Abstracts, Analyses, Reviews, & Synopses of Research Articles (English Language)

 

"Abstracts, Analyses, Reviews and Synopses" of Professor Syed Hasan Askari's more than two hundred "Research Articles" in English Language, are posted on this page to assist academics, historians and scholars in their respective literary and research projects. 

The collaborative academic and scholarly initiative of Professor Syed Hasan Askari Historiography Project, Los Angeles, USA pursued with Dr. H. L. Archambault (PhD. UC Berkeley, CA, USA) for the drafting of "Abstracts, Analyses,  Reviews, Synopses & Keywords", followed by the  "Review/Edit/Format-Due Diligence Process" (by Professor Syed Hasan Askari Historiography Project, Los Angeles, USA) made it possible for the respective postings on this page. Senior academics, and historians namely; Professor Dr. M. D. Faruqui (USA), Prof. Dr. I. Ahmad (India) and Professor Dr. S. E.  Hussain (India), initially provided scholarly guidance on the format for ease of reference by global academic and non-academic audience. Special thanks to Professor Richard Eaton for his offline appreciation and complimentary feedback after reviewing the posted abstracts below.

 

So far, abstracts of 231 research articles and scholarly essays have been posted. There will be weekly updates on this page and website.

Please access the Articles page of this website for online links to review and download the research articles as organized in chronological order of publication. An Online Dropbox for digitized PDF copies of "Prof. Askari's Research Articles" has been created to compile and consolidate them in one place, with restricted access upon request, to respect Copyright Laws, if and where applicable. Please contact Professor Syed Hasan Askari Historiography  Project, Los Angeles, USA @ Info.Prof.Askari.Hist.Project@gmail.com  for additional information and feedback in this regard.

 

1938

S. H. Askari. “An unpublished Persian letter of Mir Qasim” in Indian Historical Records Commission Proceedings of Meetings, Vol. XV (1938), pp. 134-146.

 

Here, Professor Syed Hasan Askari offers a short summary and full translation of a hitherto-unpublished letter by Mir Qasim (former Nawab of Bengal, r. 1760-1763) to British East India Company officials in Calcutta. The letter was probably written in 1776, a year before his death. Mir Qasim’s role in the post-Plassey transitional phase of early Company rule in Bengal will be well-known to many readers. He had replaced his father-in-law, the puppet ruler Mir Jafar, in the Nawabi after the latter had been bankrupted. After initially proving a tractable British ally, he eventually organized an army to resist the expanding British presence in eastern India, and in 1664 led a combined Mughal and Awadhi army to confront the British at the doomed Battle of Buxar. The letter, written many years after this defeat, seems to seek to resurrect his good graces in the eyes of the British, offering various excuses for his behavior at various junctures. For those interested in the details of this period, Prof. Askari notes that the letter introduces a great deal that is news, including accusations against Mir Jafar, including the possibility that he had incited Mir Qasim’s deputy, Samru, to massacre English prisoners held at Patna. In sum, Prof. S. H. Askari provides his readers a detailed and sympathetic translation from the Persian original and contributes an important new documentary perspective on an axial moment in South Asia’s transition to colonial rule.

 

Keywords: Economy, debt, finance, mutassadi, Bengal, British East India Company, Calcutta, Battle of Plassey, Battle of Buxar, Mir Jafar, Mir Qasim, Shuja-ud-Daula

 

Posted: February 28th, 2020 

S. H. Askari. “Raja Ramnarain – part I & II” in The Indian Historical Quarterly, Vol. XIV (1938), pp. 74-95.

 

These are the first two of a four-part study of Raja Ram Narayan, who became the deputy governor (naib subadar) of Bihar in the 1750s, serving Nawab Aliwardi (r. 1740-1756) Siraj-ud-Daula (r. 1757) of Bengal. This first part of Professor Syed Hasan Askari’s study focuses on the teasing out details of the early life of Ram Narayan, and in setting the stage for Ram Narayan’s remarkable career. Prof. Askari outlines the political history of the 18th century, sketching it in the gloomy, chaotic, and violent overtones that matched the historiographical consensus of the era. Yet, as Prof. Askari takes pains to underline, there were exceptions to this pattern. Despite the disruptions of the era, he comments that this “son of the soil” of Bihar, who apart from a career in government and administration, was also a talented poet, had chosen for himself an apt pen name (takhallus): “Mauzun,” ie “well-measured.” Although Ram Narayan’s early history is difficult to ascertain, we know that he was a Srivastava Kayasth, probably born around the period of 1714-1719, and was likely the son of Rangalal, who had served the Nawab of Bengal, Aliwardi Khan (r. 1740-1756). We know that Ram Narayan also began to work for Aliwardi Khan in his teens, after studying Persian and Arabic. By the 1740s, as Prof. Askari highlights, Ram Narayan was writing a number of official letters on behalf of his employer, and was eye witness to numerous key events in the region, including wars with Safdar Jang of Awadh, the Rohilla Afghans, and Maratha forces.

 

Keywords: Bihar, Raja Ram Narayan, Ramnarain, Siraj-ud-Daula, Sirajuddaula, administration, 18th century, Mughal, Bengal, Aliwardi Khan

 

Posted: March 10th, 2020 

S. H. Askari. “Raja Ramnarain – part III” in The Indian Historical Quarterly, Vol. XIV (1938), pp. 757-778.

 

Professor Syed Hasan Askari begins the third part of his study of Raja Ram Narayan by noting that if the Hindu officials of Bengal had often (in 19th and early 20th-century historiography) been accused of corruption, greed, and their purported role in selling out the indigenous government of Bengal to the British East India Company in this period, then the Hindu officials of Bihar (amongst them Raja Ram Narayan) were their counterpoint. In this third part of Prof. Askari’s study, Raja Ram Narayan is held up as a virtuous example of good governance, doubly notable in an era when much of the subcontinent was considered to be in a state of disorder. Focusing on the period after 1752 when Ram Narayan was appointed as deputy governor, Prof. Askari focuses on Ram Narayan’s attention to detail, the numerous descriptions available in his letters describing the small affairs of government and his proposals for improvement, as well as Ram Narayan’s ability in administering the frontiers, particularly the Bhojpur region. Although Prof. Askari does not directly challenge prevailing wisdom about the so-called “dark period” of the 18th century, the evidence he presents for an efficient and just administration under Raja Ram Narayan at least seems to complicate that narrative, and in its broad import supports the kinds of arguments made by historians in more recent decades (Muzaffar Alam, Andre Wink, Christopher Bayly, Seema Alavi, Juan Cole, Richard Barnett) that the 18th century was a far more complicated and in some places prosperous era than formerly imagined.

 

Keywords: Bihar, Raja Ram Narayan, Ramnarain, Siraj-ud-Daula, Sirajuddaula, administration, 18th century, Mughal, Bengal, Aliwardi Khan

 

Posted: March 10th, 2020 

Prof. Syed Hasan Askari. “Fresh Light on Shaikh Ali Hazin and his tours in Eastern Hindustan” in Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, Vol. II (1938), pp. 382-388.

 

This brief article attempts to set out a timetable for the well-known Persian poet Shaikh Ali Hazin during his time traveling in eastern India in the middle decades of the 18th century. The article begins with a brief examination of Hazin’s character, his good and less good traits, and his at times dismissive attitude towards his adopted home in India. Prof. Askari makes note of some of Hazin’s respected fellow poet-friends, including Azad Bilgrami and the poet-politician Raj Ram Narayan Mauzun, the latter of whom about Prof. Askari wrote several studies. The article, although brief, offers a number of useful pieces of information: it highlights the existence of 40 letters written by Hazin to Ram Narayan (a pupil of Hazin), it identifies the date at which Hazin left Delhi (1748) during a period of growing instability in the city, finds that he travelled first to Akbarabad (Agra) before going to Benares, then on to Bengal where he planned to depart for the Holy Cities. After some time, forever, he appears to have abandoned that plan and returned to Patna and then to Benares, where he set up residence for some years. His letters during his years in eastern India betray his sense of living in exile from Delhi, living “…in a corner of the desolate Azimabad (Patna)”.

 

Keyword: Hazin, 18th century, Bihar, travel, intellectual networks, poet networks, Delhi, Ram Narayan, letter collection, Persian

 

Posted: March 16th, 2020

 

Syed Hasan Askari. “Dastur-ul-Imla – A Collection of Letters of Historical Interest” in Journal of Bihar and Orissa Research Society, Vol. XXIV, Pts. I-II (1938), pp. 173-188.

 

Professor S. H. Askari begins this article by painting a picture of a library in advanced decay. He has us imagine the deteriorating mansion in Patna, its library where only a few years previously “heaps” of books had laid in ruin. Now only a few rotting manuscripts remain. The Dastur al-Imla, the text under consideration here, is one of the few amongst them still legible. This is a letter collection primarily consisting of letters by Raja Dhiraj Narayan, the deputy governor of Bihar (r. 1765-1772) to an array of key officials associated both with inland governments and with the British East India Company, as well as a few letters written by other individuals. The letters are addressed to figures such as Siraj-ud-Daula, Mir Jafar, Shitab Rai, various British East India Company officials, members of the Benares, Awadh, and Delhi governments, and others. They also include a number of farmans, parwanas, hisb al-hukms, and other official documents which relate to the affairs of the period. The most valuable letter (which Prof. Askari has written about elsewhere) is one written by the former governor of Bengal, Mir Qasim, to Company officials in Calcutta, seeking to resurrect his reputation. Other letters, which Prof. Askari focuses primarily on here, examine events relating to the affairs of the Purneah expedition, a key episode in the run-up to the Battle of Plassey (1757). In these letters, Prof. Askari underscore evidence indicating that Hindu officials based in Bihar such as Raja Ram Narayan were not part of the conspiracy against Siraj-ud-Daula’s government in Calcutta. This is a topic that Prof. Askari returns to in a separate article the following year.

 

Keywords: British East India Company, Bengal, Bihar, Battle of Plassey, Siraj-ud-Daula, Mir Qasim, Mir Jafar, Raja Ram Narayan, insha, Calcutta, Ram Dhiraj Narayan

 

Posted: March 27th, 2020 

 

1939

Syed Hasan Askari. “Some unpublished letters of Raja Ramnarain relating to Shah Alam’s invasions of Bihar” in Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, Vol. 3 (1939), pp. 979-1001.

 

This article offers a window into an unusual document, the Dastur al-insha, consisting of a collection of correspondence from and to Raja Ram Narayan (Ramnarain), the naib subadar or deputy governor of Bihar (1752-1761). These letters (more than 50) focus on Shah Alam’s campaigns (described here as “invasions”) of Bihar in 1759-61, but also shed light on the movements and interests of other groups active in this region – amongst them French, Maratha, and British forces. A handful of letters written to and from Mir Jafar and Shuja-ud-daula, two well-known players in the early history of British East India Company expansion in Bengal, likewise make this manuscript quite valuable. The main focus of Professor S. H. Askari’s engagement here, however, is to draw out details of the conflict between “Mughal” forces led by Prince Ali Gohar (Shah Alam II) versus the regional Bihar-based government, still nominally affiliated with the Mughal throne if practically autonomous. This article is perhaps most interesting for its reflection on Prof. Askari’s own historical perspective, writing in Patna as a Bihar-based historian, and interested in teasing out a Bihar-centric historiographical narrative in an era when, much as today, Bihar has all too often been dismissed as marginal.

 

Keywords: Bihar, Mughal, Shah Alam II, British East India Company, eighteenth century, historiography, Shuja-ud-daula, Mir Jafar, Raja Ram Narayan, correspondence, insha

Posted: February 25th, 2020

Mr. Syed Husan Askari. “Historical contents of a newly discovered Persian manuscript” in Indian Historical Records Commission, Vol. XVI (1939), pp 179-187.

 

In this short article, Professor S. H. Askari outlines the contents of an insha or epistolary collection, compiled by a certain Lala Sheodyal of Bhawarah, pargana Danwar, district Shahabad, in Bihar. Askari estimates that the manuscript was compiled on or after 1792. Before beginning his summary, Prof. Askari paused for a moment to praise the genre, which, he notes, were frequently fascinating historical troves. On this particular occasion, he found the manuscript divided into several parts, which included a short romance, the Qissa-i Raz o Niyaz (the tale of Kunwar Sen and Chandramati, authored by Gopichand Lekhori ‘Dabir’), followed by some brief historical accounts of Aurangzeb’s expeditions against the Rajputs, his son Akbar’s rebellion, and a few brief references to the events of the Deccan wars of the late 17th century. Following that, the text included several other portions. Amongst them was the Balmakund nama, a collection of letters by the munshi of Sayyid Abdullah Khan Barha (the elder Sayyid brother). These letters were subdivided into parts based on the mansab rank of their recipients. Professor Syed Askari here has done the enormous favor of identifying who their recipients might have been. Another section includes letters mainly between the officials Raja Ram Narayan and Nawab Ahmad Khan Quraishi, both governing officials in Bihar in the late 18th century. Their letters primarily concerned the affairs of southern Bihar, with an emphasis on security and order. Finally, the manuscript (and the article) concludes with a section of “comparatively unimportant” letters – but even amongst these, notes Askari, were a handful of some interest, including some written by Alivardi Khan, the nawab of Bengal (r. 1740-1756) and his associates.

 

Keywords: Insha, Bihar, Aurangzeb, 17th century, 18th century, epistolary collection, romance, qissa, Deccan, Sayyid brothers, Barha

 

PSHA-HP Reviewer's Comments: The middle name should be Hasan instead of Husain as it was an unintentional typographical error when the research article was published by IHRC in 1939.

Posted: February 29th, 2020

S. H. Askari. “’The rise and fall of Muhammad bin Tughlaq’ by Agha Mahdi Husain (review)” in Journal of the Bihar and Orissa Research Society, Vol. XXV (1939), pp.72-76.

 

Professor Syed Hasan Askari provides here a glowing review of a recent Ph.D. thesis submitted at the University of London in 1935, describing the reign and social conditions of Muhammad bin Tughluq (r 1325-1351). Prof. Askari is particularly enthusiastic about Dr. Husain’s conclusion that under Tughluq, Hindus had the right of legal redress, freedom of religion, and even enjoyed patronage by the sovereign. Dr. Husain’s book similarly argued (in sympathy with more recent scholarship) that many of the king’s conflicts in fact involved his fellow Muslims, amongst them the ‘ulama classes and even Sufi saints. Prof. Askari’s main critique, not surprising in light of his familiarity with Sultanate-era poetic sources, is that Dr. Husain relied too heavily on a single poetic source, failing make use of the many other valuable versified texts of the era.

 

Keywords: Tugluq, Delhi Sultanate, 14th century, book review, religious policy

Posted: March 17th, 2020 

S. H. Askari. “Humayun Badshah by S. K. Banerji [review]” in Journal of Bihar and Orissa Research Studies, Vol XXV, Pt. I, (1939) 68-71.

 

Professor Syed Hasan Askari here offers a review of a study by Dr. S. K. Banerji focusing on the early history of the Emperor Humayun (r. 1526-1540, 1555-1556), dating up to the era of his defeat against Sher Shah Suri of Bihar, which resulted in his long exile in Central Asia. The book, a revised version of a dissertation submitted in 1935 at London University, appears in Prof. Askari’s view to have been a broadly reliable and workman-like account, covering in detail the early phases of the “gifted and unfortunate” king’s life. Prof Askari finds particular cause for praise in Dr. Banerji’s argument that the Gujarati sovereign Sultan Bahadur Shah (r. 1534-1536) has yet to receive the attention he deserves, both for his effective military strategies and for his policies, which won him the broad-based support of his subjects.

 

Keywords: Mughal history, book review, 16th century, Bahadur Shah, Gujarat, Sher Shah Suri, military policy

 

Posted: March 17th, 2020

S. H. Askari. “Ram Narain (IV)” in Indian Historical Quarterly, Vol. XV (1939), pp. 13-37.

 

Here, Professor Syed Hasan Askari addresses the question of whether Raja Ram Narain, the deputy governor of Bihar, had played a role in the conspiracy to remove the Nawab of Bengal, Siraj-ud-daula (r. 1756-1757) from power. This debate, as Prof. Askari underscores, is of tangential relationship to the better-known story of Siraj-ud-Daula’s short reign and his defeat. That episode, which includes Siraj-ud-Daula’s ejection of the British East India Company from Calcutta, the so-called ‘Black Hole of Calcutta’ episode, during which some British captives died, the Company’s conspiracy with indigenous elites such as the Jagat Seth banking firm and Mir Jafar, and Siraj-ud-Daula’s abandonment and defeat on the battlefield, are well-known to historians and Indian school children alike. Rather, Prof. Askari’s interest here is whether Raja Ram Narain played any role in the conspiracy to remove Siraj-ud-Daula, as was suggested in several near-contemporary sources. This article argues not. Relying on a handful of letters between Raja Ram Narain and Jagat Seth, as well as Ram Narain’s temporary deputy in Patna while he was away on tour, Dhiraj Narain, Prof. Askari comments that Raja Ram Narain seems to have been entirely innocent of the plot unfolding. He seems never to have been taken into confidence by the Seth family, or by other key conspirators in Calcutta such as Durlabh Ram. This article speaks to Prof. Askari’s patience in unfolding even the most detailed facets of South Asian history in pursuit of a clearer vision of the broad landscape. 

 

Keywords: Bengal, British East India Company, Siraj-ud-Daula, Raja Ram Narayan, Mir Jafar, Robert Clive, Battle of Plassey, Bihar

 

Posted: March 24th, 2020 

 

S. H. Askari. “The Bengal Revolution of 1757 and Raja Ramnarain” in Journal of Indian History, Vol. 18, 1939, pp 352-370.

 

This early article on the deputy governor of Bihar, Raja Ramnarain, part of a series of articles written by Prof. Askari around this time on the topic, seeks to make sense of Ramnarain’s behavior in light of his social and political context. The Article first offers a summary of relevant historical accounts before turning to a series of letters written by Ram Ramnarain and addressed to his brother, Dhiraj Narayan. A selection are presented in translation alongside Prof. Askari’s commentary, outlining their likely significance particularly in the period after the defeat of Siraj-ud-Daulah and the rise to power of the British-backed nawab of Bengal, Mir Jafar. Throughout this article, Prof. Askari appears to be trying to make sense of the complex motivations of Ram Ramnarain —what motivated his apparent readiness to make terms with East India Company officials? Should we understand him as having been self-serving or honorable in his actions? The study offers a remarkable contrast with Prof. Askari’s later (1944) article on Ram Ramnarain’s role in post-Plassey affairs (J. of Indian History, Vol. XXIII, no. 1), in which we can see how Prof. Askari’s ideas had evolved as his understanding of Ram Ramnarain’s motivations had become increasingly nuanced.

 

Keywords: Raja Ramnarain, Bihar, 18th century, 1757, Battle of Plassey, British East India Company, letter collection, biographical history, Mir Jafar, Mughal

 

Posted: May 23rd, 2020 

1940

S. H. Askari. “An unknown phase of Mughal-Koch relations (based on a newly discovered Persian ms.) in Indian Historical Records Commission Proceedings of Meetings, Vol. XVII (1940), pp. 139-148.

 

This article draws historians’ attention to an epistolary collection titled the Matin Insha, compiled by Anchit Rai sometime around 1700. The bulk of the 70+ letters were written by the military commander (faujdar) Ali Quli Khan to the imperial court, and describe events in a region known as Koch (or Cooch) Bihar (in present-day northern Bengal) under the governorship of the Mughal prince Azim-us-Shan in the late 17th century. The letters offer readers a clear portrait of a territory only nominally under imperial governance. Ali Quli Khan’s letters are replete with complaints about “turbulent” locals, zamindars “intriguing” with the enemy, and “Afghan malcontents.” As Professor S. H. Askari points out, the prominence of Afghans in these letters points to the continued significance of anti-Mughal Afghan interest groups in eastern India a century and a half after Afghan dreams of sovereignty were dashed in northern India. Professor Askari offers a sample translation of some of the more representative or interesting letters, with topics focusing mainly on the issues discussed above, as well as the challenge, overseen in part by Ali Quli Khan himself, of replacing locally circulating currencies with Aurangzeb-era Mughal coinage.

 

Keywords: Kuch Bihar, Mughal, zamindars, rebellion, Indo-Afghan, Bengal, Ali Quli Khan, administration, 17th century, Aurangzeb

 

Posted: February 28th, 2020 

Syed Hasan Askari. “Maharaja Kalyan Singh, Ashiq: The last native governor of Bihar” in Journal of the Bihar and Orissa Research Society, Vol. XXVI (1940), pp. 7-34.

 

This article offers a biography of Maharaja Kalyan Singh, the last Indian governor of Bihar, drawing largely on materials available in the Khulasat-ut-Tawarikh, and from a private collection of poetic and literary texts preserved by the descendants of Kalyan Singh’s family in Patna. Although Prof. S. H. Askari’s account makes clear that Kalyan Singh embroidered his own resume, was an incompetent governor, and boldly cozied up to British East India Company officials in pursuit of personal status and comfort, Professor Askari’s biography is nevertheless humanely sympathetic; it seems Prof. Askari acknowledges the constraints of the era in which Kalyan Singh lived. The article (which in some areas parallels the contents of a 1941 article on the Khulasat), takes its readers through Kalyan Singh’s youth in late Mughal Delhi, through to his shift to the eastern provinces where his father, Shitab Rai,was a powerful political figure. It traces the manner by which the British Company seized the revenue powers of Bihar’s government between 1770-1772, eventually removing Shitab Rai from the Diwani and replacing him with a Company official. When Shitab Rai became ill and died a few months later, the British took the opportunity to ‘award’ the young Kalyan Singh with his father’s formal titles, making of him in the process a creature of the Company. The article then traces Kalyan’s Singh’s governing mis-steps, oversights, and inattention to duty, eventually resulting in his utter bankruptcy. Eventually in the era of Cornwallis (Governor General from 1786-1793), Kalyan Singh travelled to Calcutta where he begged to be awarded a stipend. He remained there for 24 years till his death in 1822, on an annual stipend of 18,000 rupees.

 

Keywords: Bihar, Kalyan Singh, Cornwallis, Nawab, Diwani, Shitab Rai, tarikh, East India Company, 18th century, colonialism

 

Posted: March 6th, 2020

Syed Hasan Askari. "Nawab Munir-ud-Dowla Nadir Jung, a Minister of Shah Alam” in Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, 4th Session (1940), pp. 275-283.

 

In this article, Professor S. H. Askari examines the role of the Persian nobleman Munir-ud-Dowla Nadir Jung, who served the Mughal king for 14 years as his most trusted counsellor. Munir-ud-Dowla served as a vehicle for communication between Shah Alam (r. 1760- 1806) and an array of key actors in late-18th century northern India – the British East India Company, the Rohilla chieftains, the Afghan king, Shah Abdali (also known as Ahmad Shah Durrani, r. 1747-1772), and the Nawab of Awadh. Munir-ud-Dowla began his career while Shah Alam was still the prince Ali Gohar, who fled rebelliously into eastern India in 1759 in an attempt to establish a stronghold in Bihar and Bengal. The prince had little military success in eastern India but became embroiled in the rise of British East India Company power also underway in this region at the time. In the meanwhile, the Afghan king Shah Abdali occupied the capital at Delhi, deposing the Mughal king and ensuring Shah Alam’s coronation. Shah Alam remained in exile in eastern India until 1761, when Munir-ud-Dowla negotiated with Shah Abdali the terms of Shah Alam’s return to Delhi. The remainder of the article traces Munir-ud-Daula’s central role in negotiations with the Rohilla powers in 1763, his critical role in the lead-up to the Battle of Buxar (1764) when he secretly carried messages of the Mughal emperor’s friendship with the British. These secret reassurances critically undermining the tripartite alliance between Mir Qasim of Bengal, the Nawab of Awadh, and the Mughal emperor, but ensured an alliance thereafter between the emperor Shah Alam and the ascendant British Company.

 

Keywords: 18th century, Mughal empire, Shah Abdali, Munir-ud-daula, Muniruddaula, Shah Alam II, British East India Company, nobility, Rohilla, Battle of Buxar

 

Posted: March 10th, 2020 

S. H. Askari. “S. H. Hodivala’s Studies in Indo Muslim History” in Journal of Bihar and Orissa Research Society, Vol XXVI (1940), pp. 252-257.

 

Here Professor Syed Hasan Askari offers a brief and generally favorable review of Dr. Hodivala’s critical commentary on Elliot & Dowson’s well-known History of India as told by its own Historians. The original 19th-century 8-volume project, as Prof. Askari notes, remained in the mid-20th century a much-used resource for historians (the translations continue to be widely used in the subcontinent even today). However, the translations are riddled with translation errors and questionable interpretations. Prof. Hodivala’s critical review attempts to serve in part as an Errata, and in part as a reevaluation of some of Elliot and Dowson’s interpretations. Dr. Askari, using a handful of “generally correct” and old manuscripts available in his local “village library” sat down to examine Prof. Hodivala’s work. He found it largely satisfactory, although noted a handful of places in which Hodivala’s work had overlooked various points. In some cases, he found the manuscripts under his review to be clearer more accurate than either of those studied by Elliot and Dowson or by Hodivala. Because Prof. Askari believed that not all historians would be able to access the original Persian and Arabic manuscripts, he felt scholars should not approach Elliot and Dowson’s translations without Prof. Hodivala at their side. No doubt Prof. Askari would agree, however, that best of all is to rely on the original Persian or Arabic text.

 

Keywords: historiography, Hodivala, Elliot & Dowson, colonial history, translation, Persian, Arabic, Indo-Persian

 

Posted: March 11th, 2020 

S. H. Askari. “Verelst’s Rule in India. By Dr. Nandalal Chatterji, MA., Ph.D., Indian Press, Allahabad, 1939” in Journal of the Bihar and Orissa Research Society, Vol XXVI (1940), p. 178-183.

 

This brief review article examines Dr. Nandalal Chatterji’s study of Henry Verelst’s short-lived tenure as the second Governor of Bengal, between 1767-1769. While his governorship has often been ignored in the historiography, both Prof. Chatterji and Prof. Askari believe that although brief, his period of rule was important for understanding early British East India Company policy as it expanded its influence inland. The book covers topics related to economic policy, relations with the “country powers” such as the Bhonsles of Nagpur and Orissa, the Nawab of Awadh, the Mughal emperor, and the perceived threat of Shah Abdali. The book also examines a handful of campaigns and negotiations, particularly those relating to the rulers of Nepal. Prof. Askari is largely complementary in his review of the book, however in some places it is clear that Prof. Askari had his doubts about the overall tone of the study. At one point he observed that Prof. Chatterji was too sympathetic to “his hero,” whose “obvious shortcomings” were clearly apparent even to Chatterji. Still, Prof. Askari ends the review by noting that “we agree with the author’s view that Verelst’s tender regard for the suffering of riots of Bengal mark him as a high-minded administrator in advance of his time.” If this review itself is read as a historical document, one can perceive the struggle and hesitation of mid-century Indian historians, still living under a colonial regime, to articulate a critical historiography of India’s colonial period.

 

Keywords: 18th century, Bengal, East India Company, British, Verelst, Governor, Nandalal Chatterji, Chatterjee, historiography, colonial era, British India

 

Posted: March 13th, 2020

Syed Hasan Askari. “Sources of the History of the Nawabs of the Carnatic III. By S. Muhammad Husayn Nainar (review)” in Journal of the Bihar and Orissa Research Society, Vol. XXVI, Pt. II, June 1940, pp. 283-285.

 

This is a brief and cautiously favorable review of S. Muhammad Husayn’s translation of Muhammad Karim’s Sawanihat-i Mumtaz (c. 1837) by Professor S. H. Askari. The Sawanihat itself is a chronicle of the history of the Wala Jahi court at Arcot between approximately 1794-1801, an era when the British East India Company held a firm grip over much of southeastern India, strengthened in 1799 by their victory over Tipu Sultan of Mysore. Prof. Askari compliments Muhammad Nainar’s translation, finding it a “fairly faithful rendering” with a useful glossary. At the same time, Prof. Askari takes issue with the assertion, made in the translator’s preface, that the Sawanihat serves as a window into an era when the Carnatic was beginning to “lose its Muslim identity” in favor of “alien culture and ideas.” For Prof. Askari, this conclusion seems an altogether too narrow and inflexible a perspective, seeming to suggest that the chronicle itself offers answer to its translator-critic. Prof. Askari points out that the text is rich with depictions of celebrations, gatherings, travel, and the elaborate domestic and courtly life of the Wala Jahi royal family.

 

Keywords: Review, Karnatak, Carnatic, Wala Jahi, Sawanihat-i Mumtaz, British East India Company, Arcot, Madras, Tipu Sultan, Mysore, South India, 18th century, 19th century

 

Posted: March 22nd, 2020 

S.H. Askari. “Bihar in the Time of Akbar (i), (ii)” in Bengal, Past & Present: Journal of the Calcutta Historical Society, Vol. 59 & 60, (1940 & 1941) & Collected Works of Prof. S.H. Askari - Medieval Bihar: Sultanate & Mughal Period, by Professor Syed Hasan Askari, Volume 4, (1990). pp. 98-134.

 

This extensive article by Professor Syed Hasan Askari, offers a detailed study of the political history of Bihar during the reign of the Mughal emperor Akbar (r. 1556-1605). In particular, it traces the slow conquest of a region that had become a hotbed for Afghan resistance to the Mughals. Prof. Askari opens the article by noting that earlier studies of Mughal-era Bihar had made serious errors in basic political chronology, and so one of its most crucial services is to offer a reliable timeline of governorships, major battles, and implementation of imperial administration. For scholars interested in Afghans in India, the article offers crucial insight into their networks across the Bihar and Bengal countryside, as well as their relationship with soldiering communities such as the Ujjainiyas, and the Mughals’ slow process of wearing away those networks and appropriating connections with the Ujjainiyas for themselves. Prof. Askari does scholars a great service by his close reading of available sources – his footnotes illustrate the detail with which he has studied and cross-referenced the events he lays out here. Where possible he reads across multiple manuscript copies and highlights discrepancies, anomalies (reference to a kohistan or ‘hill country’ in a region without hills), mistranslations by figures such as Beveridge, and useful explanation regarding obscure phrasing in Abul Fazl’s Akbarnama.

 

Keywords: Bihar, Sur, Lodi, Afghan, Akbar, Muzaffar Khan, Said Khan, Mughal, confederacy, 16th century, borderland, Bengal

 

Posted: March 29th, 2020 

 

 

1941

Syed Husain Askari. “Bihar in the 1st Quarter of the 18th Century,” in Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, 5 (1941), pp. 394-405.

 

Observing a shortage in the scholarship on early-18th century Bihar, this article offers an overview of the political history of the region beginning in the last two decades of the 17th century and carrying through to the 1730s. The article relies largely on better-known sources including Persian histories by Khafi Khan, Kamwar Khan, Shivdas Lakhnavi (Sheo Das in the text), as well as Mirza Muhammad, Murtaza Hussain Allahyar Bilgrami, and others. Professor S. H. Askari also draws upon English and Dutch records. Finally, Professor Askari endeavors to highlight another manuscript which he had discovered in the Alamganj neighborhood of Patna, which contained some yāddāsht (memorandums) of the Mughal government during this period (the mss is not named, Professor Askari merely refers to its owner). Professor Syed Askari’s summary largely follows the expected trajectory for a study written during this period – orderly government giving way to rising disorder. The article begins with the seemingly exemplary governorship of the Mughal prince Azim-us-Shan, then pauses to examine in some detail the governorship of the future emperor Farrukhsiyar and his early relationship with the Sayyid Barha, Hussain Ali Khan (whose role as a kingmaker in later years would make him notorious). Later, Professor Askari examines the bloody history of Mir Jumla’s governorship in 1715, including the violence enacted on the population by Mughal soldiers. The article concludes with a survey of apparently rising disorder from the Ujjainiyya Rajput community and the growing influence of the British. Professor S. H. Askari’s article offers a laudable close reading of the sources.

 

Abstract Author’s Review Note: However, as more recent scholars such as Muzaffar Alam have shown, anxieties expressed by contemporary Mughal sources often disguised a more optimistic economic reality, in which up-and-coming groups and regional elites successfully fought for a greater slice of the political pie during this period, contributing to the fragmentation of the Mughal Empire.

 

Keywords: 18th century, Bihar suba, Patna, Mir Jumla, Ujjainiyya, economy, political history, Farrukhsiyar, Husain Ali Khan Barha

PSHA-HP Reviewer's Comments: The middle name should be Hasan instead of Husain as it was an unintentional typographical error when the research article was published by IHC in 1941.

Posted: February 25th, 2020

S. H. Askari. “A Critical study of Kalyan Singh’s Khulasat-ut-Tawarikh” in Indian Historical Quarterly, Vol. XVII (1941), pp. 340-358.

 

Here Professor Syed Hasan Askari examines the Khulasat al-Tawarikh, a late 18th-century Persian chronicle written by the Bihar-based officer, scholar, and poet Kalyan Singh, a member of the Sakhsena Kayasth community. Kalyan Singh’s father had been a key figure in negotiations during the 1760s between the Nawab of Awadh, the British East India Company based in Calcutta, and the Mughal Emperor in Delhi. Professor Askari’s summary here serves as a warning to the unwary historian: Despite the text’s seeming promise, he states that the Khulasat seems to have been composed not so much in order to preserve an accurate historical record, but rather to win over a British audience who Kalyan Singh may have hoped would reward his family by preserving or reinstituting their influence and property. Professor Syed Askari spends several pages in highlighting what he sees as the most important portions of the Khulasat, particularly those sections in which Singh described important negotiations between Indian and British actors. Askari then raises a number of concerns about the reliability of those descriptions, pointing out at various points that Kalyan Singh must have been little more than a child (and thus is claims to have played an outsized role in negotiations were absurd), or (in an otherwise apparently accurate and detailed account of a battle scene) highlighting the fact that other sources recorded Kalyan Singh as having secretly taken up negotiations with the British, a detail he had conveniently forgotten. Finally, Professor Askari notes that in many places, Kalyan Singh either copied or closely paraphrased the well-known chronicle by Ghulam Hussain Khan, the Siyar al-Mutakherin.

 

Keywords: Eighteenth century, Awadh, British East India Company, Khulasat al-tawarikh, historiography, chronicle, Kayasth

 

Posted: February 28th, 2020 

Syed Hasan Askari. “Muzaffarnama and its Author - A study” in Journal of Historical Research, Aligarh, Vol. 1, No. 1 (1941), pp. 121-139

 

Prof. Askari argues that the Muzaffarnama, written in the late 18th century, is the most detailed and best contemporary history of the Nazims of Bengal. The author, Mirza Karam Ali Khan, was born in 1735 and spent his life in courtly service both in Bengal and Bihar, serving at various points Raja Ram Narayan, the deputy governor of Bihar, Alivardi Khan (r. 1740-1756) and Muzaffar Jang, the titular ruler of Bengal (1760s). Prof. Askari finds one of the most valuable aspects of the Muzaffarnama to be the author’s thoroughgoing commitment to honesty, even at the risk of appearing overly critical. Prof. Askari describes him as a “true historian,” suppressing bias and rejecting partisanship even when writing about his own patrons. Noting for example that the author was no great fan of the British East India Company, Prof. Askari points out that the author did have some British friends. The article offers an overview of the Muzaffarnama, its contents, and the author’s merits, and would be a useful resource for anyone interested in 18th-century Bengal, Bihar, or the rise of British East India Company power in India at this time.

 

Keywords: Bengal, Bihar, 18th century, Alivardi Khan, Muzaffar Jang, Mirza Karam Ali Khan, Mir Qasim, Mir Jafar, Raja Ram Narayan, British East India Company, historian

 

Posted: September 18th, 2020 

1942

Syed Hasan Askari. “A Copy of Dastur-ul-Amal” in Historical Records Commission Proceedings of Meetings, Vol. XVIII (1942), pp 178-188.

 

This article examines the first part of an unusual manuscript, likely to have been written by an unnamed Hindu Kayasth with close connections to the official and scribal community in Bihar’s regional government in the latter decades of the 18th century. Like other texts of this genre (which typically included administrative, financial, and gazetteer-like features), the Dastur represented itself as offering a complete overview of all of the Mughal subas (provinces). Most interesting for Professor S. H. Askari and for most readers of this text, however, was the anonymous author’s more detailed study of Bihar’s geographical, financial, and political conditions. Professor Askari comments that the text included an unusual section detailing the suba’s main aristocratic families – the so-called “rajas and zamindaris” of Bihar. It also provided a description of the key routes between Patna (Azimabad), Lucknow, and Balrampur, giving the reader valuable insight onto countryside, people, and landscape of the author’s time period. Another interesting section delved into corrupt practices in Bihar in the 18th century, particularly the practice of forging seals on imperial grants of various types. The Dastur, Professor Askari notes, provides a unique insight into the economy of corruption, even describing certain families in the region who made a hereditary practice of this ‘art’ (of sorts). Askari concludes his study of the Dastur with a translated sample of a section describing the political history of Nepal.

 

Keywords: Dastur al-amal, Patna, 18th century, Bihar aristocracy, gazetteer, Nepal, forged seals, corruption, administration

 

Posted: February 28th, 2020

Syed Hasan Askari. “A contemporary account in Persian of the Mutiny of 1857-58” in Indian Historical Records Commission, Vol XIX (1942), pp 100-105.

 

Here, Professor S. H. Askari introduces his readers to an Anglo-Indian author of Persian and Urdu verse named Francis Godlieu Quins “Fraso,” who had written a first-hand account of the 1857 Rebellion in northern India. The manuscript, held in the collection at Khuda Bakhsh Library, appears to have been written between a period dating May 15th 1857 through May or perhaps July of 1858 the following year. Prof. Askari notes that in large measure, the narrative follows the standard account of events in this period –references to the greased cartridges, ground animal bones in the flour used to feed soldiers, imprisonment of troopers, the rise of Indian regiments and Meerut, etc. Later events in Delhi and in the rebels’ downward turn of fortune, similarly, follow familiar lines. Prof. Askari notes that a few minor variations in the text should not be enough to dismiss its value. What is of greatest interest in Quins’ story is his personal experiences. He offered safe housing to a great number of European refugees from the city of Delhi during this period, for which he was attacked by Indian rebels who ransacked his home and chained and beat him and his wife. In return for this humiliation later, Quins noted, European forces took their revenge upon the rebels. One of the rebel leaders, Shah Mull, was decapitated and his head placed on a sphere, a tactic which, Quins concluded approvingly, had “good effect.” Quins concluded his text by warning the British against the Hindu and Muslim populations alike, both of which, he argued, needed to be kept from mischief by stern and even violent governance. Prof. Askari’s outline of this manuscript offers an unusual window into an Anglo-Indian’s experience of the Rebellion.

 

Keywords: 1857, Rebellion, mutiny, Anglo-Indian, Delhi

 

Posted: March 11th, 2020

Syed Hasan Askari. “Some Unpublished Letters of Raja Ram Narain” in "Bengal, Past & Present: Journal of the Calcutta Historical Society. Vol. 62 (1942), pp. 54-71

 

This article examines a letter collection preserving some of the correspondence to and from Raja Ram Narayan, the deputy governor of Bihar (1752-1761), whose character and political biography are the topic of several other studies by Prof. Askari. The letters examined here are particularly worthy of interest for Prof. Askari, for whereas many of the letters given English-language gloss and published elsewhere were to or from representatives of the British East India Company, these were between Indian leaders, thus lending a more dimensional perspective to late-18th-century politics in the region. The letters mainly focus on the three invasions of Bihar by Shah Alam, while some also refer to the invasion of Shah Abdali (Durrani). The letters that Prof. Askari finds most interesting are translated, either in full or in part, and the bulk of the article is given over to these translations.

 

Keywords: 18th century, British East India Company, Bihar, Shah Alam II, Mughal, Benares, Awadh, Oudh, Miran, Bengal, Raja Ram Narayan, Abdali, Durrani

Posted: September 26th, 2020

1943

Syed Hasan Askari. “Bihar during the first quarter of the 17th century (Bihar in the first quarter of 17th century)” in Proceedings Volume, Indian History Congress, Vol. 6 (1943), Collected Works of Prof. S.H. Askari - Medieval Bihar: Sultanate & Mughal Period, Volume 4 by Professor Syed Hasan Askari. (1990), pp. 135-140.

 

This brief article by Professor S. H. Askari, offers an useful overview of the key episodes of the political history of Bihar in the early 17th century. Prof. Askari describes the formation of the Mughal suba of Bihar as a separate unit from Bengal. He also offers a chronology of governorships in the region from the later decades of Akbar’s reign (1556-1605) through that of Jahangir (r. 1605-1627), and highlights some of the most important events of each era. Finally, he highlights Bihar’s central importance in imperial politics as he outlines its place in the princely conflict between Parvez and Khurram (later known by his regnal name, Shah Jahan).

 

Keywords: Bihar, Mughal, suba, Akbar, Jahagir, Shah Jahan, governorship, subadari, Bengal

 

Posted: March 28th, 2020

 

 

Syed Hasan Askari. “Political Significance of Hazin’s Career in India” in "Bengal, Past & Present: Journal of the Calcutta Historical Society", Vol. 62 (1943), pp 1-10

 

This article picks up on a topic Prof. Askari broached several years previously, examining the career of the Iranian poet Shaikh Ali Hazin, who arrived in Indian in 1733 and died in Benares in 1760, having spent the last decades of his life resident in Patna and eastern India. This article focuses primarily on a collection of letters written by the poet to several well-known figures in North Indian politics during the period. Prominent amongst them are letters to Raja Ram Narayan, the deputy governor of Bihar and himself a poet, who was also Hazin’s student. Other letters were addressed to figures such as Sirajuddaula, the former governor of Bengal. These letters describe affairs in Delhi and in eastern India, including Maratha incursions, civil war in Delhi, and negotiations and conflict with the British. Correspondence with Raja Ram Narayan in particular highlight the poet’s close friendship with the Hindu politician. The article provides useful insight into rare correspondence from the middle decades of the 18th century, and affords Prof. Askari’s usual eye for detail and sympathy with his subject.

 

Keywords: Bihar, Shaikh Ali Hazin, Raja Ram Narayan, Sirajuddaula, Marathas, letter collection, insha, poetry, Persian, 18th century, British East India Company, friendship

 

Posted: April 21st, 2020 

Syed Hasan Askari, A newly discovered letter of Shah Alam to George III, in Proceedings Volume, Indian Historical Records Commission, Vol 20, 1943, pp 47-49.

 

This short article describes a letter written by the Mughal emperor Shah Alam to the British king, George III, in 1779. The letter is part of a collection known as the Mifta-i-Khazayen. The article describes the emperor’s frustration with the British East India Company for failing to pay the Bengal tribute—a sum totaling in the crores of rupees. The emperor continues with critiques of Lord Clive and of (Archibald?) Swinton, whom Shah Alam describes as faithless misappropriators. The letter also points to British administrative failings, the declining yields in the provinces they control, and the failure to halt corrupt English agents’ corrupt dealings. The article, written in 1943 only a few years before independence, is notable for its choice of topic and for the relish with which Prof. Askari summarizes Shah Alam’s observations.

 

Keywords: Shah Alam, 18th century, British East India Company, letter collection, Lord Clive, Archibald Swinton, Bengal tribute, Mughal, King George III

Posted: May 25th, 2020 

 

 

1944

Khan Sahib Syed Hasan Askari. “Bihar in the time of Shahjahan” in Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, 7th session (1944), pp. 348-360.

 

This article outlines the political history of Bihar suba during the reign of Shah Jahan (r. 1628-1657). The paper is organized in a straightforward fashion, making note of the key aspects of each succeeding governorship. Professor S. H. Askari gives most careful attention to the first two governors of the era, namely Saif Khan (governor between 1628-1632) and Abdullah Khan (1632-1639), before offering more summary accounts of a handful of governors that followed. One of the most interesting things about this article is the manner in which Professor Askari is able to highlight the fashion by which the position of governorship (subadari) facilitated movement between regional and imperial circles and helped shape a larger imperial culture. For example: Professor Askari notes how under Saif Khan’s regime, several so-called “sons of Bihar” rose to prominence on an empire-wide stage. Two “Hindi” poets were made famous for their talents, while others found accolades on battlegrounds far from home.

 

Abstract Author’s Review Note: This argument fits quite readily in with more recent scholarship, for example Munis Faruqui’s "Princes of the Mughal Empire" or Allison’s Busch’s "Poetry of Kings", both of which rely on a ‘rotational’ model of government, in which Mughal policies that promoted regular movement of officials around the empire helped manufacture an incorporative shared elite culture.

 

Keywords: Bihar, subadari, governorship, 17th century, succession war, Shah Jahan, Jahangir, Mughal culture

 

Posted: February 29th, 2020

Sayyad Hasan Askari. “Raja Ram Narain and the Post-Plassey Affairs” in Journal of Indian History, Vol. XXIII, Issue 1 (1944), pp. 19-39.

 

Prof. Askari begins this article by pointing out that in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Plassey (1757), the British became, not without reason, convinced that the deputy governor of Bihar was not necessarily their ally. They were sufficiently worried about Ram Narayan, in fact, that they quickly formed a conspiracy to try to politically isolate him. The remainder of the article is taken up in explaining how it transpired that, by early 1758, Major General Clive had become convinced that Raja Ram Narayan “was the cause of the predominance and domination of the English” in the immediate post-Plassey period, and was, moreover, a reliable ally and efficient leader. Prof. Askari teases out a complex narrative which hinges around the untrustworthy and incompetent character of Mir Jafar, the British Company’s chosen creature and titular governor of Bengal. Drawing on contemporary chronicles as well as British and Hindustani correspondence, Prof. Askari is able to show how Raja Ram Narayan, initially disinclined to engage closely with Bengali politics on account of his distrust for Mir Jafar, who had usurped the position formerly held by his former masters, Nawab Aliwardi Khan and Nawab Shujauddaula, is gradually forced to understand that his political survival depends on his good relationship with the British. In fostering such a relationship, Raja Ram Narayan was able to weaken his rival, Mir Jafar’s ties to the British.

 

Keywords: Plassey, British East India Company, Mir Jafar, Ram Narayan, Bihar, Bengal, Aliwardi Khan, Shuja-ud-daula, Shujauddaula, 18th century

 

PSHA-HP Reviewer's Comments: The first name should be "Syed" instead of "Sayyed" as it was an unintentional typographical error when the research article was published in JIH in 1944.

 

Posted: March 11th, 2020

 

 

Mr. Syed Hasan Askari. “Munshaat-i Husaini, A collection of Browne’s Correspondence” in Proceedings Volume, Indian Historical Records Commission, Vol. XXI, (1944), pp. 52-54

 

This brief 3-page article by Professor S. H. Askari, offers an overview of the contents of an unbound and undated manuscript held by the Khuda Bakhsh Library, which contains some 227 letters from Major James Browne of the British East India Company, and various Indian leaders – amongst them the Mughal emperor, several Rajput rulers, and high-ranking leaders and officials in courts from Benares to Awadh, Mathura, Panjab, and other north Indian centers. The letters, dated beginning in 1782 and ending in 1784, offer a fine-grained portrait of affairs, including conflicts with the Jats, and negotiations between the Delhi court and various Rajput leaders, including Ranjit Singh of Bharatpur. They follow Major Browne as he moved between a number of North Indian cities and sought to shape inland courtly politics to benefit Company interests.

 

Keywords: Major Browne, 18th century, Shah Alam, Mughal, Delhi, Rajput, Lucknow, Jat, Sindhia, travel, British East India Company

 

Posted: March 22nd, 2020 

1945

 

Syed Hasan Askari. “Bihar in the time of Aurangzeb” in Journal of Bihar Research Society, Vol. XXXI (1945), pp. 243-261.

 

This article examines the strategic significance of the suba of Bihar in the late 17th century. Professor S. H. Askari states that between Akbar’s period, when it was incorporated into the empire, until the last years of Aurangzeb’s reign, the region remained “absolutely independent” from its neighboring province of Bengal. It was only after it fell under the governorship of Azim-us-Shan late in Aurangzeb’s reign that fell under the administrative shadow of Bengal. The bulk of the article concentrates on the military and political machinations of high-ranking Mughal officials and royal household members. It begins by examining the governorship of prince Shah Shuja, and his endeavor to make the region into a stronghold during the succession war—eventually decided in favor of Aurangzeb. Imperial campaigns led first by Mir Jumla and then by Daud Khan Quraishi, which ran through Bihar and continued onwards into Bengal in pursuit of Shah Shuja, may have indirectly contributed to the growing administrative entanglement of the two regions. For scholars interested in the details of the military campaigns in the east and of the succession struggle between Aurangzeb, Dara Shukoh, and Shah Shuja, this article offers a careful outline of Bihar’s role in these important events.

 

Abstract Author’s Review Note: This article offers an interesting correspondence with recent work by Jos Gommans, who, in "Mughal Warfare", underscored the importance of geopolitics in Mughal history, outlining a number of what he described as “nuclear zones” where actors might consolidate regional power in pursuit of influence or even dominance at the imperial center. While Gommans located one of these nuclear zones in Bengal, Bihar’s place directly along one of the main imperial “high roads” to Bengal, in combination with Bihar’s importance as a major military recruitment center for the empire, affords it similar strategic significance.

 

Keywords: Bihar, subadari, governorship, 17th century, nuclear zones, succession war, Aurangzeb, Shah Jahan, Shah Shuja, Dara Shukoh, Bengal, Mughal culture

Posted: February 29th, 2020

Khan Sahib Syed Hasan Askari. “Majmua-i Yusufi: A newly discovered work of the historian Yusuf Ali Khan” in Indian Historical Records Commission, Vol. XXII (1945), pp. 45-48.

 

This brief article examines a newly discovered work (preserved in the library of Nawab Jabir Ali Khan of Husainabad) of the historian Yusuf Ali Khan, son of Ghulam Ali Khan. Yusuf Ali Khan was also responsible for several other titles, including the Waqa‘i-i Mahabat Jang and the Hadiqat-us-Safa. In three pages, Professor S. H. Askari highlights the importance of this manuscript for interested readers – noting the author’s description of his shared itinerary, alongside Mir Qasim, from Murshidabad to Patna after Mir Qasim’s defeat at the Battle of Buxar (1764). Yusuf Ali Khan offered a careful description of geography, people, dates, landscape, and other details. The author also provided a number of key details relevant to anyone interested in the reign of emperor Shah Alam II (r. 1760-1806). Also present in the manuscript’s pages were descriptions of affairs in Calcutta, Benares, and elsewhere in eastern India between AH 1174-1180 (1761-1766 CE).

 

Keywords: Bihar, Bengal, tarikh, Mir Qasim, Shah Alam, Buxar, Ghulam Ali Khan, Calcutta, Benaras, Beni Bahadur, geography

 

Posted: March 6th, 2020

Khan Sahib Prof. S. H. Askari. “Movements of Nizam Ali and the Marathas (Nov, 1773-June 1774)” in Proceedings Volume, Deccan History Congress  (1945), pp. 408-416.

 

Even today, late 18th-century Deccan history receives very little by way of scholarly attention. This was all the more so in the 1940s, when Professor Syed Hasan Askari decided to turn his gaze to a little-known work, the “Waka-i-Iqbal” (probably Waqā‘i’-yi Iqbāl), composed by Qazi Faiz al-Haqq in pargana Pipari, Aurangababd. The text, written on behalf of one of Nizam Ali Khan Asaf Jah II (r. 1762-1803) of Hyderabad’s chief military ministers, describes a short period of time between Nov 1773 and June of 1774, during which Nizam Ali Khan engaged the Maratha Peshwa of the period, Rathunath Rao (r. 1773-1774) in a series of military confrontations. One of Prof. Askari’s primary ambitions in this study is to push back against the common assumption that Nizam Ali Khan was a weak and incapable leader who had sat idly by as the British Company swallowed up much of the southern subcontinent. And indeed, in this unusual manuscript, we are treated to a far more muscular vision of Nizam Ali Khan. According to Faiz al-Haqq, Raghunath Rao, who had seized power in a coup, engaged in a series of “disturbances”: plundering and burning villages, bothering agriculturalists, and other forms of trouble-making along the Maratha-Hyderabad border. The Nizam, according to this version of events, successfully reasserted the rule of law, protecting the inhabitants of the countryside and emerging victorious from a string of confrontations. Prof. Askari’s useful summary of this manuscript serves as a resource for anyone seeking develop a better understanding of this understudied period.

 

Keywords: 18th century, Deccan, Hyderabad, Marathas, Peswha, Raghunath Rao, Nizam Ali Khan, Asaf Jah II, frontier, borderland

 

Posted: March 19th, 2020 

Syed Hasan Askari. “Durrani-Rajput Negotiations 1759-61”, in Proceedings Volume Indian History Congress, Vol. VIII (1945), pp. 257-269

 

This article focuses on a manuscript, probably compiled at the end of the 18th century, which includes records of Jaipur state. It includes a number of letters relating to the state’s negotiations with the court of Ahmad Shah Durrani, who organized several invasions of northern India. Prof. Askari argues that the correspondence preserved in this manuscript demonstrates that Durrani was not merely raiding India, but rather sought during his 1761 campaign (in which he and affiliated forces defeated a Maratha-led army at Panipat) to establish Durrani political supremacy in the northern subcontinent. Prof. Askari is also interested in exploring the warm relationship between Rajput polities and the Durrani court. At issue here is Rajput-Maratha antagonism – Rajput kingdoms including Jaipur-based Kachhawahas saw themselves as under threat from the expanding Maratha empire to the south. Along with other northern powers such as the Rohillas, Rajputs went so far as to invite Ahmad Shah Durrani to remain in India as a means of protection; in exchange, Durrani sent a number of warm missives promising the Rajputs greater honor and prominence than they had received under the Mughals. This is a prime example of Prof. Askari’s faithfulness to his sources, regardless of prevailing political winds. During an era of high nationalist feeling, he insisted on tackling sources that told a more complicated story in which Rajputs, commonly perceived as proto-nationalist heroes, in this case embraced a Central Asian, Muslim invader against their fellow Hindu rivals in the Deccan. The article is useful for the insight it affords regarding the period of Durrani’s invasion, but also with respect to Rajputs’ complex political strategies after the fall of Mughal power in the early 18th century.

 

Keywords: 18th century, Ahmad Shah Durrani, Rajput, Jaipur, Kachhawaha, Marathas, Panipat, Rohilla, Mughal, Delhi

 

Posted: September 18th, 2020 

 

 

 

 

1946

 

 

Khan Sahib Syed Hasan Askari. Historical contents of three scrap books of bayaz” in Indian Historical Records Commission, Vol. XXIII, (1946), pp. 37-40.

 

In this article, Professor S. H. Askari describes the contents of three bayaz manuscripts, loosely defined as scrapbooks or “commonplace” books, where their owners might jot down fragments of poetry – their own or another’s verse – chronograms, daily events, and other pieces of information. In this case, Professor Askari’s summaries offer us insights into the lives of three men, Daud Ali Khan, Shah Muhammad Ali, and Muhammad Mehdi, who lived between the mid 18th and early 19th centuries. Their bayaz offer us details about their travels –to the Holy Cities and more locally within northern India; illustrative lines of Urdu rekhta poetry; a number of chronograms (abjad, in which important dates are memorialized by composing short phrases or poetic lines the numerical value of its letters which add up to the appropriate year); descriptions of significant events in Bihari history, such as the death of Bihar’s governor, Haibat Jang, in 1748; and a description of Muhammad Mehdi’s (unnamed) grandfather, who had been a historian of Bihar.

 

Keywords: Bayaz, scrapbooks, commonplace, Bihar, chronograms, abjad, poetry, rekhta, travelogue, safarnama

 

Posted: February 29th, 2021

S.H. Askari. “Bihar in the time of Aurangzeb (ii)” in The Journal of Bihar Research Society, Vol. 32, (1946), & & Collected Works of Prof. S.H. Askari - Medieval Bihar: Sultanate & Mughal Period, by Professor Syed Hasan Askari, Volume 4, (1990). pp. 153-169.

 

Professor Syed Hasan Askari offers here a straightforward political chronology of Bihar from around 1665 through 1682. He outlines the several Mughal governorships of these period, highlighting key events and (as in the case of the end of Saif Khan’s governorship), endeavoring to pin down hitherto uncertain dates by painstaking cross-reference. Interestingly, although Prof. Askari largely relies on the standard Persian chronicles, he also allows himself several pages in which to explore European travel accounts, in particular that of J. Marshall. While Prof. Askari warns his readers that such narratives need to be taken with a grain of salt, it is apparent that he finds their distinct voice and perspective to be enjoyable. In particular, he quotes at length both from a section describing a major famine in 1670, and from descriptions of the city of Patna. For the latter, we can see that how Marshall’s fresh eyes picked up details about the city’s architecture and its daily use by inhabitants that are largely ignored in the Persian histories. For the former, despite his warning that we should take care not to trust blindly in Marshall’s report that the governor’s wife contributed to the suffering by refusing to sell her rice stockpiles except at exorbitant price, it is impossible to avoid seeing in Prof. Askari’s telling some historian’s joy in reading a source that departs from the dominant courtly narrative, which inevitably rallies around the Mughal sovereign and his servants.

 

Keywords: Mughal, Aurangzeb, Bihar, 17th century, governorship, suba, subadari, European sources, Persian chronicle, famine, Patna, Saif Khan, akbarat

 

Posted: March 29th, 2020 

S.H. Askari. “Bihar in the Time of Aurangzeb (iii)”, in The Journal of Bihar Research Society, Vol. 32, (1946), & Collected Works of Prof. S.H. Askari - Medieval Bihar: Sultanate & Mughal Period, by Professor Syed Hasan Askari, Volume 4, (1990)., pp. 170-196.

 

This article by Professor Syed Hasan Askari carries the story of Mughal governance in Bihar forward from the 1680s through to the end of Aurangzeb’s reign in 1707. As with other articles in this series, here Prof. Askari seeks to lay out a clear political chronology for the region, clarifying uncertainty where it exists and helping to fill in details that allow us a better sense of the reality of imperial power in the province. The article begins by untangling a long-standing point of confusion – originating with British colonial translations – between two distinct Mughal noblemen, Saif Khan and Safi Khan. Both served as governors in the suba, the former and then the latter in turn. Prof. Askari begins this article’s narrative with Safi Khan’s regime, outlining the several important rebellions that took place under his governorship, and describing his somewhat ignominious removal from power, when he was temporarily imprisoned for pocketing treasury funds. Prof. Askari then clarifies the previously murky question as to who governed next – he argues that it was Buzurg Umid Khan. Under this and succeeding governments, we are treated to remarkably expansive lists of key regional officials. This turns out to be particularly important under the governorship of prince Azim-us-Shan (son of prince Muazzam), when the strategic and economic significance of the province becomes especially evident. Prof. Askari is able to paint for us a picture of how the Bihar governorship functions as a complex system with multiple points of attachment to the imperial center. Altogether, this is an important and useful article for anyone interested either in the history of Mughal Bihar, or in better understanding the complex dynamic between regional and central governance during Aurangzeb’s era.

 

Keyword: Aurangzeb, Mughal, Bihar, Bengal, suba, subadari, governorship, Azim-us-Shan, Kartalab Khan, Buzurg Umid Khan, Safi Khan, Saif Khan, Inayatullah Khan, akhbarat

 

Posted: March 29th, 2020 

1947

Syed Hasan Askari. “A contemporary correspondence describing the events at Delhi at the time of Nadir Shah’s invasion” in Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, vol.10, 1947, pp: 357-366.

 

This article offers a shortened translation of an account of Nadir Shah’s invasion of Delhi in 1739. The account comes from a bayaz or notebook owned by the historian Yusuf Ali Khan, son-in-law of the early-18th century governor of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, Ala ud-Daula (likely Sarfaraz Khan, r. 1739-1740). The account and its audience are unknown, although it appears to have been written by a newswriter to an unknown nawab. The text gives a more general overview of the period between 13 February 1739 – 7 April 1739, and then a much more detailed account of the events of the 7th-18th of that April. The account then ends abruptly. According to Professor S. H. Askari, the manuscript had been owned by the recently deceased Nawab Jabir Ali Khan of Husainabad.

The account is valuable in and of itself for its eye-witness account of a tumultuous period in Delhi’s history, but also appears to provide a number of details purportedly not widely discussed in other sources, including a detailed account of Nadir Shah’s camp, the conditions and salaries of his key noblemen, soldiers’ salaries, arrangements for the horses of the camp, food rations, and allowances for booty taken during war (anything worth less than 20 rupees, or about 2/3rds a soldier’s monthly salary, was fair game). The document’s author took a dim view of the behavior of many of the noblemen during this episode, decrying their seeming readiness to accommodate the invader. Amongst the author’s most despised collaborators were Nawab Burhan al-Mulk (of Awadh), Nawab Asaf Jah (of Hyderabad), and Jugal Kishor, a Delhi-based financial administrator whose eagerness to make himself useful to Nadir Shah earned the wrath of many. The author also singles out those whose behavior he viewed as honorable, amongst which were a small handful of minor noblemen and eunuchs who surrounded Muhammad Shah, as well as some Jats and other zamindars who retained autonomous quarters in the environs of Delhi in which Nadir Shah’s men remained unwelcome through the course of his invasion.

 

Keywords: Nadir Shah, Muhammad Shah, Mughal, eighteenth century, nobility, newswriter, bayaz, invasion, Delhi, Burhan al-Mulk, Asaf Jah, Jugal Kishor

Posted: February 25th, 2020

Syed Hassan Askari. “Presidential Address” in Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, Vol. 10 (1947), pp. 330-340).

 

In his Presidential Address, offered in the same year as the subcontinent violently split into two new post-colonial nation-states, Professor S. H. Askari recommended that his fellow historians weigh their professional responsibilities in light of concerns on a global and humanistic scale: happiness and peace, global historical developments. Towards this end, he urged his colleagues to take up the burden of turning over forgotten or ignored sources, returning to old translations with a newly critical eye, and opening up new paths through the investigation of less-studied South Asian languages. Professor Askari clearly recognized that India stood at a precipice, in which a post-colonial future might be forged in part by reevaluating the trajectories of its pre-colonial past. Towards this end, Professor Syed Askari offered a sampling of potentially valuable materials – returning to the well-trodden era of Akbar and Jahangir’s rule (r. 1556-1605, 1605-1627), he recommended the novel perspective offered by Shaikh Abul Haq Muhaddis, whose comparatively restrained critiques of Akbar’s din-i ilahi had received less attention than the more virulent Shaikh Sirhindi. Professor Askari also encourages the greater study of bayaz, a variety of ‘commonplace’ or pocket notebooks in which Persian and Urdu-literate figures scribbled everything from lines of poetry to chronograms to personal reflections. Despite the seemingly minor significance of these sources, he suggests that they could be used to better understand the flavor and mentality of a given era. Continuing in his encouragement of new historiographical avenues, Professor Askari also suggested that historians should be devoting their energy to collecting old ballads – be they remembered or written down – and to folklore. Moreover, he stated, other eras and regions of South Asian history deserved more attention. Both the Afghans and the Rajputs had received inadequate study, whether in their pre-Mughal history or in their contributions to the Mughal system. Similarly, the Deccan, and in particular, the non-Marathi languages of the south, had been too-long ignored. Prospective historical sources in South Indian languages were likewise in urgent need of close reading, their historical significance too long dismissed. More than seven decades later, this historian of the early modern Deccan finds Professor Syed Hasan Askari’s recommendations and critiques to still be relevant.

 

Keywords: Partition, 1947, Indian historiography, historical sources, bayaz, Shaikh Abul Haq Muhaddis, Persian, translation, Anand Ram Mukhlis, Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi, Akbar, Jahangir, Deccan, South India, Marathi

Posted: February 25th, 2020

Syed Hasan Askari. “Taimur Shah and Indian Prince” in The Journal of Bihar Research Society, Vol. 33, pt. 1-2 (1947), pp. 83-96

 

Mirza Ahsan Bakht was the son of the Mughal emperor Shah Alam II (r. 1760-1806), who established ties with the Afghan ruler in Kabul, Taimur Shah (1772-1793) in the hope of securing his assistance in establishing power in northern India. The earliest evidence of Mirza Ahsan Bakht’s efforts in this respect came in 1791, not long before he decided to travel to Taimur Shah’s court, where he sought to secure a contingent of cavalry for use against Maratha antagonists in the subcontinent. The prince travelled to Kabul and was received favorably, but soon became ill (perhaps on account of the unfamiliar climate) and was eventually sent away to overwinter in the more convivial environment of Multan. Taimur Shah decided in the interim to march towards Hindustan, whereupon he was met by Sikh-led armies who blocked his path. Mirza Ahsan Bakht’s ambition to establish an alliance with the Afghan ruler were thwarted. The prince’s supporters and followers soon trickled away as it became clear that his plans were unlikely to bear fruit, and the Afghan sovereign died not long thereafter. This article presents an interesting echo of Taimur Shah’s father Ahmad Shah Durrani’s successful campaigns across northern India in the 1750s-61 with the active welcome of various north Indian groups. As Prof. Askari’s study demonstrates, history may not repeat itself but it often follows along familiar paths.

 

Keywords: Afghanistan, court diplomacy, Kabul, Peshawar, Mirza Ahsan Bakht, Mughal prince, Durrani, Abdali, 18th century

 

Posted: September 26th, 2020

Syed Hasan Askari. “Zaman Shah and Prince Mirza Ahsan Bukht” in The Journal of Bihar Research Society, Vol. 33, pt. 3-4 (1947), pp. 175-182

 

This article examines the relationship between Zaman Shah, who had ascended the throne of Kabul in May of 1793, and the Mughal prince Mirza Ahsan Bakht (also described elsewhere). Zaman Shah was an ambitious young ruler who hoped to follow the example of his grandfather, Ahmad Shah Abdali (also known as Durrani), who had campaigned in northern India and conquered Delhi. Zaman Shah struck up correspondences with several of the Mughal princes of Delhi, amongst which his warmest relationship was with Mirza Ahsan Bakht, the son of Shah Alam (r. 1760-1806). The prince had already established a regular conversation with Zaman Shah’s father Taimur Shah before his death. The prince agreed to travel to Afghanistan and, en route, endeavored to establish alliances with various Indian leaders and members of the Mughal court. His father suspected that his son was plotting against him, and the budding alliance between the prince and Zaman Shah was eventually dismantled. The prince was eventually diagnosed with a mental illness and traces of his story in the archive end on this ambiguous note. Prof. Askari’s recounting of this less-known aspect of Afghan-Indian history is built from, amongst other sources, a number of roznamchas or daily records, which relay the affairs of the prince and the respective courts in unusual detail.

 

Keywords: Afghanistan, court diplomacy, Kabul, Peshawar, Mughal, Mughal prince, 18th century, Durrani, Abdali

 

Posted: September 26th, 2020

1948

Syed Hasan Askari. “Malfuzat and Maktubats of a 14th century Sufi Saint of Bihar” in Journal of the Bihar Research Society, Vol. XXXIV(III) (1948), pp. 87-103.

 

In this extended article on the life and times of the Bihar-based Firdausi saint Hazrat Ahmad Sharifuddin Yahya Maneri, Professor S. H. Askari offers an examination of the role of Sufi figures in medieval Indian life. Against those who have suggested that Sufi malfuzats (translated by Prof. Askari as ‘table talk’) and maktubats (letters) could not have had any historical value, given that Sufis were imagined to have been disinterested in earthly affairs, Askari comments that in fact many Sufis were deeply involved in their social contexts, because they cared about the “good of the people.” The article describes Maneri’s biography, highlighting his various engagements with leading Sufis of the era, including Nizamuddin Auliya and Ziadduin Simmani, as well as with political leaders from Muhammad bin Tughluq to Shamsuddin Iltutmish. Professor Askari is evidently sympathetic to Maneri’s teachings. He approvingly offers a handful of quotes from Maneri, amongst them the observation that “oppression is worse than infidelity. It is forbidden to look at one who practices oppression and injustice, but not one who is an infidel.” Elsewhere, Prof. Askari quotes Maneri as having observed that “the path of Islam is wide enough for all”.

Keywords: Bihar, maktubat, malfuzat, epistolary, Maneri, Sufism, Firdausi, religious tolerance

 

Posted: March 6th, 2020

Syed Hasan Askari. New light on Rajah Ganesh and Sultan Ibrahim Sharqi of Jaunpur from contemporary correspondence of two Muslim saints” in Bengal, Past & Present: Journal of the Calcutta Historical Society, 57 (1948), pp. 32-39.

 

This relatively brief article offers, after defending the historical value of such oft-dismissed genres as malfuzat and maktubat (collections of conversations and letters), presents the contents of a handful of significant letters that Professor S. H. Askari felt to have value in piecing together the events of medieval Bengal. The letters, largely written by Hazrat Ashraf Jahangir and Shaikh Nur Qutb-i Alam, are directed to a small handful of fellow disciples and to the king of Jaunpur, Sultan Ibrahim Sharqi. As Prof. Askari shows, these Sufis paid careful attention to the worldly affairs of government. They used their stature as religious leaders to plead for the intervention of Sultan Ibrahim in the affairs of Bengal. There, as the letters outline, Hazrat Ashraf Jahangir perceived Raja Ganesh, a Hindu ruler who seized power from the waning Ilyas Shahi dynasty and ruled between 1414-1418. Prof. Askari also offers a few rough translations from some of the letters, highlighting their potential value to historians of Bengal. These translations are potentially valuable for their illustration of the rhetorical strategy of these figures in persuading neighboring rulers to intervene in Bengal’s affairs.

 

Keywords: Sufism, Bihar, Bengal, malfuzat, maktubat, Ilyas Shahi, 15th century, Raja Ganesh, Hazrat Ashraf Jahangir, Shaikh Nur Qutb-i Alam, Jaunpur Sultanate, Sultan Ibrahim

 

Posted: March 10th, 2020

Syed Hasan Askari. “Raja Jugal Kishore’s Despatch Regarding the Sack of Delhi by Nadir Shah” in Indian Historical Records Commission, Vol. XXV, Pt. II (1948), pp. 107-115.

 

Here, Professor S. H. Askari offers a valuable summary translation of an important account by Raja Jugal Kishor, an agent of the Nawabs of Bengal and Bihar, of the occupation of Delhi in 1739 by the Iranian king, Nadir Shah (r. 1736-1747). The translation of Jugal Kishor’s text begins with the victory of Nadir Shah’s men over the Mughal army. Having seen the morale of their forces broken, Mughal nobility quickly reached out to make terms with the invader. Prominent amongst this group was the Hyderabadi leader Nizam al-Mulk Asaf Jah and the Awadhi governor Burhan al-Mulk. Terms were reached to secure peace, and Nizam al-Mulk accompanied Muhammad Shah to visit Nadir Shah in the latter’s camp. Meanwhile, Jugal Kishor fretted about how to ensure the safety of his masters’ domains to the east. The text then goes on to describe one of the most dramatic episodes in Mughal history – the massacre unleashed by Nadir Shah upon the inhabitants of Delhi. A rumor had broken out that Nadir Shah was killed and Muhammad Shah had been returned to his throne. This rumor seemingly inspired some Delhi residents to attack members of the invading army. In retribution, Nadir Shah ordered his men to murder the city’s inhabitants, killing perhaps some tens of thousands of men, women and children. In Jugal Kishor’s account, we find a self-interested narrative of his having secured his own safety by a chance encounter with an associate of Nizam al-Mulk, whose ties with Nadir Shah afforded shelter. The remainder of the translated document involves a detailed account of the various negotiations that followed, as various members of the Mughal nobility sought to negotiate a price for their continued claims to title authority. This article should be read alongside a separate article by Prof. Askari published in the PIHC, 1947, in which he translates a different account of this event, written by an anonymous observer.

 

Keywords: Nadir Shah, Delhi, Muhammad Shah, Raja Jugal Kishor, nobility, urban politics, massacre, Iran, 18th century, Mughal, translation

 

Posted: March 22nd, 2020 

“Unpublished Correspondence Relating to Maharaja Madho Singh of Jaipur and Some of His Contemporaries.” Proceedings Volume, Indian Historical Records Commission 24 (1948), pp: 73-78.

 

In this short paper, Prof. Askari outlines the contents of a manuscript containing a collection of letters dating from the mid-eighteenth century. These include epistles between the Mughal emperor Shah Alam and Maharaja Madho Singh, between the Maharaja of Jaipur and the Rohilla chieftains, and some related notes between both the Afghan king Ahmad Shah Abdali and Ahmad Khan Bangash, as well as between the ruler of Bangash and the Maharaja of Jaipur. Prof. Askari’s primary goal in this article is to provide illustrative translations of these letters. He strikes a balance between an often quite literal translation of the Persian and carefully selected portions of the letters in order to give readers a strong sense of their significance. The letters offer an important insight into the workings of mid-century North Indian diplomacy between Mughal successor states and other rising powers.

 

Keywords: Ahmad Shah Abdali, 18th century, Maharaja Madho Singh, Jaipur, Malhar, Rohilla, Bangash, Shah Alam, Mughal, Rajput, Maratha, successor state

Posted: August 3rd, 2020 

1949

Syed Hassan Askari. “Fragments of a newly discovered Persian manuscript by a Hindu newswriter (summary)” in Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, Vol. 12 (1949), pp. 270-273.

 

This short article offers readers an introduction to a late-18th century source, purportedly written by an (unnamed) Hindu akhbarnawis who had served the British East India Company. The manuscript, which Professor Askari strongly cautions, is not to be trusted for details or chronology, outlines many of the major events of inland northern India in this period, including conflicts between Maratha forces (mostly led by Mahadaji Shinde) and Rajput and Mughal armies. The writer appears to have also documented some of his own journeys, including visits to Tajganj (in Agra) and Shahjahanabad (Delhi). Professor Askari’s fact-checking largely takes place in the footnotes, where he raises questions about chronology in some places but also points to potentially valuable or new information raised by the anonymous author.

 

Keywords: 18th century, British East India Company, Newswriter, Maratha, Mahadaji Shinde

Posted: February 25th, 2020 

Syed Hasan Askari. “The Mausoleum of a Saint of the Madari Order of Sufis at Hilsa, Bihar” in Bengal, Past & Present, Vol. XLVIII, Issue 131, 1949, pp. 40-52.

 

Professor S. H. Askari organizes this study around an old and poorly maintained Sufi shrine in a neighborhood in Patna. Perhaps motivated by the prospect that important historical sites were under threat in this period of violence in the subcontinent, Prof. Askari and an associate visited the shrine, describing its unassuming exterior, and its floral decor inside, with “Hindu motifs clearly visible.” This was the grave of Miran Syed Jaman Madari, a close disciple of the founder of the Madari order, Hazrat Badiuddin or Shah Madar. They spoke with an elderly local resident who described an annual celebration that had formerly taken place in there, and made a note of several inscriptions, including one that recorded the shrine’s renovation in the era of Sher Shah Suri and another during the rebellion of the Mughal prince Selim. Much of the article is dedicated to describing the origins of the Madari movement and its founder, and to parsing the few available sources for reliable information about its practices and popularity amongst yogi ascetics. The source concludes with an addendum describing the discovery of an early 18th century manuscript indicating that the saint buried there had died in 925 AH / 1519 CE, and that at the time of the manuscript’s composition the shrine had fallen on hard times. Local members of the Syed community supported the annual ‘urs celebration with their own resources.

 

Keywords: Madari tariqa, sufism, 15th century, Patna, archaeology, Sher Shah Suri, Prince Selim, Shah Madar

 

Posted: March 13th, 2020 

Syed Hasan Askari. “Documents Relating to an Old Family of Sufi Saints of Bihar” in Indian Historical Records Commission Proceedings of Meetings, Summary of Papers, Vol. XXVI, Pt (1949), pp. 1.

 

This one-page summary article offers a summary overview of some documents relating to the Sufi lineage founded by Makhdum Syed Hasan. The family enjoyed Mughal support and were recipients of various land grants and letters. Some of the oldest letters date back to Akbar and Jahangir’s time.

 

Keywords: Makhdum Sayyid Hasan, Makhdum Syed Hasan, silsila, Bihar, Mughal grants

 

Posted: August 28th, 2020 

Syed Hasan Askari. “Documents Relating to an Old Family of Sufi Saints of Bihar” in Proceedings Volume, Indian Historical Records Commission, Vol. XXVI, Pt II (1949), pp. 1-7

This detailed article explores an array of official documents associate with a lineage of Sufi saints settled in the Minapur quarter of Hajipur in Bihar. The family trace their history in the region to a father and son, Syed Ahmad and Syed Muhammad Zain ul-Abidin. The father was remembered for having been sent to the region during the reign of the Mughal emperor Akbar (r. 1556-1605), and for having defeated a powerful yogi in the region. Prof. Askari relates that in his recent tour of the area, he had encountered a number of different private collections held by the various descendants of these saintly figures. Constrained by a word limit, Prof. Askari takes the opportunity to describe only the six earliest documents he encountered, which include a hukmnama granted by Akbar, an order given by Sultan Salim (later Emperor Jahangir) regarding possession of land, another document bearing the seal of Sultan Salim regarding a madad-i ma‘ash grant, a farman given by Jahangir after he became emperor, also relating to a madad-i ma‘ash grant, and two nishans, one by Prince Parwez and the second by Shah Jahan, both also recording royal orders. Prof. Askari provides translations of the main section of each one of these documents. The article offers important insight for anyone interested in local or regional Mughal administrative practices in Bihar or the spread of Sufism and its relationship to the pre-colonial state.

 

Keywords: Sufism, Islam, madad-i ma‘ash, royal order, Mughal, 16th century, 17th century, genealogy, Bihar, Hajipur, Minapur, Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan

 

Posted: September 18th, 2020 

1950

Syed Hassan Askari. “A fifteenth century Shuttari Sufi saint of north Bihar” in Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, Vol. 13 (1950), pp. 148-157.

 

Focusing on the history of Shuttari lineage in North Bihar, this article makes the case that the Shuttari silsila was a central part of medieval Indian history. Professor S. H. Askari states that this lineage has been discounted, perhaps in view of the short shrift given them in some Mughal sources particularly during and after Akbar’s period, but points out that even in Mughal sources, their influence can still easily be traced. The article focuses on two manuscripts, the Aurad-i Imamuddin Rajgiri, authored by a 17th-18th c. devotee named Abdul Haseeb (alias Imamuddin), and the Manahji-us-Shuttar, by Shaikh Qazin of Basarh, a Sufi saint active during the 14th century. Professor Askari outlines some of what he sees as the key features of the manuscript, including details of the author’s patrilineage and entrance into the silsila. The article also, relying on a colonial-era source by General Cunningham, seeks to make sense of regional devotional practice including a ceremony at Shaikh Qazin’s tomb, which (according to Cunningham) involved dancing and song. Professor Syed Askari mentions that these practices reflect the saint’s pragmatic adoption of an existing Hindu holiday, when he would have preached about Islam to gathered crowds. Professor Askari mentions that, despite these kinds of surviving practices, Qazin’s teaching were not “in any way heterodox,” and that in fact substantial parts of his manuscript were focused on the dangers of superficial piety, and the necessity of deep concentration on God. The article concludes with a brief foray into the linguistic aspects of the text, including the use of Hindavi in some of the proverbs and in the practice of zikr, a remembrance of God commonly practiced through the repetition of certain sounds and concentration on various points within the body. This practice, in line with Professor Askari's sources, retains significant similarities to yogic practices.

Keywords: Bihar, Shattari, zikr, yoga, Islam, Sufism, conversion

Posted: February 25th, 2020 

Prof. Saiyed Hasan Askari. “Maratha Activities as Known from Some Persian Literary Sources.” In Mahamahopadhyaya Prof. P. D. Potdar Commemoration Volume, ed. Surendra Nath Sen, Poona: D. K. Sathe, 1950. pp. 88-103.

 

In this article, Prof. S. H. Askari draws his readers attention to a handful of little-known Persian sources that relate to Deccan-based affairs and to the Marathas’ engagements in northern India. Prof. Askari begins by locating us in the world of 18th-century affairs, where the declining military power of the Mughal state gave space for the rise of an aggressive Maratha expansion across much of the subcontinent. The first manuscript (title and author not given) provides a handful of letters regarding the movements and affairs of Nizam ul-Mulk (d. 1748) during the era of the Sayyid brothers’ alignment with the Marathas. The other several manuscripts (including the Insha-i Gharib, Ruqaat-i Mutafarriqat, Majmua-i Ruqaat, and the Insha-i Gada), dated approximately between 1726-1739, offer insight on the experience of residents in Bihar and elsewhere in the northeast during Maratha raids. For each of the manuscripts described, Prof. Askari offers sample translations of some of what he considers to be the most interesting or unusual material within the text. Altogether, this is a very useful article for anyone interested in 18th-century Maratha or Deccan affairs, and offers a window into some rare but relevant sources held in Patna.

 

Keywords: Maratha, Mughal Deccan, 18th century, letter collections, Bihar, Maratha raids, Nizam al-Mulk, Raja Shahu, Alam Ali Khan, Sayyid brothers, Delhi

 

PSHA-HP Comments: The journal unintentionally misspelled the first name. It should be Syed instead of Saiyed.

Posted: April 5th, 2020 

Syed Hasan Askari. “Contemporary Biography of a Fifteenth Century Sufi Saint of Bihar”, Proceedings Volume, Indian Historical Records Commission, Vol. XXVII, PT 2, (1950), pp. 108-114.

 

This article describes the Manaqib-i Muhammadi, an important source on the life of the Qadiri saint of Bihar, Syed Muhammad Qadiri (15th c.). The Manaqib was written not long after the saint’s death by Ali Sher Shirazi, one of his disciples. Prof. Askari points out that, regardless of the various accounts of miracles and other “things which cater to the needs of the credulous,” the manuscript offers much that would be of interest to the historian. Prof. Askari then provides an overview of the text’s contents, describing the early life and education of the saint, his eventual journey to Hindustan, and his arrival in the environs of Gaya, in southern Bihar. The narrative describes the saint’s several encounters with non-believers who ruled in the region, each of whom lost his life after trying to kill Syed Muhammad. The Manaqib also describes the saint’s relationship to a local Muslim ruler, Darya Khan, who showered gifts upon the saint. The saint’s response to such treatment was to retreat further into the wilderness, shunning fame. Prof. Askari argues that the Manaqib illustrates the penetration of Muslim actors into semi-wild and unsettled territories, and the early interaction between Sufi and “semi-Hindu” tribal societies in eastern India.

 

Keywords: Bihar, 15th century, Qadiri, Sufism, Hindavi, Delhi Sultanate, Syed Muhammad, frontier, Hindu-Muslim encounter

 

Posted: October 4th, 2020

1951

Syed Hassan Askari. “The Nizam and Cornwallis” in Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, Vol. 14 (1951). pp. 217-224.

 

This short article outlines the evolving relationship between the Nawab of Hyderabad (Nizam Ali Khan Asaf Jah II, r. 1762-1803), the Marathas, the Mysore Sultanate, and the British East India Company, governed between 1786-1794 by the Earl Cornwallis. In particular, the article attempts to make sense of how, thanks to the Nizam’s weak bargaining position vis-à-vis his inland neighbors, the Nizam was, over time, persuaded to cede an increasing share of the so-called “Northern Circars” to the control of the British East India Company. This was a long stretch of coastline sandwiched between Carnatic and Orissa that now makes up much of coastal Andhra. While Professor S. H. Askari’s account betrays some frustration at the weakness of the Nizam and his failure to make terms with the Mysore and Maratha powers to push the British out of India, the article perhaps inadvertently also highlights the degree to which British East India Company players were capable participants in the sophisticated, albeit risky, economy of southern India, where sub-leasing, exchanges of land for financial debt, and political alliance as financial security were all commonplace strategies. Professor Askari’s article relies in large measure on the letters of John Kennaway, who served as a resident in Hyderabad in the 1780s.

 

Keywords: Nizam of Hyderabad, Northern Circars, Anglo-Maratha wars, Anglo-Mysore wars, diplomacy, Kennaway, British East India Company, Cornwallis, Nizam Ali Khan Asaf Jah, Tipu Sultan, Peshwa

Posted: February 25th, 2020

S. H. Askari. “Gleanings from Miscellaneous Collections of Village Amathua in Gaya” in Indian Historical Records Commission. XXVII, Pt. II (1951), 1-7.

 

In this brief article, Prof. Askari offers an overview of the contents of an old family library, examining in particular the dozens of farmans (imperial orders), sanads (mandates/ordnances), parwanas (grants, letters, orders) and other important documents which the family had preserved since the 17th century. Prof. Askari observed that although this library, located in an out-of-the-way corner of the district of Gaya, in the village of Amathua, may have seemed like a backwater in the 1950s, it had at one point been a center of learning and culture. While staying in the village, Prof. Askari visited some of the local archeological and architectural sites, including a graveyard where there were buried several of the scholars whom the emperor Aurangzeb had called to assist him in his legal project, the Fatawa-i Alamgiri, as well as a mosque erected during the time of Sher Shah Suri (d. 1545). While staying in the village, Prof. Askari examined a number of items which, for a historian interested in the region or someone interested in understanding the operation of the state in the locality, would help to piece together a picture of its past.

 

Keywords: family library, Gaya, Bihar, 17th century, Mughal, regional history, local history, royal documents, Fatawa-i Alamgiri, secondary centers

 

Posted: March 16th, 2020 

1952

Syed Hasan Askari. “Tazkira-i-Murshidi, a Rare Malfuz of the Fifteenth Century Sufi Saint of Gulbarga” in Proceedings Volume, Indian History Congress, Vol. xv (1952), pp. 179-189

 

Here Prof. Askari moves away from northern India to examine an early source on the life and teachings of the Chishti Sufi Gisu Daraz, also known as Banda Nawaz (1321-1422), whose bargah is in Gulbarga in the Deccan. The Tazkira-i Murshidi was composed by a disciple named Abdul Aziz b. Sher Malik b. Muhammad Waizi during the reign of Alauddin Ahmad Shah II (Bahmani) in 1445. Prof. Askari largely allows the Tazkira to shape the structure of the article. We are thus led through the biography of the saint’s life – his father’s forced migration to the Deccan under Muhammad bin Tughluq, his birth and childhood in the Deccan, his move back to Delhi, where he lived and studied for more than 40 years, and his eventual return to the Deccan, where he gained fame for his teachings and healing powers. Prof. Askari offers comments along the way on the text’s various points of interest, including the author’s efforts to secure the saint’s reputation as an orthodox Sunni and disciplined Sufi, as well as  various teachings, personal grooming and sartorial habits, his attitude towards music, and his family’s literary production. Prof. Askari concludes with an brief investigation of evidence for the saint’s use of what Prof. Askari terms the “Hindi” language. The article would be a useful starting place for anyone interested in the life of Gisu Daraz or of his Sufi lineage at Gulbarga, and would certainly be an important resource for anyone specifically interested in the Tazkira-i Murshidi.

 

Keywords: Deccan, Chishti, Sufism, 14th century, 15th century, Bahmani Sultanate, Deccan Sultanate, Gulbarga

Posted: September 26th, 2020

 

 

 

1953

Syed Hasan Askari. “Raja Ram Das Kachhawaha” in Proceedings of The Indian History Congress, Vol. 16 (1953), pp. 251-259.

 

This article serves both as a biography of a mid-level Mughal nobleman, the Kachhawaha Rajput Raja Ram Das, and as a study in the historiographical merits of several Hindawi documents: the ‘Ram Das Kacchwaha ri Bārātā’ by “Kānha”, a bard of Achalpura village, Jaipur, a khyat, ‘Pātal Pota ki Hakikat,’ also by Kānha, and an ‘Account of the activities of Raja Todar Mal and Ramdas Kacchawaha’ by Shaikh Safdar Ali, mīr munshi to Raja Todar Mal. The latter, originally composed in Persian was later lost, but a late 19th c. Hindawi translation by Karam Ali Gorakhpuri survived at the Khuda Bakhsh library at the time of the article’s writing.

Professor Askari uses these three sources, in conversation with a short biographical sketch from Aurangabadi’s Ma’āsir al-Umarā, to piece together an interesting portrait of the mid-level Rajput nobleman Raja Ram Das, who rose from a childhood of limited means to become a trusted deputy of the Mughal emperors Akbar and Jahangir. Professor S. H. Askari first outlines Ram Das’s early history and arrival in service, including an informative account of his self-fashioning in order to make himself appear to be a desirable recruit. Next, he proceeds with a description of his service on campaigns to Gujarat, Bihar (1574), Bihar and Bengal (1584), Kashmir (1589), secondly his role in the succession struggle after Akbar’s death in 1605, as well as his later history, as Ram Das turned increasingly towards “otherworldly” interests, the company of poets, sadhus, and the poor. Finally, Professor Askari addresses Ram Das’s end, when, after having retrieved his honor after temporarily falling under imperial disfavor, the Raja undertook a last mission for the emperor, dying after arriving at Kabul in 1613.

Professor Askari’s biography is of historical interest for several reasons: 1) For those interested in better understanding the complex network of Mughal nobility, this piece highlights several important aspects of what might be described as a political economy of Mughal service, including patronage networks, geographical strongholds, and strategic alliances. 2) Related to this, Professor Askari pays careful attention to the deep tensions underlying the relationship between Raja Ram Das’s relationship with his kinsman and high-ranking Mughal nobleman, the fellow Kachhawaha Raja Man Singh. Professor Askari rightly underscores the limitations of ethnic solidarity. 3) Finally, Professor Askari’s biography highlights the ambitions and ideals of a mid-level imperial servant in this period – a figure whose life was shaped in large measure by Mughal service, but whose personal interests and family responsibilities continued to frame his life in important ways.

 

Keywords: Kacchawaha, Rajput, Mughal Empire, Bihar, Kashmir, patronage, service, biography, Hindawi

Posted: February 25th, 2020

 

 

Syed Hasan Askari. “Mahmud Gawan and his book Manazir-ul-Insha” in Indo-Iranica, Vol 6 (1953), 28-36.

 

Here, Professor S. H. Askari offers both a useful biography of the famed Bahmanid administrator, scholar, and political advisor Mahmud Gawan (d. 1481), and a short study of one of his two surviving literary works, the Manazir-ul-Insha. Gawan arrived in the Deccan in 1453, and for nearly 30 years was one of the most influential courtiers under four successive Sultans. He was a man of considerable character, best known for his scholarly and literary talents, which shone most brightly in the realm of epistolary arts (insha). Prof. Askari is careful to defend Gawan against modern critics who might find fault with Gawan’s “floral” and “ornate” style, overlaid with similes and metaphors. Professor Syed Askari comments that this style, despite its difficulty for the modern reader, was in vogue at the time, and that, moreover, a careful reader could appreciate it and even find “wealth of expression, grace, and beauty […] eminently readable and interesting.” Prof. Askari’s attitude, it should be underscored, runs very much in opposition to many of his fellow scholars of Indo-Persian, who found pre-modern writers unnecessarily abstruse and artificial. Askari concludes his study of the Manazir with several lengthy transcriptions from the text’s introduction, alongside a translation and commentary on the content, much of it relating the high value of excellent writing and penmanship.

 

Keywords: Bahmani Sultanate, 15th century, epistolary, insha, Deccan, Persian, patronage network,

 

Posted: March 6th, 2020

Prof. Syed Hasan Askari. “Mirat-ul-Muluk: A contemporary work containing reflections on later Mughal administration” in Indica:The Indian Historical Research Institute, Silver Jubilee Commemoration Volume (1953), pp. 27-37.

 

This article begins with a recommendation, as Professor S. H. Askari’s work so often does, that historians broaden the scope of their work and explore different kinds of sources – amongst them, Sufi literatures such as malfuzat and maktubat. In this particular study, he considers the Mirat-ul-Muluk, composed in the early 18th century by Hazrat Tajuddin, a member of the Chishti silsila and direct descendent of the famed Hazrat Abdul Qudduz Gangohi (d. 1537). The topic may seem surprising to anyone expecting that Sufis be devoted exclusively to otherworldly intellectual pursuits: the Mirat is a study of Indian politics, and a treatise on how the Mughal Empire, rapidly decentralizing by the period of the text’s composition – might be repaired through improved governance. Tajuddin used Mughal history to illustrate his arguments on certain themes: justice, charity, abstinence, attention to administration, a well-balanced daily schedule. He noted, for example, that despite Shah Jahan’s (r. 1628-1658) strong libido, he practiced what Prof. Askari delicately terms the “Indian etiquette of self-restraint.” Perhaps Tajuddin was hoping to encourage the famously licentious Muhammad Shah (r. 1719-1748) to learn similar self-governance. Prof. Askari’s careful study of this unusual and seemingly rare manuscript has proven a boon to the discipline – it has been cited in such studies as Christopher Bayly’s influential Empire and Information (1999), and in Allison Busch’s more recent Poetry of Kings (2011).

 

Keywords: 18th century, Mughal, ethics, governance, Sufism, Chishti, Muhammad Shah, Shah Jahan, Aurangzeb, maktubat, malfuzat

 

Posted: March 19th, 2020

Prof. S. H. Askari. “A newly discovered volume of Awadhi works including Padmawat and Akhrawat of Malik Muhammad Jaisi” in The Journal of Bihar Research Society, Vol. 39 (1953), pp. 10-40.

 

In this interesting article, Professor Syed Hasan Askari examines a manuscript found in the library of the Maner Sharif dargah in the countryside near Patna containing several apparently early copies of Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s Awadhi-language Padmavat and Akhrawat , as well as several incomplete texts, such as the Mahri Baisi, and several other unnamed fragments. Also included was another unnamed work by an unknown poet who called himself Sadhan, written in the same scribal hand. The article is largely dedicated to making three key points. First, Prof. Askari sets out a case for dating Jayasi’s birth to the latter decades of the 9th century (AH), and the date of the Padmavat poem’s composition perhaps as early as 911 AH / 1505-06 CE (the Padmavat is usually dated to 1540 in more recent studies). Secondly, he undertakes a careful, line-by-line study of the manuscript, comparing it with other known copies of the text, to state that this is an extremely early copy. Finally, he comments against those who believe that the Padmavat served essentially as a proselytizing text for Hindus who could not access Persian or Arabic. To this, he points out that the earliest and most reliable copies of Jayasi’s texts are all in the Perso-Arabic script. More importantly still, he notes that Jayasi’s works, far from being simplistic tellings of Islamic belief, incorporated sophisticated references to the Quran and Islamic knowledge. They demonstrated a deep comfort with Islam, with the Awadhi language, and with Indic storytelling traditions. They represented, per Prof. Askari, a vibrant community of early 16th-century Muslims whose mother tongues were the local north Indian dialects and who relished their place within a shared north Indian aesthetic, philosophy, and culture.

 

Keywords: Muhammad Jayasi, 16th century, Jaunpur, Awadhi, Shah Maneri, Sufi, translation, lexicography

 

Posted: March 13th, 2020

S. Hasan Askari. “Hadrat Husam-al-Din of Manikpur” in Current Studies (1 May 1953): 4-11a; also in Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society, 1953, pp 380-91.

 

This article by Prof. Askari focuses on the Chishti saint Hadrat Husam al-Din of Manikpur (d. 853/1449), who was the chief successor of the Bengal-based Hadrat Nur Qutb Alam. The article first lays out the limited information available about the saint’s life from well-known tazkiras, before turning the reader’s attention to four malfuzat (collections of the saint’s sayings): the Anis al-‘Ashiqin, Maqasad al-‘Ashiqin (also known as the Rafiq al-‘Arifin), Thamarat al- Quds, and Jami‘ al-Fawaid. Prof. Askari highlights here the substantial value of these sources, which have too often been dismissed as historically valueless and interested only in abstract theological debates. Rather, we can see through these sources the complex place of Bihar’s Sufi lineages in the 15th century, particularly as they negotiated authority with respect to the Sultanate courts in Bengal and Delhi. The texts also indicate the Sufis’ attunement to societal ills such as poverty, and of their familiarity with pre-modern Hindavi dialects, with which the sources are liberally sprinkled.

 

Keywords: Sufism, malfuzat, 15th century, Bihar, Delhi Sultanate, Bengal Sultanate, Hindavi, social history

 

Posted: May 23rd, 2020 

 

 

S. H. Askari. A newly discovered manuscript of Inayatullah's Ahkam-i-Alamgiri in Proceedings Volume, Indian Historical Records Commission, Vol. 29, 1953, pp 1-9.

 

This article describes a newly uncovered manuscript copy of the well-known Ahkam-i Alamgiri, a collection of official letters and imperial orders collected during Aurangzeb’s time by the emperor’s diwan and favored secretary, Inayatullah Khan Kashmiri. The Ahkam, translated and published in 1925 by J.N. Sarkar, was thought to exist in only two manuscript copies, one held in Patna at what is now known as the Khuda Bakhsh Library, and another at Rampur. A third copy was found in Lucknow, and a transcription of it was made and acquired by the Patna University library. Prof. Askari, comparing this transcription against the manuscript copy held at Khuda Bakhsh, found that this copy included some useful new information, including a handful of new letters and the names of some addressees left unmentioned in the other copy. Prof. Askari also takes the opportunity to highlight the text’s value for the reader, noting the insight it offers into Aurangzeb’s personality—his “puritanical” and “academic” mindset, and his at times “narrowness of outlook,” but also his driving concern with improving administration, ridding the government of corruption, and his interest in charity. The manuscript also offers insight into a number of contemporary affairs, amongst them Mughal-Maratha relations, the imprisoned Maratha prince Raja Shahu, and the Mughal attitude towards European activities along the coastal ports.

 

Keywords: Aurangzeb, Inayatullah Khan, Jadunath Sarkar, letter collection, 17th century, Maratha, Raja Shahu

 

Posted: May 25th, 2020 

 

 

 

 

1954

 

Syed Hasan Askari. “Bihar during the Turko-Afghan Period (A review of Bihar during the Turco  - Afghan period based on epigraphical sources)” in Current Studies, Vol. January (1954) & Collected Works of Prof. S.H. Askari - Medieval Bihar: Sultanate & Mughal Period, Collection of ten articles, Volume 4 by Professor Syed Hasan Askari. (1990) pp. 3-21.

 

In this article, Prof. Askari painstakingly pieces together the history of the Bihar region during the Sultanate period (approx. 12th-16th c.). As he points out, there is no chronicle one can rely on, and for this entire period, Bihar shifted between (sometimes overlapping) spheres of sovereignty. Delhi Sultanate, Jaunpur, and Bengal Sultanate-based authorities all made claims to the region. And, as Prof. Askari’s careful examination of the epigraphic and numismatic evidence shows, these claims were often multiple and contested. What this article does not explicitly do, but which deserves further attention in future studies, is explicitly address Bihar’s role as a borderland or frontier zone. How did its status in this respect shape Bihari politics and culture? To what extent were Bihar-based actors able to leverage their position in order to improve their prospects regionally? This article offers an opening for thinking about these and other kinds of questions and serves as a keystone for anyone seeking to better understand the history of Sultanate-era Bihar.

 

Keywords: Bihar, Delhi Sultanate, Jaunpur, Bengal Sultanate, epigraphy, numismatics, borderland, frontier

 

Posted: March 28th, 2020 

Syed Hasan Askari. “Chait Singh and Hastings from Persian Sources” in Indian Historical Records Commission Proceedings of Meetings, Vol. XXX (1954), pp. 15-24.

 

Prof. Askari here offers a microstudy of the figure of Raja Chait Singh, who ruled Benares in the 1770s and, after initially serving as a client of the British East India Company, eventually came to resent their financial exploitation and was forced to flee. Prof. Askari relies on several less-examined sources, amongst them Ghulam Husain Khan Kamboh’s Balwant Nama, Khairuddin Muhammad’s Tuhfa-i Taza, and Shambhunath’s Miftah-i Khazain. While British historiography had remembered the figure of Chait Singh in less-than flattering terms, Prof. Askari argues that the above sources expose the Raja’s innocence and the British East India Company’s devious and aggressive strategies. The bulk of the article involves a careful moment-by-moment study of the events leading up to Raja Chait Singh’s house imprisonment by Governor General Hasting’s men as they demanded payment of funds he “owed” the East Indian Company’s government in Calcutta. The study describes the Raja’s initially earnest commitment to meeting his obligations as they gradually evolved into resentment against the underhanded strategies of the East India Company.

 

Keywords: 18th century, Raja Chait Singh, British East India Company, Warren Hastings, Calcutta, Benares, Awadh, Company Raj, misgovernment

 

Posted: August 28th, 2020 

Syed Hasan Askari. “Indo-Persian Relations in the Age of the Great Mughals” in Journal of Bihar Research Society, 40, no. 4 (1954): 323-340.

This article offers a narrative of political relations between Indian and Safavid rulers, focusing on Akbar through Shah Jahan’s rule (1556-1657). Prof. Askari briefly considers the late Delhi Sultanate period as well. Prof. Askari mainly centers his analysis around the Safavids’ Shi‘a identity and the Mughals’ Sunni orientation. Although Prof. Askari argues that religious division played a significant role both in the states’ distrust and in their regular conflicts, he is careful to point out that these were readily set to the side when it suited both parties’ political ambitions. The most obvious example is the emperor Humayun (r. 1530-1540, 1555-1556), who found it necessary to rely on Safavid protection during his years of exile, and who is even rumored to have espoused Shi‘a belief while at the Safavid court. More subtle points of intersection often related to the regular rebellion of Mughal princes, who found at the Safavid court a ready ear for their complaints. Most frequently, however, the courts were at odds with one another, and Prof. Askari outlines this trajectory of conflict through the details of noble relations in border areas, through Mughal efforts at alliance with the distant Ottoman court, and through the Safavids acting as protectors of the Shi‘a-leaning Deccan Sultanate courts.

 

Keywords: Safavid, Mughal, religious identity, political history, Delhi Sultanate, Sher Shah, Humayun, Akbar, Jahangir, Prince Shuja, Aurangzeb, Dara Shukoh, Qandahar, Kabul, Tahmasp, Abbas, Abbas II, Deccan Sultanate, Shi‘a, Sunni

 

Posted: October 21st, 2020

S. H. Askari. “Hazrat Ahmad Chirmposh—A 14th Century Sufi-Saint-Poet of Bihar” in Patna University Journal, Vol. viii, Nos.1-2, March-June (1954), pp. 7-22

 

This article sets out to establish a synthetic account of the 14th-century Bihari saint of the Suhrawardi lineage, Hazrat Ahmad Chirmposh. The article begins by correcting a mis-identification of Chirmposh’s diwan to another saint-poet, a mistake dating from publications in Kanpur and Lucknow in the late 19th-early 20th centuries. Prof. Askari then proceeds to outline Chirmposh’s early biography, refuting a latter-day belief that he had been born and raised in Hamadan, and instead arguing that he had been born in Bihar. The article touches on evidence that there may have been some rivalry between Chirmposh and his cousin, the better-known saint Hazrat Sharafuddin Ahmad Maneri. The article further outlines evidence to help flesh out something of the saint’s character and personality, relying on evidence from his diwan and from the Zia-ul-Qulub, penned by a disciple. The article concludes with a significant final section in which Prof. Askari asserts that the saint was by disposition a “patriotic Indian.” This unusual phrasing was intended as an articulation of the saint’s incorporative and broadminded orientation in pursuit of the divine, including a recognition that “God,” “kufr” [unbelief] and “Islam” are all made one through love. Prof. Askari’s use of a term like patriotic, arguably better suited to the nationalist period, speaks closely to his own mid-20th-century vision of Indian nationhood and its possibilities.

 

Keywords: Sufism, Bihar, Suhrawardi, 14th century, Delhi Sultanate, Hazrat Sharafuddin Ahmad Maneri, Muzaffar Shams Balkhi, Zia-ul-Qulub

 

Posted: January 12th, 2021

1955

 

S. H. Askari. “Bihar in the time of the last two Lodi Sultans of Delhi (also published as Bihar in the time of later Lodis)” in Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, Vol. 18, (1955), The Journal of Bihar Research Society, Vol. 41, (1955), & Collected Works of Prof. S.H. Askari - Medieval Bihar: Sultanate & Mughal Period, by Professor Syed Hasan Askari, Volume 4, (1990).  pp. 32-41.

 

This article outlines the complex history of Bihar during the late Lodi period (late 15th/early 16th c.), when it operated as something of a borderland between Delhi and Bengal Sultanates. In this period, large parts of Bihar was governed by what Professor Syed Hasan Askari describes as an “Afghan confederacy,” amongst which the major players were the Nuhanis, the Farmulis, and the Surs. These family groups were in a complex competition both with one another and with the (also Afghan) Lodi dynasty. It was from this environment, as Professor Syed Askari underlines, that the famed Sher Shah Suri emerged. Professor Askari sketches the biographies of several others in this period, including Darya Khan Nuhani, and points to a history of alliances between Rajput and Afghan groups as various factions strove to achieve dominance. Professor Askari relies on a variety of sources, amongst them archeological, numismatic, and epigraphic; he also uses Mushtaqi’s Waqi‘at-i Mushtaqi and, as well as (most likely) Tarikh-i Daudi (by ‘Abdullah). 

In spite of its brevity, this article by Professor Syed Hasan Askari offers a wealth of information for anyone interested in a pivotal period in north India’s late 15th and early 16th centuries. During this era, we see the breakdown of the struggling Sharqi dynasty at Jaunpur, the extension of Delhi Sultanate power (under the Lodis) into eastern India, and the development of a powerful ‘confederacy’ of Afghan households in and around Bihar in the vacuum where Jaunpur had formerly claimed sovereignty and where Bengal and Delhi Sultanate spheres of influence petered out. These powerful Afghan groups, most notably the Nuhanis and the Farmulis, would shape the direction of north Indian politics for decades to come. In particular, the incubation of Afghan power in Bihar created a natural counterbalance for those who became dissatisfied with Lodi governance in Delhi – it was in Bihar that an open rebellion broke out against Ibrahim Lodi (r. 1517-1526), and it was from Bihar that emissaries went to Kabul in 1524 to invite the Timurid leader Babur (r. 1526-1530) to invade northern India to help them defeat Ibrahim Lodi. A few years later, it would be an associate of the Farmuli household, a figure known as Farid Khan Sur (later Sher Shah) who would rise to power in Bihar and eventually drive Babur’s son Humayun (r. 1530-1540, 1555-1556) out of India for more than a decade, nearly ending the Mughal Empire before it had put down roots.

 

Keywords: Delhi Sultanate, Bihar, Bengal, Lodi, Sur, Sher Shah, Afghan confederacy, military culture, soldiering communities, Afghan, Indo-Afghan,  Bihar, 15th century, 16th century, Lodi, Delhi Sultanate, Farmuli, Nuhani, Sur, Afghan confederacy, Babur, Sher Shah, Sharqi, Jaunpur, Bengal Sultanate

Posted: February 25th, 2020 

Posted: March 29th, 2020

 

 

Syed Hasan Askari. “Political Significance of the Movement of Syed Ahmad Brailvi (Based on his Correspondence)” in Indian Historical Records Commission Proceedings of Meetings, Vol. XXXI (1955), pp. 174-181.

 

In this article, Prof. Askari studies the career of Sayyid Ahmad Barelvi, an important religious and political figure in early-19th-century northern India. The article first outlines Barelvi’s biography, including his early start as a soldier in the princely state of Tonk, his move to Delhi and his discipleship there under the religious figure Shah Abdul Aziz, his travel to the Holy Cities of the Arabian peninsula, and his return to India years later. The bulk of the article examines Barelvi’s subsequent career as he at first developed a following as a travelling orator around northern India preaching about the merits of jihad, before he eventually turned to military conflict against the Sikh kingdom. Prof. Askari highlights the evolution of Barelvi’s political ideologies, which though oriented overtly against the Sikh kingdom, were at their basis founded in antagonism towards the British. Using a manuscript held in Patna, Prof. Askari highlights Barelvi’s strongly anti-British attitude. The article also briefly details Barelvi’s failed attempts at winning Afghan support against the Sikhs, and his eventual defeat and death against Afghan and Sikh forces. Prof. Askari concludes with an examination of Barelvi’s political legacy as illustrated in several surviving letters from the Patna manuscript.

 

Keywords: Sayyid Ahmad Barelvi, Islamic reformism, 19th century, Shah Abdul Aziz, Sikh kingdom, Ranjit Singh, British East India Company, British India, dar-ul harb, jihad

 

Posted: August 28th, 2020 

Syed Hasan Askari. “Qutban’s Mrigavat: A Unique ms. in Persian Script” in The Journal of Bihar Research Society, Vol. 41, pt. 4 (1955), pp. 452-487

This article presents a narrative summary of the now well-known tale of Mrigavat or Mirigavati (“The Magic Doe”) by Qutban Suhrawardy (c. 1503). Although more recently published in an English-language critical translation by Aditya Behl (2012), at the time of Prof. Askari’s article only a translation in modern Hindi was available to scholars. Prof. Askari’s outline of Qutban’s unusual story in English was, therefore, an important contribution in itself. More importantly, Prof. Askari provides crucial historiographical context, arguing that Qutban’s work, like other prem kathas of the late Sultanate period, serve as important counterpoints to those 20th-century scholars who would argue that Muslims in medieval India were incapable of “rising above communal self-interest.” The manuscript copy of the text Prof. Askari worked from, in his estimation, likely dated from the early 16th-century, not long after the Mrigavat was composed. Written in Persian but fluently combining both Islamic and Indic literary traditions while drawing parallels between notions of the divine, stories like the Mrigavat circulated popularly in the subcontinent. They are clear evidence, as Prof. Askari rightly indicates, of Muslim integration in medieval Indian society.

 

Keywords: Mrigavat, Mirigavati, prem katha, Qutban Suhrawardy, 16th century, Sufism, Islam, Bhakti, syncretism, Magic Doe, Persian, Hindavi

 

Posted: September 18th, 2020 

Syed Hasan Askari. “Selection from Published Correspondence of the Judge-Magistrate and Judge of Patna 1790-1857 by K.K. Datta, Professor Patna University”, Review of Books, in The Journal of Bihar Research Society, Vol. 41, pt. 4 (1955), pp. 140-142

 

This is a brief review of a publication by one of Prof. Askari’s colleagues at Patna University, Dr. K. K. Datta. The Selection from Published Correspondence of the Judge-Magistrate and Judge of Patna 1790-1857 offers a careful inventory and analysis of the former contents of the record room of the district judges of Patna in Bihar. The documents discovered in the room were poorly preserved and disorganized and were shifted to safe storage at the Bihar Research Society. The Selection provides an overview of the material, sorted and classified into political, administrative, socio-economic, and cultural categories, as well as a scholarly introduction. Prof. Askari congratulates Dr. Datta for his contribution to scholarship.

 

Keywords: book review, Bihar, 18th century, 19th century, legal documents, Patna

 

Posted: September 26th, 2020

Syed Hasan Askari. “The Ujjainia Ancestors of Babu Kuar Singh” in The Journal of Bihar Research Society, Vol. 41, pt. 4 (1955), pp. 106-131

 

In this article, Prof. Askari uses the example of Babu Kuar Singh, the leader of an anti-British movement active during the 1857-1858 rebellion, as an entry-point for asking about the Ujjainiyya community’s precolonial history. Prof. Askari begins by examining the merits of several texts that purport to tell the history of the Ujjainiyya soldiering community of Bhojpur. As Prof. Askari notes, various texts present an array of conflicting and confusing genealogies for the community. Amongst those he has examined are a 19th-century “so-called official history” of the Ujjainiyyas, in Urdu; an 1858 British account offering what Prof. Askari felt was a sincere if unsympathetic attempt to tell the Ujjainiyya’s story; and finally, an older manuscript by Bodhraj (elsewhere referred to as Bhojraj) of Pugal in Bikanir, written prior to or during the reign of Shah Jahan, in Hindavi. It is this latter resource which Prof. Askari clearly prefers as the most trustworthy account. Prof. Askari pieces together a history of the Ujjainiyya community from their early departure from the Ujjain region and eventual settlement in Bhojpur, to their conflicts with the “Yavanas” (glossed here by Prof. Askari as “Muslims”), which forced them to flee into the hills of Bihar. There they mastered the art of guerilla warfare. The Bodhraj manuscript then highlights a key moment in Ujjainiyya history, the moment when a future Ujjainiyya leader named Maharaj Kumar, living in exile from his family, met Farid Khan, the future Sher Shah Suri (r. 1540-1545). The two struck up a deep friendship that shaped their future trajectories. In later years, Sher Shah Suri would rely on Ujjainiyya supporters to lead him to victory and a North India-wide empire, while the Ujjainiyyas in turn established reputations as fearsome soldiers. Prof. Askari’s article again reflects his unusual intellectual instinct, choosing to delve into the rich history of South Asia’s military cultures decades before the topic would again be addressed in Dirk Kolff’s widely respected Naukar, Rajput, and Sepoy (1990). Likewise, Prof. Askari immediately perceived in Bodhraj’s narrative a uniquely valuable resource, in spite of its composition in Hindavi, a language not commonly associated with the historical genre in precolonial times, and despite what Prof. Askari saw as the text’s occasional divergences evidence-based history.

 

Keywords: Ujjainiyya, Hindavi, historiography, Bodhraj, Bhojraj, military culture, soldiering community, Sher Shah Suri, yavana, Rajput, Bihar

 

Posted: September 26th, 2020

1956

Syed Husan Askari. “Correspondence of the two 14th century Sufi saints of Bihar with the contemporary sovereigns of Delhi and Bengal” in Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, Vol. 19 (1956), pp. 208-224.

 

This article argues for the historical value of malfuzat and maktubat literature, where it has been described as the “table talk” and letter collections of Sufi saints. Professor Syed Hasan Askari focuses primarily on the letters of Maulana Muzaffar Shams Balkhi with Sultan Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah (Ilyas Shahi) of Bengal (r. 1390-1411) and of Balkhi’s spiritual guide Sharfuddin Ahmad Yahya Maneri with Sultan Muhammad bin Tughluq (Maktūbāt-i Seh Sadī), offering samples, that Professor Askari feels, provide valuable evidence of the characters of the correspondents, and of the “moods of the mystics” and the “tension of the time.” The selected translations and summaries offered successfully illustrate the complex relationship between royal and spiritual authority in this period, and highlight the ways in which both are at once mutually constituted and limited by the other. Some of translated material reflects the Sufi writers’ carefully penned critiques of royal power; in other cases they used their authority to intervene in cases where agents of the state may have committed injustices against individuals. Professor Askari’s selected sources highlight the dynamism, ethical complexity, and politically engaged orientation of the Bihar-based Firdausi order in the 14th century.

 

Keywords: Bihar, Firdausi order, Ilyas Shahi dynasty, Delhi Sultanate, Bengal Sultanate, Maulana Muzaffar Shams Balkhi, Sharfuddin Ahmad Yahya Maneri, Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah, Muhammad bin Tughluq, malfuzat, maktubat, Bihar

PSHA-HP Reviewer's Comments: The middle name should be Hasan instead of Husan as it was an unintentional typographical error when the research article was published by IHC in 1956.

Posted: February 6th, 2020

S. H. Askari. “Bihar in the Time of Babar & Humayun” in Current Studies (1956) & Collected Works of Prof. S.H. Askari - Medieval Bihar: Sultanate & Mughal Period, Volume 4 by Professor Syed Hasan Askari (1990). pp. 64-97.

 

This article follows the trajectory of Afghan politics in Bihar between the 1520s, when disgruntled Afghan opponents of Ibrahim Lodi travelled to Kabul to invite Babur to invade India, and 1540, when Sher Khan Sur, drove Humayun from India and crowned himself king. Prof. Askari does an admirable job of tracking several overlapping narratives, while warning his readers where to be wary of the era’s key source materials. Prof. Askari guides us through Babur’s (r. 1526-1530) decision to send his son Humayun to confront the eastern Afghans, organized at first under Muhammad Nuhani (who had crowned himself Sultan even before Ibrahim Lodi’s defeat). Humayun, however, was soon called back to assist his father in confronting the Rajput threat. The article’s attention then turns for some pages to detailing the early biography of Sher Sur (initially titled Farid Khan or Sher Khan), the death of Sultan Muhammad, and Babur’s last campaign and victory at Gogra and the scattering of the Afghans. After this low point in Afghan fortunes, the article then traces the slow rise of Sher Khan, parallel to the disordered strategies of the new Mughal emperor, Humayun (r. 1530-1540, 1555-1556). After first outwitting and defeating various rivals within the Afghan confederacy, Prof. Askari follows Sher Khan’s efforts to lull Humayun into an unwarranted sense of security as he built up his strength in Bihar and then Bengal. The article ends with Sher Khan’s strategic coup as he first lured Humayun into a lengthy campaign and stay in Bengal, while he in turn rapidly conquered a number of important sites across the Gangetic plain. Humayun was, in 1540, forced to flee India, leaving Sher Shah to govern northern India (r. 1540-1545).

 

Keywords: Sher Shah, Sur, Humayun, Babur, Mughal, 16th century, Indo-Afghan, Afghan confederacy, Bihar, Bengal, Nuhani, Farmuli, Delhi Sultanate

 

Posted: March 30th, 2020 

Syed Hasan Askari. “Some Letters of, and Relating to, Tipu Sultan” in Indian Historical Records Commission Proceedings of Meetings, Vol. XXXII (1956), pp. 50-57.

 

In this article, Prof. Askar describes a manuscript acquired by the Patna University Library consisting of sixty-nine letters, of which a portion are written by or to Sultan Tipu Sultan of Mysore (r. 1782-1799), or are directly relevant to his career. The article offers summaries of these letters’ contents, which focus mainly on the politics of southern India in the late 18th century. Several of the letters were written by unnamed affiliates of the Nizam’s court in Hyderabad, describing Tipu Sultan’s military engagements against the British in 1791 and again in 1799. Other letters relate to the financial obligations of lesser Karnatak-based powers, particularly the state of Kurnool in northern Rayalaseema, and of political rebellions in Coorg and Calicut to the west. Prof. Askari’s article offers an important service to anyone interested in the politics and history of this region and time by providing a clear overview of the letters’ contents.

 

Keywords: Tip Sultan, Mysore, Hyderabad, Nizam, Kurnool, Coorg, Calicut, Karnatak, Madras, Cornwallis, Alif Khan Panni, letter collection, 18th century, British East India Company, military fiscalism

 

Posted: August 28th, 2020 

1957

Hasan Askari. “Medicines and hospitals in Muslim India” in Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, Vol. 20, (1957). pp. 170-183.

This article outlines a history of medicine in India between the 13th-17th centuries. It opens with an outline of ancient and medieval medical scholarship, focusing first on the Islamic imperative to seek knowledge, and continuing with the central role of Ayurvedic scholarship in the development of Islamic medicine through the 13th century in Baghdad. Professor Syed H. Askari notes that Indian travelers may have lived and worked in Baghdad during this period. Professor Askari then turns to the Indian subcontinent itself, focusing on Sultanate-era translations of Sanskrit treatises into Persian and Arabic before turning to Mughal-era patronage of public health. In the final pages, it becomes clear that Professor Syed Askari wrote this article in direct response to colonial-era British scholarship, which took a dim view of Muslim government in India. Professor Askari highlights the seemingly intentional lack of success to translate portions of texts describing the patronage of hospitals and dispensaries, and mentions Henry Beveridge’s mis-translation of sihat khāna (hospital) as a “privy,” noticing in the next line that Edinburgh University Library possessed a copy of the Tibb-i Bahri o Barri, a treatise on medicine from the Bijapur Sultanate court (and so Beveridge should have been aware of it). Professor Askari makes his point clearly: medical knowledge and practice flourished for centuries before the arrival of the British.

 

Keyword: Unani, tibb, Ayurveda, Firuz Shah Tughluq, Sanskrit, Persian, translation, Delhi Sultanate, Bihar, Mughal medicine, hospitals, Henry Miers Elliot, Henry Beveridge, colonial translation, public health, Mughal physicians

Posted: February 6th, 2020 

Prof. S. H. Askari. “Hazarat Abdul Quddus Gangohi”, Patna University Journal, Vol.11, 1957, pp. 1-31

 

Prof. Askari here offers a close study of the Sufi saint Abdul Quddus Gangohi, a powerful 15-16th-century Sufi saint who lived in northern India during the transition from late Delhi Sultanate to Mughal rule. The article takes as its starting point a common refrain in Prof. Askari’s work, namely the historical value of Sufi literature to the patient and open-minded historian. The article represents a survey of surviving works by Gangohi and his followers, a biographical narrative of the saint’s life, and what might be described as a representative sample of historically significant material within the works under examination. In particular, Prof. Askari is keen to take the religiously minded nature of the most of the materials not as a demerit, but rather as an opportunity to learn more about the social world in which he operated—his correspondence with followers (including a woman named Babu Islam Khatun, whom Hazrat Gangohi clearly held in high esteem), his affinity for music as a means of prayer and access to the divine, and his philosophical engagement (expressed frequently in verse) with Hindu understandings of the divine. The article also highlights Gangohi’s correspondence with political leaders of the day, amongst them Sultan Sikandar Lodi and the Mughal emperor Babur.

 

Keywords: Chishti, Sufism, 15th century, 16th century, Delhi Sultanate, Lodi, Mughals, Babur, Humayun, Jaunpur, malfuzat, maktubat, social history

 

Posted: January 4th, 2021

1958

S. H. Askari. “Sufism in Medieval Bihar (i), (ii), (iii).” in Current Studies (1958), Khuda Bakhsh Library Journal, Vol. 50, (1989), & Collected Works of Prof. S.H. Askari - Islam and Muslims in Medieval Bihar, Volume 3 by Professor Syed Hasan Askari, (1989) pp. 3-86.

 

Professor Syed Hasan Askari was invited to deliver a series of lectures on the topic of Islamic thought and culture for the Sir Abdullah Suhrawardi Lectures. In this publication, we find a transcription of those three lectures, focusing on the history of Sufism in medieval Bihar. The first lecture affords an overview of the history of Sufism, focusing in on India and Bihar. He uses the Dabistan-i Mazahib, an early modern encyclopedic discourse on religions, to define the concept of mysticism; the author described it as something which belongs to all the religions and […] nations of the world,” represented in India by the various Bhakti and Sufi traditions. Prof. Askari explores the relationship between Sufi ideas and that of other South Asian religions – for example parallels and differences between the Buddhist notion of nirvana and the Sufi doctrine of fana. He considers the debate between the ‘wujudiya’ vs ‘shuhudiya’ schools of thought, introduces and critiques various purported origins of Sufism, and establishes that at the time of his writing, no serious attempt had been made to write the early history of Islam in eastern India (Prof. Eaton has since published The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier [1993]). The second lecture focuses on the Firdausiya silsila, relying primarily on the malfuzat and maktubat sources about which Prof. Askari has written extensively elsewhere. In this article, however, he takes the opportunity to delve deeper into the content of many of these sources, exploring debates around topics such as the notion of fan fillah, or effacement into God, as well as the question as to what extent man is possessed of agency. These kinds of debates, as Prof. Askari makes clear, were deadly serious matters – he points to examples of Bihari Sufis who were condemned to death by the Tughluq sovereign at the recommendation of orthodox ulama. The final lecture sought to establish some theoretical and practical ways in which the mystical ideas put forward by figures such as the Sufi saint Sharafuddin Ahmad Maneri have shaped the history and culture of Bihar in the succeeding centuries. Prof. Askari examines a number of social, educational, and cultural practices – many of which he has examined elsewhere – such as superstition, education, professions, care for the poor, etc., concluding that: Bihari Sufis “…stood for social justice and were fully imbued with a sense of humanity.” Taken together, this lecture series serves as a useful overview of his lifelong work on the history of Sufism in medieval Bihar.

 

Keywords: Bihar, medieval history, Sufism, mysticism, intellectual history, social history, malfuzat, maktubat, Islam, Hindu-Muslim relations

 

Posted: March 27th, 2020 

Syed Hasan Askari. “Ruqqa’at-i-Hassan” in Indian Historical Records Commission Proceedings of Meetings, Vol. XXXIII (1958), pp. 16-25.

 

This article offers a second look at an important and unusual manuscript highlighting elements of Orissa’s 17th-century history. The Ruqa‘at-i Hasan is a collection of correspondence by and to Maulana Abul Hasan, the secretary of the Governor (subadar) of Orissa between 1655-1667. While Prof. Askari worked with an incomplete copy of the manuscript he had recently uncovered in the collection at Khuda Bakhsh Library, another more complete copy of the manuscript had been earlier used by Jadunath Sarkar. Prof. Askari takes the opportunity to highlight aspects of the text not taken up by Prof. Sarkar. These include details of regional administration such as the grant of rent-free land to religious figures and educators, the running of madrasa schools, and to charitable efforts. The letters also describe details of state policy towards formerly antagonistic groups who had opted to submit to Mughal power, and highlights the regional government’s policy relating to coastal affairs and trade. As is Prof. Askari’s habit, he takes the opportunity to highlight details from several of the letters, offering us a taste of the manuscript’s quality and details. The letters relay troop movements, a meeting organized by Orissa’s new Mughal governor seeking to regularize administration with lower-level officials, and outlines a competition between competing clusters of nobility seeking to control the powerful office of the diwani in Orissa.

 

Keywords: Orissa, 17th century, Mughal, subadari, Jadunath Sarkar, administration, charitable endowments, coastal trade, zamindari

 

Posted: August 28th, 2020

1959

 

Syed Hasan Askari. “The Mughal-Magh relations down to the time of Islam Khan Mashhadi” in Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, Vol. 22 (1959), pp 201-213.

 

This interesting article by Professor S. H. Askari introduces readers to an unusual source – a collection of 17th-century letters bound within an 18th-century manuscript, titled the Ashraf ul-Musawavidats, which appear to relate to early 17th-century relations between the Mughal governor of Bengal and the Magh ruler of the Arrakan kingdom. The bulk of the article is taken up in outlining the complex nature of these relations between 1611-1630s, highlighting Mughal frustration at the Maghs’ ability to leverage challenging landscape, alliance with Portuguese pirates, and political disarray in Mughal-ruled Bengal to preserve their independence. The article concludes with a translation of two fascinating letters between Islam Khan Mashhadi (Governor of Bengal) and the Magh ruler. The latter is remarkable for its fearlessness – the author gleefully pointing out the Mughals’ virtual powerlessness during the rainy season, amusing at Mughal fear of the dangerous landscape of Rakhang. The correspondence makes for fascinating reading and also offers welcome insight into a corner of Mughal foreign policy that has yet to receive adequate attention in contemporary scholarship.

Keywords: Bengal suba, Arakan kingdom, Islam Khan Mashhadi, Mughal foreign policy, Mughal correspondence, Portuguese pirates, Magh Raja, Shah Jahan

Posted: February 6th, 2020

Syed Hasan Askari. “Maadan-ul-Insha, a Rare Collection of Letters” in Indian Historical Records Commission Proceedings of Meetings, Vol. XXXIV (1959), pp. 188-196.

 

This collection of letters, compiled in 1737 by an unknown figure named Ram Sethi Chiranjivadas, was also the subject of a much later article by Prof. Askari in 1999, in which he returns to this source and pleas with future scholars to make use of it. It is easy to see why Prof. Askari thought so much of it. The letter collection includes a range of correspondence dating back to Jahangir’s era (early 17th century), and offers insight into the character and policies of Mughal sovereigns and of major Mughal nobility. Apart from letters between emperors and princes, it also includes diplomatic correspondence with Safavid rulers, and a number of important letters describing key battles in the early 18th century. These include the victory of the Sayyid brother Hussain Ali Khan against Daud Khan Panni as they competed for the governorship of the Deccan, as well as the victory of Nizam-ul-Mulk over Mubariz Khan, again as the two figures grappled for control over the Deccan. The letters also include an account of Mahabat Khan Lahrasp, recalled for his poor governorship of Afghanistan. The article concludes with an interesting description of correspondence between two Irani immigrants debating the relative merits of Iranian versus Indian landscape, handicraft, and culture. The debate is definitively won by Mirza Kamran, who waxes poetic on the superiority of all things Hindustani, including the subcontinent’s fashion, textiles, furnishings, habits, economy, and its political forms.

 

Keywords: Mughal, letter collection, Hussain Ali Khan, Daud Khan Panni, Mahabat Khan Lahrasp, Mubariz Khan, Nizam-ul-Mulk, Mirza Kamran, Akbar, Jahngir, Shah Jahan, Aurangzeb, Mughal princes, Hindustani culture

 

Posted: August 28th, 2020

 

Syed Hasan Askari, “Versified Account in Persian of Islam Khan’s Campaign in Assam (Summary)”, in Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, 1959, Vol. 22 (1959), p. 497

Though both the gifted poets of Shah Jahan's court, Abu Talib Kalim, the poet laureate, and Haji Muhammad Jan, Āudsi, who was  introduced to the emperor in 1042-1632, versified the official chronicles,  the former does not refer to the Koch Ahom affairs, but the latter gives an account of the victories in Assam achieved under the brother of Islam Khan Meshhadi, Governor of Bengal (1635-39). More important is the long Masnavi named ' Fath-i- Assam ' of about 375 verses by Muhammad Quli, Salim, Tehrani, who enjoyed the patronage of Islam Khan both in Gujarat and Bengal, and had a firsthand knowledge  of the famine that occurred in the former and the events that happened in the latter, specially of certain incidents in the naval and land warfare of Mir Zainuddin Ali, the Governor's brother, in Assam, of which he has given a graphic and artistic description. Though the account is more poetic than factual, for history had a secondary importance among the professional poets and panegyrists, it is not devoid of historical interests, for it is a record of contemporary events. It is a pity that the poet who was most probably present in the campaign of Zainuddin was more concerned with poetic imagery and artistic beauty than with narration of facts in elegant Persian. But even the scanty materials about the provocative initiative taken by the Ahoms, the firmness and preparations of the Governor, the difficulties created by the heavy rains lasting for nine months, swollen rivers, tortuous mountain paths and jungles, pursuit of the vanquished, plunder, incendiarism, brutalities, bloodshed, tower of heads erected on the roads, sacrilegious destruction of temples etc. which he supplies us with are well taken note of. An attempt has been made in this paper to translate these verses of Qudsi and Salim which have got some historical bearing.

Keywords: Islam Khan, Shah Jahan, 17th century, Koch Ahom, Islam Khan Meshhadi, Fath-i- Assam, Muhammad Quli, Salim, Tehrani, Mir Zainuddin Ali, Assam

Posted: March 19th, 2021

1960

Syed Hasan Askari. “Discursive Notes on the Sharqi Monarchy of Jaunpur” in Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, 23, no. 1 (1960). pp. 152-163

 

This article begins by stating the absence of contemporary chronicles of the Sharqi-ruled Jaunpur Sultanate, before examining the prospective value of other sources, both latter-day and those penned by inhabitants of neighboring states. Driven by necessity, Professor S. H. Askari takes a far more magnanimous and open-minded approach to a range of sources whose value would have been dismissed by many of his contemporaries. For example, Professor Askari recommends exploring Maithili-language sources – chiefly historically-minded texts written by the author Vidyapati. Askari outlines 20th-century debates over how Vidyapati’s narrative should be read, how to address serious questions about chronology and about what may have been Vidyapati’s deft contextual interchange between the author’s own era and a mythical ancient past. While in recent decades the reputation of these kinds of Indic-language texts (for example those preserved in the well-known Mackenzie Collection) has been resurrected by scholars such as Narayana Rao, Shulman and Subrahmanyam, who argue that pre-modern and early modern authors, rather than being hopelessly confused by the boundary between fact and fantasy (as earlier historians had concluded), were more likely playfully toying with said boundaries for aesthetic effect. While Professor Syed Askari does not go so far as to invoke genre and aesthetic, he does take his fellow historians to task for what he sees as mis-leading efforts to force Vidyapati’s account into their own narrow understanding of the past. Instead, he recommends reading Maithili sources in conjunction with other contemporary and near-contemporary sources, finding that other supposedly “non-historical” sources such as Bengali-based Sufi maktūbāt points readers towards a more definitive answer to the question of whether Jaunpur’s rulers engaged in a strategic alliance with the Maithili rulers. Elsewhere, Professor Askari takes up the question of the Sharqi dynasty’s ethnic origins, arguing that because chronicles from neighboring states record their own lineages’ intermarriage with the Sharqi royal lineage, it would be impossible for Jaunpur’s rulers to have been of African (Siddi or Habshi) descent. Altogether, this article makes a welcome case for historians’ adopting a more open-minded and creative approach to unusual sources, as well as a less dogmatic attitude towards religious identity as a causative agent in Indian history.

 

Keywords: Jaunpur, Sharqis, Maithili, Vidyapati, Riyaz al-Insha, Bahmanids, Orissa, Bengal Sultanate, Delhi Sultanate, religious identity, chronology

Posted: February 25th, 2020

Prof. Syed Hasan Askari. “Mulla Da’ud’s Chanda’in and Sadhan’s Maina Sat” in Patna University Journal, Vol. XV, (1960), pp. 61-83

 

Here, Prof. Askari undertakes a careful initial study of two different Sufi allegorical tales, or so-called prem katha narratives, both written in Hindavi. Prof. Askari’s article offers us a narrative description of both stories (Mulla Da’ud’s Chandayan and Sadhan’s Maina Sat) and places them in the context of later and better-known titles in the genre, such as Jayasi’s Padmavat. Prof. Askari spends a great deal of time examining the condition and style of the manuscripts themselves. Prof. Askari, in what at times comes close to a line-by-line analysis, notes disparities between the Maneri and Bhopal copies of the manuscripts. Prof. Askari also devotes a number of pages to a careful study of the illustrated pages of the Bhopal manuscript, observing details regarding characters’ dress, the likelihood that a depiction of an older bearded man was likely that of the author Mulla Da’ud, and the overall quality of the illustration. Finally, Prof. Askari describes the shorter and lesser-known Maina Sat, describing the narrative’s close relationship to the Chandayan, from which it had borrowed its primary characters and back story. He speculates, based on internal evidence from the story, that the author, whose identity remains unknown, was likely a Muslim.

 

Keywords: Sufi literature, Awadhi, Chandayan, prem katha, Hindavi, illustrated manuscript, 14th century, Delhi Sultanate, romance, syncretism

 

Posted: January 12th, 2021

1961

Syed Hasan Askari. “Mughal Naval Weakness and Aurangzeb’s Attitude Towards the Traders and Pirates on the Western Coast” in Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, Vol. 24 (1961), pp. 162-170.

 

This article examines a number of references to Mughal naval policy in two well-known Persian-language sources from Aurangzeb’s era: the Ahkam-i Alamgiri (Inayatullah), and the Kalimat-i Taiyyabat. Both sources, which include a number of the emperor’s instructions and letters with respect to the affairs of the western coast, especially the port of Surat, highlight imperial ambivalence over affairs at sea. Professor S. H. Askari states that these selections reflect the “helplessness of the Mughals on the sea,” although he is careful to acknowledge that Mughal sea-policy does not reflect that of Indians more broadly, identifying the skillful seamanship and aggressive naval policies of Shivaji Bhonsle and the Siddi community at Janjira on the western coast.

While Professor Askari’s article reflects the historiographical attitudes of its time – in particular his emphasis on the Mughals’ “failure” to adopt a more aggressive naval position (more recent work, for example that by Sinnappah Arasaratnam, Christopher Bayly, Kanakalatha Mukund, Ghulam Nadri, Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Lakshmi Subramanian, etc.) has tended to explore the prominent role played by powerful mercantile communities in India’s flourishing port cities, as well as politically well-connected “portfolio capitalists” who balanced imperial service, mercantile opportunities, and military entrepreneurship).

 

Abstract Author’s Review Note: Nevertheless, Professor Askari’s close study of the Ahkam and the Kalimat reward the reader with a lively sense of Aurangzeb’s close interest in, and anxieties around, the affairs of ports and sea routes more or less closely associated with the Mughal state.

 

Keywords: Mughal Empire, naval, Siddi, Jinjira, Indian Ocean, Portuguese, piracy, Maratha, Shivaji, Aurangzeb, port cities, Surat, western India

Posted: February 25th, 2020

S. H. Askari. “Indo-Persian relations with special reference to the Deccan” in Studies in Asian History, London: Asia Publishing House, 1961, pp. 225-237.

 

In this thought-provoking article, Professor Syed Hasan Askari invites us to examine three-way diplomatic correspondence between Deccan Sultanate courts, the Safavid regime in Iran, and the North Indian Mughals. He makes a strong case for the argument that it was political and occasionally personal factors that drove the relationship in particular between the Safavid and Deccan courts, rather than the shared religious and cultural orientation that one might have assumed. He examines the strong bonds of mutual self-interest that drew Safavid and Deccan rulers together as both faced threats from the aggressively expansionist Mughal regime. We can see the way that the Deccan courts carefully cultivated close ties with the Safavids, in part through polite courtly ritual as well as through the deeply resonant symbolism of reciting the khutba in the name of the Safavid monarch (as practiced in Bijapur). Prof. Askari also highlights the manner in which, on several occasions, the Safavids used the open thread of diplomatic correspondence with the Mughal court to defend the Deccan Sultanates’ continued security and autonomy. This is an interesting and unusual study of early modern international diplomacy which brings to the forefront the perennial question of realpolitik versus expectations of cultural orientation so often given credence in Sultanate histories of this period.

 

Commentary: Although Deccan politics are not one of Prof. Askari’s primary fields of study, he is able to shed fresh light on a political field which, in this era, was often taken up by dogmatic assumptions around religious and cultural identity. In some ways, this article opens the door to scholarship by figures like Sanjay Subrahmanyam and Muzaffar Alam, who have in more recent decades explored the dense networks of migration and engagement between Safavid and Deccan states, versus representations of cultural ‘otherness’ and political antagonism across Mughal-Deccan Sultanate lines.

 

Keywords: Deccan Sultanates, Safavid, Mughal, Nizam Shah, Bijapur, Golkonda, Shah Tahir, Tahmasp, international diplomacy, early modern, khutba, cultural orientation, diplomatic correspondence, Shi‘a Islam

 

Posted: March 30th, 2020 

Syed Hasan Askari. “Two Important Collections of Historical Letters” in Indian Historical Records Commission Proceedings of Meetings, Vol. XXXVI (1961), pp. 73-81.

 

This article describes two letter collections preserved in the India Office in London but copied for the collections of the Jayaswal Research Institute and Oriental Public Library in Patna (Khuda Bakhsh Library). The letters mostly relate to post-Plassey-era transations in eastern India, particularly Bengal and Bihar, and a large percentage of the letters are written by or are addressed to Mir Jafar and Mir Qasim, key figures in the rise to power of the British East India Company in Bengal. The letters often describe details of Company administration in the province and the appointment of local officials for revenue collection. There are also a handful of letters highlighting diplomatic relations between Bengal’s Mughal government and the Rohillas in the years before Plassey, the sack of Delhi in 1754, and some early letters describing regional responses to Aurangzeb’s reimposition of jizya. An evocative letter written by Sobha Singh, a zamindar in Bednipur in Bengal makes the case that jizya is an unsuitable administrative device in Hindustan. The collections also include letters relating to the battle between Mubariz Khan and Nizam-ul-Mulk.

 

Keywords: letter collection, Mughal politics, Battle of Plassey, British East India Company, 17th century, 18th century, jizya, Nizam-ul-Mulk, Mubariz Khan, Aurangzeb, Bengal

 

Posted: August 28th, 2020

 

 

1962

 

Syed Hasan Askari. “A Rare Contemporary Account of the Affairs of Delhi after the Battle of Karnal, 1739” in Indian Historical Records Commission Proceedings of Meetings, Vol. XXXVII (1962), pp. 18-27.

 

This article describes a text from within a manuscript titled Majmua-i Yusufi, a bayaz or notebook that includes an anonymous account of the events in Delhi after Nadir Shah occupied the imperial city. The author of the text was a servant of the nobleman Sarbuland Khan, and the text provides insight into the biases and political parties that shaped this period. The author was antagonistic towards Nizam-ul-Mulk and what Prof. Askari terms the “Turanian” faction, and was also not complimentary of another diarist of the event, Jugal Kishore. The author was, however, much more friendly towards members of the so-called “Irani” faction that included Burhan-ul-Mulk, Amir Khan, and others. The author maintained a balanced perspective, granting respect to both the Mughal sovereign Muhammad Shah and his victorious opponent Nadir Shah. The account describes popular violence against members of Nadir Shah’s army after a rumor that the latter had died, and then the mass bloodshed of the following day when Nadir Shah ordered a massacre, murdering, according to the anonymous author’s possibly exaggerated estimate, some 80-90,000 citizens of Delhi. The document is particularly valuable for its careful description of the shame and suicide of individual members of the Mughal nobility who could not afford to pay the high ransoms demanded by Nadir Shah and his forces. Prof. Askari provides a useful overview of the text and in many places offers partial translations of the text where he identifies important details.

 

Keywords: Delhi, Nadir Shah, 1739, Muhammad Shah, Karnal, popular massacre, diplomacy, nobility, Turani faction, Irani faction, Jugal Kishore

 

Posted: August 28th, 2020

 

 

Syed Hasan Askari. “Historical Value of Basatin-ul-Uns: A Rare Literary Work of the Early 14th Century” in The Journal of Bihar Research Society, Vol. XLVIII, Part 1, (1962), pp. 1-29

This article begins by establishing Prof. Askari’s opposition to those who argue that the Delhi Sultanate was purely a Muslim “war state.” As Prof. Askari rightly asserts, the Delhi Sultanate period was an era characterized by cultural experimentation, advancements in the sciences, and artistic production, much of which drew upon close interaction between “Hindu” (or in more contemporary terminology, “Indic”) and Islamicate traditions. These include Persian works focusing on Indian medicine, poetic compositions in regional languages, and Sanskrit works translated into Persian. In this article, Prof. Askari focuses on the Basatin ul-Uns, described in Rieu as a “Hindu tale, written in ornate prose, copiously interspersed with Arabic and Persian verses” by a hereditary servant of the Tughluq-era Delhi court. He was known as Muhammad Sadrullah Ahmad Hasan Dabir-i Idusi, commonly titled Ikhtisan. Prof. Askari provides an overview of the text, which includes references to music and painting, instruments, games, festivals, flowers and perfumes, textiles, and hospitals. The text also offers insight into military campaigns, romantic stories, and moral codes for women. Pausing to ask his readers what a historian might do with such a document, Prof. Askari answers his own question by asserting that it offers valuable insight into political ideals and principles of good government, as well as the interests and values of Sultanate society more broadly. In this article, Prof. Askari swims against the grain of assumptions about Delhi Sultanate society that remain common today. His work highlights features of Sultanate culture that he felt deserved closer attention. Indeed, topics like Sanskrit-Persian translations, regional language production, and material culture have only really begun to receive that attention in the last couple of decades, albeit still more commonly in the Mughal than Sultanate context.

 

Keywords: cultural history, Tughluq, Delhi Sultanate, material culture, Sanskrit, Persian, wonder tales, ‘aja’ib

 

Posted: September 18th, 2020 

1963

Syed Hasan Askari. “Taj-ul-Maasir of Hasan Nizami” in Patna University Journal, Vol 18, issue 3 (1963), pp. 49-127.

 

The main portion of the article (pp. 61-115) consists of a reliable, if brief, translation of Hasan Nizami’s Taj al-Ma’asir (c. ~1217) further summary of which I will not attempt here. The remaining pages incorporate Prof Askari’s commentary. One of the key features of this article is Prof. Askari’s effort to grapple with the long shadow of Henry Miers Elliot’s early and influential translation of the Taj in his History of India as Told by its Own Historians (c. 1867-1877). Colonial-era historians relied upon Elliot’s selective and often inaccurate version, which painted the early Delhi Sultanate under Ghorid rule as a genocidal anti-Hindu theocracy, to help the British prop up and justify their colonial regime. Across the course of the 20th century, post-colonial historians as well as a general reading public, unable or unwilling to tackle the Taj’s dense literary Persian, have continued to grant unwarranted trust to Elliot’s version, which in many places twists the original intent of the author. Beyond Elliot’s translation, however, Prof. Askari admits that the contents of the Taj can themselves be troubling. Hasan Nizami seemed to have been eager to recite a history of iconoclastic Muslim ghazi warriors whose armies thundered bloodthirstily across the North Indian landscape, killing idol-worshipping Hindus and smashing their temples and building mosques in their place. How does a historian approach this sort of material? Prof. Askari seems to comment here that to some extent, the historical actors themselves were at fault. At the same time, Nizami the historian bore blame for his misrepresentations of the era. Prof. Askari begins by vigorously disputing Hasan Nizami’s characterization of Islam and of the Taj’s representation of the Sultanate’s early history. The text “may lead one to suppose that Islam is a religion of war and extermination […]; that there is no scope for catholicity and toleration and liberty of expression […]; that Islam sanctions […] massacre of non-believers...” Prof. Askari notes that Nizami’s overblown claims about temple desecration can be disproven through archaeological and historical study (a task that Prof. Richard Eaton has since undertaken). Further, even if some of the behavior described were true, Askari notes that Nizami and to the Turkish soldiers misunderstood Islam’s basic tenets regarding “equality of man in the eyes of God, […] and the Quranic injunction that ‘there is no compulsion in religion.’” Finally, Prof. Askari highlights a number of serious problems he has identified with Elliot’s translation – these include not only simple mistranslations of words, but the wholesale removal of passages describing matters of governance, administration, patronage, protection of the peasantry, forgiveness of soldiers, and the accomplishments of pious and saintly figures, all of which might have afforded Elliot’s translation of Nizami’s history a more nuanced quality, and a more balanced reading of early Sultanate history.

 

Keywords: Delhi Sultanate, 13th century, historiography, Indo-Persian, Hindu-Muslim conflict, colonial historiography, translation, Hasan Nizami, temple desecration

 

Posted: March 16th, 2020 

S. H. Askari. “Introduction of the General Editor”- Historical Research Series, Published under the Patronage of the Government of Bihar, Vol. 4, The Antiquarian Remains in Bihar by D. R. Patil, Kashi Prasad Jayswal Research Institute, Patna, India, 1963, pp. xi-xii.

 

This brief Editor’s Introduction, written during Prof. Askari’s tenure at the K. P. Jayaswal Research Institute, introduces a volume of importance for historians of Bihar, namely a careful survey of historical monuments in the region. The work was composed by Dr. K. K. Datta and was founded on a list first compiled by Dr. Altekar, a former director of the K. P. Jayaswal Institute, with help from Dr. D. R. Patil.

 

Keywords: Bihar, monuments, antiquarian, architecture, geography

 

Posted: January 4th, 2021

1964

Syed Hassan Askari. “Historical matters in Ijaz-i Khusravi” in Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, V. 26, Part II (1964), pp. 11-20.

 

This article makes a request to Professor S. H. Askari’s fellow historians to take more seriously the value of supposedly “ahistorical” sources. In this case, he examines the highly ornate Ijaz-i Khusravi (c. 1283/84), which he says had hitherto discouraged all except those interested in “literary skill and artifices […] verbal jugglery [etc…].” Within this text, Professor Askari highlights a number of interesting segments, including a number of official documents, amongst them a fathnama or victory declaration, outlining the terms of Sultan Ghyasuddin Balban’s (r. 1266-1287) victory over Lakhnauti, descriptions of Amir Khusrau’s interactions with his friends, an outline of Alauddin Khilji’s (r. 1296-1316) early policies, a more detailed examination of Sultanate governance along the western coast, which highlights the Sultanate government’s interest in Indian Ocean affairs, including Sultanate prince Farid Khan’s ambitious (and ultimately fruitless) ambition to bring strategically trading routes in the Persian Gulf under his control. Other items of interest include documents that help shed light on the Sultanate’s legal system, as well as apparently wide-ranging suspicions regarding the power and influence of Hindu scribal groups.

 

Abstract Author’s Review Note: Altogether, this article convincingly furthers Professor Askari’s statement that historians of his era should cast a wider net in their search for valuable windows into the past.

 

Keywords: Amir Khusrau, Delhi Sultanate, medieval, maritime sovereignty, scribal communities, Islamic law, historiography

 

Posted: February 25th, 2020

Syed Hasan Askari. “Historical Value of Sufi Hagiological Works of the Sultanate Period (Also Published as the Historical Value of Hagiological Literature, in Proceedings of the Twenty-Sixth International Congress of Orientalists: New Delhi, 4-10th January, 1964)” in Journal of Bihar Research Society, 52, no. 3, pts. 1-4 (1966): 143-184.

 

Here, Prof. Askari provides an extended analysis of one of his favorite topics: the value of hagiographic material. In particular, he focuses on Sufi writings from the Delhi Sultanate period, arguing for their suitability as historical sources. While not themselves written for a historical audience, these sources provide a range of information useful to the historian today. This can include such straightforward details as names and dates, but also details of daily social life and relations, questions of gender and of intercommunal relationships, and of language use. Prof. Askari highlights details from a number of particularly valuable texts, notably the Munis al-Muridin, the Malfuz al-Safar, the Ganj-i Yafna, the Fawa’id al-Fu’ad and others, which help to piece together details of the political and cultural landscape of pre-Mughal India. The article is a useful starting place for anyone interested in Sufi sources and practices in Sultanate-era Bihar, Delhi, and Panjab, and offers a useful overview of arguments Prof. Askari has also made in scattered studies elsewhere.

 

Keywords: Delhi Sultanate, Sufism, maktubat, malfuzat, yogi, sufi, Firuz Shah Tughluq, Maneri Firdausi, Hazrat Sharafuddin, Baba Farid, Hindu-Muslim relations, Islam, Bihar, Delhi

 

Posted: October 21st, 2020

1965

Syed Hasan Askari. “Mirza Muhammad Baqir Najm-i-Thani: Author of Mau‘iza-i Jahangiri” in ‘Arshi Presentation Volume, edited by Malik Ram & M. D. Ahmad,. Majlis-i Nazr-i ‘Arshi: New Delhi, 1965. pp 101-122

 

In this article, Professor S. H. Askari uses the example of Mirza Muhammad Baqir Khan, titled Najm-i Thani, to make a case for the more serious study of Mughal nobility. Professor Askari comments that scholars (presumably taking aim here at the subcontinent’s then-influential school of Marxist historiography) have too often dismissed Mughal nobility – they were too extravagant, too luxurious, too servile, disloyal, etc. Instead, Prof. Askari asks his readers to take a more broad-minded attitude to this elite community – focusing on their outsized role in influencing the “tastes, style and standard of life” in Mughal India, and for their achievements in art and architecture. Towards this end, Prof. Syed Askari focuses on Baqir Khan’s biography, describing his arrival in Hindustan from Safavid Iran and his slow rise through the mansabdari ranks during Jahangir’s reign. Baqir Khan held a string of strategically important postings across the empire, including long stints in Multan, Awadh, Orissa, and Gujarat. Professor Askari’s study turns in several places to works of poetry written by Baqir Khan’s friends and compatriots, describing not only Baqir Khan’s military exploits, but also his connoisseurship of music, mathematics, and the sciences. The article concludes with a short examination of a short manuscript written by Baqir Khan himself, the Mau’iza-i Jahangiri, a mixed text consisting of prefatory notes, letters, his own poetic verse, and a bayaz (‘commonplace’ notebook) of collected chronograms and poetry. The article includes significant sections of original Persian text, as well as (in some cases) translations.

 

Keywords: Mughal empire, nobility, administration, poetry, 17th century, adab, Indo-Iranian

 

Posted: March 10th, 2020 

 

Syed Hasan Askari, “Historical Value of Afsana-i-Badshahan or Tarikh-i-Afghani,” Journal of Indian History, Vol. 43, 1965, pp 183-200.


            In this important article, Prof. Askari draws scholars’ attention to the Tarikh-i Afghani, also known as the Afsana-i Badshahan, written by Shaikh Muhammad Kabir likely sometime late in Jahangir’s reign (r. 1605-1627). The text, notes Prof. Askari, has perhaps failed to receive sufficient scholarly attention because it was dismissed by Rieu in the British Museum catalogue as “less a history than a series of detached narrative and anecdotes.” Yet as Prof. Askari proceeds to demonstrate, it is much more than that. Although necessarily read with caution (there are clear inaccuracies and points of chronological confusion), the author nevertheless provides a great deal of local detail particularly in the affairs of Afghan history in the Bihar region. Moreover, in light of the author’s identity as the son of a Sufi mystic, his account offers important detail on the history of Sufi lineages in the region. As is often the case with Prof. Askari’s articles, he provides much space to the text itself, translating key passages and in places placing them alongside other key sources from this period, in order that the reader might better understand the value of the Afsana. The growing number of scholarly works citing the Afsana in recent decades can in part be attributed to Prof. Askari’s article.

 

Keywords: Afghan history, Bihar, regional history, hikayat, historiography, Sufism, Mughal, Sikandar Lodi, Sher Shah Suri

 

Posted: May 23rd, 2020

 

1966

“Awfi’s Jawami-ul-Hikayat” In Patna University Journal, Vol. XXI, no. 1 (1966), pp 1-56, & Collected Works of Prof. S.H. Askari - On Awfi's Jawami-ul Hikayat Volume 5 by Professor Syed Hasan Askari, Published by Khuda Buksh Oriental Public Library, Patna, India, (1995), pp 1-56.

 

Here, Prof. Askari provides us with an extended introduction to the Jawami-ul-Hikayat by Qazi Sadiduddin Muhammad “Awfi” (d. 1232-33...). As in many of Prof. Askari’s surveys of historical Persian sources, he prefers as far as possible to let the texts speak for themselves. Having provided a short introduction to Awfi’s biography, the Jawami, and the era in which Awfi lived (he was a refugee from Central Asia during the Mongol incursions, settling first in Uch before spending time in Gujarat and in Delhi), Prof. Askari gives over the bulk of this lengthy article to short translations from the Jawami itself. As Prof. Askari highlights, Awfi did not consider himself a historian in the manner expected by modern audiences. Rather, he was interested in human virtues and vices, which he often illustrated through historical anecdotes (hikayats). Awfi was careful to record his sources, drawing on at least nine dozen written sources, oral accounts, and personal observation. As Prof. Askari points out, some of his most interesting material comes from his time in Gujarat, where he recorded a number of stories that must have been circulating at the time regarding the exemplary character of the former Chalukya king, Jayasingh Siddha Raja (1094-1143). Awfi also recorded several important events of his own lifetime. These include the suicide of Sultan Qubacha in 1228 as he sought to avoid death at the hands of his rival, Iltutmish, as well as a description of the mosque associated with the Qutb Minar. Prof. Askari’s article concludes with a description of the condition and quality of the four manuscripts consulted for the article (including a 15th-century ….....) copy held by the Khuda Bakhsh Library).

 

Keywords: Awfi, Delhi Sultanate, 13th century, Mongols, Iltutmish, hikayat, Chalukya, historiography, Persian, tarikh, Qutb Minar, Qubucha, Gujarat

 

Posted: April 21st, 2020 

Professor Syed Hasan Askari, “INTRODUCTION BY GENERAL EDITOR” in Nalinaksha Dutt (ed.), Bodhisattvabhūmiḥ [Being the XVth Section of Asaṅgapāda’s Yogācārabhumiḥ], Tibetan Sanskrit Works Series, K.P. Jayaswal Research Institute, Patna, 1978 (First Published 1966).

In the “Introduction” by Prof. S. H. Askari, he presents this scholarship as yet another contribution to the world of Buddhist studies, amidst the mission of the K.P. Jayaswal Research Institute in bringing out the Tibetan and Sanskrit texts of the manuscripts (as part of Tibetan Sanskrit Works Series) brought over from Tibet by the late Rahul Sankrityayan, the celebrated Indologist. Prof. Askari as the general editor of the series, pertinently points out that the present edition of the Bodhisattvabhūmiḥ is based on a complete copy of the manuscript discovered by Sankrityayan in the Sha-Lu Monastery, thus filling up important gaps noticed in the Woghihara's edition of the book. In this introduction, Prof. Askari brings to notice that this particular text forms the fifteenth section of Ācārya Asaṅga's work, Yogācārabhūmi, which deals with the aims and aspirations of a Bodhisattva and throws light on the contemporary Mahāyāna doctrines. As the Honorary Joint Director of the K.P. Jayaswal Research Institute, he concludes the introduction by lauding the editor’s (Dr. Dutt) efforts in making the text accessible to scholars ans general readership.

Keywords: Buddhist studies, Rahul Sankrityayan, Tibet, Bihar, medieval history, regional history, local history

Posted: March 22nd, 2022 

1967

Prof. S. H. Askari. “Betel-Chewing Custom Among the Early Muslims in India” in Journal of Madhya Pradesh Itihasa Parishad, Bhopal, Vol. V, (1967) pp. 67-91

 

This article focuses on the South Asian habit of betelnut-chewing, or paan. Noting that other historians had already traced its popularity across the subcontinent and even to Southeast Asia in the pre-modern period, adopting it as a sort of proxy for the existence of an “Indic” cultural orientation, Prof. Askari notes that no one had yet studied the intoxicant’s popularity amongst medieval Indian Muslims. The remainder of the article is dedicated to tracing references to the habit through an array of genres and contexts. Prof. Askari found aficionados of paan at Muslim-ruled courts, where it was a common palette-cleanser at the end of a meal and an important component of diplomatic niceties, and at Sufi khanaqahs, where Sufi pirs would in some cases gift half-chewed paan to disciples. Prof. Askari finds, as well, ample descriptions of paan and its consumption in sources such as Amir Khusrau, who relished it, and in other texts including early Muslim observers such as Abdullah bin Ahmad, who included reference to it in a medical treatise in 1205. The article’s evident subtext is Prof. Askari’s observation that Indian Muslims had, within a short period of settling in the subcontinent, eagerly taken up this quintessentially “Indian” habit, along with, presumably, many others.

 

Keywords: Paan, betelnut, aliment, cuisine, medieval Islam, Indian culture, Indo-Islamic culture, Indo-Muslim, syncretism, Sufism, courtly culture

 

Posted: January 12th, 2021

Professor Syed Hasan Askari, “Preface of the General Editor of the First Edition” in N. Tatia and A. Thakur (deciphered and ed.), Madhyānta-Vibhāga-Bhāsya, Tibetan Sanskrit Works Series, Volume X, K.P. Jayaswal Research Institute, Patna, 2006 (First Published 1967).

In this “Preface” by Prof. S. H. Askari to the edition of the tenth volume of the Tibetan Sanskrit Works Series, he welcomes the edition of the book, Madhyānta-Vibhāga-Bhāsya of Vasubandhu, the great Buddhist philosopher of Nalanda University in 5th century A.D. The bhāṣya, auto commentary on Madhyānta-vibhāga-Kārikā of Vasubandhu, in the original Sanskrit, was long lost in India. Prof. Askari as the general editor of the first edition of the series, brings to the readers’ notice the invaluable contribution of the celebrated indologist, Rahul Sankrityayan, who had brought a negative of the bhāṣya from a monastery at Ngor, Tibet in 1937. Among the texts that Sankrityayan had procured, there was a short treatise named Madhyantavibhagabhasya, written in proto Maithili cum Bengali script prevalent in the 11th and 12th centuries in North Eastern India; which then was presented by the scholar to the Bihar Research Society. Prof. Askari, as Honorary Joint Director of the K.P. Jayaswal Research Institute, expresses his gratitude to the Bihar Research Society, for facilitating the publication of this bhāṣya from the auspices of the K.P. Jayaswal Research Institute, Patna.

Keywords: Buddhist studies, Rahul Sankrityayan, Tibet, Bihar, medieval history, regional history, local history

Posted: March 22nd, 2022 

1968

S. H. Askari. “Hunting in India under the early Turks” in Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Vol. 48/49, Golden Jubilee Volume 1917-1967 (1968), pp. 33-43.

 

This article offers a cultural history of the hunt under early Turkic rule in northern India. Focusing on sources such as the Taj al-Ma’asir (Nizami), various works by Barani and Amir Khusrau, and sources such as the anonymous Sirat-i Firuz Shahi, Professor Syed Hasan Askari seeks to draw out the cultural importance of hunting, rather than dismissing it as mere entertainment. In an argument that ties in with more recent scholarship on hunting, nature, and animal husbandry in Mughal India (see work by, amongst others: Sunil Sharma, Washington Meadows, Julie Hughes), Professor Askari highlights the value and the danger of the hunt. He offers long representative samples designed to offer an aesthetic window into the royal culture of hunting and points to its value as a source of physical training for warfare. Most interestingly, however, he also indicates that ways in which hunting was viewed as a potentially dangerous activity: hunts were periods in which the sovereign was vulnerable to conspiracies and assassination. Some kings were overly fond of the hunt, a flaw that commonly overlapped with an overfondness for wine. The famously dour Barani offered a hearsay dialog between Sultan Alauddin Khilji and the historian’s uncle, in which the latter pointed out that with hunting as with wine, indulgence to excess could lead one astray and into the arms of untrustworthy people.

Abstract Author’s Review Note: This article by Professor Askari deserves recognition for its highly original close engagement with the Indo-Persian sources, including sections that were for too long largely ignored in medieval and early modern South Asian historiography.

Keywords: Shikar, hunting, royal culture, animals, Delhi Sultanate, kingship

Posted: February 25th, 2020

S. H. Askari. “Risail-ul-Ijaz of Amir Khusrau: An Appraisal” in Dr Zakir Husain Presentation Volume, Delhi (1968), pp. 116-137.

In this article, Professor Syed Hasan Askari again makes a case for the use of non-“historical” sources in order to broaden our understanding of the past. He notes that although the chronicles historians typically rely on may be rich in dates, political elites, wars and conquests, they offer us little by way of information about even such basics as the economy, civil government and administration, or the day-to-day living conditions of India’s general populace. Towards this end, he recommends more careful study of texts like Amir Khusrau’s Risa’il-ul-Ijaz, a 5-volume work which, he admits, can make for difficult reading and may even be misleading (he observes that previous readers have been misled by some of the text’s dates) if not scrutinized quite carefully. However, as Prof. Askari points out, Amir Khusrau himself warned his readers that his words were not meant to be read in the same fashion as science or philosophy (or, left unspoken, history) – but rather to be appreciated for his skill at word play, his ability, like a gardener, to cultivate roses and tulips with his pen. The bulk of the article is focused on some of the Risa’il’s most interesting materials, in particular focusing on gender and on enslavement. Prof. Askari takes great pains to tease out Khusrau’s attitudes in this respect. Khusrau valorized the rights granted by women within Islam – but also believed that women were obliged to preserve their chaste reputations through veiling and seclusion. His study of marriage traditions in this period found that they were not so very different as in the 20th century, observing however that Khusrau may himself have been opposed to two practices allowed within Islam – polygamy and widow remarriage. In another extended section, Prof. Askari also offers us something between a rough translation and an extended commentary on Khusrau’s depiction of the medieval Hindustani slave market, and particularly the availability, qualities and ‘flaws’ of the girls and women available for purchase. He highlights expected ethnic characteristics (i.e. between the ‘Turk’ and the ‘Hindu’) and the talents of the East African soldiers. In this section, it appears that Amir Khusrau’s elsewhere sympathetic commentary on the downtrodden was displaced to some extent by pure fascination.

 

Keywords: Amir Khusrau, slavery, gender, 14th century, historiography, literature, ethnic stereotype

Posted: March 10th, 2020

Syed Hasan Askari. “Amir Khusrau as a Historian”. In Historians of Medieval India, Meerut, (1968), Khuda Bakhsh Library Journal, Vol.47(1988), and Collected Works of Prof. S.H. Askari - Amir Khusrau as a Historian, Volume 2 by Professor Syed Hasan Askari. (1985) pp 1-15

 

Although barely referencing his name, in this article Prof. Askari takes aim at Peter Hardy’s argument, made in his well-known Historians of Medieval India (1966), that Amir Khusrau was not a ‘historian.’ According to Prof. Hardy, Amir Khusrau (d. 1325) may have been an artist and poet, but his disinterest in chronology and causation leave us unable to accord him the title of historian. Prof. Askari argues, however, that his is an unfair judgement. Certainly, Khusrau’s primary concerns related to beauty, art, literature, and the fulfilment of his economic needs. Moreover, as Prof. Askari also notes, it seems the Khusrau lacked any deep commitment to the discipline of history – he merely wrote it when a patron insisted that he do so. Nevertheless, Khusrau was an observant man with an eye particularly attuned to social and cultural practice, helping us to understand the ways in which popular celebrations and popular beliefs were entwined within the ‘big events’ of history. Khusrau was also, despite Prof. Hardy’s accusations to the contrary, interested in geography, with extended descriptions of Delhi’s urban center and of military campaign routes across northern India and deep into the Deccan. Prof. Askari’s argument here and elsewhere is an important one: seeking to expand our assessment of what counts as ‘history’ and as historical material. “If the function of the historian is to enlighten […] by throwing fresh […] light on […] knowledge of the past,” then Khusrau does just that.

 

Keywords: Amir Khusrau, 13th century, 14th century, Peter Hardy, historiography, chronicles, Persian, Delhi Sultanate, Alauddin Khilji, Muhammad bin Tughluq

 

Posted: April 21st, 2020 

 

 

1969

S. H. Askari. “Amir Khusrau and Music” in Journal of Indian History, Vol. 47 (1969), pp 313-328.

This article offers an assessment of the claim that the 13th-century poet, Amir Khusrau, was responsible for undertaking a critical or constructive study of Indian music, or with his having offered a synthesis of the Indian system with the Arabo-Persian one. Prof. Syed Hasan Askari, having undertaken a careful investigation of several manuscripts (amongst them the Qiran-us-Saadain, Ishqiya, as well as the Nuh Sipihr and the Nihayat-ul-Kalam), comments that while Amir Khusrau was certainly an avid fan of Indian music, a patron and supporter, he was not a scholar of music in the more formal sense. Prof. Askari finds no systematic study of Indian vs Perso-Arabic styles, modes, or instruments. Nor does he find any reliable record in Amir Khusrau’s work that would shed light on the lives and cultures of musicians who performed Indian musical forms. He does, however, find that Khusrau wrote some detailed descriptions of the Arabo-Persian instruments.

 

Keywords: Amir Khusrau, music, 13th century, Indian, Persian, Arabic, instruments, musicians

 

Posted: March 13th, 2020 

S. H. Askari. “Amir Khusrau on Music in Risail-i-Ijaz,” Patna University Journal 22, no. 3 (1969): 9-27.

 

This is one of a handful of Prof. Askari’s articles on the work and thought of Amir Khusrau (13th-14th c.). Here, Prof. Askari takes up the question of Khusrau’s knowledge of music, and particularly the common claim that Khusrau was one of the key inventors of a composite Indo-Persian style. The great majority of the article, however, is given over to a free translation of the relevant portion of the Risa’il-i Ijaz, in which Khusrau describes the cultural world of music in the Delhi Sultanate. The passage offers, amongst other things, insight into the social and professional worlds of the era’s musicians, describing their competitions with one another, their claims of skill, and reception at court. The passage is quite detailed and colorful. For example, a (possibly fictitious) female musician named Turmati Khatun is profiled; because of her great skill, her every request at court was eagerly attended. In the conclusion, Prof. Askari returns to his main concern regarding Khusrau’s role in the history of music in the subcontinent. He concludes that despite Khusrau’s reputation as a foundational figure, the text affords no sign of his purported role in constructing a new Indo-Persian style. Instead, the text speaks almost exclusively about Arabo-Persian instruments and styles.

 

Keywords: Amir Khusrau, Delhi Sultanate, Indo-Persian, composite culture, syncretic culture, music, musicians, migration, Central Asia

Posted: March 16th, 2021

Professor Syed Hasan Askari, “Preface” in Dr. B. Jinananda (ed.), Abhisamācārikā [BHIKṢUPRAKĪRṆAKA], Tibetan Sanskrit Works Series, Volume IX, K.P. Jayaswal Research Institute, Patna, 1969.

In this “Preface”, by Prof. S. H. Askari to the ninth volume of the Tibetan Sanskrit Works Series, he as the general editor of the series, presents this scholarship as a prized contribution to the world of Buddhist studies, while highlighting the worth and value of its contents in its multi-dimensional aspects. He also mindfully acknowledges Rahul Sankrityayan, the celebrated Indologist, who was responsible for the discovery of the manuscript of the text in Tibet, and then presented the photographs of the script to the Bihar Research Society Library at Patna in 1936. Prof. Askari, as the Honorary Joint Director of the K.P. Jayaswal Research Institute, expresses his gratitude to the Bihar Research Society, which had facilitated the publication of this highly valuable piece of a manuscript. He concludes the preface by thanking the Darbhanga Press for their efforts behind the printing of the book.

Keywords: Buddhist studies, Rahul Sankrityayan, Tibet, Bihar, medieval history, regional history, local history

 

Posted: March 22nd, 2022 

1972

S. H. Askari. “Music in Early Indo-Persian Literature.” In Malik Ram Felicitation Volume, ed. S.A.J. Zaidi,. New Delhi: Malik Ram Felicitation Committee, 1972, pp. 89-119.

 

In this extended article, Professor Syed Hasan Askari goes in search of early references to the Indo-Persian tradition of music in Delhi Sultanate-era textual sources. This is an ambitious project – despite widely-shared traditional accounts that grant Amir Khusrau a central role in synthesizing Indian and Central Asian or Arabic musical forms, there remains even to the present day very few scholarly attempts to write the history of music in medieval and early modern India. One recent exception has been Katherine Butler Schofield’s work on music at the Mughal court, where she has found a rich body of manuscript material on musical tradition. Prof. Askari, however, takes his study several centuries further back in time, examining sources dating from the Ghaznavid (11th-12th c.) period forward through to that of Amir Khusrau (d. 1325) in order to learn more about what he describes as the “composite” style of Indo-Muslim secular music. His study comes up short-handed – even Amir Khusrau, he tells us, writes very little about the art and method of Indian music. Rather, he, as with earlier Sultanate authors such as Awfi, Nizami, and Mas‘ud-i-Sa‘d-i Salman, seem to have focused their energy on describing Persian and Arabic musical instruments and styles. To the historian, this is a familiar story of going to the archive with a particular question in mind,and coming back wealthy in alternate threads of inquiry but still without answers to the original concern. As Prof. Askari leads his readers through his sources, however, we learn that Sultanate-era authors often paid close poetic attention to the sounds of the instruments, the talent of the musicians, and their beguiling appearance. We learn that some authors, notably Salman, even offer detailed commentary on individual musicians at court. These allow us to develop a sense of how musicians (both male and female) were seen: as skilled professionals, whose talents were worthy of great respect even though many were born of low social status. The reader of this article will come away with new knowledge about early musical traditions at Muslim-ruled courts in northern India, even if Prof. Askari’s original question about composite musical tradition remains unanswered.

 

Keywords: Delhi Sultanate, music, Indo-Persian, composite tradition, Mahmud of Ghazni, Amir Khusrau, Muhammad Awfi, Hasan Nizami, Mas‘ud-i Sa‘d-i Salmani, courtly culture

 

Posted: March 24th, 2020 

1973

S. H. Askari. “Kali Babu My Friend – Reminiscences”. The Journal of Bihar Research Society, Special Issue, K.K. Datta Felicitation Volume KIX, (I-IV) (1973), pp. 27-30.

 

This is a short but heartfelt account of Prof. Askari’s professional and personal friendship with Dr. K. K. Datta, whom he first encountered in the late 1920s when Prof. Askari was asked to assist a young recent graduate of Calcutta University in his research at Patna College. As Prof. Askari describes it, their careers flourished in tandem with one another. At the urging of his superior, Dr. Subimal Chandra Sarkar, Prof. Askari began to expand his familiarity with Persian manuscripts both in support of Dr. Datta’s work and soon, in pursuit of his own research interests. The article describes Prof. Askari’s early entry into the realm of academic conferences and publication, and his at times contentious but always respectful personal and professional connection with Dr. Datta as the latter also established his scholarly reputation. The article records their mutual support and encouragement of one another through the decades, ending with a desire that Dr. Datta live long and support the cause of Bihar studies both within the state and beyond.

 

Keywords: Bihar studies, K. K. Datta, Patna College, friendship, Persian, 18th century, Regional Records Survey Committee, Indian History Congress Allahabad

Posted: October 12th, 2020 

1974

Prof. S. H. Askari. “Kalim Saheb – An Appreciation” in Nazr-i-Kalim,  Felicitation Volume, Bihar Urdu Writers Circle, (1974), pp. 3-5.

 

In this note of recognition, Professor Syed Hasan Askari offers a vivid biographical sketch of Prof. Kalimuddin Ahmad, with whom he had worked for many decades. They had been classmates at Patna College and then colleagues there. Prof. Ahmad eventually became a widely recognized and distinguished critic of Urdu literature. In Prof. Askari’s remembrance of his work, he observes that Prof. Ahmad was thought by some to have held controversial views in the literary world. In the view of many of his former schoolmates, he had been considered “apparently cold, negative, or even repellant” in his attitude. Yet Kalim Saheb was seemingly a complicated and ultimately honorable and talented man, who lived life joyfully. His written works were “carefully presented with earnest attention to exactness and accuracy,” his friendships, if few, were deep and sincerely held, and at university in London, he was known to have “very often burst into verses.”

 

Keywords: Urdu, literary criticism, biography, Kalimuddin Ahmad, Patna University

 

Posted: March 18th, 2020 

S. H. Askari. “Two Hindu Historians of the Early Eighteenth Century”, Abid Husain felicitation volume: presented to Dr. Syed Abid Husain on his 78th birthday / edited by Malik Ram, New Delhi, 1974. pp 157-181.

 

This article examines the early 18th-century works of Khushhal Chand and Shivdas Lakhnawi, whose works, the Nadir-us-Zamani or Tarikh-i Muhammad Shahi and the Shahnama-i Munawwar Kalam, focus on the unstable decades following Aurangzeb’s death in 1707. Prof. Askari frames his discussion with regards to the lack of “properly” historical texts written prior to the arrival of the Perso-Arabic tarikh genre with the arrival of Muslim polities in India in the 12th century. He notes that, with the exception of Kalhana’s Sanskrit Rajatarangini, it was not until the turn of the 18th century that we see an efflorescence of Hindus writing in a formally historical vein. Against Henry Miers Elliot’s baseless assertion that when Hindus did begin to write history, that their work was derivative, dull, prejudiced, and superficial, Prof. Askari makes a compelling case for the value of Hindu historians writing in Persian in this period, using the examples of Shivdas Lakhnawi and Khushhal Chand to illustrate his points. He demonstrates the merits of both authors, their detailed analyses of Delhi-Maratha relations, their focus on the deterioration of Mughal administrative systems, and their attention to social, military, and cultural details not discussed elsewhere. Prof. Askari wrote this article shortly after completing his own translation of Lakhnavi’s Shahnama-i Munawwar Kalam, and as a precursor to his later translation of the anonymously authored Iqbalnama, which drew on both Shivdas and Khushhal Chand’s works. We see in this article and in his translator’s introductions to the above-mentioned chronicles a careful focus on voice, questions of patronage and objectivity, chronology, analysis, and pedagogical intent that highlight Prof. Askari’s approach to historical study.

 

Keywords: Sheodas Lakhnawi, Shivdas Lakhnavi, Khushhalchand, Khushhal Chand, 18th century, Shahnama-i Munawwar Kalam, Nadir-us-Zamani, Tarikh-i Muhammadi, Iqbalnama, tarikh, Persian, historiography, Delhi, Marathas, Nadir Shah, Muhammad Shah, Farrukhsiyar, Sayyid brothers

 

Posted: November 2nd, 2020

Syed Hasan Askari. “Foreword.” In Life and Times of Prince Murad Bakhsh 1624-1661, by Mohammad Quamruddin, ix-xii. Calcutta: Self Published, 1974.

 

Professor S. H. Askari here offers a gracious introduction to an unusual study on the life of Murad Bakhsh, the youngest of the emperor Shah Jahan’s (r. 1628-1658). As Prof. Askari points out, scholarship for a long time did not attend to the lives of Mughal princes, perhaps perceiving their contributions as insignificant. However (at the time of his writing), some work had been done on well-known figures like Shah Jahan’s eldest son, Dara Shikoh, as well as Babur’s son, Mirza Kamran. This study focuses on a prince whose legacy, according to Prof. Askari, has been too quickly dismissed. Prof. Askari finds that this biography does a fine job of balancing the prince’s “good” and “bad” traits, as well as considering what sort of sovereign he might have been (had Aurangzeb granted him his promised share of the empire, rather than imprisoning him and later having him executed).

 

Keywords: Mughal, household, princes, war of succession, Aurangzeb, Murad Bakhsh, Shah Jahan,

 

Posted: March 28th, 2020 

S. H. Askari. “Khusrau’s Works as Sources of Social History” in Amir Khusrau Memorial Volume, Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Govt. of India, (1975), pp 143-161.

 

In this article, Professor Syed Hasan Askari returns to a common object of his studies, namely the works of Amir Khusrau (d. 1325). Prof. Askari states that within the poet-commentator’s prolific production, there are a number of valuable sources for developing a better sense of Khusrau’s social world in the 13th and 14th centuries. Prof. Askari reviews several of Amir Khusrau’s works, amongst them the Nuh Sipihr, the Aina-i Sikandari, the Risa’il-ul-Ijaz, and others, to illustrate his point. The article offers a smorgasbord of brief translations and summaries, focusing on topics ranging from food to depictions of different social groups to the subcontinent’s many rich textiles. He notes at one point that Khusrau admired what he saw as the strong habit of fidelity amongst Hindus – even a willingness to die – be it on the funeral pyre (as a widow for her husband), or by varying forms of self-destruction (as a man for his god, his master, or his king). Elsewhere, Khusrau lingers on the good and bad habits of men of all faiths and none. This article, while in some places reiterating his earlier studies, remains interesting for Prof. Askari’s evident appreciation for Khusrau’s literary romance with Hindustani culture.

 

Keywords: Amir Khusrau, 13th century, 14th century, Hindustani culture, medieval India, Delhi Sultanate, Indo-Persian, poetry, gender, literature, historiography

 

Posted: March 18th, 2020

1975

Prof. S. H. Askari. “Wit and humour in the works of Amir Khusro.” In Life, Times and Works of Amir Khusrau, ed. Zoe Ansari, New Delhi: National Amir Khusrau Society, (1975), pp. 146-166.

 

In this exploratory piece, Professor Syed Hasan Askari introduces his readers to Amir Khusrau’s humorous side. He begins by outlining the topic of humor in Indo-Persian literature, describing its several subgenres and styles – ranging from wit (lata’if, zarafat, etc., both words which also have connotations of grace and elegance) to derision and satire (tashni‘ [zadan], istihza’, both words with violent connotations), to sarcasm and insinuation (ramz, etc.). Khusrau, he notes, dabbled in all of these subgenres. Indeed, Khusrau was not averse to titillating and downright obscene humor. He was, as Prof. Askari puts it a bit disapprovingly, “a man of his corrupt age.” Although we are not made privy to Khusrau’s racier side here, Prof. Askari leads us on an otherwise thorough introduction to the varieties and subject matter of Khusrau’s humorous writings. Rather than seeking to make an argument, Prof. Askari offers his readers a light-hearted tour of material he knows intimately. Some of the lines still elicit a laugh. Others was offensive by modern tastes (for example a series of jokes organized around the character and physical appearance of a South Indian prostitute). Many are playful and speak eloquently of Khusrau’s era – for example a handful of couplets that revolve around the interplay between Persian and Hindavi vocabulary, often using vivid imagery.

 

Keywords: Humor, 13th century, Amir Khusrau, satire, wit, ethics, Indo-Persian, Hindavi, poetry, Delhi Sultanate.

 

Posted: March 24th, 2020 

Professor Syed Hasan Askari. “Some Misconceptions in Medieval Indian History as Revealed by Persian Sources”, Indo-Iranica, Vol. 28, 1975, pp. 54-71.

 

This fascinating article tackles two contentious topics in the historiography of medieval and early modern South Asia. The first, relating to Hindu-Muslim relations, is wide-ranging, arguably touching on nearly the entire field of South Asian studies. The latter topic is far more specific, addressing the authorship of a single (albeit well-known) work, the Dabistan-i Mazahib. In the first half of the article, Prof. Askari presents the case for a nuanced relationship between Hindu and Muslim in the pre-colonial, and particularly Delhi Sultanate, era. This argument, since widely accepted within the academy, at the time put Prof. Askari at odds with friends, colleagues, and even his own academic mentor, Prof. Jadunath Sarkar. Nevertheless, Prof. Askari builds his argument confidently, establishing that Persian chronicles, written as propaganda for ambitious political patrons, cannot be read literally. Rather, their religiously tinged language, claims of temple destruction, and boasts about conversion of defeated populations had to be read judiciously alongside other sources of evidence, amongst which: widespread recruitment of Hindus to high military rank, the minting of coins bearing Hindu symbols, a chronically tense relationship between Muslim sovereigns and Islamic scholars, and a practical interest in the general happiness and prosperity of the largely Hindu peasantry (on whom Muslim states relied for their tax revenues). Prof. Askari makes this argument in strikingly personalized terms, noting his own relationships to scholars with whom he disagrees, and even at one point referencing a conversation in which he asked his colleague “what he thought of me and my [Muslim] ancestors?”

By contrast, in the second half of the article he makes a case (also made elsewhere in an article published in 1977) that the author of the Dabistan-i Mazahib was Mubad Shah rather than Mohsin Fani. This rather specific argument, although compelling on its own terms and running counter to a long tradition which had ascribed authorship to Fani, sits strangely alongside the former discussion. Possibly, Prof. Askari paired these arguments in a bid to soften the former’s blow, perhaps even as a gesture of modesty, as if to suggest that the two arguments were equivalent. That the stakes of the former argument (since widely accepted within the academy) were far higher than a simple dispute over authorship, however, cannot be denied, a point made plainly in Prof. Askari’s own testimony of its painful significance in his own personal and professional life. Prof. Askari’s stance, at one time provocative, has, in subsequent decades, been embraced and strengthened by recent scholarship.

 

Keywords: Hindu-Muslim relations, syncretism, Islam, medieval India, Delhi Sultanate, iconoclasm, Persian chronicles, conquest, Sanskrit, Hinduism, Dabistan-i Mazahib, Mohsin Fani, Mubad Shah

 

Posted: January 4th, 2021

1976

Syed Hasan Askari. “Introduction.” In Fort William-India House Correspondence and Other Contemporary Papers Relating Thereto (Foreign, Secret and Political), Vol. XVI: 1787-1791, xvii-lxviii. Delhi: Controller of Publications, Govt. of India, 1976.

 

Prof. S. H. Askari’s introduction here serves both as a roadmap to a collection of correspondence and papers produced by the British East India Company in the latter years of the 18th century, all held in the National Archives of India. It also serves as a primer on key events and concerns relating to a number of indigenous governments and leaders discussed in the correspondence. These included major figures such as the Mughal emperor Shah Alam II, the Nawab Wazir of ‘Oudh’ (Awadh), the Sikhs, Timur Shah (son of Ahmad Shah Abdali), the Nawab of Murshidabad, Mahadji Sindia, the Peshwa, Tipu Sultan, and an array of smaller polities and dynastic heads. The letters also included references to other European trading companies in the subcontinent, and to the administrative affairs of the Company-ruled territories.

 

Keywords: National Archives of India, 18th century, British East India Company, correspondence, country powers, Fort William

 

Posted: April 2nd, 2020 

1977

Prof. S. H. Askari. “Dabistan-i Mazahib and Diwan-i Mubad” in Fathullah Mujtabai (ed.) Indo-Iranian Studies Presented for the Golden Jubilee of the Pahlavi Dynasty of Iran, New Delhi, 1977, pp. 85-104.

 

This article tackles the as-yet unsettled question of who authored the 17th century Dabistan-i Mazahib, an unusual encyclopedic study of the major religions of the subcontinent. Although many 19th and 20th-century scholars of the Dabistan had guessed its author to be a Kashmiri poet named Muhsin Fani, Professor Syed Hasan Askari took issue with what he considered their flimsy evidence – a single line, purportedly found in some copies of the text, proclaiming Muhsin Fani guyad (“says Muhsin Fani”). Noting that this line was not present in many copies of the manuscript and that, moreover, other known aspects of Fani’s personality and bibliography did not line up with what little can be gleaned about the anonymous author of the Dabistan, Professor Askari proposed another option. He suggested that it had been written by someone variously referenced as Mubad Shah, Mulla Mubad, and Zulfiqar Ardistani Mubad in a handful of near-contemporary sources. Drawing both upon internal references within the Dabistan and by the rare Diwan-i Mubad (whose singular copy was held in the collection at Khuda Bakhsh library), Askari suggests that the author was a Parsi who may have lived for some time in Patna. Professor Syed Askari points, amongst other evidence, to the existence in both documents of shared or parallel sections of text. He also states that the Dabistan was written by someone with a close knowledge of the Zoroastrian faith. He further points out that the Dabistan’s descriptions of Islam were unlikely to have been written by a Muslim.

Although Professor Askari’s arguments appear compelling, it is worth noting that this debate continues. A critical edition of the Dabistan by Rahim Rezazadeh Malik (published in 1983) argued that the Dabistan’s author may have been a certain Kaykhosrow Esfandiar.

 

Keywords: Dabistan-i Mazahib, authorship, religion, Zoroastrian, Parsi, North India, Mughal society, Diwan-i Murad.

Posted: February 25th, 2020

S. H. Askari. “Maktub Literature as a Source of Socio-political History – The Maktubat of a Sufi of Firdausi Order of Bihar- A case study.” in Khuda Bakhsh Library Journal (1977), pp. 1-25. & Maktub & Malfuz Literature As a Source of Socio-Political History by Professor Syed Hasan Askari, (1981).

 

In this essay, Professor Syed Hasan Askari delves into the maktubat, or letter collections, of Maulana Muzaffar Shams Balkhi (d. 1400), who had travelled to Bihar partway through his life and settled in the region, attaching himself as a disciple of the saint Sharafuddin Yahya Maneri. Balkhi became one of the leading figures of the Firdausi order, and his surviving communications provide an important window into his time period. As with many of Prof. Askari’s studies, he finds it important to allow the primary source materials plenty of space to speak for themselves – offering extended translations that are not overwritten by heavy-handed analysis, but which nevertheless prompt the reader to follow Prof. Askari’s line of thought. In this case, his primary intent is to afford us a perspective on Balkhi’s complex intellectual engagement and role in 14th-century Bihari society. Through is letters, we are granted insight into his views on kasb (translated here as “[…]vocation, earning, acquisition”) – in which the saint distinguishes between the honorable and worthy pursuit of a living for most individuals who must care for their families, clothe themselves, and fulfill their other basic needs, as opposed to the intentional poverty of the religious mendicant who, in pursuit of God, practices self-denial. Balkhi is quite clear that both paths are worthy. Prof. Askari elsewhere offers us insight into Balkhi’s letters to the Bengal-based ruler, Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah Ilyas Shahi, from which we learn that the Sultan was religiously minded, interested in matters of Sufi philosophy. In this section, Prof. Askari takes the opportunity to highlight a thread of interest to even the most hard-headed of political historians – noting that one of the letters, in which Balkhi warns Sultan Ghiyasuddin not to elevate a Hindu official to high courtly rank, seems to support the Riyaz-us-Salatin, whose author argued that Raja Ganesh had the Sultan killed, before later seizing power for himself. Finally, Prof. Askari turns to a collection of Hindavi-language dohas, or short rhyming couplets, here focus on the pursuit of the Divine. Prof. Askari again lets the text speak for itself, offering transliterations and his own translations of the seven poems.

 

Keywords: 14th century, Bihar, MaulanaMuzaffar Shams Balkhi, Firdausi, Sufism, maktubat, Bengal Sultanate, Raja Ganesh, Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah, Ilyas Shahi, social history, doha

 

Posted: March 24th, 2020

 

 

S. H. Askari. “Some Aspects of Social Life in Medieval Bihar as Glimpsed from Works of Lexicon”, The Journal of Bihar Research Society, Vol. 63, (1977), pp. 563-579

 

This article is an early iteration of the same article published in 1983, titled “Two Lexicographical Works a Source Material for the study of Contemporary Social History.”

 

Posted: October 10th, 2020 

1978

Prof. S. H. Askari. “Isharat ascribed to the Makhdum of Bihar” in Khuda Bakhsh Library Jounral, Vol. 6 (1978), pp. 17-26.

 

In this article, Professor Syed Hasan Askari examines two short manuscripts, one undated but purportedly very early short collection of letters thought to have been written by the Firdausi saint Makhdum Sharafuddin Ahmad of the 14th century, and a somewhat longer later text, compiled in the 17th century, that was also thought to have been a collection of the Makhdum’s letters. In the course of examining these two manuscripts, Professor Askari offers a brief account of the Sufi saint’s reputation in his time. Prof. Askari seems to imply that Makhdum Ahmad’s beliefs were at very least unusual, although he was careful to underscore that the saint was careful to adhere to the shar‘ia in his outward behavior. Professor Askari notes that two of his disciples were put to death in Delhi at the orders of the orthodox clergy, while Makhdum Ahmad himself was at least once under some threat of a similar fate, but was rescued by a more orthodox-minded Sufi and fellow Bihari’s intervention. The texts both focus on highly esoteric questions, which, the reader is warned, should not be read by the uninitiated. Examining the contents of both documents, Professor Syed Askari offers brief extracts from sections focusing on questions around the created or eternal nature of the universe, the problem of God’s non-existence or existence (the former idea seeming to lead towards infidelity, the latter guiding an individual to shirk or polytheism), etc. At the end of the article, Professor Askari ponders about the question of authenticity, proposing that perhaps the larger of the two manuscripts, which bears a 17th century date of composition, may be in fact of later authorship by some anonymous later Sufi who adopted the cloak of Makhdum Ahmad for his thoughts. The smaller, earlier manuscript, in Prof. Askari’s assessment, could not conclusively date back to the saint’s era, although some circumstantial evidence pointed in that direction.

 

Keywords: 14th century, Bihar, Firdausi order, isharat, philosophy, orthodox, Sufism, Islam, heterodox

Posted: March 6th, 2020

S. H. Askari. “Malfuzat: An untapped source of social history – Ganj-i-Arshadi of the Jaunpur school—A case study” in Khuda Bakhsh Library Journal, Vol. no. 7, (1978), pp. 1-22.

 

Here, Professor Syed Hasan Askari offers us an interesting study of the Ganj-i Arshadi (c. 1722), composed by Abu’l Fayyad Ghulam Rashid, which describes the life and teachings of Shah Muhammad Arshad Badr-ul-Haqq (d. 1701-02). Prof. Askari informs us that while much of the text’s 522 folios make for uninspiring reading, the text proves well worth a historian’s study. He highlights some early stories that outline the complex relationship between Sufis in Jaunpur and the various temporal governments that have come and gone. Most interesting, and most troubling, are segments that describe the life and times of the saint Shah Arshad himself. One such story involves a close companion of the saint, Shah Yasin, who is described as having taken a leading role in a conflict with the local Hindu community over the building site of a mosque. Eventually, the conflict escalated to the point where, in 1079 A.H./1669 C.E., Shah Yasin declared a jihad and attacked a large local Hindu temple, destroying its idol. In the Ganj-i Arshadi’s version of events, the Emperor Aurangzeb (r. 1658-1707) was left in the dark about the affair until afterwards, when, receiving word of what happened, quietly signaled his pleasure at the outcome. Prof. Askari makes no secret of his discomfiture with this kind of story, commenting at one point that “it is a relief to turn from such events to the question of […] education…” Yet it is worth observing how Prof. Askari is able to apply a careful reading of the above event in order to construct an argument against his fellow historian, Dr. Altekar, who had recently made the case that Aurangzeb ordered the demolition of the Vishvanath temple and its conversion into a mosque in 1669. Prof. Askari points out that, at least according to this by-no-means pro-Hindu source, responsibility for the temple’s demolition was an entirely local affair. Much of the remainder of the study focuses on aspects of the Sufis’ local educational institution, and on textual evidence for the kind of vernacular spoken by Shah Arshad (neither Khari Boli nor Awadhi, but rather a rustic local dialect).

 

Keywords: Hindu-Muslim conflict, Jaunpur, malfuzat, maktubat, 17th century, temple desecration, Aurangzeb, Shah Arshad, silsila

 

Posted: March 19th, 2020 

Prof. S. H. Askari. “Malfuz Literature as a Source of Social History – the Malfuzat of Some Sufi Saints of Bihar – A Case Study” in Khuda Bakhsh Library Journal, (1978), pp. 1-28.

 

Here Professor Syed Hasan Askari returns to two favorite topics – the social and political lives of Sufis in medieval India, and the prospective value of malfuzat literature – recording the purported conversations of saintly figures – for historians. Prof. Askari sets out here to offer for his readers a digest of sorts, examining a large number of different texts in order to paint a picture of Sufis in this period in Bihar. He examines a range of themes, amongst them social inequality, systems of education, religious practice and superstitious tradition, and political engagement, amongst others. Perhaps the single most important theme, however, was the relationship between Sufis and Hindus, particularly yogis. Prof. Askari offers an extended examination, drawing largely on sections of the Ma‘din-ul-Ma‘ni (c. 1345-1346), in which comparisons are drawn between the ideals and practices of yogic and sufi practitioners. Prof. Askari’s sources are often openly admiring of yogis, whose devotions frequently took the most extreme forms of austerity. At the same time, these sources expressed discomfort with what they perceived as the mistaken beliefs of the yogis. This tension forms an interesting thread through Prof. Askari’s study.

 

Keywords: Sufism, 14th century, malfuzat, silsila, Sharafuddin Ahmad Maneri, Firdausi, Chishti, Suhrawardi, Shuttari, Hussain Muizz Balkhi, social history, cultural history

 

Posted: March 22nd, 2020 

1979

Syed Hasan Askari. “A unique manuscript of Maktubat-i Sadi” in Khuda Bakhsh Library Journal, Vol. 9 (1979), pp. 1-22.

 

This article, in tangent with a second study published in Prajna Bharati in 1984, examines the Maktubat-i Sadi (One Hundred Letters), consisting of the letters and teachings of the Bihar-based saint and leader of the Firdausi Sufi order, Makhdum Sharafuddin Ahmad Maneri (d. 1382). Through a careful examination of the text’s internal evidence, Professor S. H. Askari identifies three figures involved with the text’s composition and copy – the saint himself, his son and successor Muzaffar Shams Balkhi (d. 1400), who was responsible for the commentaries, and the saint’s nephew, Husain Mu‘izz Balkhi (d. 1400), who had served as the text’s scribe. The article carefully outlines the contents of the manuscript, including evidence for its having been copied and commented upon during the saint’s lifespan. Prof. Askari underlines a number of other points of interest, including small historically or culturally significant asides, discourses on topics ranging from fasting, the concept of Sufism, knowledge, austerity, etc. The article is interesting at multiple levels – for beyond offering a useful analysis of an important manuscript in the study of medieval Sufism in eastern India, it also indicates something of the manner in which Prof. Askari conducted his own work. Early in the article he describes having first been made aware of a valuable collection in the hands of the Firdausi library of Hakim Shah Balkhi when traveling in the Bihari countryside sometime before Partition (1947). Some years later, when Hakim Sahib moved to Patna, Prof. Askari learned of his arrival and took the opportunity to read the library’s materials in more detail. Some decades after that, he again returned to the manuscript when his acquaintance, Father Paul Jackson, translated the Maktubat-i Sadi (using another manuscript as reference), and brought him in mind of the rare copy held in Patna. Prof. Askari’s studies often percolated for years, even decades.

 

Keywords: Sharafuddin Maneri, Maktubat-i Sadi, Sufism, Bihar, 14th century, orthography, shrine libraries

 

Posted: March 17th, 2020 

Syed Hasan Askari. “Preface.” In Sharafuddin Maneri: The Hundred Letters, translated by Paul Jackson, pp. xi-xiii. New York; Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1979.

 

In this preface to the English translation of the Maktubat-i Sadi, Professor S. H. Askari offers a brief history of his own (extensive) use of this important text, its place in Indian history and culture, and offers some background information about Father Jackson’s decision to translate it. Hazrat Sharafuddin Ahmad Maneri (d. 1783), the author of these letters, was an important philosopher and religious leader of the medieval period. His work was widely read by key figures across the spectrum—from the scholar and critic of Akbar, Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi, to Akbar’s adulatory historian Abul Fazl, to Aurangzeb. The Maktubat have often formed a central part of the pedagogical canon in Indian madrasas, and Sharafuddin Maneri’s memory is treasured by both Muslims and Hindus. Prof. Askari concludes his preface by noting that Father Jackson undertook the translation in order to be able to better understand Sharafuddin Maneri’s teachings; that Prof. Askari finds the translation successful is apparent in his statement that it is a “work of inspiration comparable in breadth and subtlety to the original Persian text.”

 

Keywords: Maneri, 14th century, Maktubat-i Sadi, letter collection, translation, Sufism, Firdausi order

 

Posted: April 2nd, 2020 

1980

Syed Hasan Askari. “Foreword.” In Raja Birbal: Life and Times, by P. P. Sinha, vii-viii. Patna: Janaki Prakashan, 1980.

 

This short introduction by Professor Syed Hasan Askari, to P. P. Sinha’s biographical study of Birbal, whose name and caricature as the emperor Akbar’s humorous sidekick are famous to any South Asian school-age child, but whose historical role and contribution are little-known. Prof. Askari praises the author of this book for having drawn out the remarkable career of this diplomat, administrator, military general, statesman, and intellection, who, he says, also deserves credit for having contributed to a renaissance of Hindavi literature during this era. 

 

Keywords: Mughal, Akbar, Birbal, nobility, court politics

 

Posted: March 28th, 2020

 

 

Syed Hasan Askari. “Introduction” in Shahnama Munawwar Kalam, by Shiv Das Lakhnawi. Translated by Syed Hasan Askari. Patna: Janaki Prakashan (1980), pp. xi-xviii.

 

At the end of the introduction to his translation of Shiv Das Lakhnawi’s Shahnama-i Munawwar Kalam(c. 1723), Professor S. H. Askari provides us with a brief personal history of his decision to translate this text, noting that Sir Jadunath Sarkar, had encouraged him to undertake a study of collected copies of the manuscript and complete a critical translation for the Gaekwad Oriental series. For various reasons, the project languished for some years, and it was only in 1956 that he returned to it. It took another twelve years before he was able to publish an edited edition in 1968, and finally had completed a translation in 1973. During all of these years in which the project slowly proceeded, Prof. Askari gave a great deal of thought to questions of historiography in the subcontinent, and particularly about the oft-noted absence of historical texts in what was once considered the “Hindu period” before the advent of Muslim-ruled polities in India. He used his Introduction to offer an overview of the history of historiography in the subcontinent –he raised the question, without seeking to provide an answer, for why there had been no effort or interest in the historical discipline before the so-called “Muslim period” (more recent studies, such as Textures of Time by Subrahmanyam, Shulman, and Narayana Rao have also considered this question). He also provided a short history of the rise of Persian education and of Persian authorship amongst Hindu communities in northern India. As Prof. Askari noted, like many other Hindus who had served the Mughal court through the centuries, Lakhnavi’s religiousidentity was irrelevant to his historiographical talent or his nuanced ability to express his mind in the Persian language.

 

Keywords: Persian, translation, Mughal Empire, Shiv Das Lakhnavi, Farrukhsiyar, Muhammad Shah, 18thcentury, Jadunath Sarkar, historiography

 

Posted: March 17th, 2020

S. H. Askari, “Foreword” in Some Aspects of Rural Life in Bihar (An Economic Study, 1793-1833) by Upendra Narayan Singh, 1980, pp: xiii – xv.

 

In this friendly foreword, Prof. Askari introduces the work of, Dr. Upendra Narayan Singh, on the social and economic history of rural Bihar in the latter half of the 18th century. Prof. Askari highlights the various merits of the work, including its investigation of the defects of Robert Clive’s administration in eastern India after the grant of the diwani in 1765, the combined effects of human and natural disaster that culminated in the great famine of 1770, and the inadequate efforts at improvement brought by Warren Hastings and later John Shore. Prof. Askari outlines the book’s focus as well on declining conditions “law and order” in rural Bihar during this period, and on the disruptive impacts of the British East India Company’s coercive agricultural policies.

 

Keywords: book review, Upendra Narayan Singh, Bihar, 18th century, British East India Company, economic history, social history, famine, diwani, Clive, Hastings, Shore

 

Posted: March 24th, 2021

1981

Syed Hasan Askari. “Foreword.” In Sikhs in Bihar by Ved Parkash. Patna; New Delhi: Janaki Prakashan, 1981.

 

This brief introduction highlights Prof. Askari’s warm mentorship and association with other scholars of Bihar. He speaks glowingly of getting to know Dr. Parkash as a graduate student and then research scholar based at Patna University. Turning to the book’s scholarly value, he highlights the text’s close attention to rare contemporaneous materials including letter collections, which highlight the religious networks connecting the Sikh community across eastern India.

 

Keywords: Bihar, Sikh, Patna University, Takhat Harimandir, Sangat, Udasi

 

Posted: March 30th, 2020 

1982

Prof. S. H. Askari. “Superstitious beliefs and practices in India” in Prajna Bharati, Vol. 2, 1982, pp. 67-78.

 

In this article, Professor Syed Hasan Askari offers an unique and rather refreshing mixture: scholarly study of medieval Persian texts, narrative of personal experience, and informal conjecture. Drawing upon all of these approaches, Prof Askari examines what he deems as widespread superstitious practice in India. He begins by pointing out that this is not solely a Hindustani practice, but rather one shared by all the nations of the world. Given that that is the case, he offers his readers some insight into its particular characteristics in the South Asian context. Of particular interest for Prof. Askari are ideas held about inauspicious calendar dates, bad omens, charms, amulets, the evil eye, and the “pseudo-science” of astrology. In each of these cases, he is careful to point out that these are neither Hindu nor Muslim practices, but shared amongst populations, particularly those who are uneducated or based in the countryside. He points out that many of these superstitions go back centuries – at various points he offers references to superstition in the textual records of such luminaries as Mahmud Gawan (d. 1481), Amir Khusrau, Mughal emperors Jahangir (r. 1605-1627) and Shah Jahan (r. 1628-1657), and the Bihari sufi saint, Hazrat Sharafuddin Maneri (d. 1381). Drawing from his own bank of memories, Prof. Askari also remembers at various points his mother having performed a ritual to ward off snake bites, his having stumbled, as a college student, upon the ritual exorcism of a woman possessed by spirits at a stepwell not far from Bankipur, and finally the ritual drowning of several elderly women accused of witchcraft in his home village only a couple of years before the article’s writing. Perhaps it was this latter, horrifying, encounter with the murderous potential of superstition that led him to write this article, which reads in some ways more like a personal meditation on the topic than Prof. Askari’s usual more formal style.

 

Keywords: superstition, fal, augury, jyotishi, astrology, snakes, nag puja, dreams, khwab, sapna, tawiz

 

Posted: March 11th, 2020

Prof. S. H. Askari. “Zain Badr Arabi.” in Khuda Bakhsh Library Journal, Vol. 21, 22, 23, (1982), & Collected Works of Professor S. H. Askari, Patna: Khuda Baksh Oriental Public Library (1985), pp. 1-26.

 

This article by Professor Syed Hasan Askari, seeks to outline the character and intellectual contributions of one of Zain Badr ‘Arabi, a disciple of Shaikh Sharafuddin Ahmad Maneri (d. 1382), who had played a key role in preserving Maneri’s words. Prof. Askari surveys the surviving malfuzat, determining that most, with a few exceptions, were compiled by ‘Arabi, despite which fact we know very little about ‘Arabi himself. Although its turns out not to be possible to piece together much of the biography of this Sufi scribe (apart from his having been a poet of some ability), we do learn about the process by which the malfuzat were compiled. ‘Arabi would endeavor to remember a saintly discourse or question and answer session in as great a detail as possible, and a short while later write down every turn of phrase, gesture, and digression from his memory. He would then check his work, both with the members of the assembly and, most importantly, with the Shaikh himself. ‘Arabi notes that at times the Makhdum would read and correct the dialogue, adding marginal notes. When in doubt, ‘Arabi would leave extra pages in order to be able to fill in details after consulting with others present. We learn about the kinds of people who came to the khanaqa to pray at the mosque and to pay their respects to the Makhdum. They included elites of all quarters, but also day laborers and even slave girls (kanizagan). The article includes an examination of some of the types of stories that fill the malfuzat, also discussed in other studies. These include an account of the Makhdum’s respect for Hindus’ sincerity of devotion, descriptions of various types of common superstitions of the period, and stories of the saint’s bodily austerities performed throughout his lifetime. The article examines a handful of later Urdu-language hagiographical material, comparing it against ‘Arabi’s malfuzat and highlighting discrepancies that have crept into later accounts. Finally, the article concludes by returning to the figure of ‘Arabi and exploring the kinds of questions that he asked of the saint, and of the answers he received.

 

Keywords: 14th century, Bihar, Sufism, Firdausi, Sharafuddin Ahmad Maneri, malfuzat, maktubat, scribal culture, social history, Delhi Sultanate

 

Posted: March 24th, 2020

Syed Hasan Askari. “Translator’s Note.” in Tabaqat-i Baburi, by Shaikh Zain Khwafi, translated by Syed Hasan Askari, v-xxxix. Idarahi-i-Adabiyat-i-Delhi, Delhi, India, 1982.

 

Professor S. H. Askari here provides us with an extended introduction and summary of the Tabaqat-i Baburi, a contemporary source written by one of the companions of the first Mughal emperor, Babur (r. 1526-1530). The author, Zainuddin of Khwaf or Shaikh Zain, was a talented composer of poetry and prose, who in particular was privileged with the work of writing the fathnama (victory announcements) Babur sent back to Kabul after his successful campaigns in India. The Tabaqat offers in many respects a straightforward narrative of events, in places paralleling the well-known autobiographical account (known as the Waqi‘at or Tuzuk-i Baburi) written by Babur himself. In other places, the details are quite distinct and demonstrate the author’s close knowledge of events. The introduction offers a helpful summary guide to the text, alerting the reader to potential questions or difficulties with dates, Turki vocabulary, translation issues, as well as parallels and distinctions from Babur’s own version of events. Prof. Askari begins this introduction by offering an account of his own decision to translate the text, a task which he humbly declares himself inadequate for, but which has nevertheless proven of a great service to Mughal scholarship. His translation is widely used today.

 

Keywords: Mughal, 16th century, Babur, tarikh, Lodi, Delhi Sultanate, Afghan confederacy, Delhi.

 

Posted: April 2nd, 2020 

Review of Riazul Islam, ed., The Bahr ul-Asrar (Travelogue of South Asia) of Mahmud b. Amir Wali Balkhi (Institute of Central and West Asian Studies, University of Karachi, 1980). pp. XVIII, 106+, The Indian Historical Review, July 1982-January 1983, vol. ix, nos 1-2, pp 271-273.

 

Prof. Askari provides a review of Riazul Islam’s critical edition of the Bahr al-Asrar, an account of the travels of Mahmud bin Amir Wali Balkhi, who journeyed from Central Asia, through the Mughal heartlands, down through the Deccan and onward to Sri Lanka before returning north along the Orissa coast in the 17th century. Prof. Askari points out the many merits of his friend Riazul Islam’s work, its useful introduction, his careful comparison of the two surviving manuscript copies of the text, and a helpful itinerary. Prof. Askari then examines the content of the Bahr al-Asrar itself, noting its readability, the text’s value as a historical source, replete with geographical details, local historical and cultural accounts, depictions of religious practice, and biographical portraits. Prof. Askari is less generous regarding the author’s apparent biases, gossipy interludes, and superstitions, however. He contends that Balkhi’s portrayal of Muharram commemorations in Lahore amongst Shi‘a and Hindu adherents were “distorted and wrong.” (Recent studies have accepted Balkhi’s portrayal as a useful portrait of local religious practice in this period, regardless of Balkhi’s own religious convictions.) On the whole, Prof. Askari’s review brings to our attention the valuable work of Riazul Islam in making the Bahr al-Asrar available to scholarly audiences.

 

Keywords: safarnama, travelogue, 17th century, Mughal India, ethnography, Sufism, yogis, Hinduism, Persian, Indo-Persian, Mahmud bin Amir Wali Balkhi, Kabul, Peshawar, Lahore, Sindh, Jaisalmer, Delhi, Agra, Allahabad, Banaras, Bihar, Bengal, Orissa, Deccan, Sri Lanka, Ceylon

 

Posted: November 9th, 2020

1983

Syed Hasan Askari. “Foreword.” In Natural Calamities and the Great Mughals, by C.M. Agrawal, pp. xi-xii. Patna; New Delhi: Janaki Prakashan, 1983.

 

Professor S. H. Askari offers here a brief introduction to a study on natural disasters in the Mughal period. The book seeks to offer a survey of major events that fit this description, describe the policy interventions undertaken by the Mughal state to try to counter-act their worst effects, discuss what the authors sees as the biased representations of these disasters in European traveler accounts, and also to offer insight regarding the sorts of superstitious beliefs common in the period regarding disasters. Prof. Askari speaks enthusiastically here about what he sees as a new trend in historical study, moving away from the recitation of names and dates and towards a more rounded (and in his words, “scientific” and “systematic”) exploration of humanity.

 

Keywords: review, Mughal, disaster, historiography, European sources

 

Posted: March 30th, 2020 

Prof. S. H. Askari. “Introduction.” In Iqbalnama, by Anonymous, translated by Syed Hasan Askari, pp.i-xxxix. Patna: Janaki Prakashan, 1983.

 

Here Professor Syed Hasan Askari offers us an introduction to his translation of the anonymously authored, early-18th century history of the Mughal court, titled Iqbalnama. The manuscript copy was found at Rampur State Library. As Prof. Askari notes, it is in large measure a distilled compilation of two other texts – Shiv Das Lakhnavi’s Shahnama Munawwar Kalam and Khushhal Chand’s Tarikh-i Muhammad Shahi. Despite what Prof. Askari perceives as its derivative qualities, he nevertheless finds it to be an informative source – it is, he says, somewhat more succinct. It also represents an opportunity – taken up by Prof. Askari in the introduction – to think through the concept of history itself, and the form it had achieved in the early 18th century. Prof. Askar commented that this was a period in which Hindus had, after millennia of otherworldly disinterest, come to appreciate the genre of tarikh. They did so, he commented, in a particularly interesting and valuable form. These and other authors developed a morally and ethically-oriented style of tarikh that was distinct from many earlier practitioners of the genre who had abandoned such questions in favor of pleasing their royal patrons.

 

Commentary: Today’s historians may have a different version with respect to Prof. Askari’s reading of the supposedly ‘ahistorical’ Hindu mindset (see for example Narayana Rao, Shulman, & Subrahmanyam’s Textures of Time and a series of responses in History and Theory 46, no. 3, as well as relevant work by Daud Ali, Sumit Guha, etc.). Nevertheless, Prof. Askari offers here an interpretation of the Persian tarikh that is well ahead of its time. He presents it as a polyvocal and evolving genre, characterized by critical traditions and an incorporative orientation that drew upon and gained inspiration from the broader cultural milieu.

 

Keywords: 18th century, history, tarikh, Persian, Indo-Persian Hindu-Muslim relations, Shiv Das Lakhnavi, Sheodas Lakhnavi, Khush Hal Chand, Khushhal Chand, Delhi, Muhammad Shah, Farrukhsiyar

 

Posted: April 2nd, 2020 

Syed Hasan Askari. “Two Lexicographical Works of Medieval Bihar as Source Material for the Study of Contemporary Social History” in Comprehensive History of Bihar, Volume 2 Part 1, edited by Professor Syed Hasan Askari., Qeyamuddin Ahmad, (1983), pp. 531-548.

 

Throughout his scholarly life, Professor S. H. Askari was exploring for new sources that might shed a light on Bihar’s medieval (and especially pre-Mughal) period. This is because Bihar was for centuries a kind of borderland between political centers in Bengal, Jaunpur, and Delhi. Accordingly, court historians rarely gave much page space to the region’s affairs. In this article, he examines two examples of lexicographical works written by Bihari authors. The first was a 14th century work by Jyoteshwar Thakur, a Brahmin scholar, in the Maithili vernacular. The latter was the Sharafnama-yi Maneri, written by Ibrahim Qawwam Faruqi sometime around 1475. The former text has something of an encyclopedic quality and offers potentially useful information about the Karnata rulers of the period. However, more to Prof. Askari’s taste is the text’s close engagement with details of daily life in both the court and in the street. Although Jyoteshwar Thakur did not seem to betray particular sympathy for the downtrodden people whose lives he commented on, the text is nevertheless valuable for shedding some light on their lives. The second text, by Faruqi, offers a study on a wide vocabulary of terms for everyday things like children’s games, kitchen equipment, weaving and spinning, clothing, etc. The text offers particular interest for anyone interested in the history of language, for the author (at times intentionally and at times by happenstance) affords a useful window into word use and borrowing between “Hindi,” Persian, Arabic, and Turkish languages in the 14th century.

 

Keywords: language, history, Bihar, Maithili, lexicography, linguistic history, social history, Sharafuddin Maneri, Jyoteshwar Thakur, 14th century, 15th century, Persian

 

Posted: April 5th, 2020 

 

 

Syed Hasan Askari, “Editor’s Preface” in Comprehensive History of Bihar, Vol. 2, Part 1, 1983. pp 1-4.

  

This is a short introduction by Prof. Askari to the first part of an edited volume focusing on the history of medieval Bihar. The book explores Bihar’s early medieval period between the rise of Mithila (governed by the Karnata dynasty) and the the establishment of Afghan and tribal polities in the 15th centuries, setting the stage for Sher Shah Suri in the early 16th century. This edited volume as with the others in the series is focused on exploring the history of a region commonly relegated to the margins of state-centered histories. Bihar has most often been seen as a province or a frontier zone subject to one or another power – the Delhi, Jaunpur, and Bengal Sultanates, for example. And yet as the scholars whose work is collected in the Comprehensive History argue, Bihar has its own history, subject to its own social, economic, and political forces.

 

Keywords: Mithila, Karnat dynasty, Nuhani, tribal polities, Bengal Sultanate, Bihar, medieval history, regional history, local history, Afghans, Delhi Sultanate, Jaunpur, borderland

 

Posted: May 23rd, 2020 

1984

Prof. S. H. Askari. “A unique study of Maktubat-i Sadi – a second study” in Prajna Bharati, Vol. 4 (1984), pp 165-180.

 

Here Professor Syed Hasan Askari returns to a very old and valuable manuscript, preserved for centuries by the Balkhi family, who had served the Balkhia Firdausia of Fatuha in Patna. The document itself was originally thought to have been authored by the saintly Makhdum Sharafuddin Ahmad Maneri (d. 1381). Professor Askari states that the text may have been transcribed by Maulana Husain Aziz Balkhi, the adoptive son of Maulana Muzaffar Shams, who served the saint Makhdum Maneri in his lifetime. Professor Syed Askari makes his case by means of a careful study of the document’s language, noting shifts in tense and tone that seem to suggest that Pir Makhdum may have been alive while part of the text was written, but not for all of it. Professor Askari mentions (against an assertion made by the author of an earlier study) that the author need not have been a spiritual equal of Pir Makhdum, but rather a follower. In making this argument, Professor Askari again pays close attention to literary norms in near-contemporary texts, such as the Siyar al-Arifin, a 15th century tazkira. Professor Askari highlights the text’s historical value for the insight it offers into the social milieu of its period – casual references to the popular game of chaugan, the self-care regime of Sufis resident in the khanaqa (combs and a clay-based cleanser were accepted, but perfumes and soaps were not). Professor Askari then comments on the “broadminded” and “liberal” role of Sufis in the medieval era, and their key role in building bridges between Muslim and Hindu communities. He finishes with a brief orthographic commentary on the manuscript, which, he notes, was unusual in several respects.

 

Keywords: Bihar, Sufis, medieval India, Balkhia Firdausia, khanaqa, Makhdum al-Mulk Bihari, Makhdum-i Jahan, Persian orthography

 

Posted: February 28th, 2020

Syed Hasan Askari. “Aspects of Society and Religion (Education)” in Comprehensive History of Bihar, Volume 2 Part 1, edited by Professor Syed Hasan Askari., Qeyamuddin Ahmad, B.P. Sinha., (1984), pp. 365-404.

 

This article provides a scholarly overview of society in northern India and particularly in Bihar during the medieval and early modern periods. Prof. S. H. Askari divides his discussion into examination of ‘Hindu’ and ‘Muslim’ habits and traditions, while also taking into account class differences. His overview proceeds from the assumption that Hindu and Muslim systems of belief are “antithetical,” but he sets out to demonstrate that these two groups came, over the centuries and particularly under the Mughal regime, to an increasing degree of accommodation and reconciliation. He uses European sources to try to develop a sense of what daily life looked like in the Mughal period, before turning to the question of education. Here, he outlines what he sees as being discreet Hindu and Muslim educational systems, outlining their primary and secondary levels and patterns of teaching and examination, as well as the degree to which girls and women were granted access to education. He concludes with a discussion of the education systems in Bihar, noting that during the Mughal period, Bihar became a renowned center for study, with both Hindu and Muslim scholars from Bihar granted recognition at the courts of Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb. This article, which offers an overview of research outlined in some of Prof. Askari’s earlier studies, serves as a useful overview of his life’s study on the particular topic of education in medieval India.

 

Keywords: Hindu-Muslim relations, education, Bihar, Hindustan, cultural history, education, medieval, early modern, Mughal

 

Posted: March 28th, 2020 

S.H. Askari. “Establishment of the Nuhani Kingdom in Bihar (I) and (II)” as published as “Rise of Nuhanis in Bihar and Establishment  of the Nuhani Kingdom” in Comprehensive History of Bihar, Volume 2 Part 1, edited by Professor Syed Hasan Askari., Qeyamuddin Ahmad, B.P. Sinha., (1984)  & Collected Works of Prof. S.H. Askari - Medieval Bihar: Sultanate & Mughal Period, Volume 4 by Professor Syed Hasan Askari (1990)., pp. 42-63.

 

This article by Professor Syed Hasan Askari, offers a close study of the period between the 1490s and the 1520s, corresponding with the reigns of Sikandar Lodi (r. 1489-1517) and Ibrahim Lodi (r. 1517-1526). The article outlines the rise to power of the Nuhani household in Bihar as Sikandar Lodi first annexed the region, then deputized a handful of Afghan commanders to govern it. In particular, the article focuses on the figure of Darya Khan Nuhani, who succeeded his father Mubarak Khan in service to Sikandar Lodi on the eastern front. Darya Khan eventually was granted the governorship, where he served the Lodi dynasty from 1495-1522 under increasingly autonomous conditions. Prof. Askari notes that Darya Khan’s great success was in his recognition that he had to conciliate with powerful regional actors such as the zamindars, ‘ulama, and the Sufi pirs. He cultivated their friendship and support assiduously. He was also able to secure the esteem of his fellow Afghan soldiers in the region. Most importantly, despite opportunity and capacity, he remained loyal to the Lodis even after the accession of Ibrahim in 1517, who was widely reviled by the Afghan nobility. Darya Khan’s long tenure in the region set the stage for his son, who succeeded his father and eventually crowned himself Sultan. Sultan Muhammad Nuhani would become a rallying point in the final years of Ibrahim Lodi’s reign for the growing number of Afghans who were disgusted with the Lodi sovereign and sought a path to his removal.

 

Keywords: Bihar, 16th century, Nuhani, Lodi, Sur, Sher Shah, Darya Khan, Delhi Sultanate, Farmuli, Indo-Afghan

 

Posted: March 30th, 2020

Padmashri Dr. S. H. Askari. “Preface.” In Aspects of the Cultural History of Medieval Bihar, K.P. Jayaswal Memorial Lecture Series, Vol. 2, pp. i-iii. Patna: Kashi Prasad Jayaswal Research Institute, 1984.

 

This brief preface by Professor Syed Hasan Askari, offers an overview of three lectures presented as part of the K.P. Jayaswal series in Patna. The first lecture argued in favor of a syncretic understanding of South Asian culture and history. The second lecture, along similar lines, explored interactions between Sufism and Hinduism in the context of several Sufi philosophers’ writings between the 15th and 18th centuries. The final lecture, on a different topic, offers an overview of Patna’s history tracing back to the ancient period, the settlement of Patali Sarai and Pataligrama; the era of the Buddha, and its later history as a pilgrimage site for Chinese Buddhists; the city’s rise to become a major capital under Maurya and Gupta power; and finally its place in the era of Muslim polities.

 

Keywords: India, Hindu-Muslim relations, Sufism, Hinduism, syncretism, Patna, ancient history, medieval history, Buddhism

 

Posted: April 2nd, 2020 

1985

Syed Hasan Askari. “Life and Conditions as Depicted in Risail-i Ijaz-i Khusravi” in Collected Works of Prof. S.H. Askari - Amir Khusrau as a Historian, Volume 2. (1985), pp. 64-79.

 

Professor Askari returns here to the topic of Amir Khusrau (d. 1325) and his five-volume poetic work, the Risa’il-i Ijaz-i Khusravi. He begins by suggesting that the study of history is not merely a search for facts, but an attempt to find moral instruction. To this end, he asserts, Amir Khusrau’s observations about men, women, and their faults and merits should attract our notice. Yet it seems that what Prof. Askari offers us is not an attempt to guide us in how we should read Amir Khusrau for possible moral lessons, but rather a roadmap of sorts, so that we can more easily explore the texts for ourselves. The bulk of this article is taken up in briefly describing various portions of the text that might be of interest to a potential reader – for example some letters Khusrau wrote to his sons, descriptions of traditional patterns for commemorating Ashura and other holidays, descriptions of musical instruments (Prof. Askari comments that the instruments are uniformly ‘foreign’ types, rather than those of Hindustani make), a discourse on the lives of artisans and tradesmen, etc. In some places, the article takes time to examine Khusrau’s aesthetic choices, for example his tendency to juxtapose contrasting imagery, particularly in describing categories of humanity. In a common theme in Prof. Askari’s studies of Khusrau, there is a particular focus on Khusrau’s interest in the “laboring classes,” as Prof. Askari seeks to dig as deeply into the text as possible to derive some texture of daily life beyond the courtly focus of most medieval chroniclers. The article ends with a brief study of Khusrau’s unusual reference to Agra, a city not usually referenced prior to Sikandar Lodi’s time (r. 1489-1517)

 

Keywords: Amir Khusrau, historiography, 13th century, 14th century, Agra, social classes, social history, gender, cultural history, Delhi Sultanate

 

Posted: March 18th, 2020 

S. H. Askari. “Political and Economic Fragments from Risail-ul-Ijaz of Amir Khusrau” in “The Journal of Bihar Research Society”, Vol. 53, (1967) & “Khuda Bakhsh Library Journal”, Vol. 47 (1988) & “Collected Works of Prof. S.H. Askari - Amir Khusrau as a Historian, Volume 2 by Professor Syed Hasan Askari, (1985, 1992), pp. 81-108.

 

This article examines Amir Khusrau’s (d. 1325) Risa’il al-Ijaz, which, as Professor Syed Hasan Askari puts it, can be seen as reflecting a “spirit of [its] age.” Prof. Askari has returned on various occasions to this text, each time asking a different set of questions. On this occasion, he hopes to mention something of both Amir Khusrau’s and the Sultanate ruler Alauddin Khilji’s ethic of governance. Prof. Askari asks to what extent Khusrau’s ideals sit in agreement with Islamic notions of rule, and finds that in important respects, they overlap. Amir Khusrau repeatedly quoted and approved of the idea (familiar to the Western reader as a Hobbesian theory of the nature of man, but commonly repeated in Islamic philosophy as well) that government is necessary to keep men from destroying one another; the role of the sovereign is that of maintaining a balance, preserving the meek against his aggressors. Bearing this in mind, Prof. Askari finds in Khusrau’s laudatory account of Khilji’s government a blueprint for wielding sovereign power. Khusrau describes important policies and practices of the period for safeguarding the populace against famine and drought by stockpiling essential commodities, for retaining a healthy treasury, and for implementing standard measures and rates in order to ensure security and stability for both the producer and the consumer. These details also carry the historian some way in allowing a richer portrait of 13th-century economic conditions and technologies of agriculture – for even in their idealized form, we can develop some idea of what was deemed possible. Prof. Askari elsewhere, reading between the lines of Khusrau’s glowing poetics, finds reason to believe that Khusrau may have held his private doubts about the ways and policies of sovereigns in his era. Prof. Askari notes that Khusrau portrayed the sovereign as having gone before his subjects and having submitted himself to various forms of testing in order to prove his worth as a ruler – such a portrait seems to suggest some wariness as to the common claim of kingship – that he held power by dint of divine approval. In resting legitimacy (at least in part) in the hands of an agreeable subject population, Khusrau is able to gesture to the Islamic injunction that the legitimacy of worldly authority be built on consultation with wise advisors and on the righteous application of justice.

 

Keywords: Amir Khusrau, 13th century, Islam, government, ethics, akhlaq, Alauddin Khilji, justice, economic history, political history

 

Posted: March 24th, 2020 

Syed Hasan Askari. “Amir Khusrau as a Social Historian”, In Khuda Bakhsh Library Journal, Vol. 47 (1988), and Collected Works of Prof. S.H. Askari - Amir Khusrau as a Historian, Volume 2 by Professor Syed Hasan Askari, (1985), pp 16-44

 

 

This article offers a synthetic overview of many of Prof. Askari’s earlier articles focusing on the value of his writing as a source of social history. Some sections of the article can also be found in earlier articles elsewhere. However, this article focuses on Khusrau as both “a product of and an exponent of” a “synthesized culture made up of elements alien and indigenous.” Khusrau was born of an immigrant father and a Hindustani mother; his writings likewise demonstrated a native comfort in both spheres. A favorite literary device of Khusrau’s, for example, was to play upon words with both Persian and Hindawi meanings. He often extolled the beauty of Hindustan. At the same time, Prof. Askari warns us not to ignore sections of Khusrau’s writing in which he often expressed bigoted and derogatory views about Hindus. Prof. Askari does not ask us to reconcile these two views, but seems to remind us of Khusrau’s humanity, and his very human failure, despite his discipleship of the renowned Sufi Nizamuddin Auliya, to always live in accordance with his teachings. The article also examines Khusrau’s at times conservative attitude towards women, as well as the value of his writings in developing a more dimensional understanding of education, gender, and religion in this period.

 

Keywords: Am Khusrau, 13th century, 14th century, social history, gender, Indo-Persian, syncretism, Hindu-Muslim, bigotry, poetry, Hindawi

 

 

Posted: April 21st, 2020

 

 

Syed Hasan Askari. “Historical fragments relating to Malik Bayyu and his times” in Collected Works of Prof. S.H. Askari (Patna: Khuda Baksh Oriental Public Library, 1985), 1-17.

 

Here, Professor S. H. Askari grapples with one of the great philosophical and methodological challenges of historiography: how does one make sense of or fill in the gaps for those absences of history for which we have few or only fragmentary sources? How does one reconcile the colorful and rich popular traditions with the barren and often contradictory historical record? Taking the example of two Tughluq-era tombs in Bihar, one the prominent and well-frequented tomb of Malik Bayyu, and the other a forlorn and for the most part uninscribed in Kaghazi Mahalla, still grand in its style. Of the former, several sources record the degree of respect accorded its inhabitant, Malik Bayyu –a 17thcentury source, the Ganj-i Arshadi, records a tradition that it was visited by several venerable spiritual figures came to pay their respects during the site’s construction. We also have some inscriptional evidence –amongst them a Sanskrit slab, Sufi literature of the 14th and 15th century, which point to his having been a military hero of some stature. Still, as Prof. Askari points out, there is much about his life that remains shrouded in shadow. We cannot determine from his titles or name what his ethnicity might have been. More recent hagiographical literature fills in gaps at the expense of historical reliability, tying Malik Bayyu in direct lineage to the founder of the Qadiri Sufi order, and supplying for him a martyr’s death in battle against a Hindu chieftain. About the nameless inhabitant of the tomb in Kaghazi Mahalla, not even such doubtful tales remain. In both cases, Prof. Askari cautions; historians are recommended not to make guesses without strong evidence. In the decades that have followed, a number of historians: Romila Thapur, Prachi Deshpande, Christian Novetske, Ramya Sreenivasan, Shahid Amin, and others, have sought to pursue the troubling but also productive relationship between history and tradition further, and to ask what responsibility the historian bears in accounting for the gaps that inevitably remain.

 

Keyword: 14th century, Bihar, Sufism, Malik Bayyu, historiography, tradition, hagiography, myth, epigraphy, Tughluq, Delhi Sultanate

 

Posted: March 17th, 2020 

1986

Syed Hasan Askari. “Sufism and Hinduism: Interaction Between the Two” in Aspects of the Cultural History of Medieval Bihar by Professor Syed Hasan Askari (1986), pp.15-33

 

This article by Professor S. H. Askari examines the commonly asserted relationship between Hindu and Sufi practices and belief. Prof. Askari is careful in introducing this topic, for as he points out, some (mostly European historians, he asserts), have been overly eager to claim that one or the other tradition has shaped the other. He emphatically pushes back against those who would argue that for example, Nestorian Christians were responsible for developing bhakti ideas in early 1st-millennium Malabar and Coromandel, or that Sufi conceptions derived originally from Greek neo-Platonist ideas. Similarly, he advises that concepts like moksha or fana cannot be understood as directly comparable or translatable across traditions. Certainly, there are many parallels in practice – for example control over breath, repetition of God’s name, or teacher-student relationship – but these similarities conceal ultimately distinct underlying conceptions of God, the nature of reality, and of the self. Perhaps more important, Prof. Askari asserts, were the conscious efforts of many religious and secular figures to establish and strengthen shared vocabularies and mutual trust between Hindu and Muslim communities and their traditions. The bulk of this article is made up of an overview of these endeavors, exploring Sufi literature, translations projects, and multi-lingual texts, many of which play with words and concepts that can be read in multiple ways or across multiple traditions. One of the later examples came from Shabistari’s Gulshan-i Raz, in which the author argued that Muslims should not view Hindus as polytheist or as unbelievers, rather they shared many theological principles with Islam. One can see in Prof. Askari’s article a laudable effort to shift the conversation away from the scholarly dead-end of attempting to define or measure relative influence between traditions, and instead to examine the more meaningful shared tradition of toleration and mutual recognition.

 

Keywords: Hindu-Muslim relations, Sufism, Bhakti, translation, syncretism, yoga, renunciant tradition, devotionalism, encounter, mysticism

 

Posted: April 5th, 2020 

 

 

Syed Hasan Askari. “The Synthesizing Role of the Muslim Poets of Hindi” in Aspects of the Cultural History of Medieval Bihar by Professor Syed Hasan Askari (1986), pp.1-14

 

This work is of particular interest because it explicitly lays out something of Prof. S. H. Askari’s philosophy regarding the study of Indian history. Prof. Askari explains his belief that, although the Indian subcontinent is a land of great diversity in all of its forms – religious, linguistic, ethnic, etc. – that for a historian the primary focus should be how India was a land of uniformities. “India is, and always has been, a land of synthesis.” What this means for Prof. Askari is that Indian society has always found ways to make space for newcomers, to build connections and create new identities, aesthetics, and ideas. Prof. Askari takes up this idea in specific form here by exploring a number of examples of what he terms the “Muslim Hindi poet” of the medieval period. The literary productions of these men, who wrote in various regional languages including Apabhramsa and Awadhi, drew upon millennia-old Indic aesthetic and storytelling traditions. While engaging Islamic concepts of God and of the Prophetic tradition, they simultaneously nodded self-consciously to Indic tropes – for example of the chaste housewife longing for her wayward husband. These poets’ heroes and (more often) heroines were mostly Hindu, and their rhyming schemes drew not on Persian systems but on north Indian styles. This article offers a useful study of several of the major Muslim Hindavi poets of the pre-modern period.

 

Keywords: Hindu-Muslim relations, poetry, Chandayan, Malik Muhammad Jayasi, Burhan of Kalpi, Maulana Daud, Kabir, Abdur Rahman, Apabhramsa, Awadhi, Delhi Sultanate, Sufism, Hindavi, syncretism

 

Posted: April 5th, 2020 

Prof. Syed Hasan Askari. “A Rare and Unique Eight-Century Arabic Manuscript (On Embassies and Amanuenses of the Prophet of Islam)”, in Indo-Iranica, Vol. 39, 1-4, (1986), pp 1-20

 

In this article, Prof. Askari describes a rare Arabic-language manuscript held in a private Patna-based collection, which he titles “Al-misbah al mudhi fi kuttab an nabi al ummi wa rusulihi ela mulukul-ardh min arabiin wa ajamin.” The text, copied around 1381, offers a study of the Prophet Muhammad’s genealogy, a detailed examination of his correspondences with foreign leaders, and even the biographies of a number of the Prophet’s secretaries and scribes. Prof. Askari notes that the author was meticulous in his attention to source authority, and outlines the author’s own education and training in the Hadiths (Traditions) of the Prophet. The article also provides by way of example several of the scribal biographies presented in the manuscript. Of greatest interest for Prof. Askari is the extent to which the manuscript weighs in on an ongoing debate amongst European scholars of early Islam as to whether it was truly a “universal” or world religion at its founding, or whether it only became so in later generations. The manuscript provides detailed evidence of the Prophet Muhammad’s repeated embassies to a number of distant courts, including Byzantium, Persia, Abyssinia, and Egypt. In these embassies, the Prophet uses a seal identifying himself as “Muhammad the apostle of Allah,” and inviting the sovereigns’ conversion. Prof. Askari concludes that the manuscript thus supports the view that Islam in its earliest years held a universalist orientation.

 

Keywords: Early Islam, Arabic, Patna, genealogy, embassies, scribal biography, Byzantium

 

Posted: January 12th, 2021

1987

 

Syed Hasan Askari, “Editor’s Preface” in Comprehensive History of Bihar, Vol. 2, Part 2, 1987, pp 3-6.

 

Here, Prof. Askari offers a short introduction to the second part of an unusual joint study of the history of medieval Bihar. The book focuses on the era between the 16th and 18th centuries. This, according to Prof. Askari, was an era of accommodation and assimilation, both in religious terms and otherwise. The collection is framed in several parts, with the first focusing on the battle for supremacy in Bihar between the Mughals and Pathans (roughly the 16th century), followed by articles focusing on the relationship between Mughal governors and Bihar-base zamindars. Another cluster of work focuses on the rise of Sikhism in Bengal during the 17th century. Finally, the book pivots to the 18th century, a period of “transition” marked by the erosion of Mughal power, the rise of regional states, and finally of the British East India Company. Prof. Askari notes that the collection as a whole highlights Bihar’s role in linking India to Asia as a whole, as well as to Africa and to Europe. It also demonstrates Bihar’s role as a center of learning in several major traditions: Sanksrit, Arabic, and Persian.

 

Keywords: Bihar, regional history, Afghans, Sur, Mughal, Sikhism, 18th century, borderlands, local history, 16th century, 17th century, zamindars

 

Posted: May 23rd, 2020

1988

Prof. S. H. Askari. “Princess Zeb-un-Nisa—Facts and Fiction” in Pranjna Bharati, Vol. 5 (1988), pp. 101-111 (appendix).

 

In this article, Professor Syed Hasan Askari investigates the biography of the Mughal princess Zebunnissa, Aurangzeb’s (1658-1707) eldest and favorite daughter. In writing her story, Prof. Askari seeks to accomplish two main things: first, offer proof against accusations made in contemporary European travel accounts that women of the Mughal family wiled away their lives in lustful and “dishonorable” pursuits, and secondly to correct a few minor claims made by modern historians about Zebunnissa Begam (c. 1638-1701/2). Prof. Syed Askari’s study of Zebunnissa Begam paints her as a studious, chaste, literary and intelligent woman. His explanation for her sudden fall from grace at the Mughal court and eventual imprisonment (namely her support for her youngest brother, the rebellious prince Akbar) hints at another aspect of her character – namely her savvy, if ultimately unlucky, political mind. Prof. Askari also critiques 20th-century commenters including Maulan Shibli, who, Prof. Askari notes, mistook details of Zebunnissa’s sister Zinnatunnissa Begam’s life for her sister’s, and Jadunath Sarkar, who offered a possibly late estimate for the year in which Zebunnissa Begam was imprisoned (1683 as opposed to sometime before 1678). The article is useful as well for its extensive quotations and translations of Zebunnissa’s poetry (takhallus: “Makhfi”). Finally, Prof. Askari offers a modern Urdu poem by Barq Dihlavi, which serves as a sort of elegy at the end of the article.

 

Keywords: Mughal empire, gender, 17th century, Zeb-un-Nissa, Zebunnissa, Begam, princess, Jadunath Sarkar, Bernier, Manucci, poetry, dynastic politics, Prince Akbar, Aurangzeb

 

Posted: March 10th, 2020

 

Syed Hasan Askari. “The City of Patna – Etymology of Place-Names.” In Patna Through the Ages, ed. Qeyamudddin Ahmad, 53-70. Patna; New Delhi: Janaki Prakashan, 1988.

 

This unusual and interesting article by Professor S. H. Askari, seems to set out with the intention of offering a formal survey of the city’s historical geography and its historical place names. Prof. Askari begins, conventionally enough, with a discussion of the relatively well-trodden question of the origins of ‘Patna’ as the city’s name. However, the article’s great charm and arguably its greatest scholarly significance as well, turns out to be Prof. Askari’s irrepressible love for and great knowledge of the city. Despite its formal opening lines, quite quickly Prof. Askari turns to recalling an episode when, searching out the city of an ancient temple with some relevant information from an Aurangzeb-era (17th c.) farman at the ready, he confronted an angry neighborhood mob who were unhappy to find him surveying the grounds of a ruined mosque. Throughout the article, he regularly turns not just to archeological studies, historical chronicles, and epigraphic evidence to build a historical map of Patna, but also to his own informal explorations, conversations with local residents, and recollections of encounters over decades of time in the city, which he has filed away in his memory. One part of the article involves a tour he gave to some American visitors. He recalled showing them a number of different sights, commenting in passing at one point on his disappointment to discover that the guardians of the locally renowned patthar ki masjid, anxiety-ridden that the historical inscriptions on the mosque walls might be provocative, had covered them over with concrete. Prof. Askari’s narrative followed the path of their car from there, past the 17th c. idgah constructed in the name Mumtaz Mahal’s sister, to the English opium factory where Shah Alam II was enthroned, and onwards. Elsewhere in the article, while considering the likelihood that several of the hill features in the city were originally Buddhist stupas, he describes being led around a neighborhood by a boy from the Momin Muslim community, who historically buried their dead in the vicinity of stupas, while the boy pointed out his ancestors’ graves. Reading this article, one is left with a clear sense of how the history of the city is for Prof. Askari a living history and an intimately known history – his own and the city’s pasts are so entangled that his promised “etymology of place names” becomes in part a personal ethnography along the way.

 

Keywords: Patna, urban history, personal history, memory, oral narrative, epigraphy, Mughal history, Sher Shah Suri, British East India Company, archaeology

 

Posted: March 27th, 2020 

1989

Syed Hasan Askari. “Islam and Muslims in Medieval Bihar” in Collected Works of Prof. S. H. Askari, Patna: Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Public Library (1989), pp 88-135

 

Here, Prof. Syed Hasan Askari sets out to offer an overview of Muslim daily life in Bihar in the pre-colonial era. His study starts out by offering a broad portrait of society – distinguishing between the ruling classes and their subjects, describing the various sectarian divisions and Sufi silsilas that one would have found in Bihar in that period, and offering a brief sketch of the histories of the main Sufi groups in the region – Firdausi, Shattari, Chishti, Qadiri, Suhrawardi, Madari, and the heterodox Qalandars. Prof. Askari also paints, at least in outline, a picture of the social and economy of the region – noting that Sufi literature made regular reference to women and to the various laboring classes who made up the bulk of the population. In the final section of the article, Prof. Askari devotes time to describing the education systems of both Hindu and Muslim groups, highlighting the many parallels in practice. He makes a point of countering the colonial critique, still commonly voiced in the post-colonial context, that indigenous systems of learning were based merely on rote memorization, and that they suffered from lack of public or governmental support.

Keywords: Bihar, medieval India, education, Islam, Sufi orders, Chishti, Qadiri, Firdausi, Shattari, Madari, Qalandar, Suhrawardi, social history, Islamic scholarship, Sanskrit

 

Posted: March 18th, 2020

Syed Hasan Askari. "Bihar" Encyclopedia Iranica, Vol. IV, Fasc. 3, 1989 pp. 252-253

 

In this encyclopedia article, Prof. Askari outlines a history of Persian influence in the province of Bihar. While tracing this influence as far back as Mauryan times, the article primarily focuses on the period dating from the arrival of the Khilji sultans at the end of the 12th century. Prof. Askari notes that Persian rapidly became the primary administrative language, and was widely used by Sufis such as Shaikh Sharafuddin Maneri (d. 1381) who settled in the region. By the Mughal period, Persian played a dominant role not only administratively but in literary circles, and the region had also developed a reputation for Persianate artwork, especially painted renderings of nature. Bihar became well-known for its Persian scholarship, and was home to several figures who played key roles in writing the Fatawa-i Alamgiri, a legal compendium ordered by the emperor Aurangzeb (r. 1658-1707). Other men such as Raja Ram Mohun Roy, Raja Ram Narayan “Mauzun,” and his brother Dhiraj Narayan, were also well-known Bihar-based scholars of Persian.

 

Keywords: Persian, Indo-Persian, Bihar, Aurangzeb, Fatawa-i Alamgiri, Khiljis, Delhi Sultanate, Bengal Sultanate, Jaunpur, Mughal, Persian painting, Sufism

 

Posted: November 30th, 2020

1990

S. H. Askari. “Bihar under Later Tughlaqs & Sharqis” in Collected Works of Prof. S.H. Askari - Medieval Bihar: Sultanate & Mughal Period, by Professor Syed Hasan Askari, Volume 4, (1990).  pp. 22-31.

 

            In this article, Prof Askari seeks to bring clarity to an era of Bihar’s history not commonly given much by way of scholarly attention following the death of Firuz Shah Tughluq in 1388. In the political confusion following the long-lived sovereign’s death, Timur entered northern India and sacked Delhi in 1398. In the years that followed, no effective leader emerged until 1413, when the founder of the Sayyid dynasty claimed the throne. The Sayyids, however, were never able to extend their sway into areas formerly claimed by the Tughluqs, and it was in this era that we see the rise to power of Malik Sarwar (Khwaja-i Jahan) in Jaunpur, founder of the Sharqi dynasty, and the extension of Sharqi power eastwards into Bihar. One of the most interesting parts of this article is Prof. Askari’s use of a Hindavi-language historical account by Bhojraj (17th c.) of the Ujjainiya community’s troubled relationship with the Jaunpur kingdom. Jaunpur’s Ibrahim Shah (r. 1402-1440) sent armies against the Ujjainiyas, holed up in hill country near Karur. Later on, however, the Jaunpuri sovereign sent as governor a certain Hasan Khan, who was able to establish a rapprochement with the Ujjainiyas. Although Prof. Askari does not state this explicitly, it was probably on the basis of this relationship that the Ujjainiya community eventually became a powerful fighting force whose much-sought-after military talents powered Jaunpuri, Afghan, Mughal, and eventual East India Company armies in the centuries that followed. In the shorter term, Prof. Askari outlines a series of campaigns led by Jaunpur’s armies into the territory of Orissa, as well as an examination of numismatic evidence, which supports his contention that Jaunpur’s Sharqi dynasty eventually came to rule over the better part of Bihar.

 

Keywords: Bihar, Jaunpur Sultanate, 15th century, Timur, Sayyid dynasty, Ujjainiya, Delhi Sultanate, Sharqi, Orissa, Bhojraj, Malik Sarwar

 

Posted: March 29th, 2020 

1991

 

Syed Hasan Askari. “Brahamottar and Madad-e-mash” in Studies in Cultural Development of India (Collection of Essays in Honour of Prof. Jagadish Narayan Sarkar), eds. N.R. Ray & P.N. Chakrabarti. Calcutta: Punthi Pustak, 1991, pp. 105-107.

 

It is probable that this was the last article Prof. Askari composed. In it, he offered a brief overview and definition of two administrative terms: the madad-i ma‘ash and the brahamottar grants, both tax-free land grants designated in the Mughal period for the maintenance of Sufis and darwishes, as well as (in the latter case) Brahmins. The article then offers a couple of Prof. Askari’s personal reminiscences. In the first instance, he describes his own ancestors’ history, who received a grant of barren land that was, in time, cultivated and developed into the thriving village of Khujwa. The remainder of the article is taken up in descriptions of several unsuccessful efforts to consult brahamottar and madad-i ma‘ash documents purportedly held by temples and families. The article does not attempt to make an argument; its purpose instead seems to have been to point out both these documents’ widespread survival in private collections, as well as to gesture towards cultural sensitivities in the present with respect to acknowledging Mughal contributions towards Hindu religious institutions. Prof. Askari never explicitly spells this out, however, and the article, partially dictated by his grandson, reads as a concerted final academic effort, perhaps only partially achieved for want of strength, which carried forward the very same ambitions of his earliest historical research: fearlessly exploring those aspects of the historical record that today appear inconvenient or uncomfortable.

 

Keywords: tax free grants, land grants, Bihar, temple administration, Sufi, darwish, Brahmin, madad-i ma‘ash, brahamottar, Mughal, British Raj, Sikandar Lodi, Aurangzeb

 

Posted: May 26th, 2020 

 

1992

Syed Hasan Askari. “Bahr ul-Mawwaj” in Encyclopedia of Sikhism, Vol. 1 A-D, Punjabi University Patiala, India (1992), pp. 255.

This text, written by Muhammad ‘Ali Ansari (d. 1827) purports to be a comprehensive history of Muslims in nine parts and 49 sections. Per Prof. Askari, the final part focuses on the Mughals through the end of the 18th century. The manuscript was found in the library of the Raja of Benares, and other copies are also available elsewhere. The Tarikh-i Muzaffari, also a history written by the same author, is in many places an exact copy of the Bahr, but the Tarikh includes more details than the Bahr. There are a number of references to Sikh history including the campaign against Banda Singh Bahadur, Sikh practices, and affairs of the late 18th c.

 

Keywords: 18th century, Punjab, Mughals, Banda Bahadur Shah, universal history, Raja of Benares, Henry Miers Elliot

 

Posted: May 17th, 2020 

 

Syed Hasan Askari. “Char Bagh-i Panjab” in Encyclopedia of Sikhism, Vol. 1 A-D, Punjabi University Patiala, India (1992), pp. 442

Written by Ganesh Das Badhera in 1855, the Char Bagh-i Panjab offers a history of the territory of Punjab. Per Prof. Askari, the author had a position in the Lahore Darbar as a revenue official. The text was written after annexation by the British, and was patronized by Sir Richard Temple, secretary to the Punjab government. Badhera’s text was a revised and updated edition of an earlier text called the Chahar Gulshan-i Panjab. The text offers a sketchy overview from the era of Alexander on forward, increasing in detail during the era of Muslim rule. The text’s account of Sikh history is in places inaccurate, although it becomes more reliable closer to the author’s own period. The emergence of misls amongst the Sikh forces and the rise of Maharaja Ranjit Singh are both given careful attention. The text likewise attends carefully to questions of geography, revenue divisions, and details of court factions. It concludes with an account of the Anglo-Sikh wars.

 

Keywords: Punjab, geography, gazetteer, British East India Company, Anglo-Sikh war, misl, Sikhism, Ranjit Singh, economy, court factions, 18th century

 

Posted: May 17th, 2020 

 

Syed Hasan Askari. “Dabistan-i-Mazahib” in Encyclopedia of Sikhism, Vol. 1 A-D, Punjabi University Patiala, India (1992), pp. 484-485.

This entry describes the well-known but somewhat mysterious Dabistan-i Mazahib, an encyclopedia-like account of South Asia’s many religious traditions and communities. Prof. Askari provides a brief overview of existing scholarship on the document, including its early English translations, debate over who authored the text (more recent scholarship including that by Prof. Askari himself points to the likelihood that it was the work of Maubad Zulfiqar Ardastani (1615-70), a Zoroastrian who spent many years living in Patna. He later travelled around the subcontinent, speaking to, and sometimes living with diverse faith communities. Later, relying on notes from his travels, he compiled the Dabistan. The text includes sections on Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Sufism, Kabirpanthis, Nanakpanthis, and Zoroastrian sects. It is the earliest non-Sikh account of the Sikh tradition, and is based in large measure on the author’s personal meetings with Guru Hargobind and Guru Har Rai. The author records the various rumors and legends that emerged around the Sikh Gurus after their deaths, as well as the increasingly militant stance taken by Sikh leadership vis a vis the Mughal state in the mid-17th century.

 

Keywords: 17th century, South Asian religion, Indian religion, Zoroastrian, Hindu, Muslim, Kabirpanth, Nanakpanth, Sikhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Patna, Guru Hargobind, Guru Har Rai, Mughal, Maubad Shah, Zulfiqar Ardistani

 

Posted: May 17th, 2020 

Syed Hasan Askari. “Imad us-Sa’adat” in Encyclopedia of Sikhism, Vol. 2 E-I, Punjabi University Patiala, India (1992), pp. 302-303.

The Imad us-Sa’adat was written by Ghulam Ali Naqvi in 1808 at the request of Col. John Baillie, British Resident at Lucknow. It offers a history of the Nawabs of Awadh (Oudh), and also details the history of the Afghans, Ruhilas, Jats, Marathas, and Sikhs. It was published by the Naval Kishore Press in 1864. Prof. Askari here focuses on the section relating to the Sikhs, which he says explores basic features of their faith, their growing political power, and their community. The text also describes social features as well as political decrees within the environs of Sikh-governed territories. Prof. Askari offers readers a warning at the end of his entry on the title, “This book is not free from factual errors or from bias. It accepts uncritically much that went round as mere gossip.”

 

Keywords: British East India Company, Awadh, Rohilla, Jat, Maratha, Sikh, religious belief, practice

 

Posted: May 17th, 2020 

 

Syed Hasan Askari. “Ibratnamah – Khair ud-Din Muhammad Allahabadi (d. 1827)” in Encyclopedia of Sikhism, Vol. 2 E-I, Punjabi University Patiala, India (1992), pp. 299.

This manuscript offers a description of the reigns of Alamgir II (1754-1759) and of Shah Alam II (1759-1806), as well as a quick summary of the earlier Mughals. The author had been in the service of the British Resident  of Mahadji Scindia’s court, James Anderson , and during his retirement had established himself at Jaunpur. The text focuses primarily on the prince-hood of Shah Alam II (when he was known as Prince ‘Ali Gauhar). Prof. Askari notes that references to the Sikhs are few in this manuscript.

 

Keywords: Mughal, British East India Company, Alamgir II, Shah Alam II, Bihar, Marathas, Scindia, Shinde, Jaunpur, 18th century

 

Posted: May 17th, 2020 

 

Syed Hasan Askari. “Ibratnamah – Mirza Muhammad Harisi (b. 1687)” in Encyclopedia of Sikhism, Vol. 2 E-I, Punjabi University Patiala, India (1992), pp 299-300.

This source has often been used by historians, amongst them Sir Jadunath Sarkar. It offers an eye-witness account of affairs in Punjab and northern India between 1703-1776, and is of particular interest to those interested in Sikh history. Per Prof. Askari, it describes in some detail the increasing authority and growing complexity of Sikh institutions, the personalities and governing styles of successive Sikh gurus, and finally the career, capture and execution of Banda Singh Bahadur and his companions. The author uses language which is at once antagonistic and admiring of Sikh military ability.

 

Keywords: Sikh, Mughal, 18th century, Bahadur Shah, Farrukh Siyar, Farrukhsiyar, Muhammad Shah, British East India Company, Banda Singh Bahadur, Punjab, Lahore,

 

Posted: May 17th, 2020 

 

Syed Hasan Askari. “Ibratnamah – Sayyid Muhammad Qasim” in Encyclopedia of Sikhism, Vol. 2 E-I, Punjabi University Patiala, India (1992), pp. 301.

This manuscript, written by an ally of the younger Sayyid brother Hussain ‘Ali Khan, offers an eyewitness account of affairs in northern India during Farrukh Siyar’s reign, the brief reigns of Rafi‘ ud-Darjat and Rafi‘ ud-Daulah, Ibrahim and Neku Siyar. Per Prof. Askari, the author spends a significant amount of page space on the Sikhs, describing them in relatively sympathetic terms. He is less generous in his account of Banda Singh Bahadur, but provides useful details regarding his career.

 

Keywords: Farrukh Siyar, Farrukhsiyar, Mughal, Sayyid Brothers, Banda Singh Bahadur, Sikh, 18th century, Delhi

 

Posted: May 17th, 2020 

 

Syed Hasan Askari. “Ibratnama – Kamraj” in Encyclopedia of Sikhism, Vol. 2 E-I, Punjabi University Patiala, India (1992), pp. 298-299.

This text offers a contemporary version of affairs between the end of Aurangzeb’s reign in 1707 through the accession of Muhammad Shah in 1719. The author’s perspective is of a long-time servant of the Mughals whose forefathers had also served the throne. Prof. Askari notes that this ‘Ibratnamah is a portion of a larger text, called the A‘zam al-Harb, written for Prince A‘zam. Prof. Askari notes that the narrative is frequently disordered and, despite the possibility that some of it was based on eyewitness account, often vague. References to Sikhs are unsympathetic. but may offer useful details on the career and death of Banda Singh Bahadur.

 

Keywords: 18th century, Azam Shah, Mughal, Sikh, Banda Singh Bahadur, Delhi, Farrukh Siyar, Farrukhsiyar, Jahandar, Bahadur Shah, Punjab

 

Posted: May 17th, 2020 

 

 

Syed Hasan Askari. “Hisab-i-Afwaj-Maharaja Ranjit Singh” in Encyclopedia of Sikhism, Vol. 2 E-I, Punjabi University Patiala, India (1992), pp. 277-278

 

The anonymous Hisab-i Afwaj Maharaja Ranjit Singh records the accounts of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s army, written in both Persian and Gurmukhi scripts. It includes three main sections: cavalry, infantry, and artillery. Per Prof. Askari, it includes muster rolls of different units, and also provides a list of different types of camp followers and service providers, as well as their typical monthly pay. The manuscript illuminates several features of the Sikh army, including the fact that it was a multi-religious and multi-ethnic affair, into which Afghans, Hindus, Gurkhas, Punjabi Muslims, Rajputs, Europeans and others were recruited.

 

Keywords: warfare, accountancy, military, household, institution, Sikh, recruitment, Mughal, muster roll, soldiers, 18th century, British East India Company, Ranjit Singh

Posted: May 17th, 2020

 

Syed Hasan Askari. “Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri” in Encyclopedia of Sikhism, Vol. 4 S-Z, Punjabi University Patiala, India (1992), pp. 371-372.

This encyclopedia entry describes the autobiographical work of the Mughal emperor Jahangir (1605-1627), outlining the history of its critical study and translation, as well as the history of the text’s composition. Prof. Askari offers a brief summary of Jahangir’s life, his character, and his personal religious orientation (highlighting Jahangir’s engagement with Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi, the religious scholar and critic of Jahangir’s father, Akbar). Prof. Askari here puts forward the view that it was under Sirhindi’s influence that Jahangir arrested and then executed Guru Arjan (1563-1606). Still, in an extended quotation from the Tuzuk, Prof. Askari highlights a key passage that points to a more prosaic reason for Jahangir’s order: Guru Arjan’s apparent show of support for Jahangir’s rival Khusrau, as well as Guru Arjan’s broad-based and autonomous popularity in the region.

 

Keywords: Jahangir, 17th century, autobiography, Guru Arjun, Guru Arjan, Sirhindi, religious policy, Punjab, Sikhism

 

Posted: May 17th, 2020 

 

Syed Hasan Askari. “Tarikh-i-Panjab, Tuhfat ul-Albab” in Encyclopedia of Sikhism, Vol. 4 S-Z, Punjabi University Patiala, India (1992), pp. 320-321.

 

This encyclopedia entry describes the Tarikh-i-Panjab Tufhat ul-Albab, written by Maulvi Munshi Abdul Karim Alawi and printed in 1849. The text offers a description of the Anglo-Sikh wars of 1845-46 and 1848-49, and additionally provides illustrations of battle plans, maps of the relevant countryside, as well as full versions of dispatches and manifestoes. Prof. Askari describes the author’s background and qualifications, notices that the author confuses certain key points of Sikh history, but finds him stronger on administrative and military details.

 

Keywords: Anglo-Sikh wars, British East India Company, Punjab, annexation, Sikhism

 

Posted: May 17th, 2020 

 

Syed Hasan Askari. “Tarikh-i-Iradat Khan” in Encyclopedia of Sikhism, Vol. 4 S-Z, Punjabi University Patiala, India (1992), pp. 319.

Here Professor Askari offers a short description of the Khuda Bakhsh Library’s manuscript copy of the Tarikh-i Iradat Khani. The text is a memoir written by Mirza Mubarakullah Wazih, and describes the politically unstable era between 1707-1714, during which time three different Mughal rulers occupied the throne. In light of the Encyclopedia of Sikhism’s area of focus, Prof. Askari highlights the text’s description of the battle of Lohgarh against Banda Singh Bahadur, a Sikh military commander who would later be martyred during the reign of Farrukh Siyar (1713-1719).

 

Keywords: 18th century, Farrukhsiyar, Farrukh Siyar, Banda Bahadur Singh, Bahadur Shah, Jahandar, Mughal, Sikh, Punjab

 

Posted: May 17th, 2020 

 

 

Syed Hasan Askari. “Tarikh-i-Muzaffari” in Encyclopedia of Sikhism, Vol. 4 S-Z, Punjabi University Patiala, India (1992), pp. 319-320.

The Tarikh-i Muzaffari was written by Muhammad ‘Ali Khan Ansari, a resident of the city of Panipat. The text, written in 1810, offers a generic summary of Mughal history up through Aurangzeb’s reign, but provides a much more careful study of the following century, including the invasion of Nadir Shah and later of Ahmad Shah Durrani. Prof. Askari highlights key sections he believe will be of interest to students of Sikh history, namely the description of the campaign against Banda Singh Bahadur and of the Sikh alliance with Jat and Afghan parties against the Mughal prime minister Najaf Khan (d. 1782). Prof. Askari notes that Ansari offered a comparatively sympathetic perspective on Sikh actors.

 

Keyword: Nadir Shah, Ahmad Shah Durrani, Banda Singh Bahadur, Najaf Khan, Mughals, 18th century, Sikhism, Punjab

 

Posted: May 17th, 2020 

 

Syed Hasan Askari. “Satnami” in Encyclopedia of Sikhism, Vol. 4 S-Z, Punjabi University Patiala, India (1992), pp. 77.

Here, Prof. Askari defines the term ‘Satnami’ for the Encyclopedia of Sikhism. He notes that the term describes those who worship only the Supreme Being. Sikhs are amongst those who claim the term for themselves but are not the only group. Others include the Sadhs, a north Indian sect founded in the 16th century. Others include a group founded by Jagjivan Das (b. 1682) in Bihar, born out of the Kabirpanthi lineage, and a sect branched off from the Raidasis, found in Chhattisgarh, by Ghasi Ram (an untouchable by caste) in the 1820s. Prof. Askari goes into some detail about the last of these communities, describing their fasting and worship habits, their sartorial choices, and rejection of meat and alcohol.

 

Keywords: religion, sect, Sadh, Kabirpanthi, Raidasi, Ghasi Ram, Bihar, Jagjivan Das, religious community, early modern religion

 

Posted: May 17th, 2020 

 

Syed Hasan Askari. “Tahmasnamah,” in Encyclopedia of Sikhism, Vol. 4 S-Z, Punjabi University Patiala, India (1992), pp. 299-300.

This manuscript, written by Tahmas Khan ‘Miskin,’ is written in an autobiographical style, divided into a series of short stories of unequal length, mostly undated. It covers the three decades leading up to 1782, focusing on Punjab.Per Prof. Askari, the author was either Armenian or Kurdish, and had been brought to India as a captive infant by one of Nadir Shah’s soldiers. In India, he was sold and then trained as a soldier before later serving as a free man under a number of masters. He took part in several campaigns against the Sikhs, and offers details on affairs such as Diwan Kaura Mall’s death in battle against Ahmad Shah Durrani (1752) and the occupation of Lahore by the Sikhs and Marathas (1758). His descriptions offer insight into the cruelty and violence used by military forces against the Sikh combatants.

 

Keywords: 18th century, Punjab, Nadir Shah, military slavery, Ahmad Shah Durrani, Lahore, Sikh, Maratha

 

Posted: May 17th, 2020 

1998

Prof. S. H. Askari. “Sirat-i-Firozshahi: An Introduction” in Sirat-i Firuzshahi: Nuskhah-i Khuda Bakhsh, edited by S. H. Askari, Patna: Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Public Library Journal, Vol. 111, 1998, pp 1-22.

 

Professor Syed Hasan Askari offers here a thoughtful and engaging introduction to the rare Sirat-i Firuz Shahi, written by an anonymous author in 1370-71. The rest of this published version of the Persian text is a facsimile of the only known copy of manuscript, held by the Khuda Bakhsh Library. Prof. Askari describes the text’s layout – with a narrative opening segment providing an account of the political history and military campaigns of the author’s patron, Sultan Firuz Shah Tughluq (r. 1351-1388), followed by a “composite milieu” of descriptive text, focusing on topics such as royal hunting culture, religions, medicine, anatomy, astronomy, as well as archeology and architecture. Prof. Askari offers for the interested reader a careful study of the manuscript’s seals (indicating prior ownership), and comments on the document’s at time’s peculiar scribal habits and word choices. Of particular interest (to more recent scholars as well as to India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, see p. 22) is the Sirat’s unusual illustrations, which portray the manner by which the Ashokan pillar eventually erected at the Firuz Shah Kotla in Delhi was first carried there across hundreds of miles. Although we know nothing about the author, barring his seemingly close relationship with the Sultan, Prof. Askari is able to provide a richly textured study of the text he produced and indirectly, the mindset that lay behind it.

 

 

Keywords: Firuz Shah Tughluq, Delhi Sultanate, 14th century, archeology, Jawaharlal Nehru, Persian manuscripts, orthography

 

Posted: March 18th, 2020 

1999

Prof. S. H. Askari “Gleanings from a unique manuscript of epistolary collection” in Khuda Bakhsh Library Journal, Vol. 116 (1999), pp. 1-46.

 

This extensive article offers a detailed overview of the contents of an unusual epistolary collection, the Madan al-Insha, compiled by Ram Sanehi Chiranjiv Das in the early 18th century. The article begins and ends with Professor Syed Hasan Askari expressing his hope that a younger generation might take up the difficult (but, Prof. Askari comments, rewarding) labor of closely reading these sorts of unusual texts. Professor Askari describes the 18th c. compiler has having “no fixed criterion, test, or measure of value to judge the […] fitness of […] materials he […] incorporated in his work.” Nevertheless, Professor Askari seems to delight in the manuscript’s contents. This included all manner of materials ranging from important correspondence between members of the Mughal royal family, high-ranking nobility, and the Safavid court to descriptive texts delighting in subject matter ranging from the smoking of tobacco to poetry and dancing girls, and the weddings of Mughal princes Sulaiman Shikoh and Kambakhsh. Another correspondence between two Iranians, in which the two sparred over the relative qualities of Hindustan and Iran. A large number of documents appear to have focused on Deccan-based affairs, including 17th century correspondence with the Safavids about Shivaji, and descriptions of important early 18th century battles between Hussain Ali Khan Barha and Daud Khan Panni, and of Nizam al-Mulk and Mubariz Khan. The significant presence of Deccan-based material in this seemingly Bihari manuscript points to the continued importance of Deccani politics to north Indian observers in the 18th century. Professor Askari concludes this engaging tour of the Madan al-Insha with the hope that some younger scholar - competent, energetic, and not suffering from cataracts - would take up his work on this manuscript.

 

Keywords: Insha, Mughals, Deccan, 17th century, 18th century, Aurangzeb, Farrukhsiyar, Afghans, Bihar, epistolary arts, nobility, princes, Safavids, Shivaji

 

Posted: February 29th, 2020

2000

S. H. Askari. "Ganj-E Arsadi", Encyclopedia Iranica, Vol. X, Fasc. 3, 2000, p. 280

 

This article offers a brief description of the Ganj-i Arshadi, an early 18th-century collection of sayings (malfuzat) by the Jaunpur saint Arshad Badr al-Haqq (1637-1701). It was compiled in 1721-1722 by his son and successor Abul Fayyaz Qamar al-Haqq. Prof. Askari argues that, despite its “bombastic” and “exaggerated” style, the text nevertheless offers insight into 18th-century Indo-Muslim lift, particularly details of the family of Shah Arshad, the educational process in late-medieval madrasas and khanaqas, and the linguistic connections between Persian and Hindavi in this period.

 

Keywords: Sufism, Arshad Badr al-Haqq, Chishtis, Chishtiyya, 18th century, Persian, Indo-Persian, Jaunpur, Phulwari Sharif, Malfuzat

 

Posted: November 30th, 2020

Unpublished

Professor Syed Hasan Askari. “Guru Gobind Singh on Himself and as Seen by Others”, KBL Unpublished Article, pp: 1-25

 

One of the key lessons of this article is the necessity of expanding scholarship on the history of the Sikh religion and evolution of its philosophies. Prof. Askari takes as his starting point the apparent disjuncture between the stated ideals of the Sikh tradition’s founder, Guru Nanak, and the mature Khalsa institution, traditionally conceived as the inspiration of Sikhism’s tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh. He argues that the seemingly transformational nature of the Khalsa and its founding under Guru Gobind Singh was born over a longer period, of necessity. Prof. Askari also proposes a reexamination of available sources, including little-used materials such as Qasim Lahori’s Ibrat Nama and Ibrat Maqal (1723), to piece together details of Guru Gobind Singh’s life and the tensions between his growing religious following and his political power and conflict with the Mughal court. Prof. Askari’s plea for more scholarly work on Sikh history has since been taken up by others. More recent work such as that of Purnima Dhavan has fruitfully plumbed the relationship between Sikh tradition and the fertile military labor marketplace of early modern Punjab, as well as the evolution of the Khalsa institution before and after Guru Gobind Singh’s life.

 

Keywords: Sikhism, soldiering communities, Guru Nanak, Guru Gobind Singh, Qasim Lahori, Mughal Empire, Punjab, Panjab, 17th century, 18th century

 

Posted: March 24th, 2021

Professor Syed Hasan Askari. “Baba Nanak”, KBL Unpublished Article, pp: 1-25.

 

In this article, Prof. Askari builds a case for the necessity of further historical study of the Sikh tradition. Towards this end, he presents here a broad outline of the challenges inherent to a study of the Sikh tradition’s founder, Guru Nanak. He notes parallels with the study of the Islamic tradition and of finding reliable sources on which to draw for details of these men’s lives. Prof. Askari expresses disappointment in early source materials, and particularly of our ability to separate fact from mythology in sources that post-date Guru Nanak’s life. He explores a range of possible sources that he suggests scholars may find useful, before turning to the so-called “pre-history” of Sikh thought: from where did philosophers such as Guru Nanak, Kabir, and others find their inspiration? Moving away from the tendency of some earlier scholars to try to impose genealogies tracing Sikh beliefs to either “Hindu” or “Muslim” origin, Prof. Askari instead argues that Sikhism was at its founding primarily “a protest against the religious and social conditions prevailing in northern India towards the latter half of the 15th century.”

 

Keywords: Sikhism, Guru Nanak, bhakti, Sufism, Mughal Empire, caste, gender, social critique, 15th century, 16th century, Kabir, Ramanand, Raidas

 

Posted: March 24th, 2021