Team Research week in London: Joint Report December 3-7, 2018

Nandini Chatterjee; Elizabeth Thelen; Dominic Vendell

Nandini Chatterjee reports:

In this week, Elizabeth Thelen, Dominic Vendell and I worked together in London – mainly at the British Library and the Royal Asiatic Society’s library – with the aim of surveying and analysing Indo-Persianate manuals across multiple genres. The idea was to work towards a project workshop on manuals that we are planning to hold in 2020, and thus we were aiming to actively think about which kinds of texts may have served to regularise and standardise the various forms of documents that we have been studying. Given the scope and aims of the project, we also decided to work collaboratively and comparatively, checking for textual genres that may have been shared across language boundaries – specifically, Persian, Marathi and Rajasthani.

In order to step into the vast field of Indo-Persian manuals, we used the very comprehensive list of ‘Administrative and accountancy manuals, statistical tables, etc.’ offered as appendix to Irfan Habib’s Agrarian System of Mughal India, edn. 3, pp. 470-71. I knew from my prior research of certain well-known inshā’texts, that, although conceived of as models of exemplary prose writing, including diplomatic correspondence, at least from the seventeenth century, many Indo-Persian inshā’writers included sections on legal deeds. Here is an example of a model deed of sale from the Inshā’-yi Harkaran, composed in Harkaran Das Kamboh of Multan. It was among the first Persian texts to be translated by the British in India, for its obvious functional value.

A model sale-deed from the Insha-yi Harkaran, ed. and translated F. Balfour

Elizabeth Thelen reports:

One question for me going into this research week in London was whether the British Library collections held much Rajasthani material beyond poetry and Jain scriptures. My initial catalogue searches had turned up little material. A conversation with the North Indian languages curator confirmed my suspicion that while there may well be Rajasthani printed books and additional Rajasthani manuscripts beyond the small number listed in Blumhardt’s catalogue of Gujarati and Rajasthani manuscripts, these additional works are catalogued together with Hindi materials because for much of the period of cataloguing, Rajasthani was not considered separate from Hindi. Finding such works will take a careful combing of the catalogues of Hindi materials, a task which was beyond the scope of this week.

 However, I did come across works in Hindi and Urdu (Hindustani) as well as India Office Records from the nineteenth century that provide context for our central research aims around legal documents, manuals and archives. Such materials include didactic tales about a king’s justice, script charts, a list of the sorts of bahīs (registers) used by merchants, copies of hundis (bills of exchange), and discussions of how Francis Wilder, appointed as Superintendent to manage the affairs of Ajmer in 1818 established revenue collection and law courts in Ajmer.

The Royal Asiatic Society was a more obvious stop in my quest for Rajasthani materials. It is home to the Tod Collection, 170 manuscripts, mostly collected by Lt.  Col. James Tod, an East India Company servant who was the Political Agent based in Udaipur from 1818-1822 and wrote The Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan. Several manuscripts within the collection relate to administration and law, including two composite volumes of transcribed documents and inscriptions (RAS Tod 145; RAS Tod 170); a text offering a listing of administrative positions (RAS Tod 126); and a manual of letter-writing (RAS Tod 98). Although the latter is largely Sanskrit, the terminology in some sections suggests a borrowing from Persian.

I also consulted a composite Persian manuscript at the Royal Asiatic Society (RAS Persian 173). I first was drawn to this text when I noticed that Irfan Habib lists it in the bibliography of The Agrarian System of Mughal India 1556-1707alongside dastūr al-ʿamals. He notes that it contains a revenue table with detailed statistics for the subaof Ajmer. The manuscript does contain these revenue tables, with details of the collection from the various parganas and mahals of subaAjmer. But the bulk of the manuscript contains transcriptions of ʿarzdashts and various letters from the period 1067-1069 AH (1656-1659 CE), during the War of Succession between Aurangzeb and his brothers (which Habib also notes under his heading of ‘Epistolary Collections’). Most of the correspondence involves Mirza Raja Jai Singh, the ruler of Amber and an important Mughal noble, writing to members of the imperial family, including Aurangzeb, Dara Shikoh, and Muhammad Akbar. The manuscript also contains a brief facetious dictionary and some short selections of anecdotes. Although the exact provenance of this text is unclear, the central presence of content connected to places and people in Rajasthan suggests that it may have been copied or acquired in Rajasthan.

