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Southeast Asia as Seen from Mughal India : Tahir Muhammad's 'Immaculate Garden' (ca. 1600) - article ; n°1 ; vol.70, pg 209-237

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30 pages
Archipel - Année 2005 - Volume 70 - Numéro 1 - Pages 209-237
Muzaffar Alam, University of Chicago & Sanjay Subrahmanyam, University of California
at Los Angeles
Southeast Asia as Seen from Mughal India : Tahir Muhammad's Immaculate Garden (ca.
1600)
On a souvent cru que la xénologie n'existait pas en Inde moghole en tant que champ intellectuel, et que les Moghols ne montraient pas la moindre curiosité envers les autres pays de l'océan Indien. On a aussi voulu parfois contraster cette attitude des Moghols avec le cas ottoman, car, au XVIe siècle, les Ottomans ont manifestement essayé de développer un réseau maritime et politique qui allait jusqu'en Asie du Sud-Est. Cet essai est divisé en trois parties. Dans un premier temps, les auteurs revisitent les lieux communs sur les rapports entre les Ottomans et les pays de l'Asie du Sud-Est, notamment Aceh. La deuxième partie, le véritable cœur de l'essai, est construite autour d'un texte écrit vers 1600 par un intellectuel moghol, le Rauzat ut-Tâhirîn de Tahir Muhammad Sabzwari, œuvre encyclopédique mais contenant aussi une section fort intéressante consacrée aux pays voisins de l'Inde. On trouve dans ce texte des développements sur la situation politique et culturelle en Birmanie à la fin du XVIe siècle, ainsi qu'une vision assez originale du Sultanat d'Aceh juste avant l'époque d'Iskandar Muda (1607-1636). Enfin, les auteurs entreprennent la comparaison de la vision de Tahir Muhammad avec celle d'un texte plus célèbre, le Safîna-i Sulaimânî écrit par un certain Muhammad Rabi', qui faisait partie d'une ambassade saf avide envoyée à la cour du roi siamois Phra Narai, dans les années 1680.
29 pages
Source : Persée ; Ministère de la jeunesse, de l’éducation nationale et de la recherche, Direction de l’enseignement supérieur, Sous-direction des bibliothèques et de la documentation.
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Muzaffar Alam
Sanjay Subrahmanyam
Southeast Asia as Seen from Mughal India : Tahir Muhammad's
'Immaculate Garden' (ca. 1600)
In: Archipel. Volume 70, 2005. pp. 209-237.
Résumé
Muzaffar Alam, University of Chicago & Sanjay Subrahmanyam, University of California
at Los Angeles
Southeast Asia as Seen from Mughal India : Tahir Muhammad's "Immaculate Garden " (ca.
1600)
On a souvent cru que la xénologie n'existait pas en Inde moghole en tant que champ intellectuel, et que les Moghols ne
montraient pas la moindre curiosité envers les autres pays de l'océan Indien. On a aussi voulu parfois contraster cette attitude
des Moghols avec le cas ottoman, car, au XVIe siècle, les Ottomans ont manifestement essayé de développer un réseau
maritime et politique qui allait jusqu'en Asie du Sud-Est. Cet essai est divisé en trois parties. Dans un premier temps, les auteurs
revisitent les lieux communs sur les rapports entre les Ottomans et les pays de l'Asie du Sud-Est, notamment Aceh. La deuxième
partie, le véritable cœur de l'essai, est construite autour d'un texte écrit vers 1600 par un intellectuel moghol, le Rauzat ut-Tâhirîn
de Tahir Muhammad Sabzwari, œuvre encyclopédique mais contenant aussi une section fort intéressante consacrée aux pays
voisins de l'Inde. On trouve dans ce texte des développements sur la situation politique et culturelle en Birmanie à la fin du XVIe
siècle, ainsi qu'une vision assez originale du Sultanat d'Aceh juste avant l'époque d'Iskandar Muda (1607-1636). Enfin, les
auteurs entreprennent la comparaison de la vision de Tahir Muhammad avec celle d'un texte plus célèbre, le Safîna-i Sulaimânî
écrit par un certain Muhammad Rabi', qui faisait partie d'une ambassade saf avide envoyée à la cour du roi siamois Phra Narai,
dans les années 1680.
