The earliest extant document pertaining to this family is a parvāna dated 1574, and so, from the reign of emperor Akbar. This parvāna, issued by an unidentified noble/officer, recited that since ‘obedient to Islam’ (mutiʿ al-Islam) Jayanti Das and Narhar Das had made great efforts in the settling and ordering of pargana Dhar, they were granted 200 bīghasFootnote 1 of fallow (uftāda) land as ʿinām (that is, tax-free) in the mauzaʿ (village, as a taxation unit) of Gardawad and others, so that, having brought it under cultivation (marzuʿ namūde ) they use collections from that land for their livelihood and pray for the enduring good fortune of the ‘slaves of the Lord’ (i.e., the high-ranking Mughal official who made the grant). Officials of the tax department were instructed not to bother the grantees for taxes of any kind. On the grantees was imposed the rather broad obligation of continuing to make such efforts for the populating and regulating the district of Dhar and that their loyalty remained obvious, that is, to continue being useful in controlling the countryside and making it pay. The verso of the document listed five mālik-i zamīn: Jayanti Das and four others, each given lands in a particular village, of which only Mohanpur and Gardawad (both in Dhar district) are still identifiable on Google. This document, then, recorded a cluster of mutually associated zamīndārs in the district of Dhar.Footnote 2 The lead grantee, Jayanti Das, was the lineal ancestor of Mohan Das and the family at the core of this book. The lands granted specifically to him per this document were in Gardawad, about eleven miles from the town of Dhar.Footnote 3
In rewarding the enterprise of ‘clan communities’ for expanding the agricultural, and hence revenue frontiers of the empire, and using the reward itself to encourage further enterprise along the same lines, this document records a particular instance of a well-known process. In some regions, especially Bengal, the expanding agrarian frontier became associated with that of confessional Islam. Religious and agrarian pioneering proceeded hand in hand through the agency of Sufi pīrs, and was only subsequently rewarded by the Mughal regime.Footnote 4 This was not the case in all other regions, and definitely not Malwa. Jayanti Das’s title ‘mutiʿ al-Islām’ indicated, as it did in other more eminent instances,Footnote 5 functional rather than confessional concordance with the Mughal regime. In this chapter, we shall see how Jayanti Das, his kinsmen and associates built themselves up as rural powerholders and service-providers to the regime, with particular attention to the role of royal and subroyal grants – farmāns, nishāns and parvānas.
As noted in the introduction, farmāns, nishāns and parvānas were self-nominating Mughal documentary forms, partially shared with the wider Persianate world. They belonged to a world of orders. The language of all such documents was always directive – somebody was told to do something. That action could simply be taking possession of certain rights; for associated others, it could be just taking note of that fact and/or facilitating that transfer. In Jayanti Das’s case, the parvāna noted that certain villages had been allocated (muqarrar shud) as ʿinām; he and his associates were to be occupied (mashghūl bāshand) in keeping up the good work and praying for the good fortune of the grantee; imperial officers in the region were told to transfer the named villages into their possession (ba-taṣarruf-i ishān wā guzāshta) and not to trouble the grantees for taxes.
While orders could of course be one-off (e.g., Come to court!), they could, in some cases, create powerful titles of right which were about ‘property’ in the broad and active sense. They did not simply hand out a finite movable or immovable unit to be possessed, but created the right to make money or enjoy power over other people – through strenuous activities constrained by several conditions. These rights could be, as with Jayanti Das’s grant, a right to collect a portion of the peasants’ produce in named villages, without paying taxes – a right whose fruitfulness depended on keeping the area inhabited, cultivated and under control.
In this and other royal grants, then, property rights were inextricably connected with military prowess and control of the local population. In other instances, such military prowess could be farmed out to the regime, bringing in further rights. Yet other grants could consist of appointment to services with more defined obligations, to be delivered over a longer duration. Looking upon royal orders as rights-creating legal documents, and doing so over a period of time within a continuous collection allows us to enter into the multi-pronged portfolio that inevitably went into the creation of the ubiquitous but elusive zamīndārs. It also allows us to see that entity as the lynchpin of agrarian society but also imperial polity; because this is where empire was actuated in rural India.
But orders were not simply received and obeyed by their recipients. They were actively consumed, among other things by being repeatedly confirmed, rerecorded, disputed and transferred by members of Jayanti Das’s family. One source of right led to another; ad hoc military services leading to the acquisition of an office of record-keeping, for example, bringing its own perks, but also further business opportunities, such as contracting for taxes. As the fortunes and contacts of the family grew, charity provided yet another route, ostensibly of attracting and redistributing royal munificence, but incidentally of adding to family assets. Neither the documents nor the rights it recorded could assure permanence of position or of access to resources; important documents were therefore incessantly copied, authenticated and reconfirmed, drawing in a variety of authorities. Rights were questioned, lost and encroached upon; documents were disputed, lost and destroyed: royal grace was thus turned into property along a complex and proliferating paper trail.
