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Population and Standards of Living in Akbar's TimeA Second Look
Ashok V. Desai Indian Economic Social History Review 1978 15: 53 DOI: 10.1177/001946467801500104 The online version of this article can be found at: http://ier.sagepub.com/content/15/1/53.citation

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Population and Standards of Living in

Akbars Time—A Second Look

University of Sussex

My object in writing the paper on this question five years ago was to present briefly the results of a simple comparison between certain statistics in Ain-iAkbari and those for recent times. I was not trying to write history as I did not have a historians knowledge. I did not try to relate my results to previous work other than Morelands~ because he was the only one in my


3 questions that my information could answer.3 And I did not use particularly sophisticated statistical techniques because such sophistication could add nothing to the unequivocal and mutually reinforcing

who had asked those

conclusions I had obtained. I particularly valued Dr Shireen Moosvis commenri because it provided the historical depth that was missing in my paper. I learnt much from it, and I welcome Professor Hestons comment5 because it gives me the chance I earlier missed** of showing my appreciation of Dr Moosvis contribution. If I continue to disagree with her in the end, the difference is related to inferences and interpretations, and not to historic evidence.

"Population and Standards of Living in Akbars Time," IESHR, IX(1), 1972, pp. 43-62. 1 W.H. Moreland, India at the Death of Akbar, Atma Ram and Sons, Delhi, 1962. It came 2 to my notice later, however, that Professor Irfan Habib had considered yields and come to the conclusion that "taking the area of the Mughal Empire as a whole, and assuming that agricultural practice has not changed, the average acre sown cannot be as productive now as in the Mughal times" ( The Agrarian System of Mughal India (1556-1707), Asia Pub1963, p. 23). House, Bombay, lishing The explanation of my lack of reference to Professor Radhakamal Mukerjees work 3 The Economic History of India 1600-1800, Kitab Mahal, Allahabad, 1967), which Heston ( finds curious, is not sinister: my paper was in limbo for six years before publication. The
results were worked out in 1966 and resuscitated for a seminar when I was visiting Delhi School in 1971-72; the editor of IESHR then decided they were interesting enough for publication. The absence of the reference was due to nothing worse than my ignorance. "Production, Consumption and Population in Akbars Time," IESHR, X (2), 1973, 4

pp. 181-195.
"The Standard of Living in Akbars Time: A Comment," IESHR. XIV (3), 1977, 5

pp. 391-96.
I 6

away from

India, and

copy of Moosvis comment did not

come to me




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Dr Heston is perfectly right in pointing out an inaccuracy in my and Dr Moosvis calculations of the purchasing power of wages. The &dquo;monstrosity&dquo; called the maund was the prime unit of weight in India right till the 1950s when metric units were introduced: hence my inadvertent use of a familiar, but historically inaccurate conversion factor. However, certain peculiar features were noticeable in Hestons comment. First, whilst he chided Dr Moosvi and me for not referring to Dr Radhakamal Mukerjees work on real wages in the last four centuries,&dquo; he omitted to mention that Dr Mukerjee found an even greater.fall in the purchasing power of wages than I did. Second, there were other obvious shortcomings of my method-for instance, my comparison of the minimum wage in the sixteenth century with the average wage in 1961, or my use of wholesale prices for 1961 -which would have led to an underestimation of the fall in purchasing power; Heston somehow failed to notice any of them. Third, Heston found an error in my wage calculations but not, as he admitted in a footnote,9 in my yield calculations. As a result he could controvert my demonstration of a fall in the purchasing power of wages, but not the evidence of a fall in yields. And he threw doubt on Abul Fazls yield figures, but was prepared to trust his wage and price data. There was even a certain correlation between the degree of fall in yields shown by my figures and the degree of distrust Heston bestowed on theme Finally, whilst unable to contradict the fall in yields my figures showed, he still placed much conviction in reasons why the yields should have
1 risen

All these features put me in an investigative frame of mind. In this paper I present my revised view-I hope a fairer and wiser view-of the evidence.

A comparison of the purchasing power of wages between Akbars and recent times runs against three difhculties. First, Abul Fazl gives wage rates, while official statistics of today pertain to earnings. Since earnings must include non-rated income such as overtime and bonus payments and earnings from subsidiary jobs, they are inevitably above wage rates. The resulting bias cannot be corrected, and in so far as it is present, it is well to remember that the comparison that follows is unduly favourable to recent times.
n. 5, p. 393. 7 8 n . 3, pp. 43-61. n. 5, p. 393n. 9

Ibid., 10

p. 396.

us to a paper of his ("Official Yields Per Acre in India, 18861947 : Some Questions of Interpretation," IESHR, X (4), 1973) for evidence. On reading that paper, however, I find the same tendency of Hestons inferences to run ahead of (or away from, as the case may be) evidence, as shown briefly in Section IV below.

11 In fairness, Heston refers

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prices actually paid in the markets only to wholesale prices. They prices that we require. However, there is one statistical survey-Labour Bureaus Family Living Survey of Industrial Workers in 1958-59 -which not only gives earnings by worker classes but also permits us to work out the implicit prices paid; I propose here to use the Survey Reports for five major cities-Delhi, Kanpur, Bombay,

Second, while Abul Fazl



retail prices,&dquo; modern Indian statistics refer give retail price indexes, but not the absolute

Calcutta and Madras. 13 Third, whilst Abul Fazl gives a number of wage rates for relatively unskilled workers and also some for supervisors of one sort or another such as army officers, captains of boats, head syces, etc., he gives hardly any figures for

spinners, weavers, metal-workers, etc. For comparatake the earnings of more or less unskilled workers for recent times. The Workers Family Living Surveys give breakdowns by industry and by occupation, 14 and we have to decide which residual category approximates best to Abul Fazls group of unskilled trades. The occupational breakdown is so gross that the larger proportion of workers, including undoubtedly a great many skilled ones, ends up in the residual categories, of which there are two -&dquo;labourers not elsewhere classified&dquo; and the &dquo;rest&dquo;-the distinction between which is quite unclear. However, in the industrial breakdown there is only one residual category which excludes the workers in organized industry, for whom there was no equivalent in Akbars time; hence that is the category we have chosen. Whilst it excludes industrial workers it must still include a great many skilled workers with relatively high wages. In this respect also, it may be noted, our comparison favours recent times. Next, we come to the question as to what wage to choose for Akbars time. To take the very minimum wage of 2 dams as in my previous paper would be wrong; it is necessary to form an average estimate, however approximate. In Table 1, I have listed all the wage rates of workers other than supervisors I could discover in the Ain; it includes the few available skilled wage rates, but excludes piece rates and rates for foremen in various civil -and military occubility, therefore,
we must

