Akbar And His Nobility

In the same period when the Turani Revolts were taking place that Akbar decided to recruit Rajput Chiefs employed by the previous rulers as well: the difference however between Akbar’s policy and that of the others was that the policy now initiated was a policy of en mass recruitment. This resulted in a basic transformation in the basic character of the Mughal nobility and the empire. In 1562 was recruited Bharamal with his entire Kachhwaha clan.

Akbar wanted to establish a new group to counterbalance the Turani faction in the nobility. Simultaneously, from the āīn-i nuāzdeh sālā, an inference can be drawn that in the 10th RY an attempt was made by the authorities to accomplish a less inflated jama’ by calculating separate price lists for the provinces year by year. Thus, probably, to meet an important problem agitating the nobles, these measures were adopted in 1566-67. But then this is only an inference!

But before we start a discussion on this topic, let us first deal with the concept of the term ‘noble’: the amir (pl. Umara). Generally speaking, a mansabdar holding a mansab of 500 or above was considered a noble. In the contemporary surces, the personnel in the Mughal service are actually divided into two categories: the ordinary mansabdars and the umara. Abul Fazl includes every one holding the rank of 500 or above into the category of the amir. Similarly in other Mughal sources up till the 18th Century as well, we find two terms being applied: umara-i reza and umara-i ‘uzzam. Reza for ordinary and ‘uzzam for higher grades. M. Athar Ali who makes a study of the Mughal nobility [The Apparatus of Empire & Mughal Nobility under Aurangzeb] also uses the same criteria.

What were the characteristic features of this class? First, it was not a hereditary class but comprised individuals, many of whom were recruited in the service as mercenaries. Each had to make a start as a fresher from a low rank and would then progress to a high grade. They did not have any hereditary claim, titles, offices, assignments or privileges. But all the same, at the same time the element of continuity within the institution of nobility was quite considerable. This was represented by the presence of khānazāds in the ranks.  Khānazāds were those people who were descendants of the nobles. But again, the khānazāds would be accepted in the nobility on an individual basis according to their individual capacity. The element of continuity can be gauged from the fact that towards the end of the reign of Akbar, the khānazāds represented 40 % of the nobility, the list of which is given by Abul Fazl in the Ain. According to Atahr Ali’s calculations for the subsequent period, the khānazāds stood at 60 %. So we see that the element of continuity became stronger with the passage of time.

Another feature of the Mughal nobility was that it was a heterogeneous group in which persons having different kinds of ethnic or racial background, different culture and religious tradition were represented in considerable strong strength.

It is also quite apparent that the norms and notions that governed the behaviour of this group and its relationship with the sovereign was derived from different traditions represented in the heterogeneous body of different racial, religious, cultural and ethnical groups.

In the Mughal Empire, the share of the nobility in the total resources of the Empire was enormous: in fact [according to AJQaisar & Moosvi] around 80 to 85 % or more of the total revenues of the empire were earmarked for payments to nobles for services they rendered, mostly in the form of jagirs and sometimes in cash as well ( naqdis).

Within the category of this group of mansabdars to whom 85 % revenues were actually made available, the share of nobles of higher grade was much larger than the share of a large number of ordinary mansabdars.

For Akbar’s reign, the important question that needs to be discussed at some length with regard to the nobility are as follows:

First is the aspect of the changing composition of the nobility from 1556 to 1594-96; and the corresponding changes that occurred in the notion or principles that governed the behaviour, rights and privileges of the group.

Secondly the question as to what was the exact share of the nobility in the total revenues and resources?

Thirdly, What were the changing forms of the disbursement of the nobility’s share amongst the individuals constituting the group? Which would mean as to what were the stages through which the jagirdari system was evolving under Akbar?

Lastly the question of the organization of this nobility under Akbar: this is to be seen in the perspective of the changes made in this system – the origin and the growth of the mansabdari system under Akbar.

Of these four questions, we would here deal with the first issue, while the rest would be dealt in the unit II. The question which concerns us here is what were the changes in the composition of the nobility and the corresponding changes in the theoretical framework determining the position of the groups within the polity? [See Afzal Husain, Iqtidar A Khan, Muzaffar Alam]

To begin with, the Mughal Nobility was predominantly a Turani concern. This can be gauged if one examines the racial and cultural background of individual nobles whose names are found in Abul Fazl’s list of officers who were with Humayun in 1555 on his expedition to Hindustan as given in the Akbarnama.

As a result of this examination as done by Iqtidar Alam Khan it can be established that on the eve of Akbar’s accession to the throne, out of a total number of highly placed nobles serving in Hindustan, 52.9 % were Turanis and 31.37 % were Iranis.

From these figures it is obvious that in the nobility which Akbar inherited from his father, Turanis were in a predominant position, but the Iranis were also represented in a sizeable strength. These Iranis were officers who had been recruited during Humayun’s stay in Persia between 1542-45; but most of them were holding minor positions as compared to their Turani counterparts.

But then the list we are analysing does not include a number of officers who were left behind by Humayun at Kabul to serve there under the command of Munim Khan. Names of such officers are mentioned by Bayazid Bayat. Their acknowledged position at Kabul goes to indicate that most of these nobles at Kabul were Turanis. It is quite understandable also as the governor of Kabul was a senior Turani noble. His sub-ordinates were naturally belonging to the same racial group.

Perhaps the strength of the Turanis in absolute number would thus be much greater than what is indicated by the percentage worked out basing on Abul Fazl’s list. This factor naturally influenced the norms that governed the position of the nobility or their relations with the sovereign.

Turanis had a great attachment, being Chaghtais who had served the Chaghtai ruler and had a great regard for the Mongol tradition of kingship.

We find that in the Mongol tradition of Kingship, the position of the noble was very different from that of the Turkish theory of Kingship, in the sense that unlike Turkish nobles, a noble serving in the Mongol polity would be regarded as a free person having a legal claim to property. This means, that, the notion of banda-i dargah would not carry much force within the nobility. So institution of bureaucracy would be absent from a typically Mongol polity.

We find that under Humayun, there was no scope of considering a noble as banda-i dargah. In 1542 when Humayun had taken a small loan from one Mughal officer, he was very anxious that this be written off in the presence of two formal witnesses. The right of the noble to his property had religious sanctity. Or for that matter, we find that the Mughal nobles under Humayun continued to assert independence, a thing which was inconceivable during the subsequent period when the Chaghtai tradition underlining the privileges of nobles were tending to disappear from Mughal polity.

Just before Humayun marched to Punjab in 1553, nobles en mass defied orders to march to Kashmir, as according to them, it was not a practical proposition. Again, in 1551, when Humayun was defeated in the Battle of Kipchaq by Mirza Kamran, the nobles forced Humayun to take an oath that he would not act or take significant steps without obtaining the consent of the nobles. This was being done to ensure that the king would always act according to the wishes of the nobles.

Firishta observes that each one of the Turani noble serving under Akbar during the period of regency considered himself as important as the ancient Sassanid rulers Kaikaus and Kaiqubad: that is Turanis had the eye to assert independence and it was difficult to manage them as they were granted privileges by Chaghtai traditions in the Timurid state.

Then we find that in the course of the struggle that took place between Akbar and the dominant groups of his nobility who were mainly Turanis, between 1560-67 there came about a radical change in the composition of the nobility. At the same time a time a significant change took place in the general composition of the nobility as well.

There are two specific features of these changes as a result of this struggle of Akbar and his Turani nobles which continued for around four years:

One factor of change was that Irani nobles emerged at par with the Turanis in the higher echelons of the nobility.

Secondly, there entered into the nobility Indian elements, the Rajputs and the Indian Shaikhzadas in considerable strength which resulted in the decrease and retrogression in both Turani and Iranis in absolute numbers and absolute strength of the nobility.

This is borne out by an analysis of the list of the nobles who were serving the Empire during the period of eight years from 1567-75 (by putting together occasional lists in Akbarnama together) and then by singling out persons in higher echelons by ascertaining their mansabs held at the time.

Analysis of this list indicates that (a) there was considerable improvement in the position of the Irani nobles who came in the higher grades particularly at par with the Turani nobles; and (b) there emerged two entirely new groups, both of Indian origin: the Indian shaikhzadas and the Rajputs.

If previously in 1555 Turanis: 52.9 % and Iranis: 31.37 %. Now in 1567-75 the figures were:

Composition 1567-75

From this tabulation we see that the Iranis were getting higher promotions but there was no influx in their total strength, which in fact fell from 31.37 % to 27.27 %. The Indian shaikhzadas and the Rajputs, however, appear to maintain parity with each other. Akbar was thinking in terms of an Indian ruling group and not just about Rajputs as a counter weight against the foreign elements as a whole.

Then there is yet another shift in the situation. This shift is borne out by an analysis of the list of nobles from the period 1575 to 1595. The list of this period was again prepared by Iqtidar Alam Khan. He prepared it on the following manner: he takes Abul Fazl’s list in the Ain as the basis in which names of all nobles who served during this period are included. But this list as such is not a very faithful list for the study of the composition as it includes names of large number of those nobles was well who had either died or were eliminated from the nobility for some other reason before 1575. This list would become a good sample if we alienate all those names who had been removed from the ranks of nobility for one reason or the other before 1575. As Iqtidar is not sure how many were exactly excluded, he takes into account those who held the position of 1000 or above.

Composition 1575-95

Compare this now: the strength of the Turanis is further reduced in the Total list and in nobles of higher grades. In case of Iranis an interesting phenomenon is witnessed: Slight decline in total list again indicated here. The recruitment of Iranis is not seen keeping pace with others, particularly the Indian elements. In the higher grades, the strength of the Iranis undergoes a steep fall – as radical as the improvement witnessed in their position in the preceding period. It was in 1567-68 that the Iranis were promoted out of turn. But now there is a change in position. In case of the Indian elements, parity between the Indian Shaikhzadas and Rajputs in the higher position is strictly maintained. The Indian Shaikhzadas however almost double their strength. In the total numbers, however, the increase is there but not as radical as in the earlier phase. This indicates that the process of recruitment of Indian elements was growing, in the initial stages very rapidly, and continued even later.

Now let us look at the figures for 1580:

Composition 1580

In 1580 we find Iranis position affected. Along with the Turanis they were present in the rebellions and thus their position is low. It is however significant that the participation of the Indian elements in these revolts is very nominal and they continued to play the same role in 1580 as the Iranis in 1560-67.

According to Afzal Husain this trend continued up till the end of Akbar’s reign. There was a some fall in the total position of the Iranis, Turanis and the Rajput, although the later in fact rose in percentage. The only significant change was in a sharp decline in the numerical strength of the Indian Shaikhzadas.

Composition 1605

What kind of corresponding changes were occurring in the norms and principles governing the privileges of the nobles and their relationship with the king?

One basic fact and trend growing towards this time was the gradual erosion of the influence of the Mongol traditions in the Mughal polity due to the dwindling strength of the Turanis. As the Turanis were getting less and less, the influence of the Tura-i chaghtai was also getting less.

Let us mention one case to illustrate this point. It dates back to 1575. Badauni tells us that when the Chaghtai prince of Badakhshan, Mirza Sulaiman visited Akbar’s court, Akbar tried to revive many of the customs and court etiquettes prescribed by the tura that had gone into disuse. That such customs were being tried to be revived shows that the Chaghtai customs were declining. Badauni tells us that they remained in vogue only till Mirza Sulaiman was there and after he left, they disappeared like ‘naqsh bar āb’, painting over water.

Thus we see that the racial composition underwent a great change on account of political compulsion and measures adopted by Akbar to check the recalcitrant nobles. Akbr gave a fair degree of representation to not only Iranis but also to Indian elements to counter the old nobility. However, according to Afzal Husain, each group of nobles or more properly speaking – family groups – continued to enjoy a pre-eminent position as long as they remained loyal to the emperor. The temporary setback which these families experienced was usually the outcome of their own political conduct.

• Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi

Akbar And The Deccan

The Deccan and its States

Mughal relations with the Deccan are important not only for the study of Akbar’s conquest of Khandesh, Berar and Ahmadnagar which took place in 1596 and 1600, but it is also important for understanding the factors and circumstances which gradually goaded Akbar to adopt an expansionist policy towards the Deccan.

As it is well known, the Deccani states, namely the Nizamshahi kingdom of Ahmadnagar, the Adilshahi kingdom of Bijapur, the Imadshahi kingdom of Berar, the Qutbul Mulk dynasty of Golkonda and the Barid family of Bidar came into existence as a result of the dis-integration of the Bahamani kingdom.

During the 14th Century, the Bahamani kingdom was a powerful state encompassing the entire Deccan and having its capital at Bidar. The process of the emergence of these independent states began during the reign of Sultan Mahmud Shah Bahmani (1482-1518). It was during his reign that in 1490, his governor, Malik Ahmad Nizamul Mulk, administering the territory in the area of present day Maharashtra, with his headquarters at Junar, declared himself independent and assumed the title of Nizam Shah. Side by side, two other governors also declared their independence: They were Adil Shah Yusuf of Bijapur, i.e., situated south of Godavari, on the western coastal regions of Maharashtra; and the governor of Berar, situated to the east of Ahmadabad and Bijapur and the wewst of Telangana region.

