Time in Indo-Persian documents

Recently, we have been thinking quite a bit about time. The most immediate reason was the end of British Summer time on 25th October. In this age of online meetings, this led to a flurry of exchanges with colleagues located in various parts of the world about the ‘real’ time when we wanted to meet up in video conferences. Proposing GMT (Greenwich Mean Time), which had seemed like a safe, if somewhat Anglocentric strategy, led to increased confusion as colleagues based in Europe pointed out that GMT was not the same as UK time. (Technically, only winter time in the UK is GMT; summer time in UK is GMT+1; we ‘spring forward’, i.e. move clock ahead by an hour in spring, and ‘fall back’ i.e. set clocks back an hour in fall.)

The effect of all of this was to make us feel more open-minded towards what used to seem like the endless complications with dates and eras in our documents! 

Mughals and other Indo-Islamic rulers were famous for being deeply concerned with time – calendars were an assertion of sovereignty as much as a practical tool for ensuring the timely supply of resources. Jahangir’s famous portrait as ‘Time Lord’ (Dr Who fans, the Mughals got in here first, sorry) is a striking record of this concern. However, the familiarity of ordinary officials and subjects with certain ways of recording time meant that conquests of territories often led to the addition, rather than complete replacement of calendars in use. As a result, a huge variety of calendars are used in our Indo-Persian documents. Incidentally, many of these calendars, and the difficulties of intercalation, are discussed by Abul Fazl in a long section in the Ain-i Akbari. A variety of resources are required in order to convert these to the Gregorian calendar. 

The calendar that is easiest to convert to Gregorian  is the Islamic lunar calendar – the Hijri-Qamri calendar. Calculation begins from the day of the Prophet’s flight to Medina in 622 CE. There are 12 lunar (rather than solar) months, which requires a complex formula to convert to the solar. For our project website and database, we have used the converter on the Iran Chamber Society website. 

 In some documents, especially those concerned with revenue administration, we see the Fasli, or Ilahi calendar, which is a solar calendar, instituted by the Mughal emperor Akbar. Adding 590/1 to the Fasli year gives us the Gregorian year. The Fasli calendar was extended to the south of the country with the gradual annexation of Deccan Sultanates by the Mughals; it was continued in use by the Hyderabad state. Incidentally, the traditional Bengali calendar is the Fasli calendar.

Many Mughal documents combine the Islamic months with a regnal or ‘julus’ year. Converting this to a Gregorian year requires, firstly, identifying the emperor whose reign is referred to. This is possible when the document bears the imperial seal, or the seal of an imperial Mughal official who declares allegiance to a named emperor. Regnal years begin in the Islamic month of coronation of the named emperor – actual or assumed; for example, emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir’s regnal year is taken to begin in the month of Ramzan 1658 CE, although he was crowned twice. In an updated version of this blog post, we are going to offer a Mughal Julus-Gregorian converter.

 Mughal documents also frequently use the old Indic/Hindu calendar Vikram Samvat. Attributed to the mythic king Vikramaditya of Ujjain, years from the solar Samvat calendar are converted to the Gregorian by subtracting 57. The complication with the Samvat calendar is that it uses lunar months, and different parts of the country begin the year at different months.

One calendar that occurs only in combination with others is the Turkish duodenary calendar, which is a twelve-year cycle, each year named after a specific animal or bird. This calendar is usually seen in use in documents that are land grants, or tax contracts.

 Among the several distinct calendar used by the Persian and Marathi documents from the south and southwestern parts of India is the Shuhur calendar. Named after the Arabic word for “month,” it was customary for each digit of a Suhur year to be written using Arabic words. While its exact origins are unclear, they appear to be linked to the introduction of Islamic Sultanate rule to the Deccan in the fourteenth century. It is converted by adding 599 or 600, depending on the month. Additionally, the Maratha founder Chhatrapati Shivaji Bhonsle promulgated his own regnal year, known as Rajyabhishek, with his coronation in 1674. Although there are research manuals called jantris that offer tables of conversion between Shuhur and other southern Indian calendars (Brishaspati, Saka, and Rajyabhishek) and Gregorian calendars, for the benefit of fellow researchers, we are developing a calculation tool, which we shall upload here. 

 Happy days!

Thinking about writing and reading didactic literature in India and England

By Elizabeth Thelen

One thread of inquiry regarding the forms of documents in circulation in South Asia and their stability that Lawforms Project team members have been pursuing is to consider manuals and didactic literature. Between December 2018 and July 2019, we surveyed manuals in various languages and held a project meeting on this subject. Some of the texts we examined contained guides to various technical aspects of administration and business, such as tables of weights and measures or organizational charts of various posts. Others, in line with the well-known Forms of Harkaran (edited and published by Francis Balfour in 1781), contain sample documents for various functions, offering models to scribes (munshis).

