Chapter 15 ​India in the First Half of the Seventeenth Century


Political and Administrative Developments In India

The first half of the seventeenth century in India was, on the whole, an era of progress and growth. During the period, the Mughal empire was ruled by two capable rulers, Jahangir (1605–27), and Shah Jahan (1628–1658). In southern India, too, as we have seen, the states of Bijapur and Golconda were able to provide conditions of internal peace and cultural growth. The Mughal rulers consolidated the administrative system which had developed under Akbar. They maintained the alliance with the Rajputs, and tried to further broaden the political base of the empire by allying with powerful sections such as the Afghans and the Marathas. Trade concessions given to various European trading companies were also aimed at promoting India’s foreign trade. But a number of negative features came to the surface during the period. The growing prosperity of the ruling classes did not filter down to peasants and workers whose lives remained hard and miserable. The Mughal ruling class remained oblivious of the growth of science and technology in the West. The problem of succession to the throne created instability, thus posing a threat to the political system as well as to economic and cultural growth.

Jahangir, the eldest son of Akbar, succeeded to the throne without any difficulty, his younger brothers having died during the life-time of Akbar due to excessive drinking. However, shortly after Jahangir’s succession, his eldest son, Khusrau, broke out into rebellion. Tussle between father and son for the throne was not unusual in those time. Jahangir himself had rebelled against his father, and kept the empire disturbed for some time. However, Khusrau’s rebellion proved to be short-lived. Jahangir defeated him at a battle near Lahore and soon afterwards he was captured and imprisoned.

We have already seen how Jahangir brought to an end the conflict with Mewar which had continued for four decades, and the struggle in the Deccan with Malik Ambar who was not prepared to accept the settlement made by Akbar. There was conflict in the east, too. Although Akbar had broken the back of the power of the Afghans in this region. Afghan chiefs were still powerful in various parts of east Bengal. They had the support of many Hindu rajas of the region, such as the rajas of Jessore, Kamrup (western Assam), Cachar, etc. Towards the end of his reign, Akbar had recalled Raja Man Singh, the governor of Bengal, to the court, and during his absence the Afghan chief, Usman Khan, and others found an opportunity to raise a rebellion. Jahangir sent back Man Singh for some time but the situation continued to worsen. In 1608, Jahangir posted to Bengal, Islam Khan, the grandson of Shaikh Salim Chishti, the famous Sufi saint who was the patron saint of the Mughals. Though young in years, Islam Khan handled the situation with great energy and foresight. He won over many of the zamindars including the Raja of Jessore to his side, and fixed his headquarters at Dacca, which was strategically located, to deal with the rebels. To keep the area under full control, soon the provincial capital was transferred from Rajmahal to Dacca which began to develop rapidly. Islam Khan first directed his efforts to the conquest of Sonargaon which was under the control of Musa Khan and his confederates who were called the Barah (twelve) Bhuiyan. After three years of campaigning, Sonargaon was captured. Soon afterwards, Musa Khan surrendered and he was sent to the court as a prisoner. Usman Khan’s turn came next, and he was defeated in a fierce battle. The back of the Afghan resistance was now broken and the other rebels soon surrendered. The principalities of Jessore and Kamrup were annexed. Thus Mughal power was firmly entrenched in east Bengal.

Like Akbar, Jahangir realised that conquest would be lasting on the basis not of force but of securing the goodwill of the people. He, therefore, treated the defeated Afghan chiefs and their followers with consideration and sympathy. After some time, many of the princes and zamindars of Bengal detained at the court were released and allowed to return to Bengal. Even Musa Khan was released and his estates restored. Thus after a long spell, peace and prosperity returned to Bengal. To cap the process, more Afghans now began to be inducted into the Mughal nobility. The leading Afghan noble under Jahangir was Khan-i-Jahan Lodi who rendered distinguished service in the Deccan.

By 1622, Jahangir had brought Malik Ambar to heel, patched up the long drawn out tussle with Mewar, and pacified Bengal. Jahangir was still fairly young (51), and a long era of peace seemed to be ahead. But the situation was changed radically by two developments—the Persian conquest of Qandhar which was a blow to Mughal prestige, and the growing failure of Jahangir’s health which unleashed the latent struggle for succession among the princes, and led to jockeying for power by the nobles. These developments pitch-forked Nur Jahan into the political arena.

Nur Jahan

The story of Nur Jahan’s life, her first marriage with an Iranian, Sher Afghan and his death in a clash with the Mughal governor of Bengal, Nur Jahan’s stay in Agra with an elderly relation of Jahangir and her marriage with Jahangir four years later (1611) are too well known. Some modern historians are of the opinion that along with her father and brother and in alliance with Khurram, Nur Jahan formed a group or “junta” which “managed” Jahangir so that without its backing and support no one could advance in his career and that this led to the division of the court into two factions — the Nur Jahan “junta” and its opponents. It is further argued that Nur Jahan’s political ambitions ultimately resulted in a breach between her and Shah Jahan and that this, drove Shah Jahan into rebellion against his father in 1622 since he felt that Jahangir was completely under Nur Jahan’s influence. However, some other historians do not agree with this view.

