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)

A Mughal archive: the Inayat Jung Collection, NAI, New Delhi

Nandini chatterjee

The National Archives of India, New Delhi

I worked in the National Archives of India, New Delhi, 8-18 January, 2020. Besides dreadful pollution, which made wearing a medical grade mask essential when out and about, the city was also being rocked by protests by students, women and other activists, protesting against the Government of India’s newly passed laws proposing a National Population Register, National Register of Citizens and Citizenship Amendment Act. Women and children had gathered in  Shaheen Bagh, in a Muslim-majority locality, holding continuous peaceful protests 24/7 in an unprecedented political and cultural development. A great deal of debates in the media and public discourse was about the meaning of words – in religion, poetry and politics – creating a surreal situation where prime-time TV included discussions of the revolutionary poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s poem, Hum Dekhenge (We shall see), and the meaning of the Islamic credo, La Ilaha il-Allah (There is no God but God).

The Islamic creed inscribed in a 13th-century mosque in the Qutb complex, Delhi

My work also consisted of looking through multi-lingual material, but of a much more prosaic sort. My aim was to form an idea about one of the two largest surviving collections of documents directly produced by Mughal state institutions – the Inayat Jung collection. The background story, as provided S.R. Tirmizi, ex-director of NAI, is that these documents were retrieved and stored by an official in the Hyderabad state, and later acquired by Prof. Nurul Hasan for the National Archives of India. The collection consists of 160,000 individual documents, all related to the administration of the provinces of Bijapur and Golconda. 

On random sampling, I found that all documents have a small purple Inayat Jung stamp. They are in boxes which have an average of 400 documents each. Every document is enclosed in an individual file, which has a short summary of the document on it, as well as the file number. There are 408 boxes in total, of which the greatest number is from emperor Muhammad Shah’s reign (1719-1748 CE). 

A complete catalogue does not exist. There is an overview article by the archivist-historian Zakir Hussain, which I was able to read and copy. The archivists also revealed to me that they had managed to calendar around 50,000 of the documents, covering the entire reign of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. They had done so, by typing out the short summary on the cover of the individual files. This very useful work was soon to be published, but was not available at the current time. 

The numbering system has been revised; currently, the numbering is thus: 

The first part of the numbers is the serial order of the emperor eg. Aurangzeb = 1/ then regnal year/then month number (eg., Muharram =1)/serial number of document in that year/month. 

Whichever values cannot be verified have been left as 00. 

Box 1 

This box contains what I was alerted to as a ‘pre-Aurangzeb’ bundle, said to be 1656 onwards. These files are numbered 00/1/- 

00/1-2 (Old number: I/2/28) 

Series: Madad-i-ma’ash (These are interpretive categorisations introduced by the archivist.) 

17 Shawwal 30 Julus-i Shahjahan i.e. 1066 AH/29 July 1656 AD 

Contents: Copy of Farman granting village Kasara of pargana Sanganmner to Khwaja Muhammad Sadiq as Madad-i ma’ash. The revenue income of the said village was Rs 172/- in 1064 AH/1653-54 AD (bearing seal of Abd al-Khalil Khan Mufti Shara’ Muhammad dated 1110 AH 

Actual document: Small A5 sized document with purple seal of IJ, written on both sides. The document starts with an extended word which is probably نقل. 


فرمان الاشان قبل از جلوس از قرار بتا () ذی قعده سنه ۳۰ آنکه در این ایام سعدت انجام نشان علیشان 

عنران از مکمل لطف شرف صدور می یابد که موضع کاساده معموله پرگنه سنگمنر که حاصل آن 

در سال هزار هشت و چهارم از هجریت  مقدسه مبلغ یکصد هفتاد و در روپیه 

 Ends with the date. And then there are two notes to the effect that the nishan was written. A third note says:  

یکموضع در و بیشت 

There is a seal of a qazi visible, which bears the date 1110; which would still put the document at the end of the seventeenth century. 

