support from Rana Sanga (who wanted to annex Malwa).

Let us examine the other side of the picture.

Evidence of a different nature is not lacking but has been completely ignored by Rushbrooke Williams. Much of this kind of evidence can be derived from some passages of Baburnama and Mirat-i Sikandari itself.

For example, the passage in which Babur talks of Muslim & non-Muslim states in Hindustan: he at no place place hints that these were arraigned against each other or fighting over religious differences.

Then, in the passage testifying expansion of Sisodias towards Malwa, Babur says that thre existed a large number of rais & rajas in Hindustan who can be divided into two groups: (a) those obedient to Islam & allied to Muslim states, & (b) those independent of any affiliation.

Thus the same passage admits fact of existence of smaller chieftains allied to Muslim states. Thus there was no clear-cut Hindu-Muslim difference!

Then, in the list of the 10 kafir chiefs who rallied around Rana Sanga in 1527, Sh.Zain also includes Hasan Khan Mewati, who commanded 10,000 Muslim troops & Sultan Mahmud Lodi, again with 10,000 Afghan troops in the same battle. So how can Kanwa be labelled as a Battle of Islam & Kufr?

Before the battle, the Rana had formally arranged the proclaimation & accession of Sultan Mahmud Lodi as the Sultan of the Delhi Sultanate at Mewar. Coins were also struch at Mewar to this effect. One gold coin proclaiming Mahmud as ‘Sultan of the Lodi Empire’ at Mewar has also survived. This has also been mentioned by Babur. Rana Sanga, thus it seems, had no design or desire to establish himself as the Supreme ruler: He was ready to accept the Delhi Sultanate by the Afghans under Mahmud Lodi, while he controlled Mewar and parts of Malwa which he had capture in 1514.

Then, the author of Mirat-i Sikandari, in the same passage where he describes the attempts of Muzaffar Shah II in 1514 to re-establish Islam & destroy Hindu chiefs, includes a list of Malwa chiefs killed in the battle. This list includes names of both Muslim & Afghans side by side with the names of Hindus. Thus he mentions Fateh Khan & Malle Khan.

Thus on both sides the Muslims were fighting & they still constituted a sizeable chunk of nobles & ordinary soldiers!

Lastly, one interesting evidence: Risqullah Mushtaqi in Waqi’at-i Mushtaqi makes a statement regarding Rana Sanga’s move to oppose & challenge Babur. He says it was Hasan Khan Mewati who persuaded the Rana to take up arms against Babur. We may conclude that it was on Hasan Khan’s initiative that the “confederacy of the kafir chiefs” was established.

The impression that the conflict or political tussle in Hindustan on the eve of Babur’s invasion was a religious issue is not supported by our evidences. The specific evidence does not correspond with the general statements made in this regard quoted by Rushbrooke Williams.

It seems that so far as Rana Sanga was concerned, he had no imperial pretensions: He had neither the capacity nor the will to establish himself as a Ruler of India.

In 1514 the Rana had invaded Malwa. During this period he occupied the frontier-outposts like Ranthambore. He had also captured Mandu, the capital of Malwa & the Khalji king had been taken prisoner. This was a golden opportunity to annex the territory. But he carried the Khalji King to Chitor as prisoner, had him treated & then allowed him to return back to Mandu & be re-established as the King. The only precaution taken by Rana Sanga was to persuade him to maintain friendly relations with Mewar in future. This indicates, of course, Mewar’s interest in frontier strongholds to ensure the secure territory of Mewar – but beyond this the Sisodias were not interested.

The only state having this capability was the kingdom of Gujarat. The tussle was only on frontier adjustments.

• Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi

India on the Eve of Babur’s Invasion: The Weaknesses of the Lodi Empire

The Lodi Empire was an Afghan Empire. The majority of the officers and nobles were from the Afghan regions. The Afghan identity gave it an advantage as there existed a large number of Afghan populations in N. India as a result of the continuous process of migration throughout the Sultanate period. By Tughluq period two Afghan rebellions against Mohd Tughluq had occurred. Then in 1441 Bahlul captured power with large Afghan following. He made a direct to Afghan tribal sentiments. The text of Bahlul’s announcements and farmans have been quoted by Abbas Khan and other Afghan history, the Tarikh-i Khan Jahani. Mushtaqi also wrote that he made an appeal to the Afghan tribals.