skilled wage rates of, say,

Table I shows that 60 dams a month (2 dams a day) was the very minimum that low-wage workers earned; of the three rates below 60 dams, one of 30 dams for slaves probably excluded what they received- in kind and was more in the nature of pocket money, whilst the wage of 50 dams for mahouts of the most inferior elephants was below that of their assistants and is likely to be an error in transcription. Further, the minimum was nearly as likely to be 90
12 In the state of transport and trade in Akbars time, it is doubtful whether wholesale markets for food products existed in their modern sense. 13 V. Table 2, source notes for reference. Tables 2.2 and 2.3 respectively in the reports. 14
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dams with a minimum wage of 100 dams and above than those with one of 90 dams and below. Hence the chances are very low that the average wage rate was below 90 dams. On the other hand, nearly two-fifths of the rates are over 130 dams; but they are naturally in the upper ranges mostly. Most of the rest cluster between 100 and 130 dams. This is the range in which the average is likely to fall, and I have

60, and there

were more



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Calculated from daily rate 21n winter. 3When on march.

at 30

days a month.

mahout of a Mokal elephant. It is less than that of his deputy, and is probably in transcription. 5Sculptors and carvers. 6Pay depended on the quality of the horse. SOURCE: Abul Fazl Allami, The Ain-i-Akbari of Abul Fazl Allami, tr H. Blochmann, Vol. 1. Asiatic Society of Bengal, Calcutta, 1873, pp. 113, 125-26, 138-39, 148, 150, 153, 225-26, 251-54, 287.
an error

4Pay of the

selected 110 dams (or Rs 2.75) as a representative average, nearer the lower than the upper limit of the range. 15 Finally, the commodities to be selected. In my original paper I expressed the purchasing power in terms of seven food products. Moosvi extended the list to 14 products. Heston, adopting Moosvis list, accused me of an &dquo;error of omission&dquo; but did not try to avoid the error; if he had, he would have got a list of over 600 products, including Kabul melons, tamarind, yazdi velvet, European satin, elephants and war-rockets. My concern throughout the paper was with foodgrain output and consumption; it was not to make any welfare comparison, which is not possible with the available evidence and would, in view of the very different patterns of work and living then and now, be theoretically objectionable. Nevertheless, I did remark in my earlier paper on the prices of certain commodities not included in my table. This time, however, I have included all commodities that the data permit. They all remain edible, but the extension still yields some very interesting results. I have excluded cloth because there is a vast range of prices for them, and even the price of the cheapest is given as a range in the Ain. A further &dquo;error of omission&dquo; perhaps calls for explanation. In the Family Living Surveys, rounding off gives some highly inaccurate results for com...

The following 15





of the rates listed in Table 1.

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mean expenditure on which was 1 or 2 paise. Apart from this, expenditure on some commodities was clearly underenumerated in Kanpur; the implicit purchasing power of wages for them is absurdly high and inconsistent

consumption. I have excluded the figures for such commodities. Whilst Moreland16 expressed doubts-discussed later-about the units in which Abul Fazl expressed yields, no such doubts have been expressed about prices. I have therefore assumed, as Heston does, that they were for Akbari man, and for reasons given in Appendix I, taken it to be equal to 25.1 kg. Let me now turn to the results. Table 2 confirms everything suggested by the more primitive Table I of my previous paper.17 In terms of foodgrains, the purchasing power of wages in Akbars time was consistently higher than that in 1958-59 in all the five cities I have covered: it was higher in recent times
only for one city and one commodity-moong in Kanpur. On the most favourable weighting pattern to recent times, the foodgrain purchasing power of 1958-59 earnings in Bombay, the best-paid city, could not be greater than 90 sixteenth-century dams; the same in Madras, which appears poorest, certainly below 75 dams: it was therefore at least 25-45 per cent higher in the sixteenth century, and on any realistic weighting scheme, higher even than that.

with their

"Sher Shahs Revenue System," JRAS, 1926, p. 459. 16

n. 1, p. 44. 17
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Figures work out to be absurdly high owing to either small mation of expenditure. All excluded figures exceed 500 kg.




3Following Jarrett-Sarkar, I have taken &dquo;maash&dquo; as moong, and autumnal &dquo;black gram&dquo; urd. SOURCES: Akbars time: Ain (Blochmann), op. cit., i. 62-67. 1958-59: India. Ministry of Labour and Employment. Labour Bureau. Reports on Family Living Surveys among Industrial Workers, 1958-59 for Delhi, Kanpur, Bombay, Calcutta and Madras (separate volumes). Delhi, 1965. Tables 2.2, 6.1 and Appendix II.
was also considerably higher in terms of milk, curd and ghee, and higher smaller margins in terms of meat. However, both Bombay and Madras by had a substitute in 1958-59 in the form of fish which was much cheaper relatively than goat meat in sixteenth-century Agra.