 Further down the line, I found several bi-lingual documents:

Box 100 VIII 4/151-450  


Series: Diwani 

Date: 10 Zulqada 20 Julus of Muhammad Shah 

Contents: Siyaha of Mahsul-Mahal-i Nargadi Balda Hyderabad under the supervision of Zulqadr Khan Rs. 3/15/9 from Muslims viz: Khudai 

(Bears seals of Zulqadr Khan, Dakhniram and Jaskarandas) 

Also in Marathi 

 Document: Two sided A5 but most writing in front. Very little text – a top cluser, then two lines, the another line and a cluster with details, then two Persian seals of an official who mentions the emperor. 2.5 lines of Marathi (in Modi) on the left margin. Some Modi used in the clusters that offer particulars. 

 Only very brief notes on reverse. 

Several documents appear to be part of a short series, such that the same transaction, involving the same protagonists and the same officials is repeated over several years.

I have requested digital copying of some of these documents, and look forward to returning to read more.

Overall, I feel that this collection complicates my increasing suspicion that the centralised Mughal archives may have never existed; document storage being the function of significant landed families and their households. This collection, however, points to processes of documentation and record-storage by Mughal government agencies, at least at the provincial level, and has pushed me to think harder about how and why people create and kept records in Mughal South Asia.





Summer School ‘Working in an Indian Archive,’ Hyderabad, August 19-30, 2019

By Elizabeth Thelen

A sign for the Summer School on the MANUU campus

During the last two weeks of August, 30 young scholars from around the world gathered on the campus of Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANUU) in Hyderabad for a summer school on reading Indo-Persian documents. I was fortunate to be one of the participants in this intensive programme, which was organized by Prof. Dr. Eva Orthmann of the University of Göttingen and Prof. Chandar Shekhar of Delhi University in collaboration with the Persian Department at MANUU and Dr. Zareena Parveen, the director of the Telangana State Archives.

The first several days of instruction focused on the technical skills for decoding documents and an introduction to several common genres of document. Ali Langroudi of the University of Göttingen taught the principles of the Nastaliq and Shikasta scripts and reviewed forms of words commonly found in the archival documents, while Prof. Orthmann introduced us to reading seals and tughras and to the genre of farmans. Prof. Najaf Haider of Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi joined us for a day to focus on documents relating to financial and economic history. We read several types of records with him including a farman promulgating a revenue grant and an excerpt from an administrative manual on the process of minting coins.

A demonstration of how to distinguish letters in Shikaste writing

We then applied the training from the first four days and continued to develop our reading skills during three days at the Telangana State Archives. The director, Dr. Zareena Parveen, took us on a tour of the archives, showing us how the documents are stored and the conservation processes. We also visited the archive’s display room, which has a sampling of the types of documents held by the archive on display. The archive has the largest collection of Mughal records from the reigns of the emperors Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb available in India, as well as the records of the Nizam period of rule in Hyderabad and post-Independence records. During our classes in the archives, we examined and read a number of Mughal administrative documents relating to the functioning of the mansabdar system. Written for an internal audience of administrators, these documents are often written in a shikasta hand that is particularly difficult to decode until you know the common formulae and structures of the documents. Drawing on her three decades of experience in the archives, Dr. Parveen showed us how to decipher salary calculations and orders to increase or decrease mansab ranks.

Prof. Chandar Shekhar addressing the participants alongside Dr. Zareena Parveen and Prof. Eva Orthmann

In the second week, we were joined by Prof. Chandar Shekar, who led us in the reading and translating of a variety of document types. He guided our reading of additional documents in the Telangana State Archives, including charitable grants. We also read eighteenth-century roznamcha reports. Along the way, he shared insights into the interrelations between different types of documents and administrative practices. We also took a trip to the Bargah of Hazrat Pathar Wali Sahib, which is home to the Haadi-e-Deccan Library and Research Institute. Over the last 170 years, the sajjada nashins of the bargah have developed and maintained a library including rare Urdu publications and over 600 Persian and Arabic manuscripts.

