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Day 17: History - History (Day 13 to 23)

Delhi Sultanate to Mughal Era

Medieval India (AD1200 to AD1707)

During the sultanate period of around three hundred years five different dynasties ruled Delhi. These were the Mamluks (AD 1206–AD 1290) (popularly known as slave dynasty), the Khaljis (AD 1290–AD 1320), the Tughlaqs (AD 1320–AD 1412), the Sayyids (AD 1412–AD 1451) and the Lodis (AD 1451– AD 1526). All these dynasties are collectively referred as the Delhi Sultanate.

The Mughal Empire at its zenith commanded resources unprecedented in Indian history and covered almost the entire subcontinent. From 1556 to 1707, during the heyday of its fabulous wealth and glory, the Mughal Empire was a fairly efficient and centralized organization, with a vast complex of personnel, money, and information dedicated to the service of the emperor and his nobility.

Economy in Medieval India


  • Agricultural production constituted the bulk of production during medieval period. The income from agriculture was the main source of state revenue.
  • It is to be noted that there was a favourable ratio of land to man i.e., availability of land in surplus than the actual land cultivated by peasants during the Mughal period as well.
  • The rulers of this era, therefore, harped on the policy of expansion of agriculture to such areas which were hitherto not under cultivation. Agriculture was introduced to tribal, backward, and outlying areas. Forests were cleared and agricultural wastelands were converted into cultivable lands.
  • The medieval Indian peasants produced a variety of food crops, cash crops, vegetables and spices.The principal food crops produced were rice, wheat, barley, millet (jowar, bajra) and a variety of pulses such as gram, arhar, moong, moth, urd, khisari etc. Sugarcane, cotton, indigo, opium, silk etc. were some of the prominent cash crops of medieval India. Making of wine from sugarcane became widespread by the fourteenth century. During the Mughal period, sugarcane was the most widely grown cash crop with Bengal producing the finest quality.
  • The Indian agriculture has always depended on various sources of water both natural and artificial, for its irrigational requirements, viz - rain, wells, river, tanks, canals, lakes, etc. Dams, lakes and water reservoirs were some of the important means of irrigation. In south India, the state, local chiefs and temple managements constructed a number of dams over rivers for this purpose.
  • The Madaglake, for instance, was built by the Vijaynagar rulers on the Tungbhadra river to meet the irrigational need of the adjoining territories. Lakes and water reservoirs such as the Dhebar, Udaisagar, Rajasamand and Jaisamand (all in Mewar); Balsan (Marwar) and Mansagar (Amber) etc. served as important sources of irrigation in medieval Rajasthan.
  • Wells, as a common source of irrigation, were uniformly spread in different parts of the country. A number of artificial devices were used to lift water from wells.
  • Persian wheel/araghatta: There is evidence to argue that this system of lifting water from open wells was probably invented in the India of the past. With its use also in Iran, the then Persia, and perhaps its discovery there, it came to be called the Persian wheel.It was the most advanced water lifting device of this period.
  • The Delhi Sultans, in particular, promoted canal irrigation. GhiyassuddinTughlaq (A.D 1320–1325) built a number of canals for this purpose. However, Firuz Shah Tughlaq laid the largest network of canals. Four such canals are frequently mentioned in contemporary sources. These were - (i) from Sutlej to Ghaggar, (ii) Opening from the Nandavi and Simur hills to Arasani, (iii) from Ghaggar, reaching upto the village to HiransiKhera, and (iv) excavated from Yamuna and extended uptoFiruzabad. The tradition of Delhi Sultans to construct canals was continued by the Mughal emperors as well. The NahrFaiz, for instance, built during Shahjahan’s reign carried water from Yamuna and irrigated a large area.

