The Vigat Catalogues and Family Archives in Rajasthan

By Elizabeth Thelen

In Rajasthani, the term ‘vigat’ is used commonly to refer to an account, details, explanation or list. It finds broad use in seventeenth and eighteenth-century records. The vigat of metal utensils supplied to a royal household listed the number and value of each object sent; officials asked for vigatvar (detailed) descriptions of disputes before deciding who was in the right; stray lists of facts, such as the names of the chief forts of Marwar, were titled vigat and frequently included in miscellanies; the famous 17th-century diwan (chief minister) of Marwar, Muhnot Nainsi, composed a text bringing together economic, social and historical information about the kingdom’s districts known as Marwar ra Pargana ri Vigat.

Cover of Vigat No. 14 Karera Papers

Given this long history of the use of the term in and for a variety of historical sources, it is fitting that Dr Rajendra Joshi’s work on cataloguing the family collections of documents from various thikanadar (landlord) households in Rajasthan was known as the Vigat project. I learned of this project while attempting to survey the document catalogues and published documents available from across Rajasthan. However, because Joshi’s catalogues were produced for non-circulating research use and never officially published, copies are rare and even with following leads in Jaipur and tracking down some volumes in the SOAS library in London and in the Regenstein Library at the University of Chicago, I have not been able to find a full set of the 19 volumes of Vigat project catalogues that are listed on the inside cover of the extant volumes.

Joshi was a faculty member in the History Department at the University of Rajasthan in Jaipur. I first encountered his scholarship during the course of my PhD Research on Ajmer, as his book Unnisavin Shatabdi ka Ajmer (Ajmer in the Nineteenth Century) is a key study of that city in the colonial era. He was an active member of the Rajasthan Studies Group, an international group of humanities and social sciences scholars that held regular conferences to promote study of the region and he co-edited several volumes of these conference proceedings in the 1990s. In this work, he collaborated with the political scientists Lloyd Rudolph and Susan Hoeber Rudolph – who themselves also conducted extensive research on thikanadar families in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Rudolphs worked at the University of Chicago, and this connection likely explains how copies of some of Joshi’s Vigat catalogues ended up there.

Joshi’s Vigat project was conducted, as far as I can tell, in the 1980s and 1990s initially under the auspices of the University of Rajasthan’s ‘Project for Preservation, Listing, Cataloguing, Editing & Publishing Manuscripts’, which was supported by the Ministry of Culture & Education and later as the ‘Project for Descriptive Indexing & Cataloguing of Thikana Records,’ which was sponsored by the University Grants Commission and at times, the Indian Council of Social Science Research. The project can be seen as part of a larger arc of efforts to collect and catalogue family archives that intensified with institutional and government support in the decades after Indian independence. Throughout the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, a variety of historians and organizations endeavoured to collect, collate and catalogue documents and manuscripts related to India’s history. From Sir Jadunath Sarkar’s transcriptions and publications of Mughal-era manuscripts and newsletters to the Indian Historical Records Commission’s surveys resulting in a national register of private records, these efforts sought in part to shore up the historical record of a new nation through the assembly of archives, the publication of edited and translated records, and the production of histories.

These efforts at cataloguing, collecting and copying – pursued by various scholars across India – drive home the fact that many of the surviving documents from pre-colonial India are held in household archives, not state repositories. Households holding records from that time include local landlords, merchant families, scribal families, and families of religious officials. What the Vigat project makes clear, by encompassing a broader time span than many of these efforts, is that household archives are also an important source for colonial-era history. Although there are far more voluminous state archives for this period, both in terms of records of the colonial state and records of the princely states, the Vigat project catalogues list many documents that aren’t encompassed by state collections, and offer insights into local politics and the running of local estates in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, such as correspondence and financial records.

The 14 vigat project catalogues I have seen contain entries for 3893 documents and 704 entries and/or pages from registers (bahis). While the documents range in date from 1545 to 1968 CE, by far and away the bulk of documents are from c. 1800 -1940; in line with what we might expect from this chronology, most of the documents are written in Rajasthani, Hindi, Urdu, or English, although some Persian and Marathi documents are present as well. The documents also cover a broad range of document types, including letters and correspondence, financial records dealing with revenue and moneylending, and grants and leases of land such as pattas. They cover records from seven different thikanas, mostly in eastern and southern Rajasthan: Kanota (near Jaipur), Banera (in Bhilwara), Mandawa (in Shekhawati), Ratlam (in modern-day Madhya Pradesh), Roopaheli (in Bhilwara), Karera (in Bhilwara), and Bedla (near Udaipur). One catalogue also covers records from the Manmal Bhandari family, who served in official posts, including Diwan, of Jodhpur Princely State.

Centre for Rajasthan Studies, University of Rajasthan, Jaipur

While the originals remained with the families, photocopies of a considerable number of the documents that Joshi catalogued continue to be stored in the University of Rajasthan’s Centre for Rajasthan Studies. Tucked away in a quiet section of the university campus, the centre has a large collection of books on Rajasthan’s history, culture and society, study space to consult the materials, and a small staff who support the work of the centre, including holding occasional seminars and other scholarly functions. When I visited in 2019, the Vigat project photocopied documents were not readily accessible, though plans were being put in place to store them in a more accessible fashion to facilitate research use. During my visit, the Centre’s staff helped me locate a great deal of the photocopies, many of which are filed according to the cataloguing system and some of which are of further uncatalogued documents (for a number of the collections, the catalogues themselves  indicate that the list is just a subset of a much larger collection). Some of the original documents also have made their way into archival repositories elsewhere, such as the Manmal Bhandari collection which is now held by the Rajasthan State Archives, Bikaner, and a selection of records from Banera from a period prior to those catalogued as part of the Vigat project was published by K.S. Gupta and L.P. Mathur. In fact, K.S. Gupta also helped with cataloguing records from Banera for the Vigat project.

In our rush as historians to get to the ‘real thing’ and read the documents, we often treat catalogues as aids but not as important sources of data in and of themselves. Yet the metadata recorded in catalogues map broad trends in the nature of document collections and the patterns of document production, circulation and retention, although one must also always consider what metadata was generated and why, and how cataloguers may have made selections within broader sets of records. Catalogues such as those produced by the Vigat project, therefore, can be not only invaluable finding aids but also offer ways to understand specific documents as part of larger series and ways to contextualize other series of documents and small family collections in the wider ecosystem of documents and record-keeping.

Vigat Project Catalogues

  1. Lag Bag Papers – Kanota Collection (not traced)
  2. Kanota Collections: Indigenous Banking and Ijara Papers
  3. Kanota Collections: Jagir Papers
  4. Banera Papers (1805-1817)
  5. Mandawa Papers, Catalogue No. 1
  6. Mandawa Papers, Catalogue No. 2
  7. Mandawa Papers, Catalogue No. 3
  8. Raja Amar Singh Ratlam Collection
  9. Devi Singh Collection No. 1: Papers on Jat Agitation, Wills Report & Sikar Agitation (not traced)
  10. Banera Papers (1818 AD to 1857 AD) No. 2
  11. Devi Singh Collection No. 2 (not traced)
  12. Dooni Papers (not traced)
  13. Roopaheli Papers
  14. Karera Papers
  15. Family Papers of Man Mal Bhandari
  16. Bedla Papers (not traced)
  17. Bedla Papers (Patta Parwana Bahis)
  18. Bedla Papers (Patta Parwana Bahis)
  19. Bedla Papers (Devlok Bahis)

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