Alongside our classes, the programme included an evening lecture series, during which participants shared their research. I spoke about my research on the use of Persian documents in Rajasthan, while Dr. Stanislaw Jaskowski discussed polish reporting on the 1638 battle in Qandahar between the Safavids and Mughals, Guiseppe Cappello shared insights from his work on the Gulzar-i-Hal, Pia Malik introduced her research on sufism in the Deccan, and Anurag Advani talked about madness in the Mughal period.

Though I had worked with Persian documents before, I came away with increased fluency in decoding and reading shikasta documents, an understanding of document types I had not encountered previously, and an overview of the collections of the Telangana State Archives.

Archival Research in the Rajasthani Zone, February – March 2019

By Elizabeth Thelen

During February and early March, I travelled in Rajasthan and visited four archives and research institutes. I pursued several strands of inquiry during this trip. First was continuing the matter of manuals we had investigated in London in December. During the London trip, I had found fairly limited materials relating to Rajasthan – partially due to Rajasthani materials not being separated from Hindi materials either geographically or linguistically in most of the British Library’s catalogues. So the question remained of what sorts of manuals, if any, were being produced in Rajasthan in either Rajasthani or Persian. The other matter was to continue the overview of documents and genres begun in our workshop to develop a better understanding of the use of Persian in Rajasthan, including its chronology, geography, and social boundaries of use, along with identifying collections for more in-depth study.

Entrance to the Rajasthan State Archives, Bikaner

I began my fieldwork in Bikaner at the Rajasthan State Archives, following up on ideas and leads from our workshop held jointly with the archives on February 6-8. While at the Archives, I surveyed the collections of personal papers held in the ‘non-archival’ section. In the Guide to the Archives published in 1992, 32 collections are listed. However, as that guide itself acknowledges, only some of those collections were donated to the archive, while others may have been microfilmed, and yet others remained in the possession of a private individual or organization. the list of collections does not indicate the status for each of the collections. I confirmed the presence of 15 of these collections at the archive and consulted the handlists available for 11 of them to gain an overview of their contents. The collections cover a wide range of material: newspaper clippings, the records of local organizations and individuals involved in the independence struggle, the records of a school in Bikaner, the notes of authors and historians, and family and business records. I took a closer look at the contents of three of the collections that are of particular interest to Lawforms research because of their inclusion of both Rajasthani and Persian documents from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Entrance to the Rajasthan Oriental Research Institute, Jodhpur

From Bikaner, I travelled to Jodhpur to visit the Rajasthan Oriental Research Institute and the Maharaja ManSingh Research Centre. The Rajasthan Oriental Research Institute is a government institute holding several hundred thousand manuscripts, mostly in Rajasthani and Sanskrit. The largest part of the collection consists of literary manuscripts, but there are also a good number of historical texts and texts on various sorts of technical knowledge. Sifting through the catalogues, I located a number of texts on mathematics that proved to deal with topics of revenue collection and even a couple Rajasthani texts titled ‘Dastur Amal.’ Several miscellanies also turned out to include transcriptions of a variety of documents, which are interesting both in terms of their contents and what they may show about practices of archiving.

The Maharaja Man Singh Pustak Prakash Research Centre is overseen by the Mehrangarh Fort Trust and is located inside the fort. Its collections include records pertaining to the Jodhpur royal family (all of the records of Jodhpur state affairs were transferred to the Rajasthan State Archives) and the royal family’s manuscript library. Among this collection, I found several short nineteenth-century texts on legal principles and the Centre’s director, Dr. Mahendra Singh Tanwar, alerted me to the presence of a small collection of Persian and Urdu documents.

At the MAAPRI, Tonk with the director, Dr. Saulat Ali Khan, and calligrapher Jameel Ahmed

The fourth institute I visited was the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Arabic and Persian Research Institute in Tonk. This institute is a parallel institute to the Rajasthan Oriental Research Institute, but contains Arabic, Persian and Urdu manuscripts. A large fraction of its collection comes from the erstwhile Tonk State, but there are also sizable collections from Alwar and Bharatpur among others. At the institute I consulted 13 ‘Dastur al-Amal’ manuscripts, of which a particularly interesting subset that give explicit directions on how to write various types of documents and collect revenue come from Alwar State in the nineteenth century. In addition to these texts, I consulted a number of insha collections containing samples of various sorts of letters and documents, and several collections of Persian and Urdu documents from the state of Tonk. Though they are currently not readily accessible to researchers, the institute has begun a program of scanning the records from Tonk’s courts that are in its collection, which should open up an exciting new set of archives for understanding the legal history of Rajasthan.