Then in 1508, Qutbul Mulk, the governor of Golkunda declared independence. Finally Bidar also passed into the hands of the Bahmani Wazir family – the Barids. Amir Barid declared himself the ruler in 1528 after eliminating the last Bahmani ruler. So starting in 1491 the process was completed by 1528.

Khandesh had also emerged independent of the Bahmani control and the Faruqis of Khandesh were having their headquarters at Burhanpur. The Nizamshahis were at Ahmadnagar. Daulatabad was another important place.

Let us briefly deal first with the geographical significance of these states and the territorial disputes which existed between them.

The territory of the Kingdom of Khandesh was roughly located in the Valley of Tapti: between Narbada and Tapti. Parts of it were controlled by Malwa. From Abul Fazl’s account of Pir Muhammad Khan Sarwani’s campaign against Baz Bahadur it appears that certain parts of Malwa region passed into the Mughal hands in 1562. According to Abul Fazl, Baz Bahadur was expelled to Bijagarh sarkar, which at this time was a part of Malwa region. Again in the same area, between Narbada and Tapti, towards the east was the region of Sultanpur, which was a source of long-standing dispute between Khandesh and Gujarat. For some time this place was under the control of the Gujaratis, but the Khandesh kingdom was trying to get it.

South of Tapti, the frontier of the Gujarati kingdom extended from the coast of Ahmadnagar and came face to face with the frontier of Khandesh. Sarkar of Nandurbar was at this time again a source of friction between Gujaratis and Khandesh.

The dispute over Sultanpur and Nandurbar was inherited by the Mughals from the Gujaratis in 1572.

The territory of Berar was located to the south-east of Khandesh. In fact its upper reaches were marked by Tapti. Towards south, Godavari demarcated the territory of Berar from Bidar and Golkunda. On the eastern and western side it was sandwiched between Gondwana and Bidar.

Berar’s territorial dispute with Ahmadnagar mainly revolved round a certain place, Pathri, on the left border of Godavari at a point close to the Ahmadnagar side which wanted to control it. There were repeated clashes between the two over this territory. Till 1518 Pathri was with Berar. It was then occupied by Nizamshahis and the same year it was rescued by Imaduddin. Burhan Nizamshah once again occupied it and it remained with Ahmadnagar down to 1564 when Ahmadnagar extinguished the Imadshahi dynasty. It resulted in total destruction of Berar and its annexation to Ahmadnagar.

Then it is significant to remember that the famous coastal port-town of Chaul, occupied by the Portuguese in 1507, was located on the Ahmadnagar coast, and was a part of the Ahmadnagar territory. The Portuguese gained this port from the Nizamshahi kingdom and there was a long standing dispute over it between the Portuguese and the Nizamshahis.

So far as the territory of Bijapur is concerned, the frontiers of  Bijapur and Ahmadnagar passed through the Maratha territory in such a manner that the Sarkar of Sholapur was in dispute between them.

Tungabhadra River demarcated Bijapur from Vijaynagar and the two had a long standing dispute over Tungabhadra and Krishna Dwar. Vijaynagar thought that the river Krishna was the frontier and not the Tungbhadra: over this region frequent wars occurred.

The Bijapur kingdom also had dispute with the small state of Bidar. It represented the heartland of the original Bahmani Empire. Therefore the rulers of Bidar had a natural tendency to think that the Gulbarga township in Bijapur belonged to them – it being originally the kingdom of the Bahmanis. So one source of conflict was Gulbarga; coveted by Bidar but controlled by Bijapur.

Adil Shah coveted Kalyani, which was within Bidar. It was situated close to Ahmadnagar frontier and the Bijapur control would have given them advantage over Nizamshahis conflict over Sholapur.

Lastly we come to Qutb Shahi state of Golkunda which was on the eastern coast and covered the Telegu speaking regions (Andhra). It was separated in the north from Orissa and Bidar by the river Godavari. Towards the south was the river Krishna which was accepted as the boundary separating the Vijayanagar Empire from Golkunda. Towards the west, it was flanked by Bidar.

Let us now deal with the second issue:

As far as the history of Akbar’s relations with Deccan states are concerned, Akbar’s involvement in the Deccan states starts with the conquest of Malwa in 1562. They became more deeper with the conquest of Gujarat in 1572, as after crossing Malwa, the Mughal frontiers advanced upto Khandesh and involved it in the conflicts. Malwa controlled Bijagarh and also sarkar Nandurbar. With the annexation of Gujarat, the Mughals came to have common frontier with Khandesh and Ahmadnagar as well. In addition, they also inherited yet another legacy: the dispute between the Khandesh and Gujarat over Sultanpur and Nandurbar. Both the places were occupied by the Mughals and this created a hostile feeling between them and the rulers of Khandesh.

Once the Mughals had occupied Malwa and Gujarat, they became increasingly involved in the Deccan states in general and Khandesh, Ahmadnagar and Berar in particular: more particularly Berar, as it was the territory through which it was possible to penetrate Ahmadnagar.

It was a result of this involvement that gradually the Mughals started developing ambitions to penetrate the Deccan peninsula first by trying to hegemonize over Khandesh and Berar tactically and then by force through military invasion in 1595. In 1596, Ahmadnagar was besieged and a treaty concluded when Nizamshah’s successor decided to give Berar to the Mughals. Four years later another expedition was launched and Ahmadnagar was captured and the last of its ruler sent to Gwalior and the kingdom was extinquished. Akbar also decided to extinguish the kingdom of Khandesh, though its ruler co-operated with the Mughals from 1595 onwards. But in 1600, Akbar felt that the ruler of Khandesh was conspiring against him. Asirgarh the second capital of Khandesh was also attacked and after a long siege it was captured and the Faruqi dynasty was extinguished. Khandesh, Berar and Ahmadnagar were included in the Mughal territory.

Thus, the history of Akbar’s relation with Deccan states became eventful roughly from 1562-63 after the conquest of Malwa when the Mughal frontiers were extended upto the confines of Khandesh across Narbada.

Then the second important landmark was 1572 when the conquest of Gujarat took place and the Mughal frontiers reached the western confines of Khandesh and the northwest of Ahmadnagar.

The third important landmark in this development was 1577 when Raja Ali Khan came to the throne in Khandesh. He was a prince of the Faruqi dynasty who had taken shelter in the Mughal Empire sometime before 1576 after falling out with the then ruler of Khandesh, Miran Muhammad, who was allied with Ahmadnagar. After Miran’s death in 1576, Raja Ali Khan returned to Khandesh with Akbar’s consent and was stalled as the ruler. This was a turning point. From this time, Khandesh was by and large allied with the Mughals and with Akbar.

As a result of this, ground was prepared for the induction of Khandesh into the Mughal area of influence. It was not annexed by Akbar till 1600. Till then he treated it as an area of influence and preserved the right to march through it when he had to go to Ahmadnagar or the territory of Berar.

Then another landmark was in 1583, when Akbar formally approached all the rulers of the Deccan, including Ahmadnagar, Bijapur and Golkunda, to accept his overlordship. This policy of Akbar also highlighted by the subsequent developments indicating that Akbar was not averse to take military action and force for forcing Ahmadnagar and others to accept his overlordship.

Then the final landmark was in 1595 when a decision was taken by Akbar to launch a full fledged military offensive against Ahmadnagar with the aim of annexing Berar and Ahmadnagar to the Empire. In 1577 was followed the policy of persuasion. From 1595, the policy was to annex Ahmadnagar and Berar by force and to secure the allegiance of other states, Bijapur, Golkunda, Bidar etc through intimidation. This policy culminated in the annexation of Khandesh in the same year with the fall of Asirgarh.

Keeping in mind these landmarks, the history of this can be again divided in three phases: (1) From 1562 to 1582 when Akbar is interested in the Deccan as his frontiers reached the confines of the Deccan but he did not take any concrete moves to bring military pressure to force an acceptance of Mughal overlordship. The only exception was Khandesh, but it was not a Bahmani kingdom but an independent power which was in between the Nizamshahis and the Bahmanis. So far as Akbar was concerned, his design was to keep Khandesh on his side and so military pressure was resorted to. But for other states there is no indication that any workable military of diplomatic pressure was built or resorted to. But then diplomatic contacts were established with Ahmadnagar, Bidar, Golkunda and Bijapur. There were exchanges of letters and presents.

In 1562 after Malwa had been conquered, the Mughal commander Pir Muhammad Khan crossed Narbada in pursuit of Baz Bahadur, the ruler of Malwa, and occupied Bijagarh, an important stronghold to the south of Narbada which till time belonged to Malwa. After having occupied Bijagarh, Pir Muhammad was encouraged to march upon Burhanpur, the capital of Khandesh, on the pleas that the ruler of Khandesh, Miran Muhammad had given shelter to Baz Bahadur.

But the Mughal advance into Khandesh and the occupation of Burhanpur created a sharp reaction in the Deccan resulting in the establishment of an alliance between the Rulers of Khandesh, Ahmadnagar and Berar as well as the remnant forces of Baz Bahadur. These joint forces advanced against Pir Muhammad and forced him to vacate regions south to the south of Narbada. In fact in trying to cross Narbada, Pir Muhammad was killed and in this manner the first ever attempt made by the Mughals to gain control of the Khandesh territory resulted in a failure.

But then it should be remembered that Pir Muhammad’s advance on Burhanpur was on his own initiative and not on the orders of the central authority. And thus no further moves to avenge Pir Muhammad’s death or defeat were made. It was explained away as a consequence of his own rash action.

From this time down to 1572, we find although there were occasional diplomatic contacts of the Mughals with the rulers of Khandesh and Ahmadnagar as well, but there were no cordial relations with the Deccanis.

But the situation underwent a radical change in 1572. Mirza Muhammad Husain, who had rebelled against Akbar and had a large Mughal retinue, now took shelter with the ruler of Ahmadnagar. So now Akbar acquired a grievance against the ruler of Ahmadnagar for giving the rebel shelter.

Abul Fazl writes in the Akbarnama that in 1572 itself Akbar received the envoy of Murtuza Nizam Shah of Ahmadnagar at Agra who brought with him many precious presents as well as a letter of Murtuza Nizam Shah explaining the position of Ahmadnagar ruler regarding the rebel Mirza. The person who brought this letter was Mir Muhammad Rizvi Mashhadi. According to Abul Fazl, Murtuza Nizam Shah assured Akbar to drive out the Mirza but refused to accede to Akbar’s demand that the Mirzas be arrested by the Ahmadnagar authorities and be handed over to the Mughals.

Thus it appears that Ahmadnagar was not meeting Akbar’s demand fully, thus giving rise to Mughal grievance.

Then sometime in 1572-76, it seems that Akbar decided to extend his influence over Khandesh. He was tempted to do so for obvious reasons. The ruler of Khandesh, Miran Muhammad Shah was closely allied with Murtuza Nizam Shah with whom Akbar nursed a grievance.

To bring force on Nizam Shah, the Mughals needed a foothold in the Khandesh region, without which the pressure could not be built.

Akbar gave shelter to Raja Ali Khan, the prince of the Faruqi dynasty; he extended him a mansab and jagir in Malwa from where he would be threat to Miran Shah at Khandesh.

Another indication of the changed orientation was the general mobilation which Akbar ordered in 1576 under the command of Shihabuddin Ahmad Khan, the Mughal governor of Malwa with the declared aim of invading Khandesh – but the intriguing aspect of this evidence is that Abul Fazl mentions this just once and then does not report what actually happened thereafter: whether the penetration occurred, pressure exerted on Khandesh or not? But then mobilization along Narbada is reported. It was probably just a show of force by the Mughals probably.

For Akbar, a very fortunate development took place the same year. Miran Shah died and his death enabled Raja Ali Khan to establish himself at Burhanpur with Mughal consent.

With him coming to the throne, the whole nature of Mughal relations with Khandesh underwent a basic transformation. Raja Ali Khan made it abundantly clear that he accepted Akbar’s formal over-lordship by not assuming the title of Shah. He simply continued to call himself Raja. Secondly, his close ties with Akbar and the Mughal officers stationed at Malwa made  him a suspect in the eyes of Ahmadnagar.

He had no option but be on the right side of the Mughals by and large. Still he was not in favour of conceding to Akbar the right to pass through the territory of Khandesh in his future campaigns and expeditions against Ahmadnagar or Berar. This question became important in 1574 when the Ahmadnagar kingdom overran the kingdom of Berar and a large number of the Berari nobles who were not reconciled to the establishment of the Nizamshahi control over their territory came to Khandesh with the intention of going to the Mughal court to seek its help to re-establish their lost territory. Raja Ali Khan correctly anticipated that if these nobles were allowed to proceed to Malwa – the Mughal territory, this would create a serious problem for him, as the Mughals being hostile, would miss no opportunity of doing something to humiliate the Nizamshahis and the request of the nobles of Berar would serve Akbar with a pretext of doing so. And if he decided so, there was no option but for the Mughal forces to march through Khandesh territory. So if these nobles reached Akbar’s court, it was very likely that Akbar would demand a right of passage which Raja Ali Khan was not prepared to concede, but was not in a position to resist as well.

