Society in Mughal times was organized on a feudal basis and the head of the social system was Emperor. He enjoyed an unparallel status. He was the ultimate authority in everything.
Next in rank were the nobility along the zamindars. The Mughal nobles monopolized most of the jobs in the country. Socially and economically the Mughal nobility formed a privileged class. There were men of every type and nationality among the Mughal nobles.
Clan or family links were the most important considerations for recruitment and admission to the aristocratic class of the society.Zamindars or the chieftains also constituted the nobility. They had their own armed forces and generally lived in forts or garhis which was both a place of refuge and a status symbol.
There was a large class of merchants and traders. They had their own rights based on tradition and protection of life and property. They also maintained a high standard of living. During Mughal period the Indian society was in the process of developing into a common society for the religious groups of Hindus and Muslims. Inter-mixing and adaptation of each others culture was fairly common.
Dowry system was common in Hindu society. The sati was prevalent though Akbar tried to discourage sati by issuing orders but he could not forbid it altogether. Aurangzeb was the only Mughal who issued definite orders in 1664 forbidding sati. The Muslim society was also divided based on the place of origination. The widow remarriage was prevalent in the society. Economically Muslim woman was entitled to a share in the inheritance.
The Hindu society was divided into four castes. The coming of Muslims and their constant condemnation of the caste system made the system more rigid. The Hindu society in order to strengthen itself recasted the Smritis and tried to bring back from the Islamic fold those Muslims who were converts from Hinduis
The Indian society under the Mughal rule used to live a moderate life and was not very extravagant as in the context of middle class. As Hindus were in heavy majority so the traditions like satti and jouhar were in vogue. The culture of child marriage, dowry and prohibition of second marriage was so strong that even the Muslims living in India were influenced by these trends.
Akbar did make an attempt to bring social reforms in the society by synthesising good things of all existing religions of that time but the masses were reluctant to follow this reform better known as din-i-illahi. Aurangzeb also brought social reform in the state but it was based upon Sunni orthodoxy and targeted masses belonging to other religions.
The Mughals brought with themselves the Persian culture and Persian culture which was not known to the Indians. In the reign of Akbar many works were being done in Persian language such as Ain-i-akbari etc. the Persian literature after Akbar continued under Jahangir. The Hindi poetry also flourished during the Mughal rule during the reign of Jahangir and shah Jehan. However it was discouraged extremely in the rule of Aurangzeb. Music being the important feature of the religion of Hindus was given a lot of patronage by the Mughal rulers.
The Mughals also kept slaves which were taken from the locals or bought from the slave traders. This trend of slavery was inherited by the sultans of Delhi sultanate. The local population did not have a direct communication with the Mughal emperor and throughout the rule of Muslims in India; the masses recognised the ruler as the despot and the revenue collector. The society however got much influenced by new trends of arts and literature and religion. The Mughal architecture was a synthesis of local art with the foreign trends. The rulers also adopted the local Indian art of dance and music in their courts and the indigenous artisans were also very encouraged.
It may be observed that the Indian society under the Mughals was divided on the bases of religion and wealth but the local people did share some common traditions. The Mughals left a great impact on the society in terms of art, literature, food and dressing. With the advent of the Europeans in the sub-continent, whole society suffered a great set back in terms of economy as they were deprived of their former jobs.
Position of Women
The Hindu women enjoyed respect in their family, participated in religious ceremonies, were educated and many of them acquired scholarly fame as well. Yet, in general, their status had deteriorated in the society and they suffered from many social evils.
Normally, monogamy was prevalent in the society but, among the rich a man could keep many wives. The widows could not marry again. They either became sati at the pyre of their husbands or passed their lives as women-hermits. The Muslims were always prepared either to molest or to capture Hindu-women which resulted in child-marriages and Purdah system. It also adversely affected their education and movements in the society. Therefore, education could be provided to them only at homes which could be afforded only by the rich. The birth of a daughter was regarded as a bad omen and that resulted in the practice of female-infanticide.
However, the lower castes remained free from many of these social evils. There was no purdah system in them and their women were free to divorce and remarry. Even widow-marriages were permitted among them.
Devadasi system was another social evil which was prevalent among the Hindus. Beautiful unmarried girls were offered to images of Gods in temples where they passed their lives as maidservants of gods. It was not only serious injustice to their lives but also resulted in corruption in temples.
There were certain other changes which the Hindus accepted because of their contact with the Muslims. The Hindus started to accept the converts back to the Hindu-fold. There were changes, in their clothing’s, food-habits, social habits and certain customs as well.
Muslim women also did not enjoy a respectable status in the society. Polygamy was widely prevalent among the Muslims. Every Muslim had a right to keep at least four wives or slaves. Purdha- system was strictly observed among Muslim-women. They were devoid of education because of this social-custom. However, they were better placed in certain respects as compared to Hindu women. They could divorce their husbands, remarry and could claim their share in the property of their parents. There was no practice of sati among Muslim women.