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60 But that is where the superior purchasing power of the sixteenth century wage ends; the twentieth century worker could buy more of virtually all other food products. He could buy more of vegetable oils, and far more of vanaspati than his earlier counterpart could buy ghee. He could buy more sugar and gur, more salt and spices, more of most: vegetables, and more of betelnuts. Thus, as far as our information goes, the twentieth-century worker is better off in terms of all food products except foodgrains! This is an unexpected and intriguing result which defies a simple explanation. Undoubtedly a number of factors contributed to the change in relative prices: for instance, industrial technology cheapened sugar, and mechanical transport lowered the relative costs of salt, vegetables and betelnuts. But if we are looking for factors which cheapened the &dquo;commercial&dquo; food products visa-vis foodgrains or &dquo;subsistence&dquo; crops generally, we must enquire into the process of commercialization of agriculture as a whole. My understanding of this process is as follows. The pre-British land revenue system ensured a population that was much below the capacity of land and an agriculture that concentrated on foodgrains. With tax rates of 50 per cent and above,18 a peasant simply could not cultivate land that did not grow at least twice as much as his subsistence requirements. So year after year he cultivated the same small pockets of favourably located land in river basins where water supply was assured and fertility was maintained by inundation or by heavy manuring. He cultivated land of less high or certain yield only when the rains were good or the prices were high, and had to be given tax rebates to be induced to bring more land under cultivation.l9 I shall give statistical evidence of this low intensity of cultivation of arable land in Section VI below. In these fertile patches of land, the peasant largely stuck to the cultivation of foodgrains. Admittedly, he might have been able to raise the money for land revenue with less labour if he had grown a commercial crop provided that there was a local trader who gave him a fair price. But he could never aspire to save or to build up capital by growing commercial crops. For his dues to the state or the chief were variable and arbitrary, and his liability for the dues was unlimited with respect to his property, and often to his family and life.20 Hence the best the peasant could hope for was subsistence, provid-

18 to According
exceptions, and Cf. Habib, n. 2,



reading of Irfan Habib, rates of one-third and below were temporary often declarations of Imperial intentions than actually effective rates.

pp. 190-96.

19 the low rates of tax on banjar land ( See Ain-i-Akbari of Abul Fazl-i-Allami, tr H.S. Jarrett, corr and annotated by J.N. Sarkar, Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, Calcutta, 1949,

p. 75).
Cf. Sher Shahs treatment of defaulters (Abbas Khan Sarwani, The Tarikh-i-Sher Shahi, 20 tr S.M. Imam al-Din, Vol. II, Dacca University Press, Dacca, 1964, pp. 19-21); the Mughal practice was the same (Moreland, The Agrarian System... pp. 142-43, 188).
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61 ed he grew the subsistence crops himself and managed to satisfy revenue demands: he could not, in the long run, retain any profit and therefore had no incentive to make a profit. The result was a system designed to produce an abundance of foodgrains. This system of intensive subsistence agriculture came under the impact of successive waves of commercialization, based on cotton and saltpetre in the eighteenth century, opium, cotton, tea, jute and indigo in the nineteenth century, and oilseeds and sugarcane in the twentieth century, to mention the most important commodities. As a result, the conditions under which nonfoodgrain crops are grown have changed in a number of respects. First, they are no longer grown as a minor adjunct of subsistence farming but are a major activity of professional farmers who specialize in them and who are undoubtedly more efficient at growing them than their ancestors four centuries ago. Second, some of them-especially crops of todays arid zone like cotton and oilseeds-are now grown in areas which were more or less newly colonized, and which use less intensive methods of cultivation; their costs in the more recently settled areas of the peninsula and western India must be lower than in the older, densely settled areas. Third, some crops are more labour-

competing foodgrain crops (for instance, sugar compared to or cotton compared to jowar or bajra); their relative costs would therefore have fallen with the decrease in the foodgrain cost of labour.
intensive than

wheat, groundnut

costs of the crops it encomFor one thing, the untouched. But it left foodgrain crops largely passed. farms could that of mechanized cheap foodgrains was grow large emergence in the low the savings agriculture, predominance of smallholdprecluded by on the small, unmechanized of and the absence facilities; machine-making ings farms that predominated, growing of commercial crops was more profitable than of foodgrains. For another, the tendency towards commercial farming of grains was counteracted by the fall in agricultural taxes, which helped the growth of small, marginal subsistence holdings with negligible surplus. In respect of foodgrains Indian agriculture is more of a subsistence economy today than in Akbars time. As a result, costs of grains have not been brought down by better technology, better organization or better location.

Thus, commercialization reduced the relative




My comparison of yields from the Ain obviously presumed that the Ain recorded actual yields for some representative part of Akbars empire. This presumption is subject to challenges from Moreland, Moosvi and Heston, to which I


When I earlier consulted Morelands views, I referred to his India at the Death of Akbar21 which seemed the most relevant. After publishing that book

Moreland, 21


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in 1920, however, Moreland did considerable reading of historical documents and formed more definitive views which he published in his Agrarian System of Moslem India in 1929.22 His conclusions regarding the yield table in the Ain are summarized in that book, but were originally expounded in detail in the review of Kanungos Sher Shah23 he published in 1926.24 I am grateful to

Moosvi for

bringing that

review to light.

In Morelands view, the yield table in the Ain depicts the yields and revenue rates of Sher Shah. He believed that Akbar adopted Sher Shahs crop rates at the beginning of his reign and calculated revenue rates by multiplying the crop rates by current prices in each area. Since Akbars empire was, however, much larger and more diverse than Sher Shahs, the adoption of a single yield table gave quite impracticable revenue rates. Hence there were difficulties in revenue collection, which led eventually to the replacement of a single yield table by a number of tables based on local yields. If Akbar adopted Sher Shahs revenue

without modification,

There is [says Moreland] an obvious possibility, or even a definite presumption, that the compiler of the Ain25 inserted this document in its original form.... It is not proved that the units are Iskandari, but the possibility that they are prevents us from drawing any inference as to the yield o the country from calculations based on the assumption that the schedule is expressed in terms of Akbari units.&dquo;
Moreland based his doubts upon the passage in the Ain immediately preceding the yield table, which he translated, following Blochmann, as follows:

And the ray (or a ray) which Sher Shah had fixed (and at the present day in all provinces less than that is not indicated), found acceptance. And for the convenience of troops and peasants a money-demand is shown by calculating the prices.2

Moreland interpreted this passage as meaning that Akbar accepted Sher Shahs yield table and commuted the crop rates so obtained by applying current prices to them. Morelands knowledge of Mughal history was formidable, and I hesitate to differ with him, especially when he is broadly supported by

22 n. 20,

pp. 74-77.

Sher Shah: A Critical Study Based on Original Sources, Kar, Majumder and Co., Calcutta, 1921.