Dominic Vendell reports:

At the outset of our research week in London, I was uncertain about the existence of any materials resembling manuals or formularies in the Marathi Manuscripts section of the British Library. While browsing through Blumhardt’s catalogues, however, I noticed an entry for a “Mahratta Grammar” holding “specimens of letters and commercial correspondence.” This manuscript (shelfmark:‌ Mss Marathi D11)upon examination disclosed fascinating examples of receipts (rasīd), bonds (daskat), agreements (karār-nāmā), memoranda (yādī), and personal and diplomatic correspondence. Mainly written in English and Marathi in the Modi script, it includes a lexicon of administrative terms in English, Marathi, and Persian with some words clearly drawn from Tamil, and many of the examples appear to have been produced in and around the court of the raja of Thanjavur. What do we know about the authorship of this “Mahratta Grammar”? Preliminary research suggests that the East India Company servant James Michael, prior to teaching at Haileybury from roughly 1832 until his death in 1837, hired a Brahman in Thanjavur in 1830 to compose the manuscript, which in turn became a source for his nephew James Ballantyne’s A Grammar of the Mahratta Language(1839). 

            Though an extraordinary artifact with a particular location in the history of EIC linguistic pedagogy, the eclectic contents of the 1830 Marathi grammar also anticipate the later nineteenth-century production of lekhanapaddhatī(also known as lekhapaddhatī), which may be roughly translated as “system of writing.”My survey of the BL’s printed Marathi collection turned up several titles, such as Samsārachopaḍī(1863), Vāchanamālā(1867), and Moḍī Vāchanasārā(1877), containing rules of composition and examples of Modi documentation and correspondence. Perhaps most intriguingly, several examples in the lekhanapaddhatīsection of the Samsārachopaḍī, written by Vishnu Vasudev Godbole and published by Krishna Shastri Gurjar, are identical to those given by Munshi Ganpatrao Satarkar in his Hemādrīkṛta Lekhanakalpataru(1853). Satarkar’s text (for a much richer discussion, see Prachi Deshpande’s 2015 article in Āpale Vaṅmāya Vṛitta) nostalgically claims origins in the bygone 13thcentury Yadava kingdom, yet at the same time, its circulation, copying and re-publication suggests how the art of formal Modi writing, despite having a diminished role in law, politics, and administration, continued to hold popular interest.

            Another avenue of investigation led me to the Persian genre of inshā’, and particularly to the works of the Bahmani minister Mahmud Gawan (1411-82). His Riyāz̤ al-Inshā’collects his correspondence with widely scattered scholars, Sufis, and litterateurs, but it is his manual on inshā’, the Manāẓir al-Inshā’(shelfmark: Mss Add 22706), that may hold more clues for understanding standards of formal writing in the early modern Deccan. In the section of the Manāẓiron the divisions (aqsām), foundations (arkān), and conditions (sharā’iṭ) of epistolary composition, Gawan builds a typology of written objects based on the statuses of senders and recipients. For example, if the sender is of a higher station than the recipient, and also happens to be a pādshāh, then the written object ought to be called a manshūr-nāma, a fatḥ-nāma, or a farmān; however, if the sender is a minister or a noble, then it ought to be called a mis̤āl. As with the lekhanapaddhatītexts, social status shapes rules of composition. But Gawan also suggests that the rules for certain written objects, particularly those of confederation (ahd-nāma), congratulation (tahni’at-nāma), and condolence(taʿziyat-nāma), are more flexible. In future research, I hope to consider this admission of flexibility in the case of the ahd-nāmain particular alongside the proliferation of diplomatic documentation in the eighteenth century as well as to compare Gawan’s prescriptions with actual documents, such as Adil Shahi farmāns that my colleague Nandini collected at BISM.  


One thought on “Team Research week in London: Joint Report December 3-7, 2018”

  1. An interesting discussion is worth comment. I do think that you need to publish more about this subject, it may not be a taboo matter but generally people don’t discuss these subjects. To the next! Best wishes!!

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