Indo-Persian Literature in India (Encyclopaedia Iranica)

The amount of Persian literature composed in the Indian subcontinent up to the 19th century is larger than that produced in Iran proper during the same period (Schimmel, p. 1). From the very beginning of the Muslim invasion of northern India, Persian, as the language of the Ghaznavid court, gradually achieved the status of the most prestigious language of an increasingly large region, whose subjects were mostly Indian and the rulers predominantly Turkish. The reputation of the Ghaznavid court in Lahore (or “little Ghazna” as it was sometimes referred to) as a literary center shifted, after the Ghurids’ (q.v.) territorial successes, to the new capitals of Multan and Delhi (1192). After the foundation of the Delhi Sultanate (q.v.) in 1206, the munificence of its rulers attracted many poets and scholars from Persia and Central Asia. Persian literary trends were thus assimilated and refashioned in the complex and intricately multi-layered cultural milieu of India. The mystical brotherhoods (esteemed by the population and influential within the court, especially the Češtiya, q.v., which supported music and poetry) and a hub of syncretistic beliefs had a strong impact on the way Persian developed as a literary medium in the different regions of India. With Moḥammad Toḡloq’s decision to transfer Delhi’s cultural elite to his second capital, Daulatabad (the medieval Deogiri, 1327), the influence and prestige of Persian culture spread further south. Under enlightened sovereigns and governors, like the Bahmanid (q.v.) minister Maḥmud Gāvān (1411-81), the Muslim courts that flourished in the Deccan (q.v.) between the 14th and 17th centuries became flourishing centers of cultural production in Persian as well as in Arabic. After Timur’s invasion (1398), which marked, especially for northern India, a deep hiatus in cultural activity, the age of the first six Mughal rulers (1525-1707) represented the heyday of Indo-Persian literature; it was replenished by fresh waves of talented émigrés from Safavid Persia and by increasing Hindu participation in Persian writing, particularly with the advent of Lōdi (Lodi) rule (1451-1526), when the knowledge of Persian language and literature began to filter through to the Hindu administrative class.

Akbar’s (q.v.) reign, besides being the apogee of literary production, was also, thanks to his own munificence as well as the patronage of ministers such as ʿAbd-al-Raḥim Ḵān-e Ḵānān (q.v.), the most significant period of cultural and literary exchange between the Muslim and Hindu worlds, with a remarkable number of works being translated from Sanskrit into Persian and vice versa. With Awrangzēb (q.v.)—who suppressed the last great syncretistic experience when he put his elder brother Dārā Šokuh (q.v.) to death (1659)—the anti-Hindu and even anti-literary attitude of the empowered, orthodox Naqšbandi order found its political arm, thus progressively undermining the basis of cultural production. Later, a dearth of patronage and discontinuity of contacts between India and Persia led to the decline of Indo-Persian literature. After contributing enormously to the birth of Urdu language and literature, Persian, which had been the official language of the empire from 1582 to 1835, was ousted by English.

For about eight centuries Persian represented “the strongest factor in the unity and coherence of the Muslims of the subcontinent” (Bausani, p. 65) and, one may add, even of the entire elite taken as a whole. Every branch of Persian literature was present in India, with a remarkable proclivity for new experiments and innovations in new literary genres producing original contributions, both in content and form. The profusion of traditions and beliefs in India provided a fertile ground for poets and writers who used the potentials of Persian and its range and malleability to the full in exploiting these initially discordant features. The Persian work of one of the first masters, Amir Ḵosrow of Delhi (q.v.; 1253-1325)—who referred to himself as a Turkish Indian (Tork-e hendustāni), as indeed he was—covers almost all the literary genres with a stamp of ingenuity and originality with few equals in all Persian literature.

Indian book production and publishing activity deserve a special mention. Indo-Persian ateliers rapidly achieved high standards, bringing forth numerous innovations in the arts of calligraphy, manuscript illumination, and bookbinding. Moreover, with the introduction of lithography in the 19th century, India became the main center for the production of Persian books and journals.

Lyrical poetry. The court poetry in India was, as it had been in earlier decades in Iran itself in such courts as those of the Samanids and the Ghaznavids, characterized by the preeminence of the qasida (panegyric ode). The first renowned master in this form was Abu’l-Faraj Runi (q.v.; d. 1091), who spent most of his life in Lahore as the panegyrist of Sultan Ebrāhim b. Masʿud and Masʿud III. His divān influenced Anwari’s (q.v.) art. His younger rival, Masʿud Saʿd-e Salmān (b. Lahore, 1046; d. Ḡazni ca. 1121), was a great innovator, inaugurating the genre of ḥabsiyāt (prison poems), of which there are many later examples in Indo-Muslim literature; prison also appeared as a theme in the poems of Ḡāleb and many writers of the British period (Schimmel, p. 11). Masʿud also introduced the Sanskrit genre of the bārāmāsa, poems describing the seasons and the months of the year. Of Indian origin were both Tāj-al-Din Reżā (d. after 1265), the panegyrist at the court of Iltutmeš (1210-36), and Šehāb-al-Din Maḥ-mera, the panegyrist of Rokn-al-Din Firuzšah (1236) and an acknowledged influence on Amir Ḵosrow. Šehāb was the first to introduce spiritual themes within the spectrum of the qasida. The qasida still found original interpreters in the various courts, such as Badr Čāči (q.v.; d. 1346), renowned for his abstruse and recondite style, which was much appreciated by Sultan Moḥammd b. Toḡloq and highly prized by the subsequent literary tradition. However, it is in the art of the ḡazal (lyric) that Indo-Persian poets produced their most subtle innovations. Ḥasan Sijzi (ʿAlā-e Sanjari, d. 1336) and Amir Ḵosrow, both very close to the Češti circle of Neẓām-al-Din Awliāʾ in Delhi, are counted among the founders of the Indo-Persian ḡazal. Whereas Ḥasan was called “the Saʿdi of India,” because of his sweet, monothematic lyrics, the creation of a didactic style in which an entire proverbial phrase or sentence is encapsulated within each verse of a ḡazal may be ascribed to Amir Ḵosrow. More generally, in Ḵosrow’s lyrical work one can detect the first traces of what would later become the typical Indian Style (sabk-e hendi). As well as lyrical poetry, he also wrote excellent panegyrics for many of the sultans and governors under whose rule he worked.

It is not surprising that the conceptual and refined Indian Style found its first home and produced its finest products in a land where a widespread and highly recondite, mystical background was combined with typically courtly literary activity. Through Ḥasan-e Dehlavi passes a more mystical line in Indo-Persian poetry, which can be considered apart, including names like Qoṭb Jamāl-al-Din Aḥmad Hānsawi (d. 1260), Šāh Bu ʿAli Qalandar (d. 1323), and the later Masʿud Beg (d. 1397), a former courtier of Firuzšāh Toḡloq who later devoted himself to Sufism and a life of meditation, and Moḥammad Gisuderāz (q.v.; d. 1422), the Češti holy man of Golconda, close to the Bahmanid court. On the other hand, there were numerous poets belonging to the courtly line, particularly in the heyday of the Mughal empire with the great inflow of poets from Persia. At the munificent court of Akbar (1556-1605), Ḡazzāli of Mašhad (d. 1572) was the first poet-laureate (malek al-šoʾarāʾ), followed by Fayżi (q.v.; Abu’l-Fayż, also known as Fayżi Fayyāżi, 1547-95), who introduced historical themes into his lyrical works and was, like Abu’l-Qāsem Kāhi (d. 1580), an ardent follower of the din-e elāhi (Divine faith). Fayżi’s impeccable but cold and somewhat impersonal technique was often contrasted with the more emotional and personal style of the qasidas of ʿOrfi of Shiraz (d. 1591), as the two antithetic but co-existing components of Mughal poetry. During this age many Hindu poets writing in Persian earned great fame, such as Rājā Manohar Dās and Bhupat Rāʾi Sawāʾi Biḡam (Gorekar, pp. 76-77). Among the great and renowned poets of Jahāngir and Šah Jahān’s courts, Ṭāleb of Āmol (d. 1626), Qodsi of Mašhad (d. 1656), and Abu Ṭāleb Kalim (d. 1650) deserve to be mentioned, as well as Sāʿeb of Tabriz, (d. 1677), who spent six years in India. In this lively context, the so-called Indian Style consolidated its main features into the light lyrical structure: a new kind of imagery, more free in abstractions and connections; a more open poetical language, filled with new coinages, popular expressions, and even foreign words, especially from Hindi; a wider sphere of subjects conveying moral themes, social criticism, philosophical and theological arguments (Šafiʿi-Kadkani, pp. 151-64). Close to Dārā Šokuh’s circle were Čandra Bhān Barahman (q.v.; d. 1661), the Hindu author of simple verses, far from the vogue of the Indian Style, and Sarmad (d. 1659), a Jewish convert to Islam and the author of numerous mystic quatrains. After the austere reign of Awrangzēb, who abolished the title of the poet-laureate, poetry took refuge either in an increasingly abstract world of recondite imagery, or adopted a more personal and introspective mood. The Indian Style reached its peak with Ḡani Kašmiri (q.v.; d. 1661) and his highly polished gnomic poetry, with Nāṣer ʿAli Serhendi (d. 1697) composing intensely spiritual Sufi poems, as well as ʿAbd-al-Qāder Bidel (q.v.) of Patna (d. 1721), among the most celebrated authors in Persian literature, enlivening his vast poetical oeuvre of lyrical works with an original philosophy based on the combination of modern naturalistic queries and a deeply personal attitude to mystical experiences and meditation (Bausani, 1958, pp. 59-61, 76-86; Šafiʿi-Kadkani, 1988, passim). At the end of the emigration period, Moḥammad ʿAli Ḥazin Lāhiji (d. 1766) was the last renowned poet to leave Persia for India. With the arrival of the British and the growing need for a native response to the encounter with European culture, Indo-Persian poetry gradually left its role, which passed into the hands of Urdu literature, by that time more popularly rooted in the new social context. Mirzā Asad-Allāh Khan Ḡāleb (q.v.; d. 1869), “the last classical poet of India” (Gorekar, p. 82), whose work is an “uninterrupted elegy on the end of the Mogul power in India” (Marek, p. 731), wrote both in Persian and Urdu, as did the progressive thinker Moḥammad Eqbāl (q.v.; Muhammad Iqbal, d. 1938), the incarnation of the final phase with his deeply political poems.

Narrative and didactic literature. It was in India that a new development of great significance in the history of Persian narrative poetry first appeared: Amir Ḵosrow’s response (jawāb) after about a century (1298-1301) to Neẓāmi of Ganja’s Ḵamsas (five narrative poems), there-by establishing a vogue which lasted until the dawn of the 20th century. The five poems of Amir Ḵosrow drew on Neẓāmi’s themes with a high degree of refashioning. The two ḵamsas were often regarded as an organic pair, as the manuscript tradition shows; in many codices they are presented together, one written on the margins of the other. The two ḵamsas gave birth to a line of literature that was most widespread in the subcontinent, as well as in Timurid and Safavid Persia (see Ḵān, passim). Amir Ḵosrow’s Hašt Behešt, was, moreover, the first Persian book to be directly translated into a modern European language (Italian, Venice, 1557; see Piemontese, pp. 143-61). Most of the Indo-Persian poets wrote some maṯnawi besides their lyrical divāns. The didactic maṯnawi was drawn on many times, in imitation of Neẓāmi’s Maḵzan-al-asrār and Amir Ḵosrow’s Maṭlaʿ-al-anwār, as was the romantic maṯnawi, in the wake of Leyli o Majnun and Ḵosrow o Širin. The epic of Alexander the Great (Eskandar-nāma) was rarely taken up (in the Mughal age by Ḥosayn Sanāʾi Mašhadi, d. 1588, and Badri [Badr-al-Din] Kašmiri, q.v., as a section of his immense Rosol-nāma, about 1580). It was usually replaced by poems in praise of later or contemporary sovereigns, in the same way that Ferdowsi’s Šāh-nāma often was imitated; that is, writing was directed towards the legitimization of new dynasties by praising their deeds and forging lineages connecting them to great monarchs of the past. Such works therefore fall more under the rubric of historiography than of literature.