Kalikaranjan Qanungo, 23

"Sher Shahs Revenue System," op. cit., pp. 446-59. 24 On 25 stylistic grounds Moreland believed that the chapters of the Ain concerning were not written by Abul Fazl, but by bureaucrats from the concerned ministry. "Sher Shahs Revenue System," op. cit., p. 459. 26


Ibid., p. 455. 27
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Irfan Habib.28 But

given the uncertainty

in the






by Moreland himself,29 I do

not know whether Akbar


assessment system. If the

Sher Shahs yield table, or revenue yield table were indeed the one referred to, it should contain the money-demand, which it does not. Further, it can be shown that if the yield table was used as the basis of calculation of revenue rates, it was not so used before the fourteenth or fifteenth year. If the yield table was used at all-and Moreland as well as Habib believe it was used in the whole empire-dividing the revenue rates given in the nineteen-year tables in the Ain by the crop rates in the table should give the prices used to commute the crop rates. The Ain also gives average prices, presumably in Agra for various crops, which I have earlier used to calculate real wages. Whilst &dquo;the prices of course vary, as on marches, or during the rains, and for other reasons,&dquo;3 relative prices vary less, as Moreland himself observed.31 Hence the ratios of the computed prices to the Ains average price should cluster close together around a mean that would vary with the price level. Table 3 gives these ratios for Agra, where the yield table is most likely

acceptor) accepted

any other anonyrates, or revenue


have been used, for the years 6-15. The results are very clear: the ratios are widely dispersed till the tenth year, then begin to close up, and are remarkably clustered by the fifteenth year. I have obtained very similar results for other provinces which it would be tedious to reproduce. On the basis of these results, Niorelands account of revenue history needs to be modified. If the yield table in Ain or a set of such yield tables was used in revenue assessment, it was probably done by Raja Todar Mal in the fifteenth year. Before that, the rates were largely arbitrary. Up to the eighth year, the situation is accurately described in the chapter on Ain-i Dahsala; I give Morelands translation:

Khwaja Abdul Majid Asaf Khan was Vazir, the jama-i wilayat (valuation) was raqami (arbitrary, written, recorded), and &dquo;they&dquo; used to show whatever they pleased with the pen of the enhanced salary (?). Seeing that the kingdom was not extensive, and that promotion of officers used to be frequent, there used to be increase and decrease from bribe-taking and

self interest.32
While Abdul Majid left the Vizarat in the eighth year, the assessment continued to be arbitrary until the eleventh year, when Todar Mal and Muzaffar

Habib, n. 2, 28

pp. 201-02.

29 Shahs Revenue System," op. cit., pp. 454-55. "Sher Ain (Blochmann), i. 62. (For full reference, see source notes to Table 1.) 30

31 n. 20, p. 84. Moreland, Ibid., pp. 239-43. 32

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Khan took over.33 To go by the evidence of Table 3, they made no radical changes immediately, but brought some rates down, probably to bring the revenue demand ( jama) closer to the collections (lzasil ). The period from the eleventh to the fourteenth year was one of a gradual advance towards realism. As Akbarnama describes it,

Qanungos and-experts of the whole Empire, having, according to their own ideas, recorded the actual-yield (hal hasil) of the country, fixed another jama. Although in point of fact (the new jama) was not an actual yield, yet in comparison with the former jama it is not far (sc. from the truth) to call it


their famous

In the fifteenth year Muzaffar Khan and Todar Mal assessment. To quote the Ain,

And when this supreme once (sc. the vazarat) fell to Muzaffar Khan and Raja Todar Mal, in the 15th liahi year &dquo;they&dquo; took the taclsimat-i mulk from the qanungos (and) having completed the 7Mt7/~M/ by estimate, and computation, a new jama came into force.35

Moreland translates taqsimat-i mulk as schedules of apportionment of produce. Thus Todar Mal used yield tables as a basis of revenue calculation in the fifteenth year. In this he had no precedent in Akbars reign, though he might have been anticipated by Sher Shah and possibly others. Whether Todar Mal estimated and used one yield table or many, and whether the table in Ain represents average yield in the Empire, a province or a smaller area, we have no means of judging. But it is not earlier than the fifteenth year-it could date as late as the last years of the reign when the Ain was finally written-and it is certainly not a table of Sher Shahs. So late in the reign, it could only be in terms of Akbari units. There are two further indications that the table is in Akbari units. First, if it were in Sikandari units, the prices calculated from revenue rates in Table 3 must be for the Sikandari man which was between 60 and 78 per cent of the Akbari man. And the table would have been used early in the reign. As Table 3 shows, the implicit revenue prices from the sixth to the ninth year are nearly double Ains average prices as it is; if they were for Sikandari mans, corresponding prices for Akbari mans would be three or four times the Ain prices. Since prices did fluctuate a good deal in the sixteenth century, such a

Ibid., p. 33
Ibid. 34


Ibid. Habibs amendment of the dates (Habib, n. 2, p. 203n) is unnecessary: Muzaffar 35 Khan and Todar Mal made some ad hoc changes in the rates when they took over in the eleventh year, and introduced a comprehensive reform in the fifteenth year.

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s 1


# M

o O


00 ~9d%
Ci W .

3 C



~V U



2 a

~mW tO% cz


. n

--5S, z6 ~ U ~

i = .S &dquo; ~

-5t;~ _pa CIS ~ :~

y~ i O- ,-~
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<~ ~ pj u ~ i
3<~ .



v~~. c~

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difference is possible; but it would make the sixth to the ninth years of great scarcity of which other evidence would have been recorded. There is no such

Second, the remarks that precede the yield table clearly put the introduction of new measures prior to the establishment of the new revenue system. Consider the following for instance:
He [His Majesty] first defined the gaz, the tanab, and the bighah and laid down their bases of measurement: after which he classed the lands according to their relative values in production and fixed the revenue accord-

yield table is therefore in terms of the bigha-i Ilahi, and it would be extremely odd if the man had not been changed from Sikandari to Akbari. The bigha-i 1.1cihi, following Habib, was 0.23838 ha.11 The man-i Akbari was 23.4 kg in the early part of the reign and 25.1 kg in the latter part.38 My own interpretation is that the yield table was put into the Ain for illustrative purposes, and belongs to the last part of the reign. So I expressed yields in terms of the later man, and continue to prefer it. But those who have other views can opt for t.ie slightly smaller man. It would make no material difference to my



Moosvi has raised a serious problem. According to her reading of Habib, land revenue took a third of the output in zabti provinces and half in others. The jamadami of zabti provinces was 41 per cent of that for the whole Empire in 1595; if all taxes in zubti provinces were two-thirds of those elsewhere, their population would have been 52 per cent of the total for the Empire. In 1941, however, the ratio for corresponding areas was only 31 per cent. It is inconceivable that it should have fallen from 52 to 31 per cent in 350 years. Hence zabti provinces must have been made to pay the same share of produce in land revenue as other provinces, and this must have been achieved by overstating the yields in zabti provinces by 50 per cent. Now, revenue was assessed by crop estimation only in zabti provinces, to one or all of which the yield table in the Ain must have been applied. So the real yields must have been two-thirds of those given in the table. But to avoid an impression of excessive precision Moosvi takes, instead of two-thirds of the middling yield,
Ain (Jarrett-Sarkar) ii. 63. A similar statement is also 36 the yield table. Habib, n. 2, p. 362. 37



few sentences before

Ibid., 38

p. 367.

