1 Tygozuru

Indo Muslim Historiography Essay




Historical works in Persian began to appear in India in the era of the Delhi Sultanate (q.v.) during the late 13th to 14th centuries. It was in Delhi itself, the capital of this expanding, if habitually unstable, kingdom, that most of the early Persian–language histories were written. However, it was particularly during the preceding Ghaznavid era (977-1186; q.v.), when Muslim armies penetrated deep into the Indian heartland, that poets and scholars, writing in Persian, began settling in northwestern India in significant numbers, founding the Persian-language tradition of scholarship in the subcontinent. This tradition then took root in India after the Ghurids conquered Ḡazni (qq.v., also Ḡazna) and established their capital at Delhi, to be succeeded by the sultans of Delhi (1206-1398). Persian-language scholarship stagnated after Timur destroyed the Delhi Sultanate in 1398, but revived and expanded exponentially during the years of the Timurid-Mughal dynasty (1526-1739). In this later period Indo-Persian historiography became a vibrant, multi-faceted tradition of scholarship, including autobiography, collections of poetry, ethical treatises, belles-lettres, and manuals of technical prose and administration, conversational discourses, and advice literature (divāns, aḵlāq, enšāʾ, malfuẓāt, and naṣiḥat literature), literary and Sufi biographies and anthologies (taḏkeras), gazetteers, and innumerable political histories. These were produced at the Timurid-Mughal court in Agra and Delhi and at the independent courts of Persian-speaking rulers in Bengal, Gujarat, the Deccan (qq.v.) and elsewhere, including semi-autonomous Timurid-Mughal provinces as far south as Madras. Indo-Persian historical literature continued to be produced throughout the 18th century; but, as Muslim political power declined following the collapse of Timurid-Mughal rule, patronage decayed, and simultaneously Urdu displaced Persian, first in verse and then, by the mid-19th century, in prose as well.

The wealth of the subcontinent, and the proliferation of power centers there, led to the production of a vast corpus of Indo-Persian administrative, historical, religious, and poetical literature that can only be hinted at in this article. Still, it is worth noting that manuscripts written in Persian can be found throughout India in a variety of public and private institutions, including mosques and other religious institutions and private libraries. As an example of the wealth of Persian texts, the Government Oriental Manuscripts Library in Madras, well south of the centers of Indo-Muslim power, currently possesses 1,390 Persian manuscripts. Persian holdings are also especially rich in the libraries of the Asiatic Society of Bengal (see BENGAL ii. ROYAL ASIATIC SOCIETY OF BENGAL) in Calcutta, the Khuda Bakhsh Library in Patna, and the Rampur Reza Library, to name but a few repositories of Indo-Persian texts.


The Ghaznavid background. The body of work produced at the Ghaznavid court represents the prolego-mena to Persian-language historiography in India. This includes prose works of narrative history such as the famous Tāriḵ-e Bayhaqi by Abu’l-Fażl Bayhaqi (q.v.) and Ādāb al-ḥarb wa’l-šajāʿa by Faḵr-e Modabber Mobārak-šāh (qq.v.), Ferdowsi’s epic poem, the Šāh-nāma, as well as a large body of Persian panegyric and lyrical verse by Farroḵi, Manučehri, Saʿd-e Salmān, and Sanāʾi, and several other court poets of the era. Such works comprised the immediate intellectual inheritance of Persian-speaking Muslims of the subcontinent. The principal exception to the use of Persian in historical or literary works during Ghaznavid times was Abu Rayḥān Biruni’s monumental study of North Indian Brahmanical culture and natural history Taḥqiq mā le’l-Hend men maqula maqbula fi’l-ʿaql aw marḏula, which Biruni conceived of as a philosophical or scientific work and therefore wrote in Arabic. Biruni’s work (see BIRUNI vi. WORKS ON INDOLOGY) was as unprecedented as it was unique. A Greco-Islamic scientific study intellectually akin to Ebn Ḵaldun’s Moqaddema, the work now generally known as Ketāb al-Hend had none of the panegyric or rhetorical characteristics of previous or subsequent Persian historical or literary works, whether written at the Ghaznavid court or at the courts of the Delhi Sultans or Timurid-Mughals. Nonetheless, Biruni’s treatise, which was based on his research in the Ghaznavids’ Indian province, the Punjab, represents the earliest major work produced by a Persian-speaking scholar in the Indian subcontinent. It was particularly in the Punjabi city of Lahore, the provincial Ghaznavid capital, that Persian-speaking Muslims initiated Persian scholarship in South Asia. In that city Hojviri (q.v.) wrote the first Persian-language treatise on Sufism, the Kašf al-maḥjub, and the poet Saʿd(-e) Salmān penned many of his verses. While these works were not histories per se, devotional literature and Persian verse comprise two of the most important historical sources for the study of the Delhi Sultanate and the Timurid-Mughal empire.

The Delhi Sultanate. An important historian of the early Delhi Sultanate is Juzjāni, otherwise known as Menhāj al-Serāj, whose work Ṭabaqāt-e nāṣeri is, unfortunately, confused in its organization and opaque in its style. Juzjāni, a refugee from the Mongols who fled from Ghur in 1227, later became a qāżi of the Delhi Sultans. Understandably anti-Mongol, Juzjāni wrote extensively of the Delhi rulers in the first half of the thirteenth century. While his history was widely used by later Indo-Persian authors, including ʿEṣāmi (q.v.), the Ṭabaqāt-e nāṣeri, like many other works of Sultanate-era historians described by Peter Hardy (see bibliography), may be valuable more for the attitudes it expresses than for the “facts” or interpretations it gives.

The impossibility of narrowly defining Indo-Persian historiography simply as prose narrative is reflected by the fact that two of the three most important writers who produced works with historical content under the Delhi sultans were poets. These three writers were: Żiāʾ-al-Din Barani, Amir Ḵosrow Dehlavi, and ʿAbd-al-Malek ʿEṣāmi (qq.v.). All three were direct heirs of Perso-Islamic religious, historical, and literary traditions; even more particularly, they were legatees of the cultural and political traditions of the Ghaznavid empire. Barani is the only one of the three whom modern scholars would identify as an historian. A member of the Delhi inner court circles, he wrote two important works, the Tāriḵ-e firuzšāhi (1357) and the undated Fatāwāʾ-ye jahāndāri. Barani, who characterized history as the twin brother of Hadith (q.v.) scholarship, explicitly describes the Tāriḵ-e firuzšāhi as an annalistic history, which served a greater moral purpose as a work of political ethics, a particularized, narrative form of a “mirror for princes.” The Fatāwāʾ-ye jahāndāri, on the other hand, is explicitly a book of political counsel (naṣiḥat), an example of a pre-Islamic and Perso-Islamic genre, a treatise on the duties and realities of kingship. It is couched in the form of a series of lessons offered by Sultan Maḥmud of Ḡazna to his sons, and in it Barani observes that religious and political goals are essentially incompatible. Monarchs cannot rule as religious ideologues, which Barani himself preferred, but only according to the practical policies of Ḵosrow Parviz and the pre-Islamic emperors of Iran.

Amir Ḵosrow and ʿEṣāmi were, in contrast, poets who wrote verse with significant historical content. Amir Ḵosrow, known outside India as Amir Ḵosrow Dehlavi, was the most important Persian-language poet of the Sultanate period. A panegyrist by profession, he produced a huge corpus of verse that ranged from panegyric and lyrical poetry (qaṣidas and ḡazals) to historical epics and included one prose work. The important poetical works include the Qerān al-saʿdayn (The conjunction of Jupi-ter and Venus [the two beneficent planets]), the Toḡloq-nāma, and the Noh sepehr (The nine spheres), while the prose work is the Ḵazāʾen al-fotuhá, the only extant history of the Sultan ʿAlāʾ-al-Din Ḵalji. All of these works contain valuable information, but extracting it from Amir Ḵosrow’s dramatic, panegyric tableaus requires great patience and a critical, trained judgement. The second poet who wrote verse with a significant historical content was ʿEṣāmi, whose major work, the Fotuḥ al-salāṭin, was completed in 1349-50. ʿEṣāmi consciously and explicitly modeled this massive work of over 11,000 couplets on Ferdowsi’s Šāh-nāma, to the extent of adopting its meter. As such, this history of Muslim India from Ghaznavid times to the mid-14th century naturally extolled the heroic deeds of the rulers of India, but as a Muslim writing about Islamic rulers. ʿEṣāmi offers omnipotent and inscrutable divine ordination as an ultimate explanation for events. Like Amir Ḵosrow, ʿEṣāmi was principally concerned with dramatic literary effect rather than historical accuracy, filling his narrative with stereotypical heroes and villains.

In addition to these histories, a number of important Sufi treatises were produced during the Sultanate period, all of which, while not written as histories, have great value for reconstructing the social and religious history of the era. Important examples of malfuẓāt or “discourse” literature from this period are two 14th-century texts, the Fawāʾed al-foʾād by Amir Ḥasan Sejzi Dehlavi and the Nafāʾes al-anfās wa laṭāʾef al-alfāẓ of Rokn-al-Din of Kašān. The first is a report of the teachings of Amir Ḵosrow’s Češti shaikh, Moḥammad b. Aḥmad b. ʿAli Badāʾuni (d. 1325) known as Neẓām-al-Din Awliyāʾ (see ČEŠTĪYA), in Delhi, whereas the second is a report of the Češti shaikh, Borhān-al-Din Ḡarib’s teachings in the Deccani city of Dawlatābād. These are but two examples of a proliferation of Sufi literature, which occurred in Indo-Muslim territories in the 13th and 14th centuries. This literature also included many biographical dictionaries, such as another 14th-century Češti work, the Siar al-awliyā, by Sayyed Moḥammad b. Mobārak ʿAlawi Ker-māni, known as Mir Ḵord.

The Timurid-Mughals: 1526-1739. Following Timur’s invasion and the sack of Delhi in 1398, Indo-Persian historical writing continued to be produced, even if patronage drastically declined. Yahyā b. Aḥmad Serhendi wrote his own history of a sultanate ruler during the post-Timur era. His Tāriḵ-e mobārakšāhi (ca. 1428) was written to gain the patronage of the Delhi monarch of his day. It was based on previous works, including Barani’s history of the same name and Amir Ḵosrow’s Qerān al-saʿdayn, and it resembled in tone and content ʿEṣāmi’s Fotuḥ al-salāṭin, in the sense that Serhendi’s work is primarily a rhetorical or literary work designed to entertain rather than to critically investigate the past. As for the histories devoted to the Afghan Lodis (Lōdis), who ruled the Delhi and western Gangetic region between 1451 and 1526, and the Afghan Suris, who ruled north India briefly between 1540 and 1555, a few contemporary works exist, such as the well-known work by Aḥmad Yādgār, the Tāriḵ-e šāhi or salāṭin-e afāḡana, generally known as the Maḵzan-e afḡāna. This work covers the period from 1451 to 1558. Otherwise these years represent something of an interregnum for Indo-Persian historiography and Persian-language scholarship in general, perhaps because the Lodi Afghans in particular were much less closely tied to the Persian cultural world than were the scholars of the Sultanate era. Indeed, some prominent Lodi Afghans did not even know Persian, and Pashto, their native tongue, was not a literary language at this time. Most histories of the Afghans were written during the Timurid-Mughal period, the era in which India became a center of Persianate culture and Persian-language scholarship.