Citer ce document / Cite this document :
Alam Muzaffar, Subrahmanyam Sanjay. Southeast Asia as Seen from Mughal India : Tahir Muhammad's 'Immaculate Garden'
(ca. 1600). In: Archipel. Volume 70, 2005. pp. 209-237.
doi : 10.3406/arch.2005.3979
http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/article/arch_0044-8613_2005_num_70_1_3979Muzaffar Alam & Sanjay Subrahmanyam
Southeast Asia as Seen from Mughal India :
Tahir Muhammad's 'Immaculate Garden' (ca. 1600)
ocean, "Hindustan accounted and Melaka but within Sri is (Malâgha), described Lanka its extent". (Sarândïp), as and enclosed a considerable Aceh on (Âchïn), the east, number the west Moluccas and of south islands (Malûk) by the are
Shaikh Abu'l Fazl, A "in-i Akbari. (D
The Indian Ocean conjuncture
The existence of very extensive commercial and other relations between
the India of the Mughals and the kingdoms of Southeast Asia is perfectly
well-known, but still surprisingly difficult to delineate in fact with any great
clarity. (2) These relations must obviously have passed above all through two
principal corridors in the late sixteenth century, after the great Mughal
expansionary wave of the 1560s and 1570s : relations between the ports of
Gujarat (and most particularly Surat) and the havens of island Southeast
Asia, the Malay Peninsula and the Mergui-Tenasserim complex; and those
between Bengal and other ports of the Bay of Bengal littoral. Later, as the
Mughals advanced southwards down the Indian peninsula, we may equally
* An earlier version of this text was presented in the seminar of Claude Guillot at the EHESS
(Paris) on 13 May 2004, and we are grateful to a number of participants for comments and
suggestions.
1. Shaikh Abu'l Fazl ibn Mubarak, A 'in-i Akbari, trans. H.S. Jarrett, revised Jadunath Sarkar
(Calcutta, 1948), Vol. Ill, p. 7.
2. We thus return here to themes studied briefly in Sanjay Subrahmanyam, "Persianisation
and Mercantilism : Two Themes in Bay of Bengal History, 1400-1700", in Denys Lombard
and Om Prakash, eds., Commerce and Culture in the Bay of Bengal, 1500-1800 (New Delhi,
1999), pp. 47-85, as indeed in the rest of that conference volume by other authors.
Archipel 70, Paris, 2005 pp. 209-237 210 Muzaffar Alam & Sanjay Subrahmanyam
imagine that these relations would have grown more complex in their geo
graphical spread. Thus, in about 1700, ambassadors from the Restored
Toungoo dynasty in Burma to the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, arrived in the
port of Mylapur, which had only recently fallen under Mughal control, and
were received by the governor Da'ud Khan Panni. In the same years, we are
aware that ports like Pipli and Balasore maintained relations with a number
of Southeast Asian courts, ports and polities.
Inevitably, it is the commercial aspects of these relations that are the easi
est to seize. Historians of trade have been able to set out, and even quantify
in a limited way, the numbers of ships and the volume and value of goods
that moved between the ports of Mughal India and those of Southeast Asia.
