Historiography

 

Late Professor Qeyammudian Ahmad initiated the cataloging of Professor Askari's literary works in early 1960s and classified them under the following categories.


1. Political History: Reference to General and Provincial  (Bihar, Bengal and Orissa) History with respect to Mughal Emperors and other notables and eminent personalities.
2. Religious and Cultural History: Reference to Sufism and the Sufis in medieval eastern India
3. Source Materials: Critical assessment of Indo-Persian works of basic importance such as Amir Khusrau's Risail-i-Ijaz-Khusrawi and some of his other works, Muhammad Kabir's Afsana-i-Shahan, Karam Ali's Muzaffar Namah, Hasan Nizami's Taajul Maasir, Awfi's Jawami-ul-Hikmat and Ikhtisan's Basatinul Uns etc. Also worked on unnoticed Malfuzat and poetical composition of Sufi Saints; collection of letters, documents, inscriptions, coins, etc. The list goes on..... 
4. Local, Linguistic & Social History: Reference to unknown & less known monuments and relics, other historical topics
5. Book Reviews, Prefaces, Forewords


Professor Askari also authored a large number of research papers in Urdu on topics of historical, cultural, general political and provincial and linguistic history. He documented a series of articles at different intervals on the history of Bihar under the Mughal Emperors from Babur to Farrukhsiyar in addition to the eminent personalities of Bihar in the second half of the eighteenth century; Raja Ram Narain and Shitab Rai, Nawab Munir-ud-Dawlah, Shaikh Hazin etc. Taken together, these writings constitute a nucleus of a detailed provincial history of Bihar (1930 - 1945). Professor Askari then focused on a critical but neglected area; Sufism and the Sufis (1946 and onward). 

Listed below are few of the many topics in this regard.

 

  • Amir Khusrau

  • Some letters of and relating to Tipu Sultan

  • Awfi's Jawami-ul-Hikayat

  • Afsana-i-Badshahan or Tarikh Afghani - (Urdu)

  • Afsana-i-Badshahan ya Tarikh-i-afghani ka ek kamyab Nuskha (I,ii) - (Urdu)

  • Awadhi works including Padmawat and Akhrawat of Malik Muhammad Jaisi

  • Awraq-i-Parina

  • Awwalin Musalman aur desi Bhashaen - (Urdu)

  • Baba Nanak in History and Persian Sources

  • Bahadur Shah in Rangoon

  • Basatin-ul-Uns (a rare literary work of the 14th century)

  • Bengal Revolution of 1757 and Raja Ram Narain

  • Betel chewing custom among the early Muslims of India

  • Bihar during the 1st quarter of the 17th century

  • Bihar during the Turko  (Afghan period based on epigraphical sources)

  • Bihar in the first quarter of 17th century

  • Bihar in the first quarter of 18th century

  • Bihar in the time of Akbar (I,ii)

  • Bihar in the time of Aurangzeb (I,ii,iii)

  • Bihar in the time of Babar and Humayun

  • Bihar in the time of later Lodis

  • Bihar in the time of Shahjahan

  • Bihar in the time of the last two Lodi Sultans

  • Bihar under later Tughlaqs and Sharqis

  • Bihar's manuscript of Padmavat

  • Buddhism-Sanskrit Literature - Greatest Scholar Rahil Sankrityayan’s contribution (Hindi)

  • Chait Singh and Hastings (from Persian sources)

  • Chandain az Mulla Daud aur Mainasat az Miyan Sadhan (qadeem hindi prem kathaian)  (I,ii) - (Urdu)

  • Contemporary correspondence describing events at Delhi at the time of Nadir Shah's invasion

  • Correspondence of Shaikh Ali Hazin and Raja Ram Narain

  • Cultural History of Medieval Bihar

  • Dabistan-i-Mazahib

  • Dakani Urdu Makhtutat per ek nazar - (Urdu)

  • Dastur Mulla Firoz musanif Jarjnamah - (Urdu)

  • Dastur-ul-Amal

  • Dawn of Alivardi's fortune

  • Decline of Tughlaq hold and struggles for control over Bihar (Bihar under Firoze Shah Tughlaq and the later Tughlaqs)

  • Delhi after the battle of Karnal 1739

  • Diwan of 17th century saint Syed Raja

  • Diwan-e-Nanak Shah

  • Durani-Rajput negotiations 1759-1761

  • Education - Aspects of Society and Religion

  • Eighth century manuscript on embassies and amanuenses of the Prophet of Islam)

  • Establishment of the Nuhani Kingdom in Bihar

  • Fifteenth century Shuttari Sufi saint of north Bihar

  • Firoz Shah Tughlaq and His Times: A study of the rare Manuscript of Tarikh-i-Firoz Shahi

  • Firuz and his times (Sidelight)

