In the Mughal official records the term zamindar was used in a very wide sense. It covered petty landholders in the villages, descendants of old ruling families who retained small portions of their ancestral lands as well as the Rajput and other chiefs who exercised autonomous administrative authority in their principalities.
The zamindars had hereditary rights of collecting land revenue from a number of villages which were called his talluqa or zamindari. For the collection of land revenue they used to get a share of revenues which could go up to 25 per cent of the revenue. In Bengal the zamindars paid the state a fixed sum as the revenue of a village, making collection from the individual peasants at rates fixed by custom or by himself.
The difference between his collections and the amount he paid to the state was his personal income. Where the state demand reached the maximum that the peasant could pay, a deduction of 10 per cent was made from the total amount of revenue and paid to the jzamindars as malikana either in cash or in the form of revenue-free land.
The zamindar was not the owner of the land of his zamindari and peasants could not be dispossessed of land as long as they paid land revenue. The zamindars served the state as an agency for collection of revenue and exercised considerable local influence in administrative and social affairs.
They often commanded armed forces and had fortresses. According to Abul Fazl, their combined troops exceeded 44 lakhs. Sometimes the state had to use military force against recalcitrant zamindars for the realisation of revenue.
The general attitude of the Mughal ruling class towards zamindars was unfriendly, if not hostile. Writing in Aurangzeb’s reign Munucci says: “Usually there is some rebellion of rajas and zamindars going on in the Moghul kingdom”. The zamindars were a very powerful class and were to be found all over the Mughal Empire under different names, such as deshmukhs, patils, nayaks, etc.
In some respects of zamindars and the peasants were natural allies in any struggle against the Mughal government. The higher class of zamindars, i.e. tributary chiefs, also rendered military service to the Mughal government. Hereditary succession to zamindari was the general rule.
Zamindari was divisible among legal heirs and could also be freely bought and sold. Normally in the Mughal Empire villages were divided into zamindari and raiyati (non-zamin- dari) areas.