We know that textiles formed a staple of Indian exports, and that Southeast
Asian spices, some metals and minerals, woods, and even elephants were
carried in the other direction. We are able to identify some of the great mer
chants who plied these routes, whether the Iranian magnates of
Masulipatnam, or the traders of Aceh, Mergui and Johor, or even some of the
more obscure merchants of Surat who traded in Aceh in about 1610. (3) What
we are able to reconstruct is, however, very largely a function of European
sources, a fact noted with irony and regret several decades ago by Ashin Das
Gupta. (4)
The history of mutual perceptions and cultural interactions is at any rate a
far harder nut to crack, because European sources are only of limited utility
in this respect. Still, in his important study published in 1967 of the Sultanate
of Aceh in the period of Iskandar Muda (1607-36), Denys Lombard called
attention at several points to the significance of the cultural link between
India and Sumatra from a Southeast Asian viewpoint. Drawing on the earlier
works of G.P. Rouffaer and Teuku Iskandar, Lombard commented regarding
the ruler Iskandar Muda that "on est en droit d'admettre que ce fut bien ce
grand Sultan d'Atjéh qui voulut (...) s'inspirer du grand Mogol".(5)
Rouffaer, it may be recalled, had studied with particular interest the nine-cir
cle seal of the Aceh Sultans, where one finds "around a central circle, con
taining the name of the reigning monarch, eight other circles with each one
containing the name of one of his great predecessors". The Dutch scholar
3. Shireen Moosvi, "Travails of a Mercantile Community : Aspects of Social Life at the Port
of Surat (Earlier Half of the Seventeenth Century) ", Proceedings of the Indian History
Congress, 52nd Session (New Delhi, 1992), pp. 400-409; Farhat Hasan, State and Locality in
Mughal India : Power Relations in Western India, c. 1572-1730 (Cambridge, 2004), p. 90.
4. See, for instance, Ashin Das Gupta, " Indian Merchants and Trade in the Indian Ocean ", in
Tapan Raychaudhuri and Man Habib, eds., The Cambridge Economic History of India, vol.
1 : c. 1200-1750 (Cambridge, 1982), p. 407.
5. Denys Lombard, Le Sultanat d'Atjéh au temps d'Iskandar Muda, 1607-1636 (Paris, 1967),
p. 79.
Archipel 70, Paris, 2005 Southeast Asia as Seen from Mughal India 211
had then noted the anterior mention and description in the Akbar Ndma of
Shaikh Abu'l Fazl of such a seal and concluded that the Acehnese usage had
a "Hindustani origin ".(6) Teuku Iskandar for his part had argued that the
anonymous text, Hikdyat Aceh, drew inspiration from the Akbar Nâma, and
that it was commissioned at the court of Iskandar Muda with the purpose
once more of following the Mughal model. (?) However, to cite Lombard more, while the structural and even anecdotal similarities are striking,
"s'il y a inspiration, il ne peut être question d'imitation". This discussion
thus suggests that by about 1600, there was a sufficient circulation of texts,
and perhaps even of savants, between Mughal India and the Sultanate of
Aceh, to permit such passages and transformations. To cite Lombard once
more : "Dans certaines façons de gouverner ou de penser, dans le vocabul
aire comme dans la littérature, dans la vie profane comme dans la vie
religieuse, on retrouve [à Aceh] l'Inde et surtout l'Inde islamisée des
Mogols ". (8) Certainly, there are a few mentions in the writings of Shaikh
Abu'l Fazl himself that make it clear that Aceh formed a part of his geo
graphical horizons, however indifferent he may have been to, say, the world
of the Europeans.
The temptation remains to imagine that the primary line of circulation
would have passed through Gujarat. This is for several reasons. First,
arguably the most celebrated Indian figure in the history of the Sultanate of
Aceh is Nur-ud-Din al-Raniri, author of the Bustân us-Salâtïn (" Garden of
the Sultans"), who originally came from Rander in Gujarat, and then moved
to Aceh in 1637. (9) In the second place, there has long been a consensus in
the historiography that the rise of the westward-bound pepper trade from
Aceh owed a good deal to the mediation of merchants from Gujarat, many of
whom would have moved their focus to Aceh after the fall of Melaka to the
Portuguese in 1511. An essay by C.R. Boxer, that appeared at much the same
time as Lombard's monograph cited above, suggested this view clearly
enough; indeed, Boxer explicitly concluded that it was "safe to suggest (...)
that the development of Atjeh's spice-trade with the Red Sea was largely,
perhaps mainly, due to the initiative and cooperation of the Gujaratis".(10) It
6. G.P. Rouffaer, "De Hindostaanische Oorsprong van het 'negenvoudig' Sultanszegel van
Atjeh", Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, 1906, pp. 349-84.
