Persian narrative sources provide a colorful picture of Mughal courtly life, but in order to zoom in on cultural practices one has to turn to the artefacts of cultural pursuits. This article studies one specimen of the empirical treasure trove of Arabic manuscripts in South Asia in order to approach a lacuna in Mughal scholarship: the role of Arabic at the Mughal court. In the following, I will analyze the different paratextual layers of a manuscript of the thirteenth century Arabic grammar commentary Sharḥ al-Radī by Radī al-Dīn al-Astarābādhī to study its reading and transmission. The manuscript version represents a written artefact, which emerged out of a series of intellectual engagements. On the one hand, these textual engagements offer a perspective on the manuscript’s initial owner, Saʿd Allāh Khān (d. 1656), and his intellectual pursuits, as well as the scholarly framework in which he was brought up and worked in. On the other hand, the history of this manuscript’s circulation highlights the treatment of Arabic written artefacts at Shāh Jahān’s court. In an exemplary manner, the manuscript’s history of circulation demonstrates how courtly elites engaged with Arabic during the seventeenth century.
The early modern South Asian sultanate of Bijapur (9/15 th–11/17 th c.) represented a rich centre for the transmission of manuscripts by both the court and local Sufi communities. Thus far, Richard Eaton has mainly concentrated on prosopographical sources to write a social history of the Sufis of Bijapur. However, Arabic manuscripts as they survive in the Royal Library of Bijapur can provide a documentary perspective that testifies to the Deccan’s transregional connections with the wider Western Indian Ocean and the cultural practices transacted by Sufis in Bijapur. In this article, I focus on Sayyid Zayn ʿAbdallāh ibn al-Muqaybil’s (d. 1130/1718) manuscripts, transcribed during his travels from Yemen to Bijapur during the second half of the 17th century. I study the paratextual profile of these manuscripts to advance an argument on modalities of manuscript transmission through the transregional scholarly and Sufi networks of Bijapur. Thus, this study will exemplify the socio-cultural significance of manuscript circulation in the context of the early modern Deccan.