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the average of middling and poor yields. While Moosvis problem certainly calls for an answer, her answer is not the only one, nor even the best one. The most important point is that Habib is not at all certain that the proportion of produce actually collected from peasants was a third in zabti provinces and a half elsewhere. Besides, he shows that the tax dues based on a predetermined yield table and periodically determined prices could be as onerous as proportionally higher dues based on crop sharing.39 Second, jamadami only represents the demand; Izasil or the actual collections could have been very different. Third, it is unlikely that jamadami statistics were equally comprehensive for the zabti and the outlying provinces: there was considerable scope for underenumeration in the latter. Finally, is it so inconceivable that the proportion of the population residing in the upper and middle Gangetic valley fell between the sixteenth and the twentieth century? The most important demographic event in the intervening centuries was the political chaos and the high level of warfare in the eighteenth century; surely it would have killed off the most people in the richest provinces with the best communications, which therefore became the most frequently visited marching ground of armies that lived off the land.41 So Moosvis problem does not seem to me to require such a drastic solution as she has adopted; I find sufficient grounds for suspension of judgment. But if anyone feels that no other solution is possible and Abul Fazl must have fiddled the yield statistics, I do not think he should erect on such ostensibly unreliable figures the immense edifice of deductions that I and Moosvi have done. If Moosvi really doubts the veracity of the Ain, she should not use it as a historical source in this matter. Logically, therefore, I do not see how Moosvi can prevent herself from embracing Hestons position. Evidently, this applies equally to Moosvis most recent calculation.41 She accepts Hestons contention that British administrators exaggerated yields, although going by his work on Bombay yields, Hestons disapproval of figures should count as a high recommendation for their accuracy. She then compares yields in British times with the Ain yields which she earlier concluded were exaggerated. But the comparison of two biased figures does not give an unbiased result; it gives a result of unknown bias. Statistics offer no way of improving the quality of inherently poor figures; Moosvi has to trust some figures before she can coax some meaning out of them.

Ibid., pp. 39


40 Habib, n. 2, p. 24; Moreland, "The Agricultural Statistics of Akbars Empire," Cf. Journal of the United Provinces Historical Society, II, 1919, pp. 24-26. "Note on Professor Hestons Standard of Living in Akbars Time&mdash;A Comment," 41

IESHR, XIV (3), 1977,

pp. 397-401.

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Heston contends, without



to any


contemporary documentary evi-

as a means of increasing for this contention is that he believes he has yield-based demonstrated that in Bombay Presidency, the British government used to vary its revenue assessment from year to year according to the state of the crops, and collected annual crop statistics for this purpose. Since the revenue history of Bombay is far removed from my present subject and since it raises some interesting issues of its own, I shall deal with it in a separate contribution to IESHR. Meanwhile I shall assume the conclusions of that paper and summarize them. I cannot imagine which source of revenue history could have given Heston the impression that the government of Bombay used crop statistics to estimate annual revenue. The British government started collecting revenue in the Maratha provinces at least sixty years before it even thought of estimating the crop output. It used to make revenue settlements every thirty years, when it took into consideration many elements but not the actual crops; in fact, it was a principle of settlements not to tax increases in output insofar as they resulted from improvements made by the peasants. Having misconceived the nature of revenue settlements, Heston is naturally led to believe that the government must have had an incentive to overstate yields. He thinks this is proved by the fact that standard yields, which were multiplied by the annawari, a condition factor, to reflect the actual yiel d, were above average yields. Only slight familiarity with vernacular usage is necessary to know that a 16-anna crop, which was the basis of the standard yield, has always meant a good crop; a 17-anna crop is an exceptionally good crop; and an 18-anna crop is virtually unknown. And consistent with this usage, the average of revenue yields, which estimated actual yields, was always below the standard yield. In other words, if standard yields were pitched &dquo;too high&dquo; -that is, above average yields -condition factors were pitched &dquo;too low&dquo;that is, below 100 per cent-to compensate. Finally, the annawari system was designed to give a quick estimate of agricultural production before harvest, so that scarcity condition s could be foreseen and preventive action, such as moving of foodgrains to scarcity areas, bans on their movement outside those areas, etc., could be taken in advance. The whole point of Sher Shahs assessment, and of Akbars zabt system, on the other hand, was to avoid the measurement of the actual output which various revenue systems based on crop-sharing entailed: the same table or tables of physical yields were used as a basis of revenue estimation year after year, irrespective of the state of the crop. Thus, Heston has misunderstood virtually all authorities on revenue history, British or Mughal. I am flattered to figure in the distinguished roll of misunderstood authorities, but my sentence which Heston regards as an admission that the yields

dence, that the Mughals


must have

overstated yields


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of some crops must have increased between the sixteenth and the twentieth centuries is nothing of that sort. 12 Its meaning is quite transparent: the yields of wheat and rice were higher than of jowar and bajra and higher in terms of value than of sesame or linseed, but they required greater labour inputs; as population grew, it started growing crops that gave higher yields or value of output per hectare.