    To quote Abbas Khan: ‘God in his goodness has granted kingdom of Delhi to Afghans….whatever be conquered shall be shared with us’.

Thus RP Tripathi calls it the Afghan Confederacy. But then, not withstanding the Declaration, not all Afghans were given a share in the empire. Distribution was made between the favoured and the privileged on the one hand and those not important to be given position. For example, nobles under Bahlul and Sikandar Lodi were recruited from the clans of Lodis, Sarwanis, Lohanis and Farmulis (the Shakhzadas of Ghazni). The others were ignored and totally excluded. For example the Niazis, who were supposed to be the uncouth people and not fully fit even for the army. Similarly ignored were the Surs and the Kakkars etc.

Thus one can say that the Lodi Empire, which Babur replaced, was not an empire with Afghans having equal share.

Let us also be clear that from the very beginning, in the Lodi Empire the non-Afghan section was given a considerable share. Thus it was not exclusively an Afghan concern. The Indian Shaikhzadas were recruited in large numbers in the nobility. Thus for example, Shaikh Ghuran of Koil, the Syeds of Amroha, the Shaikhzadas recruited from the Gangetic plain and the Punjab. Then there were also incorporated a large number of Rajputs under Sikandar Lodi.

So by Sikandar’s time, the Lodi nobility was divided into two groups, the Privileged Afghan clan groups; and People of Non-Afghan origin, some of whom were non-Muslim and Rajput chieftains. This made the social base of the Lodi state very wide, in fact much wider than the early Mughals.

There was a large Afghan population. It has been roughly estimated in the range of 80 lakh families, i.e., 4 crore Afghans. Afzal-ut Tawarikh gives this number to explain Humayun’s defeat at the hands of Sher Shah. In addition to this, a very large section of Hindu chiefs were given a share in the Empire. The Lodis could rally the population paying allegiances to these groups.

This is reflected in the hymns of Guru Granth Sahib (tr. Macaulay in Sikh Religion vol.I) which suggests that the overthrow of the Lodis was a loss to the people. But in spite of the large social base behind them, the Lodis were not able to throw back the Mughal challenge. This can be explained if we keep in mind the contradictions in the Lodi state between the Lodi aspirations and centralization on the one hand and the decentralization of aspirations of the Afghan nobility. The history of the struggle between the two date back to the period of Sikandar Lodi. He gave up many of the policies and measures of Ibrahim Lodi pacifying nobles of equal position. This was altered and resulted in wide-spread discontent. Sikandar had no alternative but to depend on the section comprising the non-Afghan nobility in order to deal with the dis-satisfied Afghan nobles. The kind of autonomy which the Afghan nobles enjoyed till that time, and sought to be curbed by Sikandar Lodi, can be gauged by going through Abbas Khan Sarwani’s section on Sher Shah’s early career and his description of Sher Shah’s administration of his father’s jagir at Sahsaram.

Now what impression does this account of Abbas Khan create as far as the position of the Afghan noble’s are concerned?

First. That the nobles were free to decide the mode of assessment and mode of collection from their iqtas: ghallabakhshi or measurement. This indicates that there was no policy laid out by the centre. This is a situation of autonomy.

Secondly Any extra collection from the iqta or the assignment was pocketed by the noble himself. This was a laxity of the administration. In strong administration, this had to be deposited with the state. But this was not being done so during the reign of Sikandar. Sher Shah talks of ‘extra revenue’ being a boon to his iqta.

Third. The noble’s were free to wage a war against local chiefs. They had assumed authority to create jagirs and zamindars to uproot established chief. The job of creation of new zamindars was never allowed or given to a noble, before or after this reign.

Fourth. Afghan nobles in some cases were holding iqtas practically (not in theory) on hereditary basis. When Hasan Khan Sur died, a tussle arose in which Sher Khan won over his brother to hold over his iqta.  

Fifth. The principle of transfer of iqta followed under the Khanljis was conspicuous by its absence at this time.

During the reigns of Sikandar and Ibrahim Lodi revolts became more accentuated. For eg. Daulat Khan Lodi who controlled Punjab revolted and invited Babur to come to Hindustan. Alauddin Khan Lodi also turned against Ibrahim. The revolt of the Farmuli nobles was also a result of this situation.

