Mughal Nobility and Aurangzeb

The unique feature of the Mughal Empire was that the Mughals had an international ruling class. Chandra Bhan Brahman, a contemporary of Shahjahan in his book Chahar Chaman ( or Guldasta) observed that the Mughal nobility was composed of various races, people of various nationalities, various countries, and of various faiths. He further emphasised that the Mughal nobility consisted of the Irais, Turanis, Tajiks, Turks, Arabs, Abbysinians, Afghans, Shaikhzadas, Rajputs, Armenians etc. He is of the opinion that it was an important feature of the Mughal Empire that the Mughals had an international ruling class where the entry of different groups into the aristocracy cut across religious, racial and geographical considerations.

For the countries of Iran and Turan, India was considered the El Dorado, where fortunes could be made. The Safavid Empire and the Uzbek Khanate were places where the beaurocrats were trained as administrators or financiars or military generals, and then migrated to India and absorbed in the Mughal nobility. So in that way the Safavid and Uzbek Khanate were the training ground for the Mughal aristocracy. Most of the begs and bahadurs of Babur were of Turani origin. And after the death of Babur, Humayun was faced with a difficulty of facing or dealing with a comparatively independent and hostile aristocracy. Most of the difficulties with which Humayun was faced were the creation of his nobles because the tribal outlook of the Afghan nobility during the reigns of Babur and Humayun had influenced the central outlook of the Mughal nobility to the extent that the Mughal nobles were not so obedient to Humayun as they should have been: More so at a time when the empire was faced with a serious crisis.

After the re-establishment of the Mughal Empire in India and the accession of Akbar in 1556, at the initial stages, the nobility of Akbar also consisted of mostly the Turanis, with a small sprinkling of Iranis. Akbar being an intelligent person realised the danger to the empire in the light of an exclusive presence of the Turanis and Iranis. If the empire solely depended on these two elements, it was not a healthy sign for the expansion and consolidation of the Mughal Empire: the moment support was withdrawn by them, it could endanger the very existence of the empire. The aggressive attitude of a section of nobles during the early years of Akbar’s reign was also an eye-opener. Thus to counterbalance the growing influence of this foreign element in the nobility Akbar started a new policy of recruiting the Rajputs and the Shaikhzadas into the Mughal aristocracy. One thing which we should remember is that the Rajputs started being recruited in 1562, that is much before the initiation of his new religious policy. Thus these recruitments were not a result of his tolerant policy. Till now he was not a tolerant king. The recruitment of the Rajputs was in view of administrative necessity. Once recruited in service, the religious attitude was bound to change. Precisely this was also the period when the Shaikhzadas – the Syeds of Baraha, the Syeds of Amroha, the shaikhzadas of Delhi and Hisar Firuza etc were all promoted to counterbalance the growing power of the Iranis and Turanis. Akbar was hostile to the Afghans that is why no Afghan officer worth the name was recruited or promoted. He could not forget that they had expelled his father from Hindustan. So during the reign of Akbar there was a predominance of Turanis, Rajputs and Shaikhzadas. Jahangir promoted the Khurasanis on a large scale mainly because of the political compulsions. He also promoted the Shaikhzadas as he had a very high opinion about the Syeds of Baraha. He used to cite a saying of Mirza Aziz Koka that the Syeds of Baraha are responsible for warding off evil against the empire. Jahangir said that the Baraha Saadat were brave by birth and there was no important engagement in the empire in which they did not distinguish themselves. He also promoted the family members of Shaikh Salim Chishti of Fathpur Sikri. He also promoted the Bundelas and the Hill Rajput rajas. That is why Mirza Aiz Koka wrote in a very strong letter to Jahangir (surviving in the collection of letters of Sh. Jalal Hisari) in which he alleged that Jahangir was discriminating against the Turanis and the Rajputs, the two main supporters of the empire.

Whether this allegation is correct or not, we must not forget that the Bundelas and the hill rajas were Rajputs par excellence. What Mirza Aiz Koka was reflecting was the dominating opinion of the Sisodias and Kachhwahas that they were the real Rajputs.

There is nothing to deny the fact that Iranis were in a pre-dominant position in the Mughal court and the role of Nur Jahan Begum in promoting Iranis was also substantial.

When Shahjahan ascended the throne he was conscious of the fact that the Iranis occupied a pre-dominant position and some check was to be excercised on their recruitment to remove intolerance which was thus caused. So Shahjahan emphasised his Turani origins and was very proud of it. He also adopted the title of sahib qiran-i sani. In the early years of his reign he promoted the Turanis just to reduce the Iranis. Iranis were to be taught a lesson. Yet the fact remains that in spite of this over-emphasis of Turanis, the Iranis continued to occupy important positions as they were very competent as financiers and administrators. Their services could not be dispensed with without risking administrative efficiency of the Empire. They were extremely cultured. Anand Ram Mukhlis in his Mirat ul Istilah (compiled 1740) says that the Badakhshis were boorish and vulgar, while the Iranis were considered highly cultured.

Thus as they were highly cultured and experienced administrators, throughout the Mughal period they had a very prominent position at the Mughal court.

During the reign of Aurangzeb, the numerical strength of the Turanis declined as degeneration and decline had set in the Uzbek Khanate with the result that the trained bureaucrats were not available in the Mughal Empire from Central Asia. It was also precisely the period when decline also set in at the Safavid Empire. But the decline in the Safavid Empire was not so fast as in the Uzbek Khananate: The result was that although the Turanis continued to migrate, their number declined. The Iranis maintained their strength in the Mughal court even during this period because the nobles who came from Golcunda etc from the Deccan were mostly Iranis. So in spite of the sharp decline in Safavid Empire and the migration from Iran, the Iranis maintained their strength as those from Bijapur and Golcunda added to their strength.