Thus the nobles were to be prevented from going to the Mughal court. This action of Raja Ali Khan was interpreted as a hostile action and Akbar ordered a general mobilization of troops in 1577. The command was given to Shahbaz Khan, mirbakhshi, with the declared aim of marching into Deccan (i.e., Khandesh & Berar).

But this was again meant not for actual invasion but aimed at making some kind of a demonstration of military might as done on the earlier occasion, in order to make the ruler of Khandesh change his overall attitude. Abul Fazl says after sometime, the orders were reversed and the troops dispersed.

Probably by the show of force, the submission of Raja Ali Khan was temporarily achieved and the tensions between the two eased. It appears so because we find that in 1577 once again there arrived an embassy from Murtuza Nizamul Mulk with a letter carried by his envoy, Waqar Khan, couched in a cordial language and accompanied by precious presents including a large number of elephants.

Up till 1581 the relations between the Mughals and the Deccan were no longer very tense. They were marked with friendly exchanges, particularly with Khandesh and Ahmadnagar.

In January 1580, Akbar sent one of his important nobles, Peshrau Khan, as his envoy to Ahmadnagar. Abul Fazl says that the ruler of Ahmadnagar who had become almost insane by this time and had completely withdrawn from active life, went out of his way in meeting Akbar’s envoy and sent him back with one of his own officers who, again, carried all sorts of presents. This envoy, in 1580 was Asaf Khan.

From 1582 onwards, it seems Akbar followed a policy of forcing Deccan states, particularly Ahmadnagar, to accept Mughal over-lordship. Akbar tried to obtain his objective through diplomatic as well as military pressure.

Instance of this are the letters that Akbar sent to all the Deccani rulers including the ruler of Ahmadnagar, advising them to accept his over-lordship. But this move does not appear to have been very fruitful: In reply to this letter, all Deccani states wrote back courteous letters expressing friendly sentiments for Akbar but abstaining from any clear statement of acceptance of Mughal over-lordship.

Another similar kind of move, with similar nature was Akbar’s decision to give shelter to Burhan, the younger brother of Murtuza Nizam Shah whom he had first imprisoned and when he escaped, made attempts to eliminate him. Burhan first took shelter at Bijapur and subsequently came over to Gujarat from where he proceeded to Fathpur Sikri. Akbar admitted him as a noble and a jagir was awarded. This was in fact a very hostile posture directed towards Ahmadnagar ruler and indicated Akbar’s plan to use Burhan as his pawn in any future conflict with Murtuza Nizamshah.

Subsequently in March 1585, when there was an attempt on the part of the nobles of Berar to overthrow the Ahmadnagar domination and revive the Berar principality which had been extinguished as a result of annexation of Berar to Ahmadnagar in 1574, Akbar came forward to extend moral support and material help to these nobles. After this rebellion was crushed by Ahmadnagar, the nobles of Berar crossed into Khandesh and took shelter with Raja Ali Khan. Subsequently on Akbar’s direction, Raja Ali Khan sent these people to the Mughal province of Malwa, where they were provided with rich jagirs for their maintenance. So once again Akbar was trying to pay back to Murtuza Nizamshah for his hostile action of giving shelter to Muhammad Husain Mirza and also for his refusal to hand him over to Akbar when such a demand was made by him. This action of Akbar was again a clear indication of a particular hostility that he felt against Ahmadnagar Kingdom and it testified of his plans to take military measures for suppressing the Nizamshahi kingdom. This happened in 1585. Then in the next year, in March 1586 Akbar deputed Khan-i Azam Mirza Aziz Koka, the governor of Gujarat, and Shihabuddin Ahmad Khan, the governor of Malwas, to join their forces and advance to conquer Berar. They were also directed to take with them Berari officials and nobles who had taken shelter in Malwa. On this occasion, attempt was also made by Akbar to persuade Raja Ali Khan to join the expedition against the Ahmadnagar authorities at Berar.

The Raja however was greatly panicked by this sudden decision, which also meant the passing of Mughal forces across Khandesh territory on many points: It was to proceed to Berar across Khandesh territory north of river Tapti. The forces led by Shihabuddin Khan were to cross Burhanpur and Asirgarh before they could reach Berar region. Thus Raja Ali Khan panicked.

So in 1586, before they could reach Berar, the Mughals were confronted in the Khandesh principality by the joint forces of Ahmadnagar and Khandesh. The story of this expedition is rather long. In the beginning the Mughal officers, Mirza Aziz Koka and Shihabuddin Khan could get not synchronize their moves, thus could get no upper hand. Subsequently, the forces of Mirza Aziz Koka decided to avoid the enemy and tried to reach Berar sidetracking the forces of Ahmadnagar and Khandesh. They tried to penetrate Berar from the north. But the attempt was not successful. While withdrawing to Gujarat, they were followed and serious losses were inflicted on the Mughals. Koka, when he reached Nandurbar, purchased peace with Khandesh and Ahmadnagar. The talks were conducted by Abu Turab Wali. The only condition of peace was that the Deccanis would not invade the Mughal territory of Gujarat. So the attempt to dislodge the Ahmadnagar authority from Berar failed partly on account of Raja Ali Khan, and partly on account of a lack of co-ordination between the Mughal officers.

However this move of Akbar made it clear that he now considered the conquest of Deccan a practical proposition. But of course it is obvious that Akbar was not in a position to undertake another such invasion the next year as he was confronted with a delicate situation on his North West frontier – In 1584 Badakhshan had been annexed. Negotiations were going on through Hakim Hummam, and Akbar was trying to prevent Abdullah Khan Uzbek from over-running Khurasan. Akbar at this time was not sure whether he would be able to fight a long drawn war with Uzbeks.

Thus in spite of the humiliation of the absence of a success in 1586, Akbar did nothing. But it was clear that if circumstances were favourable, Akbar would not be averse to the use of force to pacify the Deccan.

This is also indicated by a letter that Akbar wrote to Abdullah Khan Uzbek, sent through Hakim Hummam. The content of this letter have been discussed earlier. He went out of his way to state that he was contemplating attack on the Deccan principalities and that he had direct access to coastal regions and expelled the Portuguese, but that he had postponed a full-fledged invasion of the Deccan due to present pre-occupations. What is clear from this letter is his intent and contemplation on attack of Deccan in 1586.

Question arises as to what could have been the basic consideration and aim of Akbar in demanding to annex parts of Deccan to his empire – particularly Berar and Ahmadnagar? In this connection, basing himself on Akbar’s statement made in the letter to Abdullah Khan Uzbek, Smith suggests that in addition to Akbar’s general expansionist policy, one consideration which prevailed with him was the presence of the Portuguese on the western coast of India. Perhaps he regarded this as a very great threat to his own position and was very interested in the elimination of the Portuguese pockets like Dieu, Daman, Chaul and Goa. The main evidence on which Smith assumes this aim of Akbar is the following para of Akbar’s letter to Abdullah Khan Uzbek:

I have kept before my mind the idea that when I should be entirely at liberty from these tasks (in N.W.), I should, under the guidance of God’s favour, undertake the destruction of the firangi kafirs who have come to the coastal regions (jazair-i daryai), and have lifted up the head of turbulence and stretched out the hand of oppression upon the pilgrims to the Holy Places….They (the Portuguese) have become a great nuisance and are stumbling blocks to the pilgrims and traders. We thought of going in person and cleansing that road of thorns and weeds, but as We heard that some of the officers of Persia had proved disloyal to the sovereign…I thought of going to help of the Persian…

It seems Akbar’s real grievance was that of the serious threat to the administration and Mughal authority in these regions. This is borne out by his moves from 1562 onwards. We know that in 1562 at a time when on the one hand, he was trying to give an impression to the Portuguese authorities in Goa that he was very friendly towards them through a special treatment extended to the Jesuit fathers – in fact trying to induce the Jesuits to assure their authorities that he was quite friendly towards Christians in general. He also gave the impression of getting converted. But in 1582, he was also planning an expedition against Dieu and Daman in the region of Gujarat. This attack when it came, was sought to be explained by Akbar before the Jesuit fathers as a local episode. He said that the commander of the Mughal forces in Gujarat, Qutbuddin Khan, had moved against Dieu in 1582 on his own without Akbar’s knowledge. The Jesuits then requested the emperor, in that case to direct him to withdraw and apologise. Akbar said how can I ask him to do that? However, the attempt was not successful.

The next year another attempt was made, this time on Daman. It is obvious that these attempts were a part of a policy to push out the Portuguese, but if the attempt failed, the prestige of Akbar might not be hurt. The sentiments expressed in Akbar’s letter to Abdullah Khan were thus for real and revealed an attempt of the Mughals to push back the Portuguese: whether for facilitating Hajj or to safeguard his empire.

The question is why Akbar should think that unless he himself is controlling the Deccan region, it was not possible to oust the Portuguese from the west coast?

This is partly borne out by the history of relations of the Deccani states with the authorities at Goa and Chaul. One part of Chaul was in the territory of Ahmadnagar; Goa was in the kingdom of Bijapur. And thus unless ousted from here, they could not be ousted from Daman and Dieu: naval enforcements from Chaul and Goa would frustrate any attempt on the other two.

Secondly, the history of Ahmadnagar’s relations with the Portuguese at Chaul and Bijapur’s relations with Goa indicated that the two on account of limited resources and continuing conflict within themselves were not in a position to make any headway against the Portuguese. For example, the case of Chaul: It was occupied in 1507 by the Portuguese but very soon they lost it to the joint armada of Indian and Mamluk forces. In the very next year, the Portuguese re-occupied Chaul and Ahmadnagar was not in a position to check their power. Then in c. 1569-70, Murtuza Nizamshah of Ahmadnagar made yet another attempt to occupy Chaul with the help of the Zamorin of Calicut. This attempt again proved to be a failure. In 1592, Burhan Nizamul Mulk made another attempt, but failed and Chaul continued to be controlled the Portuguese.

Similarly in the case of Goa, after its occupation in 1510, Adil Shahi dynasty did succeed for a brief period, but were ultimately ousted out by the Portuguese. From 1511 onwards Goa remained in Portuguese hands and became the headquarters of the Portuguese Empire in the East. In 1548, the Bijapuris made a serious attempt to regain Goa, but the net result of this attempt was that they lost two more strongholds in the vicinity of Goa to the Portuguese – Salsette and Bardez.

So history indicated that the Deccani states had failed to arrest the growth of th Portuguse and Akbar surmised that the entire Deccan had to be captured in order to oust the Portuguese. But Akbar knew that he could not push out the Portuguese from Gujarat – but this was again partly due to the Portuguese presence in Chaul and Goa.

In 1589 Murtuza Nizamshah died – he had become insane but had enjoyed great prestige – and as soon as this news reached Akbar, he recalled Burhan from Kabul region and sent him to Malwa so that he try to march to Ahmadnagar and establish himself there with the help of Mughal forces and Raja Ali Khan.

When Burhan reached Khandesh, he proved clever: the joint forces of Mughal officers and Khandesh were prepared to march with him to Berar, but Burhan told them that if he marched with the Mughal forces, it would lead to some kind of local resistance which would make his task difficult. So Khan-i Khanan and the others who were there were asked not to accompany him. Only 1000 horsemen and 300 banduqchis (the Gujarati and Berari deserters in the Mughal territory) entered with him into Berar. With the help of the local mobilization of the Gujarati officers he advanced to Ahmadnagar which was being controlled by Kamal Khan, a Nizamshahi noble. Kamal Khan had established Murtuza’s son Ismail as ruler.in the ensuing battle Burhanul Mulk emerged victorious. But this development did not prove to be much helpful to the Mughals: Akbar had anticipated that this would bring Ahmadnagar under his control without having formally annexing the territory. However, once Burhanul Mulk established himself, he made it clear to all that he was not going to compromise the sovereignty of Nizamshahi dynasty in any manner. So Akbar was back to the same position.

The Persian histories fail us to provide a proper understanding of what happened in these late years: Nizamuddin Ahmad closes his account in 1593, Badauni in August 1595 and Abul Fazl is very sketchy for the last few years befor closing in 1602 when he was murdered.

However, what appears is that in 1595 Burhanul Mulk died and was succeeded by his son Ibrahim, who in 1595 itself was defeated by the army of Bijapur.

In the meanwhile, it appears that in 1593 Akbar had ordered Abdur Rahim Khan-i Khanan and the subadar of Gujarat, Prince Murad, to launch an attack against the Deccanis. Thus Ahmadnagar was invested and the Mughals had to face Chand Bibi, the sister of late Burhanul Mulk and the widowed queen of Bijapur. She forced the Mughals to agree on terms deemed ‘unworthy’ by Abul Fazl. Under this treaty signed in early 1596, a minor, Bahadur, the grandson of Burhan was to be recognized as the king of Ahmadnagar, and, apart from some valuables, Berar was to be ceded. Thus for the time being Ahmadnagar was saved.