As a result of cultural exchange on Indian soil, many an author composed Persian maṯnawis based on folkloristic Hindu subjects. Among the early ones, Ḥasan-e Dehlavi wrote the Ešq-nāma, or Ḥekāyat-e ʿašeq-e nāgōri, based on a tale from Rajasthan. There are numerous examples in the Mughal age: Nal o Daman by Fayżi, taken up from a theme in Mahābhārata, Suz o godāz by Nawʿi Ḵabušāni (d. 1610), written for Ḵān-e Ḵānān in Borhān-pur, and Rat padam by ʿAbd-al-Šokur Bazmi of Kanauj (d. 1662). From Sanskrit literature many collections of stories were translated into Persian. The Persian model of this genre had, moreover, already appeared in India four centuries earlier: the Jawāmeʿ-al-ḥekāyāt wa lawāmeʿ-al-rewāyāt, completed by Moḥammad ʿAwfi (q.v.) at Iltut-meš’s court in Delhi (1228). The Ṭuṭi-nāma or Jawāher al-asmār, of Ẓiāʾ-al-Din Naḵšabi Badāʾuni (d. 1350) collected 52 cyclic stories on morality arranged on the basis of Sanskrit text. Under Akbar Persian versions of the two great Indian epics were made: the Mahābhārata (Razm-nāma), and the Rāmāyana. Fayżi (Fāʾeżi) was probably the translator of Kathāsaritsāgara (The ocean from the rivers of storytelling), by the Kashmiri poet Somadeva; and the popular Singhāsan battisi (Thirty-two throne stories) had several versions. In the late Mughal age the didactic tradition of maṯnawi acquired a new philosophical and scientific dimension in Bidēl’s works (ʿErfān, Ṭelesm-e ḥeyrat, and Ṭur-e maʿrefat) and later went through Ḡāleb’s religiosity (a maṯnawi on the Prophet Moḥammad’s prophethood), culminating finally in Eqbāl’s maṯ-nawis, explicitly inspired by Rumi’s Maṯnawi-e maʿnawi, as well as by European literature. His most celebrated work is Jāvid-nāma, a journey of initiation into the other world in the form of a maṯnawi interspersed with ḡazals.

Historiography. As this topic is treated at length in its own entry (see xvi. below), only a brief sketch will be given here to delineate the relationship between historiography and literature. Indian traditional culture was lacking in the concept of historiography. This genre was introduced by the Muslim conquerors; under the patronage of the rulers who were themselves Turkic in origin, it flourished in Persian and produced in India an enormous amount of historical chronicles. As for universal histories, the Ṭabaqāt-e nāṣeri of Menhāj al-Serāj Juzjāni (d. 1260) is one of the earliest Persian universal histories, compiled for Sultan Nāṣer-al-Din Maḥmud of Delhi (1246-1266), narrating events from the Creation to the Mongol invasion. The Tāʾriḵ-e Moḥammadi was composed by Moḥammad Behāmād Ḵāni for the Kālpi sultans in the 15th century. From the Mughal age it is worth mentioning the Tāʾriḵ-e ilči-e neẓāmšāhi, written by Ḵur-šāh b. Qobād al-Ḥosayni, ambassador to Shah Ṭahmāsp’s court, covering the years up to 1562, and the Tāʾriḵ-e alfi, commissioned by Akbar for the year 1000 of the Hejra (1591-92) from a group of savants, among whom ʿAbd-al-Qāder Badāʾuni (q.v.; d. 1615) was the most distinguished. It is in local histories that Indo-Persian historiography offered its most significant contributions, in the wake of the Ghaznavid and Ghurid traditions. A favorite Indo-Persian contribution was the chronicle in verse, probably the outcome of an extension of eulogistic qasida or of commemorative epigraphs. Comprehensive histories of Muslim India were written in this form, such as two works composed for the Deccan’s Bahmanid dynasty: ʿEṣāmi’s (q.v.) Fotuḥ al-salāṭin (1351) for the first ruler ʿAlā-al-Din Ḥasan (1347-58), concerning the period from the Ghaznavids to the time of the Bahmanid defection from the Toḡloqs (middle of the 14th century), and the Bahman-nāma by Āḏari of Esfarāʾen, for Aḥmad I Wali (1422-36). A Šāh-nāma was written for Moḥammad Toḡloq and is ascribed, somewhat doubtfully, to Badr Čāči. The tradition of historical chronicles in verse lasted to the early 19th century and the Jārj-nāma (The book of [King] George) by Mollā Firuz b. Kāus. The five historical maṯnawis of Amir Ḵosrow, by contrast, were dedicated to single figures, and they are often interspersed with lyrical verse to break the sequence of the double-rhymed verses. Besides the Āšeqa on ʿAlāʾ-al-Din Ḵalji’s son, and the Toḡloq-nāma on Giāṯ-al-Din Toḡloq, the Noh sepehr was also an original amalgam of historical, ethnological, and scientific speculations. Many epic poems dedicated to Mughal emperors, such as the Jahāngir-nāma of Ṭāleb of Āmol, and the Šāhjahān-nāma of Abu Ṭāleb Kalim, followed the same pattern.

In prose, relevant general histories of India were written in Akbar’s time: the Ṭabaqāt-e akbari of Neẓām-al-Din Aḥmad of Herat (d. 1594), which began with the Ghaznavids, and ʿAbd-al-Qāder Badāʾuni’s Montaḵab al-tawāriḵ, which was strongly critical of Akbar’s religious policy. The famous Golšan-e ebrāhimi was composed by Ferešta for Ebrāhim ʿĀdelšāh of Bijāpur in the period 1606-23. As an example of a history in prose devoted solely to a single dynasty, one could mention the important Tāʿriḵ-e firuzšāhi, written by Żiāʾ-al-Din Barani (q.v.; d. after 1360) for Firuzšāh III Toḡloq (1351-88), which deals with the history of the Sultanate from 1265 to 1357. Following the author’s death, it was completed by the Fotuḥāt-e firuzšāhi of Šams-e Ṣerāj ʿAfif, devoted entirely to Firuz’s reign. Abu’l-Fażl ʿAllā-mi (q.v.; d. 1602), Fayẓi’s (Fāʿeżi) brother and intimate friend and supporter of Akbar, wrote two important historical works, the Akbar-nāma on his emperor’s life and reign and the Āʾin-e akbari, on the socio-economical and institutional situation of the empire. After Mir Ḡolām-ʿAli Āzād’s numerous works (d. 1786), the last relevant historical text is usually considered to be the Siar al-motaʾḵḵerin of Ḡolām-Ḥosayn Ḵān Ṭabāṭabāʾi, covering the period from Awrangzēb’s death to 1781. A particular sub-genre in Indo-Persian historiography is that of autobiography, to which belong the memoirs of Bābor (written in Turki but translated soon afterwards into Persian by Ḵān-e Ḵānān), and that of Jahāngir. Also to this genre one may ascribe some original philosophical, naturalistic, or literary treatises filled with notes and accounts on the authors’ lives, such as Čandra Bhān Barahman’s Čahār čaman, or ʿAbd-al-Qāder Bidel’s Čahār ʿonṣor. Many actual autobiographies were composed between the 18th and 19th centuries, including the Taḏkerat al-aḥwāl of Ḥazin Lāhiji (q.v.; 1742). As to the genre of taḏkera dealing with brief biographies of poets with selections from their poems, the first extant example comes from India: ʿAwfi’s Lobāb al-albāb, composed (1220) at Uččh at the court of Nāṣer-al-Din Qabāja, for his vizier, ʿAyn-al-Molk. There was subsequently a great proliferation of the genre in all regions where Persian was the main literary language. Several taḏkeras were composed in India especially after the beginning of the decline of the role of Persian poetry in the 18th century. While the heart of Indo-Muslim literary production gradually shifted from Persian to Urdu, scholars took it upon themselves to preserve a historical record of a literary tradition on the wane. A Hindu author, Lakšmi Narayān Šafiq (d. 1745), composed two important biographical anthologies of poets: Gol-e raʿnā, dealing with the poets of Indian origin writing in Persian, and Šām-e ḡaribān, about poets of Persian origin who had settled in India.

Belles-Lettres. Critical analysis of the Persian language and literary styles in India began early, and its development there was unequaled. As an important branch of literary as well as administrative style, epistolography also flourished. Amir Ḵosrow’s Eʿjāz-e ḵosravi is a masterpiece in this genre, and can be described as a wide-ranging treatise on the rhetorics of prose literature. Collections of letters by eminent figures were very common, for example the Riāz al-enšā by the Bahmanid minister Maḥmud Gāvān. With the institution of the Mughal chancellery, Indo-Persian epistolography achieved a particularly high status, at the crossroads of Persian, Turkish, and Indian administrative traditions (Mohiuddin, passim). The Badiʿ al-enšāʾ of Maulānā Yusofi, munshi (monši) to the emperor Homāyun, became very popular, and a noteworthy collection of documents redacted for Akbar by the historian Abu’l-Fażl was published by his nephew as Mokātabāt-e ʿallāmi (1606). In later Mughal times, when Persian emigration was over, epistolography became an almost exclusive prerogative of the Hindu eclectic community of the Kāyasthas (Ahmad, 1969, p. 87). However, the greatest legacy of India in the field of linguistic inquiry into Persian was the production of dictionaries. This commendable activity was already flourishing in peripheral regions during the 15th century. At that time the ʿAdāt al-fożalāʾ (1419), which arranged Persian words in alphabetical order with sentences quoted from earlier poets, was compiled by Badr-al-Din Moḥammad of Delhi for the sovereigns of Dhār, and the more wide-ranging Šaraf-nāma-ye ebrāhimi (1448) was redacted by Ebrāhimi Qawām Fāruqi for the king of Bengala, Bārbakšāh. Increasing Hindu interest in Persian under the Lodi reign led to the realization of some important new dictionaries. The Toḥfat al-saʿādat (or Farhang-e sekandari), a work of Żiāʾ-al-Din Moḥammad, registered many compounds for the first time (1510). The Muʾayyed al-fożalāʾ (1519), a work by Šeyḵ Moḥammad b. Šeyḵ Lād of Dehli, was divided according to the derivation of words from Arabic, Persian, and Turkish. From the Mughal era, the Farhang-e jahāngiri, a benchmark in this genre, had actually been commissioned by Akbar from Jamāl-al-Din Ḥosayn Inju but was completed only in 1612. By the middle of the 17th century the Borhān-e qāṭeʿ (q.v.) of Moḥammad Ḥosayn b. Ḵalaf of Tabriz, dedicated to ʿAbd-Allāh Qoṭbšāh of Golconda, appeared, as did the Farhang-e rašidi, of ʿAbd-al-Rašid Tattavi, which “constitutes the first essay of a critical nature in Persian philology” (Tauer, p. 431). In the 18th century, the increasingly complicated poetical style made new lexicographic works necessary, like Monši Moḥammad Bādšāh’s Farhang-e ānandrāj, and the enormous work, Tek Čand Bahār’s Bahār-e ʿajam.

Religious literature. Indo-Persian originality in the religious literary field was due to the convergence of two different factors. On the one hand India had been a favorite destination of Muslim Sufis and missionaries from early times, with some important brotherhoods taking root there. On the other, the Muslim conquerors constantly had to face different religious identities: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, as well as Christianity and Zoroastrianism. So, although the traditional orthodox (Sunnite or Shiʿite) theological literature was produced there, it is in the mystical and syncretistic literature that India made its greatest contribution to religious thought and literature. The most ancient Persian treatise on Sufi doctrine was written on Indian soil, the Kašf al-maḥjub by Hojviri (q.v.; popularly known in India as Dātā Ganjbaḵš), who was born in Ḡazni but settled and died in Lahore (ca. 1071). The Sufi literature in India was usually more pragmatic than theoretical in substance: the malfuzāt (collected sayings of the saints) compiled by Ḥasan-e Dehlavi (fawāʾed al-fuʾād); the maktubāt (letters of guidance on mystical doctrines and practices); and the numerous hagiographical lives of Sufi masters, particularly from Moḥammad Toḡloq’s reign onwards. Court intellectuals were also involved in these literary undertakings, such as Sekandar Lodi’s poet Jalāl Ḵān Jamāli (d. 1536), author of the collection Siar al-ʿāre-fin, which started with Muʿin-al-Din Češti and ended with his spiritual teacher, Samāʾ-al-Din Kambuh. At Mughal courts some important Sanskrit texts were translated into Persian, such as the Yoga Vāsiṣṭha and the Bhagavadgītā (by Abu’l-Fażl). Fifty chapters from the Upaniṣad texts were translated by Dārā Šokuh, with the title Sirr-e Akbar (The greatest secret or The secret of Akbar). Aiming at the unification of Islam and Hinduism, Dārā left numerous writings on Sufi subjects, from the Ḥasanāt al-ʿārefin, belonging to the malfuzāt line, to the Safinat al-awliyāʾ and the Sakinat al-awliyāʾ, basically collections of hagiographies. His most important book is the Majmaʿal-baḥrayn, a comparative essay that strives to find points of contact between Hinduism and Islam. Of later theologians, the works of the Naqšbandi leader Aḥmad Serhendi (d. 1624), and those of the reformer Šāh Wali-Allāh of Dehli (d. 1762), author of the most celebrated Persian translation of the Koran, were in different ways original and very influential also out of India.

