What are the Literary Sources of History of Medieval India?


As compared with Ancient India, a large number of literary sources are available for the medieval period. They provide a more reliable information and insight about the life of the people of the period. These sources inform us of the administrative set up of the rulers, their theory of kingship, military achievements etc. They also reflect the state of cultural, economic, political and religious institutions.

While utilising these resources we should keep in view the following points:

(1) Absolute historical truth is elusive, (2) Absolute impartial history is rather impossible, (3) Every kind of prejudice, caste, faith, personal racial, regional and religious etc., possessed by the historian has exercised some influence in recording events and facts, (4) All possible efforts need to be made to sift facts from fiction, (5) Since most of the books were written on the command of the rulers or by them, they contain material which has to be treated with care and caution, (6) Different sources to be used while arriving at some definite conclusion.


Two-fold divisions of Literary Sources for the Medieval Period

Broadly speaking, sources may be divided according to the division of the period:

(i) The Sultanate Period, and

(ii) The Mughal Period.


Following are the important sources:

Important Sources of Information

Kamilut-Tawarikh of Ibnul Asir: For the history of Central Asia and the Rise of the Shansabani Dynasty of Ghor, the Kamilut-Tawarikh of Ibnul Asir gives us a lot of information.

The book was completed in 1230 A.D. The author was a contemporary to many of the events narrated in the last two volumes of his work He used a critical judgment in utilizing his sources of information and the result was that his account has rarely been found to be wrong.


As regards his notices of Indian affairs, those are remarkably correct so far as the dates and essential facts are concerned. However, those are admittedly based on hearsay. The author is valuable so far as he confirms other sources. In some places, he gives interesting explanations or details which are not to be found in other authorities.

Tarikh-i-Jahan Gusha-i-Juwaini of Ata Malik:

Ata Malik Juwaini completed his Tarikh-i-Jahan Gusha-i-Juwaini in 1260 A.D. The book is valuable for the History of Central Asia in the first half of the 13th century. The author held a high administrative office in Baghdad under Hulaku and was also in a position to use Mongol official documents. His work gives us a detailed and authentic account of the Mongol conquests in Western Asia. Although the writer is pro-Mongol in his attitude, his account is free from in-accuracies. However, his notices of India are few and are made only in connection with the Shansabanis or the Khwarizmi Prince, Jalaluddin.

Tarikh-i-Guzidah of Hamdullah Mastaufi Qazwini:


The Tarikh-i-Guzidah was completed by Hamdullah Mastaufi Qazwini in 1329 A.D. It is considered to be the best general history of the East. It contains a brief, though generally accurate, account of the Ghaznawids, Shansabanis and Sultans of Delhi. The author gives interesting details about the Ghorides. The value of the book is mostly corroborative.

Genealogies of Fakhruddin Mubarakshah:

For the early history of the Muslim conquest, the historical portion contained in the introduction to the book of genealogies of Fakhruddin Mubarakshah known as Fakhre-Madabbir, discovered and edited by Denison Ross, is very valuable. The author was a learned man of repute in the court of Ghazni and later of Delhi. He also wrote a history of the Ghorides in verse. Although it is mentioned by Minhaj-i-Siraj, it does not appear to be extant.

Jawamiul-Hikayat of Nuruddin Muhammad Aufi:


The Jawamiul-Hikayat by Nuruddin Muhammad Aufi contains in its Preface details of the military operations which Iltutmish conducted against Qubacha in 1227 A.D. The author was an eye-witness of those events.


The Chach-Nama was originally written in Arabic. Later on, it was translated into Persian by Muhammad Ali bin Abu Bakar Kufi in the time of Nasir-ud-din Qubacha. It has now been edited and published by D. Daud-pota. This work gives a history of the Arab conquest of Sindh and is our main source of information of that subject.

Tabquat-i-Nasiri of Minhaj-us-Siraj:

The Tabquat-i-Nasiri was written by Minhaj-us-Siraj. It has been translated into English by Raverty. It is a contemporary work and was completed in 1260 A.D. It gives us a firsthand account of the conquest of India by Muhammad Ghori and also the History of the Delhi Sultanate up to 1260 A.D. However, it is to be observed that Minhaj-us Siraj was not an impartial writer. He is very much biased in favour of Muhammad Ghori, Iltutmish and Balban. Mijihaj relied largely for example on the Ahsan Al-Taqasim-fi-Marifat Al-Aqalam of Al-Muqaddasi, the Maghazi by Al-Waqidi and the Tarikhi-Wilayat-i-Khurasan by Al-Sallami. No attmept has been made by the author to evaluate the reliability of the sources used by him. As a matter of fact, the author has occasionally given different dates for the same events in different contexts.

Tarikh-i-Muhammadi of Muhammad Bihamad Khani:

The Tarikh-i-Muhammadi was completed in 1438-39 by Muhammad Bihamad Khani. The author did not belong to the Ulema class but was a member of the military class. The work deals with patriarchs and prophets including the life of Prophet Muhammad, the Caliphs, Umayyids, the Abbasids, the Ghaznavids, the Saljuqs, the Sanjarids, Shansabani Sultans of Ghor and Ghazni, Shamsi Sultans of Hind etc. It also contains the history of the Sultans of Delhi, Timur, biographies of Saints and the struggles of the Sultans of Kalpi with their Hindu and Muslim neighbours.

The Tarikh-i-Muhammadi is arranged in the form of annals of the life of the Prophet and the history of the early Caliphs. It is a year by year narration of events, chiefly military. After that, the arrangement is by dynasty and reign with the emphasis on military events of appointments to office.

The biographies of the saints are full of praises. The author has paraphrased earlier histories without discussion of criticism. Among the sources cited by him are the Tabqat-i-Nasiri, Tarikh-i-Firoz Shahi by Barani and the Tazkirat Al-Auliya by Farid-al-din-al-Attar.

Tarikh-i-Firozshahi Zia-ud-Din Barani:

The Tarikh-i-Firozshahi was written by Zia-ud-Din Barani. The author was a contemporary of Ghiyas-ud-Din Tughluq, Muhammad-bin- Tughluq and Firoz Tughluq. Barani brings the story from Balban to Firoz Tughluq. He gives a very useful account of the history of the Slave Dynasty, the Khaljis and the Tughluqs. The book was completed in 1359 A.D. and has now been published by the Asiatic Society of Bengal.

The chief merit of the book lies in the fact that it was written by a person who held a high position in the administration and was consequently in possession of accurate information. The author has described the system of revenue administration in great detail. Although Barani knew the duties and responsibilities of a historian, but he was not free from prejudice. Moreover, his style is so obscure that it is difficult to understand him.

Tarikh-i-Firozshahi of Shams-i-Siraj Afif:

The Tarikh-i-Firozshahi of Shams-i-Siraj Afif deals with the history of the reign of Firoz Tughluq. The author was himself a member of the Court of Firoz Tughluq and no doubt his work is considered to be a first rate authority on the subject. The work of Afif was written not long after the capture of Delhi by Timur in 1398-99. There is no evidence in the work itself that Afif wrote either at the behest of some powerful man or in hope of reward. Affif’s work is the only survival of a number of other works praising Alauddin Khalji, Ghiyas-ud-din Tughluq, Muhammad Tughluq and Firoz Tughluq.

The book does not express the author’s motives as perhaps a possible general introduction to the whole collection of Manaqib may have done. It is a possible hypothesis that Afif intended to portray a golden age of the Sultanate of Delhi before the calamity of Timur fell on it. Afif has praised Firoz Tughluq for his generosity towards his servants, his care for the people, his respect for the Sufis and his activities as a builder. He describes Firoz as an ideal man. The Sultan is depicted as a tailor’s dummy garbed in ideal attributes-an exhibition figure for the edification of the pious. History is the story of what must have happened when an ideal ruler presided over the Delhi Sultanate. Historiography is a form of pious panegyric.

Taj-ul-Massir of Hasan Nizami:

The Taj-ul-Massir was written by Hasan Nizami. It deals with the events from about 1192 A.D. to 1228 A.D. It deals with the career and reign of Kutb-ud-din Aibak and the early of reign of Iltutmish. Being a contemporary account, the work is regarded to be a first-rate authority on the subject. Hasan Nizami was a migrant first to Ghazni and then to Delhi, from his native Nishapur. He worte the Taj-ul-Massir after encouragement from the Sadr at Delhi in response to a royal desire for an account of the glorious deeds of the Ghorid conquerors.

The work “records a minimum of events with a maximum of florid description, hyperbole, amphibology, homonym, inversion, anti-thesis, simile and rhetorical figure drawn from, for example, astrology, medicine, chess, biology and botany. Every army is as numerous as the stars; every soldier is as blood-thirsty as Mars, who carries a lance like a meteor, a sword like lightning, a dagger like thunder-bolt and a shield like the moon. Melody and rhyme, art and artifice are preferred to economy and precision in statement. Hasan Nizami’s heroes are always brave, victorious, perspicacious, generous and cultured.”

Tarikh-i-Sindh or Tarikh-i-Masumi of Mir Muhammad Masum:

TheTarikh-i-Sindh orTarikh- i-Masumi was written by Mir Muhammad Masum. This book was written in about 1600 A.D. It deals with the history of Sindh from the time of its conquest by the Arabs up to the time of Akbar, the Mughal Emperor. It is not a contemporary account, but is based on Chach-Nama. It gives an accurate account of the conquest of Sindh by the Arabs.

Tahqiq-Hind of Alberuni:

The Tahqiq-Hind was written by Alberuni who was a great Arabic and Persian scholar. He stayed in India for many years and learnt Sanskrit. He translated many Sanskrit works into Arabic and Persian. The Tahqiq-Hind gives an account of the literature, religion and sciences of the Hindus at the time of his visit to India. Alberuni was a contemporary of Mahmud of Ghazni and he gives a lot of useful information about the condition of India at the time of her invasion by Mahmud. The book has been translated into English by Sachau.

Tarikh-i-Yamini of Utbi:

The Tarikh-i-Yamini was written by Utbi. It deals with the history of Subuktgin and Mahmud of Ghazni up to 1020 A.D. We do not find details in this account. Dates are also missing. In spite of that, it is a great work on Mahmud of Ghazni.

Zain-ul-Akhbar of Abri Said:

The Zain-ul-Akhbar was written by Abu Said. It gives us some information about Mahmud of Ghazni. The data given by the author are exact.

Tarikh-i-Masudi of Abul Fazl Muhammad Bin Husain-al-Baihaqi:

The Tarikh-i-Masudi was written by Abul Fazl Muhammad Bin Husain-ai-Baihaqi. It deals with the history of Mahmud of Ghazni and gives us an idea of court life and intrigues among officials.

Khaza’ in-ul-Futuh of Amir Khusrau: The Khaza’ in-Futuh was written by Amir Khusrau who was a contemporary of the rulers of Delhi from Jalal-ud-Din Khalji to Muhammad Tughluq. The author was partial towards Ala-ud-din Khalji. While he praises his master very much, he omits his faults and shortcomings. Being an eye-witness of what he has written, his work is of very great importance. The work has been translated into Enlgish by Prof. Habib.

Tarikh-i-Mubarak Shahi of Yahya ibn Ahmad Sarhindi:

The Tarikh-i-Mubarak Shahi was written between 1428 and 1434 by Yahya ibn Ahmad Sarhindi. It gives a very valuable account of the reigns of the rulers belonging to the Sayyid dynasty (1414 to 1451 A.D.). The Author “gives us what he himself witnessed or learnt from trustworthy observers from the time of Firozshah to the accession of the third Saiyyad Sultan Muhammad.” He is “our most original authority” for the period of 35 years from 1400 to 1435 A.D. He also supplements the meager information of Shams-i-Siraj Afif from about 1380 onwards.

‘Yahya was a conscientious and exact narrator of events. His style is exceedingly simple and the work abounds in dates. Although he wrote for a patron-king, he is not a panegyrist. All later writers have been directly or indirectly indebted to him. The whole account of the Saiyyad period in Tabqat-i-Akbari of Nizamuddin Ahmad is a mere reproduction of the narrative of the Tarikh-i-Mubarak Shahi. Badauni follows him closely. Ferishta has very often borrowed his words. The Tarikh-i-Mubarak Shahi does not explain why things happened in history beyond adducing the conventional dogma of divine decree. It contains morals in prose and verse, warning mankind against snares and delusions of worldly success.


The Sirat-i-Firozshahi was written about the year 1370 A.D. It is a contemporary account which is very useful for the reign of Firoz Tughluq.

Fatawah-i-Jahandari of Zia-ud-din-Barani:

The Fatawah-i-Jahandari was written by Zia-ud-uin Barani. This was completed in the 14th century. The author gives his own views about the secular and reef’s policy of the government. The book gives an idea of the ideal political code which the author was the Muslim rulers to follow.

Futuh-al-Salatin of Khwaja Abu Malik Isami:

The Futuh-al-Salatin was written by Khwaja Abu Malik Isami in 1349 A.D. It has been edited and published by Dr. Mahdi Hussain. It run” into about 12,000 verses. It was intended to be the Shah Nama of Hindustan. The author migrates from Delhi to Daulatabad during the reign of Muhammad Tughluq. Ultimately, he found a patron in Sultan Ala-ud-din Bahman Shah, the founder of Bahmani Kingdom.

The Futuh-al-Salatin treats the past as a succession of exciting episodes in which Muslim heroes, chiefly the Sultans of Delhi, Demonstrate their qualities. The work begins with Mahmud of Ghazni and particularly praises Ala-ud-Din Khalji as a great conqueror of Hindu princes. Episodes have been mixed up anecdotes. Divine intervention is frequent but capricious. The work is hostile to Muhamma Tughlaq. The sources of the book an anecdotes, legends and common reports current among his friend and associates.

Kitab-ur-Rahlah of Ibn Batuta:

The Kitab-ur-Rahlah was written by Ibn Batuta, a Mooris traveller, who visited India in 1333 A.D. and remained here for 9 years. He also acted as Qazi o Delhi for 8 years. The work is a contemporary account written by a great scholar who had firs hand information about the affairs of Muhammad Tughluq.

Tarikh-i-Salatin-i-Afghan of Ahmad Yadgar:

The Tarikh-i-Salatin-i-Afghan was written b Ahmad Yadgar. It deals with the history of the Afghans in India. It is very useful for the rule of the Lodi Dynasty. The author commences his work with the accession of BahloULodi in 1451

The last chapter deals with the defeat and capture of Hemu in 1556 A.D. The author shows little regard for dates and “at the end of the reign of each Afghan King Gives fanciful and sometimes absurd stories.”

Makhzan-i-Afghani of Niamatulla:

Niamatulla’s Makhzan-i-Afghani is a general history of the Afghans from the time of Adam to 1612. It was written in the 17th century in the reign of Jahangir. A distinctive feature of this book is the genealogical account of various Afghan tribes. It also contains memoir of Khan-i-Jahan Lodi, one of the greatest Generals of Jahangir. The author was a Waqia Navis at the Court of Jahangir. He was a contemporary of Ferishta, though he does not mention him anywhere in his work. He commenced his work, in the year in which Ferishta finished his work (1593 A.D.). Like Ahmad Yadgar, Niamatullah also has little regard for dates and is fond of marvellous stories.

Tarikh-i-Daudi of Abdulla:

Another work of the 17th century is the Tarikh-i-Daudi of Abdulla. It deals with Lodi and Sur dynasties. It is deficient in dates and gives many anecdotes. It gives no dates but incidentally mentions Jahangir who ascended the throne in 1605 A.D. The work is fragmentary. The Tarikh-i-Shershahi or Tohfa-i-Akbarshahi is useful for the history of the Lodi dynasty.

Fawadul Fawaid of Amir Hasan Sijzi:

Fawadul Fawaid of Amir Hasan Sijzi throws illuminating sidelight on contemporary society. The poet kept daily record of the conversations of Nizamuddin, the saint of Budaun. The book contains very interesting comments on men and events around the circle of the saint. The work enjoyed immense popularity and became the model of a series of compilations. Some of the compilations are considered to be genuine and have a bearing on the society of the 13th century.

Conversations of another contemporary Sufi named Faridu-din Mahmud were edited by his son under the title of Soroor-us-Sudur. Mir Khurd, a young disciple of Nizamuddin, compiled an account of the Indian Sufis of the Chishti order with the title of Siyarul Auliya. The Siyarul Arefin by Shaikh Jamali compiled in 1539 contains some additional details not found elsewhere. The Akhbarul Akhiar by Abdul Haqq Dehlavi was completed in the reign of Jahangir. It is history of Indian mystics. Gulzar-i-Abrar by Muhammad Ghousi gives us interesting details about the lives of other Sufis. Indirectly it gives us interesting details about the social and political life of the people of the Sultanate period.

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