  • Fort William India House Correspondence, 1787-1791

  • Fresh light on Shaikh Ali Hazin and his tours in eastern Hindustan

  • Ganj-i-Arshadi

  • Ganj-i-Fayyazi (Khanwada-i-Rasheediya's  Malfuz)

  • Gauhar Jauhri, suba Bihar ki aik qadeem aur nayab urdu musnavi - (Urdu)

  • Gharib ka Urdu Kalam - (Urdu)

  • Guru Gobind Singh

  • Hagiological literature (historical value)

  • Hazrat (Syed) Abdul Quddus Gangohi aur unka Hindi kalam

  • Hazrat Ahmad Chirmposh, a 14th century Sufi saint of Bihar

  • Hazrat Hesamuddin, the 15 century Chishti saint of Manikpur

  • Hindi fanun-i-latifa aur Chandain ki chand tasviren - (Urdu)

  • Hindu Nobility Under Akbar (1556-1605)

  • History of Bengal

  • Humayun

  • Hunting in early Medieval period

  • Hussaini Miyan 'Zareef'

  • Ijaz-i-Khusravi

  • Illm-ut-Tarikh

  • Indo Muslim History 

  • Indo-Persian political relations in the age of Great Mughals

  • Indo-Persian relations with special reference to the Deccan

  • Insha-i-Gharib and Insha-i-Ulfat of Lala Ujagar Chand Ulfat (I-III)

  • Iqbalnama

  • Isherat: ascribed to the Makhdum of Bihar

  • Islam and Muslims in Medieval Bihar 

  • Islam Khan's campaign in Assam

  • Istidrak bar Nuskha-i-Mufeed-ul-Insha - (Urdu)

  • Jaisi aur chand Musalman Hindi shoara ke kalam ka ek qadim nuskha - (Urdu)

  • Jangnama (i,ii, iii, iv, v) - Aik Kamyab hindi mazmoon tareekh - (Urdu)

  • Journal of an 18th century officer

  • Kai Kard ke Na Yaft - (Urdu)

  • Kali Babu, My Friend - Reminiscences

  • Kalim Saheb

  • Kalyan Singh's Khulasat-ul-Tawarikh

  • Kuch Hazrat Makhdum-i-Bihar ke Malafeez o Makateeb ke Mutalliq - (Urdu)

  • Kuchh Hashr se mutalliq - (Urdu)

  • Letter of Shah Alam to George III

  • Life and conditions as depicted in Risail-i-Ijaz-Khusravi

  • Madaan-ul-Insha, a rare collection of historical letters

  • Madari Sufi Saint of Hilsa

  • Maharaja Kalyan Singh Ashiq "The last native Governor of Bihar"

  • Mahmud Gawan and his book Manazir-ul-Insha

  • Majmua-i-Yusufi by the historian Yusuf Ali Khan

  • Maktub literature as a source of socio-political history -  The Maktubat of a Sufi of Firdausi Order of Bihar

  • Malfuz of a 17 century Shuttari saint of Bihar

  • Malfuzat: An untapped source of Social History - Ganj-i-Arshadi of the Jaunpur school

  • Malfuzats and Maktubats of a 14th century Sufi saint of Bihar

  • Malik Bayyu

  • Manuscript of Inayatullah's Ahkam-i-Alamgiri

  • Manuscript of Maktubat-i-Sadi

  • Maratha Activities as known from some Persian Literary Sources

  • Masnavi-i-Gauhar-Jauhari

  • Material of Historic Interest in Ijaz-i-Khusravi

  • Mausoleum of Nawab Haibat Jung

  • Medicines and Hospitals in Muslim India

  • Mid-eighteen century Indian History

  • Mirat-ul-Muluk, a contemporary work containing references on later Mughal administration

  • Mirza Muhammad Baqar Najm-i-Thani

  • Movement of Nizam Ali Khan and the Marathas November 1773 -June 1774

  • Mughal - Koch relations

  • Mughal naval weakness and Aurangzeb's attitude towards traders and pirates on the western coast

  • Mulla Daud's Chandain and Sadhan's Mainasat - (Urdu)

  • Munshaat-i-Hussaini, a collection of Browne's correspondence

  • Muntakhab-ul-Insha and Inayatnama-i-Nasar, two unknown collection of letters

  • Music in the early Indo-Persian literature

  • Muzzaffarnama

  • Nawab Muniruddaula, a minister of Shah Alam II

  • Nuskha (Khulasat-ul-Ansab) - (Urdu)

  • Nuskha-i-Dilkusha (I,ii,iii)  - Ahwal -e-Alamgir - (Urdu)

  • Nuskha-i-Mufid-ul Insha

  • Pandherween sadi ke aik bihari sufi buzrg - (Urdu)