Another reason for the decline of Turanis and the still continued direct recruitment of the Iranis was that unlike Shahjahan, Aurangzeb was not at all interested in the North West Frontier for expansion. He had reconciled himself with the loss of Qandhar. So their services were not a must. Aurangzeb was convinced that there was no threat from the Uzbeks. His hands were brimming with the affairs of the Deccan. He had spent about 27 years of his life in the Deccan in the process of trying to annex it. Now his policy was what Mirza Raja Jai Singh had advocated in 1666. and once the objective was to annex, the people their were to be given the status of the ruling class. Thus the Marathas were recruited on a large scale. The Deccani Afghans also joined at a large scale. These new entrants in the Mughal aristocracy were recruited obviously at the cost of the Turanis and the Rajputs. Thus both these groups resented the inclusion of Marathas and the Afghans as they considered the Mughal Empire as their reserve. Now there was competition which they faced in their turf.

The tremendous increase in the numerical strength of the Marathas and the Afghans led to an increase in the strength of the Mughal bureaucracy under Aurangzeb. Under him there were around 31% non-Muslims, while under Akbar there were only 22% – and yet the communal historians call him a bigot!

But at the same time, the inclusion of the Marathas in the second half of Aurangzeb’s reign must not be considered that he was following a secular policy or a more tolerant policy than that of Akbar: It was an administrative necessity which was needed to annex and consolidate the Deccan. The primary factor governing the policy of a Mughal emperor was his political necessity.

But the policy of Aurangzeb to pacilfy Marathas was not a success because unlike the Rajput society, the Maratha society was not clan based. Further, both these new recruits, the Afghans and the Marathas, were not loyal to the empire as such. In fact two disturbers to peace were promoted by no less a person than Aurangzeb himself.

Factional Struggle in the Ruling Class:

One cardinal principle of the Mughal ruling class was that in spite of it having an international character, and consisting of, as Chandrabhan says, of many clans and nations, there was unity in diversity. There was unity on one point: loyalty to the ruler, which was taken for granted. And that is why the Mughals permitted that each group should maintain their cultural identity. But then sometimes the maintenance cultural identity provided a basis for factional struggle. There were two probable causes for this:

A) By convention the share in the usufruct of the land was fixed for each group: so much for the Iranis, that much for Turanis and so forth. The index of determination in the usufruct of the empire was award of mansabs. And whenever there was an imbalance in this conventional division of loaves and fishes, the section which was adversely affected in this division, resented the curtailment of the share. More often than not, the expression of this resentment was rebellion.

B) When the nobles lost confidence in the economic stability of the empire and when they were convinced that for their survival the pressure tactics were a must, so exercise pressure on the administrative machinery of the empire, the formations of the groups was a must and when the groups were to be formed there should be some basis for these formations. The cultural identity served as the basis for the formation of the groups.

When the groups were formed, each group would start thinking in terms of their group and not in the term of the Empire. Result was the dis-integration of the Empire. This group politics in the Mughal Empire originated from the Jagirdari crisis.

During the second half of Aurangzeb’s reign it became apparent that the groups were thinking in their own interests and not in terms of the Empire. Even before Aurangzeb we have seen a political crisis in which there were groups. At the death of Akbar, the Turanis and some Rajputs had supported Khusrau while the Shaikhzadas and a section of Rajputs were with Salim. Thus groups had formed even before on racial basis. But towards the end of Aurangzeb’s reign, there was a subtle change. Before whenever there was formation of groups, it was on cultural basis and due to personal equations. This was apparent not only on the accession crisis after the death of Akbar but also in 1658 during the War of Succession. On both the occasions, the guiding spirit was the personal loyalty to the fighting princes. That was not a dangerous development. Groups which were formed in the second half of Aurangzeb’s reign, and more so after Aurangzeb’s death assumed dangerous proportions with each group trying to consolidate their position at the expense of the Mughal Empire. It was this which sounded the death knell of the Mughal Empire.

Court Patronized Arts under Aurangzeb: Music and Paintings

bherī or dhol, from the chapter on instruments. Ghunyat al-Munya (British Library IO Islamic 1863, f. 47v)

A number of arts were actively given patronage by the Imperial Mughals. Amongst them the most prominent were music, paintings, calligraphy and architecture: no royal court, imperial or sub-imperial were without them.

We know that when Babur came to India, he was accompanied by painters, architects and musicians. However, distinct “schools” of Mughal Art and Architecture arose only during the reign of his grandson Akbar. Foundations of a Mughal Atelier of Miniature paintings were laid during this period. Similarly in the other fields like music and architecture new beginnings were made. The reign of Jahangir saw the growth in these courtly arts. Finally, the period of Shahjahan is supposed to be the period of zenith as far as these aesthetic arts were concerned. As per the general and popular understanding the reign of Aurangzeb however marked a decline of these arts. Here we will see whether this popular perception of “decline” under an “orthodox” Aurangzeb holds water or not.

I. Music:   It is generally stressed that one of the worst sufferers during the reign of Aurangzeb was the art of Music. It has been argued that Aurangzeb being a bigot was against music which he banned soon after ascending the throne. There has been an overwhelming reliance on just two near contemporary sources, Manucci’s Storia do Mogor (begun 1699) and Khafi Khan’s Muntakhab al-Lubab (begun 1718). According to Manucci, he not only ‘banned’ music from the court but also arrested those from whose houses he heard its sound. He would also break the instruments. This resulted in a ‘great destruction of musical instruments as well.

However we have a different kind of information as well.

After the death and execution of Dara, we have evidence (cited by Jadunath, vol. III) that Aurangzeb demanded from Shahjahan women singers of Dara. Why? – ‘As there is no skilled songstress with me whose music may soothe my ears!’