Sciences. It was particularly in India that Persian language became widely used as a means of scientific transmission—a role that in the Muslim world was traditionally given to Arabic. According to a first partial survey of the manuscripts concerning scientific issues conserved in the Indian libraries, 1,671 works are in Persian, whereas 1,219 are in Arabic. Between the 16th and 18th centuries, India witnessed a renaissance of scientific studies, by that time declining elsewhere in the Muslim world. More than innovative research, these studies were rather the reorganization of the existing Muslim scientific heritage, in part compared with the contribution of the Hindu tradition. A main result was the production of important Sanskrit-Persian technical dictionaries (Casari and Speziale, 2001). For mathematics, apart from some relevant commentary on classic texts, the most significant effort is represented by the translations of Lilāvāti (1587, on arithmetic, by Fāʾeżi) and Bijagaṇita (1635, on algebra, by ʿAṭāʾ-Allāh Rašidi), both Sanskrit works by Bhāskara (12th century). For astronomy, more important than a handful of translations from Sanskrit was the zij literature. The oldest Indo-Persian zij (Zij-e nāṣeri written for Sultan Nāṣer-al-Din Maḥmud, 1246-1265) was even earlier than the renowned Zij-e ilḵāni compiled by Naṣir-al-Din Ṭusi’s group of scholars (1271). However the most famous Indian zij was the later Zij-e moḥammad-šāhi (1728), drafted under the guidance of Amber’s Maharaja Jay Singh, and widely diffused in Central Asia. In medicine too a remarkable amount of literature in Persian was produced. The first known text of the so-called yunāni (Greek) medicine was the Persian translation of Biruni’s pharmacopoeia Kitāb al-ṣaydana, by Abu Bakr ʿOṯman of Kašān under Iltutmeš. The medical texts in verses of Yusof b. Moḥammad, working under Bābur and Homā-yun, were well known. The greatest development was reached under Šāh Jahān. The Ṭebb-e dārā-šokuhi, the last important medical encyclopedia realized in the Islamic world, was dedicated to the king’s son by the author, Nur-al-Din Moḥammad of Shiraz. Great systematic treatises were also later written by the famous doctor Akbar Arzāni (Ṭebb-e akbari, 1700).

The knowledge and analysis of Indo-Persian literature is still severely limited by the difficulties of access to the enormous amount of manuscripts conserved in the Indian libraries. Moreover, only a relatively small number of studies have been devoted to Indo-Persian literary topics, particularly when compared to the magnitude of the literature itself. However, the originality and importance of Indian contribution to the history of Persian literature, which is to be seen in almost every branch of literary production, deserves further and more thorough researches.

Non Persian Literature

14th C saw the gradual disappearance of Apabhramsha.

However two works of this period stand out: Abdur Rahman’s Sandesharasaka 12thC)


Thakkar Pheru was an author of books on mathematics, coins, and gems in Delhi. He was active between 1291 and 1323.

Alauddin Khalji recruited Ṭhakkura Pherū, a Shrimal Jain from Kannāṇā (modern Kalpana) in Haryana, as an expert on coins, metals and gems.[2] For the benefit of his son Hemapal, he wrote several books on related subjects including Dravyaparīkṣa in 1318 based on his experience at the master mint, and the Ratnaparikṣa (Pkt. Rayaṇaparikkhā) in 1315 “having seen with my own eyes the vast collection of gems … in the treasury of ʿAlāʾ al-Dīn Khaljī.” [3] He was continuously employed until the rule of Ghiasuddin Tughluq.[4] He is also known for his work on mathematics Ganitasārakaumudi.

Prithviraj Raso of Çhand Bardai





During the Mughal period kāvya literature continued to be popular

Prājya BHATTA and Shuka’s Rājāvalipatājā late in Akbar’s reign

Ballālasena (16c) Bhojaprabandha a collection of witty legends about Raja Bhoj

17th C: Narayana, Svāhāsudhākarachampū: loves of firegod Agni’s wife Svāha and the Moon

Kalyānamalla, Anañgarañga (16c) in the tradition of Kamasutra

Scientific literature

Astronomer Nilakantha, Tājikanīlakanthī

(1587) an astronomical treatise

A Persian Sanskrit glossary

Vedāñgarāya, Pārasiprakasha (1643)


Sayyed Moḥammad ʿAbd-Allāh, Adabiyāt-e fārsi dar miyān-e hendovān, tr. Moḥammad Aslam Khan, Tehran, 1992.

S. S. Abdur Rahman, “Glimpses of Indo-Persian Literature,” in Indo-Iranica 10/2, 1957.

S. A. H. Abidi, “The Influence of Hindi on Indo-Persian Literature in the Reign of Shah-Jahan (1628-1658),” Indo-Iranica 13/2, 1960, pp. 1-18.

A. Ahmad, Studies in Islamic Culture in the Indian Environment, London, 1964.

Idem, An Intellectual History of Islam in India, Edinburgh, 1969.

Muzaffar Alam, Françoise ‘Nalini’ Delvoye, and Marc Gaborieau, The Making of Indo-Persian Culture. Indian and French Studies, Delhi, 2000.

A. Bausani, Storia delle letterature del Pakistan, Milan, 1958.

Mario Casari and Fabrizio Speziale, “La scienza islamica in India,” in S. Petruccioli, ed., Storia della Scienza II, Rome, 2001, pp. 908-28.

Stephan Conermann, Historiographie als Sinnstiftung Indo-persische Geschichtschreibung waerhend der Mogulzeit (932-1118/1516-1707), Wiesbaden, 2002.

Stephen Frederic Dale, “A Safavid Poet in the Heart of Darkness: The Indian Poems of Ashraf Mazandarani,” Iranian Studies 36/2, 2003, pp. 197-212.

N. Devare, A Short History of Persian Literature at the Bahmani, the Adilshahi, and the Qutbshahi Courts, Deccan, Poona, 1961.

H. M. Elliot and J. Dowson, The History of India as told by its own Historians, 8 vols., London, 1867-77.

Carl W. Ernst, “Muslim Studies of Hinduism? A Reconsideration of Arabic and Persian Translations from Indian Languages,” Iranian Studies 36/2, 2003, pp. 173-96.

Abu’l-Fayż Fayżi (Fayyāzi), Dāstān-e nal o daman, ed. ʿA. Qawimi, Tehran, 1956.

M. A. Ghani, A History of Persian Language and Literature at the Mughal Court, 3 vols., Allahabad, 1929-30.

Idem, Pre-Mughal Persian in Hindustan: A Critical Survey of the Growth of Persian Language and Literature in India . . . , Allahabad, 1941; repr., Gurgon, 1994.

Aḥmad Golčin-e Maʿāni, Tāriḵ-e taḏkerahā-ye fārsi, 2 vols., Tehran, 1969-71.

Idem, Kārevān-e Hend, 2 vols., Mašhad, 1990.

N. S. Gorekar, “Persian Poets of India,” Indo-Iranica 16/2, 1963, pp. 66-85.

Idem, Indo-Iran Relations: Cultural Aspects, Bombay, 1970.

Idem, “India as a second home of Persian Studies during the Medieval Period,” Islam and the Modern Age 21, 1990, pp. 223-36.

A. B. M. Habibullah, “Medieval Indo-Persian Literature relating to Hindu Science and Philosophy, 1000-1800 A.D.,” Indian Historical Quarterly 14/1, 1938, pp. 167-81.

Nabi Hadi, Dictionary of Indo-Persian Literature, New Delhi, 1995.

I. Husain, The Early Persian Poets of India (A.H. 421-670), Patna, 1937.

A. K. Husaini, Persian Language in the Deccan, Hyderabad, 1934.

Yunes Jaʿfari, ed., Armaḡān-e adabi: pejuhašhā-ye adabi dar adabiyāt-e fārsi-e Hend, Tehran, 1997.

M. S. Khan, “Arabic and Persian Source Materials for the History of Science in Medieval India,” Islamic Culture 62/2-3, 1988, pp. 113-39.

N. M. Ḵān, Jostāri dar nofuḏ-e Neẓāmi dar šabh-e qārra, in M. Ṯarwat, ed., Majmuʿa-ye maqālāt-e kongera-ye bayn-al-melali nohomin sade-ye tawallod-e ḥakim Neẓāmi-e Ganjawi, vol. 3, Tabriz, 1993, pp. 373-99.

Paul E. Losensky, Welcoming Fighani: Imitation and Poetic Individuality in the Safavid-Mughal Ghazal, Costa Mesa, 1998.

J. P. Losty, The Art of the Book in India, London, 1982.

D. N. Marshall, Mughals in India: A Bibliographical Survey, I, Manuscripts, Bombay, 1967.

J. Marek, “Persian Literature in India,” in J. Rypka, History of Iranian Literature, Dordrecht, 1968, pp. 711-34, 832-38.

M. Mohiuddin, The Chancellery and Persian Epistolography under the Mughals: Babur to Shah Jahan, Calcutta, 1970.

Ẓiāʾ-al-Din Naḵšabi Badāʾuni, Tṟutṟi-nāma (jawāher al-asmār), ed., Šams Āl-e Aḥmad, Tehran, 1973.

ʿA. R. Naqawi, Taḏkera-nevisi-e fārsi dar Hend o Pākestān, Tehran, 1964.

Š. Naqawi, Farhang-nevisi-e fārsi dar Hend-o-Pākestān, Tehran, 1962.

Khaliq Ahmad Nizami, Persian Influence on the Development of Literary and Sufi Traditions in South Asia, Bethesda, 1992.

C. H. Philips, ed., Historians of India, Pakistan and Ceylon, London, 1961.

A. M. Piemontese, Amir Khusrau da Delhi. Le otto novelle del paradiso, Rome, 1996.

Mollā Qāṭeʿi Heravi, Majmaʿ al-šoʿarā-ye jahāngiršāhi, ed. Moḥammad Salim Aḵtar, Kerachi, 1979.

M. L. Rahman, Persian Literature in India During the Time of Jahangir and Shah Jahan, Baroda, 1970.

Sarhang Ḵwāja ʿAbd-al-Rašid (Lt. Col. K. A. Rashid), Taḏkera-ye šoʿara-ye Panjāb, Karachi, 1967.

Francis Robinson, “Perso-Islamic Culture in India from the Seventeenth to the early Twentieth Century,” in Turko-Persia in Historical Perspective, ed. R. L. Canfield, Cambridge, 1991.

H. I. Sadarangani, Persian Poets of Sind, Karachi, 1956.

Qāsem Ṣāfi, Bahār-e adab, tāriḵ-e moḵtaṣar-e zabān o adbiyāt-e fārsi dar šebh-e qāra-ye Hend o Pākestān, Tehran, 2003.

Annemarie Schimmel, Islamic Literatures of India, Wiesbaden, 1973.

Moḥammad-Reżā Shafiʿi-Kadkani, Persian Literature from the Time of Jāmi to the Present Day. 2. The Safavid Period, in History of Persian Literature from the Beginning of the Islamic Period to the Present Day, ed. G. Morrison, Leiden and Cologne, 1981, pp. 145-65.

Idem, Šāʿer-e āʾina-hā: barresi sabk-e hendi wa šʿer-e Bidel, Tehran, 1988.

Shriram Sharma, A Descriptive Bibliography of Sanskrit Works in Persian, ed. Muhammad Ahmad, New Delhi, 1982.

Sunil Sharma, Persian Poetry at the Indian Frontier: Masʿûd Saʿd Salmân of Lahore, New Delhi, 2000.

H. Siddiqi, “Historical Significance of the Farhang Literature of Delhi Sultanate Period,” Indo-Iranica 32/3-4, 1979, pp. 9-21.

Idem, ed., The Growth of Indo-Persian Literature in Gujarat, Baroda, 1985.

