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The Mughal Empire – Economy


  • The Mughal economy was a forestbased agricultural economy.
  • The forests provided the raw materials for the craftsmen.
  • Timber went to carpenters, wood carvers and shipwrights, lacquerware makers; wild silk to reelers and weavers; charcoal to iron miners and metal smiths.
  • Hence the relationship between manufacturing and the forest was very close.
  • Different classes of the rural population were involved in agriculture.
  • Agriculture was the chief activity in the economy.
  • Landless agricultural labourers without right to property formed almost a quarter of the population.
  • Zamindars and village headmen possessed large tracts of land in which they employed labourers and paid them in cash and kind.
  • Well irrigation was the dominant mode of irrigation.
  • The Ain-i-Akbari lists the various crops cultivated during the Rabi and Kharif seasons.
  • Tobacco and maize were introduced in the seventeenth century.
  • Chilli and groundnut came later.
  • Pineapple was introduced in the sixteenth century.
  • Grafted varieties of mango came to be developed by the Portuguese.
  • Potato, tomato and guava came later.
  • Indigo was another important commercial crop during the Mughal period.
  • Sericulture underwent spectacular growth in Bengal to the extent that it became the chief supplier of silk to world trade.
  • As the farmers were compelled to pay land tax they had to sell the surplus in the market.
  • The land tax was a share of the actual produce and was a major source of revenue for the Mughal ruling class.
  • The administration determined the productivity of the land and assessed the tax based on the total measurement.
  • Akbar promulgated the Zabt System (introduced by Todal Mal): money revenue rates were now fixed on each unit of area according to the crops cultivated.
  • The schedules containing these rates for different localities applicable year after year were called dasturs.
  • The urban economy was based on craft industry.
  • Cotton textile industry employed large numbers of people as cotton carders, spinners, dyers, printers and washers.
  • Iron, copper, diamond mining and gun making were other chief occupations.
  • Kharkhanas were workshops where expensive craft products were produced.
  • The royal kharkhanas manufactured articles for the use of the royal family and nobility.
  • The excess production of the artisans was diverted to the merchants and traders for local and distant markets.

Trade and Commerce

  • The political integration of the country with efficient maintenance of law and order ensured brisk trade and commerce.
  • The surplus was carried to different parts of the country through rivers, and through the roads on ox and camel drawn carts.
  • Banjaras were specialised traders who carried goods in a large bulk over long distances.
  • Bengal was the chief exporting centre of rice, sugar, muslin, silk and food grains.
  • The Coromandel coast was reputed for its textile production.
  • Kashmiri shawls and carpets were distributed from Lahore which was an important centre of handicraft production.
  • The movement of goods was facilitated by letters of credit called hundi.
  • The network of sarais enabled the traders and merchants to travel to various places.
  • The traders came from all religious communities: Hindus, Muslims and Jains.
  • The Bohra Muslims of Gujarat, Marwaris of Rajasthan, Chettiars on Coromandel coast, and Muslims of Malabar were prominent trading communities.
  • Europeans controlled trade with the West Asia and European countries, and restricted the involvement of Indian traders.
  • Moreover, the Mughal empire, despite its vast resources and a huge army, was not a naval power.
  • They did not realise that they were living in an era of expanding maritime trade.
  • Europeans imported spices, indigo, Bengal silk, muslin, calico and chintz.
  • In return, India obtained large quantities of silver and gold.
  • Mughal silver coinage fuelled the demand for silver.

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