The armed forces of the Mughals were divided into five main divisions, viz., cavalry, elephantry, infantry, artillery and match-lock men and naval or river craft. As regards the cavalry, Abul Fazal refers to six categories of cavalry troops. There were the contingents supplied by tributary Rajas and chiefs according to the terms of their submission.
There were the Mansabdari troops which were subject to regulations regarding Dagh (branding) and Chera (descriptive roll) and muster. The Ahadis were the pick of the Mughal soldiery who were the personal contingents of the emperor and had a separate commandant of their own. The Barwardi were those skilled soldiers who could not maintain good horses on account of their poverty. They were employed as armed police to assist in rent collection and rounding up of bad characters.
The Dakhili were those whose horses were branded but who were not attached to any Mansabdar and who were sent with Mansabdars who maintained no contingents of their own. Kumakis were those auxiliaries whose services were temporarily lent to certain Mansabdars at the time of war and who needed to be reinforced by additional troops. The cavalry troopers were also divided on the basis of quality of their horses.
As regards the elephantry, there were seven categories of them. Their allowances varied according to their grade and quality. The infantry were divided into a number of classes. Some of them were mere camp-followers and menial servants. Some of them were employed as grooms, sappers, tent men, etc. There were also real fighters such as archers, musketeers, fencers, wrestlers, gladiators, etc.
As regards the artillery, guns and cannon were of different sizes and mobility. Some guns were very heavy and some were very light. The Gajnals were hauled up by elephants and light pieces of cannon were carried on the backs of camels. The artillery was under the special command of the emperor. It was supplied to commanders as and when necessary. Heavy artillery was usually manned by Europeans only. Some commanders had match-lockmen under them. The recruitment of such soldiers was confined to a particular group or locality. Aurangzeb suggested the recruitment of Kanojias or people from Kanuj as match-lock men. The use of artillery for match-lock men was seldom coordinated with the strength of the rest of the army except when the two were associated in warfare for some period of time.
Elephants and war boats were usually made available at the time of war. Bengal had a flotilla of war boats of its own and probably elephants as well. Both of them seem to have been under the control of the provincial governors.
The Mughals had no navy. The overseas trade was carried on by the Arab sailors. It is true that a contingent of Muslims left India every year for Haj and the Hajis were subjected to a lot of harassment, but the Mughals never took the trouble of having a Navy.
The Mughal emperors were absolutely helpless against those who could work on the sea. European ships could not resist the temptation of committing acts of piracy in the Arabian Sea. The ‘Feringi’ pirates challenged the Mughal authority in the Bay of Bengal.
There was no division of the Mughal Army into regiments or other graded divisions. A force 5,000 strong was usually a loose collection of smaller and ungraded units of varying sizes. It was a commander’s army having no junior officers and not being organised into regular smaller units. The soldiers were parts of the main army or their own particular smaller units, but not of regular regiments of equal numerical strength.
A curious feature of the Mughal Army was that the soldiers went to the battle on their own horses and with their own arms. If a horse was killed in the battlefield, the rider had to provide another at his own expense. It is contended that this system made the soldiers worry about safety of their mounts. They were more worried to protect their horses than to win a battle.
The soldiers and commanders were required to make their own arrangements for their supplies. There were no uniform and fixed standards of living in barracks or on battlefields. Great Commanders liked to display their wealth even on the battlefield. The supplies were left to the mercies of private traders dealing with individual soldiers or unorganised groups of soldiers.
The result was that it was easy for the enemies to strike at the Mughal armies by cutting off their supplies. This was particularly true of the Marathas who fought against the Mughals successfully. The high salaries of the commanders made them pleasure-loving and easy-going. The low salaries paid to the soldiers made them less efficient.
There was no provision for regular parades. The only means of acquiring military training was employment in hunting, suppression of revolt and actual war. The result was that the soldier deputed in a province became slack and indolent. As the soldiers were not paid regularly, they oppressed the people to get whatever they wanted.
