Ahsham (Mughal Infantry)

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Ahsham (Mughal Infantry)
Portrait of a warrior.jpg
Portrait of a warrior[1]
Country Mugha Empire
Branch Army
Type Foot Soldiers
Role little more than a night-watchman, and guardian over baggage, either in camp or on the line of march
Garrison/HQ Delhi
Equipment Swords, daggers, matchlocks, lances, bows, arrows, artillery, guns etc.
Commander – in – chief Mughal Emperor

Ahsham is composed of an infantry, the personnel of the artillery, the artificers and the attendants on the court. The incident of service, which was common to all these men and caused their inclusion under one head, was the fact that they were all borne direct on the imperial books, and received their pay from the imperial treasury, without the intervention of a mansabdar.

The Ahsham were neither mansabdars, tabinan, nor ahadis.

Akbar had 12,000 matchlockmen (the only men in the group at all entitled to be reckoned as soldiers) come the doorkeepers, the palace guards, the letter carriers and spies, the swordsmen, wrestlers, slaves, litter-bearers, carpenters, water-carriers and so forth. There is a class of troops called Dakhin (extra, additional) which seems no longer that existed in Alamgir's reign.


A Mughal warrior and his wife

The Moghul army consisted of cavalry, infantry, and artillery. But the second and third branches held a very subordinate position to the first. The army was thus essentially an army of horsemen. The Moghuls from beyond the Oxus were accustomed to fighting on horseback. They despised the foot-soldier who were not proficient in artillery. Until the middle of the eighteenth century, while the French and English had demonstrated their vast superiority in disciplined infantry, the Indian foot-soldier was little more than a night-watchman; a guardian of baggage either in camp or in the line of march.

The infantry held an inferior position and was of little or no consideration. It consisted of a multitude of people assembled together without regard to rank or file. There were swordsmen, gunmen, archers, matchlock men and guards. Some were armed with lances, too long or too weak to be of any service, and even though disciplined, could not be relied upon. To keep night watches and to plunder defence fewer people was their greatest service, except their being a perquisite to their commanders, who received a fixed sum for every man and hired every man at a different and less price. In short, the infantry were more a rabble of half-armed men than anything else, being chiefly levies brought into the field by petty zamindars, or men belonging to the jungle tribes. Any Mahomedan or Rajput who respected himself, managed somehow or other to provide himself with a mount and obtained enrollment as a cavalry soldier, who was in popular estimation a gentleman. The high figures for Infantry in each district and province, shown in volume II of the Ain-i-AkbarI, can only be accepted under considerable reservation. These numbers can only represent the men called on to render strictly local duty, and they must have consisted almost entirely of villagers armed with long pikes, or swords and shields, perhaps even with only an iron-bound bambu staff (lathi).

Early matchlocks

The foot soldiers received the smallest pay. The musketeers cut a sorry figure at the best of times, which may be said to be when squatting on the ground and resting their muskets on a kind of wooden fork which hangs to them. Even then they are terribly afraid of burning their eyes or their long heards and above all least some jinn, or evil spirit, should cause the bursting of their musket. Some have ten, fifteen, or twenty rupees a month. The infantry was inconsiderable. The king infantry can exceed 15,000, including musketeers, foot-artillery, and generally every person connected with that artillery. From this an estimate may be formed of the number of infantry in the provinces. The fighting men confound servants, sutlers, tradesmen, and all those individuals belonging to bazars or markets, who accompany the troops. Including these followers the army immediately about the king's person, particularly when it is known that he intends to absent himself some time from his capital, may amount to two or even three hundred thousand infantry. This will not be an extravagant computation, if we bear in mind the immense quantity of tents, kitchens, baggage, furniture, and even women, usually attendant on the army.