The contradiction between the king and the nobles further accentuated and differences sharpened due to yet another factor. This was the shortage of precious metals which eventually resulted in the minting of smaller number of silver and gold coins during the Lodi period. This is borne out by the surviving collection of the silver and gold coins of this country. The surviving coins from the pre-Lodi period as well as those from the Mughal and Sur period is quite large. The surviving gold and silver coins of the contemporary states are also considerable. Their number is quite large indeed. This for the first time is noticed by John F.Richards, ‘Economic History of Lodi period’, JESHO, Aug’65

This paucity would naturally affect the position of the nobles. Further on account of slowing down of the pace of the money economy, resulting from the absence of silver and gold currency would promote the custom of collecting revenues in kind and not in cash. Naturally this would lead to paucity of money to raise troops. Absence of ready cash would also affect the ostentatious pretences.

Most probably the shortage of precious metals was due to short supply due to coming in existence of independent states on the coast. Lodi Empire had become land-locked, says Moreland. Edward Thomas, ‘Economy of Pathan Kings’, says this short supply was a result of Timur’s plunder of 1498. Richards has however pointed out that if this was the result of land-locked nation, then why the other land-locked states not experienced the same shortage? In case of Kashmir or Mewar or Malwa, we don’t observe this phenomenon. Richards also points out that Timur’s plunder is also not a good explanation. His explanation is that Bahlul paid lip-service to the nobles as the brothers wanted to curb their independence and power by withdrawing gold and silver currency deliberately.

Whatever the cause, the nobles were hurt due to this. During Ibrahim’s reign this situation became almost unbearable for the nobles. Under Ibrahim, for several consecutive years, there were very good rains, and thus bumper crops. This resulted in a sharp fall in the prices of food grains and especially influenced the general price index. Side by side to this, before Ibrahim Lodi, there was the introduction of a new coin. Bahlul had introduced this coin which came to be known as the Bahluli Tanka. This was different from the tanka of the Sultanate period. It was of copper (tanka-i siyah) and had a ratio of 1:20 with earlier coins. Thus this was a debased tanka and this was a further catastrophe. The result was that the peasants were not in a position to make payments or submit revenue to the nobles in cash or in the new copper tanka. And whatever revenue was collected in kind was almost entirely valueless as there was no market for it. Thus the income of the nobles was further adversely affected by this. Thus we encounter widespread revolts during Ibrahim’s reign. Thus the fiscal policy was partly responsible for the extinction of the Lodis.

• Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi

Rise of Large Zamindaris on the Eve of Babur’s Invasion

India on the Eve of Babur’s Invasion

India on the eve of Babur’s invasion provided a peculiar scene on its political as well as social levels. It was a theatre of chaos. There was a scene of divisions, tensions and frustrated ambition. It appeared as if politically the country was in decline. Every one had plans for enlargement to some extent which was wrecked by the conspiratorial circumstances. The beginning of the 16th C in India was one of the transitional phases of its extended history. Let us first deal with the political conditions and in order to do so scrutinize the hypotheses propounded by Rushbrooke Williams.

Rise of Large Rajput Zamindaris:

Apart from the coming of the Portuguese in the Indian Waters and its consequences, which we would be dealing subsequently, an important development which took place just on the eve of Babur’s invasion was the rise of large Rajput zamindars within the areas controlled by the Delhi Sultanate as well as by other regional states. This was important from two angles:

For the first time we find a situation in which different clan holding zamindars in different places came to identify themselves as belonging to the same caste, viz. the Rajputs.

Secondly As compared to the earlier situation which existed in the 13th & 14th C., the zamindars that had existed in the heartland of the Delhi Sultanate and the heartland of other states like Malwa, Gujarat and other states in the Deccan were comparatively creating bigger units and zamindaris.

If one reads the sources of Delhi Sultanate, one comes to references to local chiefs and zamindars. But one notes a significant difference in the sources of Sultanate period and those of the 15th C. From 15th Century onwards, we find all the local chiefs and zamindars mentioned as Rajputs. But in the earlier period, they are referred to as individual kshatriya clans: eg. Katihar chiefs, Chauhans, Khos, Bundelas, etc.

