UNIT 10 THE MUGHAL STATE
10.2 Evolution of Theory of Sovereignty
10.3 Imperial Ideology under Akbar
10.4 Nature of State: Various Interpretations
18th Century Successor
We have explained in earlier Units-8 and 9 the nature of polity existing under the Delhi Sultanate and in the kingdoms that emerged following the decline of the Delhi Sultanate. In the analysis of state in medieval times the major landmark is the establishment of the Mughal state by Babur in the early half of the 16th century. The task initiated by Babur was further carried forward by his successors, particularly Akbar. The Mughal empire lasted for over two centuries and in the process of its expansion and consolidation it left a lasting impact on the polity of the Indian subcontinent. The extraordinary longevity of the Mughal imperial structure and the control that the emperors developed to rule such a vast empire make it more important to understand the dynamics of the Mughal state. We have large number of historical works for understanding the Mughal state. Starting from the writings by early British writers till recently we come across scholarly debate among historians around whether the Mughal was a conquest state or a highly centralized bureaucratic empire or a patrimonial state or a state to be understood in terms of its fiscal management, etc. In this Unit we will first explain the basis of imperial ideology tracing it from the central Asian tradition and the innovations made by the Mughal rulers. After this you will be introduced to the various interpretations on the nature of the Mughal state and the debates regarding the decline of the Mughal empire. This should help in making your assessment of the Mughal polity.
10.2 EVOLUTION OF THEORY OF SOVEREIGNTY
After the decline of the Mongol empire in the 14th century Timur, a Chaghtai Turk, established a large empire covering central Asia, west Asia and parts of south Asia. The Mughals were the direct descendants of Amir Timur. The Timurids, the Ottomans in eastern Europe (Turks), the Safavids (in Persia) and later the Mughals in India, though Islamised did not consider it essential to obtain the formal sanction from the khalifa whose power was waning. It is interesting to note that although these powers had gradually been Islamised but their political ideals were not based on purely Islamic principles. The Timurid polity combined the attributes of the Yassa of Chingez (Mongol Traditions), Turkish traditions and the principles of shara. Therefore the Mughal state can be understood by a close examination of the Timurid polity and can be categorized as an admixture of Islamic, Persian and Turko Mongol practices. Timur’s empire or the Chaghati Khanate was transformed from a loose structure to a close knit system which was a blend of divine precepts and Chingez Khanid decrees. The divine proclamation aspect was given priority over the mundane Chingez Khanid regulations (partitioning of tribes). The divinity related aspects imparted legitimacy to the state more than any other type of law or decree. It is argued by
some scholars that the Timurids did adopt the bureaucratic system (largely based on 23
State in Medieval Times Persian traditions) however, their principle of shared sovereignty could lead to partition and decentralization of empire.
The Mughal state cannot be analysed without an understanding of the Turko-Mongol theory of kingship. Babur, the founder of the Mughal dynasty in India was related to the Mongol leader Chingez Khan and Timur the Chaghtai Islamised Turk. Therefore Babur’s perception portrayed a combination of Turkish, Mongol and Islamic ideals. The Turks, Persians and Mongols regarded the ruler as holding a status which was higher than a chief. Myths relating to Chingez Khan’s ancestry point to super natural aspects of his life by referring to him as son of light. The divine aspects attributed to Chingez Khan’s lineage and the tremendous respect and veneration his family enjoyed had enabled the house of Chingez to retain kinghip till the 16th Century. Thus, sovereignty acquired a hereditary character and was confined to the house of Chingez not on the basis of mythical traditions but real exploits and achievements which imparted an exalted status to their house. Even Timur was unable to aspire to the status of the house of Chingez and therefore he had to remain satisfied with the modest title of ‘Amir’ or ‘Beg’.
Khan of the Mongols can be contrasted with the khalifa of Islamic state. The khalifa was basically a religious and political head of the Islamic community or states. However, the great Khan was a political and warrior leader and thereby his status as a sovereign was not bound by religious or divine factors. According to Dr. R.P. Tripathi ‘He was a political sovereign pure and simple’. Though the Great Khan was an elected leader but this election was devoid of religious overtones. A characteristic aspect of Mongol polity was that the empire was split among the princes not on a territorial but a tribal premise. The areas over which the princes had power and authority were practically their autonomous domain. However, they owed symbolic allegiance to the Great Khan who ruled in their homeland in Central Asia.
The Malfuzat-I-Timuri (Institutes, Political and Military written originally in Mongol language by the Great Timur) is an important source material for understanding the ideals of sovereignty which existed during the period of Timur. This reflects an amalgamation of Mongol and Islamic ideals. The main focus of Timur’s theory of sovereignty was the understanding that the positions held in the temporal empire were in fact a representation of the empire of God. This belief had been revealed to him by his spiritual teacher. Timur was of the opinion that since there was only one God therefore the representative of God on earth could be only one. King should not be influenced by anyone. Power should not be exercised arbitrarily by the king. The nobles and the officials were to be taken into confidence and respected. But the King’s resolve was the ultimate solution. The advice of the officials was not binding upon him.
