In this article we will discuss about the military system in India during the medieval age:- 1. Military System Under Sultans 2. Military Administration Under the Mughals 3. Military Administration Under Vijayanagar Empire 4. Military Administration Under Marathas.
Military System Under Sultans:
As the Empire of the Sultan was based on military force, they maintained a very strong and efficient army. They needed this big army to suppress the internal revolts and crush recalcitrant and repel foreign invasions.
The early Sultans depended mostly upon the soldiers supplied by the nobles. The practice was however, abandoned by rulers like Ala- ud-Din-Khilji because it was quite undependable. On many occasions the nobles and Governors dodged the king and brought about the downfall.
As Ala-ud-Din Khilji wanted to free himself from the control of these nobles and king, he started the practice of maintaining a standing army. It is said that the army of Ala-ud-Din Khilji consisted of 4, 75,000 horses. However, this practice of Ala-ud- Din Khilji was again abandoned by Firoz Tughlak. He once again set up the feudal organisation and started depending entirely on the forces supplied by the Jagirdars.
The army of the Sultans consisted of cavalry, infantry and elephants. The cavalry was the strongest and most effective organ of the army. In fact, the Sultans acquired superiority over the Indian troops only because of their horses and it was natural for them to concentrate on cavalry.
The horsemen were armed with swords, a dagger and a bow and arrows. According to Dr. Kalikinkar Datta, “The standing army of the Sultanate consisted of the royal bodyguard, and troops of the capital which were, in times of need, reinforced by the levies sent by the provincial Viceroys and the Maqtas and the contingents of Hindu troops. The forces were arranged in serried ranks.”
The army of the Sultans were not national in character because it consisted of soldiers drawn from diverse nationality such as Turks of various tribes, the Tajiks, the Persians, the Mongols, the Afghans, the Arabs, the Abyssinians, the Indian Musalmans and the Hindus. It was a mercenary body which worked for money.
The only bond which kept such diverse elements united was the person of the Sultan. Generally the military officers were paid by the assignment of land revenue while the ordinary troops was paid in cash. With a view to keep the soldiers happy the Sultans like Ala-ud-Din Khilji tried to control and regulate the market.
According to U.N. Dey, The entire pay structure was based on the control of prices and his market regulations, which were discarded by his successors. Even during his own life time it was not universal. But the payment to the soldiers in cash remained in vogue, till it was described by Firoz Shah.
The Sultans regularly inspected their forces with a view to avoid corruption in the army. The Sultans like Ala-ud-Din Khilji introduced the practice of ‘Dag’ (branding of horses) and ‘huliya’ (descriptive rolls of soldiers). This practice was introduced with a view to ensure that only those soldiers and horses were maintained which had been approved by the king, and no substitute soldiers were sent. Both these practices were given up by Firoz Shah. However, the practice of huliya’ was again revised by Sikandar Lodi.
The Sultans of Delhi also introduced certain new military tactics in India, which they had learnt in their homeland in Afghanistan and Central Asia. They employed “mounted archers as light troopers for harassing and bewildering the enemy and causing confusion in his ranks by archery fire, and then charging him with heavy armoured cavalry. The Muslims also introduced scientific military knowledge in the war technique. They made use of certain kinds of wooden machines for throwing very heavy stone- balls at the besieged and inside the forts.
As regards the organisation of the army administration, it was headed by Ariz-i-Mumalik. He was responsible for maintaining the strength and the efficiency of the forces and to make provisions for equipment, horses and rations. The descriptive rolls of all the soldiers were maintained in his office. According to U.N- Dey, “Ariz was the highest military official and was wholly responsible for the fitness and order of the army.
During peace time, in the military affairs, he was only second to the Sultan. In times of war his- position was second to the Commander-in-Chief appointed for the time. Another important official of the army was Amir Akhur, who was in-charge of the royal guards.
Military Administration Under the Mughals:
The Mughals introduced certain changes in the military administration.
According to Abul Fazal, the mughal army consisted of :
(1) Man- sabdars (with horsemen under them),
(2) Ahadis (Gentlemen troops), and
(3) Pradagan (Infantry, which was a great miscellany including, among other things, artillery).
The cavalry was the most important part of the Mughal army and was considered as the flower of the army.
The Mughals for the first time introduced the cannons in war in India. Babur brought with him a cannon to this country which he used against the Indian rulers. It was in fact, this artillery which enabled him to inflict a defeat over Rana Sanga.
No doubt, artillery had been used during the times of Ala-ud-Din also, but under the other Sultans it did not make much progress. It was Babur who for the first time introduced a new cannon and wheeled tripods for supporting matchlocks of heavy weight. Sher Shah also made use of heavy artillery and a large number of heavy cannons.
