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).
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.
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
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.