In the sources of the 13th & 14th C. it is nowhere mentioned or indicated that they together formed a caste – the caste of Rajputs. In some modern works, the misconception is reflected that non-Muslim chiefs of the 13th C. were Rajputs. Inscriptions from Rajasthan, in Rajasthani and Persian, do not make any reference to these groups as being Rajput or there being a bigger unit called Rajput. It was only from the 15th & 16th C. that one finds so. This important development had very important consequences.

This point is established by Prof. Irfan Habib in his article “Social Distribution of Landed Property”, pub. In Enquiry in 1965 (pp.54-56 & 67-69) where one comes across data to establish the point that Rajputs as a zamindar caste emerged in the 15th & 16th C. and were not there in the 13th & 14th C. This emergence of the Rajput caste during this time was a result of different processes: Sometimes by gradual absorption of aboriginal groups having land into groups. As an example we know that the Gond rulers of Chauragarh (Chhattisgarh area) were not regarded by other chiefs as Rajput caste down to the 15th C. One ruler of this dynasty made a proposal of marriage to Durgavati, the daughter of the Mahoba ruler. This proposal was put down on the ground that the Chauragarh rulers were not Rajputs! Ultimately Durgavati was taken by force. From that time onwards, these Gonds came to be regarded as new clan of Rajputs: the Nagvanshi Rajputs. Thus we see the rise of a new clan.

Similarly we have the case of the Cooch ruler of Cooch Bihar in North Bengal. They belonged to the Cooch tribe, which was a sub-tribe of the Ahom race, who were not a part of the varna system till now. As a process of Sanskritization, they were also absorbed. They started claiming for themselves the status of Kshatriyas and also part of the larger Rajput caste. This legitimization was again brought out through a myth: i.e., the Purohit of one ruler of Cooch Bihar in the 16th C. had a dream. In the dream he met Goddess Bhawani who informed him that the ruler was a Kshatriya and a thakur. Thus they were taken to be Rajputs and were incorporated in this group as such. According to Abul Fazl, the territory of Cooch Bihar was 200 kuroh in length and 20 to 30 kurohs in breadth.

Then there was another way in which this came to happen. Displacement of earlier groups who refused to be incorporated as Rajputs by those incorporated as Rajputs. Defeat those who refused and establish themselves. An example can be given of Ujjainiya Zamindars, now represented in the Shahabad district of Bihar. The Cheros of this region were overthrown by the Ujjainiya Rajputs. They were the people migrated from Ujjain. What was their actual clan group is not certain: sometimes they are supposed to be the Panwars. They overthrew the aboriginal Cheros who refused to be absorbed in the Rajput caste.

The Afghan chiefs also helped in this replacement process. Sher Shah also contributed to this. When Abbas Khan Sarwani talks of abolition of zamandars by zamindars, he is speaking of the Cheros.

Similarly the Meenas were evicted from Amber region and replaced by the Kachhawahas.

As a result of this process, in the whole of the Gangetic plain and region constituting the heartland of Malwa and Gujarat were established large zamindaris controlled by groups claiming to be belonging to a large unit, the Rajput caste. The only exception was Bengal, where the zamindaris emerging were of the Kayastha class and not the kshatriyas.

The fact that these zamindaris, comparatively speaking, were larger units is important. In the sources of the Delhi Sultanate reference to zamindars tends to indicate two kind of local chiefs and zamindars.

Barani speaks of rais, ranas and rawatas. It is obvious that they were autonomous chiefs located on the periphery of the area controlled by the Turks. But then, side by side he also refers to Chaudhuries, khuts and muqaddams. It is obvious these were zamindars located within the concentrated territory controlled by the Turks all over. Chaudhuries it seems were bigger zamindars and intermediaries with 100 or more villages. Muqaddams were village level chiefs. These chiefs and zamindars were small and village level officials. Chaudhuries were bigger but were small units as compared to the rais. They were not in a position to resist or defy imperial authority on their own. So the rebellion in the Gangetic plain of these petty chiefs was possible only when famines or great pressure occurred; or they received help from one or the other section of the Turkish nobility like the revolt of Malik Chhajju. They could not rebel on their own strength.