7. Teuku Iskandar, De Hikajat Atjeh (The Hague, 1958), p. 20.
8. Lombard, Le Sultanat d'Atjéh au temps d' Iskandar Muda, p. 180.
9. See, most recently, Jelani Harun, "Bustan al-Salatin, 'The garden of kings' : A universal
history and adab work from seventeenth-century Aceh", Indonesia and the Malay World,
Vol. 32, No. 92, March 2004, pp. 21-52.
10. Charles R. Boxer, "A Note on Portuguese Reactions to the Revival of the Red Sea Spice
Trade and the Rise of Atjeh, 1540-1600", Journal of Southeast Asian History, Vol. 10, No. 3,
1969, pp. 415-28.
Archipel 70, Paris, 2005 212 Muzaffar Alam & Sanjay Subrahmanyam
was also argued by Boxer, basing himself largely on such Portuguese sources
as the chronicle of Diogo do Couto, that vessels from Bandar Aceh carrying
pepper (and other spices) regularly began to make an appearance in Red Sea
ports like Jiddah after about 1530, and that this trade was "undeniably in full
swing by the mid-sixteenth century". Ports such as Khambayat (Cambay)
and Surat were assumed to have played a major mediating role in this com
merce, which was also commented on extensively in the 1560s by Venetian
observers. Gujarat was also assumed, rightly, to have been a major staging
post in the general dealings between Aceh and the Ottoman empire, which
writers such as Lombard (once again) and Anthony Reid had begun to stress
in their research of the 1960s and 1970s. C11)
Recent by Ottomanists has done much to consolidate and flesh
out this picture. Important work by Giancarlo Casale thus allows us to put
together a far more complete narrative of Ottoman dealings with Aceh than
had hitherto been possible^12) Casale points to the crucial role of an Ottoman
envoy, a certain Liitfi (formerly a sea-captain in the Sultan's muteferrika
corps), who was sent out to Aceh in 1564 on a return embassy in response to
an earlier Acehnese delegation that had arrived at the Sublime Porte in 1562.
Liitfi appears to have returned to Istanbul in 1566 after a two-year stay in
Sumatra, with plans for a massive Ottoman intervention in the affairs of the
Indian Ocean, which eventually however came to naught. He also brought
back a letter for the Ottoman Sultan, apparently from the Acehnese Sultan
'Ala-ud-Din Ri'ayat Syah al-Qahhar (r. 1539-71), but which - in Casale's rea
soned view - appears to have been ghostwritten by Liitfi himself in impeccab
le Ottoman Turkish. This letter, or "report" as Casale more appositely terms
it, unambiguously sets out matters in the following terms.
"We sincerely request that His Imperial Majesty should no longer consider me, your ser
vant in this land, to be an independent ruler, but instead to accept him as a poor, humble,
and downtrodden slave who lives thanks to the charity of your Imperial Majesty, Refuge
of the World and Shadow of God [on Earth], in no way different from the governors of
Egypt and Yemen or the beys of Jiddah and Aden (...) with God as my witness, this [city
of] Aceh is one of Your Majesty's own villages, and I too am one of your servants. Your
official Liitfi can personally attest to our circumstances and to our deeds, to the great
endeavours we have undertaken for the sake of holy war, and to our firm and sincere
longing to enter your Imperial Majesty's service, although to do so adequately would
require so many words that its telling might test the limits of Your Majesty's
patience ".(13)
11. Anthony Reid, "Sixteenth-Century Turkish Influence in Western Indonesia", Journal of
Southeast Asian History, Vol. 10, No. 3, 1969, pp. 395-414.
12. See Giancarlo L. Casale, The Ottoman Age of Exploration : Spices, Maps and Conquest
in the Sixteenth-Century Indian Ocean, Ph.D. dissertation in History and Middle Eastern
Studies, Harvard University [Cambridge, Mass.], 2004.
