(Last Updated on : 02-04-2014)
The Mughals presided over a territory of great diversity, both ecological and cultural. But the extension of agriculture was at the heart of the ability of the empire to survive and thrive. Despite war booties and tribute, the total amount of grain grown by the cultivator was what guaranteed the splendours of court life. Peasants hacking down the jungle to make way for farmland were rewarded by their revenues being written off for the first few years. In practice, the rulers drew on a range of skills and forms of wealth other than cash revenues. The gifts given as tribute provide an insight into the wealth of the wildlife of that era. Elephants were received as tribute from some North Indian villages in lieu of cash; musk from the musk deer was received from the Mishmi hills in the north-east.
Further, during the Mughal period, there were vast pastures for cattle, firewood was plentiful in most parts of the empire, and many areas had higher rainfall levels comparatively. It is quite possible that more land was forested than was once thought to be the case. Even in the core of the empire only one out of four acres was under the plough. People were even fewer in areas of high rainfall, in dense forests or in places plagued by crop-raiding elephants. Forests were undoubtedly being cleared, but in large regions of Central India and the Chota Nagpur Plateau
, uncultivated lands and forest covered a greater expanse than fields and farms. Land was more abundant than labour. The forests and savannahs were the sites of hunts, great and small, potential revenue-yielding arable land or simply an impediment to military operations. It is believed that the wild spaces could be a hunting ground where prior imperial rights were asserted and enforced. Certain lands had to be set aside to ensure the success of royal hunts. Unlike the elephant forests of the Mauryas, the Mughal locations are easy to map and it is clear there were a range of imperial hunting grounds in different provinces. In the Mughal era, in times of war, denudation was a routine affair.
The picture of Mughal India in terms of the human impact on nature emerges more clearly if contrasted with experiences of contemporary Europe. In that period there existed much larger stretches of contiguous habitat even for the larger land mammals. The Mughals took aboard older traditions of the hunt but added to it significant new features. Habitat of large mammals such as the elephant
and the rhino was broken up were harbinger of larger changes in the land. Falconry, cheetah coursing, horsemanship and archery remained the main pastime of landed aristocracy across much of North and Central India for much longer. Mughal Rulers commissioned paintings and portraits celebrating victory over the beasts of the forests.