C. A. Storey, Persian Literature, A Bio-Bibliographical Survey, London, 1927- .

F. Tauer, “Persian Learned Literature to the end of the 18th century,” in J. Rypka, History of Iranian Literature, Dordrecht, 1968, pp. 419-82.

Ehsan Yarshater, Šeʿr-e fārsi dar ʿahd-e Šāhroḵ yā āḡāz-e enḥeṭāṭ dar šeʿr-e fārsi, Tehran, 1955.

Idem, “The Indian Style: Progress or Decline,” in Persian Literature, ed. E. Yarshater, Albany, pp. 405-21.

Ishtiyaq Ahmad Zilli “Development of Inshā Literature till the end of Akbar’s reign,” in Muzaffar Alam et al., eds., The Making of Indo-Persian Culture, pp. 309-49.

(Mario Casari)

Indian Society and Culture: 8th to 12th Century AD

In the previous classes we have seen the rise of what is called”feudalism”, rise of  “clan monarchies” (term used by UN Ghoshal – Contributions to the History of the Hindu Revenue System, 1929), i.e., Gurjara-Pratiharas, Gahadwalas, Chahamanas, Palas, Senas, Chalukyas, Rashtrakutas etc. We have also seen the developments and churnings in philosophical thoughts – Shankara, Ramanuja, and the rise of “Bhakti”.

Let us now deal briefly with some other developments of this period: society, technology, science, and literature. In the end we will also go through the developments in the field of Art and architecture.

Works of Simon Digby (War Horses & Elephants), as well as a series of papers by Irfan Habib on technology have shown that one of the direct results of all this, especially setting in of feudalism, was that by 17th C, cavalry started emerging: it became quite important. We will come to this in some details later. But along with this, the period saw the emergence of a new social category, the horsemen, the rajaputras. Their emergence was facilitated not only by the land grants, the tamapatras etc, but also due to the coming of a new technology.

One of the first source of information for this development is the Chachnama, the chronicle detailing the conquest of Sind. When the Sind ruler, Dahar, was defeated by the Arabs in 712-13 AD. It mentions that Dahar was surrounded by 5000 ‘ibnul muluk’, son of kings – a direct translation of the term rajaputra of Sanskrit. Another term used for them is rauta (Prakrit) and they were mounted lancers.

They bonded together to carve territories which were semi-independent. They held villages / territories which were hereditary possessions.

The Lekhapadhiti Documents (9th-13th C Gujarat) as well as Arabic and Persian texts from 8th C onwards mention Samantas, thakkuras, ranakas, nayakas, etc as those who were hereditary class of potentates above them. Similarly mentioned are khuts, muqaddams, and chauduries. The raja / raya (kings) were mere heads of a confederacy of such chieftains.

Similarly in the South, as per the researches of Burton Stein (Peasant State and Society in Medieval South India) “segmentary states’ gave rise due to a primitive peasant society marked by a 2-varna system of Brahmins and Shudras. There were no kshatriyas or Vaishya class there.

During this period, the caste system too became very rigid. This is gleaned from a number of primary sources like Rajataringini of Kalhana, Chachnama (13th C Persian tr. Of the account by Ali Kufi) and Alberuni (esp. Kitab ma’al Hind). It appears that a Brahman dynasty was established in Sind. And it suppressed the pastoral communities like Jatts, by imposing rules from Manusmriti.

Alberuni mentions the rigid caste system and mentions 8 antajya communities who were outcastes, living outside towns and villages. Basing strictly on Smritis, he places weavers amongst antajyas. A contrary information however, comes from Pancatantra: weavers were shown as Vaisyas.

Harsher rules were imposed on woment – mention of sati.

According to AS Altekar (Position of Women in Hindu Civilization, 1956) the first ritual widow burnng is reported from 316 BC when a widow of an Indian captain was burnt in Iran. Bana Bhatta criticizes this practice in 7th C AD. But by 11th C it appears to be quite widespread amongst women of rulers, nobles & warriors.

From Lekhapadhiti Docs, we come to know of women sold in slavery. And when so sold, they lost their caste status, as well as family ties. They were made to do all types of work, both in house and fields and were in constant threat of violence and torture.

However, from Kalhana (1151) we come to know of Jayawanti, a dancer, who kept changing partners, and ultimately ended up as a queen of the king of Uchcha in Kashmir (1101-11) and became famous for her benevolence and wisdom. We also have a sculpture of a woman from Khajoraho (10-11th C) with a slate and a pen: education, writing and wisdom.

By 11th C, Kaivartas, an outcaste jati in Manusmriti (1st C BC) rose in rebellion under the Palas and gained recognition as a clean caste under Ballalasena of Bengal (1159-85). [RD Banerji, The Palas of Bengal, 1973]

Similarly Jatts who were considered out castes, gathered enough power in 11th C to fight Sultan Mahmud (998-1030). They were now considered Sudras. [Irfan Habib, “Jatts of Punjab & Sind”, Essays in Honour of Ganda Singh, ed. H Singh & NG Barrier, 1976).

Technological Developments, 700 -1200

The period was earlier thought to be a stagnant period – not only as far as economy was concerned – with land-yield falling (DD Kosambi) or at most static (Burton Stein, S India). Recent works however have shown that the period, contrary to these pessimistic projections, was a period of some progress, at least in the field of technology.

One area where development is encountered is the field of Irrigation technology, which must have led to some improvement in the cultivation of crops and yields.

Between c.600 – 1500, tank irrigation started in a big way. Remains of at least two great reservoirs survive: one from 11th C, the reservoir of Raja Bhoja; and the other from 15th C, a reservoir at Madang in Karnataka. At Karnataka, one of the earthen embankments was 240 m thick, 30 m high, and designed to fill a lake 16-24 Km long. According to the Gazetteer of Bombay Presidency, it had gigantic sluices.

Water was drawn using leathern buckets tied to a rope over pulley wheel. There is a mention of noria or arghatta (pot on wheels). By 6th C, a mala (potgarland) was added. Epigraphic evidences, plus references in Bana’s Harsha Charita.

We also have the Mandor Frieze (12th C) where manual labour is shown turning the wheel. The frieze also depicts a cart drawn by camels.

The rotary handmills make an appearance during 5th C : Kunal monastery, Tazila.

Lallnji Gopal in an article [‘Technique of Agriculture in Early Medieval India, c700 – 1200 AD] published in an Allahabad University journal in 1963-64, mentions literary references to bullocks used in threshing (bullocks going round and round) – in dictionaries Abhi dhāna ratnamala (c.950) and Vijayanti (11th C) etc

In crafts, we find the introduction of two devices:

1) Indian Cotton gin for separating seed from fibre: rollers. We have it is a fresco from Ajanta. It does not have a crank handle

2) Bow scutch for separating fibres: Jatakas & Milindapanho (early C AD)

Military Technology

By 7th C the horse drawn chariots as prominent vehicles of war decline and disappear. Now emphasis is much more on Cavalry horsemen.

Saddles took time to appear. Stray ref is found in Khajoraho sculpture

Iron stirrup too is not encountered

A broad wooden stirrup at Khajoraho (10th C) and possibly a leather (?) ring stirrup at Konarak (c 1250).

No iron shoe as well. However one isolated eg from Hoysala sculpture at Karnataka

Catapult too was probably not known. First use encountered by the invading Arabs who came in 712-14 to Sind: Greek Fire (naphtha) & mangonels (manjaniq)


In mathematical sciences, Bhaskar II (b. 1114) wrote Lilavati (arithmetic) & Bijaganita (algebra)

During 6th C Varahamihra wrote Pancasidhhantika and Brihatsamhita

By 628 AD Brahmagupta wrote Brahmasphuta Siddhant which was an astronomical and mathematical treatise.


Abu Raihan Alberuni

Alberuni appears to appreciate the Indians for their knowledge of the sciences. For example at one place he exclaims: ‘The Greeks, though impure, must be honoured, since they were trained in sciences, and therein excelled others. What, then, are we to say of a Brahman, if he combines with his purity the height of science?’

​On arithmetic Alberuni observed that the Indians do not use the letters of their alphabet for numerical notation, as against the Muslims who use the Arabic letters in the order of the Hebrew alphabet. The use of Arabic letters for numerals must not have been in wide use when Alberuni wrote in AD c.1030, for these have been communicated to the Arabs in the eighth and ninth centuries a fact which he goes on to accept that ‘the numeral signs which we use have been derived from the finest forms of Hindu signs’. Having observed the names of the orders of the numbers in various languages he had come in contact with, Alberuni found that no nation goes beyond the thousand, including the Arabs. Those who go beyond the thousand in their numeral system are the Indians who extend the names of the orders of numbers until the 18th order.

Pulisa has adopted the relation between the circumference and diameter of a circle to be 177/1250 which comes out to 3.1416. While ancient Puranic traditions about Earth and the heavens and their creation still existed, these were in direct opposition to the scientific truths known to Indian astronomers. While it is not possible to mention all the theories and concepts prevalent at the time, let it suffice to say what some of the ideas of Hindu astronomers that Alberuni found interesting were. Quoting Brahamgupta, Alberuni wrote:

“Several circumstances, however, compel us to attribute globular shape to both the earth and the heaven, viz. the fact that the stars rise and set in different places at different times, so that, e.g. a man in Yamakoti observes one identical start rising above the western horizon, whilst a man in Rum at the same time observes it rising above the eastern horizon. Another argument to the same effect is this, that a man on Meru observes one identical star above the horizon in the zenith of Lanka, the country of demons, whilst a man in Lanka at the same time observes it above his head. Besides all astronomical observations are not correct unless we assume the globular shape of heaven and earth. Therefore we must declare that heaven is a globe, and the observation of these characteristics of the world would not be correct unless in reality it were a globe. Now it is evident that all other theories about the world are futile.”

Quoting Varahmira, he further continues:

“Mountains, seas, rivers, trees, cities, men, and angels, all are around the globe of the earth. And if Yamakoti and Rum are opposite to each other, one could not say that the one is low in relation to the other, since low does not exist…. Every one speaks of himself, ‘I am above and the others are below,’ whilst all of them are around the globe like the blossoms springing on the branches of a Kadamba-tree. They encircle it on all the sides, but each individual blossom has the same position as the other, neither one hanging downward nor then other standing upright.”

He further emphasized: ‘For the earth attracts that which is upon her, for it is the below towards all directions, and heaven is the above towards all directions.’

​There was no consensus about the resting or movement of the earth. Aryabhatathought that the earth is moving and the heaven resting. Many astronomers contested this saying were it so, stones and trees would fall from earth. But Brahamgupta did not agree with them saying that that would not happen apparently because he thought all heavy things are attracted towards the center of the earth.

On the topic of ocean tides, Alberuni wrote that the educated Hindus determine the daily phases of the tides by the rising and setting of the moon, the monthly phases by the increase and waning of the moon; but the physical cause of the both phenomenon is not understood by them.

The Hindus have cultivated numerous branches of science and have boundless literature, which with his knowledge, he could comprehend. He wished he could have translated the Panchatantra, which in Arabia was known as the book of Kalila and Dimna.

Hindu laws, Alberuni observed are derived from their rishis, the pillars of their religion and not from the prophets, i.e. Narayana.

“Narayana only comes into this world in the form of human figure to set the world right when things have gone wrong. Hindus can easily abrogate their laws for they believe such changes are necessitated by the change of nature of man. Many things which are now forbidden were allowed before.”

Pilgrimages, Alberuni noted, are not obligatory for the Hindus, but ‘”facultative and meritorious’. Most of the venerated places are located in the cold regions round mount Meru. About the construction of holy ponds, let me quote his own words:

“In every place to which some particular holiness is ascribed, the Hindus construct ponds intended for the ablutions. In this they have attained to a very degree of art, so that our people (the Muslims), when they see them, wonder at them, and are unable to describe them, much less to construct anything like them. They build them of great stones of enormous bulk, joined to each other by sharp and strong cramp-irons, in the form of steps (or terraces) like so many ledges; and these terraces run all around the pond, reaching to a height of more than a man’s stature. On the surface of the stones between two terraces they construct staircases rising like pinnacles. Thus the first step or terraces are like roads (leading up and down). If ever so many people descend to the pond whilst others ascend, they do not meet each other, and the road is never blocked, because there are so many terraces, and the ascending person can always turn aside to another terrace than on which the descending people go. By this arrangement all troublesome thronging is avoided.”