Even after 1668 when the ban on music is said to have been imposed, we find that music still remained not only as part of court functions – the ensemble – but also within the haram. Manucci himself tells us that music remained allowed for queens and the princesses. Manucci also provides us with the names of 33 Superintendants in the haram who were ‘overseers of music’. They had Hindu names – Surosh Bai, Chanchal Bai, Dhyan Bai etc – who were however Muslims. Each had under her charge about 10 apprentices. Manucci further informs us that each queen had her own set of musicians.

In a letter reproduced both by Ruqqat-i Alamgiri and Rag Darpan, written to his son Muhammad A‘zam Shah around c.1690 Aurangzeb demonstrates that, at least in private, the exact opposite was the case. In praising his own father’s way of life, he wrote:

After sunset he retired from the ‘Divan-i-Am’, offered evening prayers and (then) entered his special private chamber. There were present sweet tongued historians, eloquent story-tellers, sweet-voiced musicians [qawwalani khush al-han]. . .In short, His Majesty passed, till midnight, the hours of day and night, in this manner, and (thus) did justice to life and sovereignty. As (my) paternal love regarding (my) son is from the heart (i.e. true) and not from the pen (i.e. false), I was obliged to write and inform (my) dear son what was good and valuable.

It conclusively demonstrates contrary to expectation that he considered the patronage and performance of music, at least in relation to the qawwals, to be essentially ‘good and valuable’. In this letter he strongly recommends Shah Jahan’s practice to his son. It is impossible to argue on this basis that Aurangzeb actively discouraged his subjects from listening to music.

That his patronage was not simply a concession to court ceremonial is demonstrated by Bakhtawar Khan in the Mir’at-i ‘Alam, which describes Aurangzeb as possessing a ‘perfect expert’s knowledge’ of, and enjoying, the musical art. The high-ranking nobleman Faqirullah described Aurangzeb’s favourite singers and instrumentalists by name in 1666 in his musical treatise Rag Darpan, and noted the emperor’s enthusiastic enjoyment of their talents.

We have further evidence to show that music in fact was never buried deep!

More musical treatises in Persian were written during Aurangzeb’s reign than in the previous 500 years of Muslim rule in India, and all of them make significant references to current music making.

The two major Persian language works on music, the Rag Darpan and the Tuhfat ul Hind were written during Aurangzeb’s reign. Both works are very crucial for Hindustani music history. Rag Darpan was written in 1665 by Faqirullah, an expert of music recruited in Mughal service during the reign of Shahjahan. Under Aurangzeb he was not only bestowed a title, Saif Khan, but also elevated as the governor of three subas: Kashmir, Allahabad and Multan. The work is a translation of the famous treatise on music, Man Kautuhal originally written at Gwalior under Raja Man Singh Tomar (1486-1516).

Tuhfat ul Hind, on the other hand was written by a person known either as Mirza Jan / Mirza Khan / Mirza Muhammad. It is in five parts, of which one is totally devoted to music. One of its chapters deals with tala (musical metres). This work was written either for Aurangzeb or for his favourite son Prince Azam, a great patron of literature, poetry and music.

As Prince Azam was only fifteen years old in 1668, and died in the same year as his father, Katherine Butler Brown points out, his entire career as a patron coincided with the years of Aurangzeb’s supposed ‘ban’. A‘zam was famous for his superior musicianship. According to Bindraban Das, (Safina-i Khushgu), he was unequalled in his knowledge of the fundamentals of music and dance, and even the great masters asked his advice. He possessed a perfect command of many genres of Hindavi poetry, and he was above all famed for his excellent musical compositions.

Not only music continued to exist but it also actively evolved during this reign. this is demonstrated by the modern works of Bonnie C Wade and Katherine Butler Brown. Thus from a Sanskrit work – an important text on music – prepared during the same reign (1665) Sangitaparijata of Ahobala, we come to know that the tambur, a drone instrument, came to be indigenized and was available both in its fretted and unfretted version.

The reign of Aurangzeb was a reign of popularisation of music. The Mirzanama of Mirza Kamran, written no earlier than 1672, shows that musical patronage continued as customary amongst the Mughal amirs. The popular masnavi of Muhammad Akram Ghanimat, Nairang-i ‘Ishq, written in 1685, makes extensive (if partly allegorical) commentary on the presence of musicians and dancers at mehfils he attended, one of whom he famously fell in love with. A large number of Aurangzeb’s amirs are remembered as patrons of music during his reign, including many who were his close associates and relatives. The father of Aurangzeb’s principal wife, Shah Nawaz Khan Safavi, is described in the Ma’asir al-Umara’ as having ‘given his heart to rag. . . He gathered together singers and instrumentalists, the like of which were not to be found in any other place at that time’.

An examination of Mughal tazkiras like the Safina-yi Khushgu (1724–35), the Ma’asir al-Umara‘ (1742–47), and the final chapter of the Rag Darpan (1666) reveals that music was patronized through a series of friendship circles with mutual interests in music, poetry, and Sufism, and that musical treatises also circulated through such friendship circles (Brown 2003:44–45,60,128– 33; Schofield). Only one known writer mentioned performers as potential readers of such texts, and only in passing (Qazi Hasan SJ: f. 3b, ASB:f.4a).Instead,Faqirullah, the high-ranking author of the most important musical treatise of the seventeenth century, the Rag Darpan,wrote explicitly for the elite connoisseur—the man of enlightenment or discernment (the. sahib-i nazar, the arbab-i khirad, the xamir-i munir [1996:224, 108, 74 180])—but more importantly for his personal friends (yaran and dustan), specifically those “whose entire pleasure (zauq) is in music” (222–25); this in turn invokes the ahl-i zauq, the term for “connoisseur” that made its way into Urdu.Indeed,I argue elsewhere that connoisseurship itself was and still is gendered masculine: that is, the all-important ideal listener in Hindustani music, equally responsible with the musician for the success or failure of the performance, is male, and the patronage and connoisseurship of music is in part about reinforcing male forms of sociality around an experience that is heightened by the knowledge of esoterica that gives shared pleasure and a sense of solidarity to men in the know, and acts to separate them from men who aren’t (Schofield forthcoming). The musical object of the connoisseur- ship of social elites is thus by definition marked as socially exclusive.

