Lawforms in the Market: Research in the Marathi Zone, November 2019

Shikhara of Tulshibaug Ram Mandir in Pune

Whether you are searching for a new, but inexpensive toy, kitchen utensil, bed sheet, bangle, or jute bag, a Punekar might direct you to Tulshibaug Market. Located to the south of Shaniwar Wada, the former residence of the Peshwas, in the heart of Pune’s old city centre, Tulshibaug is bustling and often downright crowded. But if you duck through a short blue entranceway into a narrow lane roughly opposite the Mahatma Phule Mandai, you will find a strikingly quiet courtyard lined with shops selling bronze devotional statuary in every size imaginable. At the centre of this courtyard is the Tulshibaug Ram Mandir. Along with a spacious wooden forecourt, this temple features a beautifully carved stone spire that is one of the only elements of the overall space visible from the outer marketplace.

Rumal no. 4 from the Tulshibaugwale collection at BISM

While it is well-known that the wealthy Brahman landlord Naro Appaji Khire “Tulshibaugwale” financed the Tulshibaug Ram Mandir after his lucrative appointment as the subahdar of the province of Pune, the temple’s role within the context of the city’s donative and commercial activities remains to be studied. Fortunately, the Bharat Itihas Sanshodhak Mandal contains many bundles of documents pertaining to the affairs of the Tulshibaugwale family. When I visited BISM this past November to follow up on previous trips made by the Lawforms team, I photographed documents from several rumals pertaining to the financial administration of the Ram temple. In addition, the collection contains revenue accounts and legal documents from villages supporting the temple as well as lists of expenditures for the Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti festivals. The family’s control over properties in both Pune city and nearby villages is a useful reminder of how the development of urban markets and related shrines and temple complexes in eighteenth-century Maharashtra was not disconnected from the rural economy.

Another collection housed at BISM speaks to a set of related questions: how was a marketplace legally constituted in pre-colonial western India? What forms of legal documentation recorded rights to sell goods within an urban market? How did such rights shape local governance more broadly? It is with these questions in mind that I have been reviewing documents from the collection of the deshmukhs of Solapur, a process that I began in February and March 2019. Acquired by the historian G.H. Khare in 1952-3, these documents belonged to a household of Lingayat merchants who held village- and district-level headman rights under the Adil Shahi sultans. Hence the leading member of this household in the second half of the seventeenth century was various referred to as Hiroji Desai, Hiroji Deshmukh, Hiroji Patel, or some combination therein; however, his sons and many other parties to these documents bore the title of sethi. They actively established, managed, and settled disputes regarding shops (dukan) within the qasba of Solapur by means of bilingual Perso-Marathi deeds, decisions, and testimonials featuring numerous fascinating formal elements, ranging from the seals of qazis and nobility to the symbols of witnesses from the diverse communities of Solapur and the surrounding area. Further identification and study of these documents –  by Khare’s estimate, there should be more than 2000 – will allow scholars to better understand the role of legal practice and legal documentation in pre-colonial market governance.

Finally, I spent the remainder of my time in Pune at the Pune Puralekhagar, looking for additional context regarding the position and activities of Sayyid Usman, the Persian scribe employed by the Inam Commission of Bombay in the 1850s and early 1860s. Back in February, I obtained many examples of the Persian copies of Adil Shahi and Mughal farmans produced by this munshi, but these documents alone said little about the institutional context within which he worked. Perhaps the greatest challenge posed to anyone interested in the Inam Commission is that the majority of its records are not open to researchers, per the general policy of the Pune Puralekhagar. With the assistance of Lawforms collaborator Dr. Prachi Deshpande (CSSSC, Kolkata), I was able to secure limited access to English-language rumals containing information about the organization and remuneration of Commission staff, including Sayyid Usman. I hope to write about the twists and turns of his quest to date a mysterious farman and the place of pre-colonial Persian writing in the Commission’s broader re-configuration of the purpose and meaning of documentation. Given the extraordinary research potential of the Commission’s records for many different topics – the Commission investigated thousands of individual property claims in Maharashtra –  it is my hope that ongoing dialogue between archivists and researchers will lead to expanded access in the future.

 

 


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