But in the 16th C. this situation had been altered. With territories controlled, there emerged large zamindari units not located on periphery but in the heartland of the imperial territory. We have Bachgoti zamindars who held sway over a large tract in Awadh. By the beginning of the 16th C. they were so strong that they succeeded in overthrowing the Lodi administration over a large area. And this is borne out by an interesting reference in Lataif-i Quddusi, a collection of anecdotes and sayings of Shaikh Abdul Quddus Gangohi who was forced to migrate from Rudauli in Barabanki District to Shahabad sometime in 1491-92. The Bachgotis had overthrown Lodis in this region and established practices repugnant to Shariat. Thus the saint had migrated to Shahabad in Haryana.

Thus we can say that this period saw two important developments: (1) emergence of larger zamindar class: the Rajput class; (2) these zamindaris were now comparatively big units by the end of 15th C.

The second point can be further stressed by the example of the Bhadorias. According to Abul Fazl, the Bhadorias controlled areas in the vicinity of Agra itself. In the vicinity of Agra according to Abul Fazl, there is no one as powerful as the Bhadorias. Mainpuri and Etah districts were under the Bhadorias.

While dealing with the Rajput policy, Arif Qandhari writes in Tarikh-i Akbari, that there are 2 or 3 hundred zamindar chiefs. Their suppression is very difficult as they possess strong forts. If they are able to hold on to each one of these forts, say for six months, or one year, they can be contented about their safety for the next two hundred years.

Thus as the Rajput zamindars were very strong, Akbar had to enter into matrimonial alliance. If force was used, 2 or 3 hundred years would have been needed to subdue them.

Then there was another complication. As all belonged to the same caste, there was much more degree of solidarity with each other as compared to the earlier situation.

This is borne out by the example of Medni Rai of Chanderi who had entered service of the Khalji ruler of Malwa. He first tried to gain power in Malwa by mobilizing the Afghans and the Rajputs behind him. He sought the intervention of the Sisodias of Mewar in his favour. In 1419 as a result of a coup de tat the Khalji ruler had to flee and could be brought back by the Gujarat ruler.

Medni Rai wrote to the Rana Sanga, that being the chief of the Rajputs, he should help him. Thus this caste solidarity compelled them to work together. Then in 1529, Rana Sanga mobilized a large number of Rajputs under him. Shaikh Zain says 10 kafir chiefs had been employed by Rana Sanga to throw out the Islamic rule.

Mewatis, from south of Delhi down to Amber was under Hasan Khan Mewati, who was a Muslim and not a Rajput. The Mewatis were non-Muslims in the 13th C. and were converted in the 14th C. The Bhatti clans in Punjab and the Ghakkars were also Muslims who identified themselves with the Rajputs.

Babur had to tackle this Rajput-Zamindar factor. Akbar’s Rajput policy should not be taken as a result of his religious policy. Mughals were not in a position to control Hindustan without the Rajput help. It had nothing to do with religion. From Sikandar Lodi’s time, evidences suggest that a large number of Rajputs had been enrolled and given positions. (See IH Siddiqui, ‘Composition of nobility under Lodi Sultans’, Miscellany)

• Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi

The Sur Administration

Extent of the Sur Empire

The most conspicuous feature of the Sur administration was its highly centralized nature despite a large participation of numerous Afghan groups. It was a highly centralized political system. If we examine the working of this system, we can discern significant features which go to establish that this system had a high degree of centralization from the very beginning, and it went of increasing.

We find that Sher Shah and Islam Shah, in their policy of recruiting nobles, tried to undermine the position of the privileged groups of the Afghan chiefs, which naturally resulted in the coming into existence of a new kind of nobility which did not have the same kind of high claims. And as they were the creation of Sher Shah or Islam Shah, they were loyal to them.

Secondly we find that both Sher Shah and Islam Shah were very particular in enforcing a high degree of discipline amongst these nobles – thus we have the transfer of iqtas, introduction of dagh wa chehra regulation or the measure of putting the entire nobility on cash payment under Islam Shah.

Thirdly there was also a close supervision by the king of the working of the central government – a sharp contrast with the Mughal central government, where various officers were responsible for various departments; and the wakil us saltanat, the intermediary between the king and the nobles, ran the central government on behalf of the king. Sher Shah on the other hand, personally supervised the working of each and every department. He did not leave it in the hands of independent officers.

Fourthly, we have a peculiar kind of local administration which was sought to be created at the pargana and sarkar level. The degree of the supervision of the central government personally under the king is unique.

