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Chapter 5 - Upper Classes and Luxurious Life

Chapter 5
Upper Classes and Luxurious Life

�All the surplus produce� was swept into the coffers of the Mughal nobility and pampered them in a degree of luxury not dreamt of even by kings in Persia and Central Asia.�

Jadunath Sarkar

Nobles and courtiers, army commanders and provincial governors, in fact all high officials of the Muslim government formed the upper classes. In �civilian� upper classes could be counted the Ulama and the Mashaikh, scholars and historians, and some very rich Muslim merchants. A study of the high classes under two major categories - nobles, and Ulama and Mashaikh - would suffice to give a general idea of the life of Muslim upper classes, their composition, their corruption, their licence, their hopes and fears, and their high style of living.

The Nobles

The nobles constituted the ruling bureaucracy. In the early years of Muslim rule (1206-1399) foreign adventurers and warriors monopolised appointments to high offices. In the beginning the Turks formed the bulk of the ruling elite. Besides, Persians, Abyssinians, Egyptians, Afghans and converted Mongols also continued to obtain high positions. Under the Lodi sultans (1451-1526), Afghan adventurers of various tribes and clans flocked to India like �ants and locusts�. Even in the Mughal times (1526-1707-1857) the imperial service remained predominantly foreign with Iranis and Turanis forming the core of the cadre. The Turanis hailed from Central Asia where the Turkish language was spoken. Iranis comprised the Persian speaking people and belonged to the region presently extending from Iraq and Iran to Afghanistan.

The Mughal nobles were also known as Mansabdars. The Mansabdars were not only government officers, but also the richest class in the empire. They formed a closed aristocracy; entrance into this class was not usually possible for the common people, whatever their merits. Naturally, therefore, the most important factor which was taken into account when nobles were appointed was heredity. The Khanazads, the scions of royalty and sons and descendants of Mansabdars, had the best claim to such appointments.

The Indian Muslim nobles, who were local converts, also rose to be officers in the upper cadres, but foreigners were always preferred. The fourteenth century Persian chronicler Ziyauddin Barani, who was born in India but traced his ancestry to a Turki Noble, credits the foreigner Turks with all possible virtues and the Indian Muslims with all kinds of imperfections. The invectives he hurls on the converted Sultan Nasiruddin Khusrau Shah (C.E. 1320), are too well known to need repetition. Muhammad Tughlaq always preferred foreign Muslims to Indians for appointment as officers. The rebellion of Ain-ul-mulk Multani (1339) during his reign was a symptom of the resentment felt by the India-born nobles against this policy of prejudice. In turn Khan-i-Jahan, a Telingana Brahmin convert, dominated the court of Sultan Firoz Tughlaq. The career of Mahmud Gawan, the minister of the Bahmani Sultan Muhammad III (1463-1482), illustrates both the reasons for which preference was given to foreigners and the jealousy it engendered. Foreign nobles looked down upon Indian Muslim nobles, and considered them as �lowborn�, although not all foreign Muslims were of high lineage.

Right through the Muslim rule, low origin foreigners used to come as individuals and in groups to seek employment in India. Writing about the foreign element in the Mughal nobility in seventeenth century Bernier says that �the Omarahs mostly consist of adventurers from different nations who entice one another to the court; and are generally persons of low descent, some having been originally slaves, and the majority being destitute of education. The Mogol raises them to dignities, or degrades them to obscurity; according to his own pleasure and caprice.� W.H. Moreland, however, does not consider all foreign immigrants as of low descent. He says that in Mughal India �there were huge prizes to be won� and one need not wonder that the service should have attracted to the court the ablest and most enterprising men from a large portion of Western Asia.� High and low, foreign and Indian, the Muslim nobles after all belonged to one and the same cadre, and they tried to come closer together. On the one hand, foreign Muslims used to become locals after the lapse of a few generations. Bernier writes that �the children of the third and fourth generation (of Uzbegs, Persians, Arabs and Turks)� are held in much less respect than the new corners.� On the other hand, the low-born Indian Muslim became elitist with rise in economic status. There was a saying: �Last year I was a julaha, this year a shaykh; and the next year, if the harvest be good, I shall be a saiyyad.� �Belonging to Islam� was a great cementing force, and, whatever the colour of the skin, all Muslim nobles tried to feel as one, as belonging to the ruling elite, as searching for exotic roots. It was aristocratic on the part of the orthodox Muslim to feel that he was in India, but not of it. He durst not strike his roots deep into the native soil. He must import traditions, language and culture. His civil and criminal law must be derived from the writings of jurists and the decisions of judges in Baghdad and Cairo. The Muslim in India was an intellectual exotic; he considered it infra dig to adapt himself to his environment.

Besides the competition between Indian and foreign Muslim nobles, there was also constant contest between Muslim and Hindu nobles. With the permanent establishment of Muslim rule, the policy of the sultans was generally to keep the Hindus excluded and appoint only Muslims. But the Hindus possessed native intelligence and experience, sons of the soil as they were, and many of the best Hindus had to be employed, especially during the Mughal period. The Hindus in a way were �indispensable�. To them belonged, according to Badaoni, �half the army and half the land. Neither the Hindustanis (Indian Muslims) nor the Moghuls can point to such grand lords as the Hindus have among themselves.� Bernier too did not fail to notice this.

These nobles were in attendance on the king in the capital or in camp, and in outstations held civil and military assignments, as governors of provinces or commanders of the army. Indeed they were expected to cultivate versatility, there being no distinction between civil and military appointments and duties. Raja Birbal, after many years as court wit, met his death fighting Yusafzais as commander of troops on the frontier while Abul Fazl, the most eminent literary figure of the time, distinguished himself in military operations in the Deccan.