In seeking to establish a contextually sensitive vocabulary to describe the nature of these documents of order (farmāns, nishāns and parvānas) and of the rights they conferred, it is necessary to transcend the limitations of modern usage of English words that once had much wider implications, even, and especially, in the English medieval and early modern context. If we choose to call what Jayanti Das received by this parvāna a ‘grant’, it is useful not to think of it simply as money or property given by the government to individuals, in the nature of the research grants, for example. Quite like royal grants in medieval and early modern England, farmāns, nishāns and parvānas could give the receiver a very large range of things – from perpetual rights to certain lands, to the right to hold fairs and markets in particular places, to pardons for crimes.Footnote 6 It is perhaps most illuminating to conceive of all these things, which we would now classify in very different groups, as emanations from royal grace. The entire point of such grace was that it did not have to be justified with reference to an abstract body of law in the sense of doctrine; it was transcendent, sudden, and reflected the pure will of the sovereign.Footnote 7
Recognition of the transformative potential of royal power does not require us to conceive of the countryside as a blank slate, empty of any rights, over which the unbridled will of the Oriental despot romped unfettered. Neither is it very productive to evaluate whether the zamīndārs were the ‘true proprietors’ of land in Mughal times; given that zamīndārīs could evidently be transferred, gifted, bought and sold, but were nested within superior and inferior rights in land.Footnote 8 The nesting of rights persisted in colonial times, and is perhaps inevitable. The point in this chapter is to demonstrate the accretive process whereby rights were created in the countryside. The grant that Jayanti Das and his associates received, for example, recognised them for their local standing: they were recognised as mālik-i zamīn even as a specific order of ʿinām purported to reward their activities, now rebranded as service to the empire. On the other hand, the grant of ʿinām did create a new right, or a new order of right, too: it held back imperial tax officials from certain villages, creating a space of secure access to resources through the withdrawal of the regime’s claim and its apparatus for realising it. It also placed the implied weight of the regime behind the claims that Jayanti Das and his associates might make on other less-privileged peasants. This was not quite a carte blanche, for the fiction of imperial service entailed serious restraints: Jayanti Das and his kinsmen/friends had the obligation to treat the local peasants well enough to keep the area populated and cultivated, for that is what would demonstrate their loyalty, and in turn, ensure the continuance of the ʿinām. This entire bundle of entitlements and obligations was clearly inheritable, but also expandable, for we find several subsequent generations in situ in the same area, referring to ʿinām grants received in Emperor Akbar and Jahangir’s time, but also naming several other villages in which rights must have been acquired subsequently.
In reconstructing that process, we chance upon matters related to some of the most persistent legal concerns of post-Mughal, especially colonial, India: land law, with all its variety of tenures; the laws of inheritance and succession, and their relationship to patterns of kinship and norms related to religion. Here we have an exciting opportunity to explore those matters, but in a different landscape of entitlements, with its own categories, sensibilities, norms and institutions, in which kinship was intertwined with enterprise, religion with governance. It is by exploring that landscape, led by the papery ghosts of past aspirations rather than conceptual maps tied to our present-day concerns, that we can begin to understand how people like Jayanti Das acquired documents such as those mentioned, why their families preserved them, and what they wanted when they took them along to various authorities, asking for their rights.
‘What is a ‘zamīndār’?’ This was the burning question of the early days of the English East India Company’s rule in eastern India. In the late eighteenth century, seeking to find a cost-effective method for extracting wealth from Bengal’s countryside,Footnote 9 and the most functional agents for facilitating that extraction, the English East India Company, its officials, supporters and detractors found themselves embroiled in highly arcane but utterly un-academic debates over who exactly those people were and whether their entitlements consisted of something that could translate as ‘property’ in a highly modernist sense of the word.Footnote 10 These debates, which extended from determining whether the king or the zamīndārs were ultimate owner(s) of the land, to the nature of the Mughal constitution and of British imperium itself, produced a glamorous impeachment trial in London, and socially transformative land law in India. In 1793, the Company-state in India decided that the zamīndārs were proprietors, in the sense of absolute owners of the land in their possession.Footnote 11 This decision entailed drastic commodification of the land, erasure of myriad nested rights in the countryside and demilitarisation of the zamīndārs themselves.Footnote 12
This decision was only the beginning of a process; the official interpretation had to be actuated through nearly a century of legal and military interventions, right up to 1857 when, in the aftermath of military–agrarian rebellion, the mud forts of the thankless zamīndārs of northern and central India were flattened by British-employed armies.Footnote 13 Even so, the zamīndārs of India never quite turned into a profit-oriented modern gentry. Failing to give up their spendthrift ways and coddled by the British-established Court of Wards which protected zamīndārī estates from insolvency, zamīndārs continued to see land as a component of their status as rulers, rather than a resource for commercial entrepreneurship,Footnote 14 and were eventually undermined in the twentieth century (in most parts of India) through the combined effects of tenancy protection legislation, global economic depression and the sheer go-getting of enterprising cultivators.Footnote 15
Zamīndārs and their rights were not just modified by colonial legislation; they were destined, in turn, to play a transformative role, albeit inadvertently, in the legal history of British-ruled India. Disputes over zamīndārīs produced the bulk of litigation in the Sadr Diwani Adalat – the revenue-civil courts of the East India Company, established in 1772.Footnote 16 Since succession to zamīndārīs was adjudged according to the religion of the parties,Footnote 17 we might say zamīndārīs were the concrete occasion for the production of what came to be known as Hindu and Muslim personal laws in India.Footnote 18