A Persian-Bengali dictionary: Politics of purity in lexicographical space 

Guest post by Mr. A.B.M. Shamsuddoza


During my recent trip to Kolkata*, I came across a lexicographical work titled Parsik Abhidhan (Persian Dictionary) at the rare section of the National Library of India. It is a Persian-Bengali bilingual dictionary compiled by Jaygopal Tarkalanker (1775-1846). The dictionary was published in 1838, immediately after the abolition of Persian as court language in British India. In James Long’s A Descriptive Catalogue of Bengali Works (1855) this dictionary is enlisted along with two other Persian-Bengali lexicons published in the same year from Calcutta: A Persian and Bengali Vocabulary by Lakshmi Narayan and Paraseabhidhan by Nilkomal Mustaphi. [1] Jaygopal’s Parsik Abhidhan is one of the earliest specimens of Persian-Bengali bilingual dictionary.

Jaygopal was a renowned Sanskrit scholar. He was associated with three famous orientalists of his time: HT Colebrooke, William Carey and JC Marshman. In 1824, he was appointed as a lecturer in vernacular literature at Sanskrit College and worked there until his retirement in 1845.

In Parsik Abhidhan, Jaygopal collected more than 2,500 Persian words. At the beginning, Tarkalanker explains his effort to collate Persian words used in Bengali language to replace them with Bengali equivalents so that “the purity of Bengali language could be preserved, and the language could be salvaged from the humiliation inflicted by 900 years of Muslim rule in India.”

Jaygopal defines purity as cleansing the Bengali language altogether of Persian words. He suggested “স্বদেশীয় সাধুভাষা” (native chaste language/high Bengali dialect) as the true alternative. But what he chose as the native tongue was largely derived from Sanskrit words instead of everyday Bengali words. In this deliberate Sanskritisation effort, he coined equivalents of commonly used Persian words in Bengali language following Sanskrit morphology. A few examples from his dictionary are given below:

রসিদ > স্বহস্তচিহ্নিতপত্র

সবুজ> দুর্ব্বাদলবর্ণ

বকসী> ভান্ডারাধ্যক্ষবিশেষ

মজুর > জীবিকার্থ কায়িকশ্রমকারি

মোজা > বস্ত্রাদিনির্মিত পাদাবরক

বরফ> শিলীভূতহিম

রুমাল> মুখমার্জনবসন

If we situate Jaygopal’s work in its historical context we will see that except the work of Manuel da Assumpção almost all the lexicons produced up to the first half of nineteenth century borrowed heavily from Sanskrit in their attempts to standardise Bengali vocabulary. The standardisation process was largely informed by the notion that Sanskrit being the sacred language of Hindus was the purest of all extant languages. The orientalists’ effort to trace Bengali’s origin in Sanskrit also bolstered this notion. For example, in the first edition of William Carey’s A Grammar of the Bengalee Language (1801) he stated:

“The language in which the classical books of Hindoos are written is principally derived from the Sangskrito [viz. Sanskrit]. This is called pure Bengalee [viz. Bengali].”

Built up over its main Prakrit structure Bengali largely borrowed from Persian language in respect of phonology, vocabulary, morphology and syntax during the course of history of well over 600 years. Even going through the normal philological process of changes in loan words, many Persian words in Bengali lost more or less their own phonology to adapt to the phonology of the borrower language. But Jaygopal considered this amalgamation process as corruption of the language and hence attempted to purify Bengali language by reversing its natural course.

Further research into the Persian-Bengali dictionaries produced during the same period will help understand the anxiety about the standardisation of Bengali language in colonial Bengal and the politics of purity associated with it.