The nobles were called Umara and were graded as Khans, Maliks, Amirs and Sipehsalars in the Sultanate period, and as Mansabdars under the Mughals. According to Barani a Sarkhail commanded ten horsemen; a Sipehsalar ten Sarkhails; an Amir ten Sipahsalars; a Malik ten Amirs; and a Khan, ten Maliks. According to the author of Masalik-ul-Absar, a Khan commanded more or less 100,000 troops, an Amir 10,000, a Malik a thousand, and so on. The term Amir was normally used in a generic sense to denote a high officer. In Akbar�s time and after, all the great men of the Mughal Empire were graded and appointed to a mansab (rank) in the imperial service. From the lowest rank, that of the commander of ten, upto the rank of 400 an officer was known as Mansabdar. From 500 onwards a noble was known as Amir, or Khan, or Khan-i-Azam. They were all generally spoken of as Umara.

The Umara were highly paid. Their remuneration was paid sometimes in the form of a cash salary, at others by the grant of a revenue assignment or iqta. �The iqta was basically a salary collected at source.� According to the chroniclers of the Sultanate period every Khan received two lakh tankahs, every Malik from 50 to 60 thousand tankahs, every Amir from 40 to 50 thousand tankahs, and so on. The salaries during the Mughal period were equally high. It has been computed by expert opinion that a commander of 5000 could count on at least Rs.18,000 a month under Akbar and his successor. He could even improve upon this amount if he practised judicious economy in his military expenditure and had the good fortune of securing a profitable jagir. A commander of 1000 could similarly count on receiving Rs.5000 a month (equal to from rupees 25,000 to 30,000 in 1914), while a commander of 500 would have received the equivalent of Rs.5000 to 6000 at the same rate. �While therefore the precise figures are uncertain, it appears to be reasonable to conclude that the higher ranks of the Imperial Service were remunerated on a scale far more liberal than that which now prevails in India (C. 1914), or for that matter in any portion of the world.�

Luxurious Life

Their high salaries and emoluments introduced into the lives of the Umara all the uses and abuses of luxury.  They lived with such ostentation that it was not to be seen elsewhere in the world, and �the most sumptuous of European courts cannot compare in richness and magnificence with the lustre beheld in Indian courts.� Their splendid life-style may be studied in its two aspects - private inside the harem and public outside of it. They lived in magnificent mansions some costing four to six thousand gold tankahs (dinars) and provided with all amenities. By the seventeenth century the Mahals of the nobles had gained in architectural excellence and constructional designs. At Agra, on the banks of the Jumna, �many persons have erected buildings of three or four storeys,� writes emperor Jahangir Asaf Khan�s palace had a fair Diwan Khana which was flanked by �diverse lodgings for his women neatly contrived with galleries and walks.� Asaf Khan�s palace was exceedingly handsome and costly, but the others were equally elegant. The basic pattern of the mansions of the nobles was the same. One portion of the building was the Diwan Khana or the men�s quarters but �the greater portion was occupied by their ladies and was called Zenan Khana.� �In the houses of the nobles the women�s apartments are in the centre, and it is generally necessary to traverse two or three large courts and a garden or two before reaching there.� Bernier�s observations about the houses of nobles of Delhi are similar to those of Pelsaert at Agra. They were spacious and along with �courtyards, gardens, trees, basins of water, small jets d�eau in the hall or at the entrance, and handsome subterraneous apartments which are furnished with large fans.� While encamping, their tents were made equally magnificient. �All the arcades and galleries were covered from top to bottom with brocade, and (even) the pavement with rich carpets.�

The nobles� ladies were numerous and spendthrift. Pelsaert says that �as a rule they have three or four wives� All live together� surrounded by high walls� called the mahal, having tanks and gardens inside. Each wife has separate apartments for herself and her slaves, of whom there may be 10, or 20, or 100, according to her fortune. Each has a monthly allowance for her (expenditure). Jewels and clothes are provided by the husband according to the extent of his affection�� Their Mahals were adorned with �superfluous pomp and ornamental dainties.� The ladies made extensive use of gold and silver, for ornaments and jewellery, as well for their utensils and table service. Even their bedsteads were �lavishly ornamented with gold and silver.� During the earlier period, there is also mention of gold bath-tubs and gold horse-shoes.

For the security and supervision of these hundreds of ladies, dozens and dozens of maids and eunuchs were required. The harem paraphernalia cost tons of money. Furthermore, it was a fashion for the Umara to visit the houses of dancing girls, take them or call them to their own mansions and pay them handsomely. Throughout the medieval times the nobility indulged in the expensive hobbies of women, wine, song and drugs. Chess and chausar they played at home; big game shooting, taming and flying birds, playing chaugan and practicing with swords were their outdoor recreations. Dozens of falconers, pigeon-boys and attendants were employed to keep their birds and horses in trim. The nobles, their ladies, and even their slave-girls dressed in the best of cotton fineries and richest embroidered silks. Their food was rich and full of delicacies. Their boon companions partook of it freely. Most of the nobles �were soaked in wine and sunk in debauch� but they were also patrons of art and poetry. Since I have made a comprehensive study of the luxurious life of the medieval Muslim nobility in my monograph entitled The Mughal Harem, I shall refrain from repeating here what I have already stated therein in detail except reproducing one paragraph from the book. �The large establishment of wives and servants rendered the nobles immobile. No Indian scholars, engineers or travellers went abroad to learn the skills the Europeans were developing in their countries. While people from Europe were frequently coming to Hindustan, no Indian nobleman could go to the West because he could not live without his harem and he could not take with him his cumbersome harem to countries situated so far away. Europe at this time was forging ahead in science and technology through its Industrial Revolution, but the Mughal elites kept themselves insulated from this great stride because of inertia. Consequently, the country was pulled back from marching with progress, a deficiency which has not been able to be made up until now.�

Outside their mansions the Umara were extra ostentatious. Since they attained to highest honours �at court, in the provinces, and in the armies; and who are, as they call themselves, the Pillars of the Empire, they maintain the splendour of the court, and are never seen out-of-doors but in the most superb apparel; mounted sometimes on an elephant, sometimes on horseback, and not unfrequently in a paleky attended by many of their cavalry, and by a large body of servants on foot - not only to clear the way, but to flap the flies and brush off the dust with tails of peacocks; to carry the spitoon, water to allay the Omrah�s thirst.�

Over and above the expenses on their �large establishment of wives, servants, camels and horses,� the nobles were expected to present valuable gifts to the king on birthday anniversaries, Ids, Nauroz and other festivals, according to their pay and status. �Some of them, indeed take that opportunity of presenting gifts of extraordinary magnificence, sometimes for the sake of ostentatious display, sometimes to divert the king from instituting an inquiry into their excessive exactions, and sometimes to gain the favour of the king, and by that means obtain an increase of salary. Some present fine pearls, diamonds, emeralds and rubies; others offer vessels of gold set with precious stones; others again give gold coins�� The king also gave some gift in exchange, but the presents of the nobles were much costlier and often extracted by the king. During a festival of this kind Aurangzeb, having paid a visit to Jafar Khan, the Wazir made a present to the king of gold coins to the amount of one hundred thousand crowns, some handsome pearls and a ruby about the value of which prevailed great �confusion among the principal jewellers, and it might have cost five hundred thousand crowns.� Thus the king sometimes took the initiative in contriving to extract costly presents and gathered huge amounts, for says Pelsaert, �from the least to the greatest right up to the King himself everyone is infected with insatiable greed.� Money spent on bribes and presents often proved profitable investment, for, without presents the nobles could hardly expect timely response to his petition. Not only were gifts presented to the king, means had to be found for making valuable presents, every year, to a Wazir, an eunuch or a lady of the seraglio, or to any other person whose influence at court the nobleman considered indispensable.

Bribery and Corruption

Such high expenses of building spacious mansions, exchanging costly presents, maintaining a large harem of wives and concubines -in short, living in style at home and indulging in pompous display outside, could not be met by the aristocracy from their salaries alone. Therefore, the nobles augmented their income by other means. There were many sources from which extra amounts of money could come to their coffers, like enjoying a large military command, a profitable political appointment and a lucrative revenue assignment, and these were all inter-connected, all providing opportunities of corruption and exploitation.

Every nobleman or Mansabdar was alloted a quota of troops which he was expected to maintain. From the very beginning of Turkish rule the conquered land used to be distributed by the king among army officers, nobles, government officials and even soldiers as gifts, grants and rewards and also in lieu of personal salary, and for paying their soldiers. These grants were not hereditary, and were given as pay for military service. But in course of time the land-holders continued in possession of their land without rendering any military service. On inquiry it was found by Sultan Balban that about 2,000 cavalry officers had received villages in the Doab alone by way of pay during the time of Iltutmish, but for the next forty years or more many of the grantees had become old and infirm, or had died. But their sons and even slaves continued to live off the lands as if they were an inheritance. Many of them were clever enough to get the assignments recorded in their own names in the books of the Ariz-i-Mumalik obviously by bribing the officials�� according to their means by wine, goats, chicken, pigeon, butter and food-stuffs from their villages� �to the Deputy Muster-Master and his officials.

Sultan Balban tried to improve matters and so did many other rulers but corruption remained entrenched.

The salary of the soldiers and expenditure on their horses usually formed part of the pay of the Umara or Mansabdars who were expected to spend it on them. But this system gave the nobleman an opportunity to retain some money from every man�s pay and prepare false returns of the horses he was supposed to provide. �Many of the lords who hold the rank of 5000 horse, do not keep even 1000 in their employ.� This practice was universal throughout the medieval period. It rendered the Amir�s income very considerable, particularly when he was so fortunate as to have some good jagirs or suitable lands assigned to him. For some of the officers �received double, and even more than that, in excess of the estimated value of their grants�. There was thus the practice �which prevails too much at all times� of purchasing governorships against hard cash. Sometimes the king assigned a governorship to the highest bidder. The governor or farmer of revenue so appointed had to compensate himself by mercilessly fleecing the merchants and peasants of the province. In this way many people without the smallest patrimony, some even originally wretched slaves, involved in debt, became great and opulent lords overnight. Bernier even complains that the Great Mogol did not select for his service �gentlemen of opulent and ancient families; sons of his citizens, merchants and manufacturers� affectionately attached to their sovereign� and willing to maintain themselves� by means of their own patrimony� Instead he is surrounded� by parasites raised by the dregs of society.� That is how �the misery of this ill-fated country is increased.�

For many an Umara just looted both the government and the people all at once. In this regard certain misconceptions may be removed at the outset. It is generally believed that corruption flourishes in a democracy or a soft state where no one can be punished until proved guilty, and that despotic rulers would not brook it. Another idea repeatedly put forward is that it is poverty and low salaries that breed corruption, and that it is bound to be reduced in proportion to the rise in emoluments and standard of living.

However, on a study of the records of medieval times, when autocracy was the order of the day, we find that corruption was quite well-grounded, and people and the government were unabashedly cheated. Cheating of the people and the government are almost synonymous. In the fourteenth century too, those who cheated the people could not rest at that, and they took every opportunity of defrauding the government whenever an opportunity presented itself. One such opportunity came when Muhammad bin Tughlaq introduced his famous token currency. Another, when he struck upon the novel (now commonly practised) idea of having large-scale farm cultivation. An area of about 45 miles square (30 krohs) was set aside for intensive farming in which not a patch was to be left uncultivated at any time by changing crops constantly. A hundred shiqdars were appointed to supervise the project. They promised to cultivate thousands of bighas of land and also to reclaim waste land. Each one of them received fifty thousand tankahs in cash as advance (sondhar) from the State. But they turned out to be greedy and dishonest persons. They cheated the government, squandered the money on personal needs and did not care to cultivate the allotted area. In this way the State lost not less then 70,00,000 tankahs in all. Of the advance not even a hundredth or a thousandth part could be recovered and the avaricious shiqdars embezzled the whole amount. And all this callousness was there about a measure which had been undertaken to ameliorate famine conditions.

