The industries during the Mughal Period may be divided into two main categories—agricultural based industries and non-agricultural industries. In Mughal India machines and tools oriented workshops were almost non-existent. Hence most of the Mughal period industrial products were hand-made, designed by indigenous craftsmen and carpenters. Industrial activities were nothing but cottage industry. But several specialized products were produced in different parts of the country and the skill for producing that specialized products had been confined to that region only. Craftsmen of Kashmir had specialization in producing woolen products and Bengal became famous for cotton textile industries.
Among agricultural based industries of Mughal Age, the most important had been the production of various types of sugar products (gur, sugar etc.) from the sugarcane. Similarly mastered oils were produced from mustard seeds and coconut oils from the coconuts. Agricultural products such as tobacco, coffee, indigo and opium were cultivated in large areas. The dyeing industry flourished. The coarser cotton cloths were either dyed or printed with a variety of well-shaped and well-coloured flowers. Locally produced wines had large market. Silk weaving was an important industry in Lahore, Agra and Gujrat.
In Akbar’s reign the system of Palace-workshop (Karkhanas) expanded. The state became producer of heavily everything it required. Apart from the capital there were state factories in other places such as Agra, Lahore, Fatepur and Ahmedabad.
Saltpetra was manufactured in Bihar. Iron ore was found in Golkonda.
During the Mughal rule, India was industrially prosperous but not so advanced in terms of technology. Tools remained the same. There were the royal Karkhanas which had been set up on the Persian model. They catered the needs of the royalty and the nobles. All kinds of experts and specialists such as embroiderers, goldsmiths, silk or brocade manufacturers, painters, tailors, muslin and turban makers worked there.
The manufacture of cotton cloth was the principal industry. Abul Fazl, in his Aini-Akbari refers to the cotton fabrics of Khandesh. The Khasa of Deccan and the chicken products of Lahore and Lucknow were also well-known. Abul Fazl admires the excellent Chautar and Khasa of Saharanpur. There were important centers of cotton manufacture in Gujrat, Orissa, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Bengal.
Silk weaving, through less important than cotton manufacture was a prosperous industry, particularly in Bengal. It was an important industry in Lahore, Agra and Gujrat. But Bengal, write Manucci was the common store house for the silk. In the south there was an important silk producing centre near Coimbatore. The shawls on Kashmir, a woolen product, were best known for its softness and warmth. Akbar called the finest shawl by the name of parus nurm.
Iron was produced in Golkonda while Saltpeter was manufactured in different parts of the country, especially Bihar. Gold and silver industry reached its excellence in the time of Akbar and Shahajahan. The craftsmen of Banaras, Delhi, Gujrat and Agra specialized themselves in the manufacture of gold ornaments and silver vessels. The articles such as jewellery used in temples, particularly in the south were many and varied.
The accounts of the foreign travelers and other contemporary literature throw light on the great volume of inland trade in Mughal India. Each village had a tiny market. Besides annual and seasonal fairs attracted a large number of people from the neighboring villages and towns and a brisk trade was carried on. Again, with the growth of the agrarian economy much wealth was available for investing in trade. Much of the agricultural surplus went not to those who labored to produce it, but to those to whom the producers had to pay rent and taxes. Added to this were the many varieties of taxes collected from the sale of exchange of produce or from using the facilities provided, such as irrigation, works, tools and mills. The existence of wealthy landholders encouraging exchange centers in rural areas led to consumer demand for locally produced items. Such a demand had already existed for necessities such as salt and metals, but now other items could be added.
Carriers of trade ranged from cattle keepers to ship-owners. The hanzaras were cattle keepers who traversed various parts of the sub-continent and became the only medium for transporting goods. They carried all sorts of produce, like food grains, sugar, butter, and salt ladden of hundreds on oxen from place to place. Sometimes these caravans comprised as many as 30,000 to 40,000 oxen. The bhats of Rajputana would guide and protect caravans on dangerous roads for suitable charges. The other means of transporting goods was by river which was comparatively cheap. There were about 30,000 boats in Kashmir during the time of Akbar, while Sind had about 40,000.
Inland trade was greatly affected by heavy taxes imposed at many place, by different authorities. Some of Mughal emperors, especially Akbar, issued orders abolishing most of the imports. Besides the Mughal emperors did make efforts to keep the roads safe for the merchants and traders.