In my survey of manuals in the Rajasthani language zone, I came across a set of mid-nineteenth-century Persian administrative manuals in manuscript form from the Princely State of Alwar that join instructions of various administrative procedures with model documents, as well as exhortations about the benefits of good administration. Now held in the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Arabic Persian Research Institute, Tonk, stamps inside these manuals show that they were once part of the Alwar Palace Library. However, there’s no mention of an author or even the date they were composed or scribed. So rather than start with a particular person or specific time period to contextualize these texts, I’ve been starting by understanding these texts as part of a specific genre of technical and didactic writing. Therefore, as I’ve begun more intensive research on these texts and what they might show us about early colonial Persianate administration, I’ve been thinking about manuals more generally, including the genealogy of didactic literature and scholarly approaches to this literature.

One strand of inquiry has been to consider the forms of didactic literature in circulation in early modern South Asia across a constellation of subgenres and languages. These include shurut (model documents, often found as part of Islamic jurisprudential texts), insha (epistolary manuals), nasihat, akhlaq and neetishastra (advice literature); dastur al-ʿamal (a rather capacious term, but often related to revenue collection), and prescriptive literature on rule and governance emanating from the highest offices of the state, such as Abul Fazl’s Ain-i Akbari. The Alwar manuals bear many features of these genres, such as sample documents, descriptions of procedures to be followed by specific officials, and broad statements about the forms and merits of good government.

Another line of my investigation is the production of manuals by the East India Company. Company servants wrote and published scores of manuals and guides to the languages and document-forms of the Indian subcontinent. They also commissioned copies of various local manuals and edited and published a number of these texts. From the 1790s the East India Company also published an increasing number of manuals, handbooks and digests of rules and regulations regarding company rule, in English but also in translation in Persian, Bengali, Urdu, etc. It’s entirely plausible that the Alwar Manuals are based in part on some of these texts.

In reading some of the East India Company manuals, I’ve also become curious about the history of manuals and didactic literature in England and how the EIC texts might be shaped by this history. With this in mind, I recently spoke with one of my colleagues at Exeter, Dr. James Fisher, who is an expert on agricultural manuals in early modern England. I was curious to know more about manual writing and reading in England and also what methodological approaches he might suggest. Through the course of our conversation, several threads of enquiry emerged. These include:  

Manuals as a genre: Even as they move into new formats and audiences, manuals build on previous didactic literature, often repackaging older content. James pointed out that agriculture manuals in early modern England were often based on classical Greek and Latin treatises, sometimes via German and French translations. Some of the English manuals followed Latin models so closely that they offered their English readers agricultural advice based on the Italian climate that was hardly suitable to the colder, wetter English weather! Orality is also an important component of the genealogy of manuals. In the English case, agricultural manuals were often the result of a gentleman’s efforts to codify practical knowledge shared orally. In the case of the East India Company manuals I’ve been reading, we discussed how those manuals might have closer ties to the manuals and handbooks produced in other early modern English colonial contexts, such as Barbados, the American colonies, and Ireland, rather than in England itself. James also brought up some points about the scope of manuals, pointing out how manuals assumed the reader already had certain types of knowledge and suggesting that they were particularly well-suited (and widely used) to convey managerial types of knowledge.

Circulation and audience: Who was the readership of manuals? Sometimes manuals set out clear statements of their intended audience. We can also look at patterns of circulation, including how many copies of the text exist and who owned them, though, as James reminded me, owning a text didn’t necessarily mean that someone read it! Materiality also makes a big difference to circulation. The manuals James studies were printed, which means they were relatively cheap compared to manuscripts and more widely dispersed than manuscript copies of manuals. But it also meant they were subject to market pressures and their content was shaped by what would sell. Another question we discussed was how was the information in the manuals disseminated? James brought up that some English manuals have a ‘double readership’ built in, with explicit instructions for the reader to read out certain passages to particular people. As with thinking about manuals as a genre, here we are once again reminded of the close links of manuals to orality.

Text versus practice: Given that manuals are aimed at conveying certain sorts of practical knowledge, how can we understand their impact? While it can be hard, and in some cases impossible, to reconstruct the actual use or impact of a given manual, one can start by reading the texts for their intended purpose. In thinking about the relationship of text to practice in his own work, James has focused on identifying the broad function of manuals and to think about their overall impact on society – such as how the move from transmitting agricultural knowledge through orality and custom to the circulation of 100s of books on agricultural methods among a different social class corresponded to changed social structures – rather than how any one individual responded to the text. In order to understand the reception of texts, he has also looked at book reviews that were published on manuals from the eighteenth century, at library records to see who was borrowing a text, at literary and visual depictions of manuals, and at the notebooks of authors of manuals about other manuals they had read.

As I continue my research on the Alwar manuals, this conversation has given me some new ways of thinking about how manuals function as a genre and their textual tradition, who read them and how, and how to assess their impact – as well as insights into the contextual specificity of manuals in England and India.

A court case mentioned in the collection of letters in British Library manuscript Add Mss 16859

Prof. Chander Shekhar

Director, Lal Bahadur Shastri Centre for Indian Culture, Tashkent

This is a case mentioned in the collection of letters in the British Library manuscript Add Mss 16859 (India office collection). The collection has letters of Sayyed Muzaffar Hussain, Khan-e Jahan Barha, a noble during Mughal emperor Shah Jahan’s reign, who held the post of subehdar or provincial governor at Gwalior.There are also letters from Jalal Hisari, and Balkrishan Brahman. At the end of the manuscript, there is a copy of Gwalior Nama of Jalal Hisari.