A few more instances of corruption from the Sultanate period may be mentioned to appreciate the depth and extensivity of the malady. During the reign of Firoz Shah the profession of soldiers was made hereditary. Also old men were not retired on compassionate ground and efficiency of the army naturally suffered. Over and above this, corruption was galore in the Diwan-i-Arz. Horses of little value were brought to the Diwan and were passed as serviceable, obviously by greasing the palms of the clerks. In this reference a story narrated by Shams Siraj Afif is worth citing. Once the Sultan overheard a soldier complaining to a friend that because he did not have the necessary money to pay as bribe, he had not been able to get a fitness certificate for his horse at the Diwan-i-Arz. �The Sultan inquired how much was needed, and the soldier said that if he had a gold tankah he could get a certificate for his horse. The Sultan ordered his purse-bearer to give a tankah to the soldier.� The trooper went to the Diwan-i-Arz with the ashrafi and paying it to the clerk concerned got the certificate. He then returned and thanked the Sultan. Encouragement to corruption from the head of the State was a matter of concern. But what else could Afif say but that Firoz Shah was a very kind-hearted and affectionate Sultan!

These cases of bribery, corruption and embezzlement concern government officials of not so high a status among the upper classes. But the highest nobles of the State indulged in them. The story of the deception of Kajar Shah, the Master of Mint, speaks for itself. It is so interesting that its incidents may be given in some detail. Firoz Tughlaq had issued several varieties of new coins and shashgani (or six-jital-piece) was one of them. As the coin went into circulation, it was reported to the Sultan by two courtiers that there was a deficiency of one grain of silver in the shashgani, and they prayed for an investigation. If what they had said was proved to be true, they pleaded, the officials responsible for debasement of the coin must take the consequences. The Sultan immediately directed the Wazir, Khan-i-Jahan Maqbul, to investigate the matter. Khan-i-Jahan was equally keen about the enquiry. Indeed he observed that �the coinage of kings was like an unmarried daughter, whom no one would seek after, however beautiful and charming she might be, if any aspersion had, rightly or wrongly, been cast upon her character. So also was the case with the royal coins; if any one honestly or falsely alleged a debasement of the currency, the insinuation would spread, the coinage would earn a bad name, and no one would take it.�

The affair was as scandalous as it was unique. To hold an open inquest was ruled out because the bona fides of the government itself were in question. Therefore the Wazir decided on a secret investigation, and sent for Kajar Shah, the Master of Mint, and asked him if his officials had been covetous. Kajar Shah knew that his game was up and he thought it best to make a clean breast of it to the Wazir. Khan-i-Jahan could not displease the Sultan, who had insisted that the intrinsic value of the coin should be tested in his presence. But he also could not allow the government to get into disrepute, and now that he had known the truth, he thought it best to hush up the case. Therefore, he recommended to Kajar Shah to arrange the matter over with the goldsmiths that they so manage their performance before the king that the process of debasement of the shashgani may not be detected. The goldsmiths, charcoal dealers and stove (angusht) managers were all tutored and everything was given a fool-proof finish. Firoz Shah was requested to watch the operation sitting in a private apartment with Khan-i-Jahan Maqbul. Kajar Shah and his accusers were called in. The goldsmiths were also brought in. The charcoal dealers brought the stoves and placed them before the goldsmiths. Several shashgani pieces were placed in the crucible, which the goldsmiths put upon the fire. The Sultan meanwhile entered into a conversation with his minister, and while he was so engaged, the workmen adroitly picked up the required pieces of silver and surreptitiously threw them into the melting pot. After a while the crucible was taken off the fire and the contents were weighed; the shashgani was proved to be of full standard value. Kajar Shah was presented with a robe of honour and other favours. He was seated on an elephant and taken round the city so that people might understand that the shashgani was of full value. The �honest� accusers were thus proved false and banished.

Another instance. An important nobleman, Shamsuddin Abu Rija, the Auditor General (Mustaufi), had earned wide notoriety as a professional bribe-taker, embezzler and at that a tyrant. Shams Siraj Afif, historian contemporary of Firoz Shah, devotes thirty-five pages to record the crimes of Abu Rija. The three years during which he held the office of the Auditor General, his hand of greed extended to all officers, Zamindars and Amils. Those who gave him bribes, were permitted to go scot-free; others who did not, were implicated by him on one charge or another and punished. Nobody dared to raise a voice against his criminal breach of trust or his atrocities, because he was a hot favourite of the Sultan. Even before he was made the Mustaufi, he, as the deputy governor of Gujarat, had borrowed 90 thousand tankahs from the Provincial Treasury for his own use, but had not refunded the amount. To hide his improper gains he had built a new mansion in Delhi and had buried underground thousands of gold Ashrafis. At last the Sultan could not keep his eyes closed to Shamsuddin�s black deeds because a number of nobles, including the Khan-i-Jahan, son of Khan-i-Jahan Maqbul, insisted that he should be brought to book. Shamsuddin�s mansion was searched and his reserves of gold dug out. He was imprisoned and tortured so severely that he could never ride a horse again. Strangely enough when Firoz�s son Muhammad ascended the throne, he recalled Shamsuddin Abu Rija and reinstated him with all honours.

But the one man who amassed probably the largest amount of wealth in the Sultanate period, escaped scot-free. This man was Bashir, a slave of Firoz Shah. He had originally come as a part of the dower of Firoz�s mother. In course of time, and through the favour of Sultan Firoz, he rose into prominence and got the title of Imadul Mulk. His one passion was acquisition of wealth. Related to the sultan as he was, he soon accumulated crores of tankahs. Gunny bags required for storing the coin alone were estimated to cost 2,500 tankahs, the price of each bag being four jitals; but Imadul Mulk objected to this extravagant outlay for bags and directed that pits should be dug in the ground and the money placed therein like as corn is stored. He had amassed thirteen crore tankahs but he was greedy about acquiring more.

