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The Mughals developed a unique administrative system known as the Mansabdari system, which had no parallel outside of India. It is believed that this system may have originated during the time of the renowned Mongol conqueror and invader, Genghis Khan. Genghis Khan organized his army based on a decimal structure, where the smallest unit was ten, and the highest was ten thousand (known as a “Toman”), with the army chief holding the title of Khan.

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Mansabdari system | When and who started the Mansabdari System? | What Merits and Demerits

Mansabdari system

The influence of the Mongol military system can be seen in the military structure of the Delhi Sultanate to some extent. During this period, we come across references to army chiefs with ranks of one hundred (Sadi) and one thousand (Hazara). However, it remains unclear whether a Mansabdari system existed during the time of Babur and Humayun.

Consequently, historians hold differing views regarding the origin of the Mansabdari system. Based on the available evidence, it appears that Akbar introduced the Mansabdari system in the nineteenth year of his reign, around 1575.

Akbar implemented a significant change by replacing the Jagirdari system with the Mansabdari system.

Recognizing the paramount importance of a strong and permanent army, Emperor Akbar understood that establishing peace and safeguarding the empire necessitated a formidable military force. Prior to Akbar’s reign, the prevailing practice involved assembling the army through the Jagirdari system.

However, Akbar observed that Jagirdars did not maintain a consistent number of horses, horsemen, or soldiers. Instead, they often misused government funds for their personal luxuries.

To rectify this issue, Akbar introduced the Mansabdari System as the foundation for organizing the army. This system ensured that each Mansabdar, based on their respective rank and position (Mansab), maintained a specific number of horse soldiers.

Additionally, in the Mansabdari System, the Mansabdar received a regular monthly cash salary directly from the emperor. This overhaul aimed to create a more disciplined and accountable military structure.

Meaning and Etymology of Mansab

The term “Mansab” originates from the Persian language, and it encompasses the notion of rank, status, or position. An individual who received a Mansab from the emperor was referred to as a Mansabdar. Akbar made it a point to assign a Mansab (position) to each of his military and civilian officers.

These positions were further divided into two categories known as “Zaat” and “Sawar.” “Zaat” denoted the personal rank or status, while “Sawar” represented the fixed number of horsemen that a Mansabdar had the authority to maintain under their command.

The term “Mansab” goes beyond being solely associated with the military system; it signifies the appointment or retention of both military and non-military officers. In essence, a Mansab post held prestige and authority, determining an individual’s position, placement, and salary. To fully grasp its significance, it is essential to understand its inherent characteristics.

Features of Mansabdari System

Division of Mansabdars into categories

Under the Mansabdari system introduced by Akbar, the Mansabdars (officers holding office) were classified into three categories:

First-class Mansabdars: The higher the ‘Zaat’ (individual) Mansab a person was given, the more horsemen he was entitled to maintain. This category included Mansabdars with significant authority. During Akbar’s reign, the lowest rank mandated authority over ten soldiers, while the highest rank allowed authority over ten thousand horsemen. Later, Akbar increased the maximum limit of the highest Mansab to twelve thousand horsemen.

Second Class Mansabdars: Mansabdars falling in this category had the ability to maintain at least half of the horsemen corresponding to their ‘Zaat’ (individual rank). They held a moderately high position within the system.

Class III Mansabdars: Mansabdars of this class had the right to keep less than half the number of horsemen of their ‘jat’ (individual rank). Their position was relatively low as compared to the first and second-class Mansabdars.

All Mansabdars were required to keep two horses for each horseman. In addition, each Mansabdar was allowed to keep a horse according to his ‘Zaat’ or rank.

Appointment of Mansabdars

The appointment of Mansabdars was entirely at the discretion of the emperor, and they served in their posts as long as the emperor wished. Typically, the Mansab of seven thousand was given to members of the royal family or to highly respected and trusted Sardars (commanders) such as Raja Mansingh, Mirza Shah Rukh, and Mirza Aziz Koka. Mansabs up to twelve thousand were given only to princes.

Salary of Mansabdars

Mughal Mansabdars received generous salaries, often paid in cash. However, there were instances where Jagir’s revenue was given in place of salary. The Mansabdar was responsible for managing the expenses of his horsemen and horses using his personal income and salary.

Despite this responsibility, the Mansabdars enjoyed a lavish and contented lifestyle during Akbar’s reign. They were exempt from income tax, and the purchasing power of money at that time was much higher than at present.

The monthly salary for a Class I Panchhazari Mansabdar was Rs 30,000. Class II Panchhazaris received Rs 29,000 per month, while Class III Panchhazaris received Rs 28,000 per month. In addition, each Mansabdar received an additional salary of two rupees per month for each Sawar under his command.