Land Revenue

  • The medieval state derived the largest share of its income from land revenue. An elaborate mechanism of land revenue administration gradually developed due to efforts of medieval rulers like AlauddinKhalji, Sher Shah Suri and Akbar.
  • During the medieval period different methods of revenue assessment and collection were used. The most simple and basic method was crop sharing or batai.The state fixed a certain ratio of produce as state’s share.
  • In the second method known as Kankut the measurement was important. In this method land was first measured. After measurement the productivity of land was estimated to fix the revenue demand per unit of measured area.
  • This Third method was called Zabt since the assessment was done on the basis of measurement. Based on yields the share of the state was decided.
  • Three types of crop sharing was in practice. These were - first, division of crop at threshing floor after the grain was obtained; second, Khet-batai, i.e. division of field when the crop was standing; and third, the Langbatai in which the crop was cut and stacked in heaps without separating grain. The share of the state was decided in this form.
  • The problem of compiling fresh rates every year for different localities was overcome through adoption of Ain-i-Dahsala or ten years revenue rates.
  • The Mughal land revenue administration was organised at the pargana level. The task of surveying of land and collection of revenue was entrusted to different officials. Amin was the head of the surveying party whereas the amil was incharge of revenue collections. The amin was assisted by the qanungo who was repository of all revenue records. The chaudhari assisted the amil in this work of revenue collection. At the village level, the records were maintained by the patwari and collections were made by the muqaddam or village headman. There were other officials such as potadar or treasurer and karkun or clerk. The records were maintained both in Persian and languages of the region.

Classification of land

  • After the measurement, the cultivable land was classified, on the basis of the fertility of land, into three categories- good, middling and bad. Land was further classified into four categories viz -polaj, parati, chachar and banjar, on the basis of continuity of cultivation.
  • The Polaj land was one in which two crops were raised every year; Parati land, however, had to be left fallow (uncultivated) for some time, after raising two crops to recover its fertility; the Chachar was an unfertile tract of land which was brought under cultivation once in every three or four years; and the Banjar land which was unfit for cultivation and therefore rarely brought under plough.

Non-Agricultural economy

  • The textile production was one of the most widely practised crafts of medieval India. The Indian weavers produced four major types of fabric - cotton, silk, woollen, and mixed coarse cotton. Bengal, Lahore, Agra, Awadh, Patna, Fatehpur Sikri and Gujarat etc. were prominent cotton textile production regions. Kashmir, Lahore and Agra were major shawl and carpet-making centres. Apart from manufacturing, Bengal and Gujarat were renowned for the export of textile goods.
  • The art of dyeing or bleaching developed as a separate and specialised craft during this period. Bharuch, Ahmadabad, Surat, Patna, Sonargaon, Dacca, Masulipattam etc. were major dyeing or bleaching centres.
  • Sugar was manufactured all over the country. Sugar in its variants - Gur; powder, fine-grained sugar etc. were produced in Bengal, Orissa, Ahmedabad, Lahore, Multan and many other places.
  • Mineral extraction was another major industry. Salt, saltpetre, alum, mica etc. were produced on a large scale. The Sambhar lake in Rajasthan, the Punjab rock salt mines and sea water were some major sources of salt production. Sea salt was mainly manufactured in Bengal, Sind, Malabar, Mysore and the Rann of Kutch.
  • Saltpetre, primarily used as an ingredient for manufacturing gun powder, was one of the most important mineral products. Initially, it was extracted at Ahmadabad, Baroda, and Patna etc. However, by the second half of the seventeenth century, Patna became one of the most important centres for processing this mineral.
  • Among metals, India was deficient in gold and silver mines. These metals, therefore, were mostly imported. Diamond mining was carried out most notably at Golconda.
  • Some other centres of diamond production were Bairagarh (Berar), Panna (Madhya Pradesh), Khokhra (Chotanagpur) etc.
  • Khetri (Rajasthan) was the main centre for copper production.
  • Iron was the most commonly found metal. Bengal, Allahabad, Agra, Bihar, Gujarat, Delhi, Kashmir, Chotanagpur and adjoining regions of Orissa were major iron-producing centres of the medieval period.
  • Paper making, as a craft, was introduced in India during the Sultanate period. It was first manufactured in China around the first century A.D. The craft grew at a fast pace. The manufacture of paper was prevalent during the Mughal period in almost every region.

