Features of the Economic Life of the People during the Mughal Period!
Conflicting views have been expressed by the historians regarding the economic conditions of India during the Mughal period. On the one hand we hear of several famines which caused untold sufferings and on the other hand we hear of Akbar the Great and the Golden Age of Shah Jahan.
European visitors who came to India during the period of Jahangir and Shah Jahan have also given conflicting views.
However, following general observations may be made about the economic conditions of the State/ Government and the general conditions of the people.
1. Rich country inhabited by the poor:
It is observed that in spite of India being a rich country, its people in general were poor.
2. Great disparity:
While the emperors, nobles and jagirdars, mansabdars and officers had wealth in abundance, the common people had very little of it. The economic disparity was quite evident by the standard of living, diet, dwellings, dresses and other comforts and necessities of life. The commoners which included the peasantry, artisans, and labourers used to live a poor life.
3. Freedom to choose occupation:
People were free to choose their occupation.
4. Agriculture as the main occupation:
A very substantial portion of India’s population depended upon agriculture.
5. Self sufficiency of villages:
The villages produced articles of daily use in such a way, that they were able to meet their requirements.
6. Barter as well as currency system:
Barter system along with currency was also very popular in the rural areas.
7. Low prices:
In general, it is observed that the prices of essential commodities were quite low.
Some significant views of scholars and travelers:
A large number of Europeans namely, Hawkins, Sir Thomas Roe, Bemier, Travernier and Peter Mundi visited India during the reigns of Jahangir and Shah Jahan and left their accounts regarding the emperors, nobility and the commoners. In spite of the limitations of their accounts, they are very helpful in knowing about the life of the period. Almost all Mughal emperors either themselves or the scholars of their court wrote about the contemporary life.
Such records have great historical significance:
1. William Hawkins informs us that Jahangir possessed a huge amount of wealth and had a big treasure of jewels. The merchants also brought huge money from abroad.
2. According to Sir Thomas Roe, the condition of peasants was miserable. He has also mentioned of huge treasure of gold and diamonds of Jahangir.
3. Peter Mundy has observed that during Shah Jahan’s reign, people in Deccan suffered great distress. He has further stated that the peasantry was in a miserable condition.
4. Bernier states that the artisans and labourers were not treated well. There was decline of arts and crafts during Aurangzeb’s reign.
5. Ralph Fitch who came to India towards the end of the sixteenth century says that at Banaras “people go naked save a little cloth bound about their middle.”
6. About the closing years of the 17th century during Aurangzeb’s rule, economic condition of the country deteriorated. Sir J.N. Sarkar has observed, “There appeared a great economic impoverishment of India.”
Abul FazI, Edward Terry and Smith are unanimous in their opinion that the prices under the Mughals were low. The Ain-i-Akbari written by Abul Fazl mentions the rates of several articles. Wheat was sold at that time at the rate of 12 dams per man. One dam was 1 /40th part of a rupee and Man was equal to 55 ½ pounds.
One rupee had 60 paise at that time. Barley was sold at 8 dams for man, gram at 16 ¼ , jawar at 10, millet at 8, ghee at 105, oil at 80, milk at 25 and white sugar at 125 dams for man. The price of a sheep was Rs. one and a half and of a cow Rs. 10. The prices were low and the wages were also low. A highly skilled labourer was paid 7 dams (app. 21 paise) per day. It has been calculated that a man could feed his family on two rupees a month.
Agriculture and peasantry:
The main occupation of the people was agriculture. On the whole the conditions of the peasant was not satisfactory. The peasants who did possess land of their own often belonged to the class of people known as Kamin. Whenever there was a famine, this class was the most sufferer and famines were frequent. Famines were often followed by epidemics.
The peasants primarily depended on rains, ponds and wells. There were canals also but not much improvement was made in man-made means of irrigation. Wild animals used to harm cultivation as there were extensive forests. Except during the reign of Akbar and Jahangir, land revenue was quite heavy.
The government officials often harassed the cultivators. Constant wars and rebellions adversely affected cultivation. The rice growing areas were Assam, Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Eastern Coast, Tamil region and Kashmir. Allahabad, Avadh, Khandesh and Gujarat also produced some rice. Wheat was mostly grown in the Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and Agra etc.
Dipalpur region was known for the production of Jawar. Millets were particularly grown in Ajmer, Gujarat and Khandesh. Silk cultivation was so widespread in Bengal that there was no need to import it from China. The adoption of potato and red chillies followed during the 18th century.
It gives revenue rates for 16 Rabi crops and 25 Kharif crops.
(1) Varied industrial activity:
The authors of An Advanced History of India have observed, “One of the most important factors in the economic history of India during the period under review was the extensive and varied industrial activity of the people, which besides supplying the needs of the local aristocracy and merchants could meet the demands of traders coming from Europe, and other parts of India.”
(2) Cotton and Silk Industry:
Important centres of cotton manufacture were found in all parts of India. Dacca attained a wide reputation for its delicate muslin. Pelsaert was of the opinion that at Chabasupur and Sonargaon “all live by the weaving industry and the produce has the highest reputation of quality. Bernier opined, “There is in Bengal such a quantity of cotton and silk, that the kingdom may be called the common store-house for these two kinds of merchandise, not of Hindustan or the Empire of the Great Mughal only, but of all neighbouring kingdoms, and even of Europe.
The dyeing industry was also very popular. Printing of cloth was in vogue. Silk-weaving also arrested the notice of some persons. The imperial patronage gave it a considerable impetus.” Moreland wrote that the production of silk in Bengal alone was about 2 ½ million pounds out of which one million pounds were worked up locally, ¾ million was exported raw by the Dutch and ¾ million distributed over India, most of it going to Gujarat, but some being taken by merchants from Central Asia.”
Important industries and industrial centres:
Cotton industry was well developed in Bengal. Sugar industry was well-developed in Bengal, Gujarat and Punjab.
Glass industry flourished at Fatehpur Sikri, Berar and Prihar.
Jaunpur and Gujarat were known for a large variety of perfumes.
Pearls were taken out of sea and it was a well-developed industry near the seacoast of South India.
Delhi, Banaras and Chunar were particularly famous for clay industry and clay toys.
Kashmir and Karnataka produced artistic pieces of wood.
Punjab and Gujarat were renowned for the production of good quality arms like swords, javelins and other traditional arms.
Delhi and Banaras were famous for brass industry. Diamonds were extracted from the mines of Golkunda and Chotta-Nagpur. India produced the world-famous Koh-i-Nur diamond from a mine at Golkunda.
Cannons and rifles of good quality were not produced in India. Comparatively Persia, Turkey and several European countries were far ahead of India.
Leather industry was not a well-developed industry. Similarly wine of good quality was not manufactured in India.
During the Mughal period both internal and external trade was in a healthy state.