However in 1597 the respite gained by Ahmadnagar by Chand Bibi gave way when her authority was overthrown. In a battle fought at Supa, Khan-i Khanan emerged victorious. It was a small victory for the Mughals with heavy losses. Raja Ali Khan who had fought along the imperial forces was also killed. Murad and Khanan were recalled and Mirza Shahrukh of Badakhshan was appointed as the new commander.

In 1598 came the news of Abdullah Khan Uzbek’s death. Now Akbar was free not only to leave North West but also to lead a campaign in the Deccan. Thus in July 1599, Akbar decided to proceed himself. In May Murad also died. In the mid-1599 Akbar occupied Burhanpur and Daniyal along with Khan-i Khanan were sent to conquer Ahmadnagar. The town was stormed in 1600. Chand Bib was either murdered or consumed poison and the king of Ahmadnagar sent to prison in Gwalior.

The Imperial armies then marched to Asirgarh against Raja Ali Khan’s successor and forced its surrender. Operations there were conducted by Shaikh Farid Bukhari and Abul Fazl. According to Jesuit accounts, i.e., Du Jarric, the surrender was more a result of bribe rather than Mughal arms. In August 1600, Ahmadnagar was taken. In August Salim’s rebellion occurred, forcing Akbar to free himself from the Deccan affairs.

The newly acquired territories were organized as three subas, i.e., Ahmadnagar, Berar and Khandesh. And all the three along with Malwa and Gujarat were placed under Prince Daniyal, the viceroy of the Deccan.

• Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi

Northwest Frontier: Akbar, the Safavids and the Question of Qandahar

The Fort of Qandahar

The Mughal-Safavid relations, as we have already mentioned, go back at least to the reign of Babur and Shah Ismail, the founders of these respective dynasties and empires. Shah Ismail had extended a helping hand to the young Babur when he had tried to wrest Samarqand from the hands of Shaibani Khan. We have also seen that Babur had not been averse to act a Shia and have the name of Shah Ismail announced after Friday prayers and mint coins bearing the Shi’i kalimaand the names of the 12 Imams. He had then been subsequently under their obligation when the Iranians, after the defeat of Shaibani Khan at their hands, honourably returned his sister who had been forcibly taken away by the Uzbek Khan. After Babur and Shah Ismail’s death, the Mughal-Safavid relations had still flourished. It was to Shah Tahmasp, that Humayun had turned for help. Zainab Begum, the sister of Tahmasp, out of her friendship for Hamida Bano Begum, recommended Humayun’s case to her brother who then provided Humayun the means and men to re-conquer his territory from the Surs. Apparently the relations between the two ruling families were also cemented through marriage ties which continued up till the time of Shahjahan. The type of relations enjoyed between the Safavids and the Mughals is articulated in a letter of Shah Abbas I who in a couplet expressed: “Between us and you there cannot be trouble. There can be naught but love and trust”.

But then, there were certain points of tension as well between the two Empires: which, too, were as old as the founders of the empires.

There were certain tensions which were due to ideological reasons: the dynasty of the Safavids was a staunch Shi’i, who sometimes, would go to the extremes of persecution in the name of religion, and would seldom leave a chance to assert their Shi’i identity. We have already seen how they had manipulated Babur when he re-occupied Samarqand. There are accusations that Humayun too was manipulated to a certain extent, when he went to Iran as a refugee. But then this point cannot be stressed to much extent as the attitude of the Mughals, contrarily, was quite flexible. Babur had had no problem at Samarqand in donning the Shi’i mantle. The attitude of Akbar in this regard is also quite clear, and we have seen it in his replies to Abdullah Khan Uzbek.

The real tension between the two, however, was on the question of Qandahar. We have already remarked on the greatly important position of this fort, both from the defence and economic point of view. It lay on the routes by which men and merchandise could pass between India, Persia and beyond. In the hands of India, it was a ‘steel door’ which hindered any entry into India from without; in the hands of Persia, it was the entry to the riches and merchandise of the East, and a lifeline to economic and commercial prosperity.

Babur, according to Riazul Islam, had an eye on Qandahar since he had conquered Kabul in 1504. He had almost captured it in 1507, but had lost it due to the pressure of the Uzbeks. He had again thought of doing so in 1517. It was around 1519-20 that, according to Hasan-i Rumlu, that he laid another siege of Qandahar. For three years he tried hard only to succeed, if we believe Hasan-i Rumlu and Khwandamir, in 1522. After its capture, it was assigned to Mirza Kamran. It remained in his charge at least till 1525.

This confrontation between the Safavids and the Mughals was the first of many conflicts over the wealthy and strategically located city.

At the time of Humayun’s accession, Kabul and Qandahar remained in the hands of Mirza Kamran. Though technically a governor, he was an independent ruler for all practical purposes. Thus for a decade after Babur’s death, the Persians had Kamran as their immediate neighbour and it was with him that they were dealing, instead of Humayun. In 1534-35, the governor of Khurasan, a brother of Shah Tahmasp, suddenly decided to move against Qandahar. This attempt was however foiled by Mirza Kamran who rushed to its defence from Lahore. The Safavids officially maintained that the attack on Qandahar had been launched without the official sanction and permission. In spite of this posturing, Tahmasp did not take the Persina failure in Qandahar lightly and took it as an affront to his authority and decided to personally move to take Qandahar and the adjoining regions. This expedition was launched in 1537. Mirza Haidar Dughlat informs us that the Mughal governor of Qandahar surrendered the fort to Tahmasp and retreated to Thatta. But then, very soon Kamran recovered the fort and Tahmasp was constrainted from retaliating due to troubles which he faced elsewhere (Azarbaijan). Humayun when he visited the Safavid court as a fugitive after 1540, apologised for this behaviour of Kamran and his folly in fighting against the Persians. But then while returning from Persian in 1544-45 with a Persian army, Humayun marched to Qandahar and after a six month siege forced Mirza Askari holding the fort to surrender it to him. Thus in 1545 Qandahar was wrested from Mirza Kamran. It was on 3rd September 1545 that Qandahar surrendered to Humayun. After its surrender, as per the understanding with the Safavids, Qandahar was handed over by Humayun to the Persians. The Persians now appointed Shah Murad, an infant son of the Shah as its governor with Budagh Khan as his deputy.

Qandahar had been wrested by Humayun with the help of the Persian army and now after handing it over to the Safavids, Humayun stood to gain nothing: Qandahar was with the Safavids, Kabul and Ghazni with Mirza Kamran. Humayun still had no place to turn to. And then, after the takeover of Qandahar the Safavid army also left him and returned back. He was left to fend for himself.

It was in this situation that Humayun was advised to seize the fort of Qandahar. Bayazid bayat informs us that Humayun was advised to take the fort on the pretext that as Kabul and Ghazni had not yet been taken, he had no place to leave his family. On top of it, the situation was also conducive: most of the Persian army had left Qandahar and Budagh Khan had very few forces left with him and was thus in no position to resist Humayun. Abul Fazl adds a further reason: Budagh Khan was quite oppressive and the people of Qandahar appealed to Humayun for succour. Fortunately for Humayun, the infant prince, Shah Murad died. It was then that, according the the Mughal sources (Jauhar Aftabchi, Nizamuddin Ahmad, Bayazid Bayat), Humayun decided to take over Qandahar. But then he wrote to the Safavid king that he was taking Qandahar fort from Budagh Khan as the later had been acting against the Shah’s orders, and handing it over to Bairam Khan, a Turkoman, a person acceptable to the Persians. He also re-itirated “the fort remains a dependency of the Shah”. Tahmasp was presented with a fait accompli.

Thus this was the situation of the fort at the time of Akbar’s accession. Qandahar was under the Mughals, but under a promise that it would be handed over back to the Safavids. At this time the relations between Persia and the Mughals can best be defined as a low phase: when the Safavids were feeling disappointed and let down by Humayun’s action of wresting Qandahar from them. The Shah, in fact, after Akbar’s accession is said to have sent an embassy which tendered not condolence on the death of Humayun but also reminded Akbar of his father’s promise to hand back Qandahar to the Persians. No mention of this embassy is however found in the Mughal sources, it being mentioned by the anonymous author of Afzal ut Tawarikh  – a history of Shah Tahmasp’s reign.

Around the same time, in 1558 another incident occurred: Bahadur Khan, the Mughal Governor of Zamindawar suddenly decided to attack Qandahar. The governor of Qandahar, Shah Muhammad, in panic appealed to the Safavids for help, reminding them of Humayun’s promise. But then when Bahadur Khan was repelled, Shah Muhammad refused to hand over the fort to the Persians. There is some controversy amongst the Persian sources and the Mughal sources regarding who actually offered help to the Persians. However the end result was that a large Persian army laid siege and ultimately occupied Qandahar. Abul Fazl in his typical way claims, it was Akbar who ordered the governor not to oppose the Persians and hand over Qandahar to them!

All this thus led to further worsening of relations between the two otherwise friendly empires. In 1562 another Persian embassy arrived at the court of Akbar. From a letter of the Shah sent through this embassy it appears that Tahmasp had soon after the occupation of Qandahar despatched another embassy under Shah Ghazi to Akbar’s court. It also appears that Bairam Khan too had despatched an embassy to the safavid court during this period.

The embassy of 1562 appears to have been an attempt by Tahmasp to resume cordial relations with the Mughals. According to Abdul Rahim, Akbar’s friendship was necessary to Tahmasp at this juncture due to the rise of Abdullah Khan Uzbek. We have already seen Abdullah Khan’s attempts to form an alliance of Ottomans, Uzbeks and Mughals against the heretic Safavids.

Akbar, it appears, did not respond: he was being wooed by two superpowers of the time, the Safavids and the Uzbeks. The Safavids at the moment had also taken over his fort at Qandahar.

Abul Fazl informs us that, undeterred by Akbar’s   non-response, another ambassador, this time with a letter of recommendation for Sultan Mahmud of Bhakkar to be made a Khan-i Khanan. But this embassy was dismissed with suitable replies and no response.

Tahmasp ultimately died in 1576 and between 1565 and 1576 there were no further official embassies – except perhaps the embassy which the governor of Khurasan and eldest son of Tahmasp. Sultan Muhammad khudabanda sent to Akbar’s court. But this probably was just to seek Akbar’s support in succeeding his father as the next Shah.

After Tahmasp’s death, Persia was in turmoil for a few years with first Shah Ismail II (the second son of Tahmasp) succeeding to the throne and then by Sultan Khudabanda (who was blind) in 1577. In 1587 his son Shah Abbas became the Shah after father’s abdication.

It was in 1591 that the first embassy of Shah Abbas arrived: it was the first with a purely political objective – to seek Akbar’s help against Abdullah Khan Uzbek. We have seen that by this time Abdullah had occupied the territories of Khurasan and had entered into some sort of alliance with Akbar about Qandahar and Herat. On hearing of Yadgar Sultan being despatched by Shah Abbas, Abdullah Khan Uzbek also sent his own embassy to the court of Akbar. According to Abul Fazl, Akbar held a council to consider the question of help to the Persians in liberating Khurasan from the Uzbeks. He was advised against it in view of his relations with Abdullah Khan: probably an allusion to the agreement on frontier at Hindukush. We have seen he had come to an understanding with Abdullah Khan on Qandahar in 1587.

The recapture or re-conquest of Qandahar had been on Akbar’s mind since long. In fact in 1574-75 Abul Fazl enumerated Qandahar as one of the unrecovered provinces of the empire.

Now in 1591 Abdur Rahim Khan-i Khanan was ordered to lead an expedition against Qandahar. If we believe Abul Fazl, then this task had been assigned to the Khan-i Khanan in 1589 itself. He was ordered first to win over the Baluch and Afghans of the region between Qandahar and the Mughal Empire. This attempt at diplomacy rather than outright military action was due to the presence of the Uzbeks in the Khurasan region. The sons of the late Sultan Husain Mirza Safavi (the governor of Qandahar who died the same year as Tahmasp), who were now holding Qandahar, on the other hand were also aware that they could not get any help from the Safavids due to the internal turmoil there. Thus one of them, Rustam Mirza, opened negotiations with the Mughals and in 1593 came to the court. Akbar awarded him the rank of 5000 and the subahdari of Multan. The other brother, Muzaffar Mirza, was also tempted to join the Mughal service, which he ultimately did in 1594. He was given an equal rank and appointed the governor of Sambhal. Thus without a war or siege, Akbar through diplomacy was able to enter Qandahar in 1595. The Mirza’s had in a way surrendered to Mughals due to their fear of Uzbeks.

The question of Qandahar was raised by the Persians not at this time but only when they had recovered Khurasan from the Uzbeks in 1598. The Persians were encouraged to take up Qandahar only in the last year of Akbar’s reign. The revolt of Salim had provided this opportunity to the Persians. However, as testified by the embassy of Mir masum sent to the Safavid court in his last years by Akbar, and its reception in Persia, it appears the relations between the two remained cordial. Mir Masum returned back only after the death of Akbar.

• Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi

The Northwest Frontier: Akbar, Abdullah Khan Uzbek and the ‘Scientific Frontier’

Khyber Pass

We have seen that preceding the formation of the Mughal rule in India, there were three other great empires which were founded in Central Asia. These were the Ottoman Empire founded by Mehmet II at Constantinople in 1453; the Safavid Empire by Shah Ismail around 1501 in Persia; and the Uzbek Khanate by Shaibani Khan around the same time in the region of Trans Oxiana.

The Safavids and the Uzbek Khanate were immediately to the north and west of the Mughal Empire. The Safavids were not only a powerful dynasty but they posed a sectarian problem also: they were Shi’ites in the midst of the Sunni world, keen to export their views and creed. They controlled the whole of Iran as well as Khurasan, knocking at the doors of Kabul and Qandahar, the latter being a bone of contention between them and the Mughals. Immediately to their northeast was the Uzbek Khanate in the region of Mawra-un Nahr, comprising the modern states of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan.  Bu the time that Babur had established his empire, they were posing a serious threat to the Timurids. A part of Khurasan and Timurid centres like Herat and Samarqand had already been overrun by them. They were a threat not only to the Persians in Khurasan but also a real danger to the Mughals, even threatening Kabul.

The territory immediately to the northwest of the Mughal Empire, which bordered these two great empires was given to high mountain ranges and passes like the Karakoram and Khyber pass in the Hindukush, which acted as a natural doorway to the Indian sub-continent.

Another considerable importance of this region was that it was through these passes that much of the medieval trade routes passed. The overland route from Kabul through the Khyber Pass and Peshawar fed the markets of Punjab with horses from Central Asia; fruits, silks and porcelain from China, and precious metals as well as other valuable commodities from elsewhere. Indian spices, textiles and other goods travelled through these routes taking Indian merchants to the markets in Central Asia and Iran. The scale of this business traffic can be gauged from a reference by Nizamuddin Ahmad in Tabaqat-i Akbari. When an accidental fire broke out in Peshawar fort in 1586, it destroyed one thousand camel-loads of merchandise of those who had taken temporary shelter there due to a blockade of route.

These passes not only acted as passages for mercantile activity but also controlled other traffic to India as well. Thus the Hindukush was supposed to be the natural boundary and entry point to India.

The North West frontier for the Indian empires had always been problematic and kept on changing from beyond the Oxus to river Beas. During the Delhi Sultanate, the North West frontier generally lay across one part or another of the Punjab and its rivers. Under Shershah, it was in the Salt Range with the Rohtas Fort as the key point.

As per the conditions of medieval warfare, none of these was a satisfactory or viable frontier.  The Punjab Rivers, although acted as a natural defence when inundated could otherwise be forded. The Salt Range too was deficient being a low range of hills that could easily be surmounted and crossed. The Sulaiman Range, to the west of the Indus, which the British made their frontier, could not be made a frontier in our period. The Afghan tribes infesting the region made a regular garrisoning in this area impossible.

According to M. Athar Ali, a truly ‘scientific frontier’ could be secured only if an Indian government held Hindukush Mountains with Kabul and Qandahar as the two great fortresses commanding the only two possible routes from the north-west to India.

This importance of Hindukush was realized by the Mughals, if we believe Abul Fazl. It was one of Akbar’s great achievements that he ultimately set his frontier at the Hindukush, shifting it from the Indus, where it had been placed by the Mughals earlier. Thus according to Tarikh-i Alfi [Ahmad Thattavi et.al.] compiled on the orders of Akbar, the Hindukush was considered as the northern boundary of India.

[A] Akbar and the Uzbeks:

The Hindukush at this time separated the Uzbek kingdom of Balkh from the Timurid kingdom of Badakhshan on the one hand and Mirza Hakim’s principality of Kabul on the other. Both these kingdoms of Balkh and Badakhshan were a buffer between the Uzbek Khanate and the Mughal Empire.

In 1585, more by design than by accident, both Abdullah Khan Uzbek and Akbar agreed that Hindukush should be the frontier of the Mughal Empire. The reason was that if Hindukush was the frontier of the Mughal Empire, then no army from outside could invade India without making preparations on a large scale. Thus the element of surprise would be taken away. And from the Indian side Hindukush could be effectively defended by a comparatively small force.

It was because of this strategic importance of Hindukush that Akbar was so keen to hold the frontier of the Mughal Empire there. Abul Fazl approvingly cites the wise of the ancient who declared Kabul and Qandahar as the twin gates of India: Kabul leading to Central Asia and Qandahar leading to Persia. Qandahar, a small city in itself, was by its location a place of real importance. Lying on the main trade route between India and Iran, it was a focus of all the direct routes converging from the western frontier of India towards Herat and Iran. In the hands of an Indian ruler, it would form an excellent base for an army of invasion. If in the hands of Iran, it would lend security from attacks by way of the South.

Sujan Rai Bhandari (Khulasat ut Tawarikh) a contemporary of Aurangzeb, goes one step further and says that whenever Kabul and Qandahar were not part of India, Punjab was constantly under attack from foreign powers. And once the invading army was in the Punjab, Delhi could be directly threatened as no natural barrier separated Delhi from Punjab. The rivers of Punjab are fordable most of the time in the year. With the only exception of two months (July & August), rivers could be crossed easily.

If we test this statement of Sujan Rai Bhandari, one finds that Kabul and Qandahar were not a part of India when Turks invaded under Muizzuddin bin Sam [Mohd Ghori]. They were not part of India when the Mongols invaded: whether under Iltutmish or his successors or under Alauddin Khalji. Similarly Kabul and Qandahar were not a part of India when Babur invaded or Humayun re-entered in 1545.With Akbar invasions from the North West stopped.

 One should also remember that Hindukush could be kept only till it was flanked by both Kabul and Qandahar. Thus Akbar had made Bala Hisar Fort at Kabul. And that is why in 1586 the Attock fort was built by Akbar and it went on to strengthen India’s Northwest Frontier. Although the expenditure for the placement and maintenance of the army at Kabul exceeded the revenues collected there, it was a must. That is why Qandahar was so crucial and central to the Mughal policy. It is in this background that Mughal relations with Central Asia and Persia should be examined.

Let us also not forget the historical relationships which had existed in the past between the Mughal Empire and the Uzbeks on the one hand, and the Safavids on the other. We have seen that during the period of Babur, traditional rivalry existed between him and Shaibani Khan. In fact it was Shaibani Khan and the Uzbeks who had caused the loss of the homeland, Ferghana and Trans Oxiana. Not only Ferghana but Herat and Samarqand had also been lost by the Timurids. The desire to have these territories had been such that Babur had to ‘dissimulate’ and outwardly become a Shi’i to please the Iranians in order to win back these areas from the Uzbeks. Probably the desire to control these territories continued during the reign of Humayun. From a letter written by Abul Fazl to Hakim Hummam it appears that Akbar too burned with this ambition to re-occupy the ancestral lands of Central Asia.

The Mughal relations with Persia had been equally eventful and again dated back at least to the period of Babur – and even earlier. We know that Mirza Husain Baiqara, the senior Timurid prince whom Babur picks out for singular praise, had regulated his court as per Persian traditions. The first Safavid king Shah Ismail had not only entered into an alliance with Babur to free Samarqand from the clutches of Uzbeks under Shaibani Khan, but had also been instrumental in delivering back Khanzada Begum from the Uzbeks. Subsequently when Humayun was on the run, it was with the help of the Safavids that he was able to get back his lost empire. And these were the gratitude which the Mughals had towards the Persians: both Babur and Humayun held their territories due to the help of the Iranians.

Now at the time of Akbar’s reign, the whole of Mawra un Nahr , north of Kabul, was under the direct or indirect influence of the Uzbeks, while all the territories west of the Mughal borders  (Qandahar) was with the Safavids. Qandahar itself was being held by the Mughals, but under a promise that it would be soon handed over to the Safavids.  

Much work has been done on the North West frontier and the political problems which arose in that region due to the tensions between the Uzbeks, Persians and the Mughals. Some important works on this issue are those of Abdur Rahim [Mughal Relations with Persia and Central Asia, initially in the form of papers published in Islamic Culture, 1934-35], Riazul Islam [Indo-Persian Relations], A. Verma [Foreign Policy of the Mughals] and Mansura Haider [“Relations of Abdullah Khan Uzbek with Akbar”, Cahiers].

A reading of these secondary works along with the information contained in our sources points out two basic issues which dominated in Akbar’s response to emerging concerns in the North West: the rise of Abdullah Khan Uzbek in the 1580’s and the strategic centrality of the Qandahar Fort.

Born in 1533, Abdullah Khan Uzbek became the ruler of Bukhara in 1561. In the same year he proclaimed his father Iskandar Khan as the khaqan, the ruler of Turan. He steadily increased his powers: he seized Balkh in 1572-73. In 1583 when his father died, he proclaimed himself as the khaqan. Next year in 1584 he conquered Badakhshan; ultimately in 1588 he invaded and captured large areas of Khurasan.

In the early years of Akbar’s reign, till 1572, there was no interaction between the two contemporary rulers of Hindustan and Turan. The reason apparently was that till 1572 the kingdom of Balkh under Nazr Muhammad, and until 1583 Badakhshan under Mirza Sulaiman, existed between the two empires as buffer states. But then withAbdullah Khan’s expansion, these two small principalities were absorbed into the Turani Uzbek empire, which then went on to extend its influence over Khurasan. Kabul in the meanwhile was under Mirza Hakim, the half-brother of Akbar.

Thus by 1570’s the Uzbek Khanate and the Mughal Empire had common frontiers, which naturally gave rise to new tensions and speculations.

As far as the relations between them are concerned, it was Abdullah Khan Uzbek who took the first step and Akbar had to respond to these overtures. The relations between Abdullah Khan and Akbar can be easily divided into three distinct phases, viz., (a) 1572-77, (b) 1583-89, and (c) 1589-98. [It was in 1598 that Abdullah Khan Uzbek died].

The first phase was marked with Abdullah trying to engage Akbar who appeared more to rebuff than accept or acknowledge the overtures. In 1572, according to Abul Fazl, the first embassy from Abdullah Khan Uzbek arrived at the Mughal court. His emissary, Jahji Altamish, is said to have arrived with a letter from Abdullah Khan to Akbar. Although we do not know the exact contents of the letter, Riazul Islam and Verma cite circumstantial evidence and ‘subsequent developments’ to think that it was a letter which was directed against the Safavids. In fact Verma goes a step further to claim that the letter contained a scheme for the partition of Persia. According to Verma, the Iranian shah Tahmasp was growing old and civil war was imminent, providing an excellent opportunity to the Uzbeks to divide the Safavid Empire and occupy Khurasan. But then for this there was need to neutralize or take on board the other major player in the field, Akbar. Thus according to Verma and Riazul Islam, the letter contained a proposal to divide the empire between themselves, or atleast ask Akbar to tolerate the forward policy of Abdullah Khan.

Abdur Rahim and Mansura Haider, on the other hand believe the first embassy of the Uzbeks did not concern the Iranians. According to Abdur Rahim the probable reason was to make ‘an alliance against other rulers of Turan’. Abdur Rahim in this regard in fact goes on to quote Abul Fazl, who regarding the purpose of this letter writes:

“…to recall ancient relations and renew friendship in order that with the help of such divine glory, he might act vigorously against other princes of Turan. Another object was that he might repose in peace and be without apprehension of the strokes of world-conquering armies.” [AN, II, 534]

Mansura Haidar on the other hand feels that the basic reason for this embassy was the ‘internal circumstances’. She points out that when Abdullah Khan Uzbek decide to attack Balkh in 1572, the other Sultans of Mawra un Nahr became suspicious of his intentions and decided to collaborate with each other to thwart his designs. Further during this very time Khudabanda, the son of Shah Tahmasp also sent and envoy to Akbar. Both these things alarmed Abdullah of a possible Mughal involvement, thus his decision to send a friendship embassy to Akbar. This embassy would ensure the Mughal neutrality if not outright friendship.

Whatever Abdullah Khan Uzbek’s reasons for despatching this embassy, to us what is important to know is Akbar’s response to it. According to Abul Fazl Akbar received this embassy coldly and, in order to discourage further diplomatic relations, did not find it necessary to send a proper reply or a return embassy to the Uzbek Khanate.

In spite of lack of proper response or a return embassy from Akbar Abdullah Khan sent a second embassy to Akbar five years later in 1577. By this time his position had considerably enhanced and Shah Tahmasp of Iran was dead. He was also thinking in terms of expansion towards Khurasan. However, according to Abul Fazl this second embassy was sent by Abdullah Khan as his first ambassador Jahji Altamash ‘had been much impressed by the power of the Empire’. The embassy this time, we are informed by Abul Fazl, came with a letter with the purport that Akbar ‘should lead an expedition from India to Iran in order that they (Abdullah Khan and Akbar) may with united efforts release Iraq, Khurasan and Fars from the rawafiz (innovators).’ It also referred to the fact that the pilgrims also faced difficulty in going for Hajj due to the growth of the Safavids. Further the alliance was needed so that the Mughals may take hold of Qandahar. Although this actual letter does not survive, but its contents become apparent from a letter written as a reply to it by Akbar (Jami’ ul Insha, Munshi Bhagchand, MS BM). What appears is that the rapid increase in Abdullah Khan’s position was such that Akbar could not out rightly ignore him and his letter as he had done in 1572. However, in Akbar’s scheme of things, his friendship and alliance with Safavids was much more crucial that it could not be sacrificed at the altar of the Uzbeks. Further, according to Varma, this change in the attitude of Akbar which forced him to respond to the second embassy was that at this time Akbar was planning ‘to bring about a settlement about Badakhshan’ and apprehended an alliance between Mirza Shah Sulaiman of Badakhshan and the Uzbeks. It was during this time that Mirza Sulaiman had been overthrown by his grandson Mirza Shahrukh and in 1577 at around the same time as the embassy of Abdullah Khan, the embassy of shahrukh had reached Akbar’s court. But then Mansura Haider sees no such connection. According to her the danger of the emergence of a triple alliance between Mirza Sulaiman, Mirza Hakim of Kabul and the Safavids forced Akbar to respond to Abdullah Khan’s overtures. It was the dangers of the north-western frontiers which forced Akbar to act thus. But still his response was quite ambiguous and could be interpreted in any way.

Akbar thus sent a return embassy under Mirza Faulad with a letter to Abdullah Khan. In this letter Akbar politely but firmly reminded Abdullah Khan Uzbek that the Safavids were ‘specially connected with the family of the Holy Prophet, and that on this ground he could not regard a difference in law and religion as sufficient reason for conquest. He [i.e. Akbar] was also withheld from such an enterprise by old and valued friendship’. As to the question of opposing the ‘infidels’, Akbar contended that he was already engaged in fighting the Europeans (Portuguese). Akbar also wrote that with the conquest of Gujarat, a new route for Hajj had also opened and there was thus no hindrance due to the Persians.

According to Uzbek sources like Abdullahnama of Hafiz Tanish, akbar’s return embassy reached the court of Abdullah Khan in July 1578.

According to Abdur Rahim also, the contents of this letter were not dictated by ‘friendly feelings’ towards Iran, but more due to alarm at the growing power of Abdullah Khan and to avoid being a party to his ambitious designs. The object of the return embassy was to assess first-hand the real power. The rebuff to Abdullah Khan would also be cushioned through this embassy: Mirza Faulad was a known anti-Shia noble. In fact later he was put to death for murdering a Shia, Mulla Ahmad Thattavi, one of the authors of Tarikh-i Alfi. In this way you diplomatically say a no which was not vehement enough and may be changed to yes, if need arose and if Safavid-Mughal relations soured.

From this period onwards a shift is noticed in the respective positions of Abdullah Khan and Akbar which is reflected in a change of policy towards each other. By 1583 Abdullah Khan had conquered all of Mawra un Nahr and had emerged as the Uzbek chief of Turan. In this year he had not only assumed the title of the khaqan but by next year, in 1585 he captured Badakhshan. This very year Mirza Hakim died.

Mirza Muhammad Hakim (1554-85) had been more or less an independent and sovereign ruler of the Kabul region till his death. He had maintained close relations with the rulers of Turan, especially Abdullah Khan Uzbek. From late 1560’s his court had also been a hotbed of Naqshbandi activity, with prominent members of this Sufi order even holding high state positions. The elimination of this kingdom was crucial from the Mughal viewpoint for several reasons: (a) Since the period of Babur and Humayun, Kabul had been an alternate centre of political power, drawing the Mughal centre of gravity away from Hindustan; (b) Mirza Hakim was able to to portray himself, in contrast to Akbar, as the pillar of an orthodox Sunni state, building an alliance, for example, with the short-lived Sunni ruler of Iran, Shah Ismail II (c. 1576-77). (c) Mirza Hakim had on at least two occasions (in late 1560’s & early 1580’s) posed an explicit threat to Mughal territories in the north-west, and also had significant support amongst the so-called Turani nobles of Akbar’s court. Thus the death of Mirza Hakim and the absorption of the territory of Kabul into Akbar’s empire was a great boost for the Mughals.  

 In 1586 Balkh was captured by Abdullah Khan and its ruler Nazr Muhammad along with his sons fled to Akbar’s court. According to Abdur Rahim, at this juncture Akbar decided to save Badakhshan from falling into Uzbek hands. The road to Khybar Pass which was fit for wheeled traffic was also constructed for this purpose. In retaliation, in order to thwart Akbar’s endeavours to create road blocks for the conquest of Badakhshan, Abdullah Khan Uzbek took two steps: firstly he occupied Qandahar before Akbar could move , and secondly he tried to stir trouble in Akbar’s backyard: he stirred up the Raushaniyya leader Jalala to foment trouble in the northwest frontier’s tribal regions. According to Abdur Rahim, Jalala was in the pay of the Uzbeks. And in the expeditions against Jalala, Akbar lost Raja Birbar, one of his personal friends. Probably the fort of Attock was also constructed in view of the Uzbek threat at this time.

While Akbar was at Attock Fort, in 1586, that Abdullah Khan sent his third embassy. It was headed by Mir Quraish. He came with a letter and some presents for Akbar.

Mansura Haider debunks the thesis of Abdur Rahim and says that neither did Akbar attempt to ‘save’ Badakhshan from Abdullah Khan nor did the later try to ‘foment’ trouble through Jalala. She says that during this time the boundaries of Akbar and Abdullah Khan had come closer and the pressure of Abdullah Khan’s growing powers were being felt by Akbar. Abdullah Khan was trying to adopt a bolder and demanding attitude whereas Akbar had turned conciliatory. There were troubles for Akbar in not only the north-western tribal regions in Kabul, Zabulistan and Bajaur but also in Kashmir and Gujarat. To ensure safety in the northwest Akbar had to personally move to Punjab move on to Kabul after the death of Mirza Hakim. It was also a time when the Safavids under Khudabanda (1577-88) were quite weak and completely shattered by the invasions of the Ottomans as well as internal rebellions. And thus in these situations it was necessary to maintain a more conciliatory attitude towards the Uzbeks. Akbar, due to these political upheavals was also anxious to occupy Qandahar and save Kabul from the designs of Abdullah Khan.

 The contents of the letter sent by Abdullah Khan in 1586 are given in Majma’ul Insha [MS BM]. In this letter Abdullah Khan tried to justify his occupation of Badakhshan and blamed Mirza Shahrukh for attacking his territory while he was away and that ‘this faqir had acted out of friendship’. He also refers to the delay in sending this embassy due to his own problems and not due to any lack of regards for Akbar.

Abul Fazl while referring to this letter of Abdullah Khan says that it was sent as Abdullah Khan Uzbek ‘feared’ that Akbar would march against him and thus it was a letter of supplication which pulled at the chain of friendship.

The Uzbek sources on the other hand cited by Mansura Haider, on the other hand point to a different story: Abdullah Khan Uzbek wrote this letter as a proposal for an alliance against the Shi’i Iran and their religious tyranny and to safeguard the Sunnis. It was a duty of all the Muslims to do so.

‘So it was decided that early in spring we should proceed with the extermination of that misguided group and try our utmost to destroy them. If Emperor Akbar could extend material or moral support in this venture, it would be better. In case, however, this was not possible, protection must not be given to those who fled from our sword to your side.’[Abdullahnama]

Another similar letter was sent by Abdullah Khan Uzbek to Akbar through Nazr Be. In this also the Uzbek ruler talked of an alliance against the heretical Shias of Iran and the opening of the Hajj route for the Sunnis. But then it also contains the information that Abdullah Khan Uzbek had also entered into an alliance in this regards with the Khwarizmian ruler.

The purport of both these letters was not to form an alliance for an attack on Iran but in order to gain the neutrality of Akbar and stop him from sending any help to the Safavids.

In reply to these letters and the embassy, Akbar now decided to send a return embassy. This time it was headed by Hakim Humam with a letter to the Uzbek chief. Through this letter Akbar tried to address not only the chief concerns of the Uzbeks but also depicts his own diplomatic skills. He again re-iterated that the Safavids though not Sunnis but were still Saiyids and hereditary friends of the Mughals. In the light of repeated invasions of the Ottomans he felt duty bound to go for the help of the Iranians and requested Abdullah Khan to proceed to Khurasan so that they could meet there and jointly devise appropriate measures to assist the Safavids!

This was diplomacy and an attempt to disquise a plan to accommodate rival interests in Iran. The fact is he wanted the possession of Qandahar and had no problem if Abdullah Khan took some parts of Iran.

Both Riaz ul Islam and Abdur Rahim hint that the embassy of Hakim Hummam led to some sort of alliance between the Mughals and the Uzbeks.  Mansura Haider on the other hand provides documentary evidences from both the Mughal and Uzbek sources for this ‘alliance’ between 1588-90. According to her this alliance took place on the proposal put forward by Abdullah Khan Uzbek. To quote one of her evidences: in 1591 Akbar wrote a letter to Raja Ali Khan of Khandesh in which he conveyed that his plans for the conquest of Badakhshan were being postponed because of the ‘envoys of Abdullah had come to his court’ and that for him ‘nothing was more important than sincerity and friendship’. According to this pact, the boundaries between the two were fixed at the Hindukush. Badakhshan and Khurasan were given to Abdullah Khan and Kabul and Qandahar to Akbar. The agreement also involved an undertaking not to interfere in each other’s affairs.

This agreement became effective most probably with the despatch of the yet another embassy by ~Abdullah Khan Uzbek under Ahmad Ali Ataliq, who, as Abul Fazl’ s letters point out was sent to ‘strengthen peace and to purify the foundations of concord and make this Hindukush the boundary between us’.

We know that between 1588-89 Akbar was personally present at Kabul and thus Abdullah Khan feared of a possible invasion of Badakhshan. Akbar alludes to this himself through a letter written by him to Raja Ali Khan in Sept 1591 that on reaching Kabul in 1588 he proposed to recover Badakhshan and to assign it to Mirza Shahrukh.

On top of this the fluid situation was fast improving in Iran from 1589 onwards. And this forced Abdullah Khan to maintain good relations with Akbar. In 1590-91 he sent an army to occupy Qandahar. But in order to save their territory, the Mirzas of Qandahar decided to show their alliance with Akbar and iterated that Qandahar belonged to the Mughal Empire and they were holding it as the governor of Akbar. And only if Abdullah Khan wanted to begin a war with Akbar that he should attempt taking Qandahar. Abdullah now had to send a clarification to Akbar through Maulvi Husain Khurasani. This embassy was in fact to assess Akbar’s intentions on Qandahar. Akbar by now had decided to take action. He did not send a reply to the embassy of Abdullah Khan but in Feb 1591 asked the Khan-i Khanan to occupy Qandahar.

In 1595 Qandahar was conquered and then started an armed conflict with the Uzbeks on the possession of the regions of Garmsir and Zamindawar. Further tensions were created with the Ottoman-Uzbek relations getting better with a letter written in 1594 by Sultan Murad III to form an alliance against the Persians.

Thus after the occupation of Qandahar Akbar realised the urgency of sending an embassy under Khwaja Ashraf Naqshbandi to Abdullah Khan to show his willingness to accept Hindukush as the border. This embassy reached the Uzbek court in 1597. Before it could return back along with an envoy of the Uzbeks, Abdullah Khan Uzbek died.

• Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi

The Tripartite Struggle in North India: 750 to 1200 AD

The 8th century was a time of struggle for control over the central Ganges valley—focusing on Kannauj—among the Gurjara-Pratihara, the Rashtrakuta, and the Pala dynasties. The Pratiharas rose to power in the Avanti-Jalaor region and used western India as a base. The Calukyas fell about 753 to one of their own feudatories, the Rashtrakutas under Dantidurga, who established a dynasty. The Rashtrakuta interest in Kannauj probably centred on the trade routes from the Ganges valley. This was the first occasion on which a power based in the Deccan made a serious bid for a pivotal position in northern India. From the east the Palas also participated in the competition. They are associated with Pundravardhana (near Bogra, Bangl.), and their first ruler, Gopala (reigned c. 750–770), included Vanga in his kingdom and gradually extended his control to the whole of Bengal.