In one letter, Jalal Hisari speaks of the following case. The case, involving a Hindu family, was about the seizure and forceful possession of inheritance by relatives of the claimants. The dispute was referred to the highest, that is, the royal court of justice as it could not be solved due to non-cooperation of the baqallan (literally, grocers, implying Hindu merchants or banias) of the town of Maham (now in district Rohtak, Haryana, India). Towards end of the letter, it is mentioned that some other disputes were also sent to the said court.

This manuscript has been used by historians of the Mughal Empire in their research, including Professor Irfan Habib himself. However, there has been no detailed independent work on it. The collection included interesting letters from all three personalities. Of these, Jalal Hisari’s letters are most important in view of his tolerant and open-minded worldview. For example, he recommends a number of his city friends from Hisar, most of them Hindus, for various official positions, giving full justification why they should be employed. Similarly, he sees every act and deed as pre-destined and quotes the stories from the Hindu epic Ramayana and about the cowherd-god Krishna. In addition, he frequently uses chaste Hindwi words, like amavasya (new moon), kastori-e- merq (musk of deer) etc.

Balakrishan Brahman, an associate of Jalal Hisari also speaks of his penmanship and reasons why he aspires to be a munshi (secretary, expert in Persian writing). He regales us with his regard for this profession and eulogizes his masters who trained him in the art of penmanship.

I am currently undertaking research to write an article in Persian about this manuscript.

اللہ تعالی و تقدس ذات البرکات ملازمان سیادت و اقبال متبت عدالت و اجلال منزلت متعالی و عواد(؟) منفعت محبان ملاذی مخلصان استظھاری را مشمول فیوضات نامتناھی و مورد عنایات حضرت اعلی داشتہ کامیاب مراتب بلند و مدارج ارجمند داراد و بعد اظھار مراسم آرزومندی مشھود خمیر عطوفت پذیر می گرداند کہ صحیفہ شریفہ کہ حسب الحکم مبرم قضا توام سمت اصدار یافتہ بود بوصول بھجت شمول آن مسرورھا و مبتھج گردید قلمی گشتہ کہ صورت بقال متوطن قصبہ پرگنہ مھم[1] بدرگاہ شفقت پناہ آمدہ استغاثہ نمود کہ مبلغی بابت متروکہ کولی چند مستغیث ھر بنس عموی رافع بیوجھی متصرف شدہ مزار پدر رافع بہ ادعای حسابی بدرگای معلّی رسیدہ حسب الحکم با گرزبرداری حاصل نمودہ ھر چہ بود بعلت ساختگی متصدیان آن جا احقاق حق نشد و معاملہ ملتوی ماند پس از اینکہ ھربنس مذکور فوت کرد و دیبی چند و رام چند پسرزادھایی متوفی مال و معاملہ مترکہ را بتصرف در آوردہ اند  حکم چھان مطاع عالم مطیع بشرف صدور پیوست کہ بندہ درگاہ مطابق قانون شرع شتیف احقاق حق نماید کہ نظر بر سابق معاملہ معطل نماید و حق بمرکز قرار گیرد و جمیع این مراتب موجب برقراری این ذرّۂ احقر گردید عطوفت پناہ ہا اینکہ رافع رسیدن پدر خود بجناب خلافت عظیمی و آوردن گزبرداری و ملتوی ماندن معاملہ بعلت ساختگی متصدیان این جا اظھار نمودہ شاید در عمل سابق بودہ باشد و الا از آن باز کہ بندہ درگای بخدمات این چکلہ معین گشتہ اصلا صورت مذکورہ را ندیدہ و حرفی ازین قضیہ نشنیدہ وضع راستی و درستی این نیازمند در خدمت شریف نیکو روشن است کہ نظر بر مرضیٔ باریافتگان بارگاہ عدالت پناہ و اشارہ آن معالی دستگاہ در قطع معاملات و فیصل قضایا اصلا مدابنہ و مساھلہ ندارد بھر حال درین وقت کہ حکم معالی و مقدس بقدغن شرف نفاذ یافتہ و دیبی چند و رام چند مدعا الیھم را طلبداشتہ باتفاق ارباب شرع شریف استفسار نمود ظاھر کردند کہ مزار پدر رافع حصۂ حسابی خود را متصرف شدہ بقلم ھندی فارغ خطی نوشتہ دادہ چون این معاملہ کہنہ کبک است و تشخّص آن درینجا از ممر حلہ سازی جماعہ بقالان قصبہ کھم کہ اصلا تن در راستی نمی دھند و بھیچگونہ قضیہ کوتاہ نمی کنند متعذر بود لہذا طرفین را در حضور روانہ گردانیدہ یقین کہ در دارالعدالیہ العالیہ رجوع شدہ معاملہ خود فیصل خوھند داد اینکہ در باب تاراچند و چتر بھوج بقالان قصبہ پرگنہ ھانسی کہ بانندا نامی جات[2] گماشتۂ تھاکر بینی بھاری کلّۂ ستردن سرکار والا متعلق عہدۂ رفعت مآب اقبال محمد بلوچ دعوی بیست روپیہ نقد و دیانتی داس ریباری کلّہ مذکورہ معاملہ را روانہ شتری دارد نگارش نمودہ بودند۔ درین باب اقبال محمد مذکور برنگاشتہ بود چون مشارالیہ در جواب نوشتہ کہ بوجودی کہ رافعان از روی ثبوت نمی توانند رسانید مقرر ساختہ ام کہ طرفین بہ خدمت بندگان نوّاب والا حساب فاضلخان جیو حاضر شدہ قضیہ را مشخّص سازند چنانچہ خط مذکور بجنس فرستادہ آمدہ و بقالان را نیز روانہ حضور گردانیدہ بعد رجوع گردیدن طرفین مطابق عدالت احقاق خواھند فرمود۔ زیادہ چہ تصدیع دھد