According to Katherine Butler Schofield it was during Aurangzeb’s reign that the process of recodifying Sanskrit and earlier works of music gained an impetus and manifested itself in earnest in the Persian language. A number of treatises designed to satisfy the needs of high-ranking connoisseurs of Hindustani music who were more comfortable in the offical language of the Mughal empire were compiled and prepared. The following six key treatises in Persian, according to her, became the ‘canonical core’ of Mughal music theory for the next two hundred years:

1) The Miftāḥ al-Sarūd or Key to Music: a translation of a lost Sanskrit work called Bhārata-saṅgīta by Mughal official Qazi Hasan, written for Aurangzeb in 1664 near Daulatabad. Although this treatise is not itself available in the British Library (there is a beautiful 1691 illustrated copy in the Victoria and Albert Museum IS.61:1-197), a précis of it appears in the margins of some copies of the 1547 Persian translation of al-Qazwini’s famous Wonders of Creation.

II. Painting:  Aurangzeb’s reign is not known for its encouragement to painting. He is said to have forbade the art at the court and showed no interest in its developments. However, if we believe contemporaries like Bernier, the Royal Atelier was still in function – at least in the early years of his reign. Under Shahjahan, the depiction of court and the personality of the emperor had been transformed to visions of cosmic splendour. A case in point would be the Windsor Castle Padshahnama: highly accomplished self confident works of art, highly ritualized public life, formal settings, bright colours and use of gold, which heightens the scene’s opulence and grandeur.

Now under Aurangzeb, the quantity, quality and range of Mughal paintings is said to have considerably declined: still from whatever survives from this reign, it appears that the idealized tendencies of Shahjahan’s reign still continued. A case in point can be, according to Catherine Asher, the composition done by Hashim in c. 1658 preserved in Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Harvard University of Arts Museum, Cambridge. But then unlike Shahjahani works, its undefined background and inconsistent modelling seems somewhat simplified and flat.

Thevenot while giving a critical analysis of the paintings which he saw says that the ‘deficiency’ was not of the art per se but due to the fact that the artists ‘are not encouraged’ instead ‘these unhappy men are condemned, with harshness, and inadequately renumerated for their labour’.

As J.F. Richards in his New Cambridge History of India points out, during this reign a new moralistic and legalistic tone began to undermine the eclectic and inclusive Mughal Court Culture so brilliantly nurtured by Akbar and Jahangir. The Mughal paintings and style began to ossify by 1658: What had begun as an extra-ordinary burst of creativity under Humayun and Akbar, now slowly hardened into an officially accepted style with increasingly rigid representational and thematic conventions. The painters now simply followed established studio formulae, rather than invent new ones.

However, as Portraits were more politically useful, they continued to be produced especially in the early years of Aurangzeb’s reign.

During his lifetime, Aurangzeb was often represented in one of two ways: either as a warrior for Islam or as a devout Muslim ruler reading a Qu’ran. As compared to the lavish paintings of Shah Jahan’s period, the artistic style radically changed. Artists tended to paint simple individual portrait studies. The paintings were often painted in the nim-qalam (tinted drawing) technique with hints of and gold. Artists seemed to steer away from the developed backgrounds landscape settings. In fact, it was exceptionally rare for artists to paint historic scenes. Contemporary accounts do not offer a precise explanation for the decline in the painting traditions. Contributing factors may have included Aurangzeb’s curtailing of state expenditure, banning histories in praise of the emperor, forbidding music and dancing for pleasure at the court, and increased religiosity.

It is held that in 1665 Aurangzeb, whose interest in painting was on the decline, even went so far as to shut down the imperial studios. Artists, henceforth deprived of imperial favour and support, sought to place themselves in the service of new patrons, often chosen from among the nobles and major dignitaries. A brief pictorial revival characterised the turbulent and unhappy reign of Emperor Muhammad Shah (r. 1719–1748), which the sack of Delhi by the Persian Nadir Shah in 1739 would bring to a brutal and tragic end.

What is Saracenic Architecture ?

According to a modern writer, Fergusson’s writings on the history of Indian architecture through his construction of religious and racial categories was entirely ‘in terms of the buttressing of a single, homogenous colonial project’1, and a ‘source of ideas for the improvement of architecture in England’.2 In this classification attempted by Fergusson, he was guided by the Rankean historicism and European susceptibilities. Taste was the measure of perfection against which the stylistic units were classified. In his schema of world architecture, there were two ‘dimensions’, one chronological and the other topographical on the basis of which to divide the various styles. In the first category, according to him, the world architecture could be divided into Christian and Non-Christian or ‘Heathen’. These two divisions, according to him were ‘very nearly equal in the importance of the objects described, and very easily distinguished from another.’3 Topographically, all architecture could be classified as either Eastern, or West Asian. According to him the two great styles however were the Christian and the Saracenic which sprang from the Roman which ‘was the great transitional style between the ancient and modern world’.4

It is interesting to note that although Fergusson employs the term ‘Saracenic’ to collectively designate the styles and traditions as they developed after the coming of the Turks, his attitude towards it is more positive. The ‘Saracenic’ or ‘Mahommadan’ started with ‘Ghazni’ style, which was a stepping stone by which the western architecture was introduced in India. In fact, the fusion of Islam in India, in the words of Fergusson, freed the Indian artists from the ‘trammells of Puranic mythology’.5

Fergusson’s sub-classification of Saracenic architecture of India shows it to be a mixture of Hindu and Muslim forms. His classification of architecture was thus aimed at propagating the colonial interests of projecting the ‘decaying’ nature of the Eastern Civilization and the superiority of the West. On the other hand, this scheme, as Juneja points out, was also an attempt to “assimilate the ‘other’.”6