Vatsaraja, a Pratihara ruler who came to the throne about 778, controlled eastern Rajasthan and Malava. His ambition to take Kannauj brought him into conflict with the Pala king, Dharmapala (reigned c. 770–810), who had by this time advanced up the Ganges valley. The Rashtrakuta king Dhruva (reigned c. 780–793) attacked each in turn and claimed to have defeated them. This initiated a lengthy tripartite struggle. Dharmapala soon retook Kannauj and put his nominee on the throne. The Rashtrakutas were preoccupied with problems in the south. Vatsaraja’s successor, Nagabhata II (reigned c. 793–833), reorganized Pratihara power, attacked Kannauj, and for a short while reversed the situation. However, soon afterward he was defeated by the Rashtrakuta king Govinda III (reigned 793–814), who in turn had to face a confederacy of southern powers that kept him involved in Deccan politics, leaving northern India to the Pratiharas and Palas. Bhoja I (reigned c. 836–885) revived the power of the Pratiharas by bringing Kalanjara, and possibly Kannauj as well, under Pratihara control. Bhoja’s plans to extend the kingdom, however, were thwarted by the Palas and the Rashtrakutas. More serious conflict with the latter ensued during the reign of Krishna II (reigned c. 878–914).

An Arab visitor to western India, the merchant Sulaymān, referred to the kingdom of Juzr (which is generally identified as Gurjara) and its strong and able ruler, who may have been Bhoja. Of the successors of Bhoja, the only one of significance was Mahipala (reigned c. 908–942), whose relationship with the earlier king remains controversial. Rajashekhara, a renowned poet at his court, implies that Mahipala restored the kingdom to its original power, but this may be an exaggeration. By the end of the 10th century the Pratihara feudatories—Cauhans (Cahamanas), Candellas (Chandelas), Guhilas, Kalacuris, Paramaras, and Caulukyas (also called Solankis)—were asserting their independence, although the last of the Pratiharas survived until 1027. Meanwhile Devapala (reigned c. 810–850) was reasserting Pala authority in the east and, he claimed, in the northern Deccan. At the end of the 9th century, however, the Pala kingdom declined, with feudatories in Kamarupa (modern Assam) and Utkala (Orissa) taking independent titles. Pala power revived during the reign of Mahipala (reigned c. 988–1038), although its stronghold now was Bihar rather than Bengal. Further attempts to recover the old Pala territories were made by Ramapala, but Pala power gradually declined. There was a brief revival of power in Bengal under the Sena dynasty (c. 1070–1289).

In the Rashtrakuta kingdom, Amoghavarsa (reigned c. 814–878) faced a revolt of officers and feudatories but managed to survive and reassert Rashtrakuta power despite intermittent rebellions. Campaigns in the south against Vengi and the Gangas kept Amoghavarsa preoccupied and prevented him from participating in northern politics. The Rashtrakuta capital was moved to Manyakheta (Andhra Pradesh), doubtlessly to facilitate southern involvements, which clearly took on more-important dimensions at this time. Sporadic campaigns against the Pratiharas, the Eastern Calukyas, and the Colas, the new power of the south, continued (see below The Colas). Indra III (reigned 914–927) captured Kannauj, but, with mounting political pressures from the south, his control over the north was inevitably short-lived. The reign of Krishna III (reigned c. 939–968) saw a successful campaign against the Colas, a matrimonial alliance with the Gangas, and the subjugation of Vengi. Rashtrakuta power declined suddenly, however, after the reign of Indra, and this was fully exploited by the feudatory Taila.

Taila II (reigned 973–997), who traced his ancestry to the earlier Calukyas of Vatapi, ruled a small part of Bijapur. Upon the weakening of Rashtrakuta power, he defeated the king, declared his independence, and founded what has come to be called the Later Calukya dynasty. The kingdom included much of Karnataka, Konkan, and the territory as far north as the Godavari River. By the end of the 10th century, the Later Calukyas clashed with the ambitious Colas. The Calukyas’ capital was subsequently moved north to Kalyani (near Bidar, in Karnataka). Campaigns against the Colas took a more serious turn during the reign of Someshvara I (reigned 1043–68), with alternating defeat and victory. The Later Calukyas, however, by and large retained control over the western Deccan despite the hostility of the Colas and of their own feudatories. In the middle of the 12th century, however, a feudatory, Bijjala (reigned 1156–67) of the Kalacuri dynasty, usurped the throne at Kalyani. The last of the Calukya rulers, Someshvara IV (reigned 1181–c. 1189), regained the throne for a short period, after which he was overthrown by a feudatory of the Yadava dynasty.

On the periphery of the large kingdoms were the smaller states such as Nepal, Kamarupa, Kashmir, and Utkala (Orissa) and lesser dynasties such as the Shilaharas in Maharashtra. Nepal had freed itself from Tibetan suzerainty in the 8th century but remained a major trade route to Tibet. Kamarupa, with its capital at Pragjyotisapura (near present-day Gawahati), was one of the centres of the Tantric cult. In 1253 a major part of Kamarupa was conquered by the Ahom, a Shan people. Politics in Kashmir were dominated by turbulent feudatories seeking power. By the 11th century Kashmir was torn between rival court factions, and the oppression by Harsha accentuated the suffering of the people. Smaller states along the Himalayan foothills managed to survive without becoming too embroiled in the politics of the plains.

The Rajputs

In Rajasthan and central India there arose a number of small kingdoms ruled by dynasties that came to be called the Rajputs (from Sanskrit raja-putra, “son of a king”). The name was assumed by royal families that claimed Kshatriya status and linked their lineage either with the Suryavamshi (solar) or the Candravamshi (lunar), the royal lineages of the itihasa-purana tradition, or else with the Agnikula (fire lineage), based on a lesser myth in which the eponymous ancestor arises out of the sacrificial fire. The four major Rajput dynasties—Pratihara, Paramara, Cauhan, and Caulukya—claimed Agnikula lineage. The references in Rajput genealogies to supernatural ancestry suggest either an obscure origin—perhaps from semi-Hinduized local tribes who gradually acquired political and economic status—or else a non-Indian (probably Central Asian) origin.

The Caulukyas of Gujarat had three branches: one ruling Mattamayura (the Malava-Cedi region), one established on the former kingdom of the Capas at Anahilapataka (present-day Patan), and the third at Bhrigukaccha (present-day Bharuch) and Lata in the coastal area. By the 11th century they were using Gujarat as a base and attempting to annex neighbouring portions of Rajasthan and Avanti. Kumarapala (reigned c. 1143–72) was responsible for consolidating the kingdom. He is also believed to have become a Jain and to have encouraged Jainism in western India. Hemacandra, an outstanding Jain scholar noted for his commentaries on political treatises, was a well-known figure at the Caulukya court. Many of the Rajput kingdoms had Jain statesmen, ministers, and even generals, as well as Jain traders and merchants. By the 14th century, however, the Caulukya kingdom had declined.

Adjoining the kingdom of the Caulukyas was that of the Paramaras in Malava, with minor branches in the territories just to the north (Mount Abu, Banswara, Cungarpur, and Bhinmal). The Paramaras emerged as feudatories of the Rashtrakutas and rose to eminence during the reign of Bhoja. An attack by the Caulukyas weakened the Paramaras in 1143. Although the dynasty was later re-established, it remained weak. In the 13th century the Paramaras were threatened by both rising Yadava power in the Deccan and the Turkish kingdom at Delhi (see below The coming of the Turks); the latter conquered the Paramaras in 1305.

The Kalacuris of Tripuri (near Jabalpur) also began as feudatories of the Rashtrakutas, becoming a power in central India in the 11th century during the reigns of Gangeyadeva and his son Lakshmikarna, when attempts were made to conquer territories as far afield as Utkala (Orissa), Bihar, and the Ganges–Yamuna Doab. There they came into conflict with the Turkish governor of the Punjab, who briefly had extended his territory as far as Varanasi. To the west there were conflicts with Bhoja Paramara, and the Kalacuris declined at the end of the 12th century.

The Candellas, whose kingdom comprised mainly Bundelkhand, were feudatories of the Pratiharas. Among the important rulers was Dhanga (reigned c. 950–1008), who issued a large number of inscriptions and was generous in donations to Jain and Hindu temples. Dhanga’s grandson Vidyadhara (reigned 1017–29), often described as the most powerful of the Candella kings, extended the kingdom as far as the Chambal and Narmada rivers. There he came into direct conflict with the Turkic conqueror Maḥmūd of Ghazna when the latter swept down from Afghanistan in a series of raids. But the ensuing battles were indecisive. The Candellas also had to face the attacks of the Cauhans, who were in turn being harassed by the Turks. The Turkish kingdom at Delhi encroached into Bundelkhand, but the Candellas survived until the 16th century as minor chieftains.

The Gahadavalas rose to importance in Varanasi and extended their kingdom up the Gangetic plain, including Kannauj. The king Jayacandra (12th century) is mentioned in the poem Prithviraja-raso by Candbardai, in which his daughter, the princess Sanyogita, elopes with the Cauhan king Prithviraja. Jayacandra died in battle against the Turkish leader, Muʿizz al-Dīn Muḥammad ibn Sām (Muḥammad of Ghūr), and his kingdom was annexed.

Inscriptional records associate the Cauhans with Lake Shakambhari and its environs (Sambhar Salt Lake, Rajasthan). Cauhan politics were largely campaigns against the Caulukyas and the Turks. In the 11th century the Cauhans founded the city of Ajayameru (Ajmer) in the southern part of their kingdom, and in the 12th century they captured Dhillika (Delhi) from the Tomaras and annexed some Tomara territory along the Yamuna River. Prithviraja III has come down both in folk and historical literature as the Cauhan king who resisted the Turkish attacks in the first battle at Taraori (Tarain) in 1191. Prithviraja, however, was defeated at a second battle in the same place in 1192; the defeat ushered in Turkish rule in northern India.

The Deccan and the south

In the northern Deccan the decline of the Later Calukyas brought about the rise of their feudatories, among them the Yadava dynasty (also claiming descent from the Yadu tribe) based at Devagiri (Daulatabad), whose kingdom (Seunadesha) included the broad swaths of what is now Maharashtra state. The kingdom expanded during the reign of Simhana (reigned c. 1210–47), who campaigned against the Hoysala in northern Karnataka, against the lesser chiefs of the western coast, and against the Kakatiya kingdom in the eastern Deccan. Turning northward, Simhana attacked the Paramaras and the Caulukyas. The Yadavas, however, facing the Turks to the north and the powerful Hoysalas to the south, declined in the early 14th century.

In the eastern Deccan the Kakatiya dynasty was based in parts of what is now Andhra Pradesh state and survived until the Turkish attack in the 14th century. The Eastern Calukyas ruled in the Godavari River delta, and in the 13th century their fortunes were tied to those of the Colas. The Eastern Gangas, ruling in Kalinga, came into conflict with the Turks advancing down the Ganges River valley to the delta during the 13th century.

The Colas

The Colas (Cholas) were by far the most important dynasty in the subcontinent at this time, although their activities mainly affected the peninsula and Southeast Asia. The nucleus of Cola power during the reign of Vijayalaya in the late 9th century was Thanjavur, from which the Colas spread northward, annexing in the 10th century what remained of Pallava territory. To the south they came up against the Pandyas. Cola history can be reconstructed in considerable detail because of the vast number of lengthy inscriptions issued not only by the royal family but also by temple authorities, village councils, and trade guilds. Parantaka I (reigned 907–953) laid the foundation of the kingdom. He took the northern boundary up to Nellore (Andhra Pradesh), where his advance was stopped by a defeat at the hands of the Rashtrakuta king Krishna III. Parantaka was more successful in the south, where he defeated both the Pandyas and the Gangas. He also launched an abortive attack on Sri Lanka. For 30 years after his death, there was a series of feeble reigns that did not strengthen the Cola position. There then followed two outstanding rulers who rapidly reinstated Cola power and ensured the kingdom its supremacy. These were Rajaraja I and Rajendra.

Rajaraja (reigned 985–1014) began establishing power with attacks against the Pandyas and Illamandalam of Sri Lanka. Northern Sri Lanka became a province of the Cola kingdom. A campaign against the Gangas and Calukyas extended the Cola boundary north to the Tungabhadra River. On the eastern coast the Colas battled with the Calukyas for the possession of Vengi. A marriage alliance gave the Colas an authoritative position, but Vengi remained a bone of contention. A naval campaign led to the conquest of the Maldive Islands, the Malabar Coast, and northern Sri Lanka, all of which were essential to the Cola control over trade with Southeast Asia and with Arabia and eastern Africa. These were the transit areas, ports of call for the Arab traders and ships to Southeast Asia and China, which were the source of the valuable spices sold at a high profit to Europe.

Rajaraja I’s son Rajendra participated in his father’s government from 1012, succeeded him two years later, and ruled until 1044. To the north he annexed the Raichur Doab (the interfluve between the Krishna and Tungabhadra rivers in Karnataka) and moved into Manyakheta in the heart of Calukya territory. A revolt against Mahinda V of Sri Lanka gave Rajendra the excuse to conquer southern Sri Lanka as well. In 1021–22 the now-famous northern campaign was launched. The Cola army campaigned along the east coast as far as Bengal and then north to the Ganges River—almost the exact reverse of Samudra Gupta’s campaign to Kanchipuram in the 4th century CE. The most spectacular campaign, however, was a naval campaign against the Srivijaya empire in Southeast Asia in 1025. The reason for the assault on Srivijaya and neighbouring areas appears to have been the interference with Indian shipping and mercantile interests seeking direct trading connections with southern China. The Cola victory reinstated these connections, and throughout the 11th century Cola trading missions visited China.