an issue that might have exercised a number of serious students: how could yields have fallen in an era of technological and material progress? My answer is the simple Ricardian one, that with the growth of agricultural labour force, cultivation was extended to marginal lands of lower productivity. But factors that could have countervailed this tendency call for discussion. Let me take up the three mentioned by Moosvi and Heston. (a) Irrigation: Irrigation unquestionably increases yields of previously unirrigated land. But in view of the vast increase in cultivated area, we cannot be sure that the proportion of land under irrigation has gone up. Even if we were, the effect of irrigation on average yields would depend on which land was irrigated: since cultivated land is extremely heterogeneous, the combined effects of its extension and of increased irrigation on yields are unpredictable. But wheat and rice, the most highly irrigated of food crops today, show the smallest fall in yield; sugar cane, which is most intensively irrigated now, might perhaps even show an increased yield. (b) Mechanized transport: Mechanization of transport does not necessarily raise yields; it only leads to reduction of transport costs and to regional specialization. The greater the value per ton of a crop, the lower its transport costs and the more regionally concentrated it would come to be. It is clear that in the move away from &dquo;everything everywhere&dquo; as Moosvi puts it, the crops whose location has become most concentrated are the high-value commercial crops, which have also become relatively cheaper as Table 2 shows. Locational changes are the least for high-bulk, low-value foodgrains. In fact, if the rate of land taxation fell from 50 per cent and more four centuries ago to almost zero today, the surplus as a proportion of foodgrains output must have correspondingly declined though not to the same degree. So foodgrains can hardly have been affected by cheaper transport: they are more of a subsistence produce today, eaten where they are produced, than they were earlier.

Nevertheless, both Moosvi and Heston have raised

42 as population grew, crops like rice and wheat which (with greater labour "Further, inputs) gave higher yields per hectare pushed out low-yield and low-value crops like jowar, bajra, sesame or linseed to progressively poorer lands, and the yields of the latter fell relatively more." n. 1, p. 47.
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(c) Land-labour ratio: Land available per head has obviously fallen in the that the population of the country has increased. But the area cultivated per agricultural worker has certainly not fallen. If, as I have argued, the average foodgrain yields have halved while per capita foodgrains consumption has fallen by say 20 per cent, the land under foodgrains per head of population must have risen by 60 per cent. If one further takes into account a fall in the non-agricultural population from perhaps 50 per cent to 30 per cent
and a rise in the area under commercial crops from perhaps 15 to 30 per cent, the area cultivated per agricultural worker must have increased by about 40 per cent. These are approximate figures illustrative of my argument, and the increase in land-labour ratio may have been greater or less. But there is no historical reason for Hestons belief that the land-labour ratio must have fallen. To sum up my views on productivity, there have been three important developments since the fifteenth century. First, there is the virtual abolition of land tax which used to take a half or more of the value of output. As a onceover change it would have doubled the supply of agricultural commodities per head of agricultural population; coming gradually over the centuries, it has permitted the marginal product of agricultural labour to fall from twice the subsistence requirements to no higher than the reduced subsistence consumption of today. Second, the transport revolution has led to regional speciaiization in commercial crops and a fall in their relative costs. A number of these crops, for instance cotton and oilseeds, are grown in the arid zone where the high tax rates of Mughal India would have made cultivation impossible. With their extension into the arid zone, the physical yields of such crops have fallen; but their costs of production have nevertheless fallen relatively to those of foodgrains because of lower labour inputs. Finally, there is the population growth which has necessitated extension of agriculture to marginal lands, increased labour inputs per ton of output and reduced per capita consumption of foodgrains. Other factors besides these three have undoubtedly been at work, such as canal irrigation, fertilizers and improved seeds; but their impact is of the second order-or was till 1963, which was my terminal year.
VI. POPULATION ESTIMATES: THE UNCERTAINTIES less certain about my population estimates then about the wage or yield comparisons, for a number of reasons. First, it is one thing to assert that real wages or yields were higher in Akbars time; it is quite another thing to assert, as population estimates require, that yields were so much higher. Second, the jamadami figures form a fragile basis for calculation. For one thing, they give a single figure of taxes due, and not of taxes received; for another, they are figures of uncertain status, and not a part of offlcial accounts. We have no breakdown for them, nor a clear idea of their meaning. Third, the chain of I
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inferences becomes quite long with population estimates. Whilst we might make &dquo;reasonable&dquo; assumptions at each stage, the dividing line between
&dquo;reason&dquo; and received faith or preconception is narrow. When Moosvi and Heston talk of &dquo;demographic plausibility,&dquo; I marvel at their rational antennae; my senses are too gross to pick up such sensitive signals. In my last paper I worked out no estimate for the whole of India, and I refuse to do so here. I think it is not legitimate to extend guesses based on the Ain to south India. If a figure must be put on the population of south India, I would rather take Morelands estimate,43 based on army strength, than extrapolate from the very different north Indian conditions. Within Akbars Empire, I now recognize that there were important differences in the administration of zabti provinces and others, and entertain increasingly serious doubts about population estimates as they go beyond the zabti provinces. Moosvi contends that .i.1madami included non-agricultural revenue.&dquo; Moreland, however, is of the categorical opinion that it did not, apart from the small amounts that are specified in the Ain.45 1 fins his argument, based on three elements of evidence-&dquo;The language used, the specific mention of port and ferry dues, and the absence of any traceable effect on revenue rates of sarkar headquarters&dquo;-quite conclusive. So I shall continue to assume that jamadami figures represent land revenue QMly. On land revenue per head I have had second thoughts, and would like to amend my figures in the previous Table 616 in three ways. (a) As Moosvi points out, the jamadami figures refer to 1595, so should the revenue rates. Hence instead of taking averages for the later years from the 19-year rates, I now take simple averages for all parganahs (more precisely, revenue circles since a single rate often applies to more than one parganah) of the eight subahs-Allahabad, Oudh, Agra, Ajmer, Delhi, Lahore, Multan and Malwa-for which crop-wise revenue rates are given. They are little different from the rates I used earlier. (b) For the crops I did not cover specifically, I had assumed notional revenue rates-40 dams a bigha for other foodgrains, 25 dams for other oilseeds and 50 dams for other crops. For other foodgrains now I have adopted an average rate for the specified food crops, weighted by the mean of the high and low acreages in the old Table 6 (I tried out the high as well as the low acreages as weights and found that weighting made little difference). I have adopted a similar average for other oilseeds. For other crops I had earlier assumed a revenue rate that was somewhere between foodgrains and cotton. But these commercial crops included some of very high value like opium, indigo and Moreland, n. 2, pp. 9-20. 43