A severe critique of Fergusson was ultimately made by E.B. Havell who faulted the former for a lack of “essential Indianness” in the use of racial or ethnic categories.7 Havell found fault with Fergusson’s ‘persistent habit of looking outside of India for the origins of Indian art’.8 According to him all “Saracenic symbolism in architecture” was borrowed directly or indirectly “from India, Persia, Byzantium or Alexandria”.9 To Havell, the mihrāb was a Buddhist loan of the niche to Islam. Even the term butkhāna used by the Arabs for the temples was a corruption of ‘Boud-khana’ or Buddha-house.10 In fact he went on to argue that the ‘Saracenic’ art which came to India had been Indianized before it crossed the Indus.11 Thus the bulbous dome, as at the Taj Mahal, was a derivation from the Buddhist Stupa tradition.12

The obsession with ‘Indianness’ and identification with Aryan philosophy pervades the entire work of Havell. His first chapter, in the form of an introduction, deals with ‘Hindu and Saracenic art’ and the ‘Pointed Arch’. The next chapter elaborates on ‘Hindu Symbolism’ and the indigenous origins of the Taj. The next three chapters are in a chronological treatment of various regional styles like Delhi, Gujarat, Gulbarga, Mandu, Sarkhej and Gaur. The sixth chapter focuses on architectural elements like Indian arches, brackets, capitals, domes and sikhara. The next eight chapters again have a chronological framework.

A perusal of Havell’s work brings out the sum total of all the prejudices of a colonial and communal approach. The term ‘Saracenic’ appears like an anathema with all its prejudices unhindered.

The term ‘Saracenic Architecture’ was used for the styles followed by the ‘Moors’ (Muslims). The term had a long pedigree going back to the period of Crusades fought between the Christians and the Muslims. It connoted an architecture of the followers of Islam who conquered Persia, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Arabia and Spain. It was chiefly an architecture of temples and mosques. Amongst its characteristic features were counted the pointed or horse shoe arch, domes, minarets, coloured decorations with red, blue, green and gold geometrical patterns and designs, an emphasis on arabesque and a total absence of sculptures.

Having its origins in the Crusades, the term Saracenic was sometimes used in the pejorative sense. Fergusson, on the other hand, used the term as an all purpose name for the Muslim Architecture, whether in India or outside. Unlike Havell, Fergusson appears to be fairly aware and conscious of the term’s negative connotation and thus alternates the term with ‘Mahommadan’.

Even shorn of its pejorative sense, the term ‘Saracenic’ is still problematic: It borrowed heavily from two very diverse sources. On the one hand it included Persian tradition or style which was based on the vault; on the other it also included the Roman and Greek traditions from which it borrowed the true arch and the dome. Muslims joined both the streams to give shape to the ‘Saracenic’ or Muslim style.

The term ‘Saracenic’ is now out of use. The term in use presently is ‘Islamic Architecture’, and for India, Indo-Islamic. The term in any of its form further is consciously religious and thus still problematic.

The term Saracenic / Mahommadan or Islamic Architecture for the medieval period in India used in the way that Fergusson, or for that matter Havell used, would convey the pre-supposed use of arcuate: Arcuate being Islamic and Trabeate, Hindu.

Indo-Saracenic Architecture in the Colonial Period

The Indo-Saracenic style, also recognised as Indo-Gothic, was a style of architecture used by the British architects in the late 19th Century in India. It drew elements from native Indian architecture, and combined it with the Gothic revival style. In India, it was followed by a combination of different styles specific to the regions – Edwardian Baroque with Indo-Saracenic and a fusion with European architecture. 

In Edwardian Baroque with Indo-Saracenic style, the building designs were adopted from the Mughal and Rajputana styles of architecture. Key features of this category were use of Jalis – decorated stone screens – Chajjas, domes, and so on. This era also marked the accomplishment of two contrasting cultures, Indo-Saracenic Art or Indian -Islamic Art. 

The architecture of Syria and Egypt acquired a fundamental character of its own distinguished by standardised forms and concepts. The other side of Indo-Saracenic dealt with fusion with European Architecture. 

Many European architects who arrived in India took the elements of the Indo-Saracenic architecture and applied the same to the Gothic and Victorian architecture popular at that time and also to many buildings built during the 19th Century. The Palace in Mysore is a fine example of this style. IndoSaracenic architecture in India came into prominence during the latter part of the 19th Century. With the coming of the pattern, a majority of the patrons felt that they needed to be part of a particular style, which at times led to a highly inventive blend of Western and Oriental design. 

Characteristics of Indo Saracenic, which were considered for a majority of buildings of this style were onion (bulbous) domes, overhanging eaves, pointed arches, vaulted roofs, domed kiosks, pinnacles, towers or minarets, harem windows, open pavilions and pierced open archading. The chief historians of this style of architecture were Robert Fellowes Chisholm, Charles Mant, Henry Irwin, William Emerson, George Wittet and Frederick Stevens. Architecture of this era gave rise to grand public buildings, such as clock towers, courthouses, civic and municipal establishments, government colleges, town halls, railway stations, museums, and art galleries. Blend of Muslim designs and Indian materials developed by British architects in India during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries were perfect reflections of Indo-Saracenic architecture. Diverse Hindu and Mughal architectural elements were combined with Gothic cusped arches, domes, spires, tracery, minarets and stained glass, in a wonderful, almost playful manner in this epoch.

Indo-Saracenic architecture found its way into public buildings of all sorts, such as railway stations, banks and insurance buildings, educational institutions, clubs and museums. Chepauk Palace in Chennai designed by Paul Benfield is said to be the first Indo-Saracenic building in India, which incorporated elements and motifs of Hindu and Islamic precedents. Other outstanding examples are spread across the country – the Muir College at Allahabad, Napier Museum at Thiruvananthapuram, the Post Office, Prince of Wales Museum, University Hall and Library, and Gateway of India in Mumbai, M.S. University, Lakshmi Vilas Palace at Baroda, the Central Railway station, Law courts, Victoria Public Hall, Museum and University Senate House in Chennai, and the Palaces at Mysore and Bangalore.

Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus: Its majestic appearance best represents the architecture of colonial India. The combination of brick and stone along with various oriental elements enhances the appearance of CST. The domed roof is highlighted with designed ornamentation. CST is a blend of Victorian, Hindu and Islamic styles emphasising on buttresses, domes, turrets, spires and stained-glass windows. The Central Dome has eight decorated ribs highlighting Victorian elements. Adding to the station’s beauty are stained glass windows, colourful tiles and decorative iron grilles. Beneath the dome are brilliantly coloured stained glass windows, decorated with foliage. 

Engineering, Agriculture and Commerce are represented by the gaples crowned by sculptures. The Neo-Gothic vaulted roof with wooden ribs over the hall provides an impression of Victorian Gothic elements. Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus is the best example of Victorian Gothic architecture in India.

Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi


[1] For a detailed analysis on this see Monica Juneja, Architecture in Medieval India, Forms, Contexts, Histories, Permanent Black, Delhi, 2001, pp. 14-25

[2] Fergusson, History of Indian and Eastern Architecture, op.cit., pp.5-6

[3] Ibid, vol. I, p. vii

[4] Ibid, I, viii

[5] Ibid., pp.45-46

[6] Juneja, op.cit., p. 19

[7] E.B. Havell, Indian Architecture: Its Psychology, Structure, and History from the First Muhammadan Invasion to the Present Day, London, 1913, pp. 1-13

[8] Ibid., p. 2

[9] Ibid., p. 4

[10] Ibid., pp.5-6

[11] Ibid., p. 11

[12] Ibid., pp. 23-24

Administration under Shivaji

Our only contemporary source for the Maratha administration of this period is John Fryer: all others are later works. In the kingdom of Shivaji, the Brahmins were highly respected but they were always in chains as Fryer remarked. Because they were revenue officials, so whenever they could not realize the amount, they were imprisoned. Shivaji adopted extremely harsh measures against the Canarese, who were Maratha speaking people, as well as the Kundis who were agriculturists par excellence. They were exploited to the maximum limit. Three-fourth (3/4th) of the actual yield of the soil was taken in revenue. The whole agrarian system of Shivaji was based on tyranny and the exploitation was the rule and not an exception. In the military administration, Fryer says, the maxim was ‘No plunder, No pay!’ Fryer says that the army of Shivaji consisted of half-naked rascals. The army was not paid regularly. The soldiers were asked to plunder the area to meet their pay claims. Shivaji had an infantry and a comparatively strong navy.

On taking royal powers, Shivaji assumed the title of haindava dharmodhārak (protector of the Hindu faith). In spite of this he did not hesitate to plunder mercilessly the Hindu population of the area.

His system of administration was largely based on the administrative practices of the Deccani states.

The contention of the modern scholars that Shivaji had eight ministers is misleading. He had only eight secretaries who had no discretion in administrative affairs or matters. These were the eight ashtapradhānas, translated by Sarkar and others as ‘ministers’. Each of them was directly responsible to the ruler: thus, in other words, there was no ‘council of ministers’.

The peshwa were ministers who looked after the finance and general administration.

The commander of the army, senapati, also known as sar-i naubat held a post of honour. He was generally one of the leading Maratha chieftains. Majumdar was the accountant. The household affairs and intelligence were looked after by the waqi’a nawis. The office of Correspondence was looked after by chitnis or surunawis.

Like in other Muslim courts, the master of ceremonies in the court was the dabīr who also helped the Maratha ruler in his dealings with foreign powers.

The nyāyadhīsh and pandit rao were the incharge of department of Justice and Charitable Affairs (to give grants).

The Asthapradhans:

  • Peshwa or the Chief Minister- He looked after general administration.
  • Amatya or Majumdar– Accountant general, he later became revenue and finance mnister.
  • Sachiv or Surunavis– Also called Chitnis; he looked after the Royal correspondence.
  • Sumant or Dabir- Foreign affairs and the master of Royal ceremonies.
  • Senapati or Sari-i-Naubat- Military commander. He looked after the recruitment, training and discipline of army.
  • Mantri or Waqia Navis– Personal safety of the king, he looked after the intelligence, post and household affairs.
  • Nyayadhish- Administration of Justice
  • Punditrao- Looking after charitable and religious affairs of the state. He worked for the moral upliftment of the people.
  • Apart from the departmental duties, three of the ministers- Peshwas, Schiva and the Mantri were also given incharge of extensive provinces.
  • All ministers, except the Panditrao and the Nyayadish, had to serve in a war whenever necessary.

Minister was assisted by a staff of eight clerks

  • Diwan – secretary
  • Mujumdar – auditor and accountant
  • Fadnis – deputy auditor
  • Sabnis or Daftardar – office incharge
  • Karkhanis – commissary
  • Chitins – correspondence clerk
  • Jamdar – treasurer
  • Potnis – cashier

Shivaji strictly regulated the “mirasdars,” (mirasdarswere those who had the hereditary rights in land). Later mirasdars grew and strengthened themselves by building strongholds and castles in the villages. Likewise, they had become unruly and seized the country. He also destroyed their bastions and forced them to surrender.

Shivaji divided entire territory into three provinces, each under a viceroy. He further divided the provinces into Prants then Pargana and Tarafs. The lowest unit was the village which was headed by its headman or Patel.

The form of government was the worst type of dictatorship. The titles which were awarded by Shivaji to his officials were the mixture of Bijapuri and Mughal titles. High sounding titles were given to petty officials. The subadar under Shivaji was equivalent to the thanedar under the Mughals; and the faujdar under Shivaji was equivalent to chaukidars under the there were high sounding posts with small jurisdictions.