Trade and Commerce

  • Trade relations with regions like China, Arabia, Egypt, Central Asia, and Afghanistan were maintained on land routes. It carried its overseas trade with the Persian Gulf, the South China Sea, the Mediterranean and the Red sea.
  • The advent of European trading companies; the Portuguese, British, Dutch and French intensified trading activities in the Indian subcontinent. The Asian maritime trade also increased during this period.

Mercantile Class

  • Karwanis or Nayakas were merchants, who specialised in carrying grains from the rural areas.
  • Banjaras have innumerable references in the contemporary literature as a trading group who carried on trade between villages and between village and towns.
  • The Multani merchants continued to thrive during this period as well in places such as Delhi, parts of Punjab and Sind.
  • Baniya was another important mercantile community in north India and Deccan. Their counterparts were Khatris in Punjab and Komatis in Golconda.
  • The Bohras were another prominent mercantile community during the Mughal period. It had a very strong presence in Gujarat, Ujjain and Burhanpur.
  • Some of the other prominent mercantile groups were Chettis (South India), Kling (along Coromandel coastupto Orissa), Komatis (Telegu speaking merchant group) etc.

Currency System

  • The silver and copper coins were mainly in circulation for cash transactions. Under Sultanate the pure silver tanka with fluctuating proportion of silver was the main coinage. The jital and dang were copper coins.
  • Under Sher Shah for the first time the purity of metals in coinage of gold, silver and copper was established. The rupaya of silver came to be used as the basic coin for transactions.

Administrative System and Institutions

Sultanate period

  • During the Sultanate period the administrative apparatus was headed by the Sultan who was helped by various nobles. There were various other offices along with the office of the Sultan. Theoretically, there was a council of Ministers Majlis-i-Khalwat to assist the Sultan.
  • The group of chahalgan (group of 40 nobles), which was created by Iltutmish, also emerged very powerful.
  • Balban was the first Sultan to bring the nobility firmly under his control.
  • During the rule of the Khalji and Tughlags the doors of the nobility were opened to people of diverse backgrounds. The low caste people, both Hindus and Muslims, joined the nobility and could rise to high positions especially under Muhammad Bin Tughlaq.
  • During the Lodi period the Afghan concept of equality became important when the Sultan was considered “first among equals”. Thus the nobles enjoyed equal status with the Sultan.
  • The religious intellectual group of Muslims was collectively referred as Ulema. People of this group managed religious matters and interpreted religious regulations for Sultan. They were also incharge of judicial matters and worked as Qazis at various levels. It was quite influential group and commanded respect of Sultan and nobility.

Central Administration


  • After Sultan, the most important office was the Diwan-i-Wizarat, headed by the wazir. It was a key position in the royal court and his role was of a general supervisor over all departments, though he was one of the four important departmental heads. He was the chief advisor to the Sultan. The main functions of the wazir were to look after the financial organization of the State, give advice to the Sultan, and on occasions to lead military expeditions at Sultan’s behest. He also supervised the payment to the army.
  • There were several other departments which worked under the wizarat. They were entrusted with specific functions. These included Mustaufi-i-Mumalik (Auditor General), Mushrif-i-Mumalik (Accountant General), Majmuadar (Keeper of loans and balances from treasury). Later some other offices were brought under the supervision of the Wizarat like Diwan-i -Waqoof (to supervise expenditure), Diwan-i-Mustakharaj (to look into the arrears of revenue payments), Diwan-i-Amir Kohi (to bring uncultivated land into cultivation through state support).


  • This department was set up to look after the military organization of the empire. It was headed by Ariz-i-Mumalik.
  • AlauddinKhalji introduced the system of Dagh (branding) and huliya (description) and cash payment to the soldiers in order to strengthen his control over the army. The contingent stationed at Delhi was called hasham-i-qalb and Provincial contingents were called hasham-i-atraf.


