Exploring archives in the Marathi zone, Feb-March 2019

By Dominic Vendell

This past February and March 2019, I embarked on a whirlwind research tour across western and central India, visiting archives in Pune, Mumbai, Kolhapur, Sitamau, Indore, and Dhule. My objectives were threefold: to identify and describe any collections with substantial Persian-language content; to collect or catalogue legal documents from both Persian- and Marathi-language collections; and to build relationships with archival staff and private collectors towards further research and collaboration with Lawforms project. As is typical in archival exploration, previously attested corpuses of material did not always reveal themselves, while other exciting documents and traces of documents came to light, thanks to the help of many friends who I made along the way.

Image of Peshwa Daftar in Pune
Entryway of Peshwa Daftar in Pune on 125th Anniversary

After a brief excursion in Bikaner, Rajasthan for the “Documents and Archives” workshop, I made one of several trips to Pune to work in the Pune Puralekhagar – a branch of the Maharashtra State Archives (MAS) better known as the Peshwa Daftar – and the Bharat Itihas Sanshodhak Mandal (BISM). Though much of the Persian material that had once been held at the Peshwa Daftar is now either published, untraceable or housed at the Aurangabad branch of MAS, I happened upon a bundle in the Karnatak Jamav section containing the transcriptions, translations, and marginalia of Persian scribes employed by the Inam Commission of Bombay. Active in the 1850s and 1860s, the Commission amassed local records as part of its broader inquiry into the status of rent-free grants of land revenue. The rumal in question may offer a glimpse into the methods and operations of the Commission’s Persian daftarkhana across the palimpsest of different political and linguistic orders. Equally rich was the panoply of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Marathi and Perso-Marathi legal documents that I explored at BISM, where Persian classes are now being held semi-regularly for students, researchers and interested members of the public.

Searching for relevant material at the main branch of MAS in Mumbai proved to be somewhat more challenging. The staff and I were not able to find several Persian-language collections; however, the daftar of the Mane family of Mhaswad yielded many nineteenth-century bonds (katbā), testimonies (jabānī), and acknowledgements of debt (karja-rokhā) written on stamp paper priced from two annas to two rupees and eight annas. Knowing about the existence of such variety is useful from the point of view of understanding how landed families recorded the rights of their members, employees, and associates as well as to think through the effects of changing materials and practices of documentation. I plan in future trips to continue inquiring about MAS’ ongoing efforts to identify and organize their Persian holdings.

I came to learn about a promising new venture at the Shahu Research Centre at Shivaji University in the southern Maratha capital of Kolhapur. The Centre is the repository of the late historian and University vice-chancellor Appasaheb Pawar’s personal collection, containing some 30-40 bundles of Modi documents. As the archivist Devika Patil explained to me, the Centre plans to publish a descriptive catalogue of these documents, which I found to be very beautifully preserved in new, high-quality cloth with individual tags for each document. I also gathered several interesting items at the MAS branch at Kolhapur such as a 1740 karārnama featuring the handwriting of the raja Sambhaji II.

My next stop was an archive that I had long hoped to visit: Shri

Library of Shri Natnagar Shodh Samsthan in Sitamau

Natnagar Shodh Samsthan (SNSS) in Sitamau. While making the journey from Indore to Sitamau via Ujjain, I was fortunate enough to have the company and guidance of Amit Choudhary, an Indore resident who has many connections to Mughal and Maratha history in Malwa. Together, we explored the grounds of the majestic former residence of the Sitamau royal family, who helped establish the SNSS with the eminent historian Raghubir Singh. Under the supervision of the current director Dr. Manohar Sinha Ranawat, SNSS is very actively amassing records on the history of Malwa in Persian, Marathi, and Hindi, in addition to its well-known collection of manuscripts and transcripts. Among the most intriguing discoveries that I made during my week in Sitamau was an early twentieth-century Hindi administrative manual titled Daftarnāmā. Based on communication with my colleague Elizabeth Thelen, it is likely that several similarly named Hindi manuals of accounting and administration were extant in the same period. The Lawforms project will collectively examine the question of manuals and formularies across the Persianate world in our upcoming July workshop.

