Divergent views have been expressed by historians and scholars regarding the religious conditions.
On the one hand there are those who state there was a lot of religious harmony among the people of different faiths and on the other hand it is stated that seeds of the partition of the country were sown by emperors like Aurangzeb and others.
They point out that Hindu-Muslim discord is not the legacy of the British rule but some of the medieval narrow-minded rulers.
Division of society on the basis of religion:
The majority of the Indian society consisted of the Hindus. Traditionally they were divided into four classes. Caste system had become very rigid. There were hundreds of sub-castes. The Sudras were in the lowest cadre of society. The Muslims were divided into Sunnis, the Shias, the Bohras and the Khojas etc. The Sunnis were in majority and also belonged to the privileged class because the emperors were also Sunnis. The Shaikhs and Sayyids also commanded respect in the society.
The foreign Muslims like the Arabs, the Persians, the Turks, the Mongols, the Uzbeks, the Abbyssinians and the Armenians regarded themselves socially superior to converted Indian Muslims. They occupied higher position in the society.
The Sufi saints and the Bhakt Saints laid stress on religious harmony, equality in society and devotion to God. Emperor Akbar founded a new religion of ‘Din-a-Ilahi’ but it could not attract many followers and collapsed with his death. A new faith of Sikhism among the Hindus emerged. Its followers were mostly confined to Punjab. In general, its followers and the Mughal rulers did not enjoy cordial relations.
Festivals, fairs and pilgrimages:
Important festivals of the Hindus were Basant, Diwali, Dussehra, Holi, Sankranti and Shivaratri. Sankranti and Purnimah were to be considered very auspicious days and a dip in some river on that day were considered to be a pious act. People went to places of pilgrimages such as Kashi, Kurukshetra, Prayag, Puri and Pushkar.
Millions of Hindus attended the Kumbh fair. The Hindus believed in the purity and sacredness of the water of the Ganges and that a dip in the Ganges would purify them of all their sins. The pilgrimage to Mecca was an annual event of great importance for the Muslims. The important festivals of the Muslims were Id-ul-Juha, Id- ul-Fitr, Shab-i-Barat, Muharram and Milad-ud-Nabi.
Broadly speaking, Indian society was divided into four classes:
(1) The king and the princes
(2) The nobles
(3) The middle class
(4) The lower class.
The king and the princely class:
The king enjoyed the highest social status. He lived in great luxury. Usually he maintained a big ‘harem’ (wives and concubines in the palace of the emperor). It is said that Akbar had about 500 women in his household. The princely class was quite large on account of a large number of queens the Mughal kings had. The princes followed the life style of the king.
Nobility or nobles:
The noble class included descendants of the people who had come from other lands like Central Asia and Persia. It also included high mansabdars and jagirdars. Important Rajput chiefs also came under this category.
The nobles imitated the King and the princes and lived a life a extravagance. They spent lavishly. They lived in palatial buildings. They have scores of servants. They kept several women in their ‘harem’. Drinking was very common among them. Generally speaking they indulged in court intrigues and were very corrupt. The nobles patronized art and literature. They also took interest in laying down beautiful gardens and flower beds.
The Middle Class:
It included wealthy traders and merchants, small mansabdars, jagirdars and professionals. The merchants and traders did not exhibit their wealth because of the fear that the ruler or a powerful noble might snatch it from them. In general, they enjoyed a simple life.
The Lower Class:
A majority of the population belonged to this category. This class lived a life of poverty. They had a few clothes. They lived in thatched mud houses. This class comprised artisans, attendants, cultivators, labourers, peasants, small traders and shop-keepers, etc. There were slaves also. There was a glaring inequality in the lives of other classes and the common people. The peasants lived virtually at the mercy of the mansabdars and jagirdars. They were worst hit during famines.
Position of women:
Although the general condition of women was not good, there were several capable and enterprising women like Nur Jahan, Mumtaz Mahal, Jahanara, Roshanara, Rani Karnavati, Rani Durgavati, Rani Rupmati, Chand Bibi, Jijabai and Tarabai. But all these ladies belonged to the higher strata of society. In general women suffered from all sorts of handicaps.
Polygamy was very common among the Muslims. Talaq or divorce was also very common and men could get it very easily. There was no talaq among the Hindus.
Sati was common among the Hindu women.
The emperors, the nobles and the rich people had reduced the position of women to articles of pleasure. They kept a large number of wives, concubines and slave girls in their harems.
The Muslim women had to observe purdah.
Sati was common among the Hindus. Child marriage was also prevalent. Purda system was in vogue. Untouchability was practiced on a large scale.
Dress, food habits and ornaments etc.:
Important changes took place in dress, food habits and ornaments etc. People of upper and middle classes both among the Hindus and Muslims wore Qahaf – a long coat coming down to the knees and tight trousers. The common man among the Hindus used Dhoti and the Muslims Kurta and Pajama. Both the Hindus and the Muslims wore turbans though their styles differed.
Men, both Hindus and Muslims used Shawls. Hindu ladies wore Dhoti and Angiya and the Muslim ladies ‘Pajama, Ghagra’, ‘Jacket’ dupata etc. Only rich people could afford to wear shoes or chappals.
While the Hindus were mostly vegetarians, the Muslims were generally non-vegetarians. Milk formed an important part of diet in the villages.
Several sections of population used wine, opium and tobacco as intoxicants.
Amusements and sports:
Hunting, animal fighting, wrestling, pigeon- flying, were important sources of amusements and sports. Cock-fightings, bull-fightings and ram-fightings were also very common. Chess and chauper were also played.
The performance of singers and dancers and Mushaira were also very popular.
Like all societies including the present one, there were several inequalities. The majority of the people lived very poorly. The workmen received low wages. The lofty buildings of the Mughals concealed the hardship of the workmen. They were also forced to work for higher classes without any remuneration.
They lived on poor food and took one meal a day sometimes consisting of Khichri made of green pulse mixed with coarse rice. In the period of the Mughals, the people of upper classes were the only beneficiaries while the common people toiled and mostly remained on mere existence level.