Classes of infantry soldiers[edit]


Group of Nagas, Jaipur

These bodies of so-called Hindu devotees were common in the armies in the 18th century. Rajah of Jaipur entertains a large number of them. There was a corps of them in the Audh service from about 1752 to the end of the century. The last leader of these was Rajah Himmat Bahadur, who belongs to Bundelkhand . With this exception the Mahomedans, they do not seem to have retained any of these fakirs in their employ. Anquetil Duperron's Zend Avesta describes a body of these armed vagabonds, numberingsome 6000 men, that writer met in 1757 on their sway to Jagannath. The three leaders marched first, a long pike in one hand and a buckler in the other. The main body was armed with swords, bows, and matchlocks.

Haji Mustapha, during his adventurous attempt in 1758 to reach Masulipatam via Western Bengal and Pachet, came across 5000 of these devotees on their way to the Ganges at Sagar. A description of a corps of these Nagas commanded by a disciple (chela) of Himmat Bahadur, and then in the employ of Daulat Rao, Sendhiah, Gusains, or Nagas have always been considered good troops.


A Pathan Soldier

In the later years of mughal empire, a class of troops known as Alighol would seem to have been the equivalent of the ghazis and so frequently heard of on Afghan frontier. These were a sort of chosen light infantry of the Rohilla Patans. Sometimes the term appears to be applied to other troops supposed to be used generally for desperate service.


In 1799, the Jaipur Rajah had a body-guard of sixteen hundred men, armed with matchlocks and sabres, who were called the silah-posh, no doubt from their being clad in armour.


Gouache painting on mica of a guard or officer who holds a spear over his right shoulder

They were irregular infantry, who disdained uniform and carrying a musket, their arms being a matchlock or blunderbuss and a sword. They disdained to stand sentry or do any fatiguing duty, considering it their only business to fight and to protect the person of their prince. The long practice had enabled them to load with sufficient readiness, while their matchlock carried farther and infinitely truer than the firelock of those days. The Najibs was also excellent swordsmen.

Najibs in the Nawab of Oudh's service in 1780, were clothed in blue vests and drawers, furnishing their own arms and ammunition (matchlock, sword, shield, bow, and arrows). Their discipline was very contemptible; they answered very well for garrison duty, but could not stand the charge of cavalry, having no bayonets while their arms were totally unfit for prompt execution.


A Running Swordsman with straight rapier

They are courageous men and expert swordsmen. They received their name from their weapon, the patta or straight rapier. They are one type of Dakhin soldiers.


They are shield bearer. Ashob applies it to one of the three-foot soldiers who followed Sad-ud-dln Khan, the Mir Atash, when forced in 1151 H, (1738), much against his will, to accompany Nadir Shah's general of artillery into the streets of Dihli, to put the inhabitants to the sword. This Bhalait was sent as a messenger to carry a note to the Wazir, Qamr-ud-din Khan.


Ladies Band of the Nizam of Hyderabad

At the end of the 18th century the Nizam at Hydarabad had two battalions of female sepoys, of one thousand each, which mounted guard in the interior of the palace, and accompanied the ladies of his family whenever they moved. They were with the Nizam during the war against the Mahrattas in 1795, and at the battle of Kurdlah did not behave worse than the rest of his army. They were dressed as sepoys and performed the French drill with tolerable precision. The corps was called the Zafar-paltan or victorious battalion and the women gardani. The salary was five rupees a month. This Nizam seems to have had a penchant for female warriors.


A zemindar or farmer of the upper provinces and a puthan a famous wrestler

They are armed men entertained by local officers when engaged in collecting the land revenue. The word is also used for local levies by Danishmand Khan, It would be applied by Babar to the Indian levies of Ibrahim Lodi.


A Mughal Foot soldier with a gun

They are the foot soldier using a musket, appears rarely, if at all, in earlier writings, unless as a mere metaphor.

