This summer I studied Mughal Persian, the administrative lingua franca of early modern South Asia, with a well-known faculty in India. This study is especially relevant to my project, which aims to look at the relationship between state-building and bureaucracy in early modern India.
During my study of the language, I focused on Sujan Rai Bhandari’s Khulasat-ut-Tawarikh (1695-1699) to help me anchor the variety of roles that bureaucrats played in shaping Mughal sovereignty. Composed in late seventeenth century, a period of great transition in South Asian historiography, Khulasat-ut-Tawarikh literally means summaries of histories. This book contains a welter of information on contemporaneous South Asia. The organization and the content of this work reflects the great importance Mughals placed on history as a source of legitimization. Divided into three parts, the book looks at the long and complicated history of kingship in South Asia. What is unique about this work is the way it uses environment to interpret and describe political relationships. Similar to its more famous and almost contemporary work—Montesquieu’s The Spirit of the Laws (1748)—Khulasat stresses the importance of climatic and geographical conditions in determining political destinies of a community. Ostensibly, the emphasis on geographic determinism is a way to ‘naturalize’ and ‘integrate’ Mughal political structure with the non-Islamic political worldview. But more significantly, this compendium underlines the need for a sophisticated bureaucracy to address the burgeoning territorial goals of Aurangzeb’s reign, then ruler of Mughal South Asia.
Indo-Persian culture is notable for its emphasis on histories as way of knowing and integrating into a predominantly non-Islamic South Asia. Aurangzeb stands out in this lineage as an especially polarizing figure since he is typically projected (in the Indian nationalist historiography) as stridently sectarian. Contrary to such misleading perceptions of Aurangzeb, Khulasat is a testimony to the Mughal ruler’s strong emphasis on justice and fairness. A slightly later rendition of Khulasat (1704) shows how the favorable reception of the work helped improve the material conditions of Sujan Rai Bhandari, a Hindu historian.
Abbasi Program’s summer funding allowed me to widen the scope of my research. Studying this work with a faculty deeply engaged with the multiple dimensions of such histories allowed me to see the subtleties of language and rhetoric distinctive to this tradition of historiography as well as helped me situate the work in its appropriate ecumenical context. Further, the summer was productive in establishing connections with faculty and colleagues who work on similar research interests. I am looking forward to using these connections to explore a range of under-examined Indo-Persian sources in future. I am indebted to the Abbasi program for the generous grant that allowed me to take the language program and further develop a fruitful research project.