Mughal Emperor followed a tough routine

ByZoya Ansari

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


December 3, 2022

Mughal Emperor followed a tough routine

Zoya Ansari mentions a
rigorous work schedule of the Mughal head of the state

Mughal Empire was held together for almost two centuries as an extremely strong centralised state by the dint of the hard work and devotion of its political chief executive, the emperor, and his hand-picked team. The Mughal Emperor followed a tough routine was theoretically construed to be the private property of the emperor and accordingly his word was the law and in this context it was considered imperative for the emperor to keep the empire running smoothly and he justified his hard work on the pretext that he worked for the good of his people. Despite his high status, the emperor was not in the easily sated pleasures of the common human pursuit but in power and glory to be preserved by ceaseless exertion. Quite obviously he had no other option but to toil hard and keep his team on a tight leash and that was only possible when he was always alert and on the ball.

It is widely known that the first six Mughal emperors known as Great Mughals with the exception of Humayun were extremely hardworking and that included even the hedonistic Jahangir during most of his reign. The emperor was keenly aware that the ultimate price of ease was the throne and perhaps even the head and the result was that he worked tirelessly though the distinction between his work and play was ambiguous. Hunting, the favourite sport of the Mughals, was quite often a warm-up for battle though apparently it looks a leisurely activity. It was therefore rightly observed that the emperor did not spend any time at all idly or uselessly.

The exertion of the emperor was his second nature and his life actually was his work. Though he lived in extravagant luxury but this was a requirement of his office not a matter of personal gratification. The crown was not worn for comfort. The pomp and magnificence of the emperor’s lifestyle was an essential display of the grandeur of the empire, an expression of the mystique of power that distanced the emperor from his subjects and inspired awe and devotion in them. In the same spirit, various regalia, even particular sports, were reserved exclusively for the emperor, or for him to confer as privileges on others. The royal mystique insulated the emperor but the mystique was only a shroud. Beneath it was a hard core of endeavour and achievement.

Viewed in this backdrop, the emperor’s life, in contrast to the absolute and arbitrary power that he enjoyed, was marked by discipline rather than willfulness. His daily routine was organised into rigid schedule. The emperor’s routine was of course what he decided himself and he could alter it to suit his convenience or mood. Thus Akbar, who usually held the public durbar soon after the first watch of the day, around 9 am sometimes held it towards the close of day, or at night. Such alterations were however exceptions and not the rule as most of the times the emperor strictly followed his routine, whether he was in the capital or in camp except when he was actually on the march or in the midst of a war.

The work routine was so regulated that even when sick he tried to keep to the schedule at least in a token manner for it was his routine, like an engine turning gears that activated the administration of the empire. It was very obvious that if the emperor ceased to work, or if he worked haphazardly, it would throw the entire imperial administration out of gear. In his unvarying routine was the assurance of his subjects that everything was all right with the emperor and therefore with the empire. The most workaholic amongst the emperors was Akbar who laid down such rigorous routine that was followed by his successors Jahangir, Shahjahan and Aurangzeb.

Akbar initiated the daily routine that saw him spending two hours in devotions; about an hour and twenty minutes on his toilet and dressing; about four and half hours in durbar and meals occupied less than one hour, about an hour and forty-five minutes with elephants, horses, camels and mules checking their maintenance and grooming. In addition he spent about six hours in the harem and he slept for about seven and a half hours. The main elements of the emperor’s daily routine designed by Akbar were the darshan in which he presented himself to public view at dawn, the public durbar, the private durbar, the cabinet meeting and a session in the harem to do confidential work and to deal with palace affairs.

How much time the emperor spent on these different activities and how they were fitted into his daily schedule depended on his personal inclination and varied from ruler to ruler. Aurangzeb spent more time in prayers and the reading of the Koran than his predecessors; he also woke up later than most others at around 5 am instead of the usual 4 am and retired to the harem for the night earlier at around 8 pm instead of 8.30 pm as Shah Jahan did. Apart from the emperor’s daily schedule, there was also a weekly schedule, in which his different functions such as the administration of justice and looking into matters of religion were assigned to different days. The only fixed rule was that there would be no court on Fridays and Aurangzeb made Thursday into a half working day. Wednesdays were usually reserved for judicial matters.

As was decreed and practiced by Akbar began well before sunrise when he woke up to the sound of music. After his ablutions, the emperor dressed and walked to the private chapel to say his morning prayers, and spend a little time in quiet meditation. Then he returned to his rooms and appeared, bathed in the glancing first light of the day, at the jharokha-i-darshan, an ornate bay-window on the eastern wall of the palace to acknowledge the greetings of the men gathered in the maidan there. The darshan, an old Hindu custom, was adopted by Humayun but given its sunrise timing by Akbar but after getting declared un-Islamic it was abolished by Aurangzeb. This practice though served an important practical purpose in reassuring the public that the emperor was alive and well. If the emperor did not appear at the jharokha even for a day it made the people restive, spawned wild rumours and sometimes set off riots.

The emperor usually spent about three-quarters of an hour at the jharokha, inspecting newly captured elephants, reviewing the contingents of mansabdars, watching elephant fights, cavalry parades and other spectacles, and also attending to the supplications of the common people who could attach their petitions to a string let down from the fort. Sometimes people gathered outside the jharokha and presented their petitions. Jahangir usually went right back to bed for a nap after a brief darshan at sunrise, to appear again at the jharokha at noon, to watch elephant fights and parades. Akbar himself was in the habit of returning to his private apartments in the morning to repose a little. After the darshan, the next public function of the emperor was the durbar held in the Diwan-i-Aam, the hall of public audience. The official routine of the emperor followed this rigorous pattern and was maintained scrupulously making him the most hardworking chief executive who remained the linchpin of the Empire. TW

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