Just imagine thirteen crore tankahs. The total revenue of a year during Firoz�s reign was six crore and seventy-five lac tankahs; and one individual slave of the Sultan (Bashir-i-Sultani) had acquired wealth amounting to two years� total revenue of the country. Could corruption go further? �There were many rich Khans and Maliks in the time of Firoz Shah,� writes Afif, �but no one was so rich as he; indeed there never had been one so rich in any reign or in any kingdom.� Still the officers of the Revenue Department could not call him to account; they were indeed afraid of him, for he was a favourite of the Sultan. To please the Sultan, Imadul Mulk once presented him with a crore of tankahs. But twelve crores still remained with him. At his death, the Sultan ordered nine crores to be deposited in the State exchequer on the plea that �Bashir is my property (as his slave), and so his property is mine.� Three crores were left with Imadul Mulk�s son Ishaq who also got the title of his father. Afif adds that Ishaq himself was an extremely rich man and did not stand in need of his father�s wealth.

The chronicler philosophises by saying: �These nobles accumulated so much wealth by lawful and unlawful means (vajeh na vajeh), and then leaving it undertook the last journey where they were to account for all this wealth.� But such ill-gotten gains at least created havoc in this world, because, according to Afif himself, �much of the trouble that came about in the time of Sultan Muhammad (son of Firoz) was due to the accumulation of such wealth in the hands of a few nobles.�

Thus there was corruption in the army, in civil administration and in the royal mint. Hoarding, black-marketing and bribery were commonly practised. Even the judiciary was not free from corruption, and that too during the reign of a strong and stern monarch like Alauddin. Talking of Qazi Hamiduddin Multani, Ziyauddin Barani cryptically remarks, �it would not be proper to write about his qualities in history.� He also says that not �the godfearing and abstemious but corruptible, greedy and mundane� people were appointed as judges. His one complaint was that judges used to stretch the meaning of the Quranic texts to carry out the wishes of the Sultans. The indictment by Maulana Shamsuddin Turk of the judiciary of the day is also worth citing. The Maulana who hailed from Egypt, addressed a letter to Alauddin saying that �ill-fated wiseacres of black faces sat in mosques with abominable law books and made money by cheating both the accuser and the accused, and the Qazis� did not bring these facts to the notice of the king.� It is said that Shamsuddin Turk was opposed to Qazi Hamiduddin, and therefore wrote in such a way, but in Mutla-i-Anwar, Amir Khusrau also observes that the Qazis were ignorant of the principles of law. The appointment of Ibn Battuta, who did not know a word of law, as the Qazi of the capital by Muhammad bin Tughlaq, came to him as the greatest surprise.

Having studied some prominent cases of bribery, corruption and hoarding, of the nobles, and the rich upper class people in the Sultanate times, let us analyse their genesis and their prominent aspects. It is clear that corruption had nothing much to do with poverty or a low standard of living. During Balban�s rule the nobility and armymen, who could not or would not perform their duties for which lands had been granted to them, were not poor. But they wanted their privileges to continue; about performing their duties they were not concerned. Fakhruddin, the Kotwal, who pleaded their case with the king was moved as much by compassion as by self-interest. He was himself old and in course of time stood to lose all privileges if the orders of Balban were not amended. The people who minted counterfeit coins found in the token currency of Muhammad bin Tughlaq a challenge to their intelligence and ingenuity, and took advantage of the golden opportunity provided by it to get rich. The officials of the Diwan-i-Arz who took a gold tankah for issuing the fitness certificate to the cavalryman in the days of Firoz were not poor; they were habitual bribe-takers. The shiqdars or officers who embezzled the money advanced to them for cultivation by Muhammad bin Tughlaq again, were not poor. The people who minted debased currency, the wholesalers and retailers who indulged in hoarding and black-marketing, men like Kajar Shah and Bashir-i-Sultani, did not do what they did because they were poor, but because they were greedy and opportunists. The object of the opportunists was to get rich, of the rich to get richer. Their luxurious life, their women and wine and their ambition to amass wealth, kept the torch of corruption burning.

Individual cases of corruption and embezzlement apart, the sure and perennial sources of extra income of the nobles were two-what they could save on their troops and what they could collect in addition to the nominal value of their assignments - and able and unscrupulous men made as much extra wealth as possible from both these. In the words of Shihabuddin Ahmad, �The khans, maliks, amirs, and isfah-salars receive the revenues of the places assigned to them by the treasury �Generally speaking they bring in much more than their estimated value� Some of the officers receive double, and even more than that, in excess of the estimated value of their grants.� What this practice meant to the poor peasant would be discussed later. The irony of the matter was that everyone knew about it, including the king himself. The king was even a party to the system for he allotted good lands to his favourites nobles. Even Sher Shah Suri, who is regarded as a friend of the agriculturists, changed his amils (revenue collectors) every year, or second year, and sent new ones, for he said that �there is no such income and advantage in other employments as in the government of a district. Therefore I (Sher Shah) send my good old loyal experienced servants to take charge of districts, that the salaries, profits, and advantages, may accrue to them in preference to others; and after two years I change them, and send other servants like to them, that they also may prosper��

In the Mughal period the same trends continued. Things might have improved under the able and shrewd Akbar, but only might. He too was part of the system. He too was surrounded by the same sort of people who were ready of speech and expert at intrigue. Corruption in the Mughal times was so widespread - in the army, in civil administration and even in judiciary - that narration of individual cases cannot just be done. Exceptions apart, the more important the Amir, the larger his expenses, and the greater his attempt at grabbing more and more wealth. �The biographical notices collected by Blochmann� afford instances of the possibilities which Akbar�s service offered. Hakim Ali, for instance, came from Persia to India poor and destitute, but won Akbar�s favour, and being his personal servant rose to the rank of 2000. Peshrau Khan again was a slave who was given to Humayun as a present; he rendered service in many different capacities and died a commander of 2000, leaving a fortune of 15 lakhs� (equivalent to nearly a crore of rupees at modern values). No one was immune from this temptation.  Shaikh Ibrahim Chishti of Jaunpur died at Fatehpur, bidding farwell �to mountains of gold�, 25 crores in cash taken into the treasury; �the rest� in the words of Badaoni, �fell to the share of his enemies - his sons and representatives.� Under Akbar�s successor things were certainly bad. �Jahangir believed in frequent transfers, and the certainty of a speedy change meant increased activity in exploitation�� Under Shahjahan and Aurangzeb the peasant was systematically fleeced.

�The exaction of official perquisites or gratuities� was the universal and admitted practice. Official corruption was, however, admitted in society to be immoral, and there were many officers above corruption.� But the receiving and even demanding of presents by men in power was the universal rule and publicly acknowledged. Nur Jahan�s father, when prime minister under Jahangir, was shameless in demanding presents. So also was Jafar Khan, one of the early Wazirs of Aurangzeb. Jai Singh offered a purse of Rs.30,000 to the Wazir for inducing the emperor to retain him in the Deccan command. Bhimsen expresses his disgust at having to pay everybody at Court in order to get or retain a petty civil office. The qazis grew enormously rich by taking bribes, the most notorious of them being Abdul Wahab. So also did many sadars. Even the emperor was not exempt from it. Aurangzeb asked an aspirant to a title, �Your father gave to Shahjahan one lakh of rupees for adding alif to his title and making him Amir Khan. How much will you pay me for the title I am giving you?� Qabil Khan in two-and-a-half years of �personal attendance� on Aurangzeb amassed 12 lakhs of rupees in cash, besides articles of value and a new house for selling to suppliants his good offices. As Jadunath Sarkar says, �this pressure was passed from the emperor downwards; each social grade trying to sqeeze out of the class below itself what it had to pay as present to the rank above it, the cultivator of the soil and the trader being the victims in the last resort�.


In short, the upper classes in the employment of the state were, by and large, ever busy in amassing wealth from all possible sources and enjoying it to their hearts� content. But only during their life-time. At the death of a noble, all his property, movable and immovable, was reclaimed by the government. �Immediately on the death of the lord,� writes Pelsaert, �who has enjoyed the king�s jagir, be he great or small, without any exception - even before the breath is out of his body - the king�s officers are ready on the spot, and make an inventory of the entire estate, recording everything to the value of a single pice, even to the dresses and jewels of the ladies, provided they have not concealed them.� Concealing was very difficult. As a rule all the possessions of a noble, and his transactions were managed by his diwan and many other subordinates and accountants. Hence they could not be kept secret. When the noble died all his subordinates were detained, ordered to show all books and papers to the king�s officers, and if there was any suspicion about their disclosure, they were tortured till they told the truth. �The king takes back the whole estate� except in a case where the deceased has done good service in his lifetime, when the women and children are given enough to live on, but no more,� while most of the servants were left on the street �with a tom coat and a pinched face.�

On the face of it, forfeiture of the property of a deceased noble looks unjust, but in reality it was not. Under the escheat system the king saved the corrupt Amir and himself the bother of instituting an enquiry and presenting a charge-sheet. He let the grandee undisturbed to enjoy his ill-gotten wealth as long as he lived, but after his death acquired it in full. In his discretion the king sometimes left part of the wealth as pension to the widow and heirs, but generally the sons of an Amir had to start life anew. It was a bull-dozer law, and applied to both the innocent and the guilty. But there were hardly any innocent grandees. They knew very well about the law, and therefore spent so lavishly while in office, that in addition to their great income, most of them took huge amounts as loan from the State Treasury and the king was justified in recovering the loan from their property.

And after all, as per the convention, the king was the heir of the Umara. The Mughal emperors seem to have followed the Delhi Sultans in making a claim upon their nobles as if they were their slaves. We have seen how a high officer of the title of Imadul Mulk, was declared by Firoz Tughlaq as �Bashir is my property (as a slave) and so his property is mine�. The Mughal claim to such succession is not elaborated in the Ain-i-Akbari, but is noticed by a number of European travellers from the time of Akbar onwards. It was not declared in so many words but the Mughal nobles in status were not much better off than slaves. The grandees were prohibited from contracting marriage alliances without the emperor�s permission. The noble was obliged, whatever be his rank, to fall prostrate on the ground in obeisance to his master. Although �the price paid in human dignity was terrible�, yet he paid it as his position, his promotion, indeed his very existence depended on the pleasure of the king. Manucci, writing about the last years of Aurangzeb says: �To get the hazari or pay of one thousand, it is necessary to wait a long time and work hard.�

This is one side of the coin. The other is that whether foreign or Indian, the nobles maintained a measure of individual independence. The pleasure of enjoying oneself with vigour and liberty amidst the chances of war and of life; the delights of activity without degrading labour; and the taste of an adventurous career full of uncertainty, inequality and peril, instilled in them a passionate desire of personal independence. There was a degree of brutality and an apathy for the weak and the poor. Nevertheless, at the bottom of this mixture of brutality, materialism and selfishness, lay the love of independence. It drew its strength from the moral nature of man, from a desire to developed one�s own personality which the upper class elites loved and cherished in medieval India as is found to be the case in all ages. Their status might have been that of a servant of the ruling power, but they themselves felt as mini-rulers in their own assignments, and carried their swords like whipping sticks. Pelsaert noticed that the houses of the nobles at Agra were �hidden away in alleys and corners�, and Bernier found that the dwellings of the Umara at Delhi were scattered in every direction. Manucci also observed that in Delhi many nobles �are very pleased to have their dwellings far from the royal palace�. The reason was that these people enjoyed the pleasures of idleness and women�s company away from mutual suspicion and court intrigues, and had it not been for official and court duties, the grandees would never have bothered to leave their houses at all, in order to enjoy uninterrupted intimacy of their female beauties.