Some modern historians are of the opinion that along with her father and brother and in alliance with Khurram, Nur Jahan formed a group or “junta” which “managed” Jahangir so that without its backing and support no one could advance in his career and that this led to the division of the court into two factions — the Nur Jahan “junta” and its opponents. It is further argued that Nur Jahan’s political ambitions ultimately resulted in a breach between her and Shah Jahan and that this, drove Shah Jahan into rebellion against his father in 1622since he felt that Jahangir was completely under Nur Jahan’s influence. However, some other historians do not agree with this view. They point out that till 1622 when Jahangr’s health broke down, all the important political decisions were taken by Jahangir himself as is clear from his autobiography. The precise political role of Nur Jahan during this period is not clear. She dominated the royal household and set new fashions based on Persian traditions. On account of her position, Persian art and culture acquired great prestige at the court. Nur Jahan was the constant companion of Jahangir and even joined him in his hunting expeditions since she was a good rider and a sure shot. As such, she could influence Jahangir and many people approached her to intercede with tire king on their behalf. But Jahangir was not dependent on the “junta” or on Nur Janan, as is also borne out by the fact that nobles who were riot favourites of the “junta” continued to get their normal promotions. The rise of Shah Jahan was due to his personal qualities and achievements: rather than the backing of Nur Jahan. Shah Jahan had his own ambitions of which Jahangir was not unaware. In any case, in those times, no ruler could afford to allow a noble or a prince to become too powerful lest he challenge his authority. This was the basic reason for the conflict between Jahangir and Shah Jahan.

Shah Jahan’s Rebellion

The immediate cause of the rebellion was Shah Jahan’s refusal to proceed to Qandhar which had been besieged by the Persians. Shah Jahan refused which enraged Jahangir. Convinced that the prince was meditating rebellion, he wrote harsh letters, and took punitive steps which only made the situation worse, and resulted in an open breach. From Mandu, where he was stationed, Shah Jahan made a sudden dash on Agra in order to capture the treasures lodged there. Shah Jahan had the full backing of the Deccan army and all the nobles posted there. Gujarat and Malwa had declared for him, and he had the support of his father-in-law, Asaf Khan, and a number of important nobles at the court. However, in the battle near Delhi, Shah Jahan was defeated by the forces led by Mahabat Khan. Shah Jahan was hounded out of the Mughal territories and compelled to take shelter with his erstwhile enemies, the Deccani rulers. However, he crossed the Deccan into Orissa, took the governor by surprise, and soon Bengal and Bihar were under his control. Mahabat Khan was again pressed into service. He took energetic steps, and compelled Shah Jahan to retreat in to the Deccan again. This time, he made an alliance with Malik Ambar who was once again at war with the Mughals. However, soon Shah Jahan wrote abject letters of apology to Jahangir. Jahangir also felt that it was time to pardon and conciliate his ablest and most energetic son. As part of the agreement, two of Shah Jahan’s sons, Dara and Aurangzeb, were sent to the court as hostages, and a tract in the Deccan was assigned for Shah Jahan’s expenses. This was in 1626.

Mahabat Khan

Mahabat Khan who had played a leading role in dealing with Shah Jahan’s rebellion, had been feeling disgruntled because certain elements at the court were eager to clip his wings following the end of the prince’s rebellion. Summoned to the court to render accounts, Mahabat Khan came with a trusted body of Rajputs and seized the emperor at an opportune moment when the royal camp was crossing the river Jhelum on its way to Kabul. Nur Jahan surrendered herself to Mahabat Khan in order to be close to Jahangir. Within six months, taking advantage of the mistakes committed by Mahabat Khan, who was a soldier but not a diplomat, Nur Jahan was able to wean away most of the nobles from Mahabat Khan’s side. Realising his precarious position, Mahabat Khan abandoned Jahangir and fled from the court. Some time later, he joined Shah Jahan in the Deccan where he was biding his time.

However, Nur Jahan’s triumph was shortlived, for in less than a year’s time, Jahangir breathed his last, not far from Lahore (1627). The wily and shrewd Asaf Khan who had been appointed wakil by Jahangir, and who had been carefully preparing the ground for the succession of his son-in-law, Shah Jahan, now came into the open. Supported by the diwan, the chief nobles and the army, he made Nur Jahan a virtual prisoner, and sent urgent summons to Shah Jahan. Shah Jahan reached Agra and was enthroned amidst great rejoicing. For Nur Jahan, after attaining the throne, Shah Jahan fixed a settlement upon her. She lived a retired life till her death 18 years later, and was buried at Lahore.