Ironically, the first major historical work associated with the Timurid-Mughal dynasty is not a history in the strict sense of the term, nor was it written in Persian. It is the autobiographical memoir of Ẓahir-al-Din Moḥammad Bābor (q.v.), which he wrote in ChaghatayTurki, the most commonly spoken language in Transoxiana (Mā warāʾ al-nahr) during the Timurid era. This Waqāʾeʿ, better known as the Bābor-nāma, contains more than 600 printed pages in the modern collated text of Eiji Mano and is a major historical source for late-Timurid Transoxiana, Afghanistan, and north India in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. It is a complex text that operates at several different levels. Most obviously it is the political self-statement of an ambitious Timurid. Yet, it also functions as an idiosyncratic “mirror for princes” and as a gazetteer for the three regions it covers. More than all of these things it is a work that humanizes both its author and his civilization. However, it is also a work that shows Bābor to have been, culturally at least, a fully paid subscriber to Perso-Islamic society, something that is especially clear from his knowledge of the works of Persian-language poets, including Saʿdi, Hafez, Jāmi, and Amir Ḵosrow Dehlavi. Indeed, his own Turki poetry is largely a literary echo of these writers.

Apart from its own value, Bābor’s Waqāʾeʿ is also important for Timurid-Mughal historiography for two major reasons. Firstly, it reveals that Bābor personified in most respects the sophisticated culture known from Sultan Ḥosayn Bāyqara’s (q.v.) Herat, a variant of Persianate culture that had evolved since the Ghaznavid period. At the opening of the 16th century this culture displayed a well-established classical literary tradition, miniature painting, refined court music, and a sophisticated historiographical tradition represented by Ḥāfeẓ-e Abru, Esfezāri (qq.v), Ḵᵛāndamir, and others. Early Timurid-Mughal court culture was essentially late-Timurid culture; in terms of historiography, its founding member was Ḵᵛāndamir, who arrived in India to serve Bābor and became an historian for Bābor’s son Homā-yun (q.v.). Secondly, the Waqāʾeʿ directly or indirectly influenced the writing of four other autobiographical accounts that provide unique information about the Timurid-Mughal dynasty. All of these were also written in Persian. They are: Ḥaydar Mirzā Doḡlāt’s Tāriḵ-e rašidi, Golbadan (Gulbadan) Begim’s Homāyun-nāma, Bāyazid Bayāt’s, Taḏkera-ye Homāyun va Akbar, and the Jahāngir-nāma of Bābor’s great-grandson.

Ḥaydar Mirzā was a younger maternal cousin of Bābor (i.e., from the Chingizid matrilineal side). He does not indicate that the Tāriḵ-e rašidi was inspired by Bābor’s example, but it is quite likely that his knowledge of the Waqāʾeʿ played some role in his decision to write his semi-autobiographical history of the Mongols. However, this work is very different from Bābor’s text. In it Ḥaydar Mirzā is consciously writing as an historian, albeit at times an unreliable one. Even though he also narrates much of his own personal history, the Tāriḵ-e rašidi has few of the engaging humanistic touches that enliven Bābor’s memoir. In fact, Ḥaydar Mirzā begins his work by quoting Yazdi’s introduction to his history of Timur, the Ẓafar-nāma, adding the touchingly personal note that he did so because he had not mastered the style that such historical writing required. That is, Haydar Mirzā admired the ornate Persian style of Timurid historians. Fortunately for the reader, when he falls back on his own prose he offers crucial information about Bābor’s last campaign in Transoxiana and Homāyun’s disastrous defeat at the hands of resurgent Afghan forces in 1539 and 1540.

The works of Golbadan Begim (see GOLBADAN BEGOM) and Bāyazid Bayāt were written at the behest of Bābor’s grandson, Akbar (q.v.), who wanted to preserve eyewitness accounts of his great ancestor, whose memoirs were translated into Persian at Akbar’s court. Golbadan Begim was a young girl when her father, Bābor, died. Her memoir is not so valuable for his life, most of which she based on the Waqāʾeʿ. Her Homāyun-nāma is instead invaluable for the insight that it offers into the life of Timurid-Mughal women. No other source for the dynasty enables readers to understand that these women led rich and complex lives of their own. This work, like Bābor’s Waqāʾeʿ, is also notable for its compelling emotional content. Bāyazid Bayāt’s own memoir was also written at Akbar’s command, but in contrast to the other first-hand accounts mentioned here, it is a dry, error-prone, political and military narrative by an old man in his declining years.

No such dryness detracts from the second Timurid-Mughal autobiographical memoir, that of Jahāngir (r. 1605-36), Bābor’s great-grandson. Jahāngir is likely to have written this because of his ancestor’s example; at least he mentions reverently reading the Waqāʾeʿ when visiting Bābor’s gravesite in Kabul. While intellectually far less ambitious than his ancestor’s multi-faceted text, the Jahāngir-nāma is still an extraordinary royal memoir, as exceptional in the 17th-century world as Bābor’s is for the 16th. In it Jahāngir plainly states that he is sending the text to other rulers, especially referring to Persia, and he partly sees the work as a “mirror for princes” text. Indeed, he expends an extraordinary amount of effort to demonstrate that he ruled as a prototypical “just sultan,” perhaps responding to aḵlāq (q.v.) literature well known in his father’s court. However, apart from that particular rhetorical purpose, the bulk of the text is a lively day-to-day account of his rule, which for him personally did not include any major battles but innumerable hunting expeditions and lavish entertainment. In describing the women who accompanied him, Jahāngir also contributes to the understanding of Timurid-Mughal women. However, more than anything else, the Jahāngir-nāma is a psychologically complex text that reveals the human frailty, emotional complexity, and engaging cultural preoccupations of its author.


Bābor and Homāyun. In terms of the historiography of the Timurid-Mughal era (ca. 1526-1739), the reigns of Bābor and Homāyun constitute something of a transition period between the Timurid history of Transoxiana and Iran and the truly imperial period of Akbar (r. 1556-1605; q.v.) and his successors. The lives of both men are covered in later general histories of the dynasty, but these have little value beyond the perspective or interpretation they might offer. Bābor’s memoirs and his poetry remain the best sources for his life, as is illustrated by the fact that Ḵᵛāndamir, in his monumental history, based his own account of Bābor’s life on these memoirs. One minor but intriguing source relevant to Bābor’s life—or to his sickness and death—is a poem on hygiene written in 1530, the year of Bābor’s death, by a physician from Herat, Yusof b. Moḥammad Herāti Yusofi, titled Qaṣida dar ḥefẓ-e ṣeḥḥat, and pointedly dedicated to Bābor. In the Qānun-e homāyuni, Ḵᵛāndamir also wrote a brief account of some of Homāyun’s regulations and buildings. Homāyun left no memoirs, but Bābor himself frequently mentions his son, often doing so critically. Homāyun acceded to his father’s throne in 1530, was expelled from India by resurgent Afghan forces in 1540, and regained India only in 1555, a year before his death. Several contemporaries documented Homāyun’s life. Their accounts lack the intimate details found in Bābor’s and Jahāngir’s memoirs, but offer a detailed account of his tumultuous military and political history. The two most important works are the memoirs of his personal attendant, Mehtar Jauhar Āftābči, written or begun in 1586, known variously as the Taḏkerat al-wāqeʿāt or Jawāher-e šāhi, and a second, written by his companion Bāyazid, completed in 1591-92, entitled the Tāriḵ-e Homāyun. Otherwise there are a number of Safavid histories that describe Homāyun’s exile in Persia and his reception by Shah Ṭahmāsp. The earliest of these accounts is Amir Maḥmud’s Tāriḵ-e Amir Maḥmud, compiled in 1550, just five years after Homāyun left Persia to begin the decade-long process of reclaiming his throne. A second major work on Homāyun’s exile is Ḵuršāh b. Qobād al-Ḥosayni’s Tāriḵ-e ilči-e Neẓāmšāh by the Neẓāmšāhi ambassador of Aḥmadnagar (q.v.) in India’s Deccan region, who arrived at Shah Ṭahmāsp’s court in Qazvin in 1545. The ancillary sources for Homāyun’s reign and its court culture include his own Persian poetry, as well as the terse divinatory notes that he, like other Timurid-Mughal emperors, penned in the margins of his copy of Hafiz which he used as an augury (see HAFEZ vi. PRINTED EDITIONS), and the poetry of contemporaries, such as Darviš Bahrām Boḵāri’s Divān-e saqqā and an interesting treatise on music, Ḥaydar Tuniāni’s Davāzdah maqām, which is dedicated to Homāyun.

Akbar. Bābor and Homāyun are scarcely mentioned in the modern Indian and Western historiography of the Timurid-Mughal empire, because Bābor is usually seen as a Central Asian conqueror who died before he was able to firmly establish the Timurid-Mughal state, while Homāyun is regarded by many as a failure who squandered his father’s inheritance and had no meaningful role in constructing the empire. Homāyun’s son, Akbar, on the other hand, is almost universally regarded as the true founder of the empire, qua empire. Due to his pivotal role, the sheer length of his reign, his concern to document the early history of the dynasty, his devotion to Sufism and interest in comparative religions and patronage of literary and artistic culture, he was both the subject and the patron of many Persian-language texts as well as a major concern of modern historiography. First of all it was at Akbar’s instigation that Bābor’s memoirs were translated from Turki into Persian and Golbadan Begim wrote her autobiographical memoir the Homāyun-nāma. Many other works, including those in Sanskrit, were also written at his urging and under his patronage. These include the Persian translation of the Indian epic, the Mahābhārata, prepared by ʿAbd-al-Qāder Badāʾuni (q.v.) with Brahmanical assistance in 1584.