n. 4, p. 193. 44
"The Agricultural Statistics of Akbars Empire," op. cit., pp. 4-5. 45

n. 1, pp. 58-59. 46
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betel leaves and some of very low value like radish and (Indian) melons. So now I have assumed two limiting rates for other crops-one equal to an acreage-weighted average for all specified crops, and the other equal to that for cotton, which paid a particularly high revenue rate. (c) There was no information on which the acreage under other crops could be based (comparable yield figures could not be worked out, as the major modern commercial crops like tea, coffee and jute did not exist in Akbars time, while the major commercial crops of his time, like indigo, opium and al have virtually disappeared). I had assumed that the proportion of cultivated area under these principally commercial crops was lower-25 per cent of the area under food crops and cotton, against 38.5 per cent in 1961-62. Now I find much scope for uncertainty. On the one hand it could be argued that the high level of agricultural taxation must have generated the surplus necessary to support a correspondingly large non-agricultural population, which must have
a large market for agricultural raw materials for use in (handcraft) On the other hand, the high relative prices of non-foodgrain products industry. revealed by Table 2, as well as of textiles and metals, argue against as large a proportion of non-agricultural output as now-although the employment associated with any level of non-agricultural output would have been higher then because of the low level productivity in non-mechanized industry. Evidently this question is tied up with that of the deindustrialization of India of which Bagchi has found later evidence. 17 Since the known facts lead me to no settled quantitative judgment, I have preferred to take two limiting ratios of acreage under other crops to acreage under specified crops-10 per cent and 30 per cent. The proportion would clearly have been related to the relative prices of and hence the revenue from the other crops, for which I have taken two limiting rates as mentioned in (b) above: I have taken the higher revenue rate to go with the lower acreage and vice versa. I have also associated a high proportion of acreage under other crops with high foodgrain consumption and vice versa. Table 4 gives the average revenue rates and the underlying rates for specified crops for the eight subahs. Table 5 represents a revision of the original Table 6 incorporating the modifications (a)-(c) above. As a comparison of the two tables will show, the modifications have only slightly widened the limits of per capita revenue from 48.47-79.56 dams to 54.02-79.00 dams. Dividing them into the jamadami of 212 crore dams for the zabti provinces, we get population estimates for them of 2.68-3.92 crore. Similarly, the ,jamadami of 512 crore dams for the whole Empire gives us estimates of 6.48-9.48 crore. The other method proposed by Moosvi48 of blowing up zabti estimates by the

Amiya Kumar Bagchi, "De-industrialisation in India in the Nineteenth Century: Some 47 Theoretical Implications," Journal of Development Studies, XII(2), 1976, pp. 135-64. n. 4, p. 192. 48
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74 1941 population proportion to get Imperial estimates, as I argued in Section III, carries the assumption of changeless India too far. However, I am now of the opinion that my population estimates are pro-


too low because Akbars revenue administration was not comprehensive in zabti provinces. The reason is evident from Table 4, which gives (a) average revenue rates per bigha in z ~bti areas and (d) revenue rates of specified crops and their averages weighted by the mean of the high and low acreages of Table 5. In three provinces, Allahabad, Multan and Malwa, the average revenue rate is above the &dquo;high&dquo; average of crop,rates; apparently, the enumerated land in those provinces was not only intensively cultivated, but also raised a high proportion of valuable commercial crops. The enumerated acreage in those provinces was smaller than in the other zabti provinces (3045 lakh bighas against 1-3 crore.bighas in the other provinces). This inclines me to the belief that in those provinces only the part of the cultivated land which was important to revenue had been brought under measurement. The Ain mentions no further revenue from these provinces (apart from a small amount in Allahabad). But since all three were frontier provinces, it is likely that either revenue administration had not been extended to the whole of the provinces; or Akbars hold on them was limited to small intensively cultivated areas, or the rest of the territory was held by zamindars who were autonomous in land revenue collection.49 Anyway, the suggestion is that the jamadami figures are incomplete and would give underestimates of the population. Table 4 also indicates an error in Morelands estimate.5 Moreland assumed that the acreage figures in the Ain represented gross cultivated area. He compared them with corresponding figures in the early part of this century and derived an estimate of the population in the sixteenth century by assuming that both the standard of food consumption and the productivity of the land had remained unchanged. Moreland noticed large interprovincial differences in average revenue rates, but attributed them to differences in cropping patterns. As Table 4 shows, however, them average rates in Oudh, Agra and Ajmer are so low that not even complete specialization in the least-taxed of the specified crops could explain them. (Admittedly, a crop we have not included in the table, like melons, might have had a lower rate than the average; but it would be absurd to assume that provinces were heavily specialized in such minor crops.) The only workable explanation is that the land enumerated in those provinces.-and others by implication-was not gross cultivated area, but arable land, some of which was cultivated only occasionally. Fertile land with It 49 is also possible that the measured land in the three provinces was taxed at higher : according to the Ain (Jarrett-Sarkar, ii. 171, 331), crops on given in the dasturs measured land in Allahabad and Multan (though not Malwa) paid special rates. Morelands estimate is given in Moreland, n. 2, pp. 20-22, the comparison of area 50 found in "The Agricultural Statistics of Akbars statistics on which it was based is to
rates than


op. cit.

