The term Mansab literally means the rank of its holder (Mansabdars) in the official ladder in the Mughal system of administration. From that angle the Mansabdars were the paid-service officers of the Mughals. On the basis of merit or service to the state, Mansabs were given to both civil and military officers and hence they formed an integral part of the Mughal bureaucracy. The Mansabdars could be transferred from the civil to the military department and vice versa.
The Mansabdars had to supply certain bnumber of soldiers to the state according to their rank. In the time of Akbar the Mansabdars were classified into 33 grades, from commanders of 10 to 10,000 soldiers. Generally Mansab of rank of 7,000 and above was reserved for person like princes or other members of royal family. There were two important characteristic features. Firstly, in broader sense all the Mansabdars were subordinated to the king. That means in an expedition a Mansabdar of lower rank had to obey the Mansabdar of higher rank in matters of war.
Secondly, the Mughal Mansabdars were known by the number of – Zat and Sawar. During the last ten years of Akbar’s reign, instead of singular number, Mansabdars rank came to be denoted by two numbers – Zat and Sawar. There was a controversy about the definition of Zat and Sawar. The explanation given by historians Arthar Ali and U. N. Day is generally held valid in academic circles. Accordingly, at first, Zat placed the Mansabdar in appropriate position, which indicated his rank. Sawar determined the number of horses and horsemen the Mansabdar had to furnish.
Secondly Sawar rank was either equal or lower than that of the Zat. Hence the position of the Mansabdar was determined by the Zat number, not that of Sawar. For example, Mansabdar with 4000 Zat and 2000 Sawar (4000/2000 in short) was in higher in rank than a Mansabdar of 3000/3000. Some changes occurred in the reign of Jahangir. A new Sawar rank, Do Aspa Sih Aspa was introduced. In this system, a Mansabdar who got the Sawar rank of Do Aspa Sih Aspa had to maintain double number of Sawars.
For example, a Mansabdar of 3000/3000 was required to maintain 6000 troopers, as the number of Sawar (3000) was to be double in this system. Jahangir did not grant this extraordinary rank to many officers but Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb were more liberal in this respect. Again in the 20th year of his reign, Shah Jahan issued a new regulation under which a Mansabdar, holding a Jagir in India and outside, had to maintain only one-third and one-fourth respectively of their quota of Sawar.
For example, a Mansabdar of 3000/3000 was required to maintain 1000 troopers in India. Mansab rank under the Mughals was not hereditary. The son of a Mansabdar did not inherit the rank from his father. Such grant depended on the will of the emperor. Another important feature of the system was the law of escheat (zabti), according to which when a Mansabdar died, all his property was confiscated by the king. This measure was introduced so that the Mansabdars could not exploit the people at will.
Regarding the payment of the Mansabdars, the system of payment in cash or in assignment of a Jagir existed. Generally, a Mansabdar preferred a Jagir to cash payment due to social status associated with it. ————————————————- The Mansabdari system, introduced by Akbar, was a unique feature of the administrative system of the Mughal empire. But it was, without doubt, a complex system. The system worked properly during the reign of Shah Jahan, who himself took great interest in administration and selection of men including nobles.