  • This department looked after the state correspondence. It was headed by Dabir-i-Khas. He drafted and despatched royal orders and received reports from various officers.
  • The Barid-i-Mumalik was the head of the state news gathering and dealt with intelligence.
  • Diwan-i-Rasalat This department dealt with the administration of Justice. It was headed by Sadr-usSadr who was also the qazi-i-mumalik. He was the highest religious officer and took care of ecclesiastical affairs. He also appointed the qazis (judges) and approved various charitable grants like waqf, wazifa, Idrar, etc. The Sultan was the highest court of appeal in both civil and criminal matters. Next to him was Qazi-i-mumalik. The Muhtasibs (Public Censors) assisted the judicial department.

Provincial administration

  • The provinces were placed under the charge of the Governors who were responsible for the overall administration of the area. This involved ensuring the collection of revenue, maintaining law and order and keeping rebellious elements under control. He was a deputy of the Sultan in his area.
  • During the 14th century the provinces were partitioned into Shiqs for administrative convenience. The shiqs were administered by the Shiqdar. Subsequently, the Shiqs got transformed into Sarkar during the Afghan period. Faujdar was another officer along with Shiqdar at the provincial level. Their duties are not clearly articulated, and often the role of the two seem to overlap. The Shiqdar assisted the governor in the maintenance of law and order and provided military assistance. He also supervised the functioning of the smaller administrative units. The duties of the Faujdar were similar to the Shiqdar. The Kotwals were placed under the Faujdar.
  • The other important officers at the provincial level were Barids (intelligence officer and reporter) and Sahib-i-Diwan (who maintained the financial accounts of the provincial income and expenditure).

Iqta System

  • The institution of the Iqta had been in force in early Islamic world as a form of reward for services to the state. In the caliphate administration it was used to pay civil and military officers. After the establishment of the Sultanate iqta system was introduced by the Sultans. To begin with the army commanders and nobles were given territories to administer and collect the revenue. The territories thus assigned were called iqta and their holders as iqtadar or muqti.
  • In essence this was a system of payment to the officers and maintenance of army by them. Gradually rules and regulations were laid down to organize the whole system. Through the years it became the main instrument of administrating the Sultanate. Further the sultans could get a large share of the surplus production from different parts of the vast territories through this system.

Local Administration

  • The village was the smallest unit of administration. The functioning and administration of the village remained more or less the same as it had existed in pre Turkish times.
  • The main village functionaries were khut, Muqaddam and Patwari. They worked in close coordination with the muqti in the collection of revenue and in maintaining law and order etc.
  • A number of villages formed the Pargana. The important Pargana officials were Chaudhary, Amil (revenue collector) and Karkun (accountant).
  • Village and pargana were independent units of administration, and yet there were inter related areas. In certain cases the province had a local ruler (Rai, Rana, Rawat, Raja) who helped the governor in his duties. In such cases the local rulers were recognised as subordinates of the Sultan.

Mughal Administration

The Mughals retained many features of the administrative system of the Sultanate and Shershah. 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 centralisation in the system.

Central Administration

  • The Emperor was the supreme head of the administration and controlled all military and judicial powers. All officers in Mughal administration owed their power and position to the Emperor
  • The institution of Wizarat (or Wikalat since both were used interchangeably) was present in some form during the Delhi Sultanate also. The position of Wazir had lost its preeminent position during the period of Afghan rulers in the Delhi Sultanate.
  • The position of the wazir was revived under the Mughals. Babur’s and Humayun’swazir enjoyed great powers. The period during which Bairam Khan (1556–60) was regent of Akbar, saw the rise of wakil-wazir with unlimited powers. Akbar in his determination to curb the powers of wazir later on took away the financial powers from him. This was a big jolt to wazir’s power.
  • Diwan-i Kul was the chief diwan. He was responsible for revenue and finances. Akbar had strengthened the office of diwan by entrusting the revenue powers to the diwan. The diwan used to inspect all transaction and payments in all departments and supervised the provincial diwans. The entire revenue collection and expenditure of the empire was under his charge.
  • Mir Bakshi looked after all matters pertaining to the military administration. The orders of appointment of mansabdars and their salary papers were endorsed and passed by him.
  • The Sadr-us Sudur was the head of the ecclesiastical department. His chief duty was to protect the laws of the Shariat.
  • The Mir Saman was the officer-in-charge of the royal Karkhanas.