The Foreign Policy of the Mughals

We have seen how following the breakup of the Timurid empire in the second half of the fifteenth century, three powerful empires- — the Uzbek, the Safavid and the Ottoman — established themselves in Trans-Oxiana (Central Asia) Iran and Turkey. The Uzbeks were the natural enemies of the Mughals, having been responsible for the expulsion of Babur and the other Timurid princes from Samarqand and the adjoining area, including Khorasan. At the same time, the Uzbeks clashed with the rising power of the Safavids who claimed Khorasan. The Khorasanian plateau linked Iran with Central Asia and the trade routes to China and India passed across it. It was natural for the Safavids and the Mughals to ally against the Uzbek danger especially as there were no frontier disputes between them with the exception of Qandhar. The Uzbeks tried to exploit the sectarian differences with the Safavid rulers of Iran who had ruthlessly persecuted the Sunnis. Both the Uzbek and the Mughal rulers were Sunnis. But the Mughals were too broadminded to be swayed by sectarian differences. Annoyed at the alliance of the Mughals with a Shia power. Iran, the Uzbeks occasionally stirred up the fanatic Afghan and Baluchi tribesmen living in the north-west frontier tracts between Peshawar and Kabul against the Mughals.

The most powerful empire in West Asia at the time was that of the Ottoman Turks. The Ottoman or the Usmanii Turks, so called after the name of their first ruler, Usman (d. 1326) had overrun Asia Minor and eastern Europe and also conquered Syria, Egypt and Arabia by 1529. They had received the title “Sultan of Rum” from the shadowy Caliph living at Cairo. Later, they also assumed the title of Padshah-i-Islam.

The rise of a Shiite power in Iran made the Ottoman Sultans conscious of the danger to their eastern flank and that the rise of the Safavids would encourage Shiism in their own territories. In 1514the Turkish sultan defeated the Shah of Iran in a famous battle. The Ottomans clashed with Iran for the control of Baghdad and also for the areas in north Iran, around Erivan. They gradually extended their control on the coastal areas around Arabia and made a bid to oust the Portuguese from the Persian Gulf and the Indian waters.

The Ottoman threat from the west made the Persians keen to befriend the Mughals, particularly when they had to face an aggressive Uzbek power in the east. The Mughals refused to be drawn in a tripartite Ottoman, Mughal, Uzbek alliance against the Persians as it would have upset the Asian balance of power and left them alone to face the might of the Uzbeks. Alliance with Iran was also helpful in promoting trade with Central Asia, If the Mughals had a stronger navy, they might, perhaps, Have sought a closer alliance with Turkey which was also a naval power and was engaged in a struggle against the navies of the European powers ill the Mediterranean. As it was, the Mughals were chary of a closer relationship with Turkey since they were not prepared- to countenance the claim to superiority made by the Turkish sultan as successor to the Abbasid Caliph. These were some of the factors which shaped the foreign policy of the Mughals.

Akbar and the Uzbeks

In 1510 following the defeat of the Uzbek chief, Shaibani Khan, by the Safavid, Babur had briefly regained Simarqand. Although Babur had to save the city after the Uzbeks had inflicted a sharp defeat on the Persians, the help extended to him by the Persian monarch established a tradition of friendship between the Mughals and the Safavids. Later, Humayun too, received help from the Safavid monarch, Shah Tahmasp, when he had sought refuge at his court after being ousted from India by Sher Shah.

The territorial power of the Uzbeks grew rapidly in the seventies under Abdullah Khan Uzbek. In 1572-73 Abdullah Khan Uzbek seized Balkh which, along with Badakhshan, Had served as a kind of buffer- between the Mughals and the Uzbeks. In 1577Abdullah Khan sent an embassy to Akbar, proposing to partition Iran. After the death of Shah Tahmasp (1576) Iran was passing through a phase of anarchy and disorder. Abdullah Uzbek urged that Akbar “should lead an expedition from India to Iran in order that they may, with united efforts, release Iraq, Khorasan and Fars from the innovators (Shias) ”Akbar was not moved by this appeal to sectarian narrowness. A strong Iran was essential to keep the restless Uzbeks in their place. At the same time, Akbar had no desire to get embroiled with the Uzbeks, unless they directly threatened Kabul or the Indian possessions. This was the key to Akbar’s foreign policy. Abdullah Uzbek also approached the Ottoman sultan and proposed a tripartite alliance of Sunni powers against Iran. As if in reply to this, Akbar sent a return embassy to Abdullah Uzbek in which it was pointed out that differences in law and religion could not be regarded as sufficient ground for conquest. Regarding difficulties faced by pilgrims to Mecca, he pointed out that with the conquest of Gujarat, a new route had been opened.