No discussion of India would be complete without observation of the contemporary caste system. Alberuni provides much insight on this theme as well.Socially he describes the rituals as prescribed in the Dharmasastras, and while he criticizes the rigours of these rituals, he also points out that such inequalities are shared by other cultures as well. It is arguable though, that his views are influenced by his being a Sanskritist, i.e. based on the textual sources rather than ground realities.

He describes the traditional division of Hindu society along the four varnas and the antyaja—who are not reckoned in any caste but ‘only as members of a certain craft or profession’. The antyajas, according to Alberuni, were divided into eight classes (i.e. fuller, shoemaker, juggler, basket and shield maker, sailor, fisherman, hunter of wild animals and birds and weaver) according to their professions (guilds) who freely intermarry with each other except with the fuller, shoemaker and the weaver. The antyajas however according to him ‘lived near the villages and towns of the four castes, but outside them’.

He further mentions hadi, doma, candela and badhatau(?) who were outside the pale of the castes and guilds and were ‘occupied with dirty work, like cleansing of the villages and other services’ and were taken to be illegitimate descendants of a shudrafather and a brahmin mother.

On the eating customs of the four castes, he observed that when eating together, they form a group of their own caste, one group not comprising a member of another caste. Each person must have his own food for himself and it is not allowed to eat the remains of the meal. They don’t share food from the same plate as that which remains in the plate becomes after the first eater has taken part, the remains of the meal.

Alberuni also mentions the dresses worn by the Indians. He says:

“They use turbans for trousers. Those who want little dress are content to dress in a rag of two fingers’ breadth, which they bind over their loins with two cords; but those who like much dress, wear trousers lined with as much cotton as would suffice to make a number of counterpanes and saddle-rugs. These trousers have no (visible) openings, and they are so huge that the feet are not visible. The sting by which the trousers are fastened is at the back.

Their sidar (a piece of dress covering the head and the upper part of breast and neck) is similar to the tousers, being fastened at the back by buttons.

The lappets of the kurtakas (short shirts from the shoulders to the middle of the body with sleeves, a female dress)have slashes both on the right and left sides.

They keep the shoes tightvtill they begin to put them on. They are turned down from the calf before walking(?).”

• Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi



A major formulator of the reinvigorated Hindu thought was Shankara, a brahman who combined philosophical adroitness with impressive organizational acumen. To oppose what he castigated as blasphemy, he returned to the ancient Upanishads (from which Buddhist doctrines had also evolved), and offered explanations of salvation as compelling as those of the hegemonic heterodoxies of his time and earlier. Besides incorporating and transcending Buddhist doctrines, he mimicked their institutions by establishing the monastery (matha) as a key institution in a number of sites. Four of these held special status as major missionary centres, each under a successor-teacher (sankaracharya).

The religious reforms were not wholly intellectual. In addition to borrowing and incorporating Buddhist and Jaina institutions, Shankara adopted a popular song form to compose praises to Shiva. These hymns of devotion became the foundation for the new and popular worship, one that has endured to the present throughout India under the name of Hinduism.

The religious devotionalism called bhakti which first took shape in Tamil country during the sixth century was anticipated earlier by the Krishna devo- tionalism found in the Bhagavad Gita, composed around the first century ce and incorporated into the Mahabharata around a century prior to Shankara’s time. Further developments of the Tamil bhakti religion were the work of later poet devotees and theologians. According to tradition, between the sixth and tenth centuries, sixty-three Shiva- and twelve Vishnu-worshipping poets created a large corpus of Tamil devotional songs, and all are now revered as saints. Nor did theology lag far behind. Shankara’s work in providing an intel- lectual base for popular worship of Shiva was also intended to maintain and strengthen brahman leadership, and this feature was imitated by the Vishnu cult as well.

Religious developments spurred the development of first Tamil and subse- quently other languages between 1000 and 1300 ce. In the twelfth century, bhakti hymns were composed in Bengali by the saint Jayadev and in what is now called Hindi by Nimbarka of Mathura. Nimbarka was originally a south Indian brahman whose devotion to Krishna inspired him to a missionary voca- tion that helped to make Mathura the centre of the Krishna cult. In the same period, literary works, along with such technical auxiliaries as grammars and dictionaries, were written in Marathi, Bengali and several other languages.

Languages and literatures underwent a regionalization that made possible the spread and particularization of popular devotion to Vishnu, Shiva and the goddesses. Everywhere devotees imitated the Tamils, the first of the devo- tional worshippers to create a corpus of hymns in their own language. These compositions launched the development of all the modern languages of the subcontinent, those based on Sanskrit throughout the north, and others based upon a mix of Dravidian and Sanskrit words and grammatical forms in the south.

In addition to the bhakti songs, two other literary projects assumed special importance. One genre preserved or invented myths about the gods who were the divine objects of the songs and theology and were installed in temples devoted to their worship. These temples, along with the mathas, gave insti- tutional focus to the religious reformation.The other stimulus to the literature of the early medieval age was the chronicles of ruling families of the time.

The new systems of Indian philosophy

The history of Hinduism in the second half of the first millennium was influ- enced by two tendencies which seemed to contradict each other but whose synthesis actually led to the emergence of the kind of Hinduism which still exists today. On the one hand this period witnessed the rise of the great philosophical systems which were formulated in constant debates with Buddhists and Jains in the course of what has been termed a ‘Brahmin counter-reformation’; on the other hand the same period produced the great popular movements of the Bhakti cults which often explicitly rejected Brahmin orthodoxy and monist philosophy and aimed at salvation by means of pure devotion to a personal god. There were six classical philosophical systems of which the Karma Mimamsa, which addressed itself to the the- ory of right conduct and the performance of sacrifices, and classical Sankhya, which postulated a duality of mind and matter, were of particular significance. But the most influential of these systems was Vedanta (the end, i.e. anta, of the Vedas) which was greatly emphasised by the Neo-Hindu thinkers of the nineteenth and twentieth century and which is therefore often regarded as the very essence of Indian philosophy.

The great philosopher Shankara (788–820) renewed and systematised Vedanta philosophy by stressing its main principle of monism (kevala- advaita, or absolute non-duality). Shankara is regarded by some of his followers as an incarnation of Shiva. He was born the son of a Nambudiri Brahmin of Malabar (Kerala), composed his main work, the commen- tary on the Brahmasutras at Varanasi (Benares) and, according to later tradition, travelled throughout India in order to engage Buddhist and Jain scholars in debates. It is said that he defeated many of them by the power of his arguments. He also tried to unify the different rites and traditions of various groups of Brahmins. Four holy sees (matha) were established in the four corners of India, perhaps by Shankara or by his followers wh attributed their foundation to him. These holy sees were then occupied by 1 the Shankaracharyas who propagated his doctrines after his death and continue to be important to Hindus today. The Shankaracharya of Shringeri in Karnataka enjoys special reverence; one of his predecessors is supposed to have played an important role in the establishment of the Vijayanagar empire.

Shankara formulated an impressive theory of knowledge based on the quintessence of the philosophical thought of his age. He referred to the philosophical teachings of the Upanishads about the unity of the indi- vidual soul (atman) and the divine spirit (brahman). He taught that the individual soul as embodied in a living being (jiva) is tied to the cycle of rebirths (samsara) because it believes that this world is real although it is only illusion (maya). This belief is due to ignorance (avidya) which prevents the soul (atman) from realising its identity with the divine spirit (brahman). Only right knowledge (jnana) leads to the realisation of this identity and to salvation (moksha) from the cycle of rebirths.

Shankara’s philosophy was in many ways akin to Buddhist thought in highlighting the need to overcome the attachment to the cycle of births by self-realisation. He contributed to the elimination of Buddhism by evolving a Hindu philosophy which could account for everything which the Buddhists had taught in an equally systematic way. But he also provided some scope for popular Hinduism by allowing for a ‘lower truth’ which embodies the manifold appearance of the world and implies the existence of a divine creator (ishvara). In this way he reflected similar ideas of the Upanishads and of Mahayana Buddhism and was able to combine popular Hinduism with orthodox Brahmanism in a lofty philosophical system. Everybody could find his own level in this magnificent synthesis of ‘lower’ and ‘higher’ truths.

Sankara calls his philosophy by the name as Advaita.

By advaita Sarikara meant “NO-TWO” or “NON DUALITY”. To him

Reality is non-dual (Advaita) or expressed positively One Only Without a Secoi.d (Ekam Eva Advitiyam). He summarises his philosophy in just half a verse which runs thus:

“Brahman is Real, the world is illusroy and the so called individual self is non-different from Reality”.

In the Philosophy of Sankara, three concepts stand out predominently thus distinguishing other philosophies. They are:

i) Reality

ii) Maya

iii) Jivan Mukti

According to Sankara, Reality is referable by the term Atman aXso, in addition to being called Brahman, As Reality is beyond the senses, the mind and the intellect from the transcendental stand point. Reality alone is ultimately real. It is the Self of everything.

Maya is a veil that covers the reality. It conceals avarana and acts as the screen to hide. It is of the nature of superimposition (adhyasa).

Maya is not only the absence of knowledge, but is also positive wrong knowledge. It is neither real nor unreal (satyanrte mithuml krtya). It is indescribable (anirvachanlya). It is not existent for the existent is only the Brahman. It is not non-existent for it is responsible for the appearance of the Brahman as the world.

To denote illusory nature of the world, Sankara makes use of the term ‘Mithya‘, which in English is translated as illusory.

According to Sankara, Moksa does not mean cessation of the body, but the extinction of ignorance, which clearly shows that liberation can be attained even while one is alive (Jivan Mukti). Just as the wheel of potter remains moving even after the pot is made, similarly the realised individual goes on living even after attaining liberation, because of its Prarabdha. There is nothing to stop the earlier continuity of life. Even though he lives in the world he is not of the world. He is like a water on a lotus leaf as all his activities centre round Reality that is SELF.

After Sankara, the cultural history of South India records a triangular fight among the Vaishnavas, the Saivas and the Jainas and whoever succeeded in winning over, often indulged in persecuting the members of the other two sects in that territory. The social life gradually deteriorated. The caste system was gradually hardening. Great emphasis was laid on the purity of Varnas in the social orders. The Brahmanas became a well organised priestly class with special duties and privileges. In power and prestige, the Kshatriyas were closest to the Brahmanas. The social status of the Vaisyas had gradually deteriorated and wide gulf separated them from the others.

Philosophic enquiry and study became the monopoly of a few and religion and religious worship also came under the sway of a choosen few. This rigidity in social stratification widened the gulf between people, so much that disharmony, disunity and dissension became the order of the day.

People were thus so much confused that it required somebody to propound a Philosophy suited to their temperament. At this point of time appeared Ramanuja who by propagating the Philosophy of 0rganismal non-dualism (visistadvaita) catered to the needs of nis age and stabilised the Indian Culture.

Ramanuja tried to combine the Absolutism of Sankara with the theism of the Upanishads. In this attempt, he also took into account the theism of Vaishnavism. In the process he endowed Reality with all auspicious attributes and enhanced It to the status of an Absolute and named, It “NARAYANA” and regarded Maya as the lila of God. Reality being personal, the relationship between Reality and the individual also is Personal. So, to realise that Reality, one has to have an intimate persoral relationship with him which is possible only through self surrender and devotion (Bhakti).



Ramanuja, also called Ramanujacharya, or Ilaiya Perumal (Tamil: Ageless Perumal [God]), (born c. 1017, Shriperumbudur, India—died 1137, Shrirangam), South Indian Brahman theologian and philosopher, the single most influential thinker of devotional Hinduism. After a long pilgrimage, Ramanuja settled in Shrirangam, where he organized temple worship and founded centres to disseminate his doctrine of devotion to the god Vishnu and his consort Shri (Lakshmi). He provided an intellectual basis for the practice of bhakti (devotional worship) in three major commentaries: the Vedartha-samgraha (on the Vedas, the earliest scriptures of Hinduism), the Shri-bhashya (on the Brahma-sutras), and the Bhagavadgita-bhashya (on the Bhagavadgita).

