By Dominic Vendell
This past February and March 2019, I embarked on a whirlwind research tour across western and central India, visiting archives in Pune, Mumbai, Kolhapur, Sitamau, Indore, and Dhule. My objectives were threefold: to identify and describe any collections with substantial Persian-language content; to collect or catalogue legal documents from both Persian- and Marathi-language collections; and to build relationships with archival staff and private collectors towards further research and collaboration with Lawforms project. As is typical in archival exploration, previously attested corpuses of material did not always reveal themselves, while other exciting documents and traces of documents came to light, thanks to the help of many friends who I made along the way.
After a brief excursion in Bikaner, Rajasthan for the “Documents and Archives” workshop, I made one of several trips to Pune to work in the Pune Puralekhagar – a branch of the Maharashtra State Archives (MAS) better known as the Peshwa Daftar – and the Bharat Itihas Sanshodhak Mandal (BISM). Though much of the Persian material that had once been held at the Peshwa Daftar is now either published, untraceable or housed at the Aurangabad branch of MAS, I happened upon a bundle in the Karnatak Jamav section containing the transcriptions, translations, and marginalia of Persian scribes employed by the Inam Commission of Bombay. Active in the 1850s and 1860s, the Commission amassed local records as part of its broader inquiry into the status of rent-free grants of land revenue. The rumal in question may offer a glimpse into the methods and operations of the Commission’s Persian daftarkhana across the palimpsest of different political and linguistic orders. Equally rich was the panoply of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Marathi and Perso-Marathi legal documents that I explored at BISM, where Persian classes are now being held semi-regularly for students, researchers and interested members of the public.
Searching for relevant material at the main branch of MAS in Mumbai proved to be somewhat more challenging. The staff and I were not able to find several Persian-language collections; however, the daftar of the Mane family of Mhaswad yielded many nineteenth-century bonds (katbā), testimonies (jabānī), and acknowledgements of debt (karja-rokhā) written on stamp paper priced from two annas to two rupees and eight annas. Knowing about the existence of such variety is useful from the point of view of understanding how landed families recorded the rights of their members, employees, and associates as well as to think through the effects of changing materials and practices of documentation. I plan in future trips to continue inquiring about MAS’ ongoing efforts to identify and organize their Persian holdings.
I came to learn about a promising new venture at the Shahu Research Centre at Shivaji University in the southern Maratha capital of Kolhapur. The Centre is the repository of the late historian and University vice-chancellor Appasaheb Pawar’s personal collection, containing some 30-40 bundles of Modi documents. As the archivist Devika Patil explained to me, the Centre plans to publish a descriptive catalogue of these documents, which I found to be very beautifully preserved in new, high-quality cloth with individual tags for each document. I also gathered several interesting items at the MAS branch at Kolhapur such as a 1740 karārnama featuring the handwriting of the raja Sambhaji II.
My next stop was an archive that I had long hoped to visit: Shri
Natnagar Shodh Samsthan (SNSS) in Sitamau. While making the journey from Indore to Sitamau via Ujjain, I was fortunate enough to have the company and guidance of Amit Choudhary, an Indore resident who has many connections to Mughal and Maratha history in Malwa. Together, we explored the grounds of the majestic former residence of the Sitamau royal family, who helped establish the SNSS with the eminent historian Raghubir Singh. Under the supervision of the current director Dr. Manohar Sinha Ranawat, SNSS is very actively amassing records on the history of Malwa in Persian, Marathi, and Hindi, in addition to its well-known collection of manuscripts and transcripts. Among the most intriguing discoveries that I made during my week in Sitamau was an early twentieth-century Hindi administrative manual titled Daftarnāmā. Based on communication with my colleague Elizabeth Thelen, it is likely that several similarly named Hindi manuals of accounting and administration were extant in the same period. The Lawforms project will collectively examine the question of manuals and formularies across the Persianate world in our upcoming July workshop.
Before proceeding to my final destination in Dhule, I paused in Indore to pay a visit to the Zamindar family, the descendants of Rao Nandlal Mandloi, who had long ruled the Kampel-Indore area before agreeing to cooperate with the Marathas in the early eighteenth century. The Zamindars have done an incredible job in not only preserving their rāolā in the old city of Indore along with the family palanquin, ensign, and various other historic objects, but also in organizing and cataloguing their archive of Persian, Marathi, and Hindi documents.
Finally, I spent several productive days at Shri Samartha Vagdevata Mandir (SSVM) in the growing town of Dhule in northern Maharashtra. In addition to being a prominent temple and museum dedicated to the seventeenth-century Maharashtrian saint-poet Ramdas, SSVM holds approximately 1800-1900 manuscripts furnished by followers of the Ramdasi sampradāya. I devoted my efforts to working through several manuscripts, letter-books, accounts, and stray documents related to the Satara Chitnis scribal household, which is the subject of my dissertation research and a forthcoming publication. Without the patient assistance of Sharad Kuber and the other staff members at SSVM, I would have been unable to locate these materials, some of which were housed off-site.
It was truly a pleasure to work in both new and familiar archives across the Marathi zone. In the future, I look forward to pursuing some of the research avenues that I have sketched here as part of Lawforms’ ongoing investigation of legal and linguistic interactions in the Persianate world.