Akbar’s reign is known above all for the two monumental historical and statistical works produced by his amanuensis and boon companion Abu’l-Fażl ʿAllāmi (q.v.). These works, the Akbar-nāma (q.v.) and the Āʾin-e akbari, form the basis for evaluating the person of Akbar and beyond that, for understanding the basic structure of the Timurid-Mughal empire. The Akbar-nāma is very much a traditional, panegyric, narrative history, done on a massive scale, and while it is much less commonly read than the Āʾin-e akbari, it contains a wealth of valuable information on Akbar’s life and the military and political affairs of the Empire. Both it and the Āʾin-e akbari draw on Abu’l-Fażl’s intimate knowledge of Timurid-Mughal affairs and his access to administrative records. The Āʾin-e akbari, an elaborate gazetteer, is fundamental for all studies on the administration of the Timurid-Mughal empire in Akbar’s reign and the basic structure of the empire in subsequent generations. Many of the histories of the formative period of the empire represent what are in essence commentaries on this text. Apart from Abu’l-Fażl’s works, the single most important primary source for this period is ʿAbd-al-Qāder Badāʾuni’s Montaḵab al-tawāriḵ, an Indo-Muslim history from the Ghaznavids to 1596, nine years before Akbar’s death. Badāʾuni, a polymath and a religious scholar and translator of Arabic and Sanskrit works, was a rival of Abu’l-Fażl and a strong critic of Akbar’s religious experiments and his creation of an imperial religious cult. His work therefore supplements and acts a valuable corrective to Abu’l-Fażl’s fulsome praise of his patron. Other important Indo-Persian histories of Akbar’s reign are Neẓām-al-Din Aḥmad of Herat’s Ṭabaqāt-e akbari, the first general history entirely devoted to Indo-Muslim history, and the fragmentary Tāriḵ-e akbari by Moḥammad ʿĀref of Qandahār, a steward to Akbar’s tutor Bayram Khan (q.v.). Two other important works written in the 18th century, but covering the entire Timurid-Mughal era including Akbar’s reign, are the two biographical dictionaries of nobles: Šāhnavāz Awrangābādi’s Maʾāṯer al-omarāʾ and the less complete Taḏkera al-omarāʾ by Rāy Kēwal Rām. As is true for the early Timurid-Mughal rulers and those of the sultanate era, the Persian texts relevant for an understanding of the era also include regional histories, Sufi treatises and biographical accounts of poets, religious scholars, and Sufis.

Jahāngir (r. 1605-36): The historical works devoted to Akbar’s reign also cover the early history of his son, Ja-hāngir, especially Jahāngir’s rebellion against his father’s authority. Such rebellions are a legacy of the Turco-Mongol appanage system and constitute a theme of their succession politics in the 17th and 18th centuries. A near-contemporary work that contains additional valuable information on Jahāngir’s princely years is Ḡayrat Khan Kāmgār Ḥosayni’s Maʾāṯer-e jahāngiri. The principal source for the reign is, however, Jahāngir’s autobiographical memoir, discussed above. Apart from these works that concern Jahāngir’s early years, there is a wealth of contemporary or near-contemporary sources for his reign. Only Persian works will be identified here, but it is important to know that there are numerous other sources in Hindi, Pashto, Sanskrit, and European languages directly or indirectly touching on the history of this period.

Persian sources include many regional histories, which will be discussed separately below, and works which directly concern military and political events, such as the valuable autobiographical memoirs of one of the many imperial officers of Persian descent, ʿAlāʾ-al-Din of Isfahan, usually known as Mirzā Nat’han, titled Bahārestān-e ḡaybi, a work devoted to events in Bengal and Orissa. Another and lesser-known source is the collection of official letters compiled by ʿAbd-al-Laṭif b. ʿAbd-Allāh ʿAbbāsi of Gujarat during the reign of Jahāngir’s son, Shah Jahān, titled Roqaʿāt-e ʿAbd-al-Laṭif. Apart from these works, there is a category of sources dealing with Sufi doctrine or organization and Jahāngir’s religious policies or inclinations. Many of these are typical biographical accounts (taḏkeras) concerned with the Češti order (selsela), revered by both Akbar and Jahāngir. Others concern the Naqšbandi order, which in Timurid-Mughal India began as an aristocratic religious order linked with Central Asian Timurids and then, in the early 16th century, was revived as a dynamic devotional order by Moḥammad Bāqi be-’llāh and his student, Shaikh Aḥmad Fāruqi Serhendi. Moḥammad Bāqi be-’llāh left a Kolliyāt, a collection of his verse; and Serhendi, who is mentioned by Jahāngir, left a collection of letters known as the Maktubāt-e Aḥmad-e Fāruqi. Equally important for the history of Sufism in India is Moḥammad Ḡawṯi’s Golzār-e abrār, a detailed, precisely dated work on non-Češti Sufis in Gujarat, dedicated to Jahāngir. Beyond such material there is another class of religious literature translated at Jahāngir’s request that reflects his own interests and imperial policies. These include, for example, a new Persian translation of the famous heresiographer Abu’l-Fatḥ Moḥammad Šahrestāni’s Ketāb al-melal wa’l-neḥal from Arabic to Persian by Moṣṭafā Ḵaleqdād Hāšemi in 1612.

Shah Jahān (r. 1636-58). As is true of Jahāngir, the history of Shah Jahān’s early political life is partly known from his father’s account of his rebellion, although early in his memoir Jahāngir also includes many proud, caring accounts of his son. Supplementing these references are two works: one that contains Jahāngir’s letters, composed in verse, to the future Shah Jahān when he was in rebellion, the Goldasta-ye farāmin-e jahāngiri, and a second, a collection of letters from the future Shah Jahān to Shah ʿAbbās I (q.v.) requesting aid in his rebellion against Jahāngir, the Monšaʾāt, compiled by one Nāṣer-al-Din Ṭusi. Jahāngir’s frequent comments on his son are also, unfortunately, our only source for specifically personal details and traits about a man who left no autobiography of his own and in the Persian texts of the period is presented largely as an imperial archetype or, as he is sometimes styled, the “Second Timur.” This is true of the major histories of the era, which echo the panegyric tone of Abu’l-Fażl’s earlier encomiums for Akbar. Nonetheless, they contain basic and important information about the conduct of the empire. The most important of the “court” histories is the three-volume work of ʿAbd-al-Ḥamid Lāhuri and Moḥammad Wāreṯ, the Pādšāh-nāma. The other general histories of the reign, such as the Šāh Jahān-nāma by Ḥasan Qazvini and another work of the same title by Moḥammad Ṭāher Āšnā or ʿEnāyat Khan, add little to Lāhuri’s work. Other interesting sources that supplement these histories are: two collections of diplomatic letters. One, the Aḥkām-e Šāh Jahān by Bhagwān-das, contains letters from Shah Jahān; and a second, by Moḥammad Ṭāher Qazvini Waḥid, is the Enšāʾ-e Ṭāher Waḥid, a Safavid source that contains letters of the Safavid shahs to Shah Jahān and his sons. An intriguing description of court festivals and Shah Jahān’s daily routine is entitled the Čahār čaman by Chandarbhan Barahman, a munshi (monši) of Shah Jahān. The Tāriḵ-e rawża-ye Momtāz Maḥal, an account of the death of Momtāz Maḥal, contains verses by Shah Jahān describing her tomb, the Tāj Maḥal. In addition to these sources there are a variety of works, similar to those relating to the court culture of earlier emperors, which reflect Shah Jahān’s interest in Indian music, classical Persian verse, Sufism, and monumental architecture. Regarding architecture in particular there is a matònawi by Hāji Moḥammad Jān Qodsi, originally of Mašhad, titled the Ẓafar-nāma-ye šāh-jahāni, in which Qodsi describes the great Delhi mosque and other buildings ordered built by Shah Jahān.

In addition to works focused on Shah Jahān himself, there is a category of texts and documents connected with his favorite son and presumptive heir, Dārā Šokōh (q.v.) and the civil war for succession that broke out between Dārā Šokōh and his three brothers when Shah Jahān fell ill in 1657. This war resulted in the triumph of Awrangzēb (q.v.) and the death of Dārā Šokōh, his sons and brothers. Dārā Šokōh and the war of succession are major topics in Indian historiography of the nationalist period, because Dārā Šokōh, a Sufi who believed in the essential identity of Islam and Hinduism, is seen by many South Asians as an Akbar-like figure who might have renewed the syncretistic policies of his ancestor and thereby, as historians sometimes argue or imply, eliminated the communal tensions that led to the creation of Pakistan. As Awrangzēb was a relatively austere Sunnite legalist, the succession struggle is sometimes represented as a Manichean conflict between the two brothers in which religion and not simply sibling rivalry typical of the Turco-Mongol appanage system was the defining issue. However one interprets the outcome of this succession struggle, there is no doubt about the contrasting religious outlook of the two men. Dārā Šokōh himself was the author or patron of a number of works that reflect his religious convictions. These include: the Majmaʿ al-baḥrayn, a work on the similarity of Hindu and Sufi doctrine, various texts on Sufism, and Persian translations of Hindu philosophical and religious texts such as the Upaniṣads and the Bhagavadgītā. Other works relevant for a study of Dārā Šokōh and his intriguing religious and cultural outlook include his collected poems (divān), in which he used “Qāderi” as his taḵalloṣ or pen name, a copy of the Qur’ān in his own calligraphy, an art he learned from his Persian teacher, Āqā Rašid Deylāmi, and a series of religious questions addressed to a Hindu ascetic, the Soʾāl o jawāb-e Dārā Šokōh va Bābā Lāl.

Awrangzēb. The long reign of the last great Timurid-Mughal emperor Awrangzēb (ʿĀlamgir; r. 1658-1707)began with a protracted and bloody succession struggle with his three brothers and, following his victory, the imprisonment of his father, who had recovered his health after his sons had begun, prematurely, contesting the throne. There is an extant eyewitness account of the wars, a poetical version by Behešti of Shiraz, a court poet of one of the princes, Morād-baḵš, entitled Āšub-nāma-ye Hendustān. Otherwise the history of these events was written under the patronage of the victor, Awrangzēb. These include a brief history of the wars of succession by Shaikh Abu’l-Fatḥ (Qābel Khan), a munshi of Awrangzēb, titled the Ādāb-e ʿālamgiri, and several court histories: the ʿĀlamgir-nāma by another munshi of the emperor, Moḥammad Kāẓem Amin, a son of Ḥasan Qazvini, cited above; the Merʾāt al-ʿālam by Moḥammad Baḵtāvar Khan, a boon-companion of Awrangzēb; and a monumental history by Awrangzēb’s amir, Kᵛāfi Khan, titled the Montaḵab al-lobāb. The first two histories cover only the first ten years of Awrangzēb’s reign, while the third encompasses the entire half-century period.

Apart from traditional narrative histories, a number of other extant works also shed light on both the man and his reign. These include collections of letters to and from Awrangzēb, such as the collection compiled by Ašraf Khan, Raqāʾem-e karāʾem, containing letters Awrangzēb wrote to one of his amirs, and another set, the Maktu-bāt-e Moḥammad Maʿṣum, letters from his Naqšbandi shaikh, Moḥammad Maʿṣum, the son of Aḥmad Serhendi (q.v.). There are also divāns by Češti and Naqšbandi Sufis dedicated to Awrangzēb that illustrate his own intimate engagement with devotional and mystical Islam that characterized all members of the Timurid-Mughal dynasty. Other works commissioned by Awrangzēb reflect his well-known commitment to the Sunnite faith and practice. The most important of these texts is the monumental compendium of Islamic law and legal practice Fatāwāʾ-eʿ ālamgiri, first written in Arabic by Neẓām Shaikh and a number of other religious scholars and later translated into Persian at the request of Awrangzēb’s well-educated and influential daughter, Zib-al-Nesāʾ. The Persian translation is important for what it suggests of the education, religious interests, and intellectual sophistication of Timurid-Mughal women and in particular Zib-al-Nesāʾ, who also studied Arabic grammar through a personalized Persian translation of Ebn Ḥājeb’s Šāfia by one Ḡolām Moḥammad. Details about the life of Zib-al-Nesāʾs tutor, Ašraf of Māzandarān, the well-educated Persian religious scholar (ʿālem) and poet who had married into the famous Majlesi family of Isfahan, are found in the Divān-e ašʿār-e Ašraf Māzandarāni. Information about his life offers additional insight into the quality of Zib-al-Nesāʾ’s education, the intimate connection between the Iranian and Indian zones of the Perso-Islamic world, and, more generally, evidence of the high cultural standards of the Timurid-Mughal court. More famous but not necessarily the best-educated Timurid-Mughal princess during this period was Awrangzēb’s influential sister, Jahānārā Begam, who, as well as being, like her brother Dārā Šokōh, a member of the Qāderi, was also a devotee of the Češti order. She herself wrote a biography of Moʾin-al-Din Češti, the Munes al-arwāḥ.

