The Mughal state had no division of its civil and military functions, and a Mughal sepoy defended the international borders, manned the forts, and fought battles, but had also to perform a policeman’s duties in times of peace.
Government officials too were required to perform civil and military duties simultaneously. Akbar wanted to evolve a unique system of regulating these imperial services, and the result was the promulgation of the Mansabdari System in 1570. All the gazetted imperial officers of the state were styled as mansabdars. Initially, they were classified into sixty-six grades, from the mansab of ten to ten-thousand, although, in practice, only thirty- three grades were constituted.
The word ‘mansab’ is derived from the Arabic term mansib meaning a post, an office, rank or status; hence mansabdar means the holder of a rank, or an officer. Some modern historians theories that Akbar was not the originator of the system because the practice of grading the military personnel by the grant of mansabs had already been in vogue in various Muslim countries.
Akbar took it from the system introduced by Khalifa Abba Said and accepted by Chenghiz Khan and Timur. The rulers of the Delhi Sultanate too had adopted it to a certain extent. Balban’s army was organized on this system while Sher Shah and Islam Shah practised it in a much better form. The mansabdari system was thus not new to India; to Akbar, however, goes the credit of perfecting it. He alone organized the mansabs of his imperial officers, both civil and military, in a systematic form and so regulated the entire structure of the services round the pivot of mansab that it became associated with his name.
Under the mansabdari system, different numbers which could be divided by ten were used for ranking officers. They were also meant for fixing the salaries and allowances of officers. W. Irvine in The Army of the Indian Mughals observes that the system determined the rank, pay-scale and the position of the imperial officer in the royal court in respect of other government officers.
During Akbar’s reign, initially, the lowest rank was that of number ten and the highest that of ten thousand. Mansabs above 5000 and later on that of 7000 were given only to princes; the highest rank of ten thousand was given exclusively to Salim, the crown prince. At a later stage, however, Akbar raised the highest rank to twelve thousand.
(During Jahangir and Shah Jahan’s reign, mansabs of only 8000 were given to officers, while princes were given mansabs upto 40,000; the later Mughals gave mansabs upto the number of 50,000.) All officers below the rank of the mansab of 500 were called mansabdars, the officers enjoying the mansab from 500 to 2,500 were called amirs, and those ranked over 2,500 were called amir-i-azam. The officer called khan-i-jahan was still higher in rank while the highest rank in the army was that of khan-i-khana.
Although the mansabdari system had made military service the basic consideration for the classification of all the imperial officers, it was understood that all the mansabdars were not equally good military generals nor were they expected to recruit and hold under their charge the number of soldiers as indicated by their mansab. or rank.
For instance, a mansabdar of one thousand was not always a commander of one thousand men. If employed in the revenue or judicial establishment, he might not have had even a single soldier under him.
The mansabdars of each category were subdivided further into three grades on the basis of the actual number of soldiers commanded by them. Abul Fazl writes: “An officer whose contingent comes up to his mansab is put into the first class of his rank; if his contingent is one-half and upwards of the fixed number, he is put into the second class; the third class contains those whose contingents are still less.”
A mansabdar of one hundred belonged to the first class if he actually furnished 100 soldiers; he was a second class mansabdar if the number of soldiers under his charge was fifty or more but less than 100; he was graded as a third class mansabdar if the number of soldiers manned by him was less than 50.