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Mansabdari system - Mughal Empire

Categories: Mughal Empire


Mansabdari system

It was the generic term for the military -type grading of all imperial officials of the Mughal Empire. The mansabdars governed the empire and commanded its armies in the emperor’s name. Though they were usually aristocrats, they did not form a feudal aristocracy, for neither the offices nor the estates that supported them were hereditary The term is derived from Mansab, meaning ‘rank’. Hence, Mansabdar literally means rank-holder.


Instituted by the Mughal emperor Akbar, Mansabdari was a system common to both the military and the civil department.

Basically the Mansabdari system was borrowed from Persia. It was prevalent during the reign of Babur and Humayun. Akbar made some important changes to the system and made it more efficient. Mansabdar was referred to as the official, rank, or the dignity.

Two grades delineated the mansabdars. Those mansabdars whose rank was one thousand (hazari) or below were called the Amir. Those mansabdars whose rank was above 1000, were called the Amiral Kabir (Great Amir).

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Some Great Amirs whose rank were above 5000 were also given the title of Amir-al Umara (Amir of Amirs)


The Mansabdars were differentiated by the Zat and the Sawar Rank. The Zat referred to the number of troops maintained by the Mansabdar and the Sawar referred to the number of horses maintained by the Mansabdar. It was dependent on whether the king ordered the Mansabdar to maintain more horses than his rank. The categories are shown below: -No. of Sawar = No. of Zat => 1st Class Mansabdar

  • No. of Sawar = 1/2 the No. of Zat => 2nd Class Mansabdar
  • No. of Sawar < 1/2 the No. of Zat => 3rd Class Mansabdar

A Mansabdar was in the service of the state and was bound to render service when asked. Additionally, they were graded on the number of armed cavalrymen, or sowars, which each had to maintain for service in the imperial army. Thus all mansabdars had a zat, or personal ranking, and a sowar, or a troop ranking. All servants of the empire, whether in the civil or military departments were graded in this system. There were thirty-three grades of mansabdars ranging from ‘commanders of 10’ to ‘commanders of 10,000’. Till the middle of Akbar’s reign, the highest rank an ordinary officer could hold was that of a commander of 5000; the more exalted grades between commanders of 7000 and 10,000 were reserved for the royal princes.

During the period following the reign of Akbar, the grades were increased up to 20,000 or even more generally rs.20-25 per horse were paid to a mansabdar. Appointment, promotion, suspension or dismissal of mansabdars rested entirely with the emperor. No portion of a mansabdar’s property was hereditary, a mansabdar’s children had to begin life anew. A mansabdar did not always begin at the lowest grade. The emperor, if satisfied, could and did grant higher or even the highest grade to any person. There was no distinction between civil and military departments. Both civil and military officers held mansabs and were liable to be transferred from one branch of the administration to another.

Each mansabdar was expected to maintain prescribed number of horses, elephants, equipment, etc., according to his rank and dignity. These rules, though initially strictly enforced, were later slackened. Senior mansabdars were awarded a jagir (personal fief) rather than a salary. Rates of remuneration, which included both the mansabdar’s salary and so much per sowar, were matched by jagirs affording a similar aggregate yield. If their specified yield came to more, the surplus was due to the imperial treasury; if the jagirdar extracted more than the specified yield, he kept it.


The mansabdari system introduced by Akbar was a unique feature of the administrative system of the Mughal Empire. .The mansabdari system was of Central Asian origin. According to one view Babur brought it to North India. The term mansab (i.e. office, position or rank) in the Mughal administration indicated the rank of its holder (mansabdar) in the official hierarchy But the credit of giving it an institutional framework goes to Akbar who made it the basis of Mughal military organization and civil administration.

The mansabdars formed the ruling group in the Mughal Empire. Almost the whole nobility, the bureaucracy as well as the military hierarchy, held mansabs. Conse¬quently, the numerical strength of the mansabdars and their composition during different periods materially influenced not only politics and ad¬ministration but also the economy of the empire. Since the mansabdars of the Mughal empire received their pay either in cash (naqd) or in the form of assignments of areas of land (jagir) from which they were entitled to collect the land revenue and all other taxes sanctioned by the emperor, the mansabdari system was also an in-tegral part of the agrarian and the jagirdari system. BASIC FEATURES:

In the early years of Akbar’s reign the mansabs (ranks) ranged from command of 10 to 5,000 troops. Subsequently the highest mansabs were raised from 10,000 to 12,000; but there was no fixed number of mansabdars. From the reign of Akbar to Aurangzeb their number kept on in¬creasing. In or about 1595 the total numbers of mansabdars during the reign of Akbar was 1803; but towards the close of Aurangzeb’s rein their number rose to 14,449. In theory all mansabdars were appointed by the emperor, who also granted promotions on the basis of gallantry in military service and merit. The mansabdars holding ranks below 500 zat were called mansabdars, those more than 500 but below 2,500 amirs and those holding ranks of 2,500 and above were called amir-i-umda or amir-i-azam or omrahs.