Given this history, we can reach for an understanding of zamīndārī only with the awareness that much of the material, including the ubiquitous Persian manuals that offer glosses of the term, were produced in response to revenue and political imperatives of the British.Footnote 19 Perhaps the most ‘official’ Mughal view was expressed in Persian chronicles, which were themselves of variable standing depending on their patrons. These used the term zamīndār – literally landholder in Persian – to indicate a very large range of rural powerholders. As Habib has pointed out, the word zamīndār was a distinctively Indo-Persian innovation, which began to appear in Persian language chronicles, dictionaries and formularies (munshāts) produced in regions controlled by the Delhi Sultanate from the fourteenth century. These earlier references to the zamīndārs also refer to the heterogeneous origins and status of such people, who could be village headmen (muqaddamān), those glorified by government appointment (mafroziān) and, more vaguely, owners/ lords (mālikān).Footnote 20 The picture becomes more complex as legal documents (such as ours) are brought into play to create a usage-based definition of the term – local terms abound for what appears to be a range of village powerholders, such as muqaddam, khōt, bhūmia, pātil, dēśmukh, only some of whom managed to make it to being regarded a ‘zamīndār’ in the regime’s view.Footnote 21 Based on their size, function and relationship with the imperial structure, Nurul Hasan posited a typology consisting of three levels of zamīndārs: autonomous chieftains (substantial rājas, generally absorbed into the Mughal regime as mansabdārs); intermediary zamīndārs; and primary zamīndārs (land-owning cultivators).Footnote 22
If the term zamīndār could apply to highest ranking Rajput nobles of the Mughal empire down to the petty village chieftain, what we are left with is the awareness of the amorphousness of the category, and the methodological problems created by intense interest of successive regimes in precisely this social category. Perhaps what remains is the notion of milkiyat, derived from the Arabic mulk, equivalent to the Latin dominium, which ranged from property to kingship.Footnote 23 Such are the men whom peasants would address as mālik, their hands folded. The Mughals did not create most of them, they took them as they found them, provided they were effective enough and compliant enough, used them to collect taxes and manage the countryside, through a carrot-and-stick policy, replacing them with other similarly placed candidates when needed. The process of incorporation, however, wrought changes in these men; their aspirations evolving from local power to greater things – in some exceptional cases, to universal sovereignty.Footnote 24
Zamīndārs were inevitably armed, maintaining significant armies of their own, consisting mostly of foot soldiers, with a small number of more expensive horsemen and a tiny sprinkling of elephants. This capacity for arms-bearing is what made them useful to the Mughals, as well as to other regimes who competitively wooed them. In its account of the twelve provinces (sūbas) of the Mughal empire, the Ā’īn-i Akbarī enumerated the number of soldiers maintained by zamīndārs in each subdivision of the sūba (sarkār), and, where data was available, for every district (maḥāl, which was the fiscal equivalent of the pargana).Footnote 25 The zamīndārs of sarkār Mandu, in which the district of Dhar was located, were reported by Abul Fazl as maintaining 1,180 horsemen to 2,526 foot soldiers,Footnote 26 the proportion of horsemen being significantly above the average for the empire as a whole. Dhar sported an even higher ratio, 120 horsemen to 150 foot soldiers. The zamīndārs of Dhar were small, but had some elite troops.
Such armed retainers had many uses; from the point of view of the regime, they were to be supplied for action when called upon to do so. Such calls for action would come, not directly from the imperial court, but from the mansabdār, who was the imperial official holding an official rank (mansab), which carried with it a cash salary and an allocation of taxes (jāgir) from a certain number of revenue units, or maḥāls. Now although the mansabdār-jāgīrdār was allocated his cash salary and/or jāgīr so that he might maintain a dedicated army of horsemen, and although most mansabdārs recruited their ‘followers’ (tābinān) along clan networks,Footnote 27 they might call upon the zamīndārs to supply additional local troops, especially to suppress local rebellion. However, the same local armies could also be used by the zamīndār to self-aggrandise by waging war against other zamīndārs, to hold off imperial tax officials when necessary, and in very ambitious and/or desperate moments, to fight the imperial army itself. This was both the turbulent ‘interior’ frontier of the Mughal empire and its crucial source of military labour.Footnote 28 In following the adventures of Jayanti Das and his descendants, we shall see how the conduct of warfare – self-directed or at the empire’s behest – remained a constant feature of their activities. The office/service (khidmat) of zamīndārī entailed other obligations, which also required military capacity. This included law-and-order responsibilities, including acceptance of liability for all thefts in their domains (or at least those thefts about which imperial officials chose to make a fuss) and apprehension of thieves. The British order to zamīndārs in Bengal to dismiss their police force and the Cornwallis’ Police Regulations of 1792 formed the beginning of that longue-durée and ultimately incomplete effort to demilitarise the Indian countryside.Footnote 29
Mughal terminology was variable and may appear inconsistent because of our expectations, formed of colonial and postcolonial legislation. In general, however, Mughal chroniclers and gazetteers used zamīndārī as a general descriptor of social status (sometimes in order to make moral judgements); whereas in formal documents, such as our parvānas, the term was used refer to the specific kinds of service (khidmat) that we know to have been associated with zamīndārs, most commonly, that of being a chaudhrī.Footnote 30 As we shall see, many other kinds of offices could also be held by people counted as zamīndārs. Zamīndārs retained such offices due to their evident loyalty (daulatkhwāhī) and goodwill of the emperor and his representatives, although clearly the documents themselves recorded several other conditions that established a claim to zamīndārī – such as agrarian pioneering, past grants, inheritance and customary rights.
