Red fort documents: discoveries by Prof. Chander Shekhar

Nandini Chatterjee on behalf of

Prof. Chander Shekhar,  Director. Lal Bahadur Shastri Centre for Indian Culture Embassy of India 

Prof. Chander Shekhar has opened up a previously unseen collection of Persian documents, currently stored at the Red Fort, Delhi, India.

Red fort, Delhi, India

These documents from the first part of the nineteenth century offer an enriching glimpse into the continued use of Persian under English East India Company rule. They also offer insights into the use of evolving forms of Persian correspondence between the reduced Mughal court, the Company authorities, and various regional states, including that of the Sikhs in the Punjab. 

The first document is a letter from Lord Minto to Raja Ranjit Singh dated 1808, regarding the the latter’s encroachment on the Sikh Chiefs under the protection of the British Government. The letter is written on expensive paper with gold stamp impressions. Incidentally, the intense use of Persian in the administration of the kingdom of Ranjit Singh has also been discussed in two other postsMahar by Mr Khizar Jawad, who has looked at materials in the Punjab State Archives, Lahore.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s throne, currently in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

This letter is an effort to remove certain doubts about the Company’s protection to some Sikh chiefs, settled around Satluj river. This was clearly the topic of a running correspondence between Ranjeet Singh and East India Company. At the end of the letter, Lord Minto explains that the East India Company has no ulterior motive to keep these Sikh chiefs under their control, quite unlike the Marhattas who were forcibly taking tributes. The Company apparently wanted all Sikh chiefs to return to Ranjit Singh’s fold. This letter may have been a preamble to the treaty of Amritsar 1809 which drew the boundary between the Company’s territories and those of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

Here is the document, and the text of the letter in Persian.

مہاراجہ صاحب مہربان شفیق دوستان استظہار مخلصان سلامت

بعد اشتیاق دریافت مواصلت موفور المسرت کہ متجاوز التحریر

و التقریراست منظور خاطر مہربانی مظاھرمصدر سوال و جواب

مطارجاییکہ از وقت درود شہامت و دعوالمرتبت

ابہت و متعالی منزلت متکف صاحب بہادر بدربار المشفق

بعمل آمدہ کیفیت آن بتفصیل از ارقام صاحب موصوف

بدریافت مخلص رسیدہ بعض مراتبیکہ در اثنای این گفتگوھا

روبظہور آورد موجب تحیر و تاسف خاطر الحال تاثیر شدہ

متقاضی باین گشت کہ مخلص بذریعہ قطعہ محبت نامہ کیفیت

مافی الضمیر و مکتبات خاطر خود را الحیطہ بیان آورد

مشفقا مقصور از تعنیاتی صاحب موصوف بدربار المشفق

ھمین بود کہ معزی الیہ از کماھی خطراتیکہ عاید شدن آن

بمرور ایام نسبت بملک آن مشفق متصور است بخدمت اطلاع دادہ

جھت آن دفاع آن طرح انداز مصلحت و موافقت ہر دو سرکارشوند

چنانچہ صاحب موصوف تفصیل این اجمال را تصریحانہ

در خدمت آن مشفق بمعرض اظہار در آوردہ اند و اگر چہ

در حقیقت تقریر چنین سر رشتہ موافقت خیالی از انتفاع

 این سرکار ھم نیست زیرا کہ گروہ خذلان پژوھیکہ

منیع زیان رسانی نسبت بممالک سرکار آن مشفق است

 از۔۔۔۔؟ این سرکار نیز متصور نکرد و صورت پیشقدمی

آن گروہ محطوظ و مصون بودن ملک آنمشفق آراست تعدی اینہا

بلا اعانت و امداد و اہالی این سرکار کہ بفضل الہی

نظر بر مراتب قدر و فرط استعداد و اقتدار خودہا

اسباب حفاظت و حراست ممالک محروسہ بجمیع وجوہ

حاصل دو اصلیب دارد امر محال است از انجا کہ بظاہر اسباب

صداقت این مقال بر وجہ احسن و روش مستحسن منقوش و مرتسم

(on border side reverse)