Akbar’s growing interest in Central Asian affairs was reflected in his giving refuge at his court to the Timurid prince, Mirza Sulaiman, who had been ousted from Badakhshan by his grandson. Abul Fazl says that the Khyber Pass was made fit for wheeled traffic and that due to fear of the Mughals, the gates of Balkh were usually kept closed. In order to forestall invasion of Badakhshan, Abdullah Uzbek fomented trouble among the tribesmen of the north-west frontier through his agent, Jalal, who was a religious fanatic. The situation became so serious that Akbar had to move to Attock. It was during these operations that Akbar lost one of his best friends, Raja Birbal in a battle in the Khyber pass.

In 1585Abdullah Uzbeksuddenly conquered Badakhshan. Both Mirza Sulaiman and his grandson sought refuge at Akbar’s court and were given suitable mansabs. Meanwhile, with the death of his half-brother, Mirza Hakim (1585) Akbar annexed Kabul to his dominions. Thus, the Mughal and the Uzbek frontiers ran side by side.

Abdullah Khan Uzbek now. sent another embassy which Akbar received while he was at Attock on the river Indus. Akbar’s continued presence so near the frontier had made Abdullah Uzbek uneasy. After considerable manoeuvrings and despite a Mughal threat to come jto the aid of Iran, the Uzbeks succeeded, in capturing from Iran most of the areas they had coveted in Khorasan       .

In this situation, it appeared best to Akbar to come to terms with the Uzbek chief. Hence, one of his agents, Hakim Human, was sent to Abdullah Khan Uzbek with a tester and a verbal message. It seems that an agreement was made defining the Hindukush as the boundary between the two. It implied the Mughals giving up their interest in Badakhphan and Balkh which had been ruled by Timurid princes till 1585But it also implied the Uzbeks not claiming Kabul and Qandhar. Though njeither party gave up its claims formally the agreementgave the Mughals a defensible frontier on the Hindukush, Akbar completed his objective of establishing a scientific defensible frontier by acquiring Qandhar in 1595In addition to this, from 1586 Akbar stayed at Lahore in order to watch the situation. He left for Agra only after the death of Abdullah Khan Uzbek in 1598After the death of Abdullah, the Uzbeks broke up into warring principalities and ceased to be a threat to the Mughals for a considerable time.

Relations with Iran and the Question of Qandhar

The dread of Uzbek power was the most potent factor which brought the Safavids and the Mughals together, despite the Uzbek attempt to raise anti- Shia sentiments against Iran and the Mughal dislike of the intolerant policies adopted by the Safavid rulers. The only trouble spot between the two was Qandhar the possession of which was claimed by both on strategic and economic grounds, as well as for considerations of sentiment and prestige. Qandhar had been a part of the Timurid empire and had been ruled over by Babur’s cousins, the rulers of Herat, till they were ousted by the Uzbeks in 1507.

Strategically, Qandhar was vital for the defence of Kabul. The fort of Qandhar was considered to be one of the strongest forts in the region and was well provided with water. Situated at the junction of roads leading to Kabul and Herat, Qandhar dominated the whole southern Afghanistan and occupied a position of immense strategic importance. A modern British commentator has observed, “. The Kabul-Ghazni- Qandhar line represented a strategic and logical frontier; beyond Kabul and Khyber, there was no natural line of defence. Moreover, the possession of Qandhar made it easier to control the Afghan and Baluch tribes”.

After the conquest of Sindh and Baluchistan by Akbar, the strategic and economic importance of Qandhar for the Mughals increased. Qandhar was a rich and fertile province and was the hub of the movement of men and goods between India and Central Asia. The trade from Central Asia to Multan via Qandhar and thence down the river Indus to the sea steadily gained in importance, because the roads across Iran were frequently disturbed due to wars and internal commotions. Akbar wanted to promote trade on this route and pointed out to Abdullah-Uzbek that it was an alternative route for pilgrims and the goods traffic to Mecca. Taking, all these factors into account, it would appear that Qandhar was not as important to the Persians as to the Mughals. For Iran, Qandhar was “more of an outpost, an important one no doubt, rather than a vital bastion in a defence system”.

In the early phase, however, the dispute over Qandhar was not allowed to affect good relations between the two countries Qandhar came under Babur’s control in 1522 when the Uzbeks were threatening Khorasan once again. No serious objection to the Mughal conquest of Qandhar was raised by the Persians in view of this situation. However, when Humayun sought shelter at the court of Shah Tahmasp, the Iranian monarch agreed to help him provided he transferred Qandhar to Iran after its conquest from his half-brother, Kamran. Humayun had little choice but to agree. But after its conquest Humayun found excuses to keep it under his control. In fact, Qandhar was his base of operations against Kamran in Kabul.

Shah Tahmasp captured Qandhar taking advantage of the confusion following Humayun’s death. Akbar made no effort to regain it till the. Uzbeks under Abdullah Uzbek posed a renewed threat to Iran and to the Mughals. The Mughal conquest of Qandhar (1595) was not a part of an agreement between Akbar and the Uzbeks to partition the Persian empire as some modern historians have argued. It was more to establish a viable defensive line in the north-west against possible Uzbek invasion, since Khorasan had passed under Uzbek control by that time and Qandhar was cut off from Persia.

