Fieldwork in Marathi zone, Dec17-Jan18

I went to Pune in Dec-Jan 2017-18 in order to conduct a preliminary survey of the material available. I returned with an embarrassment of riches, and with an heightened understanding of the long-term and multi-layered presence of Persian in the Marathi-writing zone of the India subcontinent.

I was fortunate to have been able to begin my trip with support from the wonderful scholars of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Pune. Besides becoming aware of their own excellent if small collection of Persian manuscripts (which include a number of interesting insha), I was also able to establish contact with the activist-scholars of the Bharat Itihas Samsodhak Mandal, who carry on the excellent intellectual activism of V.K. Rajwade and G.H. Khare. The Mandal’s director Dr Bhave, was kind enough to allow me to undertake research in the Mandal’s archives, about which it is worth saying a few words.

Bharat Itihas Samsodhak Mandal

The Mandal’s collection consists primarily of what we may call ‘family papers’ of various military, landed and literary elites of the Marathi-writing zone. These papers are in a mixture of languages – predominantly Marathi written in Modi script, but also Persian because of the imbrication of such elites within the regimes of the Deccan Sultanates, most importantly the AdilShahis. There are around 2000 rumals, or bundles, with several dozens of individual documents in them.

Since the 1950s, there has been an effort to separate the Persian documents from this collection. A large selection was thus published in 6 volumes by G.H. Share, in his Persian sources of Indian history series (which I purchased). In recent times, the outstanding historian, G.B. Mehendale, has published a selection of 40 or so Adilshahi farmans (which, too, I purchased). Many more documents exist – and scholars kindly shared around 1000 such documents with me. There is, however, no simple way of knowing which family a document relates to, because it appears that the integrity of the collections have been seriously damaged by repeated reorganisation of the rumals. This was also confirmed by Dr Mehendale himself, as part of an exhilarating conversation.

The other aspect that impressed itself on me was the necessity of studying the evolving diplomatics of documents from the Marathi-writing region – from the Nizamshahi bi-lingual farmans right up to the Peshwai documentation, perhaps even into the British colonial period. We cannot legitimately separate the Persian and the Marathi era, even when language and script use changes, much of the vocabulary, styles and conventions continue. With this idea in view, I purchased several of the Mandal’s publications of the documents from the Maratha empire.

Maratha history museum at Deccan College

I also encountered several very interesting documents at Deccan College, Pune. I was supplied with digital copies of 6 such documents (which I do not have permission to publish). But I also became aware that the Deccan College holds the famous Parasnis daftar and several other such family archives. Although it is repeatedly asserted that these are all in Marathi; a proper survey through the rumals would be needed to establish their linguistic spread.

Shaniwada palace of the Peshwas

Finally, while I was in Pune, there were unfortunate riots provoked by right-wing opposition to Dalit celebration of the final Peshwa-British battle, during which the Shaniwada palace was burnt. This celebration began almost a century ago, and is a valuable reminder about the exclusiveness of the Maratha, especially the Brahmin-led Peshwa empire, whose artefacts this project is bound to study.


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