  • Persian Letter of Mir Qasim

  • Persian manuscript by a Hindu news printer

  • Political and Economic Fragments from  Risail-ul-Ijaz of Amir Khusrau

  • Political significance of Hazin's career in India

  • Political significance of the movement of Syed Ahmad Barelvi

  • Princess Zebun-Nisa, Facts and Fiction

  • Professor Mahfooz-Ul-Haq (Obituary)

  • Qazi Saheb, Alim aur Insaan - (Urdu)

  • Qurun-e-wusta ke Bihar mein Islami Tasawwuf ki Tarikhi Ahmiyat - (Urdu)

  • Qutban's Mirgavat, a rare manuscript in Persian script

  • Raja Dhiraj Narain

  • Raja Ganesh and Sultan Ibrahim of Jaunpur (from contemporary correspondence of two Muslim saints) 

  • Raja Jugal Kishore's despatches regarding the sack of Delhi by Nadir Shah

  • Raja Ram Das Kachhwaha

  • Raja Ram Narain and post-Plassey Affairs

  • Rare fragment of Chandain and Mirgavati

  • Risail-ul-Ijaz of Amir Khusrau (An Appraisal)

  • Rise of Nuhanis in Bihar and Establishment  of the Nuhani Kingdom

  • Ruqquat-i-Hasan

  • Sacking of Delhi by Nadir Shah

  • Sandesh Rasak, ek Musalman ki Apbharamshai Hindi mein manzoom kitab - (Urdu)

  • Scrap books of Bayaz (historical contents) 

  • Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 by an Anglo-Indian (Verified contemporary account in Persian)

  • Shahnama Munawwar Kalam

  • Sharqi Kingdom/Monarchy of Jaunpur - A political and cultural history

  • Shujauddin Muhammad Khan

  • Shumaili Hind ke Sufia Kalam ki Hindi Dosti - (Urdu)

  • Sikh-Muslim relationship in Mughal era

  • Sirat-i-Firoz Shahi

  • Sitara Ya Baadbaan - (Urdu)

  • Some aspects of the social life in Medieval Bihar as glimpsed from works of Lexicon

  • Some trends of linguistic assimilation in the early medieval period

  • Some unpublished letters of Raja Ram Narain regarding Shah Alam II's invasion of Bihar

  • Sources of the History of Education in Medieval Bihar

  • Sources, social groups, customs & ceremonies, dress and dietary (Aspects of society and religion)

  • Studies in Indo-Muslim History

  • Suba Bihar (Sharif) mein Qalmi kitabo (Nushkon) ke Zakhire - (Urdu)

  • Sufi hagiological works of the Sultanate period (historical value)

  • Sufism and Hinduism interaction between the two

  • Sufism in medieval Bihar (i,ii,iii)

  • Superstitious beliefs and practices in India

  • Sur Vansh ka Itihas - (Urdu)

  • Tabqat-i-Baburi (Sheikh Zainuddin  Khawani)

  • Taj-ul-Maasir of Hasan Nizami

  • Tārīkh-i Farrukhʹsiyar va avāʼil-i ʻahd-i Muḥammad Shāh, maʻrūf bih Shāhʻnamah-i munavvar kalām  by Shīv Dās Lakʹhnavī

  • Tarikh-i-Kashmir (I,ii) - (Urdu)

  • Tazkira-i-Murshidi, a rare Malfuz of 15th century Sufi saint of Gulbarga

  • The Baharul- Ashar (Travelogue of South Asia)

  • The City of Patna, Etymology of Place-Names

  • The correspondence of two 14th century Sufi saints of Bihar with contemporary sovereigns of Delhi and Bengal

  • The Maktubat of a Sufi of Firdausi Order of Bihar

  • The Malfuzat of some Sufi Saints of Bihar

  • The Nizam and Cornwallis

  • The Progeny of Aurangzeb

  • The Rise and Fall of Muhammad Tughlaq

  • The synthesizing role of the Muslim poets of Hindi

  • The Ujjainiya ancestors of Babu Kunwar Singh

  • Timur Shah and an Indian prince

  • Turki salateen hind key ibtedai daur mein shikar

  • Two Lexicographical works of Medieval Bihar as Source Material for the Study of Contemporary Social History

  • Ujagar Chand Ulfat 

  • Ujagar Chand Ulfat aur unki Naadir Ghair-Matbua Tasneef - (Urdu)

  • Ujagar Chand Ulfat ka Urdu Kalam - (Urdu)

  • Unpublished correspondence relating to Maharaja Madho Singh of Jaipur and some of his contemporaries

  • Unpublished letters of Raja Ram Narain

  • Urdu Hindi zabanen - (Urdu)

  • Various Persian manuscripts (historical contents)

  • Verelst's rule in India

  • Wali Vellori ki who majlis ka eik qadeem aur mutaber makhtuta - (Urdu)

  • Zafar Nama-i-Alamgiri

  • Zain Badr Arabi

  • Zaman Shah and Prince Mirza Ahsan Bakht

Reflections on the Writings of Syed Hasan Askari​

Not many persons become a legend in their lifetime; but Syed Hasan Askari was one of them. His contribution to the study of the history of Medieval Bihar is unmatched and unforgettable. His writings on Bihar, spread over a period of more than four decades, in English and Urdu, cover a broad range: historiography, sources, political, social and cultural history, tasawwuf, hagiology, language and literature and eminent personalities. At the same time, he wrote about the political and social history of medieval India, in general, and on varied topics ranging from manuscripts to coins, monuments and inscriptions.  However, the two prominent themes on which he wrote continuously, consistently and comprehensively, were Medieval Bihar and its Sufis. It is estimated that he wrote over 200 articles. Unfortunately, many of these have now been lost; firstly, because Askari Saheb, as he was respectfully called, never kept a record of his writings; secondly, he was quite generous in giving his writing for publication to anyone who requested for it. Consequently, many of his articles were published in newspapers – and some in non-descript journals – which have now been lost. 

A fairly detailed list of Askari’s writings appears in Readings in Indian History (1); though, it is not complete. The major themes mentioned in this List include the following:-

  1. Political History of India, especially eastern India (Bihar, Bengal and Orissa)

  2. Biographies of eminent Sufi saints of Bihar and India; their Discourses and Epistles

  3. Critical Evaluation of Historical Sources – some texts being his personal discovery

  4. Specimens of early Urdu/Hindi  (Bhasha)  poetry – mainly by the Sufis

  5. Edited and Translated versions of Works on Mughal History

  6. Miscellaneous Writings : personalities, monuments, epigraphs and coins

                            This list provides the only – albeit incomplete – clue to S.H. Askari’s immense contribution to the domain of medieval Indian history. He also delivered a number of lectures on some of the above themes in renowned academic institutions. These have also been published.

(I)

                                It would not be out of place to briefly recall these general writings before focusing on the twin themes: Medieval Bihar and the Sufis. His writings on the political history of India dealt mainly with the Mughal rulers and covered diverse subjects; but these are in the nature of isolated essays (2), some of which even refer to the early Colonial period. Although they lack chronological or thematic continuity, each article in itself is a treasure-house of information culled from original sources. He also wrote about the Sufi saints of Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh. These articles provided the biographical details about these saints that were utilized by scholars in some of the later writings about them, a fact duly acknowledged in the Encyclopaedia Iranica. Historical sources, mainly unnoticed manuscripts, were his forte. He made a critical assessment of important standard works, such as Hasan Nizami’s Taju`l Ma`asir, Ikhtisan Dehlavi’s Basatin ul-Uns, Amir Khusrau’s Ejaz-e Khusrawi (3), Muhammad Kabir’s Afsana-e Shahan and Karam Ali’s Muzaffar Namah. These sources cover almost the entire span of medieval Indian history, from 13th to 18th centuries. Three of these works are particularly useful in the context of the history of Bihar. The Basatin ul-Uns is a first-hand account of Ghiyasuddn Tughlaq’s campaigns in Tirhut, the Afsana-i Shahan provides information about the Afghan rulers and chiefs of Bihar, and the Muzaffar Namah gives the history of Bihar from the days of Alivardi Khan till the year 1772.  

                        Askari’s command over the Persian language and familiarity with the manuscripts was exceptional. Paul Jackson, who obtained his doctorate under Askari’s supervision, on the ideas and message of Sharafuddin Yahya Maneri, has written: “I thought it would be possible to skim through the Persian manuscripts and pick out the important features of Maneri’s teachings. To my utter consternation, I could scarcely even read the manuscripts. It was in this situation that Askari Saheb came to my rescue”(4). He also helped his friend, K. K. Datta, in utilising the Persian sources for his research on the history of the house of Alivardi Khan (5).

                         Askari also made a seminal contribution to historiography through the various Reports that he presented before the Indian Historical Records Commission and the Regional Records Survey Committee. His close association with these two bodies led to explorations in the interior parts of undivided Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh. His efforts were well rewarded as these led to the discovery of several manuscripts and documents. He was very keen in his quest for manuscripts. It was at his behest that many rare manuscripts were added to the Khuda Bakhsh Library Collection; the most important being the Diwan of the Mughal Emperor, Humayun.     

                        His interest in the history of the Mughal period led to the editing and translation – from Persian to English – of some useful texts relating to the later Mughals. These include the Shahnamah Munawwar Kalam of Shivdas Lakhnawi and Iqbalnamah by an anonymous author. He also translated into English the Tabqat-i Babari of Zainuddin (6).  While the first two are important sources for the study of the later Mughals, the last is a paraphrased translation of Babar’s Memoirs, Tuzuk-i Babari. The translated versions provide access to numerous non-Persian knowing scholars to additional source-material on the later Mughals. He also edited the XLIVth volume of the Fort William-India House Correspondence. His last major publication was the Comprehensive History of Bihar, Volume II, parts 1 & 2 (CHB,II) (7), which he edited jointly with his close pupil – and later colleague – Qeyamuddin Ahmad. It was published by the Kashi Prasad Jayaswal Research Institute, of which he was Honorary Director for seven years (1962-69).

                          Another important work of Askari was the English translation of the Sirat-e Firoz Shahi, a rare text (8) about the reign of Firoz Shah Tughlaq and his varied interests in history, astronomy, politics, ethics, law, theology, etc. The book also records the important political and administrative decisions – and the economic reforms – of Firoz which led to overall prosperity in his kingdom. Unfortunately, in spite of several attempts, the work has remained unpublished.

 

(II)

                        We can now turn to the history of Medieval Bihar. After the long, rich and glorious phase of the history of Magadh, from Bimbisara to the Guptas, the region was relegated to an inferior position in the early medieval period as the nucleus of political life shifted further west to Kannauj. But, a new phase began by the turn of the 13th century C.E. Significantly, ‘Bihar’ obtained its nomenclature at this time when it was first referred to by this name in the Tabaqat-i Nasiri of Minhaj us-Seraj. By the early 14th century the north and south Gangetic plains were integrated after Ghiyasuddin’s successful campaign against the Karnata kingdom. Subsequently, Bihar became the nerve-centre of Afghan resistance to the Mughals. Under Sher Shah, by the mid-16th century, Bihar came to have almost the same territorial boundaries as those that exist now. By 1580, Bihar became a subah of the Mughal Empire under Akbar. It remained so until it was amalgamated with Bengal and Orissa by the 18th century.

                          Apart from these events of the mainstream political history, north Bihar also saw the rise of the Karnata kingdom and the patronage – by its rulers – of the cultural efflorescence in Mithila. In central Bihar, the Ujjainiyas, rose to power and their descendants continued to enjoy political influence under both the Mughal and Colonial rulers. Bihar was also the centre of the activities of some powerful tribal chiefs, especially the Cheros, who often played an important role in determining the course of events related to the mainstream political history. Under the Mughals, Bihar developed into a great and prosperous centre of international trade; and the economic history of the period constitutes a separate and significant theme. Medieval Bihar was also rich in intellectual and cultural activities which led to the evolution of synergetic trends in socio-cultural life. Askari’s writings cover the first and the last themes: political and socio-cultural history, only. Perhaps, this was due to the fact that his early writings came at a time, almost seven decades ago, when sources of political and cultural history were better known and studied.

              During the Turko-Afghan period, Bihar had a rather chequered political history. Its conquest, by Bakhtiyar Khalji, was distinct from the other parts of north India over which Aibak gained control in 1206. The Khalji chiefs who held control over Bihar and Bengal often tried to assert their independence of Delhi during the Mameluk period.  Aibak, Iltutmish and Balban were able to assert control over parts of Bihar and Bengal, while Alauddin Khalji had to remain content with the acceptance of his suzerainty by the Karnata rulers of north Bihar. South Bihar and Bengal remained under the control of the Balbanides of Bengal. Under the Tughluq Sultans, Bihar – now comprising both the northern and southern parts of the Gangetic plains – remained attached to the Empire, in spite of the efforts of Ilyas Shah and his successors to assert independent authority. These events were first brought to notice by Askari in his article on Bihar under the Turko-Afghan Rulers. This was a painstaking effort, because there is no detailed history of Bihar in the Persian language for this period, and the sporadic references in Tabaqat-i Nasiri or Sirat-i Firuz Shahi are inadequate. Askari had to depend on the limited available information and his treatment was rather brief. But this was compensated for by the chapters written by Hasan Nishat Ansari in CHB, II.

                          The collapse of the Tughluq Empire following the invasion of Timur, led to the contest between the Sultans of Bengal (Lakhnauti) and the Sharqi rulers of Jaunpur for control over the area of Bihar. The contest continued under the Lodis and culminated in the division of south Bihar between the Sultans of Delhi and Lakhnauti, with Munger as the frontier. Askari recorded these events in his article on Bihar under two Lodi Sultans (Sikandar and Ibrahim). He utilised the information provided by Tarikh-i Afaghina and other Persian works. The historically important phase of Bihar as an independent kingdom under the Nuhanis was a lacuna in the series. This was more than compensated for by the chapter written by Qeyamuddin Ahmad in CHB,II.

                         Askari’s writings on the Mughal period are more comprehensive in nature, for the obvious plenitude of standard Persian texts for the period. His seven articles on Bihar under the Mughals treat the historical events from the reign of Babar to Farrukhsiyar. The history of the Surs which was touched upon by Askari was also covered in more details in the chapter written by Brahmadeva Prasad Ambasthya in CHB,II.

                          Thus, Askari laid the foundation of the historiography of Medieval Bihar, during the decade of the 1940s and 50s, in a series of articles covering the period from early 13th to the latter half of the 18th century. Beginning with a survey of the epigraphical sources, he traced the history of Bihar – with main emphasis on the Mughal period – down to the days of the last ‘native’ governor of Bihar, Maharaja Kalyan Singh ‘Ashiq’. He concluded the series with a critical review of Kalyan Singh’s work Khulasat ut-Tawarikh, an important source of information on the political and intellectual response of the elite of Bihar to the advent of English rule. These different articles appeared in the Journal of Bihar Research Society, Proceedings of the Indian History Congress and the Current Studies (9). Some selected articles were reprinted by the Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Public Library (Patna) under the title Bihar in the Sultanate and Mughal Periods.  As mentioned earlier, these articles by Askari provide the core content of the chapters on political history of medieval Bihar contributed by Hasan Nishat Ansari and Brahmadeva Prasad Ambasthya in the CHB. Askari also contributed two fresh chapters – one by himself and the other in association with Qeyamuddin Ahmad – on the decline of Tughluq rule, and the early phase of Afghan rule, in Bihar (10).

       Askari was also a pioneer in the field of epigraphy of medieval Bihar. His rather brief references to inscriptions in his article on the history of Turko-Afghan rule in Bihar fructified in the comprehensive Corpus of the Arabic and Persian Inscriptions of Bihar by Qeyamuddin Ahmad (11). It should be borne in mind that the study and recording of the history of medieval Bihar was almost a life-long dedication for Askari. From the early 1940s to the late 1980s, the romance developed into a passion over a period of half-a-century.

 

(III)

                     The second major theme that attracted Askari’s interest was Sufism. Bihar was one of the regions of the Indo-Pak subcontinent where Sufism made an early entry. In fact, some time before the conquest of the area by Bakhtiyar Khalji, Bihar had been the abode of eminent Sufis. They included Hazrat Momin Arif and Imam Taj Faqih. Both of them were based at Maner, a small township to the west of Patna. A little later, the other silsilahs or Orders made their appearance in Bihar: Chishtis, Suharwardis, Madaris, Qadiris, Shuttaris and Firdausis. The last-mentioned developed as the most influential Sufi Order in Bihar, where it was introduced by Makhdum Sharafuddin Yahya Maneri.

                        Contrary to the popular notion that the Sufis were apolitical persons, we notice the Sufis of Bihar active in contemporary political happenings. In the early period, roughly the 12th-13th centuries, the Sufis came into conflict with local non-Muslim rulers. Imam Taj Faqih of Maner is an important early example. The two saints of Jaruha, Syed Ahmad and Syed Mohammad, popularly called Mamu-Bhanja, were killed in “a battle for their faith”. Owais Shaheed was killed by a local Chero chief, when he attempted to construct a mosque at Bania Basarh. There are many other examples. Some of these figures could have been soldiers who died in course of battles and were later sanctified in popular memory. Historically, these examples demonstrate the rather precarious hold of the Turkish rulers over Bihar – especially north Bihar – till as late as the 13th century. By the 14th century, Bihar came under effective control of the Tughluq rulers.

                          During this period, we find the Sufis of Bihar in regular contact with the Sultans of Delhi. The best example is provided by Makhdum Sharafuddin Maneri. He wrote several letters to Mohammad bin Tughluq and Firoz Shah. Riazul Islam has very aptly summed up the attitude of Makhdum Saheb in these words: “Maneri was neither close to the rulers as were the Suharwardis, nor was he averse to contact with royalty, as were the great Chishti saints. His approach to such matters was evidently marked by practicality, realism and moderation. The Makhdum attached great importance to the dispensation of justice by the sovereigns, and visualised a role for the mystic leaders in securing justice for the oppressed” (12). Several Sultans of Bengal also had reverential relations with the Sufis of Bihar.

                  Towards the middle of the 16th century, Bihar appeared on the centre-stage of north Indian politics. Some of the Sufis extended support to the early Mughals and some to the Afghans in the struggle for supremacy in Hindustan. During the reigns of Akbar and Jahangir, Mughal nobles like Raja Man Singh, Abdur Rahim Khan-e Khanan and Ibrahim Khan Kakar also had close relations with the Sufis of Maner.

                        More significantly, the Sufi saints made an enduring contribution towards promoting an atmosphere of tolerance, liberal conduct and assimilation of indigenous religious, social and cultural influences, which further enriched Islam and also strengthened the tradition of peace and harmony that were so deeply rooted in this region. Askari explored this important but neglected facet of the socio-religious life of Bihar. Beginning in 1946, with a series of articles on the greatest Sufi of Bihar, Makhdum Sharafuddin Ahmad Yahya Maneri, he brought to light the life and works of several other Sufis of the Firdausi, Shuttari and Madari silsilahs, in detail. He closely examined their ideas and teachings as contained in their Malfuzat (Discourses) and Maktubat (Epistles). He also analysed the information contained in the Tazkiras (Biographical notes on the Sufis) and highlighted the rich details of social, cultural and religious conditions described in these texts, especially the synergetic trends as reflected in contemporary social life. 

                         Another important theme in Askari’s writings was the contribution of the Sufis to the genre of prem-kathas, with mystic undertones. Besides examining the well-known texts like Malik Muhammad Jaisi’s Padmavat, Qutban’s Mrigawat and Manjhan’s Malti-Madhav, Askari wrote about lesser-known texts such as Mulla Daud’s Chandayan or Lorik-Chanda and Sadhan’s Mainasat. Further, he discovered some rare manuscripts of many of these works from the different khanqahs of Bihar, including a rare illustrated copy of Chandayan. It has been rightly stated that he was not merely an arm-chair historian but also an avid explorer who delved deep in the rich mine of hagiological literature, discovering scores of Persian manuscripts that were of immense value as primary sources. Many of his writings on this theme were also in the Urdu language.

 

(IV)

                        The appreciation of the Urdu writings of Askari has been essentially confined among the Urdu-knowing scholars. It needs wider circulation through translations. Three collections of these writings, about 40 in number, have been published: two by the Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Public Library and one by the Bihar Urdu Academy (13). There is some overlap in the selection of these articles, and quite a few are repeated in the two sets of publication. But the distinctive feature of the Academy’s Volume (the Maqalat) is a detailed editorial note by S. M. Hasnain. His incisive comments offer a clue to the evaluation of these writings, most of which were published in the 1930s to 1950s in the Urdu journal Ma`asir. It was edited by Kalimuddin Ahmad (Professor of English at Patna College) and published by the Daera-e Adab, a literary society established by Azimuddin Ahmad (Professor of Oriental Languages at Patna College). Some of these articles were published in their English version also.

                              These articles mainly deal with unpublished Persian manuscripts on Sufism, religion and literature. Of particular interest are the nine articles that describe the role of the Muslims (mainly the Sufis) in the growth of vernacular languages. He posited that these vernaculars were the outcome of the contact between the Muslims and Hindus in India. The Sufis also adopted these languages as a medium for their preaching. Since Sufism is a missionary creed, its votaries needed an effective medium for communicating their ideas to the common people. Their interaction gradually led to the rise of a syncretised language which in the Perso-Arabic script was identified as Urdu, and in its Sanskritised version as Hindi. Askari’s views were strikingly similar to contemporary linguists, such as Moulvi Abdul Haque (Baba-e Urdu) and Suniti Kumar Chatterji. He highlighted the trends of linguistic assimilation in Medieval India and pointed out that while the language of the works written during the period was Hindustani the script was invariably Perso-Arabic.

                             These writings were appreciated both by historians and linguists. He received the President’s Certificate of Honour in 1978, and was honoured by the Bihar Urdu Academy in 1979, for his contribution to Urdu language and its historiography. Other major awards followed in a regular manner. The Magadh University conferred on him D.Litt (Honoris Causa) in 1967 and the Patna University in 1984. He also received the Ghalib Award in 1975, the Padmashri in 1985 and the Bihar Ratna in the same year. 

 

(V)

                        At this point, let us reflect on some of the peculiar features of his writings. His was a sort of one-man workshop in which all the work from bringing in the material to processing and producing the finished article was often done by him alone. His commitment and dedication to his work was exemplary. He never cared for secretarial assistance or institutional funding of any kind. He was so engrossed with his work on a particular theme, at a particular time, that he “virtually lived with it, talking about it with anyone he came across”(14). But he lacked the patience and perseverance of a scholar who would analyse the sources and theorize about it (15). He neither took interest in the further development of the theme, nor tried to interweave these pieces of valuable information into a thematic continuity.  He would rather leave this work for others. Generally he would write about a new theme or unearth a new source. But he would not continue with it for long and would soon move over to exploring some new source and introducing it to the academic world. It was this urge within which made him continue working almost till the very end. The best analogy I can think of about his writings is that of an Urdu ghazal where each couplet or sher is complete in all respects, meaningful and stylistically perfect with an independent identity, distinct and separate from the preceding and succeeding couplets.

