The ruling classes in medieval India could be roughly split into two groups: the aristocracy, which stood for the class of local rulers, royal power, central authority, or chiefs, and the landed elites or zamindars, who represented local power. Local chiefs and landed gentry started to be assimilated into the aristocracy following Akbar's rule, so there is no real separation between the two.
Ruling Class - Features
• At the time, the ruling class in the Islamic realm of West and Central Asia had a standard of life equivalent to the Sultan and his principal nobles.
• The grandeur and wealth of the ruling classes in the Islamic world were astonishing, setting a standard that the ruling classes in every nation strove to imitate while Europe was still working to overcome its backwardness.
• Similar to Hindu kings, almost every sultan in India constructed his own palace.
• The sultan's birthday and the yearly coronation day were two celebratory occasions when nobles and others received a lot of gifts.
• The nobles made an effort to emulate the opulent lifestyle of the sultans. They were surrounded by a great number of servants, slaves, and retainers, lived in splendid palaces, and dressed expensively.
• They engaged in conflict by hosting opulent feasts and celebrations.
• However, some nobility also provided support for writers and artists.
Nobility In The Medieval Period
• The nobility, together with the rural gentry, the zamindars, formed the ruling class in medieval India.
• Unlike in Europe, nobility in India denoted a class of people who were not only involved in higher-level government tasks but also reflected a certain level of culture and urbanity.
• The number and composition of the nobility changed as the Mughal empire consolidated and expanded to encompass the entire country.
• Thus, while the number of high Mansabdars remained roughly constant at 25, the number of medium Mansabdars doubled from 98 to 225 between 1595 and 1656-57.
• In theory, the doors of the Mughal nobility were open to all, but in practice, those who were related to aristocratic families (regardless of their background – Indians or foreigners) were given preference.
• To begin, the majority of Mughal nobles were invited from Turan, the Mughals' homeland, and neighbouring areas such as Tajikistan, Khorasan, Iran, and so on.
• Indian Muslims known as Shaikhzadas or Hindustanis were also employed in the Mughal court.
• Akbar started a new trend when he began to regularly recruit Hindus into the noble category. Under Akbar, the proportion of Hindus in the nobility was approximately 16% in 1594.
• The Mughal nobles received extremely high salaries by any standard. This, along with the Mughal emperors' liberal religious policies and India's stable political conditions, drew many talented people from other countries to the Mughal court.
• The Mughal nobles were paid extremely well, but their expenses were also extremely high.
• Each nobleman maintained a lot of servants and attendants, a large stable with horses, elephants, and other animals, and transportation of all kinds.
• Many of the nobles also kept a large harem (of women), as was customary for a man of higher status at the time.
• The higher-status people wore expensive jewels and ornaments, which were worn by both men and women.
• The emperor reserved the right to divide a noble's property among his heirs (or/and according to his preference), rather than on the basis prescribed by Islamic law, daughters were not given a share of their father's estate.
• The procedure for distributing the properties of a deceased noble caused significant delays and harassment to the dependents (especially of the detested noble).
• Aurangzeb made it a rule that the properties of a noble who owed no money to the state could not be attached and that, in any case, a portion of the property of a deceased noble should be made available to his dependents immediately.
Rural Gentry or Zamindars In The Medieval Period
• The term zamindar, which was first used in the 14th century and became common in the 17th century, covered a wide range of rights and privileges in different parts of the country.
• A Zamindar was a person who owned the land or Zamin he cultivated.
• However, in the Mughal era, the term was used to refer to someone who was the owner (malik) of the lands of a village or township (Qasba) and also engaged in agriculture.
• The right to own land was primarily determined by succession.
• The people who establish a new village or cultivate wastelands are members of the respective villages. These villagers acquired ownership of the lands.
• A significant number of zamindars had the hereditary right to collect land revenue from their respective villages. This was known as his 'Talluqa' or 'Zamindari.'
• The zamindars received a share of the land revenue, which could reach 25%, in exchange for collecting it.
• The Zamindars did not necessarily "own" all of the lands over which he collected land revenue.
• The zamindars had their own armed forces (to collect land revenue) and generally lived in forts or Garhis, which served as both a refuge and a status symbol.
• The zamindars had caste, clan, or tribal ties with the peasants who lived in their zamindaris. They also had a wealth of local knowledge about land productivity.
• Their income was limited in comparison to the nobles; the smaller ones may have lived more or less like peasants.
• However, the larger zamindars' living standards may have been comparable to those of petty rajas or nobles.
• The majority of the zamindars appeared to live in the countryside, forming a loose, dispersed local gentry.
• It would be incorrect to view the zamindars solely as those who fought for land control and exploited the cultivators in the areas they controlled.
• Many zamindars had close caste and kinship ties with the zamindari's land-owning cultivating castes.
• These zamindars not only established social norms but also provided capital and organization for establishing new villages or expanding and improving agriculture.
• In addition to these zamindars, there was a large class of religious divines and learned men who were granted tracts of land in exchange for their services. Such grants were known as 'Madad-i-Maash' in Mughal terminology and 'Shasan' in Rajasthani terminology.
The ruling class in India at the time had a quality of living that was similar to the highest in the entire world. In mediaeval India, the nobility and the zamindars, a rural gentry, made up the ruling elite. By any measure, the salaries of the Mughal nobility were exceedingly substantial, and each nobility kept a large staff of slaves and attendants. Zamindars, who owned the land or Zamin they farmed, formed the Rural Gentry.