The Mughal economy was a forest-based 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.
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.
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
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.