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supply was presumably cultivated every year; but there was much land that was only cultivated in favourable circumstancesapparently for instance, when prices were high, or rains were favourable, or human or animal labour was available. The average intensity of cultivation was somewhat more than once every two years. On the basis of the consumption patterns in Table 5, the average intensity of cultivation in the five provinces of Oudh, Agra, Ajmer, Delhi and Lahore comes to 54.6-60.7 per cent. If Morelands area estimates were corrected for the intensity of cultivation, his gross cultivated area would come down by 30-40 per cent, and his estimate of the population of Akbars Empire would come to 6-7 crore. Its close agreement with my lower estimate would, however, be fortuitous, and should not be taken as confirmation of either estimate. Moreland was a firm believer in changeless India, while all the evidence in this paper goes against the assumption of constancy. Nevertheless, Morelands area analysis was original and potentially fruitful; it was brought up to date by Habib.51 It would be of value to revise their findings by taking into account changes in the intensity of cultivation. As such a revision calls for greater knowledge of the geography of the Gangetic valley than I possess, I can only point out the need.

reliable water

Moreland, whose pioneering work on Indias agrarian history stretched over three decades, left a puzzle at the end of it: if &dquo;a given number of people, peasants and labourers together, raise about the same amount of produce (in 1920) as the same number raised in Akbars time,&dquo;5 how did the peasants pay a third of their produce in taxes?53 The mystery is accentuated by Habibs finding that the statutory rate of a third was largely formal, and that the actual rate of tax on the peasant was appreciably higher, in some places as high as three-quarters. 54 Since peasants today pay negligible land tax, do they have a latent surplus of a half or more of their output? Or was there some mistake in Morelands assessment of the Mughal times? My paper found a solution to this puzzle by showing that higher crop yields in Akbars time permitted a higher output per worker and provided the surplus necessary to pay the land tax. It is clear that the higher land tax must have been reflected in a higher marginal product of labour and therefore in the average output per worker; this conclusion, which inevitably follows from Morelands and Habibs work, was underpinned with statistics from the Ain.
Habib, 51


pp. 5-24.

52 n. 2, p. 116. Moreland, Moreland, n. 20, p. 204. 53 Habib, n. 2, pp. 190-96. 54

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accompanied by lower intensity of cultivation than now. The Ains revenue rates distinguish between polaj, which was cultivated every year, parauti, which was left fallow for one or two years, chachar, which had lain fallow for three or four years, and banjar, which had not been cultivated for five years or more.55 A comparison of average revenue rates

high yields


and crop rates suggests that in the central subahs, about half the measured land was in cultivation in any one year. The selection of land for cultivation was, of course, a major reason why yields were higher chan now, as I showed in my last paper. The higher purchasing power of urban wages in terms of foodgrains follows from the lower labour costs of growing them, since labour costs remain the major element of their costs to this day. The low supply price of foodgrains is also consistent with the large surplus that the high level of taxation must have forced on the market. In this way my findings fit into what is known about the revenue history of Akbars time, and help to resolve an inconsistency left by previous work. They might still be doubted by those who either distrust the entire corpus of work on Mughal history, or cannot put their trust in the yield table of the Ain. They cannot, however, find a refutation of the findings in further statistical processing of the data in the Ain or in analogies with different times and circumstances. If my picture is proved wrong, it will be through the uncovering of fresh information. Should it exist, it surely should not be impossible to find it if, as Moosvi says, &dquo;the Mughal empire is comparatively rich in available source material.&dquo;&dquo; If, on the other hand, may picture is right, it points to new mysteries. How was the large agricultural surplus marketed in conditions when transport was costly and markets were localized? Where was the large non-agricultural population located, in villages or towns, in small towns or large? What did it do? Did it produce goods or did it mainly provide services like administration and fighting? In spite of the vast literature on Mughal history, the ques.. tions are perhaps just beginning to be asked.

55 (Jarrett-Sarkar), op. cit., ii. 68. Ain n. 4, p. 181. 53

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Weight of Man*

to Abul Fazl, the standard ser weighed either 18 or 22 dams before was raised to 28 dams at the beginning of Akbars reign and further it Akbar; to 30 dams some time before the Ain was written. 57 We therefore have three different weights for a man of 40 sers to choose from. The prices in the Ain were presumably recorded around the time when it was completed in the 43rd year of the reign. It may therefore be taken that unless Abul Fazl was uncharacteristically sloppy or the Akbari weights were not accepted in commerce, the prices refer to a 1200-dam man. I have argued in Section II for the assumption that the yield table in the Ain is in terms of the


same man.

On the weight of the dam we have the following evidence: (1) Lane-Poole wrote in his review of coins in the British Museum, &dquo;It is therefore, clear that the coins which are named fulus in their inscriptions, and weigh from 307 to 325 grains, are dams....&dquo; Dr Parmeshwari Lal Gupta in his new catalogue of the British Museums Mughal coins places the dam &dquo;in the proximity of 320 grains or 20.74 grammes.&dquo;58 (2) Hodivala, as cited by Habib,59 fixes the weight of the tola as 185.5 grains, which would place the weight of the dam at 322.69 grains or 20.911


Digby,60 fixed the weight of the rati-abrus A dam of 167 ratis would therefore weigh precatorius-at 1.9375 troy grains. This was the basis of Morelands estimate 323.56 grains or 20.97 grammes. of a man of 25.155 kg. (4) Finally, Digby61 writes:
(3) C. Nelson Wright,

cited by

I have cursorily consulted the Calcutta, Lucknow and Lahore catalogues, and almost all Akbari dams recorded fall between 310 and 320 grains. One must allow for the selectivity of cataloguers and collectors who will prefer
*on this question I have received great assistance from Simon Digby of the Ashmolean Museum and N.M. Lowick of the British Museum, and would like to express my gratitude to them without implicating them in my answer. n. 36, p. 366. 57 I owe this information to a personal communication from N.M. Lowick. 58 Habib, n. 2, p. 367. 59 Personal communication from Simon Digby. 60

Ibid. 61
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less-worn rather than

a more-worn

specimen of

coin type, but the average I would guess to be 316

of 6.5 to 7.5



grains. The loss

from circulation or &dquo;sweating&dquo; appears to me somewhat that Akbars dams survive in very large numbers and that I excessive, given have seen many specimens in what I would regard as &dquo;fine&dquo; to &dquo;extra-fine&dquo; condition. Against this argument it is clear that much of the copper minted in Akbars reign must have remained in circulation for a century, in view of the rarity of copper issues of Jahangir, Shah Jahan and the earlier years of Aurangzebs reign. I am inclined to think that most of the actual coins were minted minimally sub-standard-perhaps they were often circa 320 grains or 165 ratis when struck.


We thus have to choose between the theoretical weight of the dam, which about 20.91-20.97 grammes, and the actual weight of the coin which varied but probably averaged near 20.75 grammes. It is clear that the standard man should be based on the theoretical dam, and be in the neighbourhood of 25.092-25.164 kg. I take it to be 25.1 kg, obtained by converting Habibs estimate112 of 55.32 lb to metric weight and rounding off.

Habib, 62


2, p. 368.

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