خاطر انمشفق گردیدہ بود

درینصورت باتفصیل دریافت اینمعنی کہ

انمشفق اقبال سوال مزبور را کہ کمال منفعت سرکار   

بل قیام سرکار انمشفق دران متضمن است منحصر و مشروط براین دانستہ بودند

کہ سرداران سکہان اینطرف رود ستلج کہ از متوسلان وزیردستان

محافظت این سرکار ھستند اہالی این سرکار روادار

دست درازی آنمشفق بر سر تعلقات آنہا شوند موجب

استعجاب خاطر الحال تاثر گردید معہذا آن گاہ اینہم بظہور پیوست

کہ آن مشفق باوجود مقبول و منطور داشتن اینمعنی کہ در مقدمہ

سرداران مربوط از مخلص استصواب و استصراح بعمل آید

خود مع فوج رود ستلج را عبور ساختہ در ممالک آنہا

در آمدہ بہ تسخیر قلعجات اقدام نمودہ بودند مشکلات استعحب؟؟

زیادہ از سابق لاحق خاطر مودت ذخایر گردید مشفقات

مدراج وفا پرستی و اعتدال پروری اہالی سرکار

انگریز بہادر بر انمشفق و جمیع روسا و سرداران ایندیار

بخوبی واضح و لایح است چنانچہ قوم مرہتہ در ایام تسلط خود

بممالک سمت شمال ہندوستان از سرداران سکہان

پیشکش و خراج مکگرفتند و دست اختیار بر سر انہا

دراز و آنہا را زیر اطاعت خودہا میداشتند

بعد از ان وقتیکہ اہالی این سرکار محض بجہت صیانت

ممالک محروسہ از آنست پیشقدمی و زیردستی قوم مزبور

مجبورا بارتکاب محاربہ پرداختہ بر ملک ہندوستان

مسلط شدند ایتلاف و انحداب قلوب سرداران سکہان

بذریعہ تمشیت سررشتہ فلاح و بہبود انہا پیشنہاد خواطر

داشتہ از اخذ زر پیشکش و خراج بل ۔۔۔ ہرگونہ مطالبہ و

مزاحمت اجتناب ورزیدہ سرداران مذکورین را بلا قید

و ز اجرای حکومت واجبی نسبت بآنہا ست وارد شدن

چہ جای امکان شد کہ اہالی موصوف روادار تحکم

سرکار دیگر بر سر سرداران سکہان مذکورین توانند گردید

از انجا کہ اینمعنی بررای زرین انمشفق نیکو ظاہر خواھد بود

درینصورت مختصر التقریر حاصل کہ انمشفق از تقدیم ارادہ نمودہ

 نسبت سرداران مزبور معطوف العنان خواہند گشت

مستصاحب بعضی روی مراتب؟؟ 

Sign in english

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.

Work with Forms of Law in the Persian World Project

Guest post by Mr Khizar Jawad


This year, August 2017-August 2018, had been incalculably prolific, firstly, to work on one hundred thousand Persian documents of Khalsa Darbar record of Sikh rule in Punjab, 1799-1849, placed at the Punjab Archives Lahore and, secondly, to work with Dr Nandini Chatterjee in UK as part of her Law Forms project to explore the Darbar Record and related English, Hindi, Urdu, Shahmukhi, and Gurumukhi documents. Khalsa Darbar Record is about the economic management of Sikh era 1801-1849, and was catalogued in English by Prof Sita Ram Kohli and two volumes were published in 1919 and 1927 respectively. I, first scholar after Sita Ram, have consulted this material and exploited the new dimensions regarding the economic history of Sikh era. Primarily, the record is consisted with the following subject matter, 1) daftar fauj, relating to army 2) mal,relating to the general revenues, 3) toshakhana,relating to royal wardrobe and Maharajas’ Privy Purse and 4) jagirat, relating to thejagirsaccounts. 

Receipt written by Ratan Singh ‘Kamidan’ or commander for funds received; courtesy Punjab State Archives, Lahore

جون سے اگست، 2018 کے مہینے برطانیہ میں لاء فارمز منصوبے کی ناظم ڈاکٹرنندنی کے ساتھ منصوبے سے منسلک سرگرمیوں میں گزرے۔ ان میں سب سے اہم سرگرمی، خالصہ دربار ریکارڈ اور دیگر فارسی مسودات کا لفظی ترجمہ کرنے کے بعد ان قلمی نسخوں سےحاصل شدہ مواد سے متعلق کتب اور مقالات کا تجزیہ کرنا رہی۔اس سلسلے کی تمام نشستوں میں، منصوبے کے پوسٹ ڈاکٹر یٹ عالم جناب ڈو مینیک وینڈل اور عملے کے رکن مہر بود خانی زادے نے ماہرانہ علمی معاونت کی۔ مسودات کے گرو پروفیسر چندر شیکھر نے علیحدہ نشست میں فارسی اعداد کی مختلف اقسام کو سمجھایا۔

Work in the Punjab State Archives, Lahore

 مورخہ 13 اور 14 جولائی، 2018 کو مرکیور ساؤتھ گیٹ ہوٹل، Exeterمیں منعقدہ ورکشاپ بعنوان”فارسی دنیا میں لین دین اور دستاویزات” میرے لئے حیرت انگیز طور پر معلوماتی اس لئے تھی کیونکہ عالمی شہرت یافتہ علماء نے فارسی اور اس سے متعلقہ علاقائی زبانوں میں قانونی اور کاروباری طریقوں پر سیر بحث مقالات پیش کئے۔ان علماء نے انفرادی ملاقاتوں میں”19ویں صدی کے پنجاب میں سکھ سلطنت کا اقتصادی قانون بزریعہ فارسی مواد” کے موضوع پر میری نہایت موثر راہنمائی فرمائی۔

سکھ سلطنت پر زیادہ مواد فارسی جاری شکستہ میں ہے اور اس کا ایک بڑا حصہ سرکار انگلسیہ اور سرکار خالصہ کے مابین خط وکتابت اور معاہدوں پر مشتمل ہے جسے سمجھنے کے لیے انتہائی محنت، مہارت اور وسیع معلومات کی ضرورت ہوتی ہے۔ چنانچہ اس حوالے سے برٹش لائبریری لندن میں موجود کثیر التعداد بنیادی اور ثانوی انگریزی مواد حاصل کرنے کے ساتھ ہی اس کا تفصیلی مطالعہ کرنے کا موقع ملا اور یوں اس مہم میں سب سے زیادہ وقت بیتانے کی حقدار برٹش لائبریری ٹھہر ی۔ آ خری دنوں میں دربار مہاراجہ رنجیت سنگھ کے پندرہ نادر فارسی مسودات کا بڑی تگ ودو کے بعد ملنا، برٹش لائبریری کی طرف سے کسی تحفہ سے کم نہ تھا۔

I have no hesitation to dedicate this trip and these lines to Dr Nandini Chatterjee for pointing out the research gaps in my work and effectively suggesting which are now the theoretical bases of my research work and surely will come out, after the completion, as significant exertion to contribute in.  

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