Medieval Indian History - Mansabdari System


  • Akbar had developed a new administrative machinery and revenue system, which were maintained by the subsequent Mughal Emperors (with minor modifications).

  • The Mansabdari System, as it developed under the Mughals, was a distinctive and unique system.

  • The origins of the Mansabdari system, however, can be traced back to Changez Khan. Changez Khan organized his army on a decimal basis, the lowest unit of his army was ten, and the highest ten thousand (toman) whose commander was known as ‘Khan.’

  • There is, however, a controversy regarding the Mansabdari system i.e. when it started precisely. From the available evidence, it appears that this system had been initiated by Akbar (in 1577). Along with Mansabdari system, Akbar also reformed the revenue system and introduced two new concepts namely ‘Zat’ and ‘Sawar.’

  • The Zat rank signified the personal status of an individual in the imperial hierarchy. Zat had fixed salary.

Classification of Mansab

  • There were sixty-six grades or Mansabs from ten to ten thousand. However, ranks above five thousand were reserved for princes.

    • Persons holding ranks below 500 Zat were called ‘Mansabdars;’

    • Persons holding ranks somewhere between 500 and 2,500 were known as ‘Amirs:’ and

    • Persons holding ranks of 2,500 and above were known as ‘Amir-i-umda’ or ‘Amir-i-azam.’

  • A person with a rank of 5,000 could have under him a Mansabdar up to a rank of 500 Zat and one with a rank of 4,000 could have a Mansabdar up to a rank of 400 Zat, and so on.

  • The categories, however, were not rigid; persons were generally appointed at a low mansab, but gradually (because of his skills and loyalty) promoted. A person could also be demoted if he became incompetent or disloyal (as a mark of punishment).

  • All employees of these ranks were expected to maintain a stipulated quota of horses, elephants, beasts of burden (camels and mules), and carts from their own salary.

  • A Mansabdar holding the rank of 5,000 Zat had to maintain 340 horses, 100 elephants, 400 camels, 100 mules, and 160 carts. Over a period of time, these were maintained centrally; however, the expenses still were taken from the salary of respective Mansabdar.

  • Depending upon the quality, the horses were classified into six categories and the elephants were categorized into five categories. It was practiced because horses and elephants of high breed were greatly prized and were considered indispensable for an efficient military machine.

  • For meeting the financial requirements of all levels of Mansabdars, they were paid very handsomely.

    • A Mansabdar with a rank of 5,000 could get a salary of Rs. 30,000/month;

    • A Mansabdar with a rank of 3,000 received Rs. 17,000/month; and

    • A Mansabdar with a rank of 1,000, received Rs. 8,200/month.

  • A Mansabdar was allowed to retain 5% of the total salary of the sawars in order to meet various contingent expenses. In addition to this, he (a Mansabdar) had been given two rupees for every sawar that he maintained. This amount had been given to compensate him for his efforts and the larger responsibility (integrated into this work).

  • By the end of Akbar's reign, the highest rank a noble could attain was raised from 5,000 to 7,000, which had been given to Mirza Aziz Koka and Raja Man Singh.

  • A number of other modifications were, however, carried out, but the Mansabdari system (as discussed above) was maintained until the end of Aurangzeb's reign.

  • Depending upon the situation, Mughals also practiced to reduce salaries. For example, the average salary paid to a sawar was reduced by Jahangir.

  • Jahangir also introduced a system whereby the selected nobles could be allowed to maintain a larger quota of troopers, without raising their Zat rank. The system was popular as ‘du-aspah’ (a trooper with two horses) or ‘sih-aspah’ (a trooper with three horses) system.

  • The salaries of the Mansabdars were given in rupees, but over a period of time, they were normally not paid in cash, but rather by assigning them a ‘jagir.’

  • Mansabdars also preferred a jagir because cash payments were likely to be delayed and sometimes even entailed a lot of harassment.

  • The salaries of the Mansabdars were put on a month scale i.e. 10 months, 8 months, 6 months or even less than that. Besides, their obligations for the maintenance of a quota of sawars were also brought down accordingly.

  • Most of the Marathas who were employed in the Mughal service, were assigned Mansabs on a 5 monthly basis or even less than that. Likewise, they were given a high rank in the hierarchy, but the actual number of horses and effective sawars was much lower – according to their rank (as discussed above).

  • Under the Shah Jahan’s administration, the Mansabdari system worked properly, as he had paid personal and meticulous attention to administration.

Mughal Army

  • The cavalry was the principal arm of the Mughal army and the ‘Mansabdars’ provided the overwhelming proportion of it. In addition to the mansabdars, the Mughal emperors had also employed individual troopers, namely ‘Ahadis.’

  • The Ahadis had been more popular as gentlemen-troopers and received much higher salaries than other troopers of the same rank.

  • The Ahadis were a highly trustworthy corps, and they were directly recruited by the emperors.

  • An Ahadi mustered up to five horses; however, sometimes two of them shared one horse.

  • The duties of Ahadis were of miscellaneous type such as clerical jobs of the imperial offices, the painters of the court, the foremen in the royal karkhanas (factories), etc.

  • During the Shah Jahan’s reign, Ahadis were numbered about 7,000 and were well distributed over the different parts of the army. Many of them worked as skilled musketeers (baraq-andaz) and bowmen (tir-andaz).

  • In addition to the Ahadis, the emperors had also maintained a crop of royal bodyguards (wala-shuhis) and armed palace guards. They were actually cavalrymen, but served on foot in the citadel and the palace.

  • There were a large number of the footmen (piyadgan). Many of them consisted of matchlock-bearers (banduqchi). Their salaries were ranging between three and seven rupees a month.

  • The foot-soldiers also included porters, servants, news-runners, swordsmen, wrestlers, and slaves.

  • The Mughal emperors had a large stable of war elephants, and also a well-organized park of artillery.

  • The artillery was comprised of two sections −

    • Heavy guns, which were used for defending or assaulting forts; these were often clumsy and difficult to move and

    • The light artillery, which was highly mobile and moved with the emperors whenever needed.

  • Under the Shah Jahan reign, the Mughal army consisted of about 200,000, excluding the men working in the districts and with faujdars. However, this number increased to 240,000 during the Aurangzeb period.