Functions of Mansabdars

Mansabdars held various responsibilities and performed diverse functions within the Mughal administration:

Military campaigns: Mansabdars were often deployed on military campaigns. Their primary role was to participate in battles, conquer new territories, and quell rebellions. He played an important role in the expansion and security of the empire.

Administrative Duties: The Mansabdars were also assigned non-military and administrative duties depending on their position. These duties may include governance, revenue collection, maintaining law and order, and other administrative functions. He played an important role in the overall administration of the empire.

Rules of Control over Mansabdars

In order to prevent the arbitrariness of the Mansabdars and to ensure their competence, Akbar introduced specific rules:

Selective Recruitment: Akbar took great care in recruiting experienced and skilled horsemen as Mansabdars. This ensured that only capable individuals held positions of authority and responsibility within the system.

Record keeping and branding of horses: Akbar started the practice of noting down the Huliya (physical description) of each rider and branding their horses. It served as a means of identification and accountability of the Mansabdars. It helped in maintaining discipline and prevented fraudulent practices.

Inspection: The emperor himself inspected the army from time to time to ensure its effectiveness. Alternatively, he could appoint a committee to carry out these inspections. These measures ensured the quality and readiness of the military forces.

Financial Regulations: Mansabdars were required to keep two horses of Arabian or Iraqi breed for every cavalryman under their command. If paid in cash, they collected their salary directly from the emperor on a monthly basis. After his death, his accumulated capital was confiscated, preventing the accumulation of excessive wealth. The purpose of these financial regulations was to strengthen the military power of the Mughals and prevent the misuse of resources.

Branding and Obligations in Mansabdari System

Branding and Obligations

Akbar introduced the practice of branding in 1575 as a part of the Mansabdari system. Its main objective was to ensure that each Mansabdar maintained the required number of horses and horsemen for state service. By implementing branding, Akbar aimed to prevent the evasion of military responsibilities. The horses and individuals were marked with a ‘Chehra’ (Face)(identification mark) to enforce compliance.

The number of Horses or Soldiers?

There is a historical question about whether the number expected from a Mansabdar, according to their ‘rider’ category, referred to horses or soldiers. Abul Fazl’s account suggests that during Akbar’s time, a Mansabdar was expected to provide as many soldiers as his ‘Sawar’ rank. Failure to do so resulted in punishment. It is uncertain whether this number represented horses or soldiers.

Reorganization under Shah Jahan

During Shah Jahan’s reign, the Mansabdari system underwent reorganization. Mansabdars who held jagirs in specific territories were required to provide one-third of their ‘Sawar’ ranks in terms of soldiers. When appointed to territories where they did not possess jagirs, they were obligated to provide only one-fourth of their ‘Sawar’ ranks.

For postings in Balkh or Badakshan, the rule of one-fifth was applied, known as Panchamansh. This meant that Mansabdars in the Panchamansh category was responsible for maintaining 1000 riders and 2200 horses for every 5000 ‘rider’ category in the annual arrangement.

Compound ‘Sawar’

Akbar implemented a policy of diversifying the cavalry of the Mansabdars by including soldiers from various castes such as Mughals, Pathans, Rajputs, and others. Initially, the Mughal and Rajput Mansabdars were allowed to hire riders exclusively from their own castes. However, over time, they also adopted the practice of mixed riders. Akbar aimed to weaken the influence of caste and nobility within the army while ensuring the continued dominance of the Turks.

Recruitment of various military personnel

The Mughal army recruited not only horsemen but also archers, gunners, and trench diggers. Each category of personnel is used to get different salaries. Iranian and Turkish riders were paid higher wages, while the average salary of other riders was Rs. 20 per month. On the other hand, foot soldiers got very less salary, only Rs.3 per month.

Merits of the Mansabdari system can be summarized as follows:

Non-hereditary: Unlike the Jagirdari system, the Mansabdari system was not based on hereditary succession. This prevented the concentration of power in the hands of a few influential families and ensured a more merit-based appointment process.

Direct control and reduced revolts: Mansabdars, or officials in the system, were required to personally collect their salaries from the provinces every month. This arrangement allowed the government to exercise direct control over them, minimizing the chances of rebellion or revolt, unlike the Jagirdars who had greater autonomy.

Merit-based appointments: The emperor appointed skilled soldiers and civilian officials based on their abilities and merit. Promotions were granted to those who proved themselves capable in war or administration. This practice ensured a competent and efficient administration.

Economic improvement: After the death of Mansabdars, the government practiced Jabti, which involved taking possession of their property. This practice contributed to the state’s economic well-being and deterred Mansabdars from resorting to corrupt means of accumulating wealth.