Relations between Iran and the Mughals continued to be cordial, despite the Mughal conquest of Qandhar. Shah Abbas I (ruled 1588- 1629) who was perhaps the greatest of the Safavid rulers, was keen to maintain good relations with Jahangir. There was a regular exchange of embassies and costly gifts, including rarities, between the two. Shah Abbas also established close diplomatic and commercial relations with the Deceani.

India in the First Half of the Seventeenth Century states but this was not objected to by Jahangir. Neither side felt threatened nor there is an imaginary portrait by a court artist showing Jahangir and Shah Abbas embracing each other, with a globe of the world beneath their feet. Culturally, too, the two countries came even closer to each other during the period with the active help of Nur Jahan. But the alliance proved to be more useful to Shah Abbas than to Jahangir, for it led the latter to neglect cultivating friendship with the Uzbek chiefs, as he felt secure in the friendship of his “brother” Shall Abbas. In 1620Shall Abbas sent a polite request for the restoration of Qandhar and made preparations for attacking it. Jahangir was taken by surprise, for he was diplomatically isolated and militarily unprepared for it. Hasty preparations for the relief of Qandhar were undertaken, but prince Shah Jahan put forward impossible demands before he would march. As a result, Qandhar passed into the hands of the Persians (1622) Although Shah Abbas tried to erase the bitterness over the loss of Qandhar by sending a lavish embassy to Jahangir and offered facile explanations which were accepted by Jahangir formally, the cordiality which had marked the Mughal relations with Iran came to an end.

After the death of Shah Abbas (1629) there were disturbances in Iran. Taking advantage of this and after being free of Deccan affairs, Shah Jahan induced Ali Mardan Khan, the Persian governor of Qandhar, to defect to the side of the Mughals (1638) Shah Jahan’s Balkh Campaign.

But the conquest of Qandhar was only the means to an end. Shah Johan was more concerned with the serious danger of recurrent Uzbek attacks on Kabul and their intrigues with the Baluch and Afghan tribes. At the time, both Bokhara and Balkh had come under the control of Nazr Muhammad. Nazr Muhammad and his son, Abdul Aziz, were ambitious and had launched a series of attacks with the help of Afghan tribesmen for gaining control of Kabul and Ghazni. However, soon Abdul Aziz headed a rebellion against his father and only Balkh remained under the control of Nazr Muhammad who appealed to Shah Jahan for help. Secure from the side of the Persians. Shah Jahan accepted the appeal with alacrity. Hemoved from Lahore to Kabul and deputed a large army under prince Murad to help Nazr Muhammad. The army which consisted of 50000 horses and 10000 footmen including musketeers, rocketeers and gunners and a contingent of Rajputs, left Kabul in the middle of 1646Shah Jahan had carefully instructed prince Murad to treat Nazr Muhammad, with great consideration and to restore Balkh to him if he behaved with modesty and submission. Further, if Nazr Muhammad expressed a desire to regain Samarqand and Bokhara, the prince was to do every tiling to help him. Obviously, Shah Jahan wanted a. friendly ruler at Bokhara who looked to the Mughals for help and support. But Murad’s impetuosity ruined the planHe marched on Balkh without waiting for instructions from Nazr Muhammad, ordered his men to enter the fort of Balkh in which Nazr Muhammad was residing and curtly asked him to wait on him personally. Uncertain of the prince’s intentions, Nazr Muhammad fled. The Mughals were forced to occupy Balkh and hold it in the face of a sullen and hostile population. Nor was an alternative to Nazr Muhammad easily available. Abdul Aziz, son of Nazr Muhammad, raised the Uzbek tribes against the Mughals in Trans-Oxiana and mustered an army of 120000 men across the river Oxus. Meanwhile, prince Murad, who had been pining for home, was replaced by prince Aurangzeb. The Mughals made no effort to defend the Oxus, since it was easily fordable. Instead, they placed pickets at strategic places and kept the main force together so that it could march easily to any threatened point. The Mughals were well positioned. Abdul Aziz crossed the Oxus, but soon found himself face to face with a large Mughal army. In a running battle; the Mughals routed the Uzbeks outside the gates of Balkh (1647).

The victory of the Mughals at Balkh paved the way for negotiations with the Uzbeks. The Uzbek supporters of Abdul Aziz melted away and he now made overtures to the Mughals. Nazr Muhammad-who had taken refuge in Persia also, approached the Mughals for the restoration of his empire. After careful consideration, Shah Jahan decided in favour of Nazr Muhammad. But Nazr Muhammad was first asked to make an apology and humble submission to prince Aurangzeb. This was a mistake since the proud Uzbek ruler was unlikely to demean himself in this way, particularly when he knew that it was Impossible for the Mughals to hold on to Balkh for any length of time. After waiting vainly for Nazr Muhammad to appear personally, the Mughals left Balkh in October 1647 since winter was fast approaching and there were no supplies in Balkh. The retreat nearly turned into a rout with hostile bands of Uzbeks hovering around. Though the Mughals suffered grievous losses, the firmness of Aurangzeb prevented a disaster.

