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Parganas were introduced by the Delhi Sultanate, and the word is of Persian origin. As a revenue unit, a pargana consists of several mouzas, which are the smallest revenue units, consisting of one or more villages and the surrounding countryside. Larger subdivisions of parganas were called tarafs (quarters, districts).
Under the reign of Sher Shah Suri, administration of parganas was strengthened by the addition of other officers, including a shiqdar (police chief), an amin or munsif (an arbitrator who assessed and collected revenue) and a karkun (record keeper).
In the 16th century the Mughal emperor Akbar organised the empire into subahs, which were further subdivided into sarkars, roughly the equivalent of districts, which were themselves organised into parganas. In the Mughal system, parganas served as the local administrative units of a sarkar. Individual parganas observed common customs regarding land rights and responsibilities, which were known as the pargana dastur, and each pargana had its own customs regarding rent, fees, wages, and weights and measures, known as the pargana nirikh.
As the British expanded into former Mughal provinces, starting with Bengal, they at first retained the pargana administration, but, under the Governorship of Charles Cornwallis, enacted the Permanent Settlement of 1793, which abolished the pargana system in favour of the zamindari system, in which zamindars were made the absolute owners of rural lands, and abolished the pargana dastur and pargana nirikh. British administration consisted of districts, which were divided into tehsils or taluks. Parganas remained important as a geographical term, persisting in land surveys, village identification, court decrees, etc.
The pargana system persisted in several princely states, including Tonk and Gwalior. Parganas disappeared almost completely after the independence of India and Pakistan in 1947, although the term lives on in place names, like the districts of North 24 Parganas and South 24 Parganas in India's West Bengal state.