Read this article to learn about the urban centers and population in the sultanate and mughal period!
We have already referred to the revival of towns and town life under the Sultanate. The Turkish ruling class was essentially an urban ruling class with taste for town life.
Many of the towns grew around military garrisons as providers of food, goods and services to them. In due course, many of them emerged as cultural centers.
The medieval town had miscellaneous population, including many lesser nobles and a large class of clerks for running government office, shopkeepers, artisans, beggars, etc. The posts of clerks and lower government officials had, obviously, to be given to the people who could read and write.
Since the work of teaching was largely in the hands of the Muslim theologians (ulama), the ulama and the lower officials tended to think and behave alike. Most of the historians were drawn from this section and their writings reflect the opinions and prejudices of this-section. Beggars, who generally wore arms like the ordinary citizens, formed a large mass and could sometimes create a problem of law and order.
Another large section in the town consisted of slaves and domestic servants. Slavery had existed in India as well as in West Asia and Europe for a long time. The position of different types of Slaves — one born in the household, one purchased, one acquired and one inherited is discussed in the Hindu Shastras.
Slavery had been adopted by the Arabs and, later, by the Turks also. The most usual method of acquiring a slave was capture in war. Even the Mahabharata considered it normal to enslave a prisoner of war. The Turks practiced this on a large scale in their wars, in and outside India. Slave markets of men and women existed in West Asia as well as in India. The Turkish, Causasian, Greek and Indian slaves were valued and were sought after.
A small number of slaves were also imported from Africa, mainly Abyssinia. Slaves were generally bought for domestic service, for company or for their special’ skills. Skilled slaves or comely boys and beautiful girls sometimes fetched a high price.
Skilled slaves were valued and some of them rose to high offices as in the case of the slaves of Qutbuddin Aibak. Firuz Tughlaq, also prized slaves and collected about 1, 80,000 of them. Many of them were employed in handicrafts, while other formed the Sultan’s personal bodyguard. The largest numbers of slaves were, however, used for personal service. Such slaves were sometimes treated harshly.
It can be argued that the conditions of slave was better than that of a domestic servant because the master of the former was obliged to provide him food and shelter, while a free person may starve to death. Slaves were allowed to marry and to own some personal property.
However, it was widely accepted that slavery was degrading. Giving a slave his or her liberty was considered a meritorious act both among the Hindus and the Muslims. In general, foodstuffs were cheap for the towns folk during the Sultanat period.
We have mentioned the price of foodstuffs under Alauddin Khilji. In his reign, a man (about 15 kg) of wheat was sold for 714 jitals, barley for 4 and rice for 5 jitals, with 50 jitals being equal to a silver tanka. Prices rose sharply under Muhammad Tughlaq but declined almost to Alauddin’s level under Firuz. It is possible that this may have been due to the extension of cultivation during his reign.
It is difficult to compute the cost of living in towns. A modern historian has estimated that during Firuz’s reign a family consisting of a man, his wife, a servant and one or two children could live on five tankas for a whole month.
Thus, for a lower government official or a soldier, living was cheap. But this did not apply to the artisans and workers in the same way. Even under Akbar, an unskilled labourer earned 2 1/2 to 3 rupees a month, or even less. In terms of their income, the living conditions of artisans and workers in towns appear to have been hard.
If we take an account of Mughal cities and population, we see that they were the pre-images of what we are today. There were, of course, neither railways, nor the canal systems of the Punjab and the modern Uttar Pradesh. There were no metalled roads.
The various parts of the country and most of the important towns were connected by kacha roads, shaded by trees on either side of them and clearly demarcated by sarais meant for merchants and travellers to spend the nights in security.
Agra, which was for a considerable time the capital, was well-connected with the rest of the country. The Grand Trunk Road connected it with Dacca in the east and Kabul in the north-west. This great road passed through Patna, Allahabad, Banaras, Agra, Mathura, Lahore and Attock and reached Kabul. Another road started from Agra and extended as far as Asirgarh. The main towns along the road were besides Agra, Dholpur, Gwalior, Jodhpur, Sirohi, Ajmer and Asirgarh.
A third important road ran from Agra to Ahmadabad. Another important road connected Lahore with Multan. Navigable rivers, such as, the Indus, the Ganga, the Yamuna, the Ganga and the rivers of Bengal were frequently used for traffic and transport of troops and goods. Already during the 16th century, a number of major towns had developed in the country.
According to Ralph Fitch, Agra and Fatehpur Sikri were larger than London, then one of the biggest towns in Europe. Monserrate, the Jesuit priest who came to Akbar’s court, says that Lahore was second to none of the cities in Europe or Asia.
A recent study shows that Agra more than doubled in size during the 17th century. Bernier, who wrote in the middle of the 17th century, says that Delhi was not less than Paris and the Agra was bigger than Delhi. During the period Ahmadnagar and Burhanpur in the west, Multan in the north-west and Patna, Rajmahal and Dacca in the east grew to become big towns. Thus, Ahmedabad was as large as London and its suburbs and Patna had a population of two lakhs—a large size by the standard of those times. All these towns were not only administrative centres, but developed as centres of trade and manufacture.