The Balkh campaign of Shah Jahan has led to considerable controversy among modern historians. From the foregoing account, it should be clear that Shah Jahan was not attempting to fix the Mughal frontier on the so- called “scientific line” the Amu Darya (the Oxus). The Amu Darya, as we have seen, was hardly a defensible line. Nor was Shah Jahan motivated by the desire to conquer Samarqand and Farghana, the Mughal “homelands” though the Mughal emperors frequently talked about it. Shah Jahan’s objective, it seems, was to secure a friendly, ruler in Balkh and Badakhshan, the areas which bordered Kabul and which had been ruled over by Timurid princes till 1585. This, he believed, would also help in controlling the disaffection of the Afghan tribes living around Ghazni and in the Khyber Pass. The, campaign was a success in the military sense — the Mughals conquered Balkh and defeated Uzbek attempts to oust them. This was the first significant victory of Indian arms in the region and Shah Jahan had reason to celebrate it. However, it was beyond the strength of the Mughals to maintain their influence at Balkh for any length of time. Politically also, it was difficult to do so in the face of sullen Persian hostility and an unfriendly local population. All In all, while the Balkh campaign raised the prestige of Mughal arms for a time, it gained them little political advantage. Perhaps, it would have been more advantageous to the Mughals and would have saved considerable expenditure of men and money, if Shah Jahan had firmly adhered to the Kabul-Ghazni-Qandhar line so laboriously established by Akbar. Anyhow, Nazr Muhammad remained friendly to the Mughals as long as he was alive and there was a constant exchange of envoys between the two.

Mughal-Persian Reiatioas — the Last Phase

The setback in Balkh led to a revival of Uzbek hostility in the Kabul region and Afghan tribal unrest in the Khyber- Ghazni area and emboldened the Persians to attack and conquer Qandhar (1649). This was a big blow to Shah Jahan’s pride and he launched three major campaigns, one by one, under princes of blood to try and recover Qandhar. The first attack was launched by Aurangzeb, the hero of Balkh, with an army of 50000. Though the Mughals defeated the Persians outside the fort, they could not conquer it in the face of determined Persian opposition.

A second attempt led by Aurangzeb three years later also failed. The most grandiloquent effort was made the following year (1653) under Dara, the favourite son of Shah Jahari. Dara had made many boastful claims, but he was unable to starve the fort into surrender with the help of his large army and an attempt at capturing it with the help of two of the biggest guns in the empire which had been towed to Qandhar was also of no avail.

The failure of the Mughals at Qandhar did not reflect the weakness of Mughal artillery, as has been asserted by some historians. It rather showed the inherent strength of Qandhar fort if held by a determined commander and the ineffectiveness of medieval artillery against strong forts. (. This was also the Mughal experience in the Deccan) It may, however, be argued that Shah Jahan’s attachment to Qandhar was more sentimental than realistic. With the growing enfeeble merit of both the Uzbeks and the Safavids, Qandhar no longer had the same strategic importance as it had earlier. It was not so much the loss of Qandhar as the failure of the repeated Mughal efforts which affected the Mughal prestige. But even this should not be unduly exaggerated for the Mughal empire remained at the height of its power and prestige during Aurangzeb’s reign. Even the proud Ottoman sultan sent an embassy to Aurangzeb in 1680 to seek his support Aurangzeb decided not to continue the futile contest over Qandhar and quietly resumed diplomatic relations with Iran. However, in 1688Shah Abbas II, the ruler of Iran, insulted the Mughal envoy, made disparaging remarks against Aurangzeb and even threatened an invasion. The causes of this are not clear. It seems that Shah Abbas II was of an unstable character. There was a flurry of Mughal activity in the Punjab and Kabul. But before any action could take place, Shah Abbas II died. His successors were nonentities and Persian danger to the Indian frontier disappeared till a new ruler, Nadir Shah, came to power more than fifty years later.

It will thus be seen that on the whole, the Mughals succeeded in maintaining a scientific frontier in the north-west, based on the Hindukush, on the one side and the Kabul-Ghazni line, on the other, with Qandhar as its outer bastion. Thus, their basic foreign policy was based on the defence of India. The defence of this frontier-line was further buttressed by diplomatic means. Friendship with Persia was its keynote, despite temporary setbacks over the question of Qandhar. The oft- proclaimed desire of recovering the Mughal homelands was really used as a diplomatic ploy, for it was never seriously pursued. The military and diplomatic means adopted by the Mughals were remarkably successful in giving India security from foreign invasions for a long time.