[1] A township situated  close to Rohtak, Haryana. During short period of Babur’s reign, a mosque was built here which had an inscription too. (EIM, 1945, p.49, Some inscriptions of Babur)

[2] Jat

When and where did the Persianate end?

Nandini Chatterjee

With Fahad Bishara, Ghulam Nadri, Huntington Lyman StebbinsElizabeth Thelen and Dominic Vendell

The worldwide pandemic has affected all of us in the Lawforms project in different ways. But it has not stopped us from keeping those really interesting conversations going. In the Lawforms team, with members physically situated across multiple continents, planning, discussing and collaborative reading over video link has been established practice for at least two years. But as video-conferencing has become so much more run-of-the-mill, we are now able to get together with other collaborators for ‘mini-workshops’ with much less fuss than we had ever imagined. I will not go into details about the obvious invasiveness of this phenomenon, and the mental and physical exhaustion this has entailed for many of us (that one is for another post). This blog is a report on two exhilarating conversations we recently had with team members and external collaborators about the geographical and temporal limits of the ‘Persianate’ world. When and where did the Persianate end?

First of all, the context for this rather ambitious discussion! We are really happy to report that we are in the last phases of preparation for our first collective publication, which is going to be a specially themed issue of the Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient. We have titled it ‘Transactions and Documentation in the Persianate World’; it is a truly wide-ranging set of essays dealing with business writing, commercial record keeping, contracting, surveying and certification. Inspired by Geertz’s concept of the bazaar, and led by our team member and the brilliant economic-legal historian Fahad Bishara, we look at domains of transactions that extend from mariners’ debts to blood-money payments to political deals.

There will be more posts about the special issue, but about our two meetings this August: these were inspired by a growing awareness, led by the Iran-specialist Huntington ‘Lyman’ Stebbins, one of our generous external collaborators, that in our collection we have a clutch of essays that could/should be grouped under the descriptive rubric of ‘late Persianate’, which would also allow us the possibility of analytically exploring how one identifies the stages of a trans-regional, complex historical formation such as the Persianate. And the bigger question of periodization – how exactly do we know when one broad type of human social formation has ended, and another has begun?

This question – about temporality – was supplemented by another one that has been quietly bubbling away within the Lawforms team from the start. But it took a reviewer’s comment, of all people, to Lyman, the Iran-specialist, for us to consider – what is the value of the descriptor ‘Persianate’, as opposed to ‘Indian Ocean Worlds’? The answer is obvious for some of the more land-locked contexts dealt with in some of the papers, but if Lyman was writing about a series of port cities (including Bushire and Bombay), consulates and merchants, then was the cultural-bureaucratic fact of Persian-language documentation of his episodes more important, or the sociological-geographical facts of ultra-marine connections? As Nile Green has beautifully put it, these spatial terms are not there to represent a given reality, they are there to serve analytical purposes. So which served us better?

On day 1, Dominic Vendell, Elizabeth Thelen, Lyman and I tackled the temporal question of late Persianate, and its ultimate demise. We began by noting that it used to be believed, at least among South Asianists, that the end came with the English East India Company government’s removal of Persian as the language of its courts in India in 1837. Mana Kia in her recent book has told the story from both ends (the Iranian and Indian) and has offered a more longue-durée sociological-political explanation: that the political disruptions of the late eighteenth century in this part of Eurasia snapped the possibilities of mobility for people who tended to be the bearers of the Persianate, leading to a gradual implausibility of the kind of ‘Persianate selves’ that she saw in (mainly) the poets who moved between what is now Iran and India. But Kia, together with Nile Green, Farzin Vejdani and others have also pushed the ‘end’ of the Persianate well into the twentieth century, demonstrating that technological developments such as steam travel and print created new networks of Indo-Iranian connections – a robust late Persianate. And Lyman – referring to Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi’s work – reminded us of the irony that it was these very networks that provided intellectual grist to the mill of nativist Iranian nationalism: ancient Zoroastrian texts discovered in Gujarat feeding the story of a glorious, uninterrupted and uncontaminated Iranian nationhood continuing from antiquity.