Patronage of art and literature: Mansabdars often supported and encouraged art and literature. Many talented artists and intellectuals found patronage under their sponsorship, contributing to the flourishing of cultural and intellectual pursuits during the Mughal era.

Administrative relief: The Mansabdari system alleviated administrative burdens by entrusting military responsibilities to the Mansabdars. This enabled the Mughal government to focus on other administrative tasks, leading to better governance and efficiency.

Cultural integration: The Mansabdari system promoted cultural integration by including individuals from diverse castes and religions. It created a sense of unity and harmony by embracing people from different backgrounds and fostering a multicultural society within the empire.

Defects of the Mansabdari System

Increase in Extravagance and Luxury: Some critics argue that the Mansabdari system, being non-traditional, led to increased extravagance among Mansabdars. Since their properties were confiscated upon their death, they tended to spend lavishly, fueled by their substantial salaries.

Moral Decline: Unscrupulous officers and deceitful Mansabdars often resorted to deceptive practices during inspections. They would borrow soldiers and horses from other Mansabdars temporarily, creating an illusion of a stronger military force on paper while maintaining inadequate resources in reality.

Changes in the Mansabdari System during Jahangir and Shah Jahan Time

Jahangir and Shah Jahan made significant modifications to the Mansabdari system while maintaining the administrative and tax structures established by Akbar:

Expansion of Mansab Ranks: Initially, Mansabs above 7,000 were granted exclusively to princes. However, Akbar later increased the Mansab for princes to 12,000. Akbar’s historian, Abul Fazl, mentions that Emperor Akbar divided the army officers (Mansabdars) into 66 classes based on the numerical value of the letters in the word “Allah” (1+30+35+5=66).

Enhanced Control and Inspection: Control over Mansabdars was further tightened during the reigns of later emperors. Measures such as marking horses and describing soldiers were implemented, and a portion (about 1/3 or 1/4) of the army was called for inspection. Mansabdars who presented well-trained soldiers during inspections were rewarded with an amount equal to the number of those soldiers, at a rate of two rupees per soldier.

Despite these efforts, challenges remained in ensuring that Mansabdars maintained the prescribed number of soldiers, leading to increased scrutiny and incentives for compliance during inspections.

FAQ: Mansabdari System

Q: When did the Mansabdari system start?

Ans: The origin of the Mansabdari system is a topic of debate among historians. Based on existing evidence, it is believed that the Mansabdari system was introduced by Emperor Akbar in the nineteenth year of his reign, around 1575.

Q: Who started the Mansabdari system?

Ans: The Mansabdari system was initiated by the Mughal Emperor Akbar in 1571. Akbar reformed and institutionalized the system, integrating it into the military and civil administration of the Mughal Empire. The officers who joined the Mughal administration under this system were known as Mansabdars.

Q: Who was the biggest Mansabdar?

Ans: Raja Man Singh held the highest Mansabdar rank. However, despite his high rank, he was not assigned a significant position in the emperor’s court compared to Abu Fazl. Abu Fazl not only held an important ministerial position in Akbar’s court but was also included in the list of Navratnas (Nine Jewels).

Q: Why did the Mansabdari system fail?

Ans: The Mansabdari system faced challenges and eventually declined. After Akbar, Mansabdars started to establish their own small territories, and the soldiers under their command became more loyal to their Mansabdars than the king. Hindu Mansabdars, in particular, refused to fight against fellow Hindu Mansabdars on behalf of the king, leading to a weakening of central authority.

Q: Who were the Mansabdars in Aurangzeb’s court?

Ans: Jai Singh, Shujaat, and Jaswant Singh were Mansabdars during the reign of Aurangzeb. They held positions as officers in the Mansabdari system.

Q: What is the difference between Mansabdar and Jagirdar?

Ans: Mansabdars received their salaries in the form of land grants called Jagirs. However, Mansabdars did not administer the Jagirs directly; their role was to collect the revenue generated from these lands. The Jagirdars, on the other hand, were the actual holders and administrators of the Jagirs.

Q-When was Mansingh granted the Mansab of 7000 by Akbar?

Ans-Akbar granted Mansingh the Mansab of 7000 zat and 6000 Sawar as a reward for his successful administration of land revenue in Bengal. This appointment took place on the 50th year of Akbar’s coronation, specifically on March 11, 1605.

Q-What was the term for the salary of a Mansabdar?

Ans-The salary of a Mansabdar was referred to as “Jagir.”

Q-When did the Mansabdari system originate?

Ans-The origins of the Mansabdari system have been a subject of debate among historians, leading to differing opinions. Based on existing evidence, it is believed that Akbar introduced the Mansabdari system in the nineteenth year of his reign, which corresponds to the year 1575.

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