Seminar and Workshop in Bikaner, February 6-8, 2019

By Elizabeth Thelen and Dominic Vendell

On the 6th, 7th and 8th of February, we convened a seminar/workshop program jointly with the Rajasthan State Archives, Bikaner on the theme of ‘Documents and Archives.’ The aim of the program was to share an overview of types of sources and ongoing research on the seminar day with invited participants and interested members of the public and then over the course of a two-day workshop to read and discuss a series of different varieties of documents in Persian and Rajasthani from the Rajasthan State Archives collections.

Dr Mahendra Khadgawat addresses the seminar

Over the course of the first day a series of talks highlighted the diversity of sources and ongoing research in the Rajasthan State Archive’s collections. After the archive director Dr Mahendra Khadgawat introduced the archives and particularly the ongoing digitisation program, Dominic gave an overview of the Lawforms Project and our aims during the seminar/workshop program. Prof Ramya Sreenivasan discussed the nature of the zenana tahrir records and their significance for understanding the history of royal households and Mr Salauddin Qamar introduced the genres of imperial Persian documents. Dr Sumbul Halim Khan gave an overview of the structure, content and creation of Vakil reports which informed the ruler of local events and sometimes included coded messages, while Elizabeth presented on the nature and research possibilities of the bahi records of Marwar. Mr Muhammad Shahnawaz discussed nirakh hundawan records and their insights into the use of notes of exchange (hundis).  Several other presentations highlighted the range of sources in the Rajasthan State Archives and ongoing research, especially on gender history and economic history, including those of Ms Meera Malhan, Dr S.D. Mishra, Dr Ambika Dhaka and Dr Mahendra Panehaniya. Given the vast scope of records in the archive – including the range of languages and usage, scripts and handwriting styles, formats and genres – the seminar program demonstrated the value of bringing scholars together to grasp the scope of the records and the complexity of their relationships to each other across time and location.

Ms Meera Malhan presents her paper as Prof. Ramya Sreenivasan looks on

The seminar also featured public history and outreach aspects. The audience included students from local colleges who connected with the presenters about their research and pathways to becoming historians during the program breaks. The day concluded with a visit to the archives and a tour of ongoing renovations to create and update several display halls within the archives complex. This museum section covers themes including the Indian independence movement in Rajasthan and Rajput states in the Mughal period and highlights the types of records in the archive’s collections. The new museum has been designed in consultation with the architect Dr Shikha Jain who had presented the plans and scope of the work earlier in the day, including the logistics of displaying different types of documents.

Mr Salauddin Qamar clarifies a point in a Persian document

On the second day we dove into the reading of Persian documents. Our sessions were facilitated by Mr Salauddin Qamar and Mr Jameel Ahmad from the Arabic Persian Research Institute in Tonk and Mr Shujauddin, a retired Rajasthan State Archives employee. All three had been involved in Dr Khadgawat’s project to publish the Mughal farmans held by the Rajasthan State Archives, so were very familiar with the sorts of documents we were covering. During the course of the day, we read and discussed farmans, a nishan, an arzdasht, a royal khat, a manshur, a vakil report, and a page of akhbarat. Our discussions ranged from the reading and meaning of a particular word to the relative authority of different levels of documents in giving orders. We compared the formulas used in different documents and noted how the conventions in several genres, including khats and arzdashts, to put the date and the addressee’s name on the envelope which has sometimes been lost or separated from the document, creates methodological challenges for the researcher.

Workshop participants discuss the documents

On the final day, we turned our attention to Rajasthani documents in the state archives. These are far more numerous and diverse than the Persian documents, so we were able to cover only a subset of the genres and series. Our readings were led by Mr Poonamchand Joiya, a retired research officer from the archives, with additional facilitation and presentations from Dr Sumbul Halim Khan of Aligarh Muslim University, Dr Mahendra Singh Tanwar of the Mehrangarh Museum Trust, and Mr Rameshwar Bairwa, Mr Puranmal Koli and Mr Sohanlal Damor from the branch offices of the Rajasthan State Archives. Our readings and discussions covered a tamrapatra, an arzdasht, a royal khat, a toji from the patar khana, an arsattha, a hazir asami, and entries from registers including a sanad parwana bahi, a kagad bahi and a haqiqat bahi. These documents came from various states in Rajasthan: Mewar, Marwar, Jaipur, Kota and Bikaner. They covered a variety of functions, including letters, petitions, orders, and tax collection. Particularly useful moments included a close analysis and exposition of the accounting conventions used in taqsim documents and other revenue-related documents by several participants and Dr Tanwar’s explanation of sanad parwana bahi entries via an examination of state management of water resources. We also discussed the processes by which registers were created and their relationship to documents that were issued by the various states.