But in our collection, the ‘late Persianate’ has many other valences beyond the creation or sustenance of Persian-speaking/reading social networks or continued trans-regional written communication in Persian. Working robustly against the grain of their area specialisms, Dominic Vendell and Elizabeth Thelen are looking at the Maratha Empire and the Rajput states as Persianate terrain. These regimes sometimes adopted self-reflexive indigenist (anti-Persianate) cultural policies (as with the Maratha Empire in the late seventeenth century); they legitimized themselves and adjudicated disputes with a variable combination of local custom and Hindu royalty (as with most Rajput states); they were Hindu kingships using a great deal of Persian language documentation and/or Persian-derived vocabulary, forms and styles in Marathi- or Rajasthani-language diplomatic, judicial and revenue writing. Was this a case of the end of the Persianate or the reinvention of the Persianate?

Then again, Lyman’s work pushed us to think about the notoriously capacious nationality laws of Iran, created during the modernizing regime of the Pahlavis in the mid-twentieth century. As many Iranian emigrés keep discovering to their distress, there is no escape from being an Iranian citizen; an aggressively inclusive jus sanguinis principle, designed to include the dispersed potential citizenery from around the Persianate world, today serves to capture those that wish to escape the jurisdiction of the Islamic Republic of Iran. What was striking about this is the way in which nationality and the nation-state, which is generally seen as the prime cause of shattering cosmopolitan worlds, and certainly the Persian cosmopolis, is here serving to create an extra-territorial Persianate – just not a very nice one for those who would rather escape it. And in this connection we wondered whether the concepts of the familial connection and identification – nisbat – were lending themselves to the kind of genealogy-to-race transmogrification that happened in Malaysia with the concept of ‘bangsa’.

Chastened by these thoughts, we then moved on, in day two, to discussing the possibilities of the Indian Ocean Worlds, together with Fahad Bishara and Ghulam Nadri. With such an outstanding group we were able to actually discuss the Indian Ocean as it should be – with due focus on its Indian, Iranian and Gulf-to-East Africa sections. Indeed, as we noted, there were three papers in our collection that could be seen as forming an Indian Ocean cluster – Ghulam, Lyman and Fahad together creating for us a littoral circuit from Surat to Bushire to Bahrain to Muscat.

Here we agreed that while the ‘new’ Indian Ocean historiography has moved purposefully away from Braudelian geo-sociologcal analysis (the classic being K.N. Chaudhri), and emphasized the trans-regional, nation-state disrupting possibilities of that aquatic field, empirically and historiographically they have ignored the Persianate world. It is as if the two fields are talking past each other – although both the Persianate and the Indian Ocean World are supposed to be about trans-regionalism and cosmopolitan formations. The Persianate remains an old-world place of princes, horsemen and poets wheras the Indian Ocean World seems peopled and propelled by trade.

But in our collection, we demonstrate that people did not just write poetry, chronicles, hagiographies and manners literature in Persian; they used it to document deals and to dispute them. So, as Lyman suggested, one of the things we were trying to do was to expand the sociological content of the Persianate – we are dealing with kings and saints and some bad poets, but we are actually venturing into the marketplace, on land and on sea. And, as Fahad enthused, if the Persianate folk would just look at more of such material, the history and historiography of the Indian Ocean World itself could be transformed!

But was that really so? Clearly, as Fahad’s own work showed in his book as well as his article in our upcoming collection, merchants and mariners in Bahrain, Muscat and Zanzibar wrote their deeds in Arabic, not Persian. It was really striking how Persiante Bushire seemed in Lyman’s story, and how Arabic Bahrain appeared, right across the Gulf. So something was happening in the Gulf – although there were clearly multi-lingual merchant families spread out on both sides and jurisdictions stretching across.

Ghulam here told us about a brilliant tri-lingual petition he had found in the archives in Bombay (in Gujarati, Persian and Arabic). It was addressed by merchants to the Governor of Bombay (in the 1820s) complaining about an Arab merchant engaged to do trade on their behalf at Jeddah, who had failed to keep his part of the deal. If Gujarati represented the merchants’ own language; Persian, the official language of the East India Company’s courts in India; then the local administration at the Mokah EIC Factory and later at Jeddah clearly needed the Arabic. Again, as we moved westwards and southwards from the Gulf – Arabic seemed to take over.

From: Lawrence Porter, Society in the Persian Gulf: Before and After Oil (2017)

Since this was simply one instance of interacting with a specific bureaucratic regime (and we are not even sure which one), we remain unsatisfied. Fahad alerted us that in fact he was aware of Persian documents and deeds in the collections of merchant families not just in Bahrain, but also in Kuwait, Basra, Mohammerah, etc.  So, the current plan is for us to learn much more about the Gulf – led by Ghulam, Lyman and Fahad.

Analytically, however, we felt that the productive answer, as with the temporal question, may lie in not insisting on laying down lines in water, but in identifying the precise circuits and contexts in which Persian, Arabic (and Gujarati) made best sense. We are going to try to do more of this, and we want to keep this thought foremost in our minds while doing this: the Persianate (and the Indian Ocean World) is ultimately about the people who made/make it up.

Collaboration with Leiden/Nijmegen project on the ‘Hidden History of Colonialism’

Nandini Chatterjee

Right at the start of the lockdowns imposed by our various countries due to the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic, we had a conference in Leiden cancelled. We have been particularly looking forward to this, because we had planned with meet with members of another research team on the sidelines, to discuss potential collaboration.