Secondly, the Mughals insisted on relations of equality with leading Asian.

nations of the time, both with the Safavids, who claimed a special position by virtue of their relationship with the Prophet and with the Ottoman sultans who had assumed the title of Padshah- i-Islam and claimed to be the successors of the Caliph of Baghdad.

Thirdly, the Mughals used their foreign policy to promote India’s commercial interests. Kabul and Qandhar were the twin gateways of India’s trade with Central Asia. The economic importance of this trade for the Mughal empire has yet to be fully assessed.

Growth of Administration: Mansabdari System and the Mughal Army

The administrative machinery and revenue system developed by Akbar were maintained under Jahangir and Shah Jahan with minor modifications. Important changes were, however, effected in the functioning of the mansabdari system.

Under Akbar, for the maintenance of his contingent, the mansabdar was paid at the average rate of Rs 240 per annum per sawar. Later, in the time of Jahangir it was reduced to Rs 200 per annum. Individual sawars were paid according to their nationality — a Mughal got more than an Indian Muslim or a Rajput — and the quality of their mount. The mansabdar was allowed to retain 5% of the total salary bill of the sawars in order to meet various contingent expenses. The Mughals favoured mixed contingents, with men drawn in fixed proportions from Irani and Turani Mughals, Indians, Afghans and Rajputs. This was to break the spirit of tribal or ethnic exclusiveness. However, in special circumstances, a Mughal or a Rajput mansabdar was allowed to have a contingent drawn exclusively from Mughals or Rajputs.

A number of other modifications were also carried out during the period. There was a tendency to reduce zat salaries. The average salary paid to a sawar was reduced by Jahangir, as we have noted above. Jahangir also introduced a system whereby selected nobles could be allowed to maintain a large quota of troopers, without raising their zat rank. This was the du-aspah sih-aspah system (literally, trooper with 2 or 3 horses) which implied that a mansabdar holding tills rank had to maintain and was paid for double the quota of troopers indicated by his sawar rank. Thus, a mansabdar holding a zat rank of 3000and 3000 sawars du-aspah sih-aspah would be required to maintain 6000 troopers. Normally, no mansabdar was given a sawar rank which was higher than his zat rank.

A further modification, which comes to our notice during Shah Jahan’s reign, was aimed at drastically reducing the number of sawars a noble was required to maintain. Thus, a noble was expected to maintain a quota of only one-third of his sawar rank and in some circumstances, one-fourth. Thus, a noble who had the rank of 3000 zat, 3000 sawar, would maintain not more than 1000 troopers. But thiswould be doubled, this would maintain 2000 troopers, if his rank was 3000 sawar du-aspah sih-aspah.

Although the salaries of the mansabdars were stated in rupees, they were generally not paid in cash, but by assigning them a jagir. Mansabdars preferred a jagir because cash payments were likely to be delayed and sometimes entailed a lot of harassment. Also, control over land was a mark of social prestige. By devising a careful scale of gradations and laying down meticulous rules of business, the Mughals bureaucratised the nobility. But they could not take away their feudal attachment to land. This, as we shall see, was one of the dilemmas facing the Mughal nobility.

For purposes of assigning jagirs, the revenue department had to maintain a register indicating the assessed income (jama) of various areas. The account, however, was not indicated in rupees but in dams which was calculated at the rate of 40 dams to a rupee. This document was called the jama-dami or assessed income based on dams.

As the number of mansabdars kept growing and the financial resources of the state were strained on account of a number of reasons, even the above modifications were not found adequate. Drastic cuts in salaries all round would have created disaffection among the nobles which the rulers could ill afford. Hence, the quota of troopers and horses a noble had to maintain out of his sawar rank was further reduced by a new scaling device. The salaries of the mansabdars were put on a month scale — 10 months, 8 months, 6 months or even less than that — and their obligations for the maintenance of a quota of sawars were brought down accordingly. Thus, a mansabdar who had a rank of 3000 zat, 3000 sawar and maintained 1000 sawars tinder the rule of one-third mentioned above, would normally have had to maintain 2200 horses under the rule introduced by Akbar. But if he was put on a 10 months scale, he would maintain only 1800 horses, if for 5 months, only 1000 horses. It was rare for anyone to get allowances for less than 5 months or for more than 10 months.

The month-scale had little to do with decline in the income of tile jagir. For the month-scale was applied not only to jagirs, but also to those who were paid in cash. During Shah Jahan’s reign, the area under cultivation increased. Production of cash crops also increased. The jamadami, that is, the income of the jagir, also increased. But the increase kept pace broadly with the price rise during the period. It may be noted that most of the Marathas who were inducted Into the Mughal service, were assigned mansabs on a 5 monthly basis or even less. In this way, while they were given a high rank in the hierarchy the actual number of horses and effective sawars was much less than was indicated by their rank. The availability of remounts was, as we have seen, vital for an efficient cavalry force. The drastic reduction of remounts during Shah Jahan’s reign must, therefore, have adversely affected the efficiency of the Mughal cavalry as a whole.

