The important features of Indo-Persian tradition of history writing under the Mughal rule

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Among the Muslim elite, history was considered as the third important source of knowledge after the religious scripture and jurisprudence.

Therefore, the study and writing of history were accorded great importance after the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate in the closing years of 12th century. The pioneers of history- writing in the Indo-Persian tradition were Muhammad bin Mansur, popularly known as Fakhr-i Mudabbir.

His writings included a book of genealogies of the Prophet of Islam and the Muslim rulers, including Qutbuddin Aibak. Minhaj Siraj Juzjani was another important historian of the 13th century. However, the most important figure in the Indo-Persian historiography was Ziauddin Barani in the 14th century. His Tarikh-i Firuzshahi is a milestone in the tradition of history- writing in medieval India. It was written for the enlightenment of the rulers of his times. Under the Mughals this tradition of history-writing continued and reached new heights. Abul Fazl, Nizamuddin Ahmad, Abdul Qadir Badauni, Khwaja Kamgar Husaini and Abdul Hamid Lahori were some important historians of the Mughal period.

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During the Mughal rule in India, a new tradition of history writing by official chroniclers came into, existence. These chroniclers, appointed by almost all the Mughal emperors till the reign of Aurangzeb, were provided access to the official records that could facilitate them in writing histories. It was the most significant feature of the Indo-Persian tradition of history writing under the Mughal rule.

Another very striking feature of the period was the autobiographical accounts written by emperors themselves. Some of the best-known works in this genre included Tuzuk-i-Baburi (in Turkish) by Babur and Tuzuk-i Jahangiri (in Persian) by Jahangir. Besides the official works, several independent works were written by independent scholars presenting a critical account of the policies and events of the period.

The Early Writings :

Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur, who invaded India and supplanted the Lodi rule by his Own in 1526, was a prolific writer. His
autobiography Tuzuk-i-Baburi, written in Turkish is a literary masterpiece, containing the history of the rise and fall of the Timurid power in central Asia, biographical account about himself, the description of life and culture in India and the diary of events that took place in the course of campaigns he led against his rivals. Though Babur’s account on his dealings with the rulirvg elite in India lacks objectivity, he is full of praise for India’s resources and the availability of skilled craftsmen and artisans various towns and cities. The geographical details in his biography further enrich its importance.

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Babur’s son and successor, Humayun (1530-1555) was also interested in history. He commissioned a renowned scholar, Khawandmir, to compose the history of his reign. Khawandmir prepared a brief account of Humayun’s reign from his accession up to the year 1535. Qannu-i Humayuni sheds interesting light on Humayun’s state policy, particularly towards the Indian nobles and landed aristocracy.

Akbar’s Reign

Official histories:

With the accession of Akbar (1556-1605) to the throne, important change took place in the concept of history writing. Akbar proposed to have a written history of the Muslim rulers from the death of the prophet up to his own time on the completion of the first millennium of Islam, i.e., a history of one thousand years, called Tarikh-i Alfi. At Akbar’s instance, Gulbadan Begum, the daughter of Babur, wrote Humayunnama which sheds light on the lives and culture of the royal harem. Bayazid Biyat’s Tazkirat-i Humayun wa Akbar and Jauhar Aftabchi’s Tazkirat-ul Waqiat are also important works written at Akbar’s order.

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Akbar constituted a board of seven scholars to compile Tarikh-i Alfi. However, not satisfied with the account of his reign in it, he ordered Abul Fazl in 1589-1590 to compile the history of his reign, beginning with an account of Babur and Humayun. In his Akbarnama, Abul Fazl presents Akbar as cosmic man, entrusted by God with sway over outward form and inner meaning, the exoteric and esoteric. Abul Fazl’s secular interpretation of history in the Akbarnama and the Ain- i Akbari provide exhaustive detail of the events and policies introduced by Akbar till the year 1602.

Non-official Histories:

Nizamuddin Ahmad and Abdul Qadir Badauni were the two most important non-official historians of the period. Nizamuddin wrote Tabaqat-i Akbari in three volumes. He mentions all the important events that took place during Akbar’s reign including the controversial Mahzar which Abul Fazl had left out. His work was regarded by all the later writers as an authentic work. Abdul Qadir Babauni’s history entitled Muntakhab-ut Tawarikh presents a frank account of his times.

Jahangir’s Reign:

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Akbar’s son and successor Jahangir wrote autobiographical history of his own reign in the traditions set by Babur. Besides, Qazi Nurul Haque compiled the Zubdatu’t Tawarikh and closed it with the account of Jahangir’s reign. The Zubdatu’t Tawarikh narrates the history of the Muslim rulers of India. Another important work Tarikh-i Khan- i Jahani was compiled by Nemat Allah Harawi under the patronage of Khan-i Jahan Lodi, the noble of Jahangir.

The emperor wrote the Tuzuk himself up to the 17th regal year. Later, he dictated it to his trusted officer, Mutamad Khan. It presents to a great extent the picture of Jahangir’s reign.

Shah Jahan’s Reign:

Mutamad Khan wrote Iqbalnama-i Jahangiri after Shah Jahan’s accession to the throne. His aim was to justify Shah Jahan’s rebellion against his father. Khwaja Kamgar Husaini’s Maasir-i Jahangiri is an important source for the events that took place during the last years of the reign.

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Shah Jahan assigned to Mohammed Amin Qazvini the task of compiling Badshahnama, a history of his reign. Subsequently, Abdul Hamid Lahori, another scholar was appointed as the official historian in his place. When he grew old, his pupil Mohammad Waris was ordered to continue the work. Two other histories of Shah Jahan during the early years of Aurangzeb’s reign were Badshahnama by Sad.4 Khan and Amal-i Saleh by Muhammad Saleh Kamboh.

Aurangzeb’s Reign :

Aurangzeb appointed Muhammad Kazim to write the history of his reign. His Alamgir Nama reads as a panegyric in prose.’Later on, Saqi Mustaid Khan compiled the history of Aurangzeb’s reign titled Maasir-i Alamgiri. Composed in the form of annals, this was the last official history of the Mughal Empire. Maasir-ul Umara by Shahnawaz Khana, Diwan-i Pasand by Rai Chhatar Mai, Amamullah Hussain’s Ganj-I Badawurd and Baharistan-i Ghaybi of Mirzanathan are a few other important works of history for the Mughal period.

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