That research team consists of the members of the NWO-funded Colonialism Inside Out project, led by Alicia Schrikker (Leiden University) and Dries Lyna (Radboud University). 

Colonialism Zoomed In!

In keeping with the emerging research culture of this pandemic-afflicted world, we managed to meet instead on Zoom, on 20 March. This was a most productive and enjoyable session, which, as readers can see, brought smiles to our faces. We had already collected abstracts of potential papers that members of both teams could write; Dries Lyna had used these to generate a word cloud to identify the common materials, ideas and concepts that we were dealing with. 

It became obvious during the meeting that we were dealing with colonialism in South Asia and the Indian Ocean in a way that was both familiar and unfamiliar. We are interested in bureaucracies, in the everyday, in indigenous subjects and agents, but we wanted to tell the story of writing and recording, of law, using materials that are often swept under the all-encompassing myth of uniform European colonialisms. It helps that we are dealing with many empires – Mughal, French, British, Dutch, among others – and many languages – Dutch, French, English, Arabic, Persian, Sinhala, Tamil, Bengali. We share an interest in the hidden archive, and a commitment to the material history of records. 

Fahad Bishara, with his penchant for neatly turned phrases, suggested that what we are working on are ‘Paper Empires’, and that is the working title with which we are now working to produce a collection of essays in the coming months. 

Book published: Negotiating Mughal Law

Nandini Chatterjee

Amid the Covid-19 crisis, when the world is in lockdown and worrying news is streaming in, there was a little glimmer of joy as my book finally emerged into the world. In various forms, I have worked on materials that eventually made their way into the book for over eight years. But it was the ERC grant that eventually gave me the time and resources to complete this labour of love.

Cambridge University Press, 2020
Open Access, read and download for free here.


What a journey it has been. It began with learning Persian in Oxford with Mohammadjavad Ardalan, then training in Persian palaeography in JNU under the care of Prof. Chander Shekhar. My sources were dry, brief formulaic legal documents from the Mughal period (mainly seventeenth and eighteenth centuries), written mainly in Persian, some of which I found in the National Archives in Delhi, some later sent to me by the Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah museum of Kuwait, and some by the actual descendants of my protagonists. From there on, it became an obsession, such that I, and members of my family, began mouthing the formulaic phrases of Indo-Persian legal documents, ‘The reason for saying all this is this, that I, Nandini, daughter of …, wife of …, resident of …, in full possession of my senses and with full free will, do hereby…’

The legal documents were tantalising fragments. They offered glimpses of people, their relationships, their anxieties and disputes, their aspirations and frustrations. What helped me piece that together into one long story was my method of dealing with a single family, a landed lineage headquartered in the district of Dhar, in central India, for over 400 years.

I became so familiar with the members of the family and the protagonists of this book – Purshottam Das, Hamir Chand, Muhammad Mustafa, Muhammad Asad, Puran -that I began to think of them as my friends and companions, each with their own eccentricities, side-stories, success and troubles. And although I had never been to Dhar, that old city, near Ujjain, became the most recognisable Indian city to my little son, just because he had heard so much about it over the years.  And then I went to Dhar in 2016, and actually found the descendants of my protagonists, most importantly, my amazing friend, Amit Choudhary. To find out how that unfolded, you have to read the book!

Which, by the way, you can do, for free, here. It’s all open access, so please do download, read and distribute to friends, family and students!

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.





Lawforms in the Market: Research in the Marathi Zone, November 2019

Shikhara of Tulshibaug Ram Mandir in Pune

Whether you are searching for a new, but inexpensive toy, kitchen utensil, bed sheet, bangle, or jute bag, a Punekar might direct you to Tulshibaug Market. Located to the south of Shaniwar Wada, the former residence of the Peshwas, in the heart of Pune’s old city centre, Tulshibaug is bustling and often downright crowded. But if you duck through a short blue entranceway into a narrow lane roughly opposite the Mahatma Phule Mandai, you will find a strikingly quiet courtyard lined with shops selling bronze devotional statuary in every size imaginable. At the centre of this courtyard is the Tulshibaug Ram Mandir. Along with a spacious wooden forecourt, this temple features a beautifully carved stone spire that is one of the only elements of the overall space visible from the outer marketplace.

Rumal no. 4 from the Tulshibaugwale collection at BISM

While it is well-known that the wealthy Brahman landlord Naro Appaji Khire “Tulshibaugwale” financed the Tulshibaug Ram Mandir after his lucrative appointment as the subahdar of the province of Pune, the temple’s role within the context of the city’s donative and commercial activities remains to be studied. Fortunately, the Bharat Itihas Sanshodhak Mandal contains many bundles of documents pertaining to the affairs of the Tulshibaugwale family. When I visited BISM this past November to follow up on previous trips made by the Lawforms team, I photographed documents from several rumals pertaining to the financial administration of the Ram temple. In addition, the collection contains revenue accounts and legal documents from villages supporting the temple as well as lists of expenditures for the Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti festivals. The family’s control over properties in both Pune city and nearby villages is a useful reminder of how the development of urban markets and related shrines and temple complexes in eighteenth-century Maharashtra was not disconnected from the rural economy.