Philosophy And Influence

Ramanuja’s chief contribution to philosophy was his insistence that discursive thought is necessary in humanity’s search for the ultimate verities, that the phenomenal world is real and provides real knowledge, and that the exigencies of daily life are not detrimental or even contrary to the life of the spirit. In this emphasis he is the antithesis of Shankara, of whom he was sharply critical and whose interpretation of the scriptures he disputed. Like other adherents of the Vedanta system, Ramanuja accepted that any Vedanta system must base itself on the three “points of departure,” namely, the Upanishads, the Brahma-sutras (brief exposition of the major tenets of the Upanishads), and the Bhagavadgita, the colloquy of the deity Krishna and his friend Arjuna. He wrote no commentary on any single Upanishad but explained in detail the method of understanding the Upanishads in his first major work, the Vedartha-samgraha (“Summary of the Meaning of the Veda”). Much of this was incorporated in his commentary on the Brahma-sutras, the Shri-bhashya, which presents his fully developed views. His commentary on the Bhagavadgita, the Bhagavadgita-bhashya, dates from a later age.

Although Ramanuja’s contribution to Vedanta thought was highly significant, his influence on the course of Hinduism as a religion has been even greater. By allowing the urge for devotional worship (Bhakti) into his doctrine of salvation, he aligned the popular religion with the pursuits of philosophy and gave bhakti an intellectual basis. Ever since, bhakti has remained the major force in the religions of Hinduism. His emphasis on the necessity of religious worship as a means of salvation continued in a more systematic context the devotional effusions of the Alwars, the 7th–10th century poet-mystics of southern India, whose verse became incorporated into temple worship. This bhakti devotionalism, guided by Ramanuja, made its way into northern India, where its influence on religious thought and practice has been profound.

Ramanuja’s worldview accepts the ontological reality of three distinct orders: matter, soul, and God. Like Shankara and earlier Vedanta, he admits that there is nonduality(advaita), an ultimate identity of the three orders, but this nonduality for him is asserted of God, who is modified (vishishta; literally “qualified”) by the orders of matter and soul; hence, his doctrine is known as Vishishtadvaita (“qualified nonduality”) as opposed to the unqualified nonduality of Shankara. Central to his organicconception of the universe is the analogy of body and soul: just as the body modifies the soul, has no separate existence from it, and yet is different from it, just so the orders of matter and soul constitute God’s “body,” modifying it, yet having no separate existence from it. The goal of the human soul, therefore, is to serve God just as the body serves the soul. Anything different from God is but a shesha of him, a spilling from the plenitude of his being. All the phenomenal world is a manifestation of the glory of God (vibhuti), and to detract from its reality is to detract from his glory. Ramanuja transformed the practice of ritual action into the practice of divine worship and the way of meditation into a continuous loving pondering of God’s qualities, both in turn a subservient to bhakti, the fully realized devotion that finds God. Thus, release is not merely a shedding of the bonds of transmigration but a positive quest for the contemplation of God, who is pictured as enthroned in his heaven, called Vaikuntha, with his consort and attendants.

Ramanuja’s doctrine, which was passed on and augmented by later generations, still identifies a caste of Brahmans in southern India, the Shrivaishnavas. They became divided into two subcastes, the northern, or Vadakalai, and the southern, or Tenkalai. At issue between the two schools is the question of God’s grace. According to the Vadakalai, who in this seem to follow Ramanuja’s intention more closely, God’s grace is certainly active in man’s quest for him but does not supplant the necessity of man’s acting toward God. The Tenkalai, on the other hand, hold that God’s grace is paramount and that the only gesture needed from man is his total submission to God (prapatti).

The site of Ramanuja’s birthplace in Shriperumbudur is now commemorated by a temple and an active Vishishtadvaita school. The doctrines he promulgated still inspire a lively intellectual tradition, and the religious practices he emphasized are still carried on in the two most important Vaishnava centres in southern India, the Ranganatha temple in Shrirangam, Tamil Nadu, and the Venkateshvara temple in Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh.

Administration Under Babur: The Wajh and the Khalisa

The revenue assignments made by Babur to his nobles are generally referred to as wajh. There are some other terms which we hear about: wajh-i istiqamat, wajh wa istiqamat, wajh-i ulufa and wajh wa ulufa which were inter-changeable. The holders of these revenue assignments were known as wajhdars.

The earliest mention of the term wajh in a fiscal context is found in the Tarikh-i Firuzshahi of Shams Siraj Afif. Under the Lodis this term was probably an equivalent of iqta.

Under Babur, however, the term wajh had a different connotation, as compared to iqta: the iqta could be sub-assigned. Under Babur, wajh appears to have been fixed sums out of the total jama of a territory. The rest amount (out of the territory assigned) was to be treated as khalisa. Thus Babur’s wajhdars were not granted specified lands but specified sums of money out of the revenue of the territories. These territories were, unlike the jagirs, assigned by the Mughals later on.

In the wajhdari system, various territories were put in overall charge of various nobles, who were assigned a fixed sum out of the revenues of their respective charge for their maintenance. This was known as the wajh.

A wajhdar, therefore, was an overall in-charge, both fiscal and administrative, of a territory assigned to him by the emperor and could claim only a fixed sum for his maintenance as specified by the emperor.

But then, there being no check on the authority of the wajhdar, there was every possibility that he could misappropriate the state dues.

We also find cases that sometimes individual parganas, with their total jama could also be assigned as wajh to a person.

Thirdly, sometimes the wajh of the assignee in the pargana could also exceed in amount the wajh of the assignee of the whole territory. Thus a territory might be held by a noble in wajh, but inside the same territory, a pargana could be assigned to another noble as wajh. But this assignment was directly by the emperor; and a wajhdar was not empowered to sub-assign his territory to any one else as was the case in iqta.

Further, we also encounter cases where there were nobles whose wajh had been fixed but who were not given any pargana or wilayat (territory). These were obviously paid their istiqamat or ulufa from the Imperial territory.

It appears that the wajh / wajh-i istiqamat was an administrative charge and not of revenues. This is highlighted from the example of Alwar. We are informed that Alwar was offered to Khusrau with his ‘wajh wa istiqamat’ fixed at 50 lakhs. When he declined, it was offered to Tardika, who had his wajh fixed as 15 lakhs. Thus this assignment could never have been against, or in lieu of, his wajh. The wajh kept varying while the jama of Alwar remained static. The wajh would thus vary as per the status of the noble and was not in relation to the jama of the territory bestowed on him.

From the above it appears that

a) The terms wajh, wajh-wa istiqamat and wajh-i istiqamat were inter changeable.

b) Assignment of a territory (pargana or wilayat) generally followed the fixation of wajh.

One can say that in the wajhdari system of Babur, the emperor fixed the wajh or salary in terms of cash. The wajh so fixed was generally granted in the form of revenue assignment of a territory or pargana. In case the wajh or salary of the noble was less than the jama of the territory, the wajhdar would collect his amount of wajh as well as the other amount which was for khalisa. In case his wajh and jama were equal, the wajhdar was simply an assignee of the total revenues against his wajh.

Thus we can say that there were three types of wajhdars under Babur:

1) Those entrusted with additional responsibility (e.g., wajhdars of Sirhind, Alwar, Tijara, Bayana, Qannauj)

2) Those who were assigned parganas specifically against their wajh

3) Those who were not assigned any territory but were paid in cash.

The amount sanctioned as wajh was probably sanctioned for both personal maintenance as well as maintenance of military contingents (which consisted of naukaran and biradaran wa khweshan. Failure to render service could result in the resumption of the status and confiscation of pargana or wilayat sanctioned against their wajh.

Another salient feature of the wajhdari system was that the wajhdars were not normally subjected to transfers. However, one should remember the time span of Babur’s rule.

Finally, on the death of a wajhdar, it was the privilege of the emperor to dispose of the retainers of the wajhdar.

Thus it was a system which had its roots in the iqta system on the one hand and on the other, it contained the seeds of the mansabdari and jagirdari system as developed by Akbar.


In the administration of Babur we find that the whole empire was divided into two



There are instances, in fact two, where Babur reserved parganas for khalisa. For example, Bahlolpur in trans-Sutluj area, and Dholpur near Agra.

The revenues of Lahore, Delhi & Agra were also earmarked for khalisa and were not given out as wajh. We hear of two officers appointed at Lahore: Abdul Aziz mir akhur as darogha and Khwaja Husain as diwan-i khalisat-i Lahore. The posts of diwan and shiqdar were associated with the administration of the khalisa.

Further, there is a reference in Baburnāma that when dak-chaukis were prepared to be established between Agra & Kabul, it was specified that they would be maintained from the expenses borne by amirs if they were in the parganas held by them, but if it lay within the jurisdiction of khalisa, the expenses would be borne through the income from the khalisa.  This suggests that parganas of khalisa were spread over between Agra & Kabul.

In addition to the normal ordinary share of the khalisa, which used to stand around 10-15 % of the revenues, Babur says that in 1528 he made a general reduction from the assignments of the nobles to the extent of 1/3rd of their value. If, keeping in mind these figures, a calculation is made, it is possible to establish, that, under Babur, after 1528, the revenues of the khalisa came upto 38.6% ~ which was something unprecedented.

In Baburnāma is given a list of sarkars and the expected revenues from them. The total revenues are calculated as Rs. 52 crores. Out of this, Babur says, 8 to 9 crores used to come as peshkash, while the rest was from Imperial revenues.

We know on the authority of the sources of the Sultanate as well as the 17th C, that in the normal course, khalisa revenues would be up to 15% of the total revenues.

Thus to begin with, it was 8 crores. But then 30% of the revenues, which were given out to nobles as wajh, was transferred to khalisa in 1528. Then, additional 5% revenue was reserved from grants (wajh-i ma’ash), as was the case under Sultanate.

Now if we calculate: 5% of 52 crores would be in the range of 3 crores. Thus 8 crores + 3 crores = 11 crores. Thus the revenues passed out as wajh to the nobles would be in the range of 40 crores. 30% of this 40 crore would be 12 crores. And this in 1528 was transferred to khalisa.

Add 12 to 8 crores, and we get 20 crores! This 20 crores was reserved in khalisa after 1528. And this is a very high share reserved for khalisa under Babur. This continued down to the time of Akbar. According to Irfan Habib, under Akbar the revenues from khalisa stood at 25%.

In this way, Babur tried to bring centralization. In 1528-29, or perhaps still later date, Babur appears to have made an attempt to further augment the khalisa revenues by imposing ushr, i.e., 1/10th of the produce of the land, on the madad-i ma’ash holders. Ordinarily, these grants were revenue-free grants to ulama, intellectuals, relations of soldiers killed in action, officers, ladies of distinguished families and Saiyids. But throughout there was a debate amongst the ulama regarding the nature of these rights as far as this grant was concerned. Whether this land would be milkiyat (property) or just held it at the pleasure of the king. Ulema held that they were milkiyat as these lands were taken from the non-Muslims. Whether ushr should be imposed or not depends on the position of the land. If the land belonged to the state, then there could be no ushr. But as soon as state accepts it as property of men, then ushr is applicable.

This whole theoretical debate is given by Shaikh Jalaluddin Thanesari in his Tahqiq-i Arazi-i Hind.

Thus when Babur applied ushr on madad-i ma’ash, he was giving concession to the ulema. On the other hand, he was also wanting to increase the income of the state exchequer. Evidence on which we can make this deduction is actually a letter written by Shaikh Abdul Quddus Gangohi to Babur in a harsh resentful language. One specific demand made in this letter is to immediately withdraw the ushr. He taunts Babur by saying “Begging from a needy person is not wise, how you can justify taking something from a faqir?”

This gets significance by another evidence, which is an early farman of Babur confirming a grant established by the Lodi kings in the Punjab region. In this farman Babur prohibits his administration from realizing ushr from the grantees.

If we put these two evidences together, what we get is that Babur introduced this and nobles were resentful. In the beginning, Babur did not impose ushr and went out of his way in prohibiting it in the early period. But sometime later, he decided to impose the tax on the grantees. We don’t know whether ushr was again abolished or not. But what Babur was trying was to centralize the state finances.

• Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi

Causes of the Revolts of Senior Nobles of Akbar 1662-67

An Attempt to Assassinate Akbar, Jagan, Bhawani Kalan & Madhav, 1564, Akbarnāma, V&A Museum, London

In May 1662 a senior Turani noble Mirza Sharfuddin revolted against Akbar. This is important to note as this revolt set the pattern for a number of revolts that took place during the subsequent period of 3 years. In 1564 an attempt to assassinate Akbar was made outside the Madrasa of Maham Anaga by a man associated with Mirza Sharfuddin. In all these revolts, one finds nobles concerned took initiative in starting hostilities against the central authority without ostensible or immediate provocation from the other side. These revolts may thus be interpreted as the manifestation of the disaffection of a powerful section of nobility against Akbar. One could also say that they are a manifestation of a wide struggle between Akbar and an influential section of his nobility.