The private and public life of the nobles, the system of seraglios, the widespread corruption, the custom of escheat, and so many other conventionalities of the upper classes, all left a legacy which is visible in many spheres of Muslim social life even now. Obviously, these cannot be discussed in any detail in a work of this size. A few observations, however, would indicate areas where such remnants of the legacy of Muslim rule could be found. For instance, because of escheat, writes Pelsaert, �everything in the (Mughal) kingdom is uncertain. Wealth, position, love, friendship, confidence, everything hangs by a thread� The nobles build (mansions) with so many hundreds of thousands, and yet (because of escheat) keep them in repair only so long as the owners live� Once the builder is dead, no one will care for the buildings� one cannot contemplate without pity or distress� their ruined state.� Many old Muslim havelis, which have survived and are still inhabited bear out Pelsaert�s statement.

Mughal corruption was of two kinds-polite custom, and outright bribery and embezzlement. In the first, a person did not meet his senior or superior empty-handed; he presented some gift. This practice was not harmful. But the high corruption, bribery embezzlement, widely prevalent under Muslim rule, as averred by contemporary chroniclers and foreign visitors has never left the Indian scene, and the roots of the present day corruption may be traced to earlier times. Similarly, the sophistication associated with the Mughal court etiquette and the luxurious life of the harem is still to be seen in the graceful and refined behaviour of upper class Muslims, especially of their women. In the words of Jadunath Sarkar, �the general type of Muhammadan population� are more refined and accustomed to a costiler mode of life, while Hindus of the corresponding classes, even when rich, are grosser and less cultured. The lower classes of Hindus, however, are distinctly cleaner and more intellectual than Muslims of the same grade of life.� But let us here keep confined to upper classes.

Ulama and Mashaikh

Muslim scholars and Sufi Shaikhs, though not all rich, also belonged to the upper classes because of the respect they enjoyed in society. Most of them were patronised by kings and nobles, many were actually in their employ. Some of them were very well-off.

The Ulama

Ulama (plural of alim or learned) used to be well-versed in the Muslim law. As such they assisted Muslim monarchs in administering their dominions according to the Shariat. That way they also helped the Muslims in organizing their lives according to the Shariat which comprehends not only beliefs and practices, public and personal law, and rules of behaviour but even includes dress and personal appearance. Acquiring knowledge for the sake of earning money was looked down upon; hence tradition classified the Ulama into two categories, Ulama-i-Akhirat (the pious) and Ulama-i-su (the worldly). Knowledge was an extremely valuable ornament in an age when the educated were few and the Ulama were respected for their learning and ability.

Naturally, there was hardly any secular approach to education. Great emphasis was laid on theological education (manqulat). The most important subjects taught were Hadis, Fiqh (jurisprudence) and Tafsir (exegesis). The institutions of higher learning, called madrasas, were essentially schools of theology, with auxiliaries of grammar, literature and logic. �These madrasas were the strongholds of orthodoxy and were subsidised by the state.� A high value is placed on Muslim orthodoxy everywhere, because it is claimed that it maintains the identity of the community as against other communities. In actual practice it has served as a force against an integrated living, even coexistence, with other communities.

In a word, the Ulama were an orthodox lot. Those who were denied the life of affluence usually took to teaching (as mutawalli) in some mosque or under the thatched roof of their own mud houses. Some other Ulama or danishmands became pious preachers and scholars. Very often they too had to work under indigent circumstances. Some outstanding scholars were appointed as teachers in madrasas established by the Sultans. It was the ambition of the Ulama to join government service. There were many offices which the establishment could offer to a scholar. In official hierarchy of such appointments the post of the Sadr-i-Jahan came at the top, then followed Qazis (judges), Muftis (interpreters of law) Muhtasibs (censors of public morals), Imams (who led prayers) and Khatibs (reciters of the Quran). The Sadr-i-Jahan was the chief of the judicial department. He served as the Qazi-i-Mumalik (chief judge) and recommended to the king about the appointment of junior Qazis. The Shaikh-ul-Islam was in charge of the ecclesiastical affairs of the empire. All those saints, faqirs and indigent scholars who enjoyed state patronage were looked after by him.  Normally, only well-read scholars were appointed as Khatibs and Imams. So also was the case with Muftis and Muhtasibs. Muslim public opinion did not approve of the appointment of less qualified persons to these posts.

The Ulama received salaries pertaining to the offices they held. Most of the Ulama dabbled in politics. They wielded influence with the kings and nobles as interpreters of Muslim law. Their presence was indispensable to a ruler who was generally uneducated. During the protracted struggle between the crown and the nobility which raged throughout the Sultanate period, they aligned themselves with one or the other of political groups. They always remained on the right side of the regime and forgot the community whom they were expected to help in times of economic distress and political oppression. In this way they encouraged political oppression on the one hand and on the other they preached the necessity of obedience and submission by the people even to an oppressor, taking shelter under the Quranic injunction: �Obey God and obey the Prophet, and those in authority among you.� Naturally, �an unholy alliance with them smoothed the path of king�s depotism�. They themselves did not lag behind in obsequiousness. Their collaboration with and integration into the state apparatus made them subservient to the regime, �so much so that when Iltutmish nominated Raziya as his successor, there was not a single theologian in the Delhi Empire who could protest against this nomination on the grounds of Shariat.� The way they encouraged Sultans like Ruknuddin Firoz and Muizuddin Kaiqubad not to offer prayers or keep fasts during the month of Ramzan, and live licentious lives, shows how servile they had become and how they �were wallowing in the dirty welters of politics.� Of course the Ulama were openly critical of one another and, for this they have been criticised by their contemporary writers like Amir Khusrau, Zia Barani, Abdul Haq Muhaddis and Abdul Qadir Badaoni. Kings like Iltutumish and Balban and prince Bughra Khan are also critical of them.