  1. Long, J. A Descriptive Catalogue of Bengali Works. Calcutta: Sanders, Cones & Co., 1855.

*I am grateful to Dr Nandini Chatterjee for providing me the wonderful opportunity to explore the archives and libraries in Kolkata.

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.


Fieldwork in Bengali zone Part II Mar18

In March, I was back in Bengal in just over a month, this time in its western part, centred around the colonial city of Calcutta (now Kolkata). I was fortunate to once again be supported in my research by Mr ABM Shamsuddoza Sajen, who had worked together with me in Bangladesh. We joined and split forces according to our respective skill-set and interests – Sajen concentrating of Bengali and print materials, I concentrating on Persian manuscripts and documents.

We began our efforts to discover the story of Persian in Kolkata with a visit to the Nakhoda masjid, said to be established by Kucchi merchants in the early twentieth century. Reading the Persian inscriptions in the mosque, however, pointed to a much earlier date – at least the mid-19thcentury. If nothing else, this beautiful mosque hinted at stories of a multi-lingual Kolkata de-centred from the assumed Anglocentrism.

Nakhoda mosque

We started our survey of libraries and archives with the Bangiya Sahitya Parishad – that institutional legacy of language activism that we often incorrectly fold into a unilinear story of the Bengal (Hindu) Renaissance, opening with Ishwarchandra Sharma, and continuing through Bankim to Tagore.  As Sajen explained to me, Abdul Karim Sahitya Bisharad, one of the most active language activists of the twentieth century, had catalogued the entire collection. Later, however, the manuscripts deemed to be “Musalman puthis” (based on content, rather than language) were moved to Dhaka University. The scholar Ahmad Sharif wrote the Puthi Parichay as an introduction to this enormous multi-volume catalogue, and also published several other books on medieval Bengal. Incidentally, it appears that Ahmad Sharif’s collected works in 10 volumes from Adabi publishers, and books by Sajanikanta Das and Bomkesh Mustafi (available on may offer a road map through the world of Persianate Bengali. In this connection, in order to grasp the pathos of Bengali language for the majority of its speakers, these articles and books must be basic reading:

Abdul Karim, “What is the language of Bengali Muslims?”

Gautam Bhadra, “Baṃla puthi talika nirmaṇ o atmasattar rajniti, munshi Abdul Karim sahityabisharad,” in Gautam Bhadra (ed.) Munshi Abdul Karim sahityabisharad o atmasattar rajniti(Dhaka: Saṃhati Prakashan), pp. 11–. 80

Dipesh Chakrabarty, “Romantic Archive: Literature and the Politics of Identity in Bengal,” Critical Inquiry, 30: 3 (2004), 654-82

Salimullah Khan, “Abdul Karim’s discoveries,” Daily Star

The beauty of the Sahitya Parishad is that it is open on weekends (closed Thursday), so we were able to use the weekend to find out about their collection. It turned out that they have 1600+ Bengali puthis – of which there are 5 catalogues, which catalogues up to 1500 – I bought the latter 4.

The first volume, in two parts is on internet archive.

 Amulya Charan Bidyavushan(ed.) Bangla Prachin Punthir Bibaran, vol3 no.1. Bangiya Sahitya Parishat, 1330 BS

Taraprasanna Bhattacharya, Bangla Prachin Punthir Bibaran, vol3 no.3. Bangiya Sahitya Parishat, 1339 BS

A visit to the manuscripts rooms showed us that the manuscripts were collected by specific individuals, for example, around 200 by Ishwarchandra (Vidyasagar). Unfortunately, the catalogues do not respect the integrity of such collections, so the only way to discover what kind of materials a particular scholar had been interested in would be to work in the manuscripts rooms, for which permission may be difficult to procure.

It is not clear whether there are any Persian MSS.

There is a printed catalogue of all books, which runs into 500 pages, with many interesting books – maybe up to 100,000. These books include B165 – Assam Burunji 4 vols. This is a history book, there are copies in the Rare Book section of the National Library.