Before proceeding to my final destination in Dhule, I paused in Indore to pay a visit to the Zamindar family, the descendants of Rao Nandlal Mandloi, who had long ruled the Kampel-Indore area before agreeing to cooperate with the Marathas in the early eighteenth century. The Zamindars have done an incredible job in not only preserving their rāolā in the old city of Indore along with the family palanquin, ensign, and various other historic objects, but also in organizing and cataloguing their archive of Persian, Marathi, and Hindi documents.

Staff of SSVM and myself flanking murti of Samartha Ramdas

Finally, I spent several productive days at Shri Samartha Vagdevata Mandir (SSVM) in the growing town of Dhule in northern Maharashtra. In addition to being a prominent temple and museum dedicated to the seventeenth-century Maharashtrian saint-poet Ramdas, SSVM holds approximately 1800-1900 manuscripts furnished by followers of the Ramdasi sampradāya. I devoted my efforts to working through several manuscripts, letter-books, accounts, and stray documents related to the Satara Chitnis scribal household, which is the subject of my dissertation research and a forthcoming publication. Without the patient assistance of Sharad Kuber and the other staff members at SSVM, I would have been unable to locate these materials, some of which were housed off-site.

It was truly a pleasure to work in both new and familiar archives across the Marathi zone. In the future, I look forward to pursuing some of the research avenues that I have sketched here as part of Lawforms’ ongoing investigation of legal and linguistic interactions in the Persianate world.  


Lawforms Workshop 2019 Exeter

Lawforms Workshop 2019: Manuals, Stylebooks, and Formularies for Persianate Legal Documents

8-10 July 2019, Hotel Du Vin and Bistro, Magdalen Street, Exeter EX2 4HY

We are preparing for our upcoming workshop; here is the draft programme. This is a project team-centred event, but we have space for a few more people; if  you can read Persian, and would like to read manuals for fun, do get in touch! N.Chatterjee@exeter.ac.uk 

Working Programme; will continue to be updated


Day 1 – Monday, 8 July 2019

9:00-10:30 am – Epistolary models and the concept of inshā’

Introductory discussion of aims of workshop

Further discussion of readings on inshā’and related manuals and formularies genres (Paul, Mitchell, Flatt, Horstmann, Deshpande)

10:30-11:00 am– Tea and coffee break

11:00 am-12:30 pm– Modelling Persianate legal documents I

Discussion of selections from inshā’ from Iran or Central Asia (TBD)

12:30-2:00 pm– Lunch at conference venue

2:00-3:30 pm –Modelling Persianate legal documents II

Discussion of selections from Manāẓir al-Inshā’, ed. Ma’dankan, pp. 185-7, 192-3, 219

3:30-4:00 pm– Tea and coffee break

4:00-5:30 pm– Modelling Persianate legal documents III

Discussion of selections from Inshā’-yi Harkaran, ed. Balfour, pp. 162-75

6:30-8:30 pm– Conference-sponsored dinner at local restaurant


Day 2 – Tuesday, 9 July 2019

 9:00-10:30 am– Numeracy and accounting

Discussion of selections from Khulāṣat al-Siyāq

10:30-11:00 am– Tea and coffee break

11:00 am-12:30 pm– Hybrid manuals I

Discussion of selections from Mughal dastūr al-ʿamal (BL or Richards?)

12:30-2:00 pm– Lunch at conference venue

2:00-3:30 pm– Hybrid manuals II

Discussion of selections from Alwar colonial dastūr al-ʿamal from APRI

3:30-4:00 pm– Tea and coffee break

4:00-5:30 pm– Indic-language manuals

Presentation on Marathi manuals by Dominic Vendell, Lawforms Project

Presentation on Rajasthani/Hindi manuals by Elizabeth Thelen, Lawforms Project

6:30-8:30 pm– Conference-sponsored dinner at local restaurant


Day 3 – Wednesday, 10 July 2019

10:30 am-12:30 pm– Grammars and dictionaries

Discussion of RAS Tod 173 (Persian facetious dictionary) and Thanjavur Marathi grammar led by Lawforms team

12:30-2:00 pm– Lunch at conference venue

2:00-3:30 pm– Group discussion of workshop insights and future goals

3:30-4:00 pm– Tea and coffee break

4:00-5:30 pm– Further project-related conversation and planning