13. Translation in Casale, The Ottoman Age of Exploration, p. 196. The original text may be
found in Razaulhak Çah, "Açi Padiçahi Sultan Alâeddin'in Kanunî Sultan Siileyman'a
Archipel 70, Paris, 2005 Southeast Asia as Seen from Mughal India 213
The text set out a grandiose plan, wherein various other parts of the Indian
Ocean would fall into a grand alliance around an axis that connected Aceh
and the Ottomans, with Gujarat as the third point in the triangle. The rulers
of diverse other lands (even those who were not Muslim), were portrayed as
eagerly falling into line, and even embracing Islam in their desire to rid
themselves of the Portuguese yoke. Thus, another passage of the text runs as
follows.
"When the rulers of Ceylon and Calicut received news that His Majesty's servant Liitfi
had arrived here [in Aceh], they sent ambassadors to us who proclaimed : 'We [too] are
servants of His Imperial Majesty, Refuge of the World and Shadow of God [on Earth]'
and then took an oath swearing that if His Imperial Majesty's propitious fleet were to
journey to these lands, they themselves would come to the faith and profess the religion of
Islam, and that likewise all of their infidel subjects would forsake the way of false belief
for the straight path of the one true religion. God willing, with the illustrious assistance of
His Imperial Majesty, all traces of the infidels in both the East and the West will be
destroyed, and they will finally join the Islamic faith ".(14)
Such statements are of course to be taken with the proverbial pinch of salt
and more. However, what is of particular significance for us, is the crucial
role of Gujarat in all of these transactions. Thus, we learn that "in the year
972 H. [late 1564], His Majesty's servant Liitfi came here [to Aceh], and on
his return journey he loaded sixteen kantars of pepper, silk, cinnamon,
cloves, camphor, rosemary and other products from the 'Lands Below the
Winds' onto a large and famous ship known as the Samadi and belonging to
Chingiz Khan, one of the vezlrs of the land of Gujarat in Hindustan". O5) But
equally, on the way to Aceh, former Ottoman subjects now resident in
Gujarat had already come to the rescue of Liitfi, and assured his passage.
Thus, another passage in the text runs :
" Karamanhoglu 'Abdur-Rahman, one of the vezirs in the land of Gujarat, is a capable and
conscientious servant who is worthy of [being entrusted with] further duties [in Your
Majesty's service]. While Liitfi was making his outward journey to this land from [Your
Majesty's] exalted presence, he became greatly perplexed upon his arrival in Jiddah,
because he was unable to find any ships there that would take him the rest of the way.
[Thankfully], the above-mentioned 'Abdur-Rahman, out of respect for the illustrious
orders [which Liitfi had received] from Your Imperial Majesty, sent Liitfi and all of his
entourage all the way here in one of his own ships, and covered all of the expenses for the
journey himself".
Mektubu", Tarih Ara?tirmalan Dergisi, Vol. 5, Nos. 8-9, 1967, pp. 373-409, in particular on
pp. 381-88.
14. Casale, The Ottoman Age of Exploration, p. 198. For the text, see RazaulhakÇah, "Açi
Padiçahi Sultan Alâeddin'in Kanunî Sultan Siileyman'a Mektubu", p. 385.
15. Casale, The Ottoman Age of p. 194n; for the text, see "Açi
Padiçahi Sultan Kanunî Sultan p. 384. The name of the
ship is somewhat unclear.
Archipel 70, Paris, 2005 214 Muzaffar Alam & Sanjay Subrahmanyam
It is a matter of debate whether the Ottoman influence in fact was the dete
rmining factor behind the anti-Portuguese unrest in various parts of the Indian
Ocean in the late 1560s and early 1570s. (16) Whether this is true or not, it is
certainly true that the Ottoman empire, Gujarat and Aceh were bound in far
closer ties in the 1560s than was the case by 1580. The conquest of Gujarat
by the Mughals meant a sharp decline in the influence of figures such as
'Abdur-Rahman and Chingiz Khan mentioned above. Even if Aceh and the
Ottomans continued to maintain relations into the seventeenth century, the
"Sumatran adventure" of the Sublime Porte did not last more than a brief
moment, and appears to have been more a dream of a few persons than an
act of sustained policy.