The mansabdars who received pay in cash were known as naqdi and those paid through assignments of jagirs were called jagirdars. The jagirs were by nature trans¬ferable and no mansabdar was allowed to retain the same jagir for a long period. The watan-jagirs were the only exception to the general system of jagir transfers. The watan-jagirs were normally granted to those zamindars who were already in possession of their watans (homelands) before the expansion of the Mughal empire. The mansab was not hereditary and it automatically lapsed after the death or dismissal of the mansabdar. The son of a mansabdar, if he was granted a mansab, had to begin afresh. Another important feature of the mansabdari system was the law of escheat (zabti), according to which when a mansabdar died all his property was confiscated by the emperor. This measure had been introduced so that the mansab¬dars did not exploit the people in a high-handed manner.


As the Mughal Empire expanded to encompass different regions the mughals recruited diverse bodies of people. From a small nucleaus of Turkish nobles they expanded to include Iranians, Indian Muslims,Afghans,Rajputs,Marathas and other groups. Those who joined Mughal service were enrolled as Mansabdars. The term Mansabdars refers to an individual who holds a mansab meaning a position or a rank.It was a grading system used by the Mughals to fix rank, salary and military responsibilities, Rank and salary was determined by numerical value called zat.

The higher the zat,the more prestigious was the noble’s position in court and larger his salary. The mansabdar’s military responsibilities required him to maintain a specified number of sawars or cavalrymen. The mansabdar brought his cavalrymen for review, got them registered, their horses branded and then received money to pay them as salary.Mansabdars received their salaries as revenue assignments called jagirs which were somewhat like iqtas.Most mansabdars didn’t actually
reside in or administer their jagirs.

Defects of Mansabdari System in The Mughal Period


The formative structure of the Mughal Empire was completely like military pattern and fidelity to the Mughal emperors acted as the main base of this formative structure the virtual pillar of the Mughal Empire was Mansabdari system. Like the I.C.S. in the English regime the Mansabdari system in the Mughal reign was the main power of autocratic government.

The very word ‘Mansab’ means rank and so from this viewpoint ‘Mansabdari system’ is ‘a holder of a rank in the imperial service’. The Mansabdari system was not hereditary and the emperor himself according to his own will power could appoint any person judging on the person’s efficiency to the post of Mansab. So long as it was intact there was no cause for being anxious about its existence.

Defects of Mansabdari System:

Firstly, in the formative structure of the Mughal Empire the Mansabdari system acted as a military machine. But as all the administrative sections were added with the central arrangement the efficiency of Mansabdari system was to a great extent. The bureaucratic complexity and procrastination weakened this system. Moreover, success of this system de- pended mostly on the efficiency and skill of the Empire himself. And, therefore during the reign of the debilitated Mughal emperors after Aurangzeb the Mansabdari system almost broke down. Secondly, the Badshahs had no conception about the fact that all the Mansabdars could not be equally skilled in warfare and in maneuvering an army.

The Mughal Mansabdars had to play an equally important role both in administrative and in military work and as such it s utmost difficult to maintain equilibrium between the two. Very often an efficient administrative Mansabdar could not display equal skilful performance in battle field. One should not expect military skill in warfare from Abul Fajal. Prof. Aneruddha Roy said, the Mughals believed that any Mansabdar barring a few theologies and philosophers could be military commanders and often sent to military campaigns. Men like Abul Fazal were fare effective when they were masters of the pen than that of the sword, yet they were sent to the field.