These are a great number of Bengali epistolaries – Patra Kaumudis – which are clearly relevant and to be collected.

While at the Sahitya Parishat, we were given a very interesting tour of the folk art gallery by the curator, Ms. Debishree Kundu; we reciprocated by reading some part of two Husain Shahi inscriptions in their collection, once a hadith and the other a Persian inscription recording the establishment of a jami‘ mosque.

The Asiatic Society at the corner of Park Street was an obvious place to visit. Here the Persia manuscripts were well catalogued by the intrepid Russian Orientalist Vladimir Ivanow (on whom Farhad Daftary has a great book). There are two collections of Persian manuscripts – one with the shelfmark PSC, which includes parts of Tipu’s library; the other the Curzon collection (collected by Denison Ross with government funding).

The collections include some interesting inshas, and a majmu‘a (collection) of (copies of) sanads associated with zamindārs under Tipu’s regime.

There is also a catalogue of Persian books, from which Sajen listed some interesting books.

The Victorial Memorial Hall is a wonderful place to work in, principally because of its current director, Dr. Jayanta Sengupta, and his team. As it happens, I have a dual connection to the VMH; my colleague Dr Andrew Rudd (English) and I are leading a collaboration between the University of Exeter and the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter, aimed at a digital exhibition of “Company paintings” based on the collections in the RAMM and at VMH. This is is a wonderful project in itself, about which I will write separately; it has has led me towards an interest in Mughal and late-Mughal  art, and specifically in artists’ signatures.

Victoria Memorial Hall

There is a fully typed list of Persian manuscripts (around 136 in total), most of which have been digitized and can be consulted for research.

The collection includes some very interesting MSS related to Tipu, among which is the Treatise on the art of artillery (C210), dated to AH1197 (f. 104b), of which the digitized copy begins on folio 38. The text includes a section on accountancy, including the cryptic accountancy or siyaq numbers (ff. 51-53), on military protocol including when Muslims can/cannot fight (ff. 53b-69), with illustrations, on types of forts and maps (ff. 70-71) and detailed rules for rules for the army and various posts therein.

There is also a Victoria Memorial Document Collection, which includes a small number of miscellaneous documents in Bangla, Persian (including a sanad of Aurangzeb’s period given to Rai Mahasai of Bansberia), and documents in Persia, English and Modi from Pudokottai. Clearly these were donated by the various zamindari families to the VMH some time in the early 20th century, and would offer useful, if fragmentary glimpses into a range of private collections.

National Library

The Persian printed books collection developed out of several sources, which includes the Buhar collection and the Hidayat Hussain collection.

There is no separate catalogue for the Persian printed books; they have to be searched on the NL’s online catalogue. Browsing the shelves yielded a copy of the Hyderabadi administrator Bashiruddin Ahmad’s Farāmin-i Salātin (1926), which includes a very large number of letter forms. Searching the catalogue by this author name revealed that he published other books of ‘Persianate’ interest, such as the Vagiyat-i mamlikat-i Bijapur (Agra, 1915).

The Persian manuscript collection consists of several distinct collections, including the Jadunath Sarkar collection and the Buhar collection.

I found the manuscript of Ruqa‘āt-i Nawāzish Khan within the Jadunath Sarkar collection. I have been looking for this for a long time, for it was written by a minor mansabdār  associated with a family of zamindārs in Malwa, on whom I am completing a monograph. The MSS is unfortunately in a bad condition, not possible to copy; I have hand-copied some parts of it.

The West Bengal State Archives on Bhavani Dutta Lane is clearly the biggest repository for the kind of material that I am looking for.

West Bengal State Archives

There is a catalogue, Guide to the Records of the State Archives of West Bengal (Calcutta, 1977), Part I 1758-1858, which revealed that there are thousands of Persian records in this institution, contained within the Khalsa records (the Murshidabad Nawabi’s treasury records, later moved to Calcutta); the Bazi Zamin records (pertaining to tax-free lands and titles to them) and various categories of records collected as well as issued by the East India Company during its political and financial takeover in Bengal until the transition to Crown rule. The excellent archivists in the relevant reading room also told me that there were even more thousands of Persian records, tucked away in the files of revenue proceedings. This is clearly a treasure house, which I will tackle in the coming years.