However the most distinctive feature of Shivaji’s administration was his organization of army and the revenue system. We come to know that under Shivaji, cash salaries were given to the soldiers. Some chiefs could also be given saranjām or revenue grants. The strict discipline in the army meant that no woman or dancing girl was allowed to accompany the army.

The regular army (paga) consisted of cavalry (30,000 to 40,000); then there were silahdārs (auxillaries) supervised by havaldars who received fixed salaries. The forts were put in the charge of three men of equal rank – to guard against treachery.

The revenue system was patterned on the system of Malik Ambar. In 1679 Annaji Datto completed the new revenue assessment. Shivaji further continued with the deshmukhi (zamindari) system and awarded mokasa (jagirs) to his officials.

Chauth: Origin & Significance

Revenue Administration:

Shivaji abolished the Jagirdari Systemand replaced with Ryotwari System, and changes in the position of hereditary revenue officials which was popularly known as Deshmukhs, Deshpande, Patils and Kulkarnis.

Shivaji strictly supervised the Mirasdarswho had hereditary rights in land.

The revenue system was patterned on the Kathi system of Malik Amber. According to this system, every piece of land was measured by Rod or Kathi.

Chauth and Sardeshmukhi were other sources of income: Chauth was amounted to 1/4th of the standard which was paid to Marathas as a safeguard against Shivaji’s forces plundering or raiding Non-Maratha territories. Sardeshmukhi was an additional levy of 10 percent demanded from areas outside from the kingdom.

Maratha Territory under Shivaji

Azad Bilgrami remarked in 1761 that the Marathas, in spite of attaining most brilliant success in the battlefields, were not like emperors or kings but like zamindars. Meaning thereby – that the horizon of the Maratha leaders was limited. The entire basis of the Maratha state was tyranny and the Marathas were a failure as an empire. They could not work out even a repository of a political authority. The Raja of Satara was reduced to the position of a puppet by the Peshwas; and the Peshwas in turn, were reduced to nothingness by Nana Fardnawis [Nana Phadnis]. So they could not work out even the repository of political authority: and this was an inbuilt defect.

Chauth was a customary tax which was realized by the zamindars. It was 1/4th of the assessed revenue. During the 17th Century, the Mughal Emperor used to pay chauth to the ruler of Kathiawar. That is it was an amount which a superior authority paid to a lesser authority. Likewise, the Portuguese paid chauth on western coast to some zamindars.

The chauth levied by Shivaji has been erroneously confused with the subsidiary alliance of Lord Wellesley. Under the scheme of Wellesley, if a state paid subsidy to the British, his protection was in the hands of the Britishers. But here the Marathas after realizing the chauth provided protection against none except themselves: that is, they undertook not to plunder that area themselves. So practically it was a system of blackmail. So after realizing chauth the Marathas undertook no guarantee for them. It was 1/4th of the assessed revenue. This signified the zamindar outlook of the Marathas: they theoretically never thought beyond that. So the origin of chauth was from the zamindari rights and the term existed before the emergence of the Marathas as a political entity.

Sardeshmukhi was 1/10 th of the assessed revenue. That also was connected with the customary claim on the usufruct of the land.

Military Administration

Shivaji organised a disciplined and efficient army. The ordinary soldiers were paid in cash, but big chief and military commander were paid through jagir grants (Saranjam or Mokasa).

The army consists of Infantry i.e. Mavali foot soldiers; Cavalry i.e. Horse riders and equipment holders; Navy.

Military Personnel 

Sar-i-Naubat (Senapati)-Incharge of army

Qiladars- Officers of Forts

Nayak- Head of the member unit of infantry

Havaldar- Head of five Nayaks

Jumladar- Head of five Nayaks

Ghuraw- Boats laden with guns

Gallivat- Rowing boats 40-50 rowers

Paik- Foot SoldiersThe army was effective instrument of policies of Marathas State where rapidity of movement was the most important factors. Only in the rainy season, the army get rested otherwise rest of the year was engaged in expeditions.

Pindaries were allowed to accompany the army who were allowed to collect“Pal-Patti” which was 25% of war booty.

Education under Aurangzeb

A Madrasa Scene: Mark the boys & girls studying together

Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi

During the reign of Aurangzeb an attempt was made to introduce free education, but unfortunately the attempts were not successful. However as an experiment Aurangzeb ordered the opening of madrasas to cater to the Bohras of Gujarat. Teachers were appointed and a system of monthly examination was introduced. It was further ordained that the result of the students would be communicated to the emperor for his personal assessment.

Bernier, the French traveller who was in India during Aurangzeb’s reign, deplored the deficiencies of the educational system. To prove his point, he quoted Aurangzeb’s reproaches against his tutor for having wasted time on grammar and metaphysics, while ignoring geography, history, and politics. [Bernier pp. 155–57]

 No attempt was made to control education, even though the state gave large grants of rent-free lands to ulama for setting up madrasas. There were no regular examinations, and no organization for maintaining standards. Yet Mughal education had its special values, for Muslim education did not decay in the eighteenth century with the decline of Muslim political authority. The reduced calls made by the state employment on Muslim manpower left more men free to devote themselves to academic and literary work. A number of educational institutions and foundations, including the colleges established by Ghazi-ud-din Khan Firuz Jang, Sharaf-ud-daulah, and Raushan-ud-daulah in Delhi belong to this period.

