This paper is concerned with early modern southern India, and in particular, the areas ruled over by Vijayanagara, the Nayakas of Senji and the Nawwabs of Arcot. Its primary intention is to point out that states as diverse as these produced important narratives that served as points of self-definition. Positivist historians have often struggled to understand what to do with these texts, asking in effect whether they are “truths” or “lies,” and often rejecting them wholsesale for the ostensibly more “reliable” stone and copper-plate based inscriptions.The paper argues against the divide in south Indian history between “textualists,” who read narrative texts, and “epigraphers,” who prefer the “hard” evidence of inscriptions, and contends that any general historical analysis must of necessity be based on a reading of both forms of materials. In this context, the paper develops the argument for the emergence of a certain historical self-consciousness in early modern south India, both in the Perso-Islamic and the vernacular traditions, and in their interface. It would naturally be tempting to see matters in terms of a succession of expressive forms, each one successfully and finally displacing its predecessors, but it is proposed that the realities one encounters are rather more complex than this model would suggest.
Far less attention has been paid to the rise to importance of the Gujarati port of Surat, than to its decline. This brief essay, a tribute to the memory of Surat's best-known historian, Ashin Das Gupta, attempts to address the problem of its rise before the Mughal conquest of Gujarat in the 1570s. It argues that once Diu had been taken over by the Portuguese in 1535, Surat emerged as a crucial link between Southeast Asia and West Asia. Thus, one needs to look not only at the relationship between the port and its hinterland, but to Surat's role as an entrepôt, in order to explain its rise.
The essay proposes a counterfactual historical exercise centered around the conquest of the Mughal empire in nothern India in 1739 by Nadir Shah Afshar, ruler of Iran. This episode, which was of enormous significance for contemporaries, has largely been neglected by more recent historians. After a survey of Nadir Shah's career and of the politico-economic conditions of the period, I propose a scenario here wherein the ruler of Iran does not return to his country (as he did), but instead participates in the articulation of a new political system, which would (in my view) have obviously been far more resistant to European ambitions than the Mughal empire turned out to be. A sketch of this counterfactual state system is provided, and the essay concludes by considering the implications of such a view for standard narratives of the 'Rise of the West' in the early modern period.
This paper is concerned with the travails of the factors of the Dutch East India Company (or VOC) in the northern Burmese kingdom of Mrauk-U (or Arakan). The Dutch entered into trade in this rather obscure region, at the frontier of South and Southeast Asia, primarily owing to their interest in slaves, to be used in urban and rural settlements under their control in Indonesia. Dutch demand fed into the logic by which the Mrauk-U state from the latter half of the sixteenth century developed a formidable war-fleet, through which raids on the peasantry in eastern Bengal were conducted by Magh captains and Luso-Asian mercenaries, who collaborated with them. However, the whole commercial relationship was underwritten by a moral and cultural tension. The Dutch factors in their writings analysed here, insisted that the Mrauk-U kings were "tyrants," citing their slave trade as a key sign; a particular target for their attacks was the ruler Thado Mintara (r. 1645-52). Yet the Dutch too were complicit in the very same slave trade, and were perhaps even aware of their own "bad faith." For their part, the rulers of Mrauk-U regarded the Dutch with suspicion, while criticising their hypocrisy and double-dealing. Such tensions, negotiated through the 1630s and a part of the 1640s, eventually led the Dutch to withdraw from the trade, and then to re-establish tenuous contacts with some difficulty in the 1650s. The paper thus explores both the history of a form of hostile trade, and the process of the creation of mutual stereotypes, that went with the nature of commercial relations.