Nevertheless, Aceh does feature, along with other parts of Southeast
Asia, in Ottoman writings of the late sixteenth century, such as the work of
the Ottoman chronicler Seyfi Çelebi, posthumously titled "Book of the
History of the Monarchs of the Countries of Hind, Khitay, Kashmir, 'Ajam,
Kashgar etc ". This is an important compendium of Ottoman xenology
which is not directed to the west, which is to say the countries of the
Mediterranean littoral and America (as was the case with the anonymous
Târïkh-i Hind-i Gharbt), but instead to the east, a far more uncommon pro
cedure. (17) Thus, his sixth chapter (that follows on his account of the
Mughals) begins with the monarchs of the Deccan, but moves on soon
enough to Pegu (in Burma), then to Sri Lanka (Serendib), and eventually to
the Sultanate of Aceh {Agi vilàyetï).^) In such writings, we can see what
has been retained of such diplomatic texts as the report of Liitfi, in the form
of a glimpse of how the "Lands below the Winds" (zîrbâdât) of Southeast
Asia appeared to late sixteenth-century Ottoman armchair-observers. We
thus gather that "Aceh is located in the middle of an island but it is a vast
place; its Padshah is Sunni and a Muslim, and is called Muhammad Shah";
and thereafter, Seyfi moves on to his real interest, which is in the elephants
of Aceh. The rest of the description of Aceh is thus an exoticist composition
on its marvellous elephants, while the people of the land seemingly have no
interest either for Seyfi or for his imagined reader.
16. Thus, Casale's work tends to favour a "maximalist" view of the Ottoman intervention,
which is even seen by him as catalysing the defeat of Vijayanagara in 1565. It is largely in
consonance with the views expressed in Luis Filipe F.R. Thomaz, "A Crise de 1565-1575 na
Histôria do Estado da India", Mare Liberum, No. 9, 1995, pp. 481-519, and may be contrast
ed to Sanjay Subrahmanyam, "A Matter of Alignment : Mughal Gujarat and the Iberian
World in the Transition of 1580-81 ", Mare Liberum, No. 9, 1995, pp. 461-79.
Garbi' 17. Thomas and Sixteenth-Century D. Goodrich, The Ottoman Americana Turks and the (Wiesbaden, New World 1990). : A Study of 'Tarih-i Hind-i
18. Joseph Matuz, ed. and trans., L'ouvrage de Seyfi Çelebî, historien ottoman du XVIe siècle
(Paris, 1968), pp. 120-21.
Archipel 70, Paris, 2005 Southeast Asia as Seen from Mughal India 215
On Mughal perceptions
Yet, if one is to believe much historiography on Mughal India, even the
modest contribution of Seyfi Çelebi vastly outstrips any Indian
" xenological " attention paid in the Mughal period to the lands that were
"beyond the ocean", whether Africa, Southeast Asia, or Europe. It is genera
lly a staple view of writings on the Mughal domains that curiosity there, to
the extent that it existed, was confined to areas to the north and north-west,
namely Central Asia, Iran and the Ottoman Empire. O9) Much of the classic
historiography on the subject produced in the latter half of the twentieth cen
tury by the " Aligarh school " of historians thus ironically mimics the view
(often denounced as deeply Orientalist) of writers such as Bernard Lewis,
with their notion of an Islamic world that was, by the post-'Abbasid period,
largely indifferent to other lands, usages and customs. (2°) Such a point of
view has also been seconded by the erudite pen of Simon Digby, who has
recently put forward the considered view that the residents of Mughal India
had practically no empirical interest in the " overseas ".(21) However, rather
than simply dismiss Digby's point of view, it may instead be helpful to
rehearse the major elements in his argument. Digby admits for example, on
the basis of very wide reading, that mentions of Europeans (his primary
focus) in the Indo-Persian literature of the seventeenth and eighteenth cen
turies " represent a diversity of experience, intimacy of contact and levels of
sophistication". One broad distinction is between what he terms "informed
accounts" and "popular beliefs"; however, even within the first group, he
then goes on to argue that nothing of much empirical value can be found
before the late eighteenth century, when Indo-Persian literati entered into
close contact with the British. Instead, he posits that "among the literate
classes of the Mughal empire a lack of curiosity about geographical matters
outside their immediate ken appears to have been the prevailing response
through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries". Typical of this is the case
of the great savant Shaikh Abu'l Fazl (mentioned above), who referred
19. For a discussion of such materials, see Muzaffar Alam and Sanjay Subrahmanyam,
"Empiricism of the Heart : Close Encounters in an Eighteenth-Century Indo-Persian Text",
Studies in History, n.s., Vol. 15, No. 2, 1999, pp. 261-91.
