Opening up family collections: Discovery of three 18th-century legal documents from the Nawab family of Kamboh, near Meerut, north India

Nandini Chatterjee of behalf of Prof. Chander Shekhar

Prof. Chander Shekhar, currently Director of the Lal Bahadur Shastri Centre for Indian Culture, Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and senior advisor of the Lawforms project, has been opening up exciting new collections of materials despite the difficulties imposed by the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic. During a visit to India in December-January 2020-21, Prof. Chander Shekhar found three Persian documents related to the illustrious Nawab family of Kamboh. This family had held position and titles in the area for several centuries, possibly even from pre-Mughal times. Sir Ziauddin Ahmad Kamboh, the first pro-Vice Chancellor and later Vice Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University, was an eminent member of this lineage.

Sale deeds from family collection of Nawabs of Meerut.

The three documents that we have to hand are all documents recording the sale of lands.

Document 1 records the sale of lands by Hisbullah, son of Shaikh Muhammad Baqir, son of Shaikh Muhammad Shakir Kamboh and by his parents and other female members of his family. These lands are said to have been in the possession of the family due to an imperial grant by the Mughal emperor Humayun (ruled 1530-1540; 155-56), referred to as Jannat Makani in the document. The document is dated to n the year 11 Zulqada 1132 (14 September 1720). The sale was for the sum of 168 rupees and 12 annas, which was an enormous amount in 1720. The boundaries of the land sold are said to be recorded in a separate tamassuk, which is a kind of documentary form that recorded monetary and other obligations. This feature, of limits of property being determined not just by survey and registration, but also through agreements with adjacent property holders, is also seen in Marathi documents from the early nineteenth century.

Document 2 is dated 25 Rajab 1124 (28 August 1712). It is records a sale of some gardens and lands by Muhammad Ghaus, son of Shaikh Muhammad Zuban, son of Shaikh Ruknuddin Kambo, resident of the town Marjha.

Document 3 is somewhat odd because the connection with the Nawabs of Kamboh is unclear. In this a qanungo or record keeper records selling several pieces of land in Mustafapur and other villages. It presents the details of the boundaries of each piece of land in a tabular format. A certain Todar Mal, no relation of emperor Akbar’s famous revenue minister, appears as a witness.

All these documents are in the form of an iqrar or legally binding declaration in Islamic law. They conform to Mughal sale deeds in their wording, their appearance, including the multiplicity of attestations and seals on the margins, including in different scripts (Document 3). Documents 2 and 3 are sealed by a qazi.

Images, transcription and translation of the documents will be provided on the Lawforms website, subject to permission from the owners of the documents.






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!

Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search