Another collection housed at BISM speaks to a set of related questions: how was a marketplace legally constituted in pre-colonial western India? What forms of legal documentation recorded rights to sell goods within an urban market? How did such rights shape local governance more broadly? It is with these questions in mind that I have been reviewing documents from the collection of the deshmukhs of Solapur, a process that I began in February and March 2019. Acquired by the historian G.H. Khare in 1952-3, these documents belonged to a household of Lingayat merchants who held village- and district-level headman rights under the Adil Shahi sultans. Hence the leading member of this household in the second half of the seventeenth century was various referred to as Hiroji Desai, Hiroji Deshmukh, Hiroji Patel, or some combination therein; however, his sons and many other parties to these documents bore the title of sethi. They actively established, managed, and settled disputes regarding shops (dukan) within the qasba of Solapur by means of bilingual Perso-Marathi deeds, decisions, and testimonials featuring numerous fascinating formal elements, ranging from the seals of qazis and nobility to the symbols of witnesses from the diverse communities of Solapur and the surrounding area. Further identification and study of these documents –  by Khare’s estimate, there should be more than 2000 – will allow scholars to better understand the role of legal practice and legal documentation in pre-colonial market governance.

Finally, I spent the remainder of my time in Pune at the Pune Puralekhagar, looking for additional context regarding the position and activities of Sayyid Usman, the Persian scribe employed by the Inam Commission of Bombay in the 1850s and early 1860s. Back in February, I obtained many examples of the Persian copies of Adil Shahi and Mughal farmans produced by this munshi, but these documents alone said little about the institutional context within which he worked. Perhaps the greatest challenge posed to anyone interested in the Inam Commission is that the majority of its records are not open to researchers, per the general policy of the Pune Puralekhagar. With the assistance of Lawforms collaborator Dr. Prachi Deshpande (CSSSC, Kolkata), I was able to secure limited access to English-language rumals containing information about the organization and remuneration of Commission staff, including Sayyid Usman. I hope to write about the twists and turns of his quest to date a mysterious farman and the place of pre-colonial Persian writing in the Commission’s broader re-configuration of the purpose and meaning of documentation. Given the extraordinary research potential of the Commission’s records for many different topics – the Commission investigated thousands of individual property claims in Maharashtra –  it is my hope that ongoing dialogue between archivists and researchers will lead to expanded access in the future.



Of Gold, Gems, Gifts and Tributes: A Summary of important Economic Information in Amarnath’s Zafarnama-i-Ranjit Singh

Guest post by Khizar Jawad


 “That particular day in the year 1800, the city of Lahore seemed livelier than usual. It was not just the regular merriment of the bazaars, or the street performers; there was decided joyousness in the air. Cannons that had fallen to disuse were being repaired. The ironsmiths and carpenters in the city had no time to rest. Someone had injected new vigour into the city and it was felt by one and all. The city was ready to witness its days of glory now that Ranjit Singh was their new ruler”.

This extract is from Zafarnama -i- Ranjit Singh, composed by Diwan Amarnath (born 1822 CE), which is a rather unique documentation on the rule of Ranjit Singh from 1800-1837. The book was written in Persian and later edited by Sitaram Kohli in 1928. In all, there are forty-one chapters. I am the first scholar to translate this work into Urdu. 

            The text begins with a disclaimer by the author who was the key noble and the pay master in the court and wrote this account on the Maharajah’s wish. He specifically mentions that his work is not a chronological documentation. He adds that Munshi Sohan Lal’s work has already covered the history of Punjab in an impartial, matter of fact style. He admits that the book is deeply subjective, yet calls it an honest attempt to provide a different perspective on the Maharaja’s administration. The author’s conundrum to balance his bias and historical objectivity is always on the forefront. While evaluating the source, we are repeatedly reminded that the language is ornate, there is very generous use of metaphors, and it contains blatant favouritisms. In fact, at several places the accounts begin to resemble a hagiography. However, I would argue, it is also a remarkable asset for understanding key economic activities of Ranjit Singh’s Khalsa regime up to 1837. 

            Between 1801 to 1837 the Khalsa kingdom under went under massive economic reforms. Geo-political boundaries shifted and population became increasingly multicultural.  Naturally, new economic policies had to consider all the variables and influxes. The Zafarnama was indeed a courtly account written in praise of the ruler, but it is important to remember that it is free from any Eurocentric bias, and it is a distinctive style of presenting historical narratives. 

            Amarnath clearly mentions that Maharajah Ranjit Singh favoured the diwani system. This involved attacking nearby kingdoms but often not directly annexing them. Instead, he collected regular tributes and maintained figurative supremacy over them. This system of indirect rule was his first step for accumulating resources for his treasury. The text provides all the details of financial transactions he made with other rulers and even mentions the ways the king spent the money. All his early investments were towards improving the army. 