During future visits, besides the institutions discussed above, Sajen and I planned to look at the Ashutosh collection, which occupies an entire room in the National Library, with a catalogue in the Rare Books Room. The Bangiya Sahitya Sangshad also has significant manuscript collections. Another angle worth investigating to understand the collections of the Calcutta Madrasa (now mostly in Dhaka) is via the book Tārikh-i Aliya, which offers an institutional history of the Calcutta Madrasa, later Aliya Madrasa). We clearly also need to undertake broader study into the history of Bengali language and script use, about which I wrote a light-hearted guest blog elsewhere some weeks ago.

Books to read include:

R.D. Banerjee, History of Bengali Script

Suniti Kumar Chatterji

Also, while we remained in Kolkata this time, Chandernagore could clearly offer an interesting Franco-Persian angle; Sajen spotted a book in the Biswa Bangla book store on Park Street, published by the L’institut de Chandernagore. The book has a facsimile of a farmān.

There is clearly a great deal more to do, if the idea of “Persianate Bengal” is to be pursued with seriousness. While that would spill beyond the immediate scope of the project, such a sub-project could cross-fertilise it immensely.  There is clearly a Ph.D. in there.

Fieldwork in Bengali zone Part I Jan-Feb18

In January-February 2018, I had the good fortune of being invited to participate in an interesting performance within the Dhaka Art Summit, a beautiful gathering of artists and performers. The event that I was part of was a ‘Retrial’ of a famous legal case of the early 20th century, that of a missing heir who apparently returned from the dead. The protracted trial and associated political-social drama, inspired a major Bengali movie and an important micro-history. This performance, directed by Zuleikha Chaudhuri, was aimed at being a questioning of the legal process itself, its capacity for delivering justice, especially to the vulnerable individual who cannot produce adequate documentation. I was called upon to perform as well as criticise the role of James Hamilton Lindsay, the colonial district magistrate, who tried to squash the claim of the returned heir by use of violence.

This was a beautiful way to visit Bangladesh for the first time. The survey proved to be rich with results in a variety of ways, most importantly through the forming of relationships with scholars and scholarly institutions in Bangladesh.

I found an intellectual home in the ICSBA, a premier institute for the study of Bengal art in all its forms, created through the enthusiasm of Professor Enamul Haque, erstwhile director of the National Museum of Bangladesh. I was invited to present a paper here, which I did, and to which I received very kind feedback from the assembled scholars, including the eminent scholar of Person-Arabic inscriptions in Bengal, Muhammad Yusuf Siddiq. These conversations confirmed what had been a suspicion for some time, that I must consider inscriptions within the range of material artefacts encompassed by the concept of legal documents.

I was given access to study the Persian manuscript collection at Dhaka University library, and here I found a collection marked by a significant number of locally composed and/or locally scribed, many in the 19th century, signalling a very prolonged life of Persian in Bengal. I found an interesting manuscript, a set of summary translations of Sadr Diwani Adalat court judgments related to Hindu and Muslim law, apparently to facilitate local understanding. Persian clearly made more sense to people in Bengal, or at least to lawyers in Bengal than either English or Bengali.

The National Museum of Bangladesh is a wonderful institution for a number of reasons (I really admired the breast-feeding booth, clearly signposted). Room 33, which displays manuscripts showed me the full range of manuscript culture in Bengal, which ranged from a manuscript of Alaol’s Bengali-language Padmabati, to Persian-language kabin-namas. I requested digital copies of some of these materials.

I was also able to make a trip to Chittagong University, where I found significant collections, both at the Museum and the University library. Both yielded a small number of documents, but this was supplemented by a range of manuscripts, which I am still processing.