Rates of pay for Matchochnen,[edit]

The following table shows the rates of pay for the various classes of the matchlock men. The mounted men were in the position of officers, or were perhaps what we should call mounted infantry. First the pay of the regular matchlock men (Bandtiquch-i-jangi or Tufang-chi) who were either Baksariyahs or Bundelahs. Of these some drew rates of pay specially fixed, and entered in the official diary at the time when they were entertained (Hukmis). The usual rates, which every one else got, were as follows

Class Rank Qadimi (Old) Jadidi (New) Remarks
 Suwar (Mounted)   Hazari Duaspah (Tow Horsed)   Rs. 45, 40, 32  Rs. 40, 35
 Id. Yakshpah (One Horsed)  Rs. 22, 20, 17  Rs. 20, 17-1/2 
 Piyadah (foot)  Sadiwala  Rs. 9  Rs. 8
 Mirdahaha  Rs. 8  Rs. 7
 Sair (Remain)  Rs. 6, 5-1/2, 5   Rs. 6-1/2  Cash Rs. 6 and additional jagir, 8 annas 


They are from town of Baksar on the Ganges in the Bhojpur. The region supplies Rajput and Bhuinhar clans to serve as matchlockmen and gunners in the army of the Moghuls.

Sometimes the men of the garrison artillery are usually designated Baksariyah.


Bundelahs are, of course, the Rajput clan whose home is in the country south of the Jamnah and east of the Betwah river. They were held to be an inferior class of troops, and employed principally as matchlockmen. They were always renowned, however, for their bravery. In the end, through the rise of the Orchhah rajah, the head of their clan, and that of the so-called Dhangya State, formed by Champat Rae and extended by his more famous son, Chattarsal, their position was much enhanced, and during the 18th century they played an extremely prominent part, fighting first on the side of the Moghuls and subsequently against them.


An Arab couple

In later times, in the Dakhin at any rate, the best infantry were held to be the Arabs, who received higher pay than others. They received 12 Rupees a mouth, while the lowest pay was 5 Rupees a mouth. The Arabs were in general fully to be depended on, but particularly so in the defence of walls .

Other classes under this general head of Ahsliam were Bhilah, Mewati, Karnataki, Mughal.

The golandaz (ball thrower) or artilleryman, the Degandaz (pot thrower) and the Bandar (rocket holder) are also included in this section.certain men immediately around the emperor's elephant as qurqchis, there being two kinds, those in yellow and those in red. They are worked as gamekeepers, a sentinels over the women's apartments also.


A family of Bhil hunters

These were men of the wild tribe whose home is in the rugged country between Ajmer and Gujarat. In their own country nothing but highway robbers and skilful hunters, wearing clothes mostly of leaves. Their principal weapon, which no doubt they brought with them when in the emperor's service, was the long bow of bambu called kamanth.


Mevati warrior - Tashrih al-aqvam (1825)

These men are further designated Tir-andaz(archers). Mewat is the hilly country south and west of the Jamnah, between Agrah and Dehli. It derives its name from the tribe inhabiting it, the Meos. The men from Mewat are called Mewrahs, and they are described aspost-runners and spies. Neither the name nor these duties seem to have belonged to the MewatTs in the 18th century though mewrah had survived as a name for a post-runner of any kind.


A man of the warrior caste from south India

These must have been men from the south of India, the word Karnatak by the Moghul usage applying to the whole of peninsular India south of the Tungahbhadra, except Adoni. These men in the Moghul army were of the same class as those who formed our first sepoy battalions in the south of India.

Kala Piyadah[edit]

army led against Nizam-ul-Mulk by Mubariz Khan, subahdar of Haidarabad, says there were in it 30,000 matchlockmen of the Dakhin known as Kala piyadah They have been very similar to the Karnataki.


Martha chief

This is a name which in Northern India indicates generally any respectable Hindu landholder who is not of very high caste. It applies to general body of Mahrattah soldiery, most of whom were of the kumbi caste.


Another general name used when speaking of the Mahrattah soldiery, is Bargi.


As to these men there no reason for their appearance in this list of men serving in the infantry, but it is curious to find that there were any Mughals, who would deign to serve in this inferior branch of the service.


European seaman

These must have been Europeans serving in the capacity of common soldiers. They were probably for the most part native Christians, or so-called Portuguese, either from Goa, or from the colonies of that nation settled about the mouth of the Ganges and Brahmputra. There may have been among them some fugitive sailors from ships lying at Surat or Cambay. More usually, however, such men entered the artillery. In 1739 there were still Franks in the Mughal service. They were all Frenchmen, either attached to the artillery or practising as surgeons, bone-setters (shikastahband), or physicians. The chief of them, Farangi Khan and Farashish Khan, were accounted nobles and drew nobles' pay. These Europeans lived in a special quarter called


The pay of the classes above enumerated is given as follows . The word sair means common soldiers.