20. Bernard Lewis, The Muslim Discovery of Europe (New York, 1982); the same view
recurs in Rudi Matthee, "Between Aloofness and Fascination : Safavid Views of the West",
Iranian Studies, Vol. 31, No. 2, 1998, pp. 219-46. For a more nuanced presentation, see
Ahsan Jan Qaisar, The Indian Response to European Technology and Culture AD 1 498- 1 707
(Delhi, 1982), and for a vehement counter-argument to that of Lewis, Nabil Matar, In the
Lands of the Christians : Arabic Travel-Writing in the Seventeenth Century (New York and
London, 2003).
21. Simon Digby, "Beyond the Ocean : Perceptions of Overseas in Indo-Persian Sources of
the Mughal Period", Studies in History, n.s., Vol. 15, No. 2, 1999, pp. 247-59.
Archipel 70, Paris, 2005 216 Muzaffar Alam & Sanjay Subrahmanyam
vaguely to the "islands of the Franks" (jazâ'ir-i Firang) as if continental
Europe was unknown to him. (22)
In order to explain this curious phenomenon, Digby draws upon Michael
Pearson's well-known construct that on account of "deep cleavages, hori
zontal and vertical, in Indian society", the empirical knowledge of sailors
and traders did not penetrate the world of " authors of works in Arabic and
Persian [who] were associated with the administrative class ".(23) Therefore,
the typical Mughal view - if we are to follow Digby - would have been of a
author such as Amin-ud-Din Khan in the late seventeenth century, who in his
(" Knowledge of the Horizons ") informs his readers of Ma 'lumât al-âfâq
horse-headed ogres in the land of Firang, and who, moreover, was " appar
ently unaware that, for two centuries, European vessels had been sailing
around Africa". Few other writers, even visitors from Central Asia such as
Mahmud Wali Balkhi in the late 1620s and early 1630s, seem to have been
capable of doing much better. (24) In short, where there was clarity regarding
Samarqand and Bukhara, Yazd and Isfahan, the ocean presented an impenet
rable barrier that no savant in Mughal India was apparently capable of penet
rating conceptually. The implicit argument here might be that the Ottomans,
with their superior navy and seafaring skills represented by men such as Piri
Re'is and Seydi 'Ali Re'is, were a quite different society in matters of
" than the hidebound, horsebound Mughals. "xenology
This is where a text such as the one to which the core of this essay is
devoted gains its significance. We refer to a work entitled Rauzat ut-Tàhirïn,
"The Immaculate Garden", written by a certain Tahir Muhammad ibn
'Imad-ud-Din Hasan ibn Sultan 'Ali ibn Haji Muhammad Husain Sabzwari,
a migrant from Iran to Mughal India. The author was a fairly well-connected
man, whose father 'Imad-ud-Din Hasan, had already been a Mughal official
in Gujarat, while one of his brothers was a poet at the Mughal court. Begun
by him during the reign of the emperor Akbar, before 1011 H (1602-03), the
work was apparently completed in 1015 H (1606-07), early in the reign of
Akbar's son and successor Jahangir. (25) The work is in five Books (qism), of
22. On Shaikh Abu'l Fazl's geographical knowledge, also see M. Athar Ali, "The Perception
of India in Akbar and Abu'l Fazl", in Man Habib, éd., Akbar and His India (Delhi, 1997),
pp. 215-24.
23. M.N. Pearson, Merchants and Rulers in Gujarat : The Response to the Portuguese in the
Sixteenth Century (Berkeley, 1976).
24. On Mahmud Wali Balkhi, see Muzaffar Alam and Sanjay Subrahmanyam, "From an
Ocean of Wonders : Mahmûd bin Amîr Walî Balkhî and his Indian travels, 1625-1631 ", in
Claudine Salmon, éd., Récits de voyage des Asiatiques : Genres, mentalités, conception de
l'espace (Paris, 1996), pp. 161-89.
25. Bodleian Library, Oxford, Ms. Elliot 314 (Sachau-Ethé No. 100), Rauzat ut-Tâhirïn; also
see British London, Ms. Or. 168. For a brief and somewhat misleading summary, see
H.M. Elliot and J. Dowson, The History of India as Told by Its Own Historians : The
Muhammadan Period, 8 Vols. (London, 1867-77), Vol. VI, pp. 195-201.
Archipel 70, Paris, 2005 Southeast Asia as Seen from Mughal India 217
which Book V deals inter alia with "the marvels and wonders of the islands
and ports" near Bengal, deriving from the writings of a certain Khwaja Baqir
Ansari, who had long served as a Mughal official in Bengal (in the text :
'ajâ'ib-0-gharà'ib ki dar banâdir-o-jazà'ir wa atràf-o-aknâf-i an bilddast
az nuskha-i Khwaja Bdqir Ansdri ki muddat-i madid dar wildyat-i Bangdla
ba khidmat-i bakhshigari qiydm ddshta and). (26) This book was apparently a
fairly well-known work in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries ; copies
of it exist not only in Oxford and London, but in Lucknow, Hyderabad, and
the Asiatic Society of Bengal (in Kolkata), with the last perhaps being the
same that was in the possession of Tipu Sultan (d. 1799), the ruler of
Mysore.
The Rauzat is a work with vast, somewhat totalising ambitions, initially
conceived of as a "universal history" dealing with various parts of the
Islamic world. These more traditional parts of the work are derived largely
from well-known textual sources, and need not concern us particularly here,
although they undoubtedly merit a proper study of their own. Our concern is
instead with the closing section of Book V, which derives in part from the
author's personal experience, and in part from the materials that he has gath
ered from Khwaja Baqir Ansari, or from other sources in Bengal. The part
that derives more directly from the author's personal experience can be dealt
with quickly enough, as we have analysed it in greater detail elsewhere. (27)
We refer here to the section entitled "A brief description of the kingdom of
Portugal which is under the rule of the Emperor of Firang".(28) This section
comes to us framed in a brief section of Tahir Muhammad's autobiography.
For we learn that in the year 987 H. (1579 CE), Tahir himself had been sent
on the orders of emperor Akbar as part of an embassy (hijdbat) to the port of
Goa, which was under the control of the governors (hukkdm) of the emperor
of Portugal. He was thus able to gather information from them, and also
observe the Franks at quite close quarters, and came away distinctly unim
pressed in some respects. He thus writes :
"The community of Franks (td'ifa-i Firang) wear very fine clothes but they are
often very dirty and pimply (chirkin). They don't like to use water (ba âb muqayyad
nîst and). They bathe very rarely. Amongst them, washing after relieving oneself
(tihârat-o-istinjâ) is considered improper. They are very good at using firearms
(tufang), and they are particularly brave on ships and in the water. But in contrast to
this, they are not so brave on land".
26. Rauzat ut-Tâhirïn, Book V, Chapter 5, Bodleian Ms, fis. 62 la- 26; British Library, Ms.
Or. 168, fis. 698a-700.
27. See Sanjay Subrahmanyam, "Taking Stock of the Franks : South Asian Views of
Europeans and Europe, 1500-1800", The Indian Economic and Social History Review, Vol.
42, No. 1,2005, pp. 69-100.
28. Rauzat ut-Tâhirïn, Book V, Chapter 5, Bodleian Ms, fl. 626a.
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