The biggest discovery for me, however, was the understanding of the intense interplay of languages and scripts in the Bengali zone. Even today, Arabic is frequently written in Bengali script in Bangladesh, as on this bus, which says “Fi aman Allah” (In the protection of God) and on this auto-rickshaw (CNG, in Bangladesh lingo) which says “La ilaha il-Allah Muhammad al-rasul Allah.” (There is no God but God, Muhammad is hisProphet.)

But there is nothing new about this play with scripts; the medieval Bengali tradition is famously ‘dobhashi’ – a loosely applied term that usually means one language written in another script and/or a language with a highly mixed vocabulary.

I learnt, especially from a thrilling meeting with Prof. Anisuzzaman, eminent historian and translator of the constitution of Bangladesh, that this inter-lacing of languages extends from medieval Bengali “puthi” literature into the realm of legal documents. I am now following Prof. Anisuzzaman’s lead into the Persian-Bangla document collections in the India Office collections and the BNF, Paris.

Finally, I want to acknowledge the generosity and contribution of Mr Muhammad Sajjadur Rahman and Mr Shamsuddoza Sajen, without whose friendship and support I could never have achieved any of this.

Fieldwork in Marathi zone, Dec17-Jan18

I went to Pune in Dec-Jan 2017-18 in order to conduct a preliminary survey of the material available. I returned with an embarrassment of riches, and with an heightened understanding of the long-term and multi-layered presence of Persian in the Marathi-writing zone of the India subcontinent.

I was fortunate to have been able to begin my trip with support from the wonderful scholars of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Pune. Besides becoming aware of their own excellent if small collection of Persian manuscripts (which include a number of interesting insha), I was also able to establish contact with the activist-scholars of the Bharat Itihas Samsodhak Mandal, who carry on the excellent intellectual activism of V.K. Rajwade and G.H. Khare. The Mandal’s director Dr Bhave, was kind enough to allow me to undertake research in the Mandal’s archives, about which it is worth saying a few words.

Bharat Itihas Samsodhak Mandal

The Mandal’s collection consists primarily of what we may call ‘family papers’ of various military, landed and literary elites of the Marathi-writing zone. These papers are in a mixture of languages – predominantly Marathi written in Modi script, but also Persian because of the imbrication of such elites within the regimes of the Deccan Sultanates, most importantly the AdilShahis. There are around 2000 rumals, or bundles, with several dozens of individual documents in them.

Since the 1950s, there has been an effort to separate the Persian documents from this collection. A large selection was thus published in 6 volumes by G.H. Share, in his Persian sources of Indian history series (which I purchased). In recent times, the outstanding historian, G.B. Mehendale, has published a selection of 40 or so Adilshahi farmans (which, too, I purchased). Many more documents exist – and scholars kindly shared around 1000 such documents with me. There is, however, no simple way of knowing which family a document relates to, because it appears that the integrity of the collections have been seriously damaged by repeated reorganisation of the rumals. This was also confirmed by Dr Mehendale himself, as part of an exhilarating conversation.

The other aspect that impressed itself on me was the necessity of studying the evolving diplomatics of documents from the Marathi-writing region – from the Nizamshahi bi-lingual farmans right up to the Peshwai documentation, perhaps even into the British colonial period. We cannot legitimately separate the Persian and the Marathi era, even when language and script use changes, much of the vocabulary, styles and conventions continue. With this idea in view, I purchased several of the Mandal’s publications of the documents from the Maratha empire.

Maratha history museum at Deccan College

I also encountered several very interesting documents at Deccan College, Pune. I was supplied with digital copies of 6 such documents (which I do not have permission to publish). But I also became aware that the Deccan College holds the famous Parasnis daftar and several other such family archives. Although it is repeatedly asserted that these are all in Marathi; a proper survey through the rumals would be needed to establish their linguistic spread.

Shaniwada palace of the Peshwas

Finally, while I was in Pune, there were unfortunate riots provoked by right-wing opposition to Dalit celebration of the final Peshwa-British battle, during which the Shaniwada palace was burnt. This celebration began almost a century ago, and is a valuable reminder about the exclusiveness of the Maratha, especially the Brahmin-led Peshwa empire, whose artefacts this project is bound to study.

Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search