Thirdly, armies in the Mughal regime were formed according to this system and so all the armies could not be concorded into one national army. In battle field the Mughal emperors were entirely dependable on the Mansabdars. There was no direct relation and communication between an ordinary soldier and the emperor himself. Communication exists between the ordinary soldiers and the Mansabdar, the immediate boss. Consequently, the fidelity of a soldier was to his Mansabdar, not to the emperor. So, if the Mansabdar revolted against the emperor, the soldiers would support the Mansabdar, not the emperor. Fourthly, because of the pan city of Jaigir and due to the competition among the Mansabdars for acquiring the best Jaigir the Mansabdars would turn a deaf ear to the interest of the Empire and in- stead they would think only of their own interest. Dishonesty and perversion of the Mansabdars disclosed nakedly the weakness of this system. Badauni pointed out how the Mansabdars cheated the Mughal emperors in illegal ways. There was far difference between the real numbers of horses and so wars and what the numbers of horses and so wars should be.

To eradicate this prevention Akbar introduced Daag and Chehera systems. But prevention was not entirely extirpated as reposted by Abul Fazal. Fifthly, struggle among the Mansabdars and nation, group, religion, etc. would hinder in maneuvering the Mughal army. The Mansabdars were divided into groups subgroups, etc. Envy, competition, struggle, selfishness etc. could not unite them. The emperors would take advantage of this situation and consolidate his hold and domineering. And for this sake the emperors intentionally to remained united. But this discard was extremely harmful for its stability. As a result during the reign of inefficient emperors after the death of Aurangzeb this discord among the groups and subgroups would en- danger the existence of the Mughal Empire. Sixthly, the Mansabdars would deprive their soldiers of their wages and this would create grievance among the soldiers. Among the Mansabdars there were some local Jamindars and Kings.

These Jamindars and Kings would create hindrance in the integration of the Empire during the reign of inefficient emperors. Besides, the role of the Mansabdars as per the rights of the waton Jaigirs would increase the feebleness of the Empire. Seventhly, many foreign Muslim Mansabdars lived permanently in India as their wages were highly attractive. But after coming to India and living here permanently they became degraded. Their skill, efficiency and working power gradually decreased. Not only they received incrative wages but their expenditure was also high. Besides the expenditure for the Mughal army and their weapons the Mansabdars also used to lead highly luxurious life and at the same time because of their high life style they were put into financial problem though sometimes they used to receive more than their usual wages. After wards the numbers of Mansabdars increase but that of Jaigir did not increase proportionately. Besides there was not sufficient financial gain from the increased number of Jaigirs and a crisis took place.

As such getting new Jaigir was not profitable. On the other hand Mansabdari was not hereditary and at the end of ser- vice period of Mansabdari the landed property and wealth of the Mansabdars would be seized by the emperor and for this reason the Mansabdars would not care to save wealth and they would spend in luxury all they would earn. This crisis began in the regime of Aurangzeb and it deepened after his death. Eighthly, due to the biasness to the Mansabdars of the south the khanjad Mansabdars suffered greatly. For this reasons strife among the ruling class grew and gradually deepened. The relationship between the emperor and the Mansabdars was that of patronage. The duration of this relationship depended on the constant increasement of the estate of the Empire. It is highly remarkable that due to the wrong decan rule of Aurangzeb deficiency of estate grew and the relationship of patronage broke down and along with that the fidelity of the Mansabdars to the emperor ended gradually. Assessment Evaluation: After analyzing the defects of the Mansabdari system I have realized that if some aspects of this system were modified, it would achieve success completely.

If the Mansabdari would participate in warfare only, then the Mughal army would be stronger and more powerful and at the same time the duration of the Empire would increase. If the emperors after Akbar would think deeply about the improvement of this system, it would be successful then. If the estate of the Mansabdars would not be seized at the end of their service period and if their estate and wealth would be given to the successors, they would not be too much luxurious when they were Mansabdars and in- stead they would pay heed to save wealth for their successors. They would rather think of the improvement of this system and this would make it a grand success.


The Mughals retained many features of the administrative system of the Sultanate and Shershah. Under Shershah the administrative units of Pargana (a group of villages),sarkar (a group of parganas) and groups of sarkars (some what like subas or province) were placed under specific offices. The Mughals formalized a new territorial unit called suba. Institutions of Jagir and Mansab system were also introduced by the Mughals. Thus change and continuity both marked the Mughal administrative Structure which brought about a high degree of centralization in the system.