That these revolts in a short period of three years were not ordinary revolts but a reflection of a deep conflict growing, is borne out by their unusual frequency: in 3 to 4 years period, 5 or 6 major rebellions covering the entire empire and its different regions is not something to be regarded as part of an ordinary process.

Turani Revolts?

All those involved in these revolts were Turanis: it was basically a struggle between the central authority and the Turani nobles entrenched in different regions and important positions. The only exception to this was the revolt of Asif Khan.

Let us also remember that in each and every revolt, the initiative was taken by rebel nobles: These revolts were not a result of any specific complaints but a result of general alienation and disaffection of a particular section of the nobility. Again, from the history of these revolts, it also seems that throughout this time, Akbar was defensive, trying to save his neck, though Abul Fazl paints him to be composed and secure. Though he had given concessions to these rebellious groups and was defensive under the heavy pressure when Abdullah Khan Uzbek rebelled – he tried to dissuade him through negotiations via Munim Khan. Even in the case of Ali Quli, Akbar knew six months in advance but he did nothing. Instead he sent emissaries to negotiate but to no avail.

Turani vs Irani?

Another feature of these revolts was that amongst the Turanis, the dissatisfaction was much more widespread than what was reflected in the act of actual defiance of the nobles. Even those who co-operated with Akbar, by and large, were also not very happy with him. A lukewarm attitude was followed by them. We find that during Mirza Sharafuddin’s revolt, when expedition was sent to suppress him, the Turani officers included in this expedition did not fully co-operate with some of the Irani nobles whom Akbar had appointed as the commander of the army. For example, Abul Fazl tells us that during this campaign, some of the Turani nobles turned against their own Irani commanders and killed them. It was in this manner that Ahmad Beg and Sikandar Beg were killed. Similarly were killed Husain Quli, a nephew of Bairam Khan and his younger brother.

Abul Fazl also states that there was wide spread dissatisfaction among ordinary Turani nobles that the expeditions were being commanded by the Iranis.

Another case of Turani dissatisfaction was the attitude adopted by Munim Khan, who was still a formal wakil. We know that after Asif Khan deserted his post, command of the army against the Uzbeks in the east was given to Munim Khan. When he took up the command a problem arose: While the Irani officers in the government adopted a belligerent attitude – they were in favour of a military solution to the conflict – the attitude of Munim Khan was different. He persisted that as far as possible, direct hostility be avoided. He had called Ali Quli Khan to negotiate and Akbar had agreed. When negotiations dragged on for months, the Khurasanis alleged that he was by talking; employing a delaying tactics and that he was in sympathy with the rebels. It was alleged that his co-operation with Akbar was slightly tainted and was in fact taking side of the other party in negotiations.

Abul Fazl also quotes that on one occasion when Ali Quli Khan was staying at Muhammadabad near Ghazipur, Akbar tried to surprise him there. Akbar was at Ghazipur. He ordered the royal forces to capture the rebels. Munim Khan deliberately delayed the march from Ghazipur by a few hours and sent message to Ali Quli to leave Muhammadabad and he was saved from being captured. Abul Fazl says, this came to Akbar’s notice immediately but he did not take any action against Munim Khan as he did not mean any harm to the person of Akbar but thought that the proper course would be reconciliation.

So one can say, that, the behaviour of Turani nobles in general was such that dissatisfaction amongst them was almost universal.

As a corollary of the Turani revolts, it is quite understandable for Akbar to depend increasingly on non-Turanis – particularly the Irani nobles. Thus we find that during this time all important offices in the central government were held by the Khurasani officers.

In 1564 Muzaffar Khan was appointed wakil-i kul. The central government at this time was controlled by a set of Irani officers including persons like Khwaja-i Jahan (Khwaja Amina), Muizzul Mulk, Khwaja Ghiyasuddin (Asaf Khan) etc. A few Turanis who were allowed to continue were however not given much power: for example Munim Khan was without much power or influence.

Similarly in appointment to high positions and high commands in the army, it was the Iranis who were preferred over Turanis.

In the 1563-64 expedition against Mirza Hakim and Abul Ma’ali, Iranis were appointed. Against Ali Quli, an Irani, Abdul Majid was sent as commander.

So a feeling of rivalry between the Turanis and Khurasanis was bound to develope.

The initial cause for this dissatisfaction, as we have seen, was the drastic measures initiated by Akbar to eliminate the influence of Maham Anaga’s influence: this is borne out by Mirza Sharafuddin’s rebellion.

But then Maham Anaga died 40 days after Adham Khan’s execution. Still in these rebellions different factions of Turani origin kept on participating. So factors which led to this situation were much deeper than just measures against Maham Anaga faction.

Economic and Administrative Reasons

Some tentative explanations which can be put forward for explaining this phenomenon is as follows:

The scrutiny of the jagirs of the nobles with the aim of ascertaining the arrears of the khalisa revenues was perhaps a very important factor leading to the general dissatisfaction of the more powerful groups of nobility.

At this time, the nature of jagirs was different from that which was given in the latter half of Akbar’s reign, or the jagirs as we find under Jahangir and Shahjahan. At this time entire sarkars would be placed under the control of a particular officer and the revenues of the same sarkar would be given under his jurisdiction with the only condition that a fixed portion of the revenue be treated as khalisa revenue which the noble after collection had to deposit in the central treasury. The jagirs and administrative charges were concomitant and the khalisa revenue was specified only in quantity and not in terms of parganas or mahals. The responsibility of its collection was on the jagirdar: and thus he was having the opportunity to usurp them if he wished so. That is why the scrutiny would be needed: the total collection from the region was placed under his charge as his administrative-cum assignment charge.

Secondly the problem was further accentuated owing to the existence of inflated jama’. Ain-i Nuazdeh sala shows inflated rates. Natural consequence of inflated jama’ would be considerable hardship to the nobles. The actual income would be much less than that indicated on paper. Thus to collect the revenues that would be assigned to them in the form of jagirs given against individual parganas and mahals, these nobles would have the tendency to usurp the khalisa revenues which was also their responsibility. It was unavoidable thus that the noble would fail to deposit khalisa share to the state. So if the aim of the state would be to calculate khalisa arrears, everyone would feel panicky and threatened. They would also feel the hardship involved in this endeavour.

In addition, from 1564 onwards, Akbar had adopted an administrative policy which was again bound to create discontent amongst the Turani nobles who were the most established and powerful group of nobles at this time.

One of the policy matters of Akbar after 1564 was the dispersal of the nobles belonging to the same clans to different areas and sarkars. So a deliberate policy was initiated, of not allowing nobles of the same clan to have jagirs in contiguous areas. Till this time the established practice was that a senior noble would be assigned a jagir, say in Punjab; others of the same clan would be given territories around it. The entire military command of that area would be thus with this senior officer. This was a great leverage for the senior officers with the central authority. There were many such clan clusters during this time. For example, the nobles of the Atka Khail led by Shamsuddin Muhammad Atka had their jagirs concentrated in the Punjab region till 1567. Similarly the Uzbeks were concentrated in the Awadh and Jaunpur region. The Qaqshal clan was in and around the sarkar of Kara Manikpur. The Mirzas were concentrated in the region of Sambhal.

This was a general pattern till 1564, when onwards Akbar followed a deliberate policy of breaking these ties and concentrations. Incidentally all these clans named above were Turani tribes and clans. The Atkas were a Turkish clan.

That such a policy was deliberately followed and that it was not liked by the nobles, isa got from Bayazid Bayat, who records a conversation which took place between Akbar and Munim Khan. The import of this conversation was that Akbar boasted of scattering Atka Khail all over the empire deliberately. Perhaps this policy was being pursued over a long period since Akbar took effective control of running the administration in his hands. And perhaps this became yet another factor which provoked the Turani nobles to rebel one after the other. Atleast some like Munim Khan and Majnun Khan Qaqshal nursed this as a grievance against Akbar.

Bifurcation of Military & Administrative Responsibilities

Another point is that from 1564 onwards, Akbar’s policy was to exclude important military officers from the working of the central government altogether. They were given charges of different regions and not allowed to stay and interfere in the working of the local administration. This job was handed over by Akbar to a set of Khurasani officers who had no following of their own: their only qualification was that they were competent persons in respective fields and were always prepared to implement policies imposed by Akbar without bothering about the consequent reaction of the nobility.

• Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi

Factors for Babur’s Success in Indian Campaigns

The Battle of Panipat, 1526

It is actually quite intriguing that Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur, who came to India with such a small band of followers (not more than 8000 or 10,000 fighting hands and 125 or 150 military commanders) was able to worst armies which were more than 1 lākh strong!

A number of historians have tried to assign a number of causes for this brilliant success. Broadly speaking these reasons can be divided into two:

(a) The internal weaknesses (both political and economic) of the Indian states; and

(b) The strengths of the invaders: military, technological as well as tactical

Some textbook writers have tried to argue that it was the knowledge of guns and gunpowder which gave Babur’s forces an edge over his rivals. In a separate blog, we have already grappled with this and concluded along with scholars like Iqtidar Ālam Khan that Indians had a knowledge of both these things much before Babur entered the scene.

Let us first deal with what was the condition prevalent in India prior to Babur’s entry, which helped in strengthening his position and facilitated his success.

In spite of the large social base of the Afghans in Hindustan, the hostility of the population towards the Mughals who had come to be identified as uncouth, barbarian and hostile for at least 200 yrs, made the task of Babur and the Mughals difficult.

The Muslim population of India was also very hostile as against what Rushbrooke Williams says. Some passages in Lataif-i Quddusi go to suggest that Abdul Quddus & his relations were greatly apprehensive of the situation and were against Babur. The ashraf (of the Karnal area left their houses & shifted to a place in the rear of the Lodi army. After the Lodi defeat at Panipat, even Abdul Quddus Gangohi was taken prisoner & dragged behind a horse up till Delhi. Babur, we are informed by Lataif, attacked a dargah & burned a library. The Lataif-i Quddusi has certain letters depicting the oppressive nature of the Mughals, atleast in the initial stages. Babur in fact, did not command any support amongst the local Muslim population.

The Lodi Empire and Its Drawbacks:

The Lodi Empire was an Afghan Empire. The majority of the officers and nobles were from the Afghan regions. The Afghan identity gave it an advantage as there existed a large number of Afghan populations in N. India as a result of the continuous process of migration throughout the Sultanate period. By Tughluq period two Afghan rebellions against Mohd Tughluq had occurred. Then in 1441 Bahlul captured power with large Afghan following. He made a direct to Afghan tribal sentiments. The text of Bahlul’s announcements and farmans have been quoted by Abbas Khan and other Afghan history, the Tarikh-i Khan Jahani. Mushtaqi also wrote that he made an appeal to the Afghan tribals.

    To quote Abbas Khan: ‘God in his goodness has granted kingdom of Delhi to Afghans….whatever be conquered shall be shared with us’.

Thus RP Tripathi calls it the Afghan Confederacy. But then, not withstanding the Declaration, not all Afghans were given a share in the empire. Distribution was made between the favoured and the privileged on the one hand and those not important to be given position. For example, nobles under Bahlul and Sikandar Lodi were recruited from the clans of Lodis, Sarwanis, Lohanis and Farmulis (the Shakhzadas of Ghazni). The others were ignored and totally excluded. For example the Niazis, who were supposed to be the uncouth people and not fully fit even for the army. Similarly ignored were the Surs and the Kakkars etc.

Thus one can say that the Lodi Empire, which Babur replaced, was not an empire with Afghans having equal share.

Let us also be clear that from the very beginning, in the Lodi Empire the non-Afghan section was given a considerable share. Thus it was not exclusively an Afghan concern. The Indian Shaikhzadas were recruited in large numbers in the nobility. Thus for example, Shaikh Ghuran of Koil, the Syeds of Amroha, the Shaikhzadas recruited from the Gangetic plain and the Punjab. Then there were also incorporated a large number of Rajputs under Sikandar Lodi.

So by Sikandar’s time, the Lodi nobility was divided into two groups: (1) the Privileged Afghan clan groups; and (2) People of Non-Afghan origin, some of whom were non-Muslim and Rajput chieftains. This made the social base of the Lodi state very wide, in fact much wider than the early Mughals.