The mansabdari system of the Mughals was a complex system. Its efficient functioning depended upon a number of factors, including the proper functioning of the dagh (branding) system and of the jagirdari system. If the dagh system worked badly, the state would be cheated. If the juma-datni was inflated, or the jagirdar was not able to get the salary due to him, he would be disaffected or tie would not maintain his due contingent. On balance the mansabdari system worked properly under Shah Jahan on account of his meticulous attention to administration and selection of men including the appointment of highly competent persons as wazirs. Careful attention to the choice of right persons for the service, strict discipline and a definite system of promotion and rewards made the Mughal nobility a loyal and, on the whole, a highly dependable body which was able to discharge the due duties of administration and to defend and expand the empire.

The Mughal Army

The cavalry, as we have noted, was the principal arm of the Mughal army and the mansabdars provided the overwhelming proportion of it. In addition to the mansabdars, thd Mughal emperors used to entertain individual troopers, called ahadis. The ahadis have been called gentlemen troopers and received much higher salaries than other troopers. They were a highly trusted corps, being recruited.

India in the First Half of the Seventeenth Century directly by the emperors and having their own muster-master. An ahadi mustered up to five horses, though sometimes two of them shared a horse. The duties of ahadis were of a miscellaneous character. Most clerks of the imperial offices, the painters of the court, the foremen in the royal karkhanas belonged to this corps. Many were appointed as adjutants and carriers of imperial orders. In Shah Jahan’s reign, they numbered 7000 and were often sent into the fighting line, where they were well distributed over the different parts of the army. Many of them worked as skilled musketeers (barqa-andaz) and bowmen(tir-andaz).

In addition to the ahadis, the emperors maintained a corps of royal bodyguards (walashahis) and armed palace guards. They were cavalrymen but served on foot in the citadel and the palace.

The footmen (piyadgan) formed a numerous but miscellaneous body. Many of them consisted of matchlock- bearers (banduachi) and received salaries ranging between three and seven rupees a month. This was the infantry proper. But the foot soldiers also included porters, servants, news runners, swordsmen, wrestlers and slaves. The slaves, though not as numerous as during the Sultanat period, were clothed and fed by the emperor or by a prince. Sometimes a slave could become a gentleman trooper. But generally, foot soldiers had a low status. The Mughal emperors had a large stable of war elephants and also a well- organised park of artillery. The artillery consisted of two sections — heavy guns which were used for defending or assaulting forts; these were often clumsy and difficult to move. The second was the light artillery which was highly mobile and moved with the emperor whenever he wanted. The Mughals were solicitous of improving their artillery and, at first many Ottomans and Portuguese were employed in the artillery department. By the time of Aurangzeb, Mughal artillery had improved considerably and foreigners found employment in the artillery department with difficulty.

The big guns were sometimes extravagantly large in size but, as a modern writer says, “These huge guns made more noise than they did harm; they could not be fired many times in a day and were very liable to burst and destroy the men in charge. However, the Frenchman, Bernier, who accompanied Shah Jahan to Lahore and Kashmir, found the light artillery, called “artillery of the stirrup” to be extremely well appointed. He says: “It consisted of fifty small field pieces, all of brass; each piece mounted on a well- made and handsomely painted carriage, containing two ammunition boxes and drawn by two fine horses, with a third horse in reserve Artillery or swivel guns were also mounted on elephants and camels.

It is difficult to estimate the strength of the Mughal army. It consisted, under Shah Jahan, of about 200000 cavalry, excluding the men working in the districts and with faujdars. It rose to 240000 under Aurangzeb. The infantry under Shah Jahan excluding the non-fighting people, was placed at 40000 and may have been maintained at a similar figure under Aurangzeb.

How efficient was the Mughal army as compared to the neighbouring West and Central Asian states and the European states of the time? It is difficult to answer this question, though a number of European-travellers, such as Bernier, have, made adverse remarks about the efficiency of the Mughal army. A careful analysis shows that his remarks were really directed towards the Mughal infantry, which had no drill or discipline, was ill-organised and ill- led and resembled a rabble. The development of the infantry had taken a different road in Europe. With the development of the flint-gun, the infantry became a formidable fighting force during the seventeenth century and could even outclass the cavalry, as the Indian powers were to realise to their cost during the eighteenth century. The success of the Mughals against the Uzbeks who could match themselves with the Persians at the time of the Balkh campaigns suggests that the Mughal army was not inferior to the Central Asian and Persian armies in an open contest. Its major weakness was in the naval sphere, particularly in the field of sea-warfare. Though somewhat deficient in the field of artillery, by the time of Aurangzeb, it had apparently caught up with the Asian powers-though not with the European sea-going powers. But the army as a whole, particularly the cavalry, was closely linked with the jagirdari system which, in turn, was based on the feudal system of land relations prevalent in the country. In the ultimate resort, the strength and efficiency of one depended on the other.



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