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!

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.