Mughals, the great and their subjects
Kuldip Kalia

The Socio-economic History of Mughal India
by Dr Pramod Sangar.
Abhishek Publications, Chandigarh.
Pages 160. Rs 295.

Among the most interesting features of the Mughal period was perhaps how the emperors were sometimes bribed by their high officials. There are many others such instances, which not only throw light on the socio-economic history of the Mughals in India but also sustain our interest in studying that period. Prof Pramod Sangar has meticulously pinned together various aspects to translate this task into a discursive, lucid and wonderful treatise.

Certain things about the Mughal rulers are baffling. The Quran prohibits drinking, but it was the most popular mode of entertainment under the Mughals. Excessive drinking and disorderly behaviour was made punishable during the reign of Akbar, but his son Jahangir still used to consume 20 cups of double distilled liquor. Even a ruler like Aurangzeb, who kept away from this vice, could not succeed in bringing total prohibition.

Meeting a Mughal emperor meant that you had to bring an expensive gift, more so if you sought trade concessions. The English were shrewd negotiators, but they could not beat the presents that the Dutch or the Portuguese brought for the emperor. Wine formed an important part of the huge cache of presents, or bribe, as it should be called. Jahangir demanded "novelties" straight from King James I of England. Khafi Khan points out that Zafar Khan, one of the early Viziers of Aurangzeb, got Rs 30,000 from Raja Jai Singh for retaining him in the Deccan campaign.

Sati was prevalent in medieval India, even though the Sultans at Delhi did take steps to discourage this custom. Emperor Humayun was the frontrunner in this, and after him, it was Akbar. Slavery was almost an accepted institution, and it was not until Akbar that the slave trade was checked.

Emperor Akbar was a skilled musician; that Tansen, greatest singer of that time, sang in his court is well known. A machine for cleaning gun barrel, a solar calendar and the wagon mill for grinding grain were some of the contributions of Akbar’s reign to the advanced science of his time.

The Mughal courts attracted quality hakims from Iran and other places. They used to work in concert with the vaids. There were public hospitals in Delhi in the 11th century and the popularity of Unani medicine had touched a new high. Later, Emperor Aurangzeb had a French doctor because he had scant regard for the abilities of the Indian physicians.

On the trade front, the Arabs were the initiators, but were mainly concentrated on the Malabar coast. Trade and maritime activity flourished with the rising interaction between foreign and native merchants. This was a time when Indian textile was still in great demand and 30 different kinds of fibre were manufactured in India. These references are found in Ain-I-Akbari.

Saltpetre, a kind of artificial salt, which was used as an ingredient in gunpowder, animal dyes, and antiseptics, was manufactured in Agra and Bihar, and was of fine quality.

History is an ornamental explanation of events, which is revealed in its true spirit only if the researcher doesn’t fiddle with the data and facts. The author definitely scores a point here.