Timur had imbibed Islamic ideals and therefore his conception of kingship, at least theoretically, could not be simply political and military. According to the Malfuzt- I-Timuri through a letter (maktub) Mir Sayyid Sharif bestowed upon Timur a title depicting him as the champion and reformer of Islam. Here Timur’s name is found with the names of Ummayid and Abbasid khalifas. It is also mentioned that Timur read the khutba in his name in the mosque in the manner of some of the earlier khalifas. An important change took place under the Timurids since the Mongol practice of splitting the tribes and placing them under the princes. was now replaced by territorial partition of the empire among the princes. Timur adopted this policy and this tradition was carried further by his successors.
Abu Said Mirza, the grandfather of Babur, brought about a drastic shift in Timur’s position. It has already been stated that though the Timurids enjoyed absolute power in their territorial spheres but they theoretically accepted the suzerainty (though nominal) of the Great Mongol Khan. Babur’s grandfather pointed out that ‘… the mandates will be issued in the name of the dynasty (of Timur) because I am Padshah in my own right’. This challenge to the authority of the Great Mongol Khan was a
24 novel step resorted to by the Timurids. Abu Said Mirza adopted the humble titles of
Sultan and Mirza though he did try to break the hegemony of the Great Mongol Khan.
It seems that women were not allowed to become sovereign themselves but could influence state functioning during the minority of princes as their regents. Minority did not debar a prince from attaining the status of sovereign. Babur and Akbar were both minors when sovereign status was bestowed upon them. The nobility and the religious groups were the other categories which enjoyed tremendous respect and authority in central Asia.
Around 1507 Babur adopted the designation padshah (emperor). He was firmly established in Kabul. The emergence of Ottomans in eastern Europe, Safavids in Persia and Shaibanids Uzbeks (Mongol tribe) in central Asia was a major threat to the authority of the Timurids. The Ottomen Sultan adopted the title of Qaisar, Safavid of Shah and the Shaibanids called themselves Sultan. In these circumstances taking cue from his grandfather Babur adopted the title of padshah.
Babur’s religious beliefs did not shape his political outlook which was pragmatic. Dr. R.P. Tripathi suggests ‘Although he had unbounded faith in the will of God and had versified the Islamic law for the guidance of his second son, his memoirs do not show any superstitious and morbid regard either for schoolmen or the details of the law’. Patrimony, ancestry, heredity were regarded by Babur as the foundation of sovereignty. His views regarding kingship and sovereignty were spelt out in a letter he wrote to Humayun in 1529. He suggested that sovereignty was like bondage and a sovereign could not combine his work with pleasure and rest. He also indicated that advice should be sought from close associates. With regard to conflict between Humayun and Kamran although division was advocated but he was of the opinion that padshahi (sovereign power) should not be split. Babur mentioned that ‘partnership in rule is a thing unheard of’. It was felt that partitioning of authority was not in accordance with the ideal of preservation of sovereign power and brought about problems in the functioning of the state.
The pious caliphs had carved out a special niche for themselves as heads of Islamic religious and political system. However, the Timurids had never accepted the khalifa as their suzerain. When Babur invaded India even the semblance of authority of the khalifa of Egypt had been erased. The authority of the Ottomans (who conquered Egypt, Syria, Arabia in the 16th century and got the title of Sultan of Rum (Asia Minor) from the caliph at Cairo and adopted the title of Padshah-i-Isalm) could never be acceptable to the Timurids as higher.
The accession of Babur and Humayun as the eldest sons established a positive tradition for the Mughal state. The legitimacy and sanctity which the Mughal Emperors Babur and Humayun provided to the principles of heredity and especially the faith reposed in the eldest progeny provided the foundation to the principles of sovereignty as operational in the Mughal state.
The death of Babur was followed by the accession of Humayun without any conflict but the problem of dividing the empire among his brothers could not be resolved easily. The Mughals in India had not acquired a secure foothold and the principle of partition of empire was applied in these adverse circumstances. The empire had to counter resistance from several quarters and amidst the problems the issue of division of empire loomed large over the empire. After Humayun was defeated by Sher Shah, he decided to go to Badakhshan through Kabul but Kamran (Humayun’s brother) did not allow him passage on the pretext that it was given to Kamran’s mother by Babur. Hindal, Humayun’s brother removed Babur’s name from the khutba at Qandahar. In this situation Babur was made to realize that the principle of division of empire as an administrative procedure was fraught with many lacunae.
Humayun’s personal beliefs played an important role in the formulation of an ideology which found articulation in various ways. He was interested in transcendentalism, astrology and like a devout muslim he regarded the king as the ‘shadow of god on earth’. He maintained that the sun was the pivot of the physical world and the king
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