Thursday, March 27, 2014

Agriculture of Mughal Empire

The Taj Mahal, symbol of the wealth and affluence of the Mughal Empire. Built by many workers for many years. Workers are fed from the bountiful harvests of the Mughal peasants. Money to build the lavish tomb came from the exports of several cash crops. The agriculture of the Mughal Empire played a huge role in the sustenance and territorial integrity of the Empire. It fed and it gave wealth to the Emperors in the peacock throne.

From the 16th century up to the 17th century, the Mughal Empire reign supreme in the Indian subcontinent.  From the borders of Afghanistan to jungles of Burma, from the peaks of the Himalayan Mountains to the coast of the Indian Sea in the south, the Mughal emperor could impose his will to the people. Founded by Babur, a Muslim, he and his successors succeeded in toppling down local kingdoms and formed an empire in subcontinent. The Mughal Empire was a very wealthy empire with minerals and agriculture as the base of its economic foundations.

The most important crops for the Mughal Empire were staple crops and cash crops. Staple crops were crops that were the basic staple of the Indian people. Crops that were part of the everyday lives of the citizens of the Empire. The Mughals had three basic staple crops: rice, wheat, and millet. Each of the crops were grown in specific regions or zones. Rice was grown in the Eastern and Southwestern portions of the Empire. Wheat was grown in the northern and central regions. And for millet, it was growing dried areas of the northwest and western zones.

Meanwhile, cash crops provided the empire goods to sell to foreigners in order to get silver from the westerners and also from other countries. Major cash crops included indigo, sugar, cotton, and opium.  Other cash crops were soon grown as it was introduced by the westerners. When the Portuguese established trading posts in India, such as Goa, they introduced tobacco and maize cultivation to the Indians. 

The westerners played a key role in the expansion of several cities because of their demands. Areas that were near rivers, which led to access of the Europeans, developed. Some cities at the riverside of the Ganges became wealthy because of cultivation of cash crops due to high European demands. Patna was an example of a center that develop because of high British demand for cotton and opium. Bengali area also began to cultivate mulberry and entered into sericulture because of high orders for silk.

The agriculture of the Mughal Empire had the basic elements. There were peasants, infrastructure, tax collection, landownership, and agrarian issues.

Peasants of the Mughals were few. Because of low numbers, peasants could occupy large tacks of lands, enough to produce crops to pay taxes, family sustenance, and surplus for selling. Some peasants were free to explore new lands to occupy and cultivate. For example, in Assam, jungles were decrease because of the arrival of settlers that wished to cultivate rice.

To enter into agriculture was easy. Agricultural infrastructure were sufficient to maintain farmlands. Irrigation canals exist across India and its numerous rivers. The Persian Wheel or Sakia were used to bring water from the river to high area for irrigation. The climate of India is based on the monsoons, thus if no monsoon rains came, crops would fail. In order to prepare for such natural disaster, tanks, for water were built to provide the water for some time during drought.

Farmers of the Mughal Empire had basic agricultural technology. They cattle or ox for powering the Sakia. They also had seed drilling equipment and basic tools such as sickle and the Kodali, an iron blade and a wooden handle that form an angle.
Land ownership in the Mughal Empire was quite complicated. Peasants had control over their land. The government also placed a decree that peasants can’t leave their land. This was in placed to make the peasants settle in one land and to avoid fertile farmlands to become idle.

Tax collection was also imposed upon by the government to the peasants. The taxation imposed dates back from the time of Akbar the Great. With the help of his adviser, Todor Mai, a system were tax was based on a 10 year period average of production. 1/3 of the total production was to be paid to the government.

The Mughal administration also organized an administrative system for the lands. A village council, called the panchayat, was formed by the peasants on one locality. But above the village council was the so-called landlord, the Zamindar. The Zamindar was tasked by the government to collect taxes from the peasants. The Zamindar could be a former raja, tax officials that owned lands, or a small time landlord.  Another type of land owner was the jagirdars who owned land called jagirs. Jagirdars were individuals given land by the Mughal Emperor as a reward for a loyal service.  Jagirdars were rotational. A jagirdars were transferred by after from one land to another.

The jagirdars, however, caused abuse and trouble to the Emperor, Because of the transfer system. A jagirdars had the tendency to abuse the peasants in his area. Knowing being only temporary, some extracted huge taxes to give to the central government and for himself. The system angered peasants in several areas. For example, in the 17th century a rebellion erupted in Marathas because of abuses in tax collection. Kooch Behar also had a rebellion in 1661 because of high taxes.

Agriculture of Mughal was large enough to give its peasants a dissent earnings. However, its system of estates called the jagirs and zamindars allowed for the growth of mini kingdoms which eventually led to fragmentation of the Empire and finally, the conquest of the British.

See also:
Economy of the Gupta Empire
The Economy of Mauryan Empire
Medieval Age Developments in Agriculture

Gorlinski, G. (ed.). The History of Agriculture. New York: Britannica Educational Publishing, 2013. 

Richards, J. The Mughal Empire. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995. 

Tauger, M. Agriculture in World History. New York: Routledge, 2011. 

“Agriculture in Mughal India.” India Net Zone. Accessed March 27, 2014.


  1. i need answer on agrarian structure and ownership during mughal period