Exploring Perso-Marathi connections

Guest post by Dr Prachi Deshpande

This February 2018, I spent a very productive and insightful couple of weeks in the UK, working with Dr. Nandini Chatterjee as part of her Lawforms Project. I am a historian of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Maharashtra, and my broad interests are in Marathi language practices. I am especially interested in Marathi scribal culture and the broad gamut of Marathi documentary forms and conventions written in the cursive Modi script first under the Maratha states, and then under the British colonial state as well. Persian is very much present in all of these materials – as vocabulary, as template for a wide variety of documentary templates, and of course as script and language in actual bilingual documents too. Medieval Marathi has been dubbed Perso-Marathi with good reason.

My response to this Persian presence was rather like that of an ostrich. That is, until I began participating in this project and thinking more seriously about the different ways in which Persian and Marathi interact in the medieval and early modern archive. The broad-brush consensus appears to be that it was Sultanat, and later Mughal documentary forms and conventions that influenced several bureaucratic practices in Marathi. Within this broad picture, however, it is worth peering more closely at the ways in which certain Persianate legal or epistolary forms were adapted in Marathi, or indeed what the precise trajectory of influence might have been at different moments over the early modern and even colonial eras.

I was able to articulate some of these inchoate ideas more clearly during this trip, where I worked closely with Nandini on reading some Modi documents from the multilingual archive of a central Indian landed family.

Marathi/Modi accounts of a zamindar family in central India (courtesy Mr. Amit Chaudhuri)

We also read some bilingual documents together – an Adilshahi farman, for example. Reading together what appears to be the same text in two scripts and languages, but which coheres and departs in particular ways with respect to vocabulary or the nature of information provided, was very useful in helping me think about how to map these linguistic interactions across different documentary genres. Thanks to Nandini, I am also more aware of the materiality of the document itself – the placement of the seal, the writing, the paper and the arrangement of the scripts – and it has been a valuable learning experience to think about legal, epistolary or accounting materials in this way. Following this train of thought, I will present a paper at the ‘transactions’ workshop as part of the Lawforms project in July 2018, on the Marathi form of the kaulnama, an ubiquitous legal form drawing on the Mughal qaulnama, that was widely used as a form of reassurance from the state about hereditary rights or as grants of land tenure. My aim is to think about them in a sort of constellation of Persianate documentary forms that proliferated in Marathi – such as ināmpatra, sanad, ajnapatra. 

During my work at the British Library in February, I also consulted a series of Marathi manuscripts in the Modi script. Many of these are Marathi translations of well-known Persian histories of Bijapur or the Mughals. What is interesting is that many of them were commissioned and collected by early colonial officials – it is worth exploring further the ways in which the colonial presence may have newly mediated the relationship between Persian and Marathi during these early decades in western India.

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 archive.org) 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.

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