Zoya Ansari talks about the high-level echelons of the Mughal Empire
No absolute ruler, however diligent, can discharge all the duties of the government at the center, alone. He must have round him persons to whom he can entrust his commissions. Who act as his eyes and ears and spare him a lot of detailed work. Under the early Mughals, Babur had Mahdi Khwaja as his Prime Minister and Zain-ud-din as his Sadr. Humayun does not seem to have appointed anyone to a position higher than that of a secretary; on his return from Persia Bairam Khan occupied an exceptional position in the State but more as a great commander than as a high administrator.
During Akbar’s minority Bairam Khan acted as his regent (Vakil), discharging all the functions of the head of the state in Akbar’s name. When Bairam Khan fell, the faction that had brought about his fall could not expect to step into his shoes. Though first Maham Anaga and then Munim Khan continued to guide Akbar’s administration they occupied the position of the power behind the throne. Munim Khan could not issue orders on his own without at least making the pretense of consulting his young sovereign.
Soon after this Akbar brought about a reorganization of the government. The Vakil disappeared as an administrative officer and the title was retained as an honorific office. Henceforward the Diwan signed all the State documents both as the Diwan as well as the Vakil. The Mughal ministry in Akbar’s reorganization came to consist of the Diwan, the Mir Bakhshi, the Khan-i-Samaan, and the Sadr as principal heads of the revenue, the military, the public works and industries, and the judicial, ecclesiastical, and education departments, respectively. This division of work continued throughout the Mughal Rule. Under the Ministers, but having the right of access to the emperor, were the Mustaufi (the Auditor General), the Superintendents of the Artillery, of Elephants and of War Boats, Chief Qazi, the Chief Mufti (Legal Adviser), and the Chief Muhtasib (Censor).
The Diwan was the King’s minister par excellence. The work of every other minister came under his supervision. As the keeper of the King’s purse. He had a say in all matters where any expenditure was to be incurred. All the earning departments were under his control. The Bakhshi, the Khan-i-Samaan, and the Sadr spent the revenues the Diwan raised. All the imperial orders were first recorded in his office before being sent and he alone issued orders on behalf of the king. Of course, the entire revenue administration of the empire was under him. Thus, the smooth working of the administrative machinery very often turned on the way the Diwan’s office was run. The Mughal emperors were very fortunate in some of their Diwans. Diwan Saadullah Khan, Raja Todarmal, Jafar Khan, and Raja Raghunath left traditions of public service which became the envy of the later ages.
After the Diwan came to the Mir Bakhshi. The Mughal emperors never employed Commanders-in-Chief of their entire army. This was not feasible because the Mughal army mainly consisted of the independent contingents of the Mansabdars. The Mir Bakhshi was his chief military adviser. He worked as the Inspector-General of the Contingents of the Mansabdars and their Paymaster holding annual reviews of troops and troopers. He was the nerve center of the administration. All the news- writers outside the capital were his agents. The provincial Bakhshi was the news-writer-in-chief for his province. The provincial Bakhshi’s report usually was a review of the work of all the Mansabdars in the province. The Mir Bakhshi was thus in a position to pass judgment on the work of all the public servants working outside the capital. At the capital, the Mir Bakhshi had several departmental heads under him. The Superintendents of artillery, elephants, and war boats were placed immediately under him. There was a separate Bakhshi of gentleman troops called Ahadis.
The Khan-i-Samaan was the third important minister. In theory, he was a junior minister only being technically under the Diwan but in actual practice, he had independent access to the emperor and was usually allotted lump sum grants which he distributed as he thought fit. He represented his own requirements himself to the emperor in the court. He was the minister in charge of the household department, royal buildings, roads, gardens, purchases, stores, and workshops. He thus performed the duties of modern ministers for public works, trade, industry, and agriculture, besides acting as the controller of the royal household.
Sometimes very near the king’s person, but administratively outside the king’s servants, was the Sadr. Associated with him there were a Chief Qazi and a Legal Remembrancer (the Mufti) and under him worked the Chief Muhtasib (Censor) and the imperial collector of the jizya, at the capital, and Qazis, Muhtasibs, collectors of the jizya, and sadrs in the provinces. The Sadr was the Chief Justice, Minister for Ecclesiastical Affairs, Minister of Education, and Royal Alms, or all rolled into one but in the judicial department, he functioned more as the Chief Qazi than the Sadr. In Aurangzeb’s reign, there were separate Chief Qazis and Sadrs. The Sadr’s main duty was the patronage of learning, piety, and scholarship. Akbar appointed provincial Sadrs besides the imperial Sadr. This curtailed the power of the Chief Sadr since recommendations for making grants did not always originate with him. Akbar seems to have made it necessary for his later Sadrs to take his orders in making grants. Under Jahangir, this system continued. The Sadrs and the other officers under them were usually stipendiary under Akbar but Akbar gave his last Sadr a mansab.
The Muhtasib was both an ecclesiastical and secular officer. As a secular officer, he examined weights and measures and saw to it that fair prices prevailed in the market. He recovered debts and traced and handed them over to their owner’s fugitive slaves. He saw to it that public streets or markets were not built upon. Under Aurangzeb, his ecclesiastical functions predominated, whereas he performed certain borderline functions as well; putting down the public sale of intoxicants, wine, bhang, locally-bred intoxicants, protecting sexual morality by preventing the prostitutes from carrying on their profession openly in the cities, and preventing gambling may be considered as his borderline functions. Besides all this, he had to secure the observance of the punitive law against non-believers as promulgated by Aurangzeb including the enforcement of sartorial regulations and overseeing observations of rituals.
So far as the Muslims were concerned, he had to secure the observance of the Muslim way of life as understood by Aurangzeb. He put down music, prevented the lighting of lamps on Muslim tombs and shrines on Thursday, forbade the sale of toys representing animate beings, hindered the growth of the beards of uncanonical length and shape, and enforced sartorial regulations. He prevented the public non-observance of the fast during the month of Ramzan. At prayer time he sent all Muslims to pray in the nearby mosque. The Darogha-i-Dak Chauki ran the imperial post. His agents were everywhere. At every stage, a horse was kept ready for use by his messengers. They brought the news in all ways, on foot and on a horse by rivers or over the mountains. TW
Zoya Ansari has a good deal of teaching experience and possesses a keen historical sense