        The standardization of the educational curriculum was accomplished in the eighteenth century. The Dars-i-Nizamiya, named after Mulla Nizam-ud-din (d.1748) provided instruction in grammar, rhetoric, philosophy, logic, scholasticism, tafsir (commentary on the Quran), fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), hadith, and mathematics. This curriculum has been criticized for containing too many books on grammar and logic and in general for devoting too much attention to formal subjects, and too little to useful secular subjects like history and natural sciences or even religious subjects like tafsir and hadith. But it provided good mental discipline, and its general adoption was responsible for the widespread interest in intellectual and philosophical matters. In the period in which it was systematized it was perhaps reasonably adequate for the average student. Those wishing to specialize or pursue a particular branch of knowledge went to the experts in that subject. The needs of the students specially interested in religious subjects were better served at institutions like Madrasa-i-Rahimiya, the forerunner of the modern seminary of Deoband, where tafsir and hadith were the principal subjects of study, but for those needing a general education to qualify for the posts of munshis, qazis, or religious preachers, Dars-i-Nizamiya provided a satisfactory basis until modern times.

        Bernier, despite his criticism of the educational system, has left evidence that, at least two intellectuals of the Mughal court tried to learn about Western philosophy. One of them was Fazil Khan, the prime minister, whom Bernier taught

“the principal languages of Europe, after he had translated for him the whole philosophy of Gassendi in Latin, and whose leave [to depart] he could not obtain, until he had copied for him a select number of best European books, thereby to supply the loss he should suffer of his person.”

The other was Danishmand Khan, who supported Bernier for a number of years.

“My Nawab, Agha Danishmand Khan, expects my arrival with much impatience,” Bernier wrote. “He can no more dispense with his philosophical studies in the afternoon than avoid devoting the morning to his weighty duties as Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Grand Master of the Horse. Astronomy, geography, and anatomy are his favorite pursuits, and he reads with avidity the works of Gassendy and Descartes.”

[Bernier, pp. 352–53]

For the Hindus, Banaras was an important seat of learning. According to Bernier it could be considered as ‘the general school of the Gentiles’. He in fact compares it and calls it as the ‘Athens of India’. As he is comparing the Indian learning with Europe and fails to comprehend the indigenous method of teaching, he is constrained to comment that the town however ‘contains no colleges or regular classes, as in our universities’. He goes on to mention that the eminent teachers took their classes with ‘four disciples, others six or seven, and most eminent may have twelve twelve or fifteen’. These students would sit at the feet of their tutors ‘in different parts of the town in private houses’ and merchants’ gardens in the suburb of the town for ‘ten or twelve years’, during which time ‘the work of instruction proceeds but slowly’.

[Bernier, p. 334]

He further says that this pursuit of knowledge ‘entertains no hope that honours or emoluments’ may be awarded to them at the end. The scholars’ dietary wants were taken care of in the shape of ‘kichery, a mingled mess of vegetables’ supplied by the rich merchants.

[Bernier, p. 335]

Tavernier on the other hand describes a college established by Raja Jai Singh at Banaras near the Temple of Visvesvara. This college, he says, was meant for the education of the young men ‘of good families’. The medium of instruction was Sanskrit:

“I saw the children of the Prince, who were being educated there by several Brahmans, who taught them to read and write in a language which is reserved to the priests of the idols (i.e. Sanskrit) and very different from that spoken by the people.”

[Tavernier, II, pp. 182-83]

Tavernier while describing this institution further says:

“…throwing my eyes upwards, I perceived a double gallery which ran all round it (the building), and in the lower the two Princes were seated, accompanied by many young nobles and numerous Brahmans, who were making different figures like those of mathematics, on the ground with chalk.”

[Tavernier, II, p. 183]

It is also interesting to note that Tavernier mentions that the college teachers had in their possession two globes, presented to them by the Dutch. Tavernier says that when enquired where France was ‘I pointed out the position of France upon them’.


A Fable of Prostitutes & Wines

Sultan Murad IV, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire from 1623-1640, would often anonymously go into the midst of the people and see their state. One evening, he felt an uneasiness in himself and the urge to go out. He called for his head of security and out they went. They came to a busy vicinity, and found a man lying on the ground. The Sultan prodded him but he was dead and the people were going about their own business. Nobody seemed to care about the dead man lying on the ground.

The Sultan called upon the people. They didn’t recognize him and asked him what he wanted. He said, “Why is this man lying dead on the ground and why does no one seem to care?

Where is his family? “They replied, “He is so and so, the drunkard and fornicator!”

The Sultan said, “Is he not from the Ummah of Muhammad SAW? Now help me carry him to his house” The people carried the dead man with the Sultan to his house and once they reached, they all left. The Sultan and his assistant remained.

When the man’s wife saw his dead body, she began weeping. She said to his dead body, “Allah have mercy on you! O friend of Allah! I bear witness that you are from the pious ones.

“The Sultan was bewildered. He said, “How is he from the pious ones when the people say such and such things about him. So much so that no one even cared he was dead?”

She replied, “I was expecting that. My husband would go to the tavern every night and buy as much wine as he could. He would then bring it home and pour it all down the drain. He would then say, “I saved the Muslims a little today.” He would then go to a prostitute, give her some money and tell her to close her door till the morning. He would then return home for a second time and say, “Today I saved a young woman and the youth of the believers from vice.”

The people would see him buy wine and they would see him go to the prostitutes and they would consequently talk about him. One day I said to him, “When you die, there will be no one to bathe you, there will be no one to pray over you and there will be no one to bury you!”He laughed and replied, “Don’t fear, the Sultan of the believers, along with the pious ones shall pray over my body.”

The Sultan began crying. He said, “By Allah! He has said the truth, for I am Sultan Murad. Tomorrow we shall bathe him, pray over him and bury him.” And it so happened that the Sultan, the scholars, the pious people and the masses prayed over him.

We judge people by what we see and what we hear from others. Only if we were to see what was concealed in their hearts, a secret between them and their Lord.

“O you who believe, abstain from many of the suspicions. Some suspicions are sins. And do not be curious (to find out faults of others), and do not backbite one another. Does one of you like that he eats the flesh of his dead brother? You would abhor it. And fear Allah. Surely Allah is Most-Relenting, Very-Merciful.” (Quran 49:12)

• Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi