History writing in Persian

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History writing in Persian

 The first major historical work associated with the Timurid-Mughal dynasty was the autobiographical memoir of Bābur which he wrote in Chaghatay Turki, the most commonly spoken language during the Timurid era. This  contains more than 600 printed pages is a major historical source for late-Timurid Afghanistan and north India in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. It is a complex text that operates at several different levels.

At the opening of the 16th century this culture displayed a well-established classical literary tradition, miniature painting, refined court music, and a sophisticated historiographical tradition. Early Timurid-Mughal court culture was essentially late-Timurid culture.

Akbar wanted to preserve eyewitness accounts of his great ancestor Babur, whose memoirs were translated into Persian at Akbar’s court. Golbadan Begim was a young girl when her father, Bābur, died. Her memoir is not so valuable for his life, most of which she based on the Waqāʾeʿ. Her Humāyun-nāma is instead invaluable for the insight that it offers into the life of Timurid-Mughal women. No other source for the dynasty enables readers to understand that these women led rich and complex lives of their own.

No such dryness detracts from the second Timurid-Mughal autobiographical memoir, as that of Jahāngir (r. 1605-36), Bābor’s. Jahāngir is likely to have written this because of his ancestor’s example; at least he mentions reverently reading the Waqāʾeʿ when visiting Bābur’s gravesite in Kabul. While intellectually far less ambitious than his ancestor’s multi-faceted text, the Jahāngir-nāma is still an extraordinary royal memoir, as exceptional in the 17th-century world as Bābor’s is for the 16th. In it Jahāngir plainly states that he is sending the text to other rulers, especially referring to Persia, and he partly sees the work as a “mirror for princes” text.

The bulk of the text is a lively day-to-day account of his rule, which for him personally did not include any major battles but innumerable hunting expeditions and lavish entertainment. In describing the women who accompanied him, Jahāngir also contributes to the understanding of Timurid-Mughal women. However, more than anything else, the Jahāngir-nāma is a psychologically complex text that reveals the human frailty, emotional complexity, and engaging cultural preoccupations of its author.


During the reign of Akbar, the Tuzk-e-Babri, or the memoirs of Babur, were translated into Persian by Mirza Abdul Rahim Khan Khana.

Abul Fazl translated into Persian many outstanding Sanskrit works, such as, the Kishan Joshi, the Ganga Dhar, the Mahesh, the Mahanand and others. The Mahabharata, Ramayana, Atharva Veda, Lilawati, Rajatarangini  were translated into Persian. Abul Fazl also translated the Panch Tantra (Anwar-i-Sahili) and Faizi translated the story of Nal-Damayanti into Persian.

Poetry in Persian

Among the factors favoring Persian poetry was the establishment in 1582 of Persian as the official Mughal administrative language at all levels at the behest of Akbar, promulgated by his finance minister Todar Mal. In some ways anticipated by the active pro-Persian cultural policies of the ruler of Kashmir, Zayn-al-ʿĀbedin (1420-70) and Sekandar Lōdi (1489-1517), one of the results of formally adopting Persian was to encourage the large Hindu communities, which had previously carried out their administrative work in Hindavi, to learn Persian and work alongside the Persian clerks used by the Mughal government. Employed as scribes and secretaries and linked to the dominant Muslim classes, the members of these groups were largely responsible for the Hindu contribution to the various fields of Indo-Persian literature.

The more open cultural and religious policy begun by Akbar through the initiatives of the minister, Abu’l-Fażl ʿAllāmī , also encouraged Hindus to write literary works in Persian; a fundamental role in this context was played by the translation into Persian of very varied works from the Indian tradition, and by the influence exercised by the philosophical circle of the prince Dārā Šhikōh on the Hindu intellectual elites associated with the Mughal court.

The opening of various schools of Sufi poetry to non-Muslim disciples, such as that of the Naqšbandi Mirzā Maẓhar Jān-e Jānān (d. 1781), was equally important. The phenomenon was not limited to the period and territories of Akbar and his successors but also extended to the independent Deccan (q.v.) principalities in the 17th century before their annexation to the Mughal Empire, the various regional states created by the break-up of the empire from the beginning of the 18th century and, lastly, to British India.

The earliest surviving complete Persian verse works of Hindu origin date to the reigns of Jahāngir and Shah Jahān.


Works in Hindi

It is characteristic of the Mughals that, next to Persian, the language which received the greatest patronage at court was Hindi. The practice started in Akbar’s day of having a Hindi kavi rai (poet-laureate) along with the Persian malik-ul-shuara.

Already, Muslim poets such as Jaisi and Kabir had enriched the Hindi language. Among Hindus, the greatest Hindi poet of Akbar’s days was the famous Tulasidas, whose career was spent far from the worldly courts. There were, however, well-known Hindi poets amongst Akbar’s courtiers. Raja Birbal (1528–1583) was the Kavi Rai, but the works of Akbar’s famous general Abdul Rahim have been better preserved.

A skillful writer in Hindi, Abdul Rahim furthered the development of the language by extending his patronage to a number of other poets who used it.

The title of kavi rai continued to be conferred even in Aurangzeb’s time, and two of his sons, Azam and Muazzam, who ascended the throne as Bahadur Shah, were known to be patrons of Hindi literature. It is interesting to observe that during the later Mughal period Hindi poets like Bihari followed the same ornate style which was popular with the contemporary Persian poets.

Apart from the direct patronage of Hindi at the Delhi court, the conditions in the country helped the regional literatures. The general peace and tranquillity; greater prosperity, particularly in urban areas; the more general diffusion of education; and the patronage of literature by the Mughal emperors and the nobility, led to extensive literary activity, from which the regional literatures benefited.


The standardization of the educational curriculum was accomplished in the eighteenth century. The Dars-i-Nizamiya, named after Mulla Nizam-ud-din (d.1748) provided instruction in grammar, rhetoric, philosophy, logic, scholasticism, tafsir (commentary on the Quran), fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), hadith, and mathematics.

This curriculum has been criticized for containing too many books on grammar and logic and in general for devoting too much attention to formal subjects, and too little to useful secular subjects like history and natural sciences or even religious subjects like tafsir and hadith.

But it provided good mental discipline, and its general adoption was responsible for the widespread interest in intellectual and philosophical matters. In the period in which it was systematized it was perhaps reasonably adequate for the average student. Those wishing to specialize or pursue a particular branch of knowledge went to the experts in that subject. The needs of the students specially interested in religious subjects were better served at institutions like Madrasa-i-Rahimiya, the forerunner of the modern seminary of Deoband, where tafsir and hadith were the principal subjects of study, but for those needing a general education to qualify for the posts of munshis, qazis, or religious preachers.

The spread of knowledge and intellectual development is linked up with the growth of libraries. Printing was not introduced in northern India till after the end of the Muslim rule, but hundreds of katibs (calligraphists) were available in every big city, and no Muslim noble would be considered cultured, unless he possessed a good library. The royal palaces contained immense libraries. According to Father Manrique, the library of Agra in 1641 contained 24,000 volumes, valued at six and a half million rupees.

Position and Status of Women in Mughal Period

Unlike in the ancient Indian period, the position and status of  women in the Mughal period (age) was not quite high. Purdah and child marriage had become common. Except those of the lower classes, women in Mughal period did not move out of their houses.

The Muslims women observed purdah much more strictly than the Hindus. The birth of a daughter was considered inauspicious, while that of a son was an occasion for rejoicing. On account of early marriage, there were many widows in our society. Generally, women in Mughal Period were not allowed to remarry.

Polygamy was common among the rich society. Divorce was not common among the Hindus, while it was permitted both for Muslim men and women. However, women exercised great influence at home and some of them helped their husbands in their avocations. Generally, it was the responsibility of the men to look after the economic affairs, and the women would take care of the needs at home.

Though, the overall position of women in Mughal period was low, there were many Hindu and Muslim women of outstanding ability, whose fame is still relevant today.

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