Fieldwork in Punjab, Pakistan, March 2018

Towards the end of March 2018, a wonderful opportunity arose for me to visit Lahore, and to begin my survey of relevant manuscript and print collections in Pakistan, specifically in the Punjab region, which is spreads across Pakistan and India. The opportunity was provided by a Persian manuscript reading workshop, hosted by the Lahore Institute of Management Sciences (LUMS), and co-funded by the Forms of Law project and LUMS. The workshop was a wonderfully productive experience in itself, and to find out more about it, click here.

Catalogues of manuscripts in Persian and other languages held in the Punjab University Library, Lahore are available online. One of the conference participants (and the editor of the catalogue, Dr. Muhammad Iqbal Mujaddidi) also presented me with a copy of the Catalogue of Arabic, Persian and Urdu manuscripts in the PUL and certain entries, especially those related to the Wazir Khan mosque, looked particularly promising.

A visit to the PUL, guided by Prof. Ghulam Moeenuddin (Muin Nizami) of LUMS, led me to even more unexpected treasures. Dr Nur Sobers-Khan, Dr Anjum Tahira and Mr Khizar Jawad, all avid Persian manuscript lovers, also joined me on this trip.

Iranian Studies section, Punjab University
Oriental_Studies section
Punjab University Library Sanskrit, Hindi & Tamil MSS

We were welcomed by Mr Hamid Ali, senior librarian and a Persian scholar himself, who led us to a room with 22 late Mughal (Aurangzeb and later) farmāns, which he very generously allowed me to photograph. He also offered to email me scanned copies of 11 further parvānas (orders issued by sub-imperial nobles) from the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. As for the Wazir Khan documents, which were currently being studied by Dr Mujaddidi at home, Mr Hamid Ali offered to photograph them for me at a future date. During the course of conversations, I was alerted to the significance of the family of religious scholars at Kaithal, to whom many of the documents on display in PUL pertain; I collected a local history book about them.

This visit was also an occasion to catch a glimpse the Nagri and Gurmukhi-script manuscripts at the PUL – we saw a Tamil palm-leaf manuscript, a Braj ‘Carita’ and a Sanskrit and Gurmukhi-script manuscript.

From the Punjab University Library, Mr Khizar Jawad took me to the Punjab State Archives (PSA), housed in the historic ‘Anarkali’ tomb.

Punjab State Archives “Anarkali”

We were kindly welcomed by the Director, Mr Abbas Chughtati, who explained to us that the Persian records of the PSA consisted of i) around 80 late Mughal farmāns and parvānas ii) Persian records of the Sikh Khalsa state of Ranjit Singh iii) Persian records of the British Residency (from the early 19th century onwards, and overlapping with the time-period of the Khalsa state and iv) Persian records of the various princely states in the Punjab. Specific permissions are required to undertake proper research using this material, but it was very useful to form a sense of the extent of the collection.

I also enjoyed a wonderful visit to the Lahore Museum, where I was introduced by Ms Sumaira Samad, ex-director. Ms Iffat Azeem, manuscripts in charge, welcomed me very warmly, explained the nature of the documentary collection to me, allowed me to consult the accession register, and permitted me to look through the c. 150 digitised documents – many of which proved to be very useful, and from the late Mughal period. There were also several from the 19th and 20th centuries, that is, from the Sikh and British periods of rule in the Punjab. There are two other sets of Persian or Persian-related documents in the Lahore Museum, which I could not access straight away, these were the earlier Mughal documents (part of the Islamic gallery) and the Khalsa documents (on display in the general gallery). The Khalsa documents are clearly an important set to study, not only because of the limited incursion of Gurmukhi, but also because of the continuity and change in traditions of administrative writing in the highly Persianised Khalsa regime. While at the museum, we were also given a tour of what must be the best exhibition of the Sikh Khalsa court that I have ever seen; it was forcefully brought to my attention how much Lahore had been the capital of the Sikh empire. The Lahore Museum also has an enormous coin collection ranging back to 5th century B.C., and including rare ‘zodiac’ coins issued by the Mughal emperor Jahangir, of which there is an excellent catalogue prepared by a British colonial numismatist.

I was fortunate to also be able to have a conversation with a young scholar at historic Government College University, Lahore, Dr Zahra Shah, who revealed her own interest in the Wazir Khan mosque. Dr Shah described an incipient project on the Wazir Khan mosque and Persianate urban culture of Lahore, which sounded very exciting, and I hope that collaborative possibilities arise in future. I was also honoured to be able to meet the Vice-Chancellor of GC, the head of history, and other colleagues.

Finally, drawn by many strings, Mr Khizar Jawad and I arrived at the home-turned-museum of the Faqir family, the erstwhiles chief ministers of Ranjit Singh, and later administrators for the British. Mr Faqir Saifuddin offered us tea and a rich history of the family and its role in Ranjit Singh’s regime, which he refused to call the Khalsa Durbar (given the enormous role of Muslims), preferring Punjab Durbar instead. Mr Saifuddin offered us anecdotes that illustrated the syncretic nature of Ranjit Singh’s empire, and walked us through the archives in the building which held records evidencing some of these anecdotes, for example the list of grants made to various religious institutions. He also invited us to step beyond academia, and work towards producing a documentary that would tell a more acccessible story of the family and the region, and of Persian writing in that connection. This might well be something to work on!

Overall, impression from Lahore was of density of Persian-language archives, and of the continuity of Persian language use well into the twentieth century, which replicates and complements the understanding gained in Bangladesh. I have invited my wonderful friend and scholar Mr Khizar Jawad to come to London in the summer of 2018, so that we can work together of materials from Persianate Punjab, opening up another major area within the scope of the project.

 


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