            By 1808, Maharajah Ranjit Singh realized his ongoing system of accounting needed a massive overhaul. He had started making important changes in the revenue office, and in 1809 he appointed Diwan Bhavani Das as his chief accountant. It was under him that the position of accountant became extremely powerful, and the king enabled him to make major financial decisions. Some of the decisions included costs involved in wars, details of gifts and tributes (Amarnath lauds the king’s proclivity for maintaining records of even the smallest of transactions, and mentions a case where he didn’t let a gift of Rs.10 go unaccounted). 

            There is no definite indication of Ranjit Singh’s welfare policies but the Zafarnama mentions several instances of famine relief. He also talks of outbreaks of smallpox and cholera, where the king sent aid to help the people. 

            Huge chunks of the book are dedicated to detailed description of luxury commodities. During the wedding of Ranjit Singh’s son Khadak Singh and later, at the birth of his grandson Nau Nihal Singh, we find comprehensive descriptions of indulgence and splurging. One has to bear in mind, that Amarnath tends to go overboard while describing these items. Despite the exaggeration, he mentions specific items that clearly shows a larger global trading network. From Italian basil wine to Ferghana valley horses, luxury trade clearly played a major role in shaping the economy of the kingdom.

            From 1817-1820 there are numerous administrative appointments and attempts to formulate new commercial laws. One of the drawbacks of Zafarnama is lack of a chronological arrangement, so, these chapters discuss attacks on Multan, Kashmir and Peshawar simultaneously and the expenses involved in these attacks. Amarnath even provides details of artillery expense, costs involved in maintaining elephants and other military expenditures. This information is unfortunately enmeshed with details of tributes and gifts; as a result, it becomes difficult to comprehend specific details about the financial laws. 

            Acquiring precious gemstones and gold was another cornerstone of Ranjit Singh’s economy. Amarnath insists that the king is aware of how gemstones provide economic stability even if the currency was devalued. Naturally, his acquiring the Kohinoor diamond from Shah Shuja forms a significant part of the book. There are several other mentions where the king shows preference for precious metals and stones over money, and considers them as essential building blocks of the royal treasury. 

            Several passages also document his gift exchanges with the British and with some rulers from the Middle East. We are continuously reminded of the money he is pouring into the army, and his attempts to emulate European army. He even included two Europeans (Ventura and Allard) in his army to strengthen it. 

            This work has been guided by Dr. Nandini Chatterjee and facilitated by the ERC-funded project, Forms of Law, which is based in the College of Humanities, University of Exeter, United Kingdom. It was undertaken during my stay in the UK from 16 July to 31 August, 2019. 

My next plan is to elaborate on all the economic dimensions that I have briefly outlined above and to produce an academic article for a peer-reviewed journal. I will also plan to produce an English translation of Zafarnama, which would greatly help future international scholars to work on the subject. Finally, I will initiate work on cataloguing and translating the enormous collection of Persian records generated by the Khalsa regime, which are currently held at the Punjab State Archives, Lahore. In doing so, I hope to contribute important research data and findings to the Lawforms project, which is studying forms of documentation in the Persian-writing world.

Forms of Law and Digital Editing

By Dr Lizzy Williamson (Digital Humanities Lead)

In 2019, Nandini Chatterjee, Elizabeth Thelen and Dominic Vendell began the text encoding work that will result in the online publication of a selection of early modern Persianate legal texts. As Digital Humanities Lead on this project, I am enabling this work through training the editorial team in text encoding, developing the editorial guidelines and encoding schema that we will follow, and creating the resulting online edition, which will allow users to browse and search these fascinating documents, in original and translated formats where possible. We are using TEI XML, which stands for the Text Encoding Initiative, and is the recognised standard for publishing digital editions in the Humanities today.

Text encoding is a way of making a document both human and machine-readable: it is the fundamental processing of a text that will lead to eventual publication, but it also enables scholars to delve deep into the meaning of a document, forcing them to identify elements of theme and structure that would otherwise remain implicit. Text encoding is a great way to close read a text. In due course, we will publish a small resource of a selection of these complex, multifaceted texts, to share them with the wider world and encourage their use in both research and teaching.

This is exciting and challenging work, particularly since I do not read any of the multiple languages seen in these texts. This means that a close working relationship with those doing the encoding is essential, and we have already had several productive half-day workshops to tease out the intricacies of these texts. As well as eventual publication online, we will also share our methods of encoding these complexities, so that others can build on our work in the future.

I may not have worked with these languages before, but I am an early modernist, and so I’m attuned to the peculiarities of manuscripts and archival study. As a Research Fellow in Digital Humanities at the University of Exeter, I’ve been involved in multiple digital editions, including for example a teaching resource on Early Modern Court Depositions. Prior to joining Exeter’s DH Lab in 2017, I was the Encoding Fellow for Early Modern English Drama at the Folger Shakespeare Library, and before that, Digital Project Manager for Early Modern Letters Online. My own research interests include the practical and theoretical concerns of the Digital Humanities; textual scholarship and digital publication; and early modern archives and epistolary culture, especially in a diplomatic and governmental context, which is the subject of my forthcoming book (Elizabethan Diplomacy and Epistolary Culture, Routledge, 2021). As someone who enjoys the process of translating between textual artefact and digital object, I look forward to learning more about these fascinating texts.

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.

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











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.