This essay explores the problem of imposture in the Mughal empire, through the case of Sultan Dawar Bakhsh, or Bulaqi, who ruled briefly in the late 1620s. Though official Mughal histories had it that he was executed in January 1628 along with several other princes, various persons claiming his identity surfaced, first in India and then in Iran. We examine the views of Mughal, Portuguese, Iranian and other sources on these claimants, and also explore what forms of proof were sought by different early modern agents in order to satisfy themselves of the identity of a returning prince. Cette contribution examine le problème de l'imposture dans l'Empire moghol en étudiant le cas du Sultan Dawar Bakhsh ou Bulaqi, qui a régné pendant quelques mois en 1627-28. Selon les chroniques mogholes de l'époque, Bulaqi aurait été exécuté en janvier 1628 avec plusieurs autres princes. Mais l'on sait que pendant la décennie suivante, plusieurs personnages se sont manifestés, tout d'abord en Inde et ensuite en Iran, prétendant être le sultan disparu. En croisant les informations fournies par les textes et des documents d'archives assez variés, en provenance de l'Etat portugais des Indes, de l'Empire moghol et de l'Etat safavide, l'analyse suit pas à pas le parcours de ce Martin Guerre moghol pour apprécier les preuves apportées sur son identité.
This essay explores the situation in the Deccan in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, at a time when the Mughal empire was expanding over the Ahmadnagar Sultanate and beginning to threaten both Bijapur and Goa. It does so through a close reading of two sources, the reports of the Mughal court-poet Abu'l Faiz 'Faizi,' who was sent there as a Mughal envoy in the early 1590s; and the autobiographical text of Asad Beg Qazwini, who followed Faizi some ten years later. It seeks to demonstrate the role of the Deccan as frontier zone in this period, not only between northern and southern India, but equally between Safavid Iran and Mughal India. Cet essai est consacré à l'étude de la situation politique dans le Deccan au tournant du XVIIe siècle, en s'appuyant sur deux sources peu explorées. La première est la collection des rap- ports envoyés par le poète et diplomate Abu'l Faiz 'Faizi', qui se trouvait dans le Deccan autour de 1591-92 comme représentant de l'empereur moghol Akbar. La seconde source est le récit autobiographique d'Asad Beg Qazwini, également envoyé par les Moghols au début du XVIIe siècle dans une mission auprès du Sultan de Bijapur, Ibrahim II. Nous nous efforçons de démontrer le rôle du Deccan comme région frontière, à la fois entre l'Inde du Nord et l'Inde du Sud, et entre les zones d'in fluences des Moghols et des Safavides.
This paper addresses the evolving profile of the class of scribes or munshīs who emerged during the phase of consolidation of Mughal rule in northern India, as Mughal power waned in the course of the eighteenth century. It argues that while the social and political base of this class was expanded by opportunities provided by the empire, these munshīs in turn sought to develop their own understanding of events both past and present. In the late seventeenth century, they began to generate their own templates of history writing together with other forms of belles-lettres. In the first half of the eighteenth century, their power seemed to be on the increase as many made the transition to becoming significant political actors themselves. However, they were unable to consolidate their position in the latter decades of the century, when they emerged instead as critics of the new forms that Mughal power was taking. The essay is based on a reading of texts produced by a number of these authors, largely in Persian.Cet essai s’adresse au problème de l’évolution de la classe des scribes ou des munshīs qui avaient émergé pendant la phase de la consolidation du règne des Moghols en Inde du Nord, avec l’affaiblissement de la puissance de l’empire au cours du dix-huitième siècle. La base sociale et politique de cette classe était augmentée par des occasions fournies par l’empire, et en revanche les munshīs ont cherché à fournir leur propre interprétation des événements du passé et du présent. Vers la fin du dix-septième siècle, ils ont commencé à produire leurs propres cadres pour l’écriture d’histoire ainsi que d’autres formes de belles-lettres. Dans la première moitié du dix-huitième siècle, leur puissance semblait être en augmentation et un certain nombre d’entre eux a fait la transition entre simples témoins et acteurs politiques significatifs. Cependant, c’était une situation qu’ils ne pouvaient pas consolider dans les dernières décennies du siècle, où ils ont émergé comme critiques des nouvelles formes que la puissance des Moghols prenait. L’essai est basé sur une lecture des textes produits par un certain nombre de ces auteurs, en grande partie en persan.
The great port of Surat in western India dominated accounts of Indian Ocean trade between the late sixteenth and mid eighteenth century. Consolidated first by an Ottoman notable, it became the Mughal Empire’s western window into the worlds of the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. In this essay, I explore Surat’s other, less visible, aspect: namely as an intellectual centre, that brought together diverse and sometimes competing traditions. In turn, we shall see how this vibrant intellectual life was tied up both to certain structures of politics, and to commercial exchange at various scales.