                         Askari was objective in his outlook and presentation of facts. He did not involve himself in the debate among the ‘Nationalist’, ‘Communalist’ and ‘Marxist’ Schools of historians. However, he appeared closer to the ‘Nationalist’ School. Although an avowed admirer of Jadunath Sarkar, he was strongly opposed to the communal bias in his writings, especially the observations related to Aurangzeb.

                        It is indeed a matter of satisfaction that his preliminary work of recording the political history of Medieval Bihar fructified during his life time – and under his editorship – in the Comprehensive History of Bihar, Volume II, parts 1 & 2. Unfortunately, his works on Sufism have not yet been developed into a similar Comprehensive History of Sufism in Bihar. It is hoped that in the coming years some competent young scholar would take up the work and prove himself a worthy successor to the legacy of Askari.

 

(VI)

                        Before concluding, I would mention briefly the compliments and tributes by the contemporaries and students of Syed Hasan Askari. Dr. A. R. Kidwai, who shared a close relationship with Askari right from the days of his first tenure as Governor of Bihar has stated: “in spite of his great learning, he was a man of humble and modest disposition. In this lies the greatness of his character. He was always ready to help anyone who came to him with some academic problem”. Askari’s colleague and friend, Jagdish Narain Sarkar wrote: “neither age nor loss of vision nor yet his immobility has been able to smother his insatiable urge of research. His is a living inspiration where the psyche dominates the physique; the spirit soars above the frail body. Askari still continues his trek to the temple of Clio, seeking light from the wisdom of bygone ages and disseminating it to his younger comperes” (16). Qeyamuddin Ahmad wrote about him: “he carried the weight of scholarship lightly on his shoulders. He shunned publicity and avoided public functions or formal assignments.....Spanning full nine decades of the previous century, S. H. Askari lived a full and fruitful life. With his death on 28 November, 1990, Bihar has lost one of its greatest historians who personified a rare blend of high scholarship, warm humanity and perfect gentlemanliness”.  I am also reminded of the day when Askari Saheb’s mortal remains were being buried in the grave.  I was standing beside Yogendra Mishra, another student and colleague of Askari. I could hear him say: “they say we live in deeds, not in years; Askari Saheb lived both in deeds and in years”.

 

Imtiaz Ahmad                                                                                  Former Director, Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Public Library, Patna.

2015

 

END-NOTES

  1. Readings in Indian History, (Syed Hasan Askari Centenary Volume) ed. B.K.Choudhary, (Patna, 2001), pp. 12-25.

  2. An exception is the series of four articles on Delhi in the aftermath of Nadir Shah’s invasion; but these are somewhat repetitive in their content.

  3. He wrote eight articles on Amir Khusrau, mainly based on the Risail-i Ijaz-i Khusrawi. These have been reprinted by the Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Public Library under the title Amir Khusrau as a Historian. Some of his writings on Amir Khusrau are also in Urdu.

  4. Readings, op.cit. p. 43.

  5. J. N. Sarkar, Historiography Then and Now: Medieval Bihar (Patna, 1989). P.134.

  6. Shahnamah Munawwar Kalam (1968 and 1980), Iqbalnamah (1983) and Babar Namah (1983) have been published in their Persian (edited) and English (translated) versions.

  7. Comprehensive History of Bihar, Volume II parts 1 & 2. (Patna, 1983 & 1987)

  8. There is only one extant copy of the Sirat-e Firoz Shahi. It is preserved at the Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Public Library (Patna). It was translated by Askari several decades ago. Its publication was taken up by a private publisher, then by the Indian Council of Historical Research and then by the Khuda Bakhsh Library. But unfortunately these efforts did not materialise.

  9. Current Studies was a research journal published by the Patna University.

  10.  Askari also contributed some chapters on religious and socio-cultural history to this volume.

  11. Qeyamuddin Ahmad, Corpus of Arabic and Persian Inscriptions of Bihar, (Patna), 1973.

  12. Riazul Islam, Sufism in South Asia, Oxford University Press, 2002, p. 275.

  13. The two volumes published by Khuda Bakhsh Library are “Hindustan ke Ahd-e Wusta par Maqalat” and “Ahd-e Wusta ke Hindi Adabiyat mein Musalmanon ka Hissa”. The volume published by the Urdu Academy is entitled “Maqalat-e Askari”.

  14. Readings..... op.cit. p. 30-35

  15. As observed by S. M. Hasnain in his editorial note in “Maqalat-e Askari”.

  16. These lines were written at a time when Askari was still alive but seriously ill.

"Special thanks to Professor Dr. Imtiaz Ahmad for sharing his personal copy of the paper “MEDIEVAL BIHAR AND THE SUFIS - Reflections on the Writings of Syed Hasan Askari” which was delivered by him at “Syed Hasan Askari Memorial Lecture 2015” (November 2015) and published in the Archives Journal (ABHILEKH - BIHAR) Volume VII, 2016”.