Bahādor Shah and the later Timurid-Mughals: 1707-48. Indo-Persian scholarship continues throughout the 18th century and even into the British period. However, the Timurid-Mughal empire began to unravel following Awrangzēb’s death in 1707 and ceased to exist as an empire after Nāder Shah Afšār invaded India and seized the treasury in 1739. One especially important work written in an unusually simple style covers not only these years, but also the reigns of the last seven Timurid-Mughal emperors. This is the Siar al-motaʾaḵḵerin, whose author, Ḡolām Ḥosayn Khan Ṭabāṭabāʾi, personifies the transitional nature of 18th century India, as he served both the emperor Shah ʿĀlam and the British and indeed critically analyzes British policy in Bengal in the late 18th century. Many of the prose and verse works devoted to the emperors are simply continuations of the narrative and panegyric conventions of earlier periods, except that the events they describe reflect the precipitate deterioration of the empire during the first four decades of the 18th century. Typically, many court officers wrote annalistic accounts of this era. A few concern the brief reign of Awrangzēb’s immediate successor, Bahādor Shah (1707-12). Others recount the civil wars among Bahādor Shah’s sons, leading to the one-year enthronement of Jahāndār Shah (1712-13) before he was deposed by his nephew Farroḵsiar (1713-19). As in the case of the histories of the earlier reigns, eyewitnesses wrote many of these later narratives. This is true for example of the Bahādor Šāh-nāma by ʿAli Mirzā Nur-al-Din Moḥammad, which covers the succession struggle that followed Awrangzēb’s death, the Tāriḵ-e šāhanšāhi, by Moḥammad Ḵalil Ḵʷāja, who describes events between 1707 and 1713, and the longer ʿEbrat-nāma of Sayyed Moḥammad-Qāsem Ḥosayni ʿEbrat, who narrates the reigns of both Bahādor Shah and Farroḵsiar.

An interesting development of the period is that some poets in the early 18th century address panegyric poems to the Timurid-Mughals in Urdu, a language that first flowered in the Deccan sultanates of Bijāpur and Golconda (see DECCAN) and was, by the late 17th century, beginning to be adopted by North Indian writers as well. One example is the work of the Urdu poet Shaikh Ebrāhim Khan Ḏawq, a contemporary of Bahādor Shah. The 18th century was a transitional period for both historical and verse composition, as was personified by the career of Mir Moḥammad Taqi Mir (1723-1810), who wrote famous ḡazals in Urdu, and in a 1753 work, the Nekāt al-šoʿarā, defined this language, first described pejoratively as riḵta. However, he still composed his autobiography, Ḏekr-e Mir, in Persian. In fact, Persian remained the preferred language for prose composition; well after many North Indian Muslim literati had begun writing poetry in Urdu.

Moḥammad Shah (1719-48) is the last Timurid-Mughal emperor who can be considered to have been an independent ruler, at least until Nāder Shah’s invasion of 1739. There are noticeably fewer histories and Persian works on poetry and court culture extant from this period, a reign comparable in length to that of Jahāngir. One of the most noticeable lacunae is literature that reflects the dynasty’s longstanding attachment to the Češti and Naqš-bandi orders. General explanations for this decline may be found in the disturbed conditions in both Iran and India, with the Safavid collapse in Persia followed closely by Nāder Shah’s destructive invasion of India. That is, patronage seems to have declined drastically as the empire contracted and provincial governors became local rulers. Historians produced several general histories of the Timurid-Mughals that covered Moḥammad Shah’s reign, but the single most important history specifically dedicated to his rule and containing an account of Nāder Shah’s invasion is Moḥammad Baḵš Āšub’s Tāriḵ-e Mo-ḥammad Šāh Pādešāh (1782), This text also includes a useful list of earlier Persian sources for the Timurid-Mughal dynasty. Nāder Shah’s invasion is also the subject of several eyewitness accounts such as ʿAbd-al-Karim b.ʿĀqebat-Maḥmud Kašmiri’s Nāder-nāma (or Bayān-e wāqeʿ); as well as Badāʾeʿ-e waqāʾeʿ, the valuable account by the historian, poet, and lexicographer, Ānand Rām Moḵles (q.v.), a Hindu of the important Khatri caste and one of the many examples of Hindu participation in Indo-Persian historiography during the Timurid-Mughal period. Apart from other Persian manuscripts dedicated to the typical aspects of court culture, especially poetry and calligraphy, a new genre produced in Persian during Moḥammad Shah’s reign is represented by the astronomical tables prepared at the order of the Rajput officer of Awrangzēb and the later Timurid-Mughals, Jai Singh of Jaipur, known as the Zij-e jadid-e Moḥammad Šāh. These tables were derived from Timurid texts, that is, from Ulugh Beg’s work in Samarqand, and European scientific sources. The builder of the observatories in which they were used, Ḵayr-Allāh b. Loṭf-Allāh Mohandes, also wrote works on astronomy and translated Euclid’s elements and Naṣir-al-Din Ṭusi’s version of Ptolemy’s Almagest from Arabic into Persian.


Many important Persian-language histories and texts on Timurid-Mughal administration were written in the latter half of the 18th century, even as the dynasty itself declined into pathetic impotence. These include some of the works already mentioned, such as the biographical compendiums of nobility, the general history of the 18th century, and even the history of Moḥammad Shah. Biographical anthologies (taḏkeras) of Persian-language poets continued to be written, and Iranian literati continued to emigrate to India, even as patronage for their verse declined. Sometimes, however, they found refuge at provincial courts that arose as the empire disintegrated. Some of these provincial courts had, of course, been important centers of patronage throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. The two most important were the independent sultanates of Bijapur and Golconda located in the region of central India known as the Deccan. Bijapur, a small kingdom with a Shiʿite dynasty later conquered by Awrangzēb, was, after the Timurid-Mughal empire itself, the state that was most closely connected with Persia. Even if it did not command the lavish resources available to Shah Jahān, it attracted Persian-speaking émigrés; and its ruling dynasty, the ʿĀdelšāhis (q.v.), had a number of histories in Persian devoted to it. Two examples are the Taḏkerat al-moluk (ca. 1612) by Rafiʿ-al-Din Ebrāhim of Shiraz and Fozuni of Astarābād’s Fotuḥāt-e ʿādelšāhi (ca. 1645). An example of the interesting literature that illustrates the Persian-Bijāpur connection is the collection of stories by Moḥammad Mahdi Wāṣef, titled Maẓhar al-eʿjāz (ca. 1686), that describes everyday life in Persia and India in the late 17th century. The Qoṭbšāhi dynasty of Golconda was also the subject of Persian-language histories such as the anonymous Tāriḵ-e solṭān Moḥammad Qoṭbšāhi (ca. 1616). The rulers of this dynasty were especially known for their literary interests and patronage, and ʿAbd-Allāh Qoṭbšāhi (1625-73) wrote divāns in both Persian and in Deccani Urdu. During his reign Persian remained an important historical and literary language, but he and other Qoṭb-šāhi rulers were, in fact, directly responsible for the development of high literary Urdu during the 17th century, which only later became popular as a court language in Agra and Delhi.

As was indicated in the introduction to this section, Persian-language sources can be found for virtually every region of India to which Persian-speaking Muslims from north India extended their control from the first years of the Ghaznavid era through the 18th century. Two regions of particular importance due to their wealth and strategic location were Bengal and Gujarat. Both were brought under Timurid-Mughal control in the late 16th century, and both had long histories of independent Muslim rule during the Sultanate period and Persianate cultural and historical traditions. During the Sultanate period the independent sultans of Bengal, one of the wealthiest provinces in India, patronized a typical variety of Muslim religious institutions and Persianate literary and historical works, partly to demonstrate their continuing ties to the distant but still prestigious Perso-Islamic world. The same is true of Gujarat, whose coastline, after all, puts it in immediate contact with the Persian Gulf and Iran. Two categories of texts that represent important historical sources for both regions are those of malfuẓāt and taḏkera literature, the records of sayings and admonitions or biographical notices of Sufi masters (moršeds), who played such an important role in the Islamization of both regions. Such sources are particularly plentiful from Bengal for the Češti order, such as ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān Češti’s Merāt al-asrār. One such text from Gujarat written during Jahāngir’s reign is cited above. In Gujarat there are many others from members of the Češti, Sohravardi, Qāderi and Šaṭṭāri orders. A useful example of Indo-Persian historiography from Gujarat is the Merāt-e Sekandari by Sekandar b. Moḥammad ʿOrf Manjhu b. Akbar written in 161l. The author, whom Jahāngir praises in his memoirs, usefully cites six earlier Persian works on Gujarat that he studied in writing his history of the Muslim kings of Gujarat from 1411 to 1591/92. An important history written by a Gujarati Sayyed who encouraged Akbar’s conquest of the region is Abu Torāb Wāli’s, Tāriḵ-e Gojarāt. During the Timurid-Mughal period the histories of Bengal and Gujarat and other previously independent regions were usually incorporated into the general histories of the empire, such as those commissioned by Akbar, the Akbar-nāma, Aḥmad Tattawi’s Tāriḵ-e alfi (1591), and Neẓām-al-Din Aḥmad Heravi’s Ṭabaqāt-e akbari (1594). Nonetheless, there are also specialized works relating to these provinces, and they are particularly numerous for Bengal, such as Mirzā Nat’han’s memoir, the Bahārestān-e ḡaybi, cited above, and the biography of a governor of Bengal during Shah Jahān’s time, the Tāriḵ-e aḥwāl-e Eslām Ḵān Mašhadi by Ḥaydar Ḥosayn Khan Šāh-jahānābādi.

