Economy 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. 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.