There is unanimity of opinion among scholars with regard to the strength of the Mughal army. The view of Blackman was that it was not more than 25,000. There is another writer whose view is that it ran into lakhs. It is pointed out, that the Ahadis numbered 7,000 to 8,000.
The number of war elephants was in the neighbourhood of 5,000. Good musketeers were about 40,000. The number of troops under Mansabdars and princes was between 2 to 4 lakhs. About the year 1647, two lakhs of troopers were brought for muster and branding.
In addition to that, there were 8,000 Mansabdars, 7,000 Ahadis, 40,000 gunners and sappers, and 1, 85,000 Tabinan, i.e., permanent soldiers recruited by the Centre but not included in the contingents of princes, nobles or Mansabdars.
The most efficient part of the Mughal Army was stationed at the capital. It moved out only when the emperor went out for fighting. The defence of the capital was put into the hands of highly skilled soldiers. The rest of the army was scattered all over the empire.
The Faujdar and the Subedar were responsible for maintenance of law and order in the provinces and they had an army under their control for their purposes. A substantial part of the army was stationed in the frontier outposts on the Kabul-Peshawar route. Competent generals were put in charge of those armies.
Forts played an important part in Mughal times. The important forts of that period were those at Allahabad, Kalinjar, Chunar, Rhotas, Ajmer, Gwalior, Delhi, Lahore, Ranthambore, Qandhar, Kabul, Asirgarh, Daulatabad, Aurangabad, Bijapur and Golconda. A lot of care was taken to keep the defences of these forts in good order.
Large stores of foodgrains, ammunition, etc., were stored in the forts. The forts were useful both for offensive and defensive purposes. Troops were stationed in the forts during the rainy season. Political prisoners were put in the forts of Gwalior, Asirgarh and Daulatabad.
Critics point out that the standing army at the disposal of the Mughal Emperor was not adequate for the needs of a vast and growing empire. The result was that the emperor had to depend very much on the Mansabdars and their vassals. It is true that the Government paid for the maintenance of troops, but it had no direct control over them.
As the salaries were paid through the Mansabdar, the soldiers looked upon him as their real master. Moreover, no provision could be made for their effective training. The horses and the equipment of soldiers were not up to the mark and that took away the very efficiency of the army. In limitation of their masters, the Mughal Mansabdars carried with them their wives, concubines and their attendants.
The result was that the Mughal armies resembled like moving cities and consequently were no match for the quick moving Marathas, Sikhs and Bundelas. The Mughals did not attach due attention to the manufacture of artillery in the country and they had to depend upon foreigners which were hardly proper.
The imperial harem sometimes accompanied the Emperor. In the Deccan, Aurangzeb sometimes permitted and sometimes forbade the families of the soldiers from residing in the Mughal camps. A lot of confusion was created by the fact that neither the Mughal commanders, nor the rank and file had any maximum limit of ease or comfort on the field laid down for them.
There were no orders against wearing Mufti while on active service. The result was that neither in dress, nor in equipment, the Mansabdars tried to be simple in the battlefield. It became a point of honour with some of them to appear as well-groomed and as well-fed on active service as in the streets of Delhi. Their luxurious standard of life became a scandal and made the Mughal army an exposed objective for the enemy.
There were no state arrangements for transport in the Mughal army. A soldier or an officer was required to carry with him all the baggage he required. There was no organisation for supply to the army on active service. This was really a very big handicap.
A reference may be made to the foreign element in the Mughal Armies. There was a general feeling in those days that the Persians, Afghans and Uzbegs were superior to the Indians in every way and consequently these foreigners were welcome in the Mughal Armies and were given the highest places. Particularly in the artillery and navy, the foreigners enjoyed great prestige.
No effort was made by the Mughal Emperors to train the Indians and thereby dispense with the services of the so-called foreign experts. These foreigners took no special interest or pride in the progress of India. They were merely adventurers and hence could not be relied upon.
