‘Most professional historians who did into and read this substantial volume will find that their knowledge of certain corners and aspects Mughal history and of Indian society during the Mughal period is strengthened and enriched.’
‘I believe that this book would certainly compel the students of Mughal history to reconsider issue, consolidated new research and move beyond the paradigms of W.H. Modernland and Blochmann.’
‘The wealth of this volume lies in its putting together a selection of 18 essays which articulate clearly the shifting trends in the understanding of the Mughal state. The articles are put in context by the editors…[This is] a splendid historiography survey on Mughal researches.’
Muzaffar Alam is professor of South Asian History, Department of South Asian Language and Civilization, University of Chicago.
Sanjay Subrahmanyam is professor, Department of History, University of California, Los Angeles.
This series focuses on important theme in Indian history, on those which have long been the subject of interest and debate, or which have acquired importance more recently.
Each volume in the series consists of, first, a detailed introduction; second, a careful choice of the essays and book extracts vital to a proper understanding of the theme; and, finally, an Annotated bibliography.
Using this consistent format, each volume seeks as a whole to critically assess the state of the art on its theme, chart the historiographical shifts that have occurred since the theme emerged, rethink old problems, open up question which were considered closed, locate the theme within wider historigraphical debates, and pose new issue of inquiry by which further work may be made possible.
Since its foundation in the sixteenth century the Mughal Empire in India has produced a rich historiography. Some contemporary works of the Mughal times, implicated in the very exercise of power, reveal the logic of this power. The writings of Mughal rulers, such as the Babur Nama in Turkish and the Tuzak-i-Jahangiri and Aurangzeb’s letters in Persian, give us an insight into the minds of monarchs, and tell us of the different pressure they had to negotiate in building the imperial system. Clerics discussed the role Islam should play in the policies of rules, and chroniclers recorded the working of the imperial administration. European travelers reflected on the system through the eyes of the other. Francois Bernier’s characterization of Mughal rule as Oriental Despotism, though partly dispute by his eighteenth century compatriot Anquetil du Perron, came to dominate western imagination.
The essays on the nature of Mughal power collected in this volume would give readers an idea of the questions that have trouble historians and the issue they have debated. Was the state of Oriental; Despotism or a patrimonial bureaucracy? Was it a strong centralized power or a system based on regional power holders? Was the power built upon military might or through structure of patronage and networks of kingship? Did resistance lead to a crisis of authority or was it integral to its very constitution? The essays shows how the focus has shifted over the years from the center to the periphery, from the court to the locality, from the nitty-gitty of administration to the culture rituals of kingship.
The introduction raises critical new issue in the study of Mughal history. The editors compare the Mughal dominion to other contemporary Asian empires, postulate the emergence of a new style of Imperial policy from the mid-seventeenth century, seek to revise the conventional wisdom about the fate of the Empire in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and point to fresh direction of research.
But the same time, the last years of the dynasty, and its immediate aftermath, also produced a nostalgic indigenous (above all in Urdu and Persian ) that was contemporary to James Mill and Henry Maine, wherein writers such as Ghalib or Muhammad Zaka ullah ( in his Tarik-I Hindustan ) celebrated the erstwhile of the Mughals , and high Mughal culture. Tears were shed over Old Regima Luck-now and Delhi ( ‘the last maushaira in Delhi’ ), with the medieval Persian genre of shahr ashob, that came in Mughal India in the early eighteenth century to signify ‘decline’ literature, now finding new twists and variants. This celebration of the Mughals coincided with the fresh attempt by the British ( and other Europeans ) to analyse Mughal institution in the aftermath of 1857. The effort of historians and philologists like H. Blochmann, whose understanding of the Mughals had advanced a considerable distance from the analyses of a number of texts in Persian ( notably in the Bibliotheca Indica series ) from these years eventually enabled the positivistic history –writing of the early twentieth century.
Writings on the Mughals in the early years of this century are often bifurcated into the biased writings of the British and their ‘communalist’ acolytes ( with the controversial legacy of H.M. Elliot clearly in the forefront ), and the nationalistic reaction to these by Indians historians ( with men like Jadunath Sarkar being obvious exception to this ). But even a little reflection shows the dangerous of adhering blindly to such a reading. In fact, the influence of British colonial writers such as W.H. Moreland on nationalist and even twentieth-century Marxist historians of the Mughals can be shown to be a profound one, inter-war years has retained a decisive influence on most practitioners in the field in India. Labels can be somewhat misleading, since the Aligarh ‘school’ of ostensibly nationalist-Marxist writers often appears closer to these colonialist position then the school of ‘constitutional’ nationalist historians who animated discussion at the Allahabad University in the 1940s and 1950s, and whose legacy has often been neglected. These historians attempted to rationalize the nature of institution in the medieval Indian past, at times modeling their efforts on the then prevalent studies of British ‘constitutional history’.
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