The Hoysalas and Pandyas

The succession after Rajendra is confused until the emergence of Kulottunga I (reigned 1070–1122), but his reign was the last of any significance. The 12th and 13th centuries saw a gradual decline in Cola power, accelerated by the rise of the Hoysalas to the west and the Pandyas to the south.

The Hoysalas began as hill chieftains northwest of Dorasamudra (modern Halebid), feudatory to the Calukyas. Vishnuvardhana consolidated the kingdom in the 12th century. The Hoysalas were involved in conflict with the Yadava kingdom, which was seeking to expand southward, particularly during the reign of Ballala II (reigned 1173–1220). Hostilities also developed with the Colas to the east. The armies of the Turks eroded the Hoysala kingdom until, in the 14th century, it gave way to the newly emerging Vijayanagara empire. In the 13th century the Pandyas became the dominant power in the south, but their supremacy was brief because they were attacked in the 14th century by Turkish armies. Information on the dynasty is supplemented by the colourful account of Venetian traveler Marco Polo, who visited the region in 1288 and 1293.

Society and culture

Apart from the political events of the time, a common development in the subcontinent was the recognizable decentralization of administration and revenue collection. From the Cola kingdom there are long inscriptions on temple walls referring to the organization and functioning of village councils. Villages that had been donated to Brahmans had councils called sabhas; in the non-Brahman villages the council was called the ur. Eligibility qualifications generally relating to age and ownership of property were indicated, along with procedural rules. The council was divided into various committees in charge of the different aspects of village life and administration. Among the responsibilities of the council was the collection of revenue and the supervision of irrigation. References to village bodies and local councils also occur in inscriptions from other regions. A more recent and much-contested view held by some historians holds that the Cola state was a segmentary state with control decreasing from the centre outward and a ritual hierarchy that determined the relations between the centre and the units of the territory. The nature of the state during this period has been the subject of widespread discussion among historians.

In the Deccan the rise and fall of dynasties was largely the result of the feudatory pattern of political relationships. The same held true of northern India and is seen both in the rise of various Rajput dynasties and in their inability to withstand the Turkish invasions. There is considerable controversy among historians as to whether it would be accurate to describe the feudatory pattern as feudalism per se. Some argue that, although it was not identical to the classic example of feudalism in western Europe, there are sufficient similarities to allow the use of the term. Others contend that the dissimilarities are substantial, such as the apparent absence of an economic contract involving king, vassal, and serf. In any event, the patterns of land relations, politics, and culture changed considerably, and the major characteristic of the change consists of forms of decentralization.

The commonly used term for a feudatory was samanta, which designated either a conquered ruler or a secular official connected with the administration who had been given a grant of land in lieu of a salary and who had asserted ownership over the land and gradually appropriated rights of ruling the area. There were various categories of samantas. As long as a ruler was in a feudatory status, he called himself samanta and acknowledged his overlord in official documents and charters. Independent status was indicated by the elimination of the title of samanta and the inclusion instead of royal titles such as maharaja and maharatadhiraja. The feudatory had certain obligations to the ruler. Although virtually in sole control administratively and fiscally over the land granted to him, he nevertheless had to pay a small percentage of the revenue to the ruler and maintain a specified body of troops for him. He was permitted the use of certain symbols of authority on formal occasions and was required, if called upon, to give his daughter in marriage to his suzerain. These major administrative and economic changes, although primarily concerning fiscal arrangements and revenue organization, also had their impact on politics and culture. The grantees or intermediaries in a hierarchy of grants were not merely secular officials but were often Brahman beneficiaries who had been given grants of land in return for religious services rendered to the state. The grants were frequently so lucrative that the Brahmans could marry into the families of local chiefs, which explains the presence of Brahman ancestors in the genealogies of the period.

The economy

Cultivation was still carried out by the peasants, generally Shudras, who remained tied to the land. Since the revenue was now to be paid not to the king but to the samanta, the peasants naturally began to give more attention to his requirements. Although the samantas copied the life-style of the royal court, often to the point of setting up miniature courts in imitation of the royal model, the system also encouraged parochial loyalties and local cultural interests. One manifestation of this local involvement was a sudden spurt of historical literature such as Bilhana’s Vikramankadevacarita, the life of the Calukya king Vikramaditya VI, and Kalhana’s Rajatarangini, a history of Kashmir.

The earlier decline in trade was gradually reversed in this period, with trade centres emerging in various parts of the subcontinent. Some urban centres developed from points of exchange for agrarian produce, whereas others were involved in long-distance trade. In some cases, traders from elsewhere settled in India, such as the Arabs on the Malabar Coast; in other cases Indian traders went to distant lands. Powerful trading guilds could enjoy political and military support, as was the case during the Cola monarchy. Even the rich Hindu temples of southern India invested their money in trade. Pala contacts were mainly with Srivijaya, and trade was combined with Buddhist interests. The monasteries at Nalanda and Vikramashila maintained close relations. By now eastern India was the only region with a sizable Buddhist presence. The traditional trade routes were still used, and some kingdoms drew their revenue from such routes as those along the Aravalli Range, Malava, and the Chambal and Narmada valleys. Significantly, the major technological innovation, the introduction of the sāqiyah (Persian wheel), or araghatta, as an aid to irrigation in northern India, pertains to agrarian life and not to urban technology.

Social mobility

Historians once believed that the post-Gupta period brought greater rigidity in the caste structure and that this rigidity was partially responsible for the inability of Indians to face the challenge of the Turks. This view is now being modified. The distinctions, particularly between the Brahmans and the other castes, were in theory sharper, but in practice it now appears that social restrictions were not so rigid. Brahmans often lived off the land and founded dynasties. Most of the groups claiming Kshatriya status had only recently acquired it. The conscious reference to being Kshatriya, a characteristic among Rajputs, is a noticeable feature in post-Gupta politics. The fact that many of these dynasties were of obscure origin suggests some social mobility: a person of any caste, having once acquired political power, could also acquire a genealogy connecting him with the traditional lineages and conferring Kshatriya status. A number of new castes, such as the Kayasthas (scribes) and Khatris (traders), are mentioned in the sources of this period. According to the Brahmanic sources, they originated from intercaste marriages, but this is clearly an attempt at rationalizing their rank in the hierarchy. Many of these new castes played a major role in society. The hierarchy of castes did not have a uniform distribution throughout the country. But the preeminent position of the Brahman was endorsed not merely by the fact that many had lands and investments but also by the fact that they controlled education. Formal learning was virtually restricted to the institutions attached to the temples. Technical knowledge was available in the various artisan guilds. Hierarchy existed, however, even among the Brahmans; some Brahman castes, who had perhaps been tribal priests before being assimilated into the Sanskritic tradition, remained ordinary village priests catering to the day-to-day religious functions.


The local nucleus of the new culture led to a large range of religious expression, from the powerful temple religion of Brahmanism to a widespread popular bhakti religion and even more widespread fertility cults. The distinctions between the three were not clearly demarcated in practice; rites and concepts from each flowed into the other. The formal worship of Vishnu and Shiva had the support of the elite. Temples dedicated to Vaishnava and Shaiva deities were the most numerous. But also included were some of the chief deities connected with the fertility cult, and the mother goddesses played an important role. The Puranas had been rewritten to incorporate popular religion; now the upa-puranas were written to record rites and worship of more-localized deities. Among the more-popular incarnations of Vishnu was Krishna, who, as the cowherd deity, accommodated pastoral and erotic themes in worship. The love of Krishna and Radha was expressed in sensitive and passionate poetry.

The introduction of the erotic theme in Hinduism was closely connected with the fertility cult and Tantrism. The latter, named for its scriptures, the Tantras, influenced both Hindu and Buddhist ritual. Tantrism, as practiced by the elite, represented the conversion of a widespread folk religion into a sophisticated one. The emphasis on the mother goddess, related to that expressed in the Shakti (Śakti) cult, strengthened the status of the female deities. The erotic aspect also was related to the importance of ritual coition in some Tantric rites. The depiction of erotic scenes on temple walls therefore had a magico-religious context.

Vajrayana Buddhism, current in eastern India, Nepal, and Tibet, shows evidence of the impact of Tantrism. The goddess Tara emerges as the saviour and is in many ways the Buddhist counterpart of Shakti. Buddhism was on the way out—the Buddha had been incorporated as an avatar of Vishnu—and had lost much of its popular appeal, which had been maintained by the simple habits of the monks. The traditional source of Buddhist patronage had dwindled with declining trade. Jainism, however, managed to maintain some hold in Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Karnataka. The protest aspect of both Buddhism and Jainism, especially the opposition to Brahmanic orthodoxy, had now been taken over by the Tantrists and the bhakti cults. The Tantrists expressed their protest through some rather extreme rites, as did some of the heretical sects such as the Kalamukhas and Kapalikas. The bhakti cults expressed the more-puritanical protest of the urban groups, gradually spreading to the rural areas. Preeminent among the bhakti groups during this period were the Lingayats, or Virashaivas, who were to become a powerful force in Karnataka, and the Pandharpur cult in Maharashtra, which attracted such preachers as Namadeva and Jnaneshvara.

Literature and the arts

It was also in the matha (monastery) and the ghatika (assembly hall), attached to the temples, that the influential philosophical debates were conducted in Sanskrit. Foremost among the philosophers were Shankara (8th–9th century), Ramanuja (d. 1137), and Madhva (13th century). The discussions centred on religious problems, such as whether knowledge or devotion was the more effective means of salvation, and problems of metaphysics, including that of the nature of reality.

Court literature, irrespective of the region, continued to be composed in Sanskrit, with the many courts competing for the patronage of the poets and the dramatists. There was a revival of interest in earlier literature, generating copious commentaries on prosody, grammar, and technical literature. The number of lexicons increased, perhaps necessitated by the growing use of Sanskrit by non-Sanskrit speakers. Literary style tended to be pedantic and imitative, although there were notable exceptions, such as Jayadeva’s lyrical poem on the love of Radha and Krishna, the Gitagovinda. The bhakti teachers preached in the local languages, giving a tremendous stimulus to literature in these languages. Adaptations of the Ramayana, Mahabharata, and Bhagavadgita were used regularly by the bhakti teachers. There was thus a gradual breaking away from Sanskrit and the Prakrit languages via the Apabhrahmsha language and the eventual emergence and evolution of such languages as Kannada, Telugu, Marathi, Gujarati, Bengali, and Oriya and of the Bihari languages.

The period was rich in sculpture, in both stone and metal, each region registering a variant style. Western India and Rajasthan emphasized ornateness, with the Jain temples at Mount Abu attaining a perfection of rococo. Nalanda was the centre of striking but less-ornate images in black stone and of Buddhist bronze icons. Central Indian craftsmen used the softer sandstone. In the peninsula the profusely sculptured rock-cut temples such as the Kailasa at the Ellora Caves, under Calukya and Rashtrakuta patronage, displayed a style of their own. The dominant style in the south was that of Cola sculpture, particularly in bronze. The severe beauty and elegance of these bronze images, mainly of Shaiva and Vaishnava deities and saints, remains unsurpassed. A new genre of painting that rose to popularity in Nepal, eastern India, and Gujarat was the illustration of Buddhist and Jain manuscripts with miniature paintings.

Temple architecture was divided into three main styles—nagara, dravida, and vasara—which were distinguished by the ground plan of the temple and by the shape of the shikhara (tower) that rose over the garbhagrha (cubical structure) and that became the commanding feature of temple architecture. The north Indian temples conformed to the nagara style, as is seen at Osian (Rajasthan state); Khajuraho (Madhya Pradesh state); and Konarka, Bhubaneshwar, and Puri (Orissa state). The Orissa temples, however, remain nearest to the original archetype. South Indian temple architecture, or dravida, style—with its commanding gopuras (gateways)—can be seen in the Rajarajeshvara and the Gangaikondacolapuram temples. The Deccani style, vasara, tended to be an intermixture of the northern and the southern, with early examples at Vatapi, Aihole, and Pattadakal and, later, at Halebid, Belur, and Somnathpur in the vicinity of Mysore. The wealth of the temples made them the focus of attack from plunderers.

The question that is frequently posed as to why the Turks so easily conquered northern India and the Deccan has in part to do with what might be called the medieval ethos. A contemporary observed that the Indians had become self-centred and unaware of the world around them. This was substantially true. There was little interest in the politics of neighbouring countries or in their technological achievements. The medieval ethos expressed itself not only in the “feudatory” attitude toward politics and the parochial concerns that became dominant and prevented any effective opposition to the Turks but also in the trappings of chivalry and romanticism that became central to elite activity.

It has been generally held that the medieval period of Indian history began with the arrival of the Turks (dated to either 1000 or 1206 CE), because the Turks brought with them a new religion, Islam, which changed Indian society at all levels. Yet the fundamental changes that took place about the 8th century, when the medieval ethos was introduced, would seem far more significant as criteria.

• Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi

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.

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(Mario Casari)