Didactic literature and belles-lettres. As has been suggested by the references in this article, Muslim India, and especially Timurid-Mughal India, was a full participant in Persianate culture. Bibliographical resources are, however, far richer for the Timurid-Mughal era than for the Sultanate period. This partly reflects the extraordinary volume of Indo-Persian artistic, historical, literary, and religious texts that were written from the 16th through the 18th centuries, but it has also meant that citations of Persian-language works for the Sultanate period do not give an adequate idea of the works available. There is not, for example, a bibliographical work on the sultanate period equivalent to Dara Nusserwanji Marshall’s Mughals in India, A Bibliographical Survey, without which this article could not have been written. The lack of a comprehensive bibliographic survey for the Sultanate period is felt even more acutely when it comes to identifying and discussing such specialized literary genres as aḵlāq, enšāʾ, and naṣiḥat literature, many specimens of which are known for the Timurid-Mughal period.

In the case of aḵlāq literature, for example, at least three major examples are known, all of which seem to derive from Naṣir-al-Din Ṭusi’s Aḵlāq-e nāṣeri (q.v.). One, the Aḵlāq-e homāyuni, originally compiled in Herat by the chief qāżi of Herat, Eḵtiār Ḥosayni, was eventually dedicated by the author to Bābor in Kabul following the collapse of Timurid rule in Herat. A second was dedicated to Jahāngir in 1622 by Nur-al-Din Moḥammad Qāżi; and a third, the Aḵlāq-e moḥammad-šāhi by Ahmad ʿAli Khan Ajmiri, was written at Moḥammad Shah’s request in 1729.

Enšāʾ literature, that is, collections of sample chancellery or personal correspondence intended as manuals of instruction, was as highly developed a genre in Muslim India as in most other highly literate states of the medieval and early modern Islamic world. Only three examples are known to be extant from the Sultanate period. Two are from the Sultanate itself: the Eʿjāz-e ḵosravi of the poet Amir Ḵosrow, which emphasizes ornate prose composition at the expense of clarity, and the more simply styled Enšāʾ-e māhru of ʿAyn-al-Molk Māhru. The third is from the Deccan, the rhetorically elaborate Riāż al-enšāʾ by Maḥmud Gāvān (Gāwān; see BAHMANID DYNASTY). Literally dozens of enšāʾ collections are extant from the Timurid-Mughal period, ranging from those of Abu’l Fazl, Akbar’s historian and amanuensis, to the political letters of Shah Wali-Allāh, the 18th century ʿālem and intellectual and son of one of the authors of the Fatāwā-ye ʿālamgiri. Among these are collections compiled by Persian-speaking Hindu servants of the empire, such as Māḏurām’s Monšaʿāt-e Māḏurām (1708) giving samples of official correspondence from the end of Awrangzēb’s reign.

Indo-Persian naṣiḥat or advice literature is also extant, although harder to detect without familiarity with each and every historical or literary text, because the word naṣiḥat often does not appear in the titles of such works. Bābor’s autobiography, for example, is, at least in part, a piece of advice literature for his son and heir, Homāyun. The Fatāwā-ye jahāndāri of the Sultanate-era historian, Żiāʾ-al-Din Barani, might be put in the same category, which is sometimes indistinguishable from the “mirror for princes” genre. A particularly interesting example from the late Timurid-Mughal period at its furthermost geographic extent is ʿAbd-al-Hādi Karnātaki’s work, conveniently titled Naṣiḥat-nāma, a text that describes the chaos in the Madras region in the mid-18th century and urges large landholders and officials to take action before foreigners succeed in conquering the area. Few other extant Indo-Persian texts explicitly express this sense of a foreign—that is, European—threat, and also try to rally both Hindus and Muslims in a joint defense of Indian territory.

Conclusion. This article has primarily cited Indo-Persian historical and cultural texts. It has only alluded to Persian-language works on astronomy and calligraphy, while ignoring altogether science, mathematics, and philosophy, all of which are relevant for studying the history of the Sultanate and Timurid-Mughal eras. Calligraphy, for example, deserves a separate discussion, as it was an art that Timurid-Mughals cultivated and taught to their children, often employing well-known Persian calligraphers for the task. Other topics such as astrology and geography have also been omitted here, and only the briefest allusion has been made to the copious literature in Persian on music, another important art at the Timurid-Mughal court. Given the extraordinary number of Indo-Persian sources, it is unfortunately (and ironically) impossible to be encyclopedic. Nonetheless, the references here at least hint at the range and variety of Persian-language materials pertaining to South Asia during the Sultanate and Timurid-Mughal eras, which scholars of Persianate societies have only just begin to exploit.



Many works cited here have not been published or translated. In the case of works from the Mughal or Timurid-Mughal period, citations to unpublished material have been given to D. N. Marshall’s invaluable work, Mughals in India:A Bibliographical Survey.Vol. I—Manuscripts. Many selections from Indo-Persian texts can be found in the monumental collection edited by Elliot and Dowson in the late 19th century, The History of India as Told by Its Own Historians; but they need to be checked for accuracy by consulting S. H. Hodīvālā’s meticulously detailed commentary, Studies in Indo-Muslim History. A Critical Commentary on Elliot and Dowson’s History of India as Told by its Own Historians. For the period of the Delhi sultanate, see especially the discussion of sources in Peter Jackson’s The Delhi Sultanate and, for a seminal study of Persianate historiography in both Muslim India and the broader Persianate world, Peter Hardy’s Historians of Medieval India. A particularly useful bibliography for sources on South Asian Sufism is given in Carl Ernst’s Eternal Garden. A valuable collection of essays that discuss various aspects of Indo-Persian culture and texts for both the Sultanate and Timurid-Mughul periods is that edited by Muzaffar Alam et al., The Making of Indo-Persian Culture. All these primary guides, as well as standard bibliographies by Storey and Aḥmad Monavi, are cited in full in the bibliography below.

ʿAbd-al-Laṭif b. ʿAbd-Allāh ʿAbbāsi Gojarāti, Roqaʿāt-e ʿAbd-al-Laṭif (Marshall, 46, i).

ʿAbd-al-Hādi Karnā-taki, Naṣihat-nāma (Marshall, 16, i).

ʿAbd-al-Karim b. ʿAqebat-Maḥmud b. Kašmiri, Bayān-e wāqeʿ or Nāder-nāma, Condensed tr. F. Gladwin as The Memoirs of Khojeh Abdul-kurreem, Calcutta, 1788 and 1813.

Abu Ṭorāb Wali, Tāriḵ-e Gojarāt, ed. E. Denison Ross as A History of Gujarat, Calcutta, 1909.

Jauhar Āftābchi, Taḏkerat al-wāqeʿāt, ed. Major C. Stewart, London, 1832.

Aḥmad-ʿAli Khan Ajmiri, Aḵlāq-e Moḥammad-šāhi (Marshall, 143).

Mollā Aḥmad Tattawi, Tāriḵ-e alfi (Marshall, 166, i).

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

Abu’l-Fażl ʿAllāmi, Āʾin-e akbari,ed. H. Blochmann, Bibl. Ind., 2 vols., Calcutta, 1867-77; rev. ed. and tr., D. C. Phillott, 3 vols., Calcutta, 1939-49.

Idem, Akbar-nāma, ed. Ḡolām-Reżā Ṭabāṭabāiʾ-Majd, I, Tehran, 1994; tr. H. Beveridge, 3 vols., Bibl. Ind., 1897-1939.

Mirzā Nur-al-Din ʿAli, Bahādor Šāh-nāma (Marshall, 211, i).

Moḥammad Kāẓem Amin, Ālamgir-nāma, 2 vols., Calcutta, 1865-73.

Amir Ḵosrow Dehlavi, Eʿjāz-Ḵosrow; see Hardy, Historians of Medieval India, p. 68, (cited below).

Idem, Ḵazāʾen al-fotuḥ, ed. Sayyed Moʿin-al-Ḥaq, Aligarh, 1927.

Idem, The Nuh sipihr, ed. Muhammad Wahid Mirza, London, 1950.

Idem, Qerān al-saʿdayn, eds., Maulavi Muhammad Ismaʿil and Sayyid Hasan Barani, Aligarh, 1918; ed. Aḥmad Ḥasan Dāni, Islamabad, 1976.

Idem, Toḡloq-nāma, ed. Sayyed Hašemi Faridābādi, Hyderabad, 1933.

Amir Maḥmud b. Amir Ḵᵛāndamir, Tāriḵ Amir Maḥmud (Marshall, 245).

Anand Rām Moḵleṣ, Badāʾeʿ-e waqāʾeʿ; see Storey I, pp. 1319-20.

Mir Moḥammad Ḥosayni Ašraf Khan, Raqāʾem-e karāʾem (Marshall, 274, i).

Idem, (as Moḥammad Saʿid Ašraf Māzandarāni), Divān-e ašʿār-e Ašraf-e Māzandarāni, ed. Moḥammad Ḥosayn Saʿidiān, Tehran, 1994.

Moḥammad Baḵš Āšub, Tāriḵ-e Moḥammad Šāh Pādešāh (Marshall, 1143, i).

Šāh Nawāz Khan Awrangābādi, Maʾāṯer al-omarāʾ, 3 vols., Calcutta, 1891.

Ẓahir-al-Din Moḥammad Bābor, Bābor-nāma (Waqāʾeʿ), 2 vols., ed. Mano Eiji, Kyoto, 1995-96.

ʿAbd-al-Qāder Badāʾuni, Montaḵab al-tawāriḵ, ed. and tr. by George S. A. Rankling as Muntakhabu-T-Tawârîkh of ʿAbdu-L-Qâdir Ibn-I-Mulûk Shâh known as Al-Badâonî, rev. by B. P. Ambashthya, Calcutta, 1898; repr., 3 vols., Patna, 1973.

Moḥammad Baḵtāvar Khan, Merʾāt al-ʿālam (Marshall, 314, ii).

Abu’l-Faż Bayhaqi, Tāriḵ-e Bayhaqi, ed. ʿAli Akbar Fayyāz, Mašhad, 1971.

Moḥammad Bāqi be-’llāh Naqšbandi, Kolliyāt (Marshall, 1147).

Ziāʿ-al-Din Barani, Tāriḵ-e firuzšāhi, ed., Sayyed Ahmad Khan, Calcutta, 1862.

Idem, Fatāwā-ye jahāndāri (tr. with commentary by Mohammad Habib as The Political Theory of the Delhi Sultanate, see under Habib below).

Bāyazid Bayāt, Taḏkera-ye Homāyun o Akbar, ed. M. Hidāyat Husain, Calcutta, 1941.

Idem, Tāriḵ-e Homāyun, ed. S. M. Hidāyat Husain, Calcutta, 1941.Bhagwāndas, Ahkām-e Šāh Jahān (Marshall, 343).

C. E. Bosworth, The Ghaznavids, Their Empire in Afghanistan and Eastern Iran, 994-1040, Edinburgh, 1963.

Idem, The Later Ghaznavids: Splendour and Decay, Edinburgh, 1977.

Barahman Chandarbhān, Čahār čaman, Bombay, 1853.

Mirza Haydar Dughlat, Mirza Haydar Duglat’s Tarikh-i-Rashidi: A History of the Khans of Moghulistan, tr. and annotated W. M. Thackston, Cambridge, Mass., 1996.

