A Lawforms Project Munshat?

Creating a model document for orders to reconfirm charitable land grants (madad-i maʿash)

By Elizabeth Thelen

As rapidly becomes clear when reading a pile of parvanas (or other Persian documents all of one type), stock vocabulary, phrases, and even whole sentences or more were repeatedly deployed in these documents. Understanding the uses and legal meaning of such formulas is one of the main pillars of investigation of the Lawforms Project. Nandini Chatterjee’s recent article on the interrelated documents of binding and releasing obligations known as tamassuks and farighkhattis offers an example of the insights gained from such an approach, including how such formulas moved across languages and what sort of legal meaning they held in different contexts, as do many of the other articles published in the Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient as part of an open-access special issue, ‘The Persianate Bazaar,’ which was organised by the Lawforms team.

Lithographed cover page of the edition of Nigarnama-yi Munshi published by Nawal Kishore Press

The formulaic nature of many of the documents were captured in the writing manuals of the time, collections of actual or model documents written by master scribes and writers as samples of good style. Such epistolography manuals, known variously as inshaʾ or munshat, often focussed heavily on the epistolary arts, with samples of letters written between different sorts of correspondents – ranging from the petitions of a nobleman to the king to the letters between parent and child. Some also include guides to the forms of legal documents. Among the most well-known of these is the Insha-yi Harkaran, a seventeenth-century manual composed by the scribe Harkaran Das Kanbuh. In 1781, Francis Balfour edited and translated this text as a guide for East India Company servants learning Persian. However, a number of other such texts existed, and some were published in the nineteenth century, including the Nigarnama-yi Munshi.

Nevertheless, many of the various workaday documents used by Mughal officials rarely, if ever, get a mention in inshaʾ collections, nor are all possible uses and forms of a given document type modelled. Furthermore, these formularies focus on drafting originals, not on how to format and formulate copies. However, the sheer regularity of the expressions deployed in many of the documents not regularly covered in munshats make it possible to deduct a ‘document formula’ from them.

For instance, I recently read a series of copies of parvanas issued in the 1690s reconfirming hereditary claims to land grants.[1] These documents were strikingly similar, likely because they are all dealing with the same sort of issue, come from the same time period, with reference to the same region and were issued from the office of only two different individuals. Indeed, they appear to constitute a particular sub-type of the very broad document type of parvana, which simply refers to an order, typically issued by a sub-imperial official and often in relation to an imperial farman. Given their highly formulaic nature (which once recognised, makes reading the shikasta script much simpler!), I thought it might be interesting to generate a model document based on this series – in Persian and in a rather literal translation.

So, with credit to the scribes of Muhammad Mashuq and Muhammad Musa, regional sadrs (heads of religious affairs) of the Mughal Empire in the 1690s, who drafted the original documents, and to the anonymous scribes who copied these documents several years later, here is a model copy of a parvana that informs local officials that a charitable land-grant has been reconfirmed:


پروانه بمهر (فلان) صدر جزو از قرار بتاریخ (فلان) شهر (فلان) سنه (فلان) جلوس والا انکه

گماشتهای جاگیرداران و کروریان حال و استقبال پرگنه (فلان) سرکار (فلان) بدانند که بموجب فرمان عالیشان حضرت از قرار بتاریخ (فلان) سنه (فلان) موازی بیگه (فلان) زمین بگز آلهی از پرگنه مذکور در وجه مدد معاش (فلان) مقرر بود بعد (فوت او) صدور سابق اراضی مذبوره را بر (فلان) (ورثه متوفی مذبور) مسلم داشتند فرمان و تصحیحه صدور سابق بدست دارند و درینولا باقوال مردم عدول (و ثقات) بظهور پیوست که انها حی و قایم و بر اراضی مذبوره قابض و متصرف اند و از ممر دیگر وجه معشیت ندارند بنابران بنده درگاه نیز بتصدق فرق مبارک بندگانحضرت خلیفه الرحمن ظل اراضی مسطوره را حسب الضمن بحالداشته بتصحیحه رسانید می باید که زمین مذبوره را بدستور سابق از محلقدیم بشرط قبض و تصرف بآنها وا گذارند که حاصلات آنرا صرف مائتاج خود نموده بوظایق دعاگوئی دوام دولت قاهره اشتغال نمایند درین باب قدغن دانند

Copy of the parvana by the seal of so-and-so, sadr, written on the date such-and-such of the month such-and-such, year such-and-such of the glorious reign. This that the agents of the jagirdars and karoris now and future of pargana such-and-such in sarkar such-and-such should know that in accordance with the imperial farman of the lord [here a space is left to read in the posthumous title of the emperor, such as Firdaus Ashiani, e.g. Shah Jahan[2], which was written as elevated text] written on the date such-and-such month such-and-such year such-and-such, the quantity of such-and-such bighas of land by the gaz-i ilahi from the aforesaid pargana was fixed on account of the madad-i maʿash of so-and-so. After [his death, or some other narration of the events specific to a particular grant] the past ministers (sadur) entrusted the aforementioned land to so-and-so, etc., [heirs of the deceased, or some other explanation]. They [i.e. the heirs] have the previously issued farman and tasahiha to hand. And presently, by the testimony (aqval) of trustworthy and equitable men it was made clear that they are living and have possession of the aforesaid land. And they do not have a another means of livelihood. Regarding this, the servant of the court also had the aforesaid land inspected (tasahiha) as having good condition according to the contents (zimn) by the devotion of the glorious sect, the servants of the lord [who is] the lieutenant of the Merciful [God], the shadow [of God] [here a space is left to read the name of the current emperor, written as elevated text]. It must be that the aforesaid land, in accordance with ancient custom from the old mahal should be left to them on condition of possession so that the revenue of that [land] will meet their necessary expenses [and] they shall be occupied by the duty of praying for the perpetuity of the victorious reign. In this matter, they [i.e. the agents and officials] shall know it ordered.