Mansab System

The mansab and Jagir system under the Mughals in India evolved through the time. Mansabdari was a unique system devised by the Mughals in India. The mansabdari system, evolved by Akbar with certain changes and modifications, was the basis of civil and military administrations under the Mughals. The word mansab means a place or position. The mansab awarded to an individual fixed both his status in the official hierarchy and also his salary. It also fixed the number of armed retainers the holders of mansab was to maintain. The system was formulated to streamline rank of the nobles, fix their salary and specify the number of cavalry to be maintained by them. Under the mansab system ranks were expressed in numerical terms. Abul Fazl states that Akbar had established 66 grades of Mansabdars ranging from commanders of 10 horsemen to 10,000 horsemen, although only 33 grades have been mentioned by him. Initially a single number represented the rank, personal pay and the size of the contingent of the mansabdar.

Later the rank of mansabdar came to be denoted by two numbers- Zat and-Sawar. The Zat denoted personal rank of an official and the Sawar indicated the size of contingents maintained by the mansabdars. Depending on the strength of contingent Mansabdars were placed in three categories. Let us take the example of a mansabdar who had a rank of 7000 zat and 7000 sawar (7000/7000). In the first Zat and Sawar ranks were equal (7000/7000). In the second, Sawar rank was lower than the Zat but stopped at half, or fifty percent, of the Zat rank (7000/4000). In the third, Sawar rank was lower than fifty percent of the Zat rank (7000/3000). Thus the Sawar rank was either equal or less than the Zat. Even if the Sawar rank was higher, the mansabdar’s position in the official hierarchy would not be affected. It will be decided by the Zat rank. For example, a mansabdar with 4000 Zat and 2000 Sawar was higher in rank than a Mansabdar of 3000 Zat and 3000 Sawar.

But there were exceptions to this rule particularly when the mansabdar was serving in a difficult terrian amidst the rebels. In such cases the state often increased the Sawar rank without altering the Zat rank. Some times Sawar rank was also increased for a temporary period to meet emergency situations.

Jahangir introduced a new provision in the Sawar rank. According to it a part of Sawar rank was termed du-aspa sih-aspa in case of select mansabdars. For this part additional payment at the same rate 8,000 dams per Sawar was sanctioned. Thus if the Sawar rank was 4000 out of which 1000 was du-aspa sih-aspa, salary for this Sawar was calculated as 3,000 × 8,000 + (1,000 × 8,000’ × 2) = 40,000,000 dams. Without du-aspa sih-aspa, salary for the 4,000 Sawar would have stood at (4,000 × 8,000) = 32,000,000 dams. Thus the mansabdar was to maintain double number of Sawars for the du-aspa sih-aspa category and was paid for it. Jahangir probably introduced this provision to promote nobles of his confidence and strengthen them militarily.

By this provision he could increase the military strength of his nobles without effecting any change in their Zat rank. Any increase in their Zat rank would not only have led to jealously among other nobles but also an additional burden on the treasury. Shahjahan introduced the month-scale in the, mansabdari system to compensate the gap between Jama (estimated income) and hasil (actual realisation). The mansabaars were generally paid through revenue assignments Jagirs. The biggest problem was that calculation was made on the basis of the expected income (Jama) from the Jagir during one year. It was noticed that the actual revenue collection (hasil) always fell short of the estimated income.

In such a situation, the mansabdar’s salary were fixed by a method called month-scale. Thus, if a Jagir yielded only half of the Jama, it was called Shashmaha (six monthly), if it yielded only one fourth, it was called Sihmaha (three monthly). The month scale was applied to cash salaries also. There were deductions from the sanctioned pay also. During the reign of Shahjahan the mansabdars were allowed to maintain 1/5 to 1/3 of the sanctioned strength of the Sawar rank without any accompanying reduction in their claim on the maintenance amount for the Sawar rank. Aurangzeb continued with all these changes and created an additional rank called Mashrut (conditional). This was an attempt to increase the sawar rank of the mansabdar temporarily. Aurangzeb added one another deduction called Khurak-idawwab, towards meeting the cost for feed of animals in the imperial stables.


The mansabdari system was an improvement over the systems of tribal chieftainship and feudalism; it was a progressive and systematic method adopted by Akbar to re-organize his army within the fold of despotic monarchy. Although many mansabdars were allowed to recruit soldiers on tribal or religious considerations, they were also made to know that they owed unconditional allegiance to the central government. Single men approaching the court in the hope of obtaining employment in the army, were obliged first to seek a patron. These men generally attached themselves to chiefs from their own race; Mughals became the followers of Mughals, Persians of Persians, and so on.

This led to a certain homogeneity of military traits and the development of tactics particularly suited to the military prowess of individual groups. Certain groups began to be identified with certain qualities-Rajput and Pathan soldiers were considered most valuable for their martial prowess and fidelity, for instance. As a result of the mansabdari system, the emperor had no longer to depend exclusively on the mercenaries of the feudal chieftains. The mansabdari system put an end to the jagirdari system within the territories under the direct control of the imperial government. No portion of a mansab was hereditary, and a mansabdar’s children had to begin afresh. All appointments, promotions, suspensions and dismissal of the mansabdars rested entirely with the emperor.

Every mansabdar was thus held personally respon¬sible to the monarch; this factor eliminated chances of disaffection and revolts by the military officers and may be said to be a major achievement of mansabdari system. Nevertheless, the mansabdari system suffered from many disadvantages as well. The -system did not give birth to an army of national character since two-thirds of the mansabdars were either foreigners or descendants of foreign immigrants. In spite of Akbar’s rather secular policy in the matter of recruitment, Hindus formed barely nine per cent of the aggregate strength of the imperial cadre. The state’s failure to recruit all the soldiers under the supervision of a central or imperial agency, was to cost it dearly. Since mansabdars were free to recruit their soldiers as they pleased, they preferred to enroll men of their own tribe, race, religion or region.

While this led to homogenisation of military tactics, it also divided the imperial army into many hetero¬geneous units. There were no uniform rules for the systematic training of the soldiers, nor for the conduct of regular drill or physical exercise to keep them fit. No uniform standard was fixed for arming the soldiers; as a result, there was considerable variation in the weapons borne by them. The standard of efficiency also varied from contingent to contingent. Furthermore, as soldiers were recruited by a mansabdar for his own contingent, they regarded him as the real employer and patron, and tended to display more loyalty to their immediate military commander than the emperor. A mansabdar always ommanded the same troops for life and transfers f the soldiers from one contingent to another were not known. As the soldiers received their salaries and allowances from the mansabdars, the latter could cheat the state if they wanted to.

A dishonest mansabdar could, for instance, recruit less than the specified number of troops as indicated by his swar rank and get the salaries paid to the fictitious men, or alternatively, get fictitious payrolls prepared in the name of non-existent person, in collaboration with the corrupt staff of the army establishment or the finance department. The high-ranking mansabdars, like the amirs and amir-ul-umara, were the most highly paid officers of the state. As the Mughal empire was in a formative stage, it was involved in a process of continuous conquests and annexations. Thus the military officers were often in a position to appropriate for them¬selves a substantial part of the booty.

Even if Akbar did come to know of the misconduct of his senior officers in this regard, he could not take action against each one of them. As members of the ruling elite, the high-ranking mansabdars followed the example of their rulers in enjoying highly luxurious and extravagant standards of living. Since their offices and privileges were not hereditary, they were not allowed to pass on their wealth and property to their descendants. So they were tempted to spend as much and as quickly as they could. The prestigious personal establishments, once developed, could not be cut to size, and many mansabdars, finding it difficult to live within their means, overdrew from the royal treasury or bor-rowed heavily from other sources. All this ultimately resulted in the deterioration of character and martial qualities of the mansabdars. Their demoralisation adversely affected the discipline and standard of efficiency of their military contingents. Under the later Mughals, the mansabdari system began to lose its true characteristics.

The discrepancy between the actual number of the swar maintained and the numbers that a mansabdar was expected to maintain, increased. For example, during Shahajahan’s reign, a mansabdar holding a jagir in the same suba in which he was serving, was to bring one-third of the swar rank to the muster; if his jagir was in a different suba, then he was to bring only one-fourth of his swar for the muster; and if he served in Balka and Badakshan, then he was to bring only one-fifth of his swar. By Shahjahan’s time, the swar rank could even exceed the zat rank. Under Aurangzeb, the mansabdars could be paid either in cash or by the grant of jagirs. If more than half the salary was paid in cash, it was called naqdv, if more than half of it was in the form of jagir, then it was called jagirdari, and a different set-of rules guarded their interests. While the value of the jagir increased on paper, the actual income of the mansabdars remained the same.

The service obligations were reduced as a consequence, and they were paid for the number of months that they rendered service. The princes were the only ones who were paid salaries for twelve months; all the mansabdars were paid for a period of three to eight months, though, in exceptional cases, this could be extended to eleven months. When the empire was involved in continuous warfare against the Rajputs and Marathas during Aurang- zeb’s reign, the mansabdars were allowed to main¬tain a larger contingent than was warranted by their swar rank. As a result of the various discrepancies that crept in, the mansabdari system proved cum¬bersome and untenable.

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