Provincial Administration

  • The Mughal empire was divided into twelve provinces or subas by Akbar. These were Allhabad, Agra, Awadh, Ajmer, Ahmedabad, Bihar, Bengal, Delhi, Kabul, Lahore, Malwa and Multan. Later on Ahmednagar, Bearar and Khandesh were added. With the expansion of Mughal empire the number of provinces increased to twenty.
  • Each suba was placed under a Subedar or provincial governor who was directly appointed by the Emperor. The subedar was head of the province and responsible for maintenance of general law and order.
  • The head of the revenue department in the suba was the Diwan. The Bakshi in the province performed the same functions as were performed by Mir Bakshi at the centre.

Local Administration

  • The provinces or subas were divided into Sarkars. The Sarkars were divided into Parganas. The village was the smallest unit of administration. At the level of Sarkar, there were two important functionaries, the faujdar and the Amalguzar. The Faujdar was appointed by the imperial order. Sometimes within a Sarkar a number of Faujdars existed.
  • The amalguzar or amil was the revenue collector.
  • At the level of Pragana, the Shiqdar was the executive officer. He assisted the amils in the task of revenue collection.
  • The quanungo kept all the records of land in the pargana. The Kotwals were appointed mainly in towns by the imperial government and were in charge of law and order. He was to maintain a register for keeping records of people coming and going out of the towns. The Muqaddam was the village head man and the Patwari looked after the village revenue records.
  • The port administration was independent of the provincial authority. The governor of the port was called Mutasaddi who was directly appointed by the Emperor. The Mutasaddi collected taxes on merchandise and maintained a customhouse.

Maratha administration

Central Administration

  • The king was at the helm of the affairs. The administration was divided into eight departments headed by ministers who are sometimes called Ashtapradhan.
  • The eight ministers were (1) Peshwa who looked after the finances and general administration. (2) Sari-Naubat who was the Senapati. (3) Majumdar looked after the accounts. (4) Waqainavis looked after the intelligence, post and household affairs (5) Surnavis or Chitnis looked after official correspondence (6) Dabir looked after foreign affairs (7) Nyayadhish looked after justice and (8) PanditRao looked after ecclesiastical affairs.
  • The ashtapradhan was not a creation of Shivaji. Many of these officers like Peshwa, Majumdar, Waqainavis, Dabir and Surnavis had existed under the Deccani rulers also. All the members of the asthapradhan except PanditRao and Nyaydhish were asked to lead military campaigns. Under Shivaji these offices were neither hereditary nor permanent. They held the office at the pleasure of the king. They were also frequently transferred.
  • Each of the ashtapradhan was assisted by eight assistants diwan, Majumdar, Fadnis, Sabnis; Karkhanis, Chitnis, Jamadar and Potnis.
  • Chitnis dealt with all diplomatic correspondences and wrote all royal letters. The Fadnis used to respond to the letters of commanders of the forts. The potnis looked after the income and expenditure of the royal treasury.

Provincial and Local Administration

  • The provincial administration was also organized on the Deccani and Mughal system. All the provincial units were already existing under the Deccani rulers. Shivaji reorganized and in certain cases renamed them. The provinces were known as Prants.
  • The Prants were under the charge of subedar. Over a number of Subedar there were Sarsubedar to control and supervise the work of subedar. Smaller than prant were Tarfs which were headed by a havaldar.
  • Then there were Mauzas or villages which were the lowest unit of administration. At the level of village, Kulkarni used to keep accounts and maintained records while Patil had legal and policing power.
  • At the level of Pargana, Deshpande used to keep account and maintain records while Deshmukh had legal and policing powers. The Police officer in rural area was called Faujdar and in urban area was called Kotwal.

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90 Days Planner (Day 17 History-Delhi Sultanate)

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