Mughals were the first rulers of the subcontinent to reign over almost the entire land and were able to carve out a social code that was sustainable and had left indelible marks on social pattern of current life in all areas they held their sway. The cities of the empire were sprawling places and their prosperity is attested to by many foreign travelers who visited them. Lahore and Agra was described to be cities larger than London and could match any city in Europe. Other cities like Surat, Ahmadabad, Allahabad, Benares, and Patna similarly excited the admiration of visitors.
Mughals were efficient rulers and their effective governance particularly among the urban areas encouraged trade. The pivot of urban administration was the Kotwal, the administrator of city. In addition to his executive and judicial powers, it was his duty to prevent and detect crime, to perform many of the functions now assigned to the municipal boards, to regulate prices and in general, to be responsible for the peace and prosperity of the city. The efficient discharge of these duties depended on the personality of the individual city governor and the Mughals ensured high standards by making the Kotwal personally responsible for the property and the security of the citizens.
Following the path laid down by Sher Shah Suri of fixing responsibility of governance, Akbar decreed that the Kotwal was to either recover stolen goods or be held responsible for their loss. This was not only a pious hope that is borne out by the testimony of several foreign travelers who state that the Kotwal was personally liable to make good the value of any stolen property which he was unable to recover. The kotwals often found pretexts to evade the ultimate responsibility but in general they took elaborate measures to prevent thefts. The office lingered on till the British times with the difference that its responsibilities were confined to policing and the magisterial part of his job was assigned to separate magistracy.
The field of commerce and trade was usually handled by the traditional Hindu merchant classes, whose business acumen was proverbial. Mughals greatly appreciated their skills and valued their contribution. Their caste guilds added to the skills in trade and commerce that they had learned through the centuries. Hindus preferred settling their disputes through their panchayats and the Mughals hardly interfered with them. Mughals were very sensitive to the business affairs and always swiftly tried to redress their complaints though sometimes the despotic form of government created much heart-burning and acrimony.
Muslims certainly enjoyed advantages in higher administrative posts and in the army but the Mughal Empire let the Hindu merchants maintain the monopoly in trade and finance that they had had during the sultanate. Few Muslims were engaged in handicraft industries and even when a Muslim merchant did have a large business, he employed Hindu bookkeepers and agents. Banking was almost exclusively in Hindu hands and it was witnessed that in the years of the decline of the Mughals, a rich Hindu banker would finance his favourite rival claimant for the throne. History records that Aurangzeb was helped by a loan of rupees five and a half lakhs advanced by Jain bankers of Ahmadabad. In this context Jagat Seths of Murshidabad became kingmakers in Bengal and a clear contrast could be observed with the British rule in which the British not only monopolised the higher civil service posts but also controlled most of the major industries as well as the great banks and trading agencies.
Following the centuries old tradition Muslim Mughal Empire remained essentially an urban affair. Mughals scarcely disturbed the old organisation of the villages and the panchayats continued to settle most disputes, with the state impinging very little on village life, except for the collection of land revenue and even this was very often done on a village basis rather than through individuals, with the age-old arrangements being preserved. The incidence of land revenue was substantially higher under the Mughals than in British India but the administration was more flexible, both in theory and in practice, in its assessment and collection. Apart from the remission of land revenue when crops failed, there was reduction in government demand even when bumper crops caused prices to fall. The state also advanced loans to the cultivators and occasionally provided seed as well as implements for digging wells. Loans advanced to the cultivators for seeds, implements, bullocks, or digging of wells were called Taqavi—an expression which has continued in modern land revenue administration.
Mughal India contained many similarities between social customs followed by both Muslims and Hindus particularly in marriages. Early marriages were much in vogue amongst the Hindus with seven considered the proper age for a girl to be married. To leave a daughter unmarried beyond twelve years of age was to risk the displeasure of one’s caste. The Muslims also betrothed their children between the ages of six and eight but the marriage was generally not solemnised before they had attained the age of puberty. In both communities polygamy was common particularly in the wealthier classes whereas divorce was generally avoided even in these classes.
Mughal lifestyle included observing purdah that was very strictly observed. Marriage negotiations were undertaken by the professional broker or the friends of either party. The marriage ceremonies were more or less the same as they are at present and the character of the average marriage in the subcontinent has not witnessed any fundamental change. The emphasis on the obligations of a son towards his father and the wife’s duty to her husband was in practice as religiously followed. The social cohesion was quite intense and despite family disputes in the ruling family common people largely adhered to family unity.
The people were very superstitions and these sentiments played a prominent part in their daily lives to the point that had the potential of disturbing social equilibrium. Charms were used not merely to ensnare a restive husband but also to secure such other ends as the birth of a son or cure of a disease. The fear of the evil eye was ever present … and the young child was considered particularly susceptible. People gave tremendous weight to all sorts of omens and devoted considerable time and effort to follow good omens. Even strictly religious ruler like Aurangzeb preferred to wait outside his capital after being victorious in war of succession as the official astrologer forbade him to enter till an auspicious moment. Like in the past, astrologers were very much in demand, even at the Mughal court and hardly anything moved without obtaining their approval.
The top echelons of Mughal hierarchy lived in great houses decorated with rich hangings and carpets wearing finest cotton or silk, decorated with gold, carrying beautiful scimitars. There was a considerable element of ostentatious display involved in this, however, for their domestic arrangements did not match the outward splendor of their dress and equipment. The courtly manners and the elaborate etiquette of the Muslim upper classes impressed foreign visitors and these manners infiltrated the middle classes. The rural population usually followed the traditional forms of behaviour and lived and acted simply.
Mughal society was celebrated for its cultural finesse and fundamental courtesy and respectful manners were in vogue. The society was fundamentally generous and underpinned by hospitality and all visitors were served with soft drinks accompanied by nicely and richly wrapped betel and betel-nut. They were very respectfully received and civilly escorted out at the time of departure. Mealtime was considered sacred and strict etiquette was observed while having dinners. There is no need to elaborate upon the sumptuousness of the Mughal Empire and the traditions continue till today.
The favourite indoor game of the Mughals was dice and various domestic games were also in practice. More emphasis was placed on outdoor sports such as Polo and hunting was a favourite pastime. Watching elephant-fights, hunting, excursions and picnics, were also very popular and people thronged to many open areas prepared for holding such ventures. People visited shrines of holy men in droves and most of the Mughal ruling class also were found on these places. Many Mughal rulers entertained holy figures and valued their company. TW