There was a large Afghan population. It has been roughly estimated in the range of 80 lakh families, i.e., 4 crore Afghans. Afzal-ut Tawarikh gives this number to explain Humayun’s defeat at the hands of Sher Shah. In addition to this, a very large section of Hindu chiefs were given a share in the Empire. The Lodis could rally the population paying allegiances to these groups.

This is reflected in the hymns of Guru Granth Sahib (tr. Macaulay in Sikh Religion vol.I) which suggests that the overthrow of the Lodis was a loss to the people. But in spite of the large social base behind them, the Lodis were not able to throw back the Mughal challenge. This can be explained if we keep in mind the contradictions in the Lodi state between the Lodi aspirations and centralization on the one hand and the decentralization of aspirations of the Afghan nobility. The history of the struggle between the two date back to the period of Sikandar Lodi. He gave up many of the policies and measures of Ibrahim Lodi pacifying nobles of equal position. This was altered and resulted in wide-spread discontent. Sikandar had no alternative but to depend on the section comprising the non-Afghan nobility in order to deal with the dis-satisfied Afghan nobles. The kind of autonomy which the Afghan nobles enjoyed till that time, and sought to be curbed by Sikandar Lodi, can be gauged by going through Abbas Khan Sarwani’s section on Sher Shah’s early career and his description of Sher Shah’s administration of his father’s jagir at Sahsaram.

Now what impression does this account of Abbas Khan create as far as the position of the Afghan noble’s are concerned?

1. That the nobles were free to decide the mode of assessment and mode of collection from their iqtas: ghallabakhshi or measurement. This indicates that there was no policy laid out by the centre. This is a situation of autonomy.

2. Any extra collection from the iqta or the assignment was pocketed by the noble himself. This was a laxity of the administration. In strong administration, this had to be deposited with the state. But this was not being done so during the reign of Sikandar. Sher Shah talks of ‘extra revenue’ being a boon to his iqta.

3. The noble’s were free to wage a war against local chiefs. They had assumed authority to create jagirs and zamindars to uproot established chief. The job of creation of new zamindars was never allowed or given to a noble, before or after this reign.

4. Afghan nobles in some cases were holding iqtas practically (not in theory) on hereditary basis. When Hasan Khan Sur died, a tussle arose in which Sher Khan won over his brother to hold over his iqta.

5. The principle of transfer of iqta followed under the Khanljis was conspicuous by its absence at this time.

During the reigns of Sikandar and Ibrahim Lodi revolts became more accentuated. For eg. Daulat Khan Lodi who controlled Punjab revolted and invited Babur to come to Hindustan. Alauddin Khan Lodi also turned against Ibrahim. The revolt of the Farmuli nobles was also a result of this situation.

The contradiction between the king and the nobles further accentuated and differences sharpened due to yet another factor. This was the shortage of precious metals which eventually resulted in the minting of smaller number of silver and gold coins during the Lodi period. This is borne out by the surviving collection of the silver and gold coins of this country. The surviving coins from the pre-Lodi period as well as those from the Mughal and Sur period is quite large. The surviving gold and silver coins of the contemporary states are also considerable. Their number is quite large indeed. This for the first time is noticed by John F.Richards, ‘Economic History of Lodi period’, JESHO, Aug’65

This paucity would naturally affect the position of the nobles. Further on account of slowing down of the pace of the money economy, resulting from the absence of silver and gold currency would promote the custom of collecting revenues in kind and not in cash. Naturally this would lead to paucity of money to raise troops. Absence of ready cash would also affect the ostentatious pretences.

Most probably the shortage of precious metals was due to short supply due to coming in existence of independent states on the coast. Lodi Empire had become land-locked, says Moreland. Edward Thomas, ‘Economy of Pathan Kings’, says this short supply was a result of Timur’s plunder of 1498. Richards has however pointed out that if this was the result of land-locked nation, then why the other land-locked states not experienced the same shortage? In case of Kashmir or Mewar or Malwa, we don’t observe this phenomenon. Richards also points out that Timur’s plunder is also not a good explanation. His explanation is that Bahlul paid lip-service to the nobles as the brothers wanted to curb their independence and power by withdrawing gold and silver currency deliberately.

Whatever the cause, the nobles were hurt due to this. During Ibrahim’s reign this situation became almost unbearable for the nobles. Under Ibrahim, for several consecutive years, there were very good rains, and thus bumper crops. This resulted in a sharp fall in the prices of food grains and especially influenced the general price index. Side by side to this, before Ibrahim Lodi, there was the introduction of a new coin. Bahlul had introduced this coin which came to be known as the Bahluli Tanka. This was different from the tanka of the Sultanate period. It was of copper (tanka-i siyah) and had a ratio of 1:20 with earlier coins. Thus this was a debased tanka and this was a further catastrophe. The result was that the peasants were not in a position to make payments or submit revenue to the nobles in cash or in the new copper tanka. And whatever revenue was collected in kind was almost entirely valueless as there was no market for it. Thus the income of the nobles was further adversely affected by this. Thus we encounter widespread revolts during Ibrahim’s reign. Thus the fiscal policy was partly responsible for the extinction of the Lodis.

Handheld Guns and Manoeuvrability

Still we can not deny that the kind of fire-arms used by Babur was something new for the Indians. It also cannot be denied that the way and manner in which he used them was also new. The novelty of fire-arms and the tactics employed for use was something which gave him military and strategic advantage.

One very great advantage was that by the time Babur invaded the Lodi Empire, the rulers & common people had not yet become familiar with the handguns: they were familiar with the canons but Babur’s soldiers were equipped with some kind of handguns, the arquebuses & matchlocks. The arquebus was a gun which fired by putting the burning object in touch with the hole in the barrel held in the hand.

Thus the new innovation brought by Babur was not the gun & gunpowder, but the use of handguns in open battles. This was an innovation which in Hindustan had not yet become common outside Gujarat in 1526. It seems that the arquebus was not fully known outside Gujarat & certainly not in the North-western region. Babur in the siege of Bajaur describes the reaction of the local garrison to his use of handguns in a manner which goes to indicate that most probably the Bajauris were not familiar with this particular kind of firearms:

“As the Bajauris had never before seen tufung, they at first took no care about them; indeed they made fun when they heard the report and answered it by unseemly gestures. On that day Ustad Ali Quli shot at, and brought down five men with tufung; Wali the treasurer, for his part, brought down two; other matchlock men (tufungchis) were also very active in firing and did well shooting through shields, through armour, and brought down one man after another. Perhaps seven, eight or ten had fallen to tufung fire (zarb-i tufung) before night. After that it so became that not a head could be put out because of the fire.”

This account dates back to 1519, around the same time that Barbosa says that handguns were used in Gujarat.

These tufungs were evidently matchlocks whose use had spread rapidly east from the Ottoman-Iranian borderlands. Venetians sent firearms to north-western Iran to the Turkic Aq Quyunlu enemies of the Ottomans in the late 15th Century. They may have spread further east then – and perhaps with even greater speed following the Ottoman use of firearms when they shattered the Safavid army at the Battle of Chaldiran in 1514.

At Bajaur Ustad Ali Quli twice used a weapon which was called “Farangi”. Babur says the weapon used fired farangi tāshi (farangi stones). The Safavids use the term top-i farangi for the weapon they used in a battle in 1528-29.

The second point is that Babur introduced the handgun in the open battle where it was used by infantrymen who would fire their guns while standing on the ground. Other on the coast, were used to firing from the back of the elephants. In the case of Babur, the handgun wielders were made to stand on the ground & fire: this was a great advance in the technique.

Thirdly, it seems, Babur not only brought with him the most advanced guns which he borrowed from the Ottomans, but he also, for the first time utilized them in an open battle. Before this all reference in Hindustan which we have are either for the use of canons as shore battery against ships or their use in siege operations from fixed positions. We don’t come across the use of canons or handguns before 1526 in an open battle.

Such deployment would need proper kind of carriages to take them swiftly from one place to another. Such a technique was yet to evolve. Secondly it was not possible for the gunners to change the direction of the guns swiftly: they could be fired from fixed positions in one direction. Thus the cavalry would be in a position to capture it – almost half an hour was needed to fire one piece. In this half an hour, the rival cavalry could overcome it thus making the use of heavy canon useless in an open battle. But once fired from the ramparts of a fort, this fire could be effective: the danger of the artillery being over-run by cavalry would not be there.

The genius of Babur lay in the manner in which he used his artillery, his handgun-men, the tufungchis at Panipat and Kanwa. He ensured their safety of his canons & tufungchis to the same extent to which it would be ensured from the ramparts of fortifications. It also did not hamper the movement of his cavalry.

The Tactics: Tulughma and Use of Araba

There were 10,000 troops along with Babur. The whole army was divided into tulughma formation of three units, the right wing (maimana), the left wing (maisara) and the centre (hashm-i qalb).

It was in 1507 at the Battle of Qandahar that Babur had used the battle order (yasal) which came to be known as the tulughma formation. Mentioning this with the fact that he commanded very few men, Babur writes:

“I prepared an excellent battle order. Never before had I arranged things so well. In the khāsah tābīn, the imperial troop, for which I selected all proven warriors, I appointed commanders of tens and fifties, [after] dividing them up into [sections] of tens and fifties. Each [section] of ten and each [section] of fifty stationed at the right and left, were prepared: they knew their positions, their orders and were ready for the onset of battle. Right and left flanks, right and left wings, right and left sides, right and left, mounted, formed up without difficulty and without the help of a tovachii, an adjutant, each [section] was properly positioned and so forth.”

In an elaborate note Babur carefully explains these divisions of his force. He identifies three major subsections: irawul / harawal or vanguard, the ghol / qalb, the centre, and the two wings, the baranghar / maimana or right wing and the javanghar / maisara or left wing. The qalb / ghol itself was subdivided into two principal sections: the khasa tabin, the imperial troops, and the two sides: an ong qol, or right arm and a sol qol or left arm.

Tulughma Formation

He further divides the khasa tabin into five subdivisions, the boy or inner circle with its ong, right, and sol, left, and its ong yan, right side and sol yan, left side. However, when describing actual battles, Babur rarely identifies all these subsections but usually only names leading members of the vanguard, the centre and the right and left wings.

Placement of Araba before the canons

The araba formation was also preferred. He deployed ordinary carts tied with raw hide as a barricade. Between each column of the cart he left space for 100 troopers to pass in one row. Behind these carts he deployed mantelets (turah) which were stands giving protection to individual gunners & support for his handgun. Then, behind he deployed his advance guard under Khusrau Kokaltash. On one side of the advance gaurds were the firangis: i.e heavy mortars cast in bronze (from W.Eur). On the other side he deployed the zarb-wa-zan, the light artillery.

Behind the zarb-wa-zan he stationed his left wing (maisara) of the army. Behind the firangi he stationed the right wing (maimana) commanded by Humayun. Then behind these columns were the large central reserve, again divided into centre (hashm-i qalb), right (maimana) & left (maisara). Babur himself was in the centre. Then on the flanks were placed two flanks of the central reserve: the turning party of the left and the turning party of the right. These were for delivering the charge. The turning parties would issue away from the enemy, turn abruptly & deliver charges on the flanks of the advancing enemy.

This was the battle plan of the ghazis of Rum. He resorted to tulughma tactics which he had experienced with the Uzbeks.

He divided his army into different flanks which were to wheel around and surround the enemy. On three sides he had complete defence: he dug ditches on two sides and on the third the the town of Panipat. The only course left was to charge from the front where Babur had placed the carts. But this was not hampering the movement of Babur’s party as there were sufficient spaces left in the front line for them to move.

On the Afghan side, the battle plan was conventional. It spread on a large track. Ibrahim’s troops had to compress to launch an attack on the enemy. Babur says that Ibrahim Lodi was a young man of no experience and was negligent of his movements.The crowd became dense, and when they reached close range to Babur’s artillery, they were pressed and pushed from the behind. The confusion increased. At this point Babur’s effective use of artillery fire slaughtered them. They could neither advance nor withdraw. They had no option but to be slaughtered.

Thus the artillery and the tufungchis played a decisive role due to the novel battle plan drawn by Babur which he had borrowed from the ghazis of Rum. Salim the Terrible had used it in the Battle of Chalderan against Ismail Safawi of Iran.

At Kanwa, the only difference was that side by side with the cavaly, the tufungchis were also moving: the tripods on which the canons were mounted had had wheels to move them; and the chains tying the carts were now iron chains. The effect of the araba & tulughma war tactics in this battle was also same: the Rajput soldiers were demoralised & badly defeated.

• Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi