Mapping the subahs of the Mughal Empire

When the Dutch, French and British first arrived in India, they found themselves in a subcontinent that was largely under the control of the Mughal empire. For ease of administration, the empire was organised under provinces or subahs and governed by subahdars. Akbar who introduced the system initially created 12 subahs, which expanded to 15 by the end of his rule. These were Agra, Ajmer, Bengal, Bihar, Delhi, Gujarat, Illahabad, Kabul, Lahore, Malwa, Multan, and later Ahmadnagar, Berar, and Khandesh. Shah Jahan added 4 more to the list: Bidar, Kashmir, Tatta, Orissa. Another 4 were added by Aurangzeb during his reign increasing the tally to 23: Arcot, Bijapur, Golkonda, and Sira.

Naturally keeping track of all these subahs would have been a difficult task for the Europeans. And so, they commissioned their own maps to keep apprised of the political geography. Except for the first map, all of the maps featured here were commissioned from local artists by Jean Baptiste Joseph Gentil in 1770. They were also the first maps to be based on an indigenous literary source, the Ain-i-Akbari of Abul-Fazl.

In this photo album we embark on a cartographic adventure to explore some Mughal subahs through European maps of the empire!

Chitralekha is a museum professional based in London. She holds an MA in History of Art from SOAS. Her areas of interests include Indian miniature paintings, decoloniality in museums, and open access in the cultural space.

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