Towards the end of his monumental book entitled. “The Army of the Indian Moghuls”, William Irvine observes that military inefficiency was the principal, if not the sole, cause of the final collapse of the Mughal empire. All other defects and weaknesses were nothing in comparison with this defect. Its revenue and judicial system was, on the whole, suited to the habits of the people.
They looked for nothing different and the empire might have endured for ages. However, long before it disappeared, it had lost all military energy at the centre and was ready to crumble to pieces at the first touch. The rude hand of no Persian or Afghan conqueror, no Nadir, no Ahmed Shah Abdali, the genius of no European Adventurer, a Dupleix or a Clive, was needed to precipitate it into the abyss.
They Empire of the Mughals was already doomed before any of these had appeared on the scene and had they never been heard of, there can be little doubt that some Maratha Bandit or Sikh free-booster would in due time have seated himself on the throne of Akbar and Shah Jahan.
In the Mughal Army, there was little loyalty to the person of the sovereign and absolutely no patriotism or devotion to one’s country. To a slight extent, the zeal and fervour of Islam was on the side of the ruler, but in a country where the majority was still Hindus, any excess of this feeling was as much a danger as an advantage.
There was some attachment to the reigning house which still lived on the reputation of such great rulers and soldiers as Babur and Akbar, but Aurangzeb had alienated both the Rajput Warrior and the General Hindu Population. The army was, in effect, a body of mercenaries, men who served only for what they could get and ready at any moment to desert or transfer themselves to a higher bidder. The army was full of Persian, Central Asian and Afghan Soldiers of fortune, whose swords were at the service of any who chose to, pay them.
After the death of Aurangzeb, there were no more efficient rulers and a free field was thus opened to the jealousies and rivalries of the nobles. Disastrous consequences followed from these jealousies among the great men and nobles. It is rightly said that a noble was Hasad-peshah-“one whose profession was envy”.
At Jajau in 1707, Zufiqar Khan left Azam Shah to his fate because he had been made to serve under Bedar Bakht, the son of that prince. In 1712, the same Zulfiqar Khan stood aloof at Agra in the hope that his rival, Jahandar Shah’s foster-brother, might be destroyed. In the same battle, the troops of the Turani race were bought over by the other side.
Irvine further points out that the constitution of the Mughal army was radically unsound. It is true that each man was individually brave and even reckless but there was a defective system which affected the efficiency of the Mughal Armies. A trooper rode his own horse and if it was killed he was ruined irretrievably. If a horse was killed or wounded, not compensation was given by the government.
He lost his animal and also his allowance and therefore he was as careful as possible to preserve both. The individual soldier did not look to the sovereign and the state or; onsider his interest identical with theirs. He was the soldier of his immediate commander and lever looked beyond him. If a great leader was lukewarm in the cause or was bought over, was forced to flee from the field or was slain in the battle, his men dispersed at once.
With the disappearance of the leader, their interest in the fight was at an end and their first concern was there and their horse’s safety. To take one instance out of many, Saiyid Husain Ali Khan left Agra n Muhammed Shah’s train at the head of as large a force as had ever been collected by any Mughal General. A week or two afterwards, he was suddenly assassinated. An hour or two had ardly elapsed and not a trace of his mighty army was left. His camp had been pondered and even is tents burnt.
The death or disappearance of the general-in-chief always decided the battle, outside Lahore, when prince Azim-ush-Shan’s elephant ran off and drowned him in the Ravi, his dispersed and his treasure was plundered. When Jahandar Shah fled from the battlefield at the day was lost, although Zulfiquar Khan’s division was intact.
Irvine concludes by saying lat excepting the want of personal courage, every other fault in the list of military vices could be tribute to the degenerate Mughals: indiscipline, want of cohesion, luxurious habits, inactivity, id commissariat and cumbrous equipment.
Mountstuart Elphinstone says: “They formed a cavalry admirably fitted to prance in a procession, and not ill-adapted to a charge in a pitched battle, but) capable of any long exertion, and still less of any continuance of fatigue and hardship.”