Dārā Šokōh, Divān-e Dārā Šokōh, ed. Aḥmad Nabi Khan, Lahore, 1969; ed. M. Ḥaydariān, Mašhad, 1985.

Idem, Majmʿ al-baḥrayn, ed and tr. M. Malfuz al-Haq, Calcutta, 1929; ed. Moḥamma-Reżā Jalāli-Nāʾini, Tehran, 1956.

Idem, Soʾāl o jawāb-e Dārā Šokōh o Bābā Lāl, Delhi, 1885.

Darwiš Bahrām Boḵāri, Divān-e Saqqā (Marshall, 407).

Richard M. Eaton, The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 1204-1760, Berkeley, 1993.

Henry Miers Elliot and John Dowson, The History of India as Told by its Own Historians, 8 vols.,London, 1867-77.

Carl W. Ernst, Eternal Garden.Mysticism, History and Politics at a South Asian Sufi Center,Albany, 1992.

Faḵr-e Modabber Mobārak-šāh, Ādāb al-harb wa’l-šajāʿa, ed. Aḥmad Sohayli Ḵᵛānsāri, Tehran, 1967.

Fuzuni Astarābādi, Fotuḥāt-e ʿādelšāhi (Marshall,473).

Moḥammad b. Ḥasan b. Musā Šaṭṭāri Ḡawṣi, Golzār-e abrār (Marshall, 1170).

Gulbadan (Golbadān) Begim, The History of Humāyūn (Humāyūn-nāma), ed. and tr. A. S. Beveridge, London, 1902; repr., Delhi, 1972.

Ḡolām Moḥammad b. Allāh-yār al-Moridi, Šarḥ-e šāfiya (Marshall, 522).

Mohammad Habib and Umar Salim Khan Afshar, The Political Theory of the Delhi Sultanate, Allahabad, 1961.

Ḥaydar Ṭuniāni, Dawāzdah maqām (Marshall, 578).

Peter Hardy, Historians of Medieval India, London, 1966.

Neẓām-al-Din Heravi, Ṭabaqāt-e akbari, ed. B. De and M. Hedayat Husayn, Calcutta, 1913-40; tr., B. De and B. Prashad, 3 vols., Calcutta, 1913-40.

Shāhpūrshāh Hormasji Hodīvālā, Studies in Indo-Muslim History. A Critical Commentary on Eliot and Dowson’s History of India as Told by its Own Historians, Bombay, 1939.

Sayyed Moḥammad Qāsem Ḥosayni ʿEbrat, ʿEbrat-nāma (Marshall, 689).

Abu’l-Ḥasan ʿAli b. ʿOṯmān Hojviri (Hujwiri), Kašf al-maḥjub, tr. R. A. Nicholson as The Kashf al-Mahjûb, 2nd ed. 1936.

Eḵtiār al-Hosayni, Aḵlāq-e homāyuni, (see Muzaffar Alam, “Akhlaqi Norms and Mughal Governance,” in Alam et al., The Making of Indo-Persian Culture, pp. 67-95.

Riazul Islam, Indo-Persian Relations; A Study of the Political and Diplomatic Relations between the Mughul Empire and Iran, Tehran, 1970.

ʿAbd-al-Malek Eṣāmi, Fotuḥ al-salāṭin, ed. A. S. Usha, Madras, 1948; tr. Agha Mahdi Husain as Futūḥu’s-Salātīn or Shah Namah-i Hind, Aligarh, 1967-77.

ʿAlā-al-Din “Ḡaybi” Eṣfahāni (Mirza Nat’han; Nathan), Bahārestān-e ḡaybi, tr. M. I. Borah Gauhati as Bahāristān-i-Ghaybī. A History of the Mughal Wars in Assam, Cooch Behar … by Mirzā Nathan, Assam, 1936.

Peter Jackson, The Delhi Sultanate, A Political and Military History, Cambridge, 1999.

Jahānārā Begam, Moʾnes al-arwāḥ (Marshall, 770, i).

Nur-al-Din Moḥammad Jahāngir, Jahāngir-nāma/Tuzok-e jahān-giri, ed. Moḥammad Hāšem, Tehran, 1980.

Idem, Jāhāngir-nāma, ed. and tr. by Wheeler M. Thackston as The Jahangirnama: Memoirs of Jahangir, Emperor of India, New York, 1999.

Idem, Goldasta-ye farāmin-e jahāngiri (Marshall, 772, iv).

Jai Singh Sawā’i, Zij-e jadid-e moḥammad-šāhi (Marshall, 779).

Menhāj-al-Din b. Serāj-al-Din Juzjāni, Ṭabaqāt-e nāṣeri, ed. ʿAbd-al-Ḥayy Ḥabibi, 2 vols., Kabul, 1963-64; tr. into Eng. by H. G. Raverty as Tabakât-e Nâserî, repr., London, 1971-72.

Ghairat Khan Kāmgār Husaini, “Maʾāthir-i Jahāngiri,” tr. Thākur Rām Singh, in Journal of Indian History 7/2, August 1928; see also Marshall, 845.

Rokn-al-Din Dabir Kāšāni, Nafāʾes al-anfās wa laṭāʾef al-alfāz, cited in Carl Ernst, Eternal Garden (see above), pp. 71 and 342.

Kēwal Rām (Kē-walrām), Taḏkerat al-omarāʾ (Marshall, 880).

Khāfi Khan (Ḵāfi Ḵān), Muntakhab al-lubāb, ed. Maulaví Kabír al-Dín Aḥmed and Ghulám Qádir as The Muntakhab al-lubáb (vol. II only), 2 vols., Calcutta; ed. Sir Wolseley Haig as Muntakhab-al-lubāb (vol. III only), 1909-25; tr. Elliot and Dowson, VII, pp. 207-533.

Ḵwāja Moḥammad Ḵalil, Tāriḵ-e šāhānšāhi (Marshall, 1196). Ḵayr-Allāh b. Loṭf-Allāh Mohandes, Taqrir al-taḥrir (Marshall, 905).

Ḡiāṯ-al-Din Ḵᵛāndamir, Qānun-e homāyuni, ed. S. M. Hidayat Husain, Calcutta, 1940; see also Monzavi II, p. 1373.

Ḵuršāh b. Qobād al-Ḥosayni, Tāriḵ-e ilči-e Neẓām-šāh (Marshall, 924).

Sayyed Moḥammad Mobārak-al-ʿAlawi al-Kermāni, Siar al-awliāʾ, repr. Islamabad, 1978.

ʿAbd-al-Ḥamid Lāhuri and Moḥammad Wāreṯ, Padšāh-nāma I and II, ed. Kabír Al-Din Ahmad and Abd Al-Rahím, as Bádsháh Námah,Calcutta, 1866-72.

Bruce B. Lawrence, Notes from a Distant Flute: The Extant Literature of pre-Mughal Indian Sufism, Tehran, 1978.

Mādhurām, Monšʿāt-e Mādhurām (Marshall, 604).

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

Mir Moḥammad Taqi, Nekāt al-šoʿarāʾ,Aurangabad, 1920.

Idem, Ḏekr-e Mir, tr. and ed. C. M. Naim, Delhi, 1989.

Momin Mohiuddin, The Chancery and Persian Epistolography Under the Mughals, Calcutta, 1971.

Arjamand Banu Begam Momtāz Mahal, Tāriḵ-e rawża-ye Momtāz Mahal (Marshall, 1313).

Aḥmad Monzavi, Fehrestvāra-ye ketābhā-ye fārsi; 8 vols., Tehran, 2003; particularly Vol. II with its valuable section on the histories of the subcontinent, although other sections, on Sufism and didactic literature are also relevant. Neẓām Šayḵ et al., Fatāwā-ye ʿālamgiri (Marshall, 1410).

Abu’l-Fatḥ Qābel Khan, Ādāb-e ʿālamgiri (Marshal, 97).

Moḥammad ʿĀref Qandahāri, Tāriḵ-e akbari (Marshall, 1119).

Ḥasan Qazvini, Šāh-Jahān-nāma (Marshall 240, i).

Hāji Moḥammad Jān Qodsi, Ẓafar-nāma-ye šāh-jahāni (Marshall, 1496).

Sultan Moḥammad Qoṭbšāh [patron], Tāriḵ-e Solṭān Moḥammad Qoṭbšāhi (Marshall, 1498).

Rafiʿ-al-Din Ebrāhim Širāzi, Taḏkerat al-moluk, abridged tr. of an extract by J. S. King as The History of the Bahmanî Dynasty …, London, 1900.

Edward C. Sachau, ed. and tr., Alberuni’s India, London, 1888; repr., Delhi, 1996.

Abu’l-Fatḥ Moḥammad b. ʿAbd-al-Karim Šahrestāni, Ketāb al-melal wa’l-neḥal, Persian tr. by Moṣṭafā Ḵaleqdād Hāšemi as Tawżiḥ al-melal, ed. Moḥammad-Reżā Jalāli Nāʾini, Tehran, 1982.

Sri Ram Sharma, A Bibliography of Mughal India,1526-1707 A.D., Philadelphia, 1977.

Behešti Širāzi, Āšub-nāma-ye Hendustān (Marshall, 362). Amir Hasan Sijzi, Fawāʾed al-foʾād, tr. Bruce B. Lawrence as Nizam Ad-Din Awliya, Morals for the Heart, New York, 1992.

Sikandar b. Moḥammad Manjuh b. Akbar, Merʾāt-e Sekandari, eds. S. C. Misra and M. L. Rahman, Baroda, 1961.

Shaikh Aḥmad Fāruqi Serhendi, Maktubāt-e Aḥmad Fāruqi, 3 vols., Delhi, 1877, Lucknow, 1877.

Yaḥyā b. Aḥmad Serhendi, Tāriḵ-e mobārakšāhi, ed. S. M. Hidayat Husain, Calcutta, 1941.

Charles A. Storey, Persian Literature: A Bio-Bibliographical Survey, Leiden, 1927- .

Ḡolām Ḥosayn Khan Ṭabāṭabāʾi, Siar al-motaʾaḵḵerin, Calcutta, 1833.

Naṣir-al-Din Ṭusi, Monšaʾāt (Marshall, 1382).

Moḥammad Ṭāher Waḥid Qazvini, Enšāʾ-e Ṭāḥer Waḥid, lithograph, Lucknow, 1844.

Moḥammad Mahdi Wāṣef, Maẓhar al-eʿjāz (Marshall, 1874).

Aḥmad Yādgār, Maḵzan-e afḡāna, ed. S. M. Hidayat Husain, Calcutta, 1939.

Šaraf-al-Din ʿAli Yazdi, Ẓafar-nāma, ed. Moḥammad ʿAbbāsi, Tehran, 1957.

Yusof b. Moḥammad Herāti Yusofi, Qaṣida dar ḥefẓ-e ṣeḥḥat (Marshall, 1912, iii.) Ishtiyaq Ahmad Zilli, “Development of Inshā Literature till the End of Akbar’s Reign,” in Alam et al., The Making of Indo-Persian Culture, pp. 309-49.