But in one thing they did not fail. They kept the rulers and the ruling class on the path of Islam and virtue by informing them �correctly� about their duty towards the non-Muslims. Some modern secularist historians blame the Ulama for making Muslim rulers intolerant through their orthodox advice. Such writers fail to realise that it was not safe for the Ulama to cheat the Sultans by giving wrong interpretation of their holy scriptures vis-a-vis the treatment of non-Muslims. I have not come across any instance where the Ulama deliberately gave a distorted version of their scriptures in this context. And why should they have done so?  They were as much interested in seeing the Muslim state being run according to the Shariat as the Sultans. In short, they always interpreted their scriptures correctly and honestly when it came to the Hindus. So that a foreign visitor like Maulana Shamsuddin Turk, who is very critical of the Qazis of the day, condoned their faults for the reason that because of their right advice their king was prone to treating the Hindus terribly. The lifestyle of the Ulama did not come in the way of serving Islam. Like other Muslims of the higher classes, it was normal for the Ulama to keep harems, live luxuriously and drink wine.

Despite a few faults and a little criticism, therefore, the Ulama as a class were indispensable to the regime. They were advisers of the king and ran the establishment. It was from the Ulama class that the various officers of the government as well as religious institutions were chosen. It was through these people that the regime systematized the religious and social life of the Muslim community just as it organized the extension and administration of Muslim dominions in India through the nobility.

The Mashaikh

Equally influential, if not more, were the Sufi Mashaikh. In the early years of Muslim immigration, and more so with the establishment of Muslim rule in India, many Muslim faqirs, scholars and Sufi Mashaikh arrived in India. They entered Hindustan on their own or came with the invading armies. Later on, the disturbed conditions in Central Asia, consequent upon the Mongol upheaval also encouraged them to leave their homes in search of security. Many came to settle in India where peace and plenty and the protective arm of Muslim rule promised them all they wished.

Sufism may be defined as Islamic mysticism. In its early years in Central and West Asia, it was deeply influenced by Neo-Platonism, the monastic tradition of Buddhism and Christianity and the Vedantist and Yogic philosophy of Hinduism. All these were Islamized by the Sufis in such a way as to make them virtually unidentifiable. Nawbahar was a great Buddhist monastry in Balkh. The name of the city of Bokhara itself is derived from Vihar. Some Khurasan Sufis lived in caves like Buddhists. They were known as Shikafatiyah from the word Shikafat (cave). When Hindu and Buddhist thinkers and saints converted to Islam in Central and West Asia during the eighth to eleventh centuries they carried their thought and philosophy to Sufism. Ibn al-Arabi (1165-1241) wrote in his Diwan that idol-worship, Chritian ways and Kaaba were all acceptable to him as he believed in the religion of love.

The Sufism that came to India in the twelfth century with the Muslim Mashaikh did not, by and large, envisage direct communion with God without the intermedium of Islam. Just as the soul and body are one, in Islamic sufism Tariqah and Shariah are so interrelated. Some Sufis believed in the doctrine of Wahadat-ul-Wajud, or the Unity of Being which means �There is nothing but God, nothing in existence other than He�. This theory, propounded by Shaikh Ibn al-Arabi and akin to Hindu Vedantism, was developed later on in order to harmonise the doctrine of mysticism with the teachings of orthodox Islam.

There were a number of Sufi orders or silsila as they are called. Abul Fazl mentions as many as fourteen. But four orders-Chishti, Suhrawardi, Qadiri and Naqshabandi-became prominent in India. Of these only the first two became more popular, for the latter two were extremely orthodox and �legalistic in their strictness.� By the thirteenth century, northern India saw the flowering of two Sufi orders, Chishti and Suhrawardi, and we will concern ourselves with the Mashaikh of only these two orders. The founder of the Suhrawardi order was Shaikh Bahauddin Zakariya. He was born near Multan in Sind in 578 H. (1182-83 C.E.). He and his disciples played a leading part in the north-west and �symbolically asked the Chishtis not to dispute possession (of the region) with them. Shaikh Bahauddin Zakariya (and his successors) mixed freely with the Sultans, took part in political affairs, amassed wealth and accepted government honours�.

The Chishtis established themselves at Ajmer in Rajasthan, some parts of the Punjab, Delhi, U.P. and Bihar and further east. They were probably the largest in number and represented what seems to be the most typical in the Sufi way of life. The first great Chishti Shaikh was Khwaja Muinuddin Chishti. He was born in Sijistan in eastern Persia in C.E. 1141. He came to India a little before or after the battle of Taraori or Tarain (1192) and settled down at Ajmer. There also he lies buried after his death in 1236. His mausoleum is a great centre of pilgrimage. He is known as Gharib Nawaz or Friend of the Poor and Nabi-ul-Hind or Prophet of India. Shaikh Saiyyad Muhammad Gesu Daraz (he of the long locks) said that if people were unable to make the pilgrimage to Mecca, a visit once in their lives to the mausoleum of Muinuddin Chishti would convey the same merit.

Shaikh Muinuddin is very famous today. But he was not known as such to his contemporaries. The three contemporary chronicler-Hasan Nizami, Fakhr-i-Mudabbir and Minhaj do not refer to him at all. Early mystic records, the Favaid-ul-Fuad and Khair-ul-Majalis do not give any information about him. Barani makes no reference to him. Isami tells us only this much that Muhammad bin Tughlaq had once visited his grave. In all probability his fame spread from the time of emperor Akbar (1556-1605 C.E.) who held his memory in great reverence and often paid visit to his dargah in Aj