Name Mounted suwar -
 Hazari Duaspah 
Mounted suwar -
 Sadiwala Yakshapail 
 Foot (Piyadah) -
 Foot (Piyadah) -
Foot (Piyadah) -
 Bhilah Rs. 52 Rs. 26 Rs. 10 Rs. 8 a.12 p. 0 Rs. 6 a.4 p. 0 Formerly they received rations, but no pay in Cash.
 Mewati Rs. 50 Rs. 25 Rs. 4 a.8 p. 0 Rs. 4 a.0 p. 0 Receiving Rations.
--- Rs. 8 Rs. 6 a.0 p. 0 Rs. 5 a.0 p. 0 Without Rations.
 Karnataki  Rs. 50 Rs. 25 Rs. 8 Rs. 7 a.0 p. 0 Rs. 5 a.0 p. 0
Rs. 6 a.0 p. 0 Rs. 4 a.8 p. 0
 Mughal Rs. 8 a.0 p. 0 Rs. 7 a.0 p. 0
Rs. 6 a.8 p. 0
 Farngi according to order Rs. 8 Rs. 6 a.4 p. 0 Rs. 6 a.0 p. 0
Rs. 5 a.12 p. 0
Rs. 5 a.8 p. 0
Rs. 5 a.4 p. 0

According to Bernier, the pay of foot soldiers at Rs. 20, 15, and 10 a month, and the pay of FarangTs as Rs. 22 a month. Rations, when issued to the above men, were as follows: Flour (arad), 1 1/2 sir, Split peas (dal) 3/4 sir, salt (namak) 3/4 of a dam, ghi (roghan-i-zard), two dams.

Artificers or other men classed under Infantry.[edit]

Of these there were a number, artisans and labourers who were really camp-followers, though they may possibly have carried some sort of weapons for their own protection, just as litter-bearers with swords when on active service. The Beldars were used to make difficult roads passable ; they also threw up the field- works usually made to protect the guns. One duty of the carpenters and axemen was to cut a road through the thorny jungle with which most petty strongholds were surrounded.

The following table gives the names and pay of some of these artificers.

Name – Persian Name -English Class – Suwar Class – Piyadah Remarks
Kahardah Turani Rs. 40 Rs. 14, 11, 7
Kahardah Hundustani - as ordered Rs. 8, 7, 6, 5 1/2
Unknown Artisan - as ordered Rs. 15
Najjar Carpenter as ordered Rs. 8, 7, 5
Basali - _ Rs. 10 An Armourer? Basal means Helmet
Ahangar Balcksmith - Rs. 6 1/2, 6 1/4, 6 Musufi(Double?) Rs 9 3/4
Dunnah Cotton Carder - Rs. 6
Badah - - Rs. 6, 5
Sahalki - - Rs. 8, 7
Khor Bahlia - - Quadim Rs. 9, usual Rs. 8,7 Baheliyah a bird snarer
Sang – tarah Stone mansons - Rs. 8, 7, 6
Mochi Leather worker - Rs. 8
Atashbaz Firework maker - Rs. 7, 6, 5
Karali Turner - Rs. 7
Arahkash Sawyers - Rs. 6
Beldar Digger - blank
Naqbkum Miners Rs. 20, 17 Rs. 4 3/4, 4 1/2, 4
  • Mirdahah – 5 1/2
  • Private – Rs. 4 1/2
Salotri Farriers Rs. 15


  1. ^ Unknown (c. 1600). "Portrait of a warrior. Ms Ousley Add. 171, fol. 14v". Indian Illustrations from 18th Century Albums. 

 This article incorporates text from The army of the Indian Moghuls: its organization and administration, by William Irvine, a publication from 1903 now in the public domain in the United States.