(Stephen F. Dale)

Originally Published: December 15, 2004

Last Updated: March 27, 2012

This article is available in print.
Vol. XIII, Fasc. 1, pp. 53-63

Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India

by James W. Laine

Oxford University Press,144 pp., $39.95

Ganesha: Lord of Obstacles, Lord of Beginnings

by Paul Courtright

Oxford University Press,296 pp., $26.95 (paper)

Early India: From the Origins to AD 1300

by Romila Thapar

University of California Press,586 pp., $48.00; $18.95 (paper)

Beyond Nationalist Frames: Postmodernism, Hindu Fundamentalism, History

by Sumit Sarkar

Indiana University Press, 280 pp., $37.95

A History of India, Volume 2

by Percival Spear

Penguin, 304 pp., $14.95 (paper)

Beyond Turk and Hindu: Rethinking Religious Identities in Islamicate South Asia

edited by David Gilmartin and Bruce B. Lawrence

University Press of Florida,384 pp., $59.95; $24.95 (paper)

The Myth of the Holy Cow

by Dwijendra Narayan Jha

Verso, 120 pp., $14.00 (paper)

History in the New NCERT Textbooks: A Report and Index of Errors

by Irfan Habib, Suvira Jaiswal, and Aditya Mukherjee

Kolkata: Indian History Congress, 129 pp., 50 rupees


In India, and among the Indian diaspora, a passionately contested battle is taking place over the interpretation of Indian history. Debates about rival versions of Indian prehistory or the struggles among the religions of medieval South Asia—the sort of arguments that anywhere else would be heard at scholarly conferences—have in India become the subject of political rallies and mob riots. Parallel with this there has been a concerted attempt by politicians of the Hindu far right to rewrite the history textbooks used in Indian schools and to bring historians and the writing of history under their direct control.1

On January 5, 2004, an incident at one of India’s leading centers of historical research, the Bhandarkar Oriental Institute in the town of Pune, southeast of Bombay, demonstrated how serious things had become. Just after 10 AM, as the staff were opening up the library, a cavalcade of more than twenty jeeps drew up. Armed with crowbars, around two hundred Hindu militants poured into the institute, cutting the telephone lines. Then they began to tear the place apart.

The militants overturned the library shelves, and for the next few hours they kicked around the books and danced on them, damaging an estimated 18,000 volumes before the police arrived. More seriously still, they severely damaged a first-century manuscript of the great Hindu epic the Mahabharata, as well as a set of palm leaf inscriptions, some important relics from the prehistoric site of Mohenjodaro, and a very early copy of the Rig Veda—the world’s oldest sacred text—once used by the great German scholar Max Mueller.

The cause of this violence was a brief mention of the institute in the acknowledgments of a short scholarly book, Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India by James W. Laine, a professor at Macalester College in Minnesota. The book, which had been praised by scholars when it appeared in the spring of 2003, was a study of Shivaji Bhonsle (1627–1680), the Hindu guerrilla leader from western India who successfully challenged the Mughal Empire and eventually had himself crowned as Chatrapati (“Lord of the Umbrella”) of an independent Maratha state. Shivaji is now regarded as a near-divine figure by many Hindu nationalists. He is also the particular folk hero of Maharashtra, the region around Pune and Bombay, whose airport, station, and museum have all been renamed in his honor.

In his book, Laine wrote that Shivaji’s parents “lived apart for most if not all of Shivaji’s life,” adding that “Maharashtrians tell jokes naughtily suggesting that his guardian Dadaji Konddev was his biological father.” This was interpreted as a suggestion by Laine that Shivaji was illegitimate; after a horrified review was published in a Marathi weekly magazine, a series of protests began. In October an elderly Sanskrit scholar whom Laine had thanked in his acknowledgments was beaten up and had his face smeared with tar. To forestall further violence, in November the book was withdrawn from the Indian market by Oxford University Press, and an apology for causing offense was issued by the author.

The Indian newsmagazine Outlook ran its story of the attack on the institute across two pages under the banner headline “A Taste of Bamiyan,” and most of the leading Indian papers carried editorials attacking what one referred to as the “Talibanization” of India. “We cannot have the mob write our history for us,” said Indian Express.

Unluckily for Professor Laine, the attack took place in the months leading up to India’s general election and the book soon became an election issue. The militants who carried out the attack held public meetings announcing that they wanted every Indian named in the book’s acknowledgments to be arrested, questioned, and tried. Opening his campaign in Maharashtra, the then prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, issued a “warning to all foreign authors that they must not play with our national pride. We are prepared to take action against the foreign author [Laine] in case the state government fails to do so.”

Leaders of the normally moderate Congress Party, which was in power in Maharashtra, not wishing to be outflanked on the issue, took an even harder line, and announced that they had instructed the CBI (the Indian equivalent of the FBI) “to arrest Laine through Interpol,” adding: “Do you think the government will tolerate insults to national figures like Shivaji?”

Yet in the land of Mahatma Gandhi and the tradition of nonviolence, this was not the only case in which an obscure scholarly work on Indian history and religion has produced violent responses from India’s Hindu nationalists. An increasing number of scholars both in India and abroad have found themselves the targets of hate campaigns from Hindu extremists and the “cybernationalists” of the Indian diaspora.

When an Indian edition of Ganesha: Lord of Obstacles, Lord of Beginnings2 by Paul Courtright, professor of religion at Emory University, was published in 2003, its cover—which Courtright had neither seen nor approved—showed a nude image of the elephant-headed god. Courtright promptly found himself the target of an e-mail petition that was signed by seven thousand people in one week as well as sixty threats of violence. One person wrote that the professor should be burned, another suggested that hanging might be more appropriate, and a third wrote that he would like to “kill the bastard…shoot him in the head.” As with the Shivaji book, Ganesha was promptly withdrawn by its Indian publisher and an apology issued.

In November 2003, at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, I was acting as moderator of a lecture on the great Hindu epic the Ramayana given by the celebrated Sanskrit scholar Professor Wendy Doniger, who was once Courtright’s teacher. Midway through the lecture, a man stood up, walked threateningly toward the podium, and threw an egg at Doniger, which narrowly missed her. During the questions that followed the lecture, Doniger faced a barrage of insults from a group who had come with the egg-thrower, and who maintained that as a non-Hindu she was unqualified to comment on their religion. Other lectures on India have since been broken up in similar circumstances. Within India, mobs mobilized by the Hindu right have occasionally attacked art exhibitions, libraries, publishers, and movie houses for their alleged unpatriotic and anti-Hindu bias; but for the first time the campaign now seemed to be spreading onto campuses worldwide.

Nor is it just foreign scholars who have been targeted. The historian D.N. Jha, who wrote The Myth of the Holy Cow, which pointed out the considerable historical and archaeological evidence that beef was routinely eaten during the Vedic period in the first millennium BC, received many death threats; his book was withdrawn in India. “This is terrorism,” he told the press after he heard about the plan to arrest Laine. “The entire community of scholars and liberals have to fight it together. People have been frightened into silence—and politicians seem to encourage it.” Romila Thapar, the most celebrated historian of early India, who has also received death threats for her historical work, was equally incensed: “The scope for a dispassionate look at history and scholarship is growing less in the country,” she said. “It is frightening.”


The roots of the current conflict can be traced back to two rival conceptions of Indian history that began to diverge in the 1930s, during the struggle for freedom from the British Raj. While the Indian Congress Party, led by Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, tended to emphasize national unity and sought to minimize historical differences between Hindus and Muslims in order to form a united front against the British, a rather different line was taken by India’s more extreme Hindu nationalists. Some of these formed a neofascist paramilitary organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), or the Association of National Volunteers.

Like the Phalange in Lebanon, the RSS was founded in direct imitation of European fascist movements. Like its 1930s models, it still sponsors daily parades in khaki uniforms and requires militaristic salutes; in fact, the RSS salute differs from that of the Nazis only in the angle of the forearm, which is held horizontally over the chest. The RSS aims to create a corps of dedicated paramilitary zealots who will bring about a revival of what it sees as the lost Hindu golden age of national strength and purity. The BJP, the Hindu nationalist party which ruled India from 1999 until last May, was founded as the political wing of the RSS, and most senior BJP figures hold posts in both organizations. The BJP is certainly much more moderate than the RSS—like the Likud in Israel, the BJP is a party which embraces a wide spectrum of right-wing opinion, ranging from mildly conservative free marketeers to raving ultra-nationalists. But both organizations believe, as the centerpiece of their ideology, that India is in essence a Hindu nation and that the minorities may live in India only if they acknowledge this.

Madhav Golwalkar, the early RSS leader still known simply as “the Guru,” was the man who first formulated what later became the official RSS/BJP position on Indian history. He broke with conventional Indian views and the consensus of scholars in two ways. One was in his understanding of Indian prehistory. Most archaeologists, then as now, took the view that India had been settled during the second millennium BC by a group of peoples who spoke Indo-European—or Aryan—languages, and who arrived in India in an eastward migration from Iran.3 Golwalkar disagreed. He believed that the Aryan ancestors of the Hindus were indigenous to India—in contrast to India’s Muslims, who invaded India and still looked to Mecca as the center of their faith.4 As he wrote in We, or Our Nationhood Defined: “The Hindus came into this land from nowhere, but are indigenous children of the soil always, from times immemorial.”5

Golwalkar also diverged from the usual Indian consensus about India’s successive medieval Muslim conquerors. The invasion of Hindu and Buddhist India by Central Asian Muslim Turks and Mughals between the twelfth and sixteenth centuries tended to be seen by historians associated with the British Raj essentially as a long sequence of pillage, in clear contrast, so the British liked to imagine, to the law and order that the British colonizing mission allegedly brought to India in the nineteenth century. In reaction to this British view, the Congress Party tended to emphasize that Hindus and Muslims were one people, ethnically indistinguishable from each other, whose culture had come to fuse over centuries of coexistence; any differences between the two were said to be the result of colonial policies of divide and rule. Golwalkar took a different line. The real enemy according to him was Islam: “Ever since that evil day, when Moslems first landed in Hindusthan, right up to the present moment, the Hindu Nation has been gallantly fighting to shake off the despoilers.”

Golwalkar looked for inspiration to the Nazi thinkers of the 1930s. He believed an independent India should emulate Hitler’s treatment of religious minorities, which he thoroughly approved of: “To keep up the purity of the Race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging of its Semitic Race, the Jews,” he wrote admiringly soon after Kristallnacht:

Race pride at its highest has been manifested there. Germany has also shown how well-nigh impossible it is for Races and cultures having differences going to the root to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindusthan to learn and profit by…. The foreign races in Hindusthan [i.e., the Muslims] must adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence the Hindu religion, must entertain no ideas but those of glorification of the Hindu race and culture […and] may [only] stay in the country wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing—not even citizen’s rights.