He also undertook the construction of large number of forts. The military administration of Sher Shah has been greatly admired by scholars. For example, William Erskine says, “In intelligence, in sound sense and experience, in his civil and financial arrangements and in military skill, he is acknowledged to have been by far the most eminent of his nation, whoever ruled in India.
Akbar made efforts to carry out far reaching reforms in the military administration. He established a loyal corps of leading men of all races and creeds and abolished the hereditary aristocracy and mansabdars. The members of this crop received land from the monarch or fixed salaries for their military service. This system continued to operate for almost a century, when it was abandoned.
Akbar abolished the jagirdari system which prevailed during the times of Sultanate and it greatly contributed to the downfall of the various dynasties of the Sultanate. Akbar organised the whole army on the basis of mansabdari system. Literally the word ‘man- sabdar’ means link, dignity, or office. It has been derived from the Persian word ‘Nasab Kardan’ which means fixing a particular person at a particular place.
The mansab of a Mughal noble fixed (i) his salary, (ii) his status and (iii) the number of horses, soldiers and elephants he was required to maintain. It may be noted that the mansab was not granted to military officers alone and even revenue and judicial officials as well as scholars were granted.
Therefore, Irwine rightly says, “Mansabdari meant nothing beyond the fact that the holder of mansab was the employee of the State.” Dr. R.P. Khosla also reiterates the same points when he says. “In Mughal state the army, the peerage and the civil administration were all rolled into one.”
It may be noted that although the credit of introducing the mansabdari system is given to Akbar, it was not wholly new system. Some elements of this system were in existence during the times of Humayun as well as Babur, Akbar merely systematized and regularized this system and put it on a regular footing.
V.A. Smith has given the following description about the mansabdari system of Akbar:
“He (Akbar) classified his officers in thirty-three grades, ranging from ‘mansabdars’ (usually translated as ‘commanders’) of 10 to mansabdars of 10,000. Late in the reign such officers numbered. about 1600 in all, and formed an official nobility. Their appointment, retention, promotion, and dismissal depended solely on the arbitrary will of the sovereign, and no incident of the dignity was heritable. On the contrary, the emperor regarded himself as the heir of all his subjects, and ruthlessly seized the entire property of every deceased official, whose family had to make a fresh start, contingent on the goodwill of the emperor.” He further says, “The 10,000 and 8,000 grades were reserved exclusively for the princes of the royal family. The 7000 grade was so reserved first, but later in the reign Raja Todar Mal and one or two other officers were raised to that rank. Each class carried a definite rate of pay, out of which the holder was required to pay the cost of his quota of horses, elephants, beasts of burden, and carts. Further, there were three gradation of rank within each class from 5,000 downwards.”
The office of mansabdar was not hereditary and it was allotted purely on the basis of merit. The mansabdar received liberal payments and were supposed to pay the cost of army establishment including horses and elephants and to make provisions for his own transport.
The Dakhilis and Ahadis:
Though the Emperor depended mostly on these contingents but he maintained his own army also. Dakhilis were the troops raised by the Emperor but not paid directly by the State. They were placed under the charge of the mansabdars. Ahadis were a class of soldiers recruited by the State but were placed under the separate command of a noble.
The Ahadis usually enjoyed much higher social status and pay than that of the contingents of the mansabdars. The Diwan and Bakhshi looked after the establishment of the Ahadis. The Ahadis had to provide their own horses at the beginning of the service, but subsequently the State would supply them new horses if the need arose.
The Piadagan unit of army included Banduqchis, Darbans, Khidtmatiya, Mewras, Shamsher-baz, wrestlers, chelas, kahaes and Dakhili foot soldiers.
The elephants occupied an important position in the Mughal Indian army. The elephants were used not only to carry the guns on their backs but were also used for displaying standards and ensigns on the battle-field.
The artillery was not an important branch of the army till the times of Aurangzeb. Abul Fazal does not make any reference to it in his Ain-i-Akbari although he informs us that Akbar took great delight in watching the casting of pieces of artillery and kept workmen constantly employed in the manufacture of guns and arms of various description.
The development of artillery during the times of Aurangzeb seems to be due to contact with the European armies and the employment of Portuguese gunners by the Emperor. Prof. K.M. Panikkar has also said that the Mughal artillery could play only a limited role in the wars.
He says, “The artillery that the Mughals had was effective so far as the ‘country’ powers were concerned. It enabled Akbar to conquer Hindustan and his immediate successors to hold it; but against foreign troops equipped with field guns the Mughal artillery was altogether ineffective.”
