The high-ranking members of the royal court constituted the riling echelons of the Muslim rule in the subcontinent. This class comprised of courtiers, army commanders and provincial governors and they were considered the pillars of the state. This class also included bureaucracy that specialised in managing the chores of administrative aspects of governance. This class exercised real power and it was due to their performance that Muslim rule was made possible. It was highly pampered because of the vital role it played in ruling the country.
In the early years of Muslim rule (1206-1399) foreign adventurers and warriors monopolised appointments to high offices. In the beginning the Turks formed the bulk of the ruling elite. They were however valuable assisted by Persians, Abyssinians, Egyptians, Afghans and converted Mongols also continued to obtain high positions. Under the Lodi sultans (1451-1526), Afghan adventurers of various tribes and clans flocked to India on the invitation of Sultan Bahlol Lodhi. Even in the Mughal times (1526-1707-1857) the imperial service remained predominantly foreign with Iranis and Turanis forming the core of the cadre. The Turanis hailed from Central Asia where the Turkish language was spoken and Iranis comprised the Persian speaking people and belonged to the region presently extending from Iraq and Iran to Afghanistan.
The Mughal nobility was streamlined by Emperor Akbar giving it a pyramid structure with clearly defined responsibilities and salaries. He converted the imperial nobility on imperial service with the emperor controlling it and called the servants of the state as Mansabdars. The Mansabdars were not only government officers but also the richest class in the empire. They formed a closed aristocracy as entrance into this class was not usually possible for the common people, whatever their merits. Naturally, therefore, the most important factor which was taken into account when nobles were appointed was heredity. The Khanazads, the scions of royalty and sons and descendants of Mansabdars had the best claim to such appointments.
The Indian Muslim nobles, who were local converts, also rose to be officers in the upper cadres but foreigners were always preferred. The Muslim sultans however preferred foreigners over local aristocrats, particularly Sultan Muhammad Tughlaq who always preferred foreign Muslims to locals for appointment as officers. The rebellion of Ain-ul-Mulk Multani (1339) during his reign was a symptom of the resentment felt by the India-born nobles against this policy of prejudice. On the other hand some local-born personnel rose high in the hierarchy such as Khan-i-Jahan, a Telingana Brahmin convert, dominated the court of Sultan Firoz Tughlaq.
Foreign nobles looked down upon Indian Muslim nobles and considered them as lowborn, although not all foreign Muslims were of high lineage. Throughout the Muslim rule, low-born foreigners used to come as individuals and in groups to seek employment in India. It was observed in the 17th century that the Umra mostly consist of adventurers from different nations who entice one another to the court and are generally persons of low descent, some having been originally slaves, and the majority being destitute of education. The Muslim rulers raised them to dignity but the notion that all foreigners were low-born is not entirely correct. Since the Muslim court offered huge incentives therefore foreigners came to the subcontinent in droves.
Whether they were high and low, foreign and Indian, the Muslim nobles after all belonged to one and the same cadre and they tried to come closer together. On the one hand, foreign Muslims used to become locals after the lapse of a few generations and the children of the third and fourth generation of Uzbeks, Persians, Arabs and Turks were held in much less respect than the new comers. On the other hand, the low-born Indian Muslim became elitist with rise in economic status. Belonging to Islam was a great cementing force, and, whatever the colour of the skin, all Muslim nobles tried to feel as one, as belonging to the ruling elite, as searching for exotic roots.
Besides the competition between Indian and foreign Muslim nobles, there was also constant contest between Muslim and Hindu nobles. With the permanent establishment of Muslim rule, the policy of the sultans was generally to keep the Hindus excluded and appoint only Muslims but the Hindus possessed native intelligence and experience and many of the best Hindus had to be employed, especially during the Mughal period. The Hindus played an important part in a way as they consisted almost half the army and half the land.
The nobility was in attendance on the king in the capital or in camp and in outstations held civil and military assignments, as governors of provinces or commanders of the army. Indeed they were expected to cultivate versatility, there being no distinction between civil and military appointments and duties. Abul Fazl, the most eminent literary figure of the time, distinguished himself in military operations in the Deccan and Raja Birbal, after many years as court wit, met his death fighting Yusafzais as commander of troops on the frontier.
The nobles were called Umara and were graded as Khans, Maliks, Amirs and Sipehsalars in the Sultanate period and as Mansabdars under the Mughals. A Sarkhail commanded ten horsemen; a Sipehsalar ten Sarkhails, an Amir ten Sipahsalars, a Malik ten Amirs and a Khan, ten Maliks. A Khan commanded more or less 100,000 troops, an Amir 10,000, a Malik a thousand, and so on. The term Amir was normally used in a generic sense to denote a high officer. In Akbar’s time and after, all the great men of the Mughal Empire were graded and appointed to a mansab (rank) in the imperial service. From the lowest rank, that of the commander of ten, up to the rank of 400 an officer was known as Mansabdar. From 500 onwards a noble was known as Amir, or Khan, or Khan-i-Azam. They were all generally spoken of as Umara.
The Umara were highly paid. Their remuneration was paid sometimes in the form of a cash salary, others by the grant of a revenue assignment or iqta. The iqta was basically a salary collected at source. According to the chroniclers of the Sultanate period every Khan received two lakh tankahs, every Malik from 50 to 60 thousand tankahs, every Amir from 40 to 50 thousand tankahs. The salaries during the Mughal period were equally high. It is now known that the commander of 5,000 could count on at least Rs.18,000 a month under Akbar and his successors. He could even improve upon this amount if he practised judicious economy in his military expenditure and had the good fortune of securing a profitable jagir. A commander of 1,000 could similarly count on receiving Rs.5,000 a month while a commander of 500 would have received the equivalent of Rs.5,000 to 6,000 at the same rate.
The precise equivalent of the salary structure could not be computed but it appears that the nobility was extremely well-remunerated and enjoyed tremendous perks and privileges. However the ruling class was always tested for its bravery, enterprise and loyalty. There was intense competition in the royal court and the imperial cadres had to work extremely hard to discharge their responsibilities and remain in the constant favour of the ruler. TW