Fifthly, there was also the creation of a large standing army. In Sher Shah’s case, one finds that this standing army was in fact deployed all over the empire in such strength that it could be used against the defiant nobles whenever anyone of them should try to go against the central government.

Lastly, a new pattern of revenue administration was introduced in which was the introduction of the zabti system – a system providing the mode of assessment and realization of revenues was on the basis of area under cultivation.


So far as the composition of the Sur nobility was concerned, it is a false notion that the Lodi Empire was an Afghan concern in the sense that in this Empire all the Afghan people had an equal share. This negative assessment is important because some of the statements that are attributed by the Afghan historians to Bahlol Lodi do go to create the impression that at the time of its establishment, the Lodi empire was conceived by its founder as a state in which the power would rest – perhaps sovereignty as well – in the entire Afghan group. The author of Waqiat-i Mushtaqi says that Bahlol sent a message to nobles that we have established in India and Afghan rule, and share with me this empire. Thus an impression is created that it was a common concern of Afghan people.

But when we scrutinize the list of nobles of the Lodi empire, it emerges that only a few of the Afghan Khails were singled out for recruitment: the rest did not have any share in the nobility. At best they supplied personnel for recruitment as ordinary troopers.

Similarly under the Surs, the nobility comprised of a large number of minor Afghan clans, who did not get much share in power and privileges in the Lodi empire.

This situation was the result of a number of circumstances: One circumstance for the rise of only minor clans in the nobility was the rivalry and clash which developed between minor Afghan officers led by Sher Khan and some of the Lodi nobles who had come to Bihar after the defeat at the hands of the Mughals. In fact the rise of Sher Khan was a result of this struggle. He out-manouvred the Nauhanis, and such prominents groups as those led by Shaikh Bibban and Farmuli. Thus he would not be in a position to recruit in service nobles belonging to these clans.

Thus in his nobility there were basically two groups: (a) the majority belonging to minor clans, and (b) the khasa khails, i.e., those who were independent of clan ties and had a personal loyalty towards him. Thus the term ‘The Royal Clan’. Amongst them were the three sons of his personal slave Sukha: Khawas Khan senior, Sahib Khan and Khawas Khan Jnr. They were thus people of obscure origin who had been given highest positions. Then there were others: Shuja’at Khan Sur, Sarmast Khan Sarbini, Haibat Khan Niazi [about Niazis Waqiat-i Mushtaqi comments that they were not good enough even as ordinary troopers and were looked down upon as just menials!] Haibat Khan was even  given the title of Azam Humayun and the charge of whole Punjab. The Niazis also controlled Malwa.

In addition, after 1553 Sher Shah had also taken some Lodis in service after their complete defeat: Amongst them was Isa Khan Sarwani, the ancestor of Abbas Khan Sarwani, the author of Tuhfa-i Shershahi. They were given minor appointments with the exception of Isa Khan who was made incharge of sarkar Sambhal.

When Islam Shah came to power, he made further changes in the composition of the nobility: he attempted to do away with the Khasa Khails whom he suspected of treacherous designs against his person. This bitternes was due to the fact that some of them had taken part in the tussle for succession and had sided with Adil Shah. Thus after coming to the throne, Islam Shah promoted enblock 6000 persons from his own contingents to positions of nobility. This information comes to us from Risqullah Mushtaqi. He says that this disturbed the old arrangement and displeased the nobles of Shershah. The Niazis were totally eliminated and ordinary troopers of his own khasa khail were promoted. Result was that the strength of non-Afghan section was augmented. Certain non-Muslim personnel was also appointed. One such person was Hemu who had held the small post of shahna-i bazaar under Shershah.

Measures to Control Nobility

Under Shershah, strict discipline had been imposed on his nobility: he saw to it that they did not enjoy uninhibited powers which they exercised under the Lodis. Their freedom was limited by sending periodic written instructions to them which gave detailed advice how they should run their administration or meet problems arising from time to time. This practice seems to have been carried on by Islam Shah as well. This is actually borne out by Badauni as well:

“Also the amirs of 5000, 10,000, and 20,000 used every Friday to pitch a lofty tent supported by 8 poles and bring the shoes of Salim Shah together with a quiver (tarkash) which he had given to the sardars, in front of the throne; and first of all commanders of the troops and after him the munsif, that is to say amin followed by others in due precedence with bowed heads and every expression of respect, would take their seats in their appointed palces, then a secretary would come and read out aloud that order, chapter and verse, which occupied 80 sheets of paper more or less. Any question which presented them any difficulty was referred by them in the conclave to the various provisions and rulings of that document, by which it was finally decided and if it should wo happen that any amin acted in contravention of that order, the secretary used to write a report of that action and despatched it to the sourt and the disobedient amin would forthwith be visited with punishment together with his family and his relations.”