This document has a number of features of document copies that are common across copies of various classes of documents from the period and immediately help the reader situate the document. First, it identifies itself as a copy with the word ‘copy (naql)’ and then identifies the type of document that is copied, in this case a parvana. This is followed by attribution of the official’s seal that occurs on the original, and the date of the original document. Most copies were sealed by a qazi, who also endorsed the veracity of the copy with the phrase ‘copy according to original (naql mutabiq be asal)’ or variations thereof. Although the date the copy was made was not recorded, an early bound can be estimated by the year given in the qazi’s seal (if legible), though one must remember that seals were sometimes kept in use for a decade or more after they were issued.

Religious scholars, perhaps much like the ones depicted in this painting, often received charitable grants from the Mughal emperor. “A Discourse Between Muslim Sages.” Opaque watercolour attributed to Govardhan, India, Mughal Empire, c. 1630. LACMA M.85.2.3. Public Domain Image from www.lacma.org.

Turning to the core content of the document, this sort of parvana was issued as part of the process of reconfirming an imperial madad-i maʿash grant, a charitable grant of land revenue commonly used in the Mughal Empire to support religious mendicants, scholars, etc. While the initial grant was typically made through an imperial farman, parvanas were issued to implement the grant and notify local officials about the rights of the grantholders. The form of the document above, which confirms that the heirs of the original grantee continue to hold these rights, constructs its own authority in relation to the original farman and to the fact that the claimants possessed this farman, as well as the tasahiha, or confirmation of the grant from the office of the sadr. This, plus testimony that they heirs occupied the land in question, was given as justification for the re-issuance of the grant. While imperial policies regarding the inheritance of madad-i maʿash grants changed over time, the smallest grants, under 30 bighas, were typically fully inheritable and a portion, typically half, of larger grants could be inherited. However, in practice the full grants were often inherited and from his 34th Regnal Year, Aurangzeb declared that all such grants were inheritable, regardless of size.

Although parvanas of this style did not feature prominently in Mughal-era munshats, they represent a well-known form to scholars today. Indeed, madad-i maʿash grants are some of the best documented rights from the Mughal Empire in contemporary archives and private collections, as the families and institutions that held such rights have preserved the farmans, parvanas, and other documents recording these grants. Known instances of the reconfirmation of madad-i maʿash grants, such as those published by B.N. Goswamy and J.S. Grewal, show similar but not identical formulations to the document above. This raises the possibility that within the shared legal forms and formulas, individual styles of writing these documents developed in particular offices in particular periods – something which becomes visible when we can examine multiple documents of a single type issued from a particular type, as in this instance.

Suggested Further Reading

Alam, Muzaffar, and Sanjay Subrahmanyam. “The Making of a Munshi.” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 24, no. 2 (2004): 61–72. Reprinted in Writing the Mughal World: Studies on Culture and Politics, 2012.

Chatterjee, Nandini. “Translating Obligations: Tamassuk and Fārigh-Khaṭṭī in the Indo-Persian World.” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 64, no. 5–6 (November 26, 2021): 541–82. https://doi.org/10.1163/15685209-12341546.

Goswamy, B. N, and J. S. Grewal. The Mughals and the Jogis of Jakhbar; Some Madad-i-Maʻāsh and Other Documents. Simla: Indian Institute of Advanced Study, 1967.

Husain, Iqbal. “The Madad-i Maash Regulations in Mughal Empire.” Proceedings of the Indian History Congress 38 (1977): 302–11.

[1] Miscellaneous Persian Documents, Bundle 2, files 22-60, Jaipur Records, Rajasthan State Archives, Bikaner.

[2] A list of these posthumous titles from Babur to Bahadur Shah I is available in B.N. Goswamy and J. S. Grewal, The Mughals and the Jogis of Jakhbar; Some Madad-i-Maʻāsh and Other Documents (Simla: Indian Institute of Advanced Study, 1967), 198.

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!

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











A judicial enquiry – glimpses from Waqai‘ Ajmer

Guest post by Prof. Chander Shekhar

Director, Lal Bahadur Shastri Center for Indian Culture (ICCR),Embassy of India, Tashkent, Uzbekistan

During my work at the Telengana Government Oriental Manuscripts library (old Asafia library)in Hyderabad, I came across this interesting report of a legal dispute within the waqai‘ Ajmer (official newsletters from the administrative division of Ajmer), from emperor Aurangzeb’s period of rule. The specific report is dated the month of Jamādi al-ākhir, twenty-first sāl-i julūs (1676 CE). 

In this, it is reported that a parvāna(sub-imperial order) was issued under the the seal  of siyādat panāh Iftekhar Khan, seeking a full inquiry by the Aqzī al-Quzzāt (اقضی القضاه; unusual term, possibly seniormost judge) in the matter of an appeal by a resident of the city of Ajmer called Ganga Ram. Ganga Ram complained  that his son-in law Bhagwan, a bronze vessel worker, had been whipped badly and killed by a certain Muhammad Alam son of Muhammad Arif Amin in Dindwana qasba (town) for not obeying his undue orders to make bronze vessels. Bhagwan’s wife, the daughter of Ganga Ram, who wanted to burn herself with her murdered husband was stopped from burning and kept forcibly in Muhammad Alam’s house. According to the above, office of siyādat panāh Iftekhar Khan has sought the immediate presence of Muhammad Alam along with the daughter of the plaintiff. Decision will be taken after the matter becomes clear after due inquiry.

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