Imperial Mughal travel

ByZoya Ansari

Designation: She has a good deal of teaching experience and possesses a keen historical sense


March 5, 2023

Imperial Mughal travel

Zoya Ansari revisits Imperial Mughal travel

The imperial Mughal travel court was an itinerant entity as the emperor wanted to visit as many of the territories under his sovereignty as possible as he was a hands-on chief executive of the empire. The Mughal Empire headed by its energetic emperor was the predominant political power in South Asia, ruling over a maximal territory of 3.2 million km and a population estimated at between 100 and 150 million.

The Mughals were the heirs of a 550-year-old tradition of central Asian conquest of northern India and the peripatetic nature of the Mughal rule was exactly according to the nomadic pattern of this long tradition. The Mughals accordingly were more comfortable in the saddle than ruling from sedentary locations.

The Mughal rule was extremely dynamic whose ruling class consistently pursued a policy of networking through moving in the length and breadth of the country. It was very mobile and never hesitated from reaching the far-flung corners of the Empire.

Mughal military strategies, political structure, and urban form owed much to central Asian traditions, though under innovative leadership the Mughal period saw the development of new organizational forms produced from a creative combination of indigenous Muslim and local traditions.

The Mughal elite kept on looking for opportunities to visit the locally appointed rulers and kept in touch with local traditions. At the forefront of this exercise was the Emperor himself who was frequently found traveling his vast domains.

Travel was an essential part of imperial governance dutifully pursued by the itinerant Emperor who always wanted to stay ahead of the rest of the governing class. He thought it to be advisable to be physically present amongst his subjects and tried solving their problems on the spot.

Capital Mughal Imperial Camp

The most dramatic example of the Mughal mobile capital was the imperial camp. Originating in the small highly mobile military camps of Babur, the elaborate later imperial camp was established by Akbar in the late sixteenth century and was used by all subsequent Mughal rulers.

Keeping in view the imperial dignity and convenience the imperial establishment undertook maximum measures to keep the visits worth their while. His travel train was highly decorous and full of luxuries suiting his station. Two main categories of camps existed: small ones used on short journeys or for hunting parties and large camps constructed for royal tours and military expeditions.

With the passage of time, these large camps contained up to 300,000 individuals. The emperor’s entourage was representative of the imperial grandeur and it was the intention of the rulers to create as much impression on the subjects as possible. From them, the emperor and his administrators carried out the main business of governing their vast empire.

The imperial postal system was equipped with every facility just to keep the emperor informed of whatever was happening in the country. The imperial camps were neither short-lived nor occasional phenomena. They catered to an official policy designed to serve the imperial purpose. It was calculated that from 1556 to 1739 Mughal emperors spent nearly 40 percent of their time in camps on tours often lasting a year or longer.

At different times the Mughal emperor was traveling from one part to the other of his territories. Most emperors made different cities their capitals including Agra, Fatehpur Sikri, Delhi, and Lahore where they stayed for a considerably long time. The imperial camp, also known as the exalted or victorious camp, was constructed according to a formal plan, described as a mobile version of Akbar’s capital of Fatehpur Sikri.

Moneylenders And Merchants

A large wall of cloth screens enclosed the royal camp, fanning an east-west oriented rectangle nearly 1,400 meters long. The emperor’s tent and royal reception areas were consistently placed in the center of the eastern end of the royal enclosure. His was the only two-storied tent in the imperial camp, enclosed within walls of distinctive scarlet cloth. Next to the emperor was a screened area containing the tents of the royal harem and beyond this were enormous awnings for public and private royal audiences.

Tents for nobles were aligned in carefully specified locations that spatially expressed their relations with the ruler. Beyond the royal enclosure were the tents of lesser nobles and the military, as well as administrative facilities, stables, arsenals, workshops of attached specialists, and kitchens. Merchants and moneylenders fanned neat bazaar areas along the streets of the massive tent city.

Imperial coinage was issued from the camp mint. During Akbar’s reign, low-value copper coins recorded the name of the town nearest the imperial camp. Inscriptions on gold and silver coins were explicitly linked with the camp itself attesting to the royal acknowledgment of the centrality of the imperial camp. This tradition was kept alive by most emperors and these commemorative coins became part of the imperial coinage.

The logistical challenges of moving and provisioning hundreds of thousands of people and the 50,000 horses and oxen required to transport tents, baggage, and equipment were considerable. Far from a rapid military strike force, the camp seldom traveled more than 16 km per day and was preceded by royal agents, scouts, and laborers, who prepared roads and bridges, selected campsites, arranged the purchase of foodstuffs and fuel, and assured the cooperation of local rulers.

Imperial Mughal Travel  & Local Merchants

Local merchants and farmers were encouraged to bring their produce to the markets at the camps; foodstuffs may also have been obtained from imperial or civic stores in towns near the campsites. When the emperor was resident in his camp, it was there that the bulk of imperial administrative activities occurred and important decisions were made.

The Imperial Mughal travel camp was the de facto capital, and a significant portion of the resident population of the constructed capital cities appears to have accompanied the emperor in his travels. Foreign visitors to the Mughal Empire mentioned that the entire population of Delhi resided in the camp during its deployment because all derived their employment and maintenance from the court and army.

Although this is an over-exaggeration, it does confirm the status of these camps as political capitals and short-term demographic centers. The mobile imperial camp no doubt played many roles in Mughal political and economic life. It made possible the movement of enormous military forces throughout the empire and to strategic areas where imperial control was weak or threatened, while simultaneously providing facilities and personnel for essential administrative activities.

Rather than a distant or seldom-seen figure ensconced in a protected capital, the Mughal emperor and his royal household could be seen and venerated by large segments of the population as his camp traveled through imperial territories. Although the pattern of movement appears to have been largely determined by political and military concerns.

A further consequence of the imperial camp was to bring large numbers of people and animals to available resources, thus decreasing the costs of transporting foodstuffs and fuel to the cities. Imperial camps usually left a lasting impression on the sites they were held and their inhabitants entertained their cherished memories for a long time. The Weekender


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