Badauni writes from personal experience: he saw it once in Rajasthan where he was staying at that time. This shows that regular orders were issued to the nobles by the Sur Sultans.

In addition to this we find Shershah also tried to impose very strict discipline on his nobles and did not pardon anyone who committed indiscretion.

For example, the case of Khizr Khan in Bengal. He had married the daughter of the deposed king of Bengal. It was reported against him that he was behaving in a very haughty manner. He was not only removed but care was also taken to abolish governorship of that place and replace it with a sarkar administration. The governor was removed and in his place an amin was appointed.

We have an interesting account of Dattu Sarwani, who wrote his recollections and dreams in 1535 which are now part of Latiaf-i Quddusi. He writes that when Sher Shah ordered some Afghan families to Gwalior, fort, eunuchs were appointed to record their names in registers and in case if they refused, to set their houses on fire and send them forcibly in disgrace.

Similarly Shershah re-enforced branding of horses. According to Abbas Khan Sarwani this was done due to ‘liars and double faced persons who showed a large number of troops at the time of assignment, but once the jagirs had been assigned they would deprive their soldiers oftheir dues’. He further writes that Sher Shah proclaimed “ I have introduced the system of branding with this object in view that there should be no discrimination between the rights of the nobles and the troopers, that the nobles may not be able to deprive the troopers of their dues and the chiefs must maintain the soldiers in consonance with their mansabs and be not able to vary their numbers.’

When a report was mad against Shujaat Khan Niazi that his troopers were not being given their due Sher shah reportedly wrote to him:

‘Before the wakil of your troopers reach here, restore to the troopers their payments and pacify them. If their wakil comes to me and submits their complaints, I will deprive you of your jagirs and give you an exemplary punishment.’

One measure already discussed is that Islam Shah would send detailed instructions to his nobles which had to be strictly adhered to.

Orders were given that they should not lead an easy life and drive out of their establishments dancing girls. They were also asked to abolish akharas. They were directed that nobles would not be permitted to use red or crimson tents, as they were reserved for imperial use. They were to surrender all their elephants to central authority: only a few weak elephants were allowed for their personal use. Finally Islam shah also introduced the measure of converting a major part of the land into khalisa – Badauni says he brought whole country into personal control [ khasa-i khud saakht] and in accordance with this regulation and the custom of dagh, the troopers were paid in cash.

Badauni’s account of Islam Shah is very detailed. He is actually referring, albeit indirectly towards khalisa. But then it is difficult to believe that he succeeded in this as no other tells us about this. This is to be taken as an attempt. This would have affected the position of the nobles seriously.

Now the third aspect: the personnel and the close supervision of the central government by Shershah. Evidence in this regard has to be gleaned carefully. There is a passage in Abbas Khan where he quotes Sher Shah’s criticism of the working of the Mughal state as witnessed by him in 1528 during the brief visit that he had paid to the Mughal camp. He had gone to the Mughal camp with Junaid Barlas:

‘Since I have been amongst the Mughals and know their conduct in action, I see that they have no order or discipline and that their king do not personally supervise the govt bu leave all the affairs of the state to their nobles and ministers in whose sayings and doings they put perfect confidence. These grandees act on corrupt motives in every case whether it be that of a soldier or a cultivators or a rebellious zamindars.”

This was a defect which Shershah tried to rectify on coming to the throne. According to Abbas Khan:

‘He (king) should not repose much confidence in the pillars of the state (arkan-i daulat), for he said, I have always remained acquainted with the affairs of the kingdom and that whenever I have tested on the touchstone of my experience the words and acts of these pillars of the state and their agents. I have not found them to be wholly true. The means of my gaining possession of the kingdom lay in bribe taking habits of these officers of the state (Mughal officials).