During Partition in 1947, the RSS was responsible for many horrifying atrocities against India’s Muslims, and it was a former RSS member, Nathuram Godse, who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi for (in RSS eyes) “pandering” to the Muslims. In the aftermath of this murder, Nehru decided to deal with the threat he believed the Hindu Nationalists posed to the nation and denounced the RSS as a “private army…which is definitely proceeding on the strictest Nazi lines.”6

Partly as a result of Nehru’s firm action, the Hindu nationalists were an insignificant political force during the first decades of Indian independence. With the RSS in disgrace, the triumphant Congress Party was able to disseminate its view of history without any interference. From the early 1960s, government-issued history textbooks accepted that the Hindus’ ancestors had come to India from West Asia and that they arrived as migrants. The textbooks also emphasized the creation in medieval India of a “composite culture.”7

The coming together of the great civilizations of the Middle East and South Asia under Muslim rule produced new hybrids in all spheres of life, and this was something that the textbooks concentrated on. In both Urdu and Hindi languages of great beauty mixed the Persian and Arabic words of the Muslim new incomers with the Sanskrit-derived vernaculars of northern India. In music the long-necked Persian lute was combined with the Indian vina to form the sitar. In architecture the monumental buildings of the Mughals—such as the Taj Mahal—reconciled the indigenous styles of the Hindus with the arch and dome of Islam, to produce a fusion more beautiful than either.

The Nehru-era school textbooks were the work of the greatest historians of their day, among them Professor Romila Thapar and R.S. Sharma, who tended to come from the left-leaning elite. Their work emphasized that Islam was spread in India not by the sword—there is no evidence of forced mass conversions—but by the example of the mystical Muslim Sufis, the holy men of Islam, some of whose teachings fused with those of the Hindu devotional Bhakti movement. They also emphasized the religious tolerance of many of the Mughal emperors, especially Akbar (1542–1605), who patronized Hindu temples and visited Hindu holy men. The same was also true of his great-grandson, Dara Shukoh, who had the Gita translated into Persian and who wrote The Mingling of Two Oceans, a comparative study of Hinduism and Islam which emphasized the compatibility of the two faiths and the common source of their divine revelations. Many other great Mughal writers showed similarly syncretic tendencies: Mirza Ghalib, a Muslim and the greatest of all Urdu poets, wrote praising the Hindu holy city Benares as the Mecca of India, saying that he sometimes wished that he could “renounce the faith, take the Hindu rosary in hand, and tie a sacred thread over my shoulder.”8

Such examples of tolerant collaboration were impressive. Yet they were only one aspect of a more complex picture. Large-scale desecration of Hindu monuments had undoubtedly taken place when Turkish warlords first swept into India in the twelfth century. Indeed several of the first Muslim sultans were energetic iconoclasts and made a point of building their mosques from the rubble of destroyed temples, in some of which you can still see the defaced sculptures of their Hindu predecessors. This iconoclasm continued intermittently as regional sultanates sprang up across India during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.9

In slightly overstating the case for Hindu–Muslim amity the Nehruvian textbooks gave the Hindu nationalists an opening as they began to gather strength during the 1970s. The first stirring against the existing orthodoxy was felt in the aftermath of India’s Emergency of 1975, during which elections were postponed and civil liberties were suspended. When the Congress Party was defeated in the elec-tion that followed, losing power for the first time since Independence, Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi, was replaced by Moraji Desai, who famously used to begin his day by drinking a glass filled with his own urine. The RSS found Desai’s government more receptive to their ideas than Congress had ever been, and Desai indicated that he was prepared to withdraw from circulation several history textbooks that the RSS objected to—though his government fell before it could do so.10

During the 1980s, the Hindu right rose slowly to power, partly as a result of a dispute that focused attention on the destruction of a temple. The argument turned on whether Mir Baqi, a general of the Mughal emperor Babur (1483–1530), had built his mosque at Ayodhya over a temple commemorating the birthplace of the Hindu god Lord Ram. Although there was no evidence to confirm either the existence of the temple or even the identification of the modern town of Ayodhya with its legendary predecessor, Hindu organizations began holding rallies at the site, campaigning for the rebuilding of the temple. Finally, during the 1992 rally, a crowd of 200,000 militants, whipped into a frenzy by BJP leaders and shouting “Death to the Muslims!” attacked the mosque with sledgehammers. One after another, as if they were symbols of India’s traditions of tolerance, democracy, and secularism, the three domes were smashed to rubble.

Over the next month violent unrest swept India: mobs went on the rampage and Muslims were burned alive in their homes, scalded by acid bombs, or knifed in the streets. By the time the army was brought in, at least 1,400 people, almost all of them Muslims, had been slaughtered in Bombay alone. It was a measure of how polarized things had become in India that this violence apparently augmented the BJP’s appeal to the electorate. In 1992, the BJP won 113 seats in parliament, up from 89 in the previous election. In 1996 that proportion virtually doubled, and the BJP became the largest party. After the 1999 general election, with 179 seats, they were finally able to take power.

The new BJP government moved quickly to take on India’s historical establishment, and lost no time removing left-leaning historians from positions of power. On November 31, 1999, less than three months after the election victory, Romila Thapar was blocked from reelection to the Indian Council for Historical Research, which sponsors the work of scholars. Soon afterward she and several colleagues were removed from the Prasar Bharati, a group charged with reviewing the historical content of what is broadcast on the state-run Indian radio and television. They were replaced by political appointees, nonhistorians from the ultra-nationalist far right, who also took over India’s major academic funding bodies. One of the appointees, K.S. Lal, was quoted as saying, “People who were labeled communalist are now in power. Now it’s our turn to write the history.”11

From the mid-1980s, BJP-ruled states had begun to issue, in regional languages, new textbooks that followed the party line on India’s history and generally demonized Muslim rulers. The RSS also issued “saffronized” textbooks (saffron being the holy color of Hinduism) for use in its own nationwide network of schools, the Shishu Mandirs.12 When the BJP came to power nationally, they extended this pattern across the country. In 2000, as an interim measure, numerous deletions were made from the existing history textbooks. A passage pointing out that cows were eaten in the Vedic period was, for example, removed from Thapar’s Ancient India without her permission. Any suggestion that medieval Indian civilization might have developed its extraordinary richness specifically because of its multiethnic, multireligious character was suppressed.

The following year the syllabus was modified and several million copies of a new set of history textbooks were distributed nationally. They were all written by right-wingers who were not known as serious historians. As Romila Thapar pointed out in the Hindustan Times, the fact that the BJP failed to recruit any reputable historians from within Indian universities showed that the confrontation was not “between Leftist and Rightist historians but between professional historians and politicians sympathetic to the Hindutva persuasion [Golwalkar’s term for Hindu nationalism].”13

Academic historians were horrified, and the organization representing them, the Indian History Congress, passed motions calling for the withdrawal of the textbooks. They also produced a booklet listing over one thousand errors, typos, and illiterate statements in the new books14 : a textbook on modern India, for example, omitted any mention of the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, allegedly because of “space constraints.”15

Most controversial of all, however, was the medieval textbook by Meenakshi Jain. Her work was strongly criticized for depicting medieval South Asia as a paradise laid waste by barbarous Muslim invaders. Page after page is filled with atrocities as a succession of Hindu kingdoms engaged in “yet another glorious chapter of struggle” to resist the “Turkish yoke” before succumbing in a bloodbath of corpses and desecrated temples:

Everywhere [the Muslim ruler] ravaged temples, pillaged cities and collected untold wealth…. The defenseless residents fled to the temples for refuge. The city was taken, its temples destroyed and denuded of their treasures and great numbers of the fleeing inhabitants slain.16

While some of the massacres and desecrations described in the book undoubtedly did take place, others seem far-fetched. Just as the writers of the Old Testament thought it appropriate that their patriarchs should live for several hundred years, so medieval chroniclers tended to flatter the rulers for whom they wrote by exaggerating their potency in battle. Professor Narayani Gupta of Jamia Milia University in Delhi, who has vigorously campaigned against the new textbooks, told me:

Reading Jain’s work, you get the impression that there is one homogeneous group called Muslims who ride around India doing terrible things, looting, pillaging, and building piles of skulls, and another group called Hindus who suffer silently under the Muslim yoke. It’s totally unhistorical. The word “Hindu” was not used as a religious term until the nineteenth century, and in medieval sources there is no one term for Muslims. There are over thirty pages of temples being destroyed, and no sense at any point that Hindus and Muslims were living side by side, interacting on a daily basis, on every level. The book is deeply and distastefully anti-Muslim.

It is not just that the textbooks are historically invalid: in the aftermath of state-sponsored pogroms in Gujarat in April 2002, when over two thousand Muslims were hunted down and murdered, Indian historians fear that the propagation of such divisive myths can only lead to yet more violence; and they point out that it was in Gujarat that the state’s history textbooks were first rewritten.17 Professor Neeladri Bhattacharya of Jawaharlal Nehru University has written that the new textbooks are so inaccurate that they represent nothing less than

declarations of war against academic history itself, against the craft of the historian, against practices that authenticate historical knowledge…. When history is mobilized for specific political projects and sectarian conflicts; when political and community sentiments of the present begin to define how the past has to be represented; when history is fabricated to constitute a politics of hatred and violence, then we [historians] need to sit up and protest. If we do not then the long night of Gujarat will never end.18

In May 2004, to the amazement of everyone, and in defiance of every opinion poll, the BJP-led coalition was narrowly voted out of office, and the Congress returned to power for the first time in six years.

One of the first actions of the new government was to fire J.S. Rajput, the man who had supervised the preparation of the BJP’s textbooks, and to authorize schools to return to the old textbooks if they wished, pending a full review of the entire question. In the meantime, government schools are allowed to use their own judgment in choosing between the two sets of books which give, in many cases, mutually contradictory accounts of the same events. This seems a very Indian compromise.

At the moment, following Congress’s surprise election victory, the BJP is in disarray. But there can be little doubt that this only a temporary truce: both sides are passionate about their cause and believe that the other is guilty of deliberately distorting the truth. The last election result was more about the economic complaints of the rural poor than a referendum on Hindutva, and the BJP has recently shown every sign of hardening its position on such religious matters.

Exacerbating the problem in the long term is the absence of accessible, well-written, and balanced histories of India.19 The most widely available introductions to the subject—the two Penguin histories, one covering the period up to the arrival of the Muslims by Romila Thapar, the other by Percival Spear, who takes the story up to Indian Independence—are both fine scholarly works, but somewhat dull and hard-going.20 This as much as anything else has allowed myths to replace history among the members of India’s middle class, who are keen consumers of fiction, but have surprisingly little home-grown nonfiction to interest them. One of the remarkable features of the recent spectacular burst of creativity among Indian writers has been that few writers are drawn either to serious biography or narrative history. Though Indian historians produce many excellent specialist essays and numerous learned journals, it is impossible, for example, to buy an up-to-date and accessible biography of any of India’s pre-colonial rulers.

Here perhaps lies one of the central causes of the current impasse. It is not just up to the politicians to improve the fairness and quality of India’s history. Unless Indian historians learn to make their work intelligible and attractive to a wider audience, and especially to their own voraciously literate middle class, unhistorical myths will continue to flourish.

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