The Mughal army was not that well-knit and was composed of men who lacked loyalty, patriotism and devotion to duty. Whenever there was a weak king on the throne the army indulged in intrigues and nepotism. William Irwine says, “The army was thus, in effect, a body of mercenaries, men who served only for what they could get, and ready at any moment, when things went badly, to desert or transfer themselves to the higher bidder.”
He further points out, “The Mughal army lacked loyalty, patriotism and devotion to duty. All were time-servers and wanted to benefit themselves in all possible ways so long as the going was good. They were quick to change sides when they found that the fortunes of their side were unfavorable. The army was thus, in effect, a body of mercenaries, men who served only for what they could get, and ready at any moment, when things were badly to desert or transfer themselves to the higher bidder.”
Dr. R.P. Tripathi has also said, “The composition of the Mughal army was far from satisfactory. It consisted of the Uzbeks, Mughals, Turks, Persians, Afghans and Indians. They were usually led by their own tribal leaders. The tribal and personal jealousies must have prevented the growth of a sense of unity which is essential in a well-knit army, and were horridly calculated to make it a reliable engine of war. On the other hand they perpetuated tension in the army which could prove dangerous to the State at any time.”
Military Administration Under Vijayanagar Empire:
The army of the Vijayanagar Empire consisted of infantry, cavalry and elephants, but it was not as strong fighting force as the armies of Sultans or the Mughals. In terms of numerical strength Paes tells us that during the times of Krishna Deva Raya in 1522 the army consisted of 703,000 infantry, 32,600 cavalry and 551 elephants.
Paes also throw, some light on the military system of the Vijayanagar Empire. He records, “In 1620 Krishna Raya actually assembled for the operations against Raichur 703,000 foot, 32,600 horses and 551 elephants besides an uncounted host of camp followers, dealers and the rest….chariots had gone out of use before the time of the Rayas,” Another foreign visitor Nuniz has also said, “The efficiency of the huge army was not proportionate to the numbers of the force. The soldiers were in terror of the Muslims and their action against a fortress like Raichur was ludicrously feeble.”
Military Administration Under Marathas:
Marathas, particularly during the times of Shivaji, set up a very efficient military system of administration. They maintained a big standing army. It is said that the army of Shivaji at the time of his death consisted of one lakh infantry, 40,000 cavalry and 1,260 elephants. In addition to these, the artillery also formed a part of the army.
Both the infantry and the cavalry were well organised. The cavalry was divided into two classes, the Bargirs and the Shiiedars. The Bargirs were supplied arms by the States while the Shiiedars had to provide their own arms.
Twenty-five troopers were placed under Havaldar and formed a unit. The five Havaldars formed a Jumla and were placed under a Jumladar. Ten Jumladars were placed under a Hazari. Five Hazaris were placed under an official known as Panjhazari. The infantry was divided into regiments, brigades and divisions.
The smallest unit consisted of nine soldiers who were placed under a Naik. Over five Naiks there was a Havaldar and over two or three Havaldars, there was a Jumladar. Ten Jumladars were under a Hazari, while over seven Hazaris there was a Sarnaubat.
Another special feature of the military administration of Marathas under Shivaji was that it laid special emphasis on the maintenance of forts. It is said that there were about 280 forts in the possession of Shivaji. Some of the important forts under his control include Raigarh and Pratapgarh. The people residing in the surrounding areas of these forts took shelter in these forts during the times of war.
The Maratha army carried no baggage and no equipment. According to Prof. S.N. Sen, “Their arms were of the simplest and most primitive kind. Field artillery they had more, and elaborate and comfortable camp equipage of their Mughal adversaries they did not require. The men wore a turban, a simple jacket and tight fitting trousers; their officers were better protected, with a helmet and an armour of chain or more frequently with thick padded coats of quilted cotton. In their saddle bag they carried with ease the scanty provision on which they and their mounts could subsist for days.”
Unlike the Muslim rulers, Shivaji tried to rise above religious consideration and recruited both Hindus and Muslims to his army. He believed in pure merit and made no distinction between the soldiers on the basis of religion. In fact, under him there was perfect religious toleration.
Marathas under Shivaji attached great importance to discipline of the army and never allowed discipline of the army to lag. The soldiers were not permitted to take women or dancing girls when they went on military campaign. The soldiers were given specific instructions to show due regards to Brahamans, cows, women and the Quran. Anyone who violated these instructions was severely punished.
Under the Maratha system of military administration the jagirdari system was completely done away with and the system of making cash payments of salaries to the soldiers was introduced. During the times of Shivaji, the Hazari was paid 1,000 huns a year, while the Panjhazaii got 2,000 huns a year as his salary.
The state looked after the widows and children of the soldiers who lost their lives on the battle-field. The soldiers who distinguished themselves in meritorious services were given special rewards and honours.