Abbas Khan further tells us:

‘ Shershah personally attended to all important campaigns and the affairs of the realm high or small, never allowed hours meant for prayers to go without offering them.’ ‘ The huliya (descriptive roles) of these soldiers and jorses were caused to be recorded before they were brought before him and with his own tongue he announced the fixation of their monthly salaries. After this he had the horses branded in his own presence.’

Thus evidence suggests that (a) Shershah’s experience indicated that if the king didn’t supervise personally then it was a loose administration and thus (b) the king should directly supervise the minutest details. This type of evidence made Qanungo to suggest that Shershah had no ministers but secretaries who manned his administration.

The Local Administration

As far as the local administration is concerned, it appears that it was a result of significant improvements in the communication system. The improvements achieved by constructing regular highways on all major routes of the empire. From Sonargaon to Rohtas was constructed the famous GT road. Then there was another between Agra and Burhanpur; another between Agra and Jodhpur; between Lahore and Multan etc.

Secondly, a number of sarais were established at regular intervals all along these important routes. These were multi-purpose structures. Abbas Khan informs that in each of these sarais, a space was reserved for official use, known as khana-i padshahi. In another part of the sarai was established the dakchauki, in which a few riders were always available for the relay horses. According to Abbas Khan in all 3400 horses were deployed in these sarais for the purpose of the dak chaukis.

This construction of roads, highways and sarais radically improved the communication system in the empire. Thus Abbas Khan testifies that for example, one messenger, Husain shiqdar travelled on one occasion 300 kurohs in one day (one kuroh = 2 ½ miles), i.e., more than 600m in one hour a record achievement! It was this which facilitated Islam Shah’s system of sending weekly instructions to all sarkar HQs

These sarais also acted as mini-fortresses and military establishments which further helped in consolidating the administration and places where the central standing army could be placed if needed. According to Abbas Khan the hashm-i qalb stood at 1 ½ lakhs. In addition were 25,000 matchlockmen, the infantrymen with guns. One should also remember that under the Mughals and the Surs, the central authority had a monopoly over firearms: it was not to be given to local nobles.

The General Administration:

The most important aspect of the Sur administration was the building up of an elaborate administrative machinery at the Sarkar level. If we believe Abbas Khan Sarwani, then there existed three levels of administration under Sur Empire: the Central administration, the Sarkar administration and the Pargana level administration. The Suba (provincial) level administration of the Mughals (between the central & Sarkar level) was missing. Under the Lodis and Syed, in place of Sarkars there used to be a number of designations: shiqs, khittas, wilayats, iqtas etc

Thus at Pargana level, the basic administrative unit, we find mention of shiqdar, amil, munsif, amin. Then at the Sarkar level, Abbas Khan in his concluding section says, the equivalent functionaries were shiqdar-i shiqdaran, munsif-i munsifan. The functions of the shiqdar at both Pargana and Sarkar level was basically military:

‘If the people from lawlessness or rebellious spirit creat disturbance regarding the collection of revenue, they were so to eradicate and destroy them with punishment that there wickedness and rebellion should not spread to others.’ The munsif / amin at the Pargana level was measurement of land and assessment of revenue demand. While the officer at the Sarkar level, though performing similar duties, was actually given the role of a supervisor over the Pargana munsif, as well as the arbiter between the munsifs of different parganas in their jurisdiction.

But then elsewhere in his account, especially in the narrative part of the history of Shershar’s reign, there is a different kind of information: there is no mention of such designations as shiqdar-i shiqdaran or munsif-i munsifan. Different terms are used to designate the heads of Sarkar level administration, viz., shiqdar, faujdar, munsif, muqta. Possibly terms like shiqdar-i shiqdaran was a figurative designation invented by Abbas Khan to give a standard term for the heads of Sarkar level administration indacting their supervisory role over a number of smaller shiqdars.

For example in Sarkar Delhi, Sher shah appointed three officers, the shiqdar, faujdar, and munsif. Now what was the need to have a faujdar and a shiqdar for Delhi? There should have been either a faujdar or shiqdar with the designation of shiqdar-i shiqdaran. Perhaps the person being appointed as shiqdar was only for adm & military control of the city, while the person appointed as faujdar was for the rest part of the sarkar apart from the city.