The nobles, along with the zamindars, formed the ruling class in medieval India. Socially and economically, the Mughal nobility was the privileged class.
Ideally, the doors of the Mughal nobility were open to everyone, but in practice, the persons who were related to aristocratic families (irrespective of their background – either they were Indians or foreigners), had been given privilege.
To begin with, the bulk of the Mughal nobles were invited from the homeland of the Mughals, i.e. Turan, and from its neighboring areas, such as Tajikistan, Khorasan, Iran, etc.
Indian Muslims who were popular as Shaikhzadas or Hindustanis were also given service in the Mughal court.
Akbar initiated a new trend, as he began to recruit Hindus into the noble category on a regular basis. The largest section among them was the Rajputs. Among the Rajputs, the Kachhwahas were outweighed.
In 1594, the proportion of Hindus in the nobility under Akbar, was about 16 percent.
Raja Man Singh and Raja Birbal, both were the personal friends of Akbar, while in the sphere of revenue administration, Raja Todar Mal had a place of great influence and honor.
The Rajputs who were recruited to the nobility, either belonged to hereditary rajas or to the aristocratic families. In addition to this, the nobility did provide an opportunity of promotion and distinction to many persons for humble origin.
The nobility attained a considerable measure of stability under the Mughal emperors Jahangir and Shah Jahan and they paid personal and careful attention to the organization of the nobility (the Mansabdari system), orderly promotions, discipline, and the recruitment of competent people into the imperial service.
The Mughal nobles, as we have seen, received salaries which were extremely high by any standards. This, as well as the liberal policy of the Mughal emperors in matters of faith, and the stable political conditions in India attracted many talented persons from foreign lands to the Mughal court.
Bernier, the French traveler, once said that the “Mughal nobility consisted of foreigners who enticed each other to the court.” However, the modern research has shown this statement to be fallacious.
Under the reign of Jahangir and Shah Jahan, most of the nobles were those who born in India. At the same time, the proportion of Afghans, Indian Muslims (Hindustanis), and Hindus in the nobility continued to rise.
Jahangir was the first Mughal Emperor who realized that the Marathas were “the hub of affairs” in the Deccan, and hence made effort convinced them. This policy was continued by his son Shah Jahan.
Among the Maratha Sardars who served Shah Jahan was Shahaji, the father of Shivaji; however, soon he deserted. Later, Aurangzeb gave an opportunity to many Marathas and Deccan Muslims.
The Hindus that formed roughly about 24 percent of the nobility during the reign of Shah Jahan; later (under the reign of Aurangzeb), they accounted about 33 percent of the nobles. Among the Hindu nobles, the Marathas formed more than half.
The Mughal nobles received extremely high salaries; at the same time, their expenses were also very high. Each noble maintained −
A large number of servants and attendants;
A large stable of horses, elephants, etc.; and
Transport of all types.
Many of the nobles also maintained a big harem (of women), which was normal for a man of higher status at that time.
Besides varieties of fruits, about 40 dishes used to be prepared for each meal for Akbar. Ice, which was an item of luxury at that time, was used the year around by the privileged classes.
The expensive jewels and ornaments, which were worn both by men and women were common among the higher status people.
Jahangir introduced a new fashion for men wearing costly jewels in their ears after piercing them. To some extent jewelry was also meant to be a reserve to be used in an emergency.
There is a controversy that the Mughal nobles had little interest in saving because, after their death, all their properties reverted to the emperor. The idea behind that was everything flowed from him, therefore, at last, everything flowed to him.
Many historians refuted this idea (i.e. returning to the nobles’ property back to emperor); the Mughal emperors did not claim the property of their nobles. Nevertheless, when a noble died, a careful inventory of his property and estate was made because, usually, the noble owed considerable sums of money to the central treasury. Therefore, his debts first be adjusted before the property could were handed over to his heirs.
The emperor reserved the right of settling the property of a noble among his heirs (or/and according to his choice), and not on the basis as laid down by the Islamic law. Secondly, daughters did not receive a share of their father’s properties.
The procedure of dispensing properties of deceased noble sometimes led to considerable delays and harassment to the dependents (especially of the detested noble).
Aurangzeb made a rule that the properties of a noble who did not owe money to the state were not to be attached and that, in any case, a certain part of the property of a deceased noble should be made available immediately to his dependents.
Members of the royal family, including princes and queen mothers, took keen interest in foreign trade. Akbar’s widow and the mother of Jahangir, owned ships, which run between Surat and the Red Sea ports.
The right of ownership regarding the land depended mainly on succession.
The people who settle a new village or who brought wastelands under cultivation, belong to the respective villages. These villagers became the owners of these lands.
The considerable section of the zamindars had the hereditary right of collecting land revenue from their respective villages. This was called his ‘talluqa’ or his ‘zamindari.’
For collecting the land revenue, the zamindars received a share of the land revenue which could go up to 25 percent.
The zamindars, not necessarily “owner” of all the lands over which he collected the land revenue.
The peasants who actually cultivated the land could not be dispossessed as long as they paid the land revenue. Thus the zamindars and the peasants, both had their own hereditary rights in land.
The zamindars had their own armed forces (to collect the land revenue), and generally resided in the forts or garhis which were both a place of refuge and a symbol of status.
The zamindars generally had, close connections with the caste, clan, or tribal basis and also with the peasants settled in their zamindaris.
In addition to these zamindars, there was a large class of religious divines and learned men who in return for their services, were granted tracts of land for their maintenance. In Mughal terminology, such grants were popular as ‘milk’ or ‘madad-i-maash’ and in Rajasthani terminology, it was popular as ‘shasan.’