Thematic and methodological discussions throughout the workshop emerged around topics including the classification of documents whether through self-nomination or the creation of archival series at a later point; the materiality of documents including the significance of paper quality and paper decoration; the identification of shared features between Persian and Rajasthani documents such as structure and vocabulary; and the translation of various customary titles and honorifics as well as occupational and collective categories featured in documentation.

A workshop on Persian documents, royal decrees and the Naya Hukm-nāma (the New Ordinance) by Javed Akhtar

Guest post by Fouzia Farooq Ahmed

Naya Hukm-nāma by Fouzia Farooq Ahmed

Attending the July 2018 conference on Forms of Law in the Early Modern Persianate World, 17th-19th centuries was a unique opportunity for me to delve into the politics behind the form and production of the Persianate official documents. Scholars presenting their research works on less-explored aspects of Persianate documents in a posh Book of Exeter themed hotel where walls, carpets and chandelier in the central lobby celebrated the famous document inspired me to physically recreate medieval farmāns.

My motive behind recreating farmānswas to understand the mindset of those who were producing such documents during the medieval period. Needless to say, for medieval official documents, form seems to be dictated by the purpose of the documents and agenda of its producers. My earliest understanding was simple; that the more politically significant a document, the more ornate and decorated it should be. Complexity of the content should also correlate with the purpose and consumers. The more localized a document is the plainer it should appear.  For instance, the local revenue records in various regional languages that were presented in the conference were generally intonate, organized and legible, making clear statements of authentic financial interactions. I juxtapose these documents with beautifully calligraphed royal farmāns (imperial decrees). My hypothesis about the politics behind form of documents proved wrong when I started looking at the inconsistencies in the appearance of the farmāns.

First, there is a stylistic difference between the farmāns produced in Persian, Indian and Ottoman empires. Broadly speaking, the farmāns from Qajar Persia are very elegant, gold painted and look like calligraphic masterpieces, the Mughal farmāns with two royal seals imprinted on the top, written with simple ink on paper from Akbar to Shah Alam’s period are very plain yet graceful and Ottoman farmāns with illuminated tughras are neither as simple as the Mughal farmāns nor are very decorated like the Qajar farmāns

There are inconsistencies in how the farmāns look within each of these cultures as well. For instance, some Persian farmāns are plain and some Mughal ones are decorated with gold. I am still unsure why certain farmāns were kept very simple while others were embellished. I would like to observe that farmāns might have had sub-categories according to their purposes and this might explain why certain farmāns appeared in a certain format. 

After the conference I attended a lecture in SOAS, London by the famous Urdu writer and poet Javed Akhtar. It was a rare privilege to listen to Javed Akhtar reciting his famous satirical poem “Naya Hukm-nāma” or the new ordinance. This poem is a parody of the content of royal farmāns. It has six parts of which the first three parts explain the ambition of the powerful to control all, the remaining three parts elaborate how this control is beyond human agency. The tone of the new ordinance is callous, the demands are idiosyncratic and the issuer of the new ordinance seems to be an eccentric megalomaniac.  This poem was the most suitable content for my artwork.

I have painted the Naya Hukm-nāma in two farmān formats. The first format is a 3×2 feet on canvas artwork in paint medium.  This artwork has two parts. The central colorful core and the golden margins (hāshiya). The title of the poem is the title of my painting i.e. Naya Hukm-nāma.  The colorful core of the painting has gilded words including sach, sachchāī  (truth), barabarī, musāwāt (equality),  izhār (expression), āzādī (freedom), haq(right), ʿadl (justice) and khūdī (self- respect), the civic values that have become impracticable ideals in non-representational governments. These boldly inscribed clichés look imposed and artificial in an otherwise harmonious document.  These clichés are regular rhetoric of every regime. Contrary to the title of the Naya Hukm-nāma (new ordinance) there is nothing new in the apparent hukm-nāma. The newness of the ordinance is written in the margins (hāshiyas) in an almost invisible and hardly legible hand writing.  The hāshiyas contain first three parts of the hukm-nāma. The painting also has a golden stamp of Sarkar (the one with authority) on the bottom of the document.  

The second farmān is gold on paper with simple calligraphy in acrylic paint with a royal seal on the top. 

Naya Hukm-Nāma 2 by Fouzia Farooq Ahmed

Javed Akhtar reciting naya hukm-nāma

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