What makes zamīndārs an additionally elusive entity – apart from their clearly heterogeneous origins, status and functions – is the fact that, despite the claim of appointing them, official manuals of the empire, the Ā’īn-i Akbarī onwards, did not list them among imperial officials. Official orders and other supplementary documents confirming a zamīndārī did however refer to a predictable bundle of functions. It is by these functions that zamīndārs have to be identified – Mughal documents often preferring to refer to them not as zamīndārs per se, but according to their contextually specific status, designation or even simply their names.Footnote 31 And it is also through documents such as the one recognising Jayanti Das’s tenure, and through many others acquired and preserved by subsequent generations, that we begin to form a picture of who these men were, what they did in order to acquire their rights and how they used law in order to secure those rights.
Royal Grace and Rural Eminence
John Malcolm, the first ‘Political Agent’ or British military-political administrator of Central India (which incorporated Malwa) noted in the early nineteenth century how several of the principal families in Malwa owed their origins to grants made by Muslim rulers, backed by those of the Rajas of Jaipur, Jodhpur and Udaipur.Footnote 32 Grants of the kind that Jayanti Das and his four associates received, as well as the higher-end ones Malcolm discussed (such as those of Kishangarh, Jhabua and Ratlam) all sat within the broad spectrum of operations by which rural grandees were incorporated into successive regimes: the Malwa Sultanate and the Mughals, but then also the Marathas and the British.
Paperwork played a crucial part in that process of incorporation. Documents written on expensive paper and bearing elaborate seals and ciphers bore imperial orders (farmāns), princely orders (nishāns) and sub-royal orders (parvānas), turned people like Jayanti Das into the Mughal zamīndārs, awarding them rights to resources that they may have possessed to some extent already, but which were now clothed with the fiction of imperial service and consequent perquisites, and backed up with the weight or threat of imperial force, if needed. Not all was window-dressing, for clearly some people, such as members of Jayanti Das’s family, found such recognition through grants led to additional opportunities for imperial service and further grants.
Despite claims in other, later documents in this family’s collection, that such rights as they possessed had been granted by imperial farmāns, the majority of documents in the collection are in fact parvānas, that is, issued by high-ranking nobles/officials, often identifiably the jāgirdār of the area. The closest this family got to the emperor was through nishāns of royal princes, of which there are a small and crucial number in the collection, which, moreover, are further attested to in the associated parvānas. There are eighty-two parvānas in the collection, and a further thirteen copies of parvānas, taking the total to ninety-five, out of a collection of one hundred and ninety. The collection of the DAI, Kuwait, is almost exclusively parvānas – thirty-nine out of forty-three documents; the other fifty-six parvānas or copies are from the NAI or from the family’s private collection. From codicological, paleographic and diplomatic points of view, the parvānas are the best-written within the collection, on good paper, properly sealed and following uniform conventions. They are also clustered between the 1650s and 1670s, with a long tail thereafter; a cluster that also reveals a systematic association of this zamīndār family with certain specific nobles and members of the imperial dynasty. These grandees did not just give new gifts; more frequently, they reaffirmed what appeared to be existing rights, and sorted out disputes over them. They also demanded general and specific services and reprimanded the recipients for acts of omission or commission. In doing all this, they established themselves as lords of various realms, able to channel royal grace into the countryside and populate it with rights.
The parvāna of 1574, with which this chapter began, created a set of rights for Jayanti Das, and his associates. It is not clear why indeed these five men were selected for the privilege, except for some kind of pre-existing entitlement, signalled by the phrase ‘mālik-i zamīn’. Family histories, written and rewritten in Hindi and English in the nineteenth century, preserved a dynastic memory, claiming landed rights possessed from pre-Mughal times, through grants made by the Malwa sultans, in particular Hoshang Shah.Footnote 33 As far as the Persian documentary collection is concerned, there is no direct evidence to support this belief, but there are two bilingual documents of pawn/mortgage that purport to be from the fifteenth century.Footnote 34 Both documents date themselves to 21 Rabi II 867 (1463 CE); the first document records that a person called Manji, mandloī of tappa Sadilpur in pargana Dhar mortgaged (girwī guzāsht) several hereditarily owned villages for 18,505 Muzaffari rupees to chaudhrī Bhagwan Das, Gopal Das and Jit (or Jayanti) Das, sons of Ganesh Das, son of Gunraj. The other document is nearly identical in content as well as appearance; it is an inexact copy. Both are sealed with the same multiple seals; of the two large circular seals right above the main text of the document (the most authoritative position on the page) one reads ‘ … maʿrūf Suhravardy’ and bears the date 945; the other reads ‘qāz̤ī muhyi sarāf (?) khādim-i shariʿa’. There are five smaller seals of witnesses on the right margin, with the superscript gawāh shud (it was witnessed). They both include Hindi writing; in one document, the Hindi element is on the reverse,Footnote 35 in the other, on the right-hand margin.Footnote 36 Despite all this adherence to form, however, these documents are clearly elaborate forgeries – the handwriting is quite modern, as is the poor-quality, transparent paper, the terms mandloī and tappa derive from the post-Maratha period. While it is difficult to reconstruct the specific context in which these would have been produced, they are parallel indications of the family’s strong belief of their pre-Mughal establishment in the area. There may indeed have been some truth in that belief; given the parvāna awarding or recognising rights in 1574, so soon after the Mughal conquest of Malwa.
State Office as Property: the Qānūngōī of Pargana Dhar
In almost all subsequent parvānas and the handful of nishāns in the collection, references to asnād-i sābiq (old documents) and dastūr-i sābiq (old, i.e., long-established rules/customs) is a constant refrain. This is true even of the highest-status documents in the collection; the three documents that purport to be copies of nishāns, two of these from Prince Khurram (later Emperor Shah Jahan) and one from Prince Murad Baksh, Shah Jahan’s son, who was executed by his brother Aurangzeb in 1658. Murad Baksh’s nishān, issued some time in 1657, is better evidenced; this princely order clearly generated a series of knock-on effects which generated supplementary documentation that appears authentic.
Two (copies of) nishāns of Prince Khurram (enthroned as Emperor Shahjahan, 1628–1658) confirmed Mohan Das, a descendant of Jayanti Das, in the post of qānūngō of pargana Dhar, and described his entitlements in connection with that post. The first of these is the document that this book opened with; it is held at the National Archives of India, and does not bear a date of issue, but refers to itself as naql-i nishān-i Khurram Shāh. The document we have today is a copy of this nishān as authenticated by qāz̤ī Muhammad Mustafa, a regular acquaintance of this family for a long period at the very end of the seventeenth century and the beginning of the eighteenth, with a seal bearing the date 1103 (1690 CE). The contents this document hint at the manner in which the fortunes of the family had grown – the descendant of agrarian pioneers acclaimed by the imperial order, Mohan Das had discovered yet another way of making the state work for him. He had acquired the ‘office’ of ‘qānūngō’ in the district of Dhar. Since being a qānūngō entailed being the officially recognised repository of local tax information,Footnote 37 it required the ability to memorise and compute local tax information, and usually to read and write to some extent. So Mohan Das, descendant of the mālik Jayanti Das, may well have undergone some self-improvement. That did not seem to have damaged his capacity for military action (as we shall see), and in fact, his appointment to qānūngō-ship may have had less to do with his computing skills than his prowess with horse and sword.Footnote 38
Military prowess was naturally paired with a penchant for getting into trouble with one’s imperial superiors. The document said in a rather cryptic fashion that Mohan Das had been appointed the qānūngō of the (unnamed) pargana (but) had subsequently been taken to the fort of Asir (the formidable Asirgarh – which is quite some way from Dhar) and the (unnamed) village had been taken under the administration of the khalṣa (the directly administered and taxed imperial domains). Now that Mohan Das had demonstrated his loyalty (which had become suspect for a period, and we shall see why later in the book) and had been reappointed to the qānūngō-ship of Dhar ba-dastūr-i sābiq (according to old custom), the exalted order was issued that said village, which was excluded from the salary of the (local) jāgirdār, was appointed as ʿinām to himFootnote 39 There are so many intertwined entitlements mentioned in this scrappy little document, written in ambiguous Persian legalese, that it is difficult to say exactly what was granted. For example, dastūr-i sābiq literally meant ‘as per old rule/customs’, so it could be saying that Mohan Das was made qānūngō ‘as of old’, but it could also be saying that he was made qānūngō, together with the customary rights to collect local taxes as his perks.Footnote 40 If the latter, then this document may be indicating two sets of rights – the first, the dastūr (customary rights) associated with the post of the qānūngō, and the other, the ʿinām additionally granted to him on this occasion by the clearly impressed prince. Prince Khurram was sūbadār of Malwa in 1614Footnote 41 and had been in Asirgarh several times in the 1620s, but Mohan Das must have been an enterprising man to have caught his eye; one suspects that he did not do that just by balancing the books. Family histories preserved by the descendants propose a military adventure as an explanation; we shall discuss that narrative later in this book, in Chapter 7.
There was also at least another powerful stakeholder in the story – the noble who held the jāgir in the region, and in whose area of claims the village granted as ‘inām would make a little financial/fiscal hole. The family would naturally need a good relationship with the local jāgirdārs as they came and went in order to realise the dues from this village. And this is indeed what we see in the many subsequent parvānas in the collection.
But which exactly was the village that was granted to Mohan Das? There is another document, now held in the family’s collection, which also purports to be a copy of a nishān, issued on 12 Muharram 1026 (1617 CE) which would make it emperor Jahangir’s reign.Footnote 42 Although the document does not bear any seals, even of validation of the copy, and the handwriting is no older than the nineteenth century, the existence of this copy, together with the notarised copy from the National Archives, does suggest a very strong memory of a grant received from Prince Khurram.Footnote 43 The document says that mauzaʿ (village) Ahu in pargana Dhar, was given as ‘inām to Mohan Das, the qānūngō of the same district, on condition of khidmatkārī (service) and daultakhwāhī (loyalty). Ahu is currently a tiny village a few miles from the city of Dhar, close to the villages of Gardawad and Mohanpur, where Jayanti Das and his kinsmen had received a grant of land in 1574. Present-day descendants also confirmed that, until recently, the family had owned land in the village. Thus the family were not just māliks in the area, but also regime-recognised keepers of tax for the district, with additional land rights derived from that office.
State office, tax-collection in particular, formed a key source of income as well as prestige for the family. The zamīndār as chaudhrī was a local tax-collector in the Mughal view, but members of this family held the more professionally oriented position of qānūngō, or village-level keeper of taxes. In fact, the qānūngōī of Dhar, and later other districts, formed an important source of entitlements for Jayanti Das’s family, which returned, tautologically, to rights in land, and its produce. Moreover, these position and rights could be acquired and extended not just through training and heredity-based selection, but also through rewards upon military service and interpersonal transactions. Chapter 3 will discuss the processes of tax-collection and the family’s role in it in more detail; here we approach their holding of qānūngōī – of Dhar, and other districts – as another form of title to property. As such, this is intended as a beginning of the argument whereby I propose modifications to the concept of ‘service communities’ detached from land and violence, and point instead to multi-pronged strategies of self-aggrandisement that could work for those that could marshal both pen and arms in Mughal villages.
Besides government service and landholding, the family derived its prominence from another source: military prowess. It is this capacity and function that allows us to securely identify this shape-shifting family as zamīndārs, given, as we have said, that the documents do not always refer to them as such. And it tells us something about the mental world of Jayanti Das and his descendants when we note that whenever it came to making ‘overview’ declarations of their status and entitlements, it is this source of privilege that leading members of the family stated most frequently and insistently.
Military service could be rendered proactively, and used as a route into the good books of powerful nobles/imperial officials, and from thence, into public office and associated gains. For instance, in a maḥz̤ar-nāma sealed by qāz̤ī Fath Ilyas, with the date on the seal being 1072 AH (1661–2 CE),Footnote 44 chaudhrī Purshottam Das, son of Mohan Das, recited how his father had hugely expanded the family’s fortunes. There was once, he said, a rahzan or highway robber called Bira, who also happened to be a rāna, that is, a Rajput chieftain, of the neighbouring pargana of Hindola. Because of his ‘looting’, the parganas of Dhar, Nalcha, Digthan and Amjhera, and even the royal highway that passed through these districts, could not remain abādān (inhabited) and rawān (moving/working). After a few years of this, a knight in shining armour showed up – his father, Mohan Das – who, looking to repopulate the area, undertook war and struggle (jang va jaddal) with Bira.
Despite Mohan Das’s valour, Bira was not defeated easily. At some point, the sūba of Malwa was given as jāgir to the (since deceased) Nawab Mirza Sultan,Footnote 45 who graced the fort at Mandu by visiting it in person. Around this time, matters came to a head as a caravan of merchants travelling with fine gold-woven clothes and unstitched cloth (rakhūt va parcha zarīn)Footnote 46 from Akbarabad (Agra) to Burhanpur, were looted on the highway at Jahangirabad (Orchha),Footnote 47 Bira making off with all the expensive wares. Worse, he even attacked, killed and looted the sons of a certain Saiyyid Jamal al-din Hussain who were ‘Mughaliān’.Footnote 48 Jamal al-din Hussain may have been none other than the then-governor of Malwa, appointed in 1616,Footnote 49 and if so, then Bira had indeed overstretched himself.
The appeal (faryād) of the merchants, and the grandchildren of Jamal al-din Hussain reached Emperor Jahangir’s court, and an imperial order reached Mirza ṣāḥib ‘jīū’ (an Indic honorific suffix frequently used in our documents), the jāgirdār, to arrange for the return of the clothes stolen from the merchants in his area, and to expel the miscreant from the region. Thus prodded, the Mirza ‘jīū’ called up the faujdār of district Nalcha, Iwaz Muhammad Khan, to deal with the matter, but the troublemaker could not be overcome. On receiving this bad news, Mirza ‘jīū’ declared in some desperation: ‘How is that damned [Bira] to be cured (managed) (ʿilāj-i ān bad-bakht chi-taur mi āyad)?’ Now, luckily for every one, in those days a wise old religious scholar (mard-i ʿulamā) called Maulana Ghausi used to live in the fort of Mandu. The maulāna sent a petition saying that the matter had to be entrusted to zamīndārs. When consulted, the maulāna said that Mohan Das of pargana Dhar was the best at getting things done (ʿumda ba taraddud ast). And so Mohan Das got his career break.
Mirza sāḥib promptly summoned Mohan Das, bestowed on him a saropā,Footnote 50 tied a sword to his waist and gifted him with an excellent large mare.Footnote 51 Thus incorporated as the government’s agent, Mohan Das was also put in charge of fifty horsemen, together with a certain Khwaja Dilawar jiū, and instructed remove all traces of the maqhūr (loser; i.e., Bira). Together they attacked some villages of the Bhils but clearly to no avail, because Mohan Das then reasoned with the Khwaja that they needed to go further, beyond the thāna, in order to really cure, that is eliminate, the mufsid (mischief-maker).
Having achieved permission to search further afield for Bira, Mohan Das then recruited a Rajput called Bharmal, an old naukar (retainer) of Raja Keshav Das, whom we know to have been the ruler of the petty Rajput principality of Jhabua in the early seventeenth century.Footnote 52 Since Keshav Das had just died, Bharmal was between jobs, so Mohan Das retained him. Mohan Das then established a thāna called Sultanpur, named after the jāgirdār, who expressed satisfaction when this was reported to him. The mission was a success; the harāmkhōrFootnote 53 Bira was found and hounded out of the country. The pargana (not sure which) which had become ghair ʿamalī mawās (totally ungoverned) was taken into the khālṣa sharīf of the government (i.e., turned into crown lands). As reward, the Rajput Bharmal received no less than an imperial mansab and three parganas – Hindola, Jamli and Bawani – as his jāgir, besides the thānadārī of the royal highway of Jahangirpur. And Mohan Das appointed him his own gumāshta (agent) for the office of the chaudhrāī and qānūngoī in the qasba of Sultanpur, himself receiving the dastūr (rights to collect certain taxes) of the pargana and five villages including Ajnai as ʿinām.
Years passed, and the families that were once allies, fell out with each other. Paras Ram, Bharmal’s son, tried to take over the other family’s perquisites, and even had Mohan Das assassinated. Mohan Das’s brother Chandar Bhan, and later his son Purshottam Das inherited his position, salaries and allotments. Purshottam Das’s position must have remained unstable, since he appealed for testimony from all those in the know, that there were no sharers in the dastūr and the villages of ʿinām. The reason for the instability appeared to be that Bharmal’s descendants, having turned to robbery themselves and lost their mansab, had established themselves in the hills on the boundaries of Jhabua and wanted to grab the zamīndārīs of Dhar, Hindola, Sultanpur, Jamli and Nalcha. In the typical style of a maḥz̤ar-nāma, the testimony was witnessed by various individuals: there was a certain Nasirullah, ‘resident of Dhar’; Abdul Fatah, son of Abdul Hamid Sadr Jahan; a Shaikh Kani or Kali who claimed to be the grandson of no less that Hazrat Shah Kamal of Malwa (see Chapter 1): and a Sayyid whose name I cannot read – their names were written in the Perso-Arabic script. Besides theirs, was the name of a certain Paras Ram (clearly not of the Bharmal family, and possibly Purshottam Das’s long-standing associate), written in a very difficult archaic Nagri script. Paras Ram also added an interesting symbol: that of the katār, the short Indian push dagger, which was both a symbol of military courage and status – frequently associated with Rajputs, as well as the Mughals.Footnote 54 It appears that there was no getting away from martial symbols, and the people they represented, in this south-western corner of Malwa.
The story of the rise and fall of Mohan Das maps onto the political geography of Malwa, outlined in Chapter 1. A landscape crisscrossed by trade routes but also dotted with military encampments, formal and informal, created a dangerous environment, which also provided opportunities for military entrepreneurs. Some such entrepreneurs formed little and frequently ephemeral warrior-polities (such as Jhabua), alternately hounded and patronised by imperial regimes. Others did not progress to that stage, but remained service providers to various regimes, but always on the brink of slipping over to the other side themselves. Mohan Das may not have been Rajput himself, but there is no discussion of his precise caste status in the document; this was a land of Rajput-ness. To that heterogeneous spectrum belonged various kinds of individuals and groups, including the Bhils, who lived in the forests and hills of west-central India, were familiar faces in the Mughal army and continued to be recruited by zamīndārs as strong-arm men even in the nineteenth century. While their social superiors never managed to stop thinking of them as thieves,Footnote 55 several of them managed to replicate the techniques of small-scale war and aspirational marriage in order to rebrand themselves as similarly ‘spurious’ Rajputs. The relationship between Bhils and Rajputs continues to be fraught as well as intimate to the present day.Footnote 56
In behaving like boundary-keepers or ‘lords of the marches’ – marzbān – and consequently a militarised landed gentry,Footnote 57 while also seeking the jāgirdār’s patronage for his confrontation with Bira, Mohan Das, his protégé Bharmal, and their descendants exemplified the dynamics of incorporation of local military groups into the Mughal regime. The persistent militarisation of the Indian countryside and the development of certain zones as simultaneously hotbeds of rebellion but also centres of military recruitment has been studied by military historians.Footnote 58 This well-recognised interplay between forces of disorder and order has been extended by Wink to a broader thesis about the constantly contested nature of sovereignty in India – where any would-be sovereign had to not only suppress insubordinate inferiors, but compete with peers and superiors in order to recruit them to his own flag rather than theirs.Footnote 59 Mohan Das and Bira were both potential foot soldiers of the empire; they established their market value through the conspicuous display of force, and in doing so, they dipped into the seemingly bottomless military labour market – the Bhils and the girāsiyas – until order and disorder melted into each other. Bira, Mohan Das and their descendants were all locked in an embrace of mutual as well as collective violence, all inspired by visions of upward mobility.
Exactly like their European contemporaries, whether they would be deemed privateers/state agents or pirates/highwaymen depended on their success in attaching themselves to the state apparatus at the right time. But what turned their temporary gains into entitlements, and part of the dastūr of the area was the recording of those rights on paper, and repeated deployment and/or refreshing of those magic scraps of paper at crucial points.
Brushes with Greatness: Princes and Their Gifts
Although we have seen shadowy references to Prince Khurram in connection with Mohan Das’s career, the member of the Mughal dynasty who is mentioned most frequently in the documents of this family is his son, Prince Murad Baksh. This ill-fated prince, who was executed by his younger brother Aurangzeb during the succession battles of 1658, remained a long-remembered source of royal munificence for this family. Several later documents in the collection, while airily and vaguely claiming older farmāns and asnād as sources of the family’s rights, referred very specifically to a nishān of Murad Baskh. While this nishān (if it ever existed) has disappeared, we do have three or four other documents in the collection that attest to this family’s brush with royalty, and specifically, with the sons of Shah Jahan. Some of these documents have been noticed by Munis Faruqui as an illustration of the process by which an imperial prince took charge of the revenues of his jāgir through the offices of a deputed representative – in this case Dianat Khan – and, in that process, interacted and clashed with the local zamīndārs in the inevitable tussle to extract resources from the jāgir.Footnote 60 While Faruqui’s reading helps us confirm the presence of both Murad and his appointee Dianat Khan in the story of this family’s fortunes,Footnote 61 there are some important inaccuracies which, when corrected, reveal a more complex process, with more than one prince and noble involved.
Prince Murad Baksh was governor of Malwa between 1651 and 1654.Footnote 62 The earliest document within the collection to mention him directly was a parvāna sealed by a noble who styled himself ‘Abd al-Salam, son of […] Khan, banda-yi (slave of) Sultan Murad Baksh’. The seal bore the date 1054 (1644 CE), but the document could be from later, and from during Murad Baksh’s incumbency, because non-royal seals were not necessarily renewed every year. The document introduces two other active characters into the history of our family – Purshottam Das and Paras Ram – both referred to as chaudhrīs. As we know from the later maḥz̤ar-nāma, just discussed, Purshottam Das was Mohan Das’s son and indirect heir; Paras Ram appears to have been Purshottam Das’s constant associate, and witness to the crucial maḥz̤ar-nāma just discussed. Together, documents pertaining to these two men, active in tandem in the middle of the seventeenth century, made up nearly half of the entire collection. In this case, Abd al-Salam, the servant of Murad Baksh, who may have been a noble himself, instructed the two men to send the corrected record of siyāhā-yi roznāmcha (account of daily activities) and āmadan va jamaʿ (taxes) ba-zūdi-yi zūd (ASAP), because he had none of these records in front of him. Appended instructions consisted of forwarding news of Gujarat if anybody arrived from there.Footnote 63
Although the writing in this document is particularly difficult to read, it still indicates the difficulties faced by the entourage of a new jāgīrdār who moved into his new jāgīr and attempted to find out how much it could pay. Records needed to be extracted from those in the know; and in being the appropriate repository of such information Purshottam Das revealed that he was in fact a qānūngō, a record keeper, not just in name, even if he may have been proud of his father having won his state offices and grants through military adventure. As for Abd al-Salam, as Faruqui has eloquently explained, as soon as a prince was allocated jāgīrs in a region, he sent his own men to take charge of the revenue collection. These men were frequently high-ranking nobles themselves; incorporated, through that mix of politics and administration that characterises everything about Mughal governance, into the prince’s team, or household. The same noble possibly occurs in at least one other document from 1658, and if so, had done a rather rapid change of affiliations after Murad Baksh’s death and Aurangzeb’s coronation.Footnote 64
Another person who appears in a series of documents in the mid-1650s, and about whom we have much more information, is Dianat Khan, who is known to have worked as Murad Baksh’s divān. Several of these were parvānas issued in the twenty-eighth regnal year of Shah Jahan (1655 CE) and pertain to the confirming of Purshottam Das’s title to the qanūngōī of Dhar and other entitlements after the death of his uncle and predecessor, Chandar Bhan.Footnote 65
But the most striking documents in the collection that refer to an imperial prince do not pertain to Murad Baksh, but to Dara Shukoh, known by the title Shah Buland Iqbal. There is a brief flurry of such documents issued between 1656 and 1658, when the jagīr of Malwa was taken from Murad Baksh and given to Dara Shukoh. The first of these is a letter bearing the seal of a certain banda-yi (slave of) Shāh Buland Iqbāl (Dara’s title), and the date RY 29 (1656). In this, an employee of Dara’s acknowledged the secret information that Purshottam Das and Paras Ram had supplied, about the depredations of Audi girāsiya and about counter-measures taken by Muhammad Aqil, Harnath Singh and Nand Lal (possibly nobles and/or imperial officials) and by Purshottam Das himself. The letter writer instructed Purshottam Das to take agreements (muchalkas) from the local village headmen, that they would not let the ‘ill-fated monster’ pass through their area, at the pain of committing a crime. For all this effort, however, Purshottam Das did not even qualify for a discount in the taxes he was supposed to collect, for after all, there had been good rains and no natural disasters, and the order only grudgingly suggested some minor adjustments for the difficulties caused by the girāsiya.Footnote 66
We also have a copy of a nishān, dated 1657, preserved in the National Archives of India, addressed to the local Chandrawat Rajput noble, Rao Amar Singh, informing him about the transfer of the districts from the jāgīr of Prince Murad Baksh to the ‘representative of the government’ (i.e., the current jāgīrdār), and instructing him to make his way to the maḥāls (revenue areas) with twenty horsemen, to make sure that nobody created a disturbance while the new amīns and karorīs arrived.Footnote 67 The document had an elaborate list on the verso and bore the seal of Rao Amar Singh Chandrawat.This copied nishān was referred to, and complemented by, a parvāna dated 24 Safar 1068 (29 November 1657), this time issued by Rao Amar Singh on his own authority – now the striking lotus-crested Nagri-script seal was placed on the front.Footnote 68 Amar Singh’s parvāna declared:
Since now the exalted nishān, necessitating respect and obedience, has been glorified by being issued, [ordering] that the pargana Sanawar (?) etc. according to the details on the reverse [of this document], due to the transfer of the representative of the celestially-titled Nawab Murad Baksh, according to the order that the world obeys, has been allocated to the jāgīr of the representative of the Nawab of [glorious deeds] of the exalted government from the beginning of the Kharif harvest of the [Turkish duodenary year] Qawi-Il …
Hence, the writer said, ‘We have made a copy of the nishān and brought it into action, so that the servants of the court protect the subjects and their property’ and more importantly, that ‘no one pays any attention to the old officials (ahdi ba-ʿamalān sābiq ʿamal na dahand)’.
As for Amar Singh’s precise role, this may be an instance of princes, princesses and mansabdārs making subordinate jāgīr grants within their own jāgīrs, which has been noticed elsewhere,Footnote 69 but it was also a case of a low-ranking mansabdār (with nearby but distinct jāgīrs) being deputed to manage a prince’s jāgirs, quite like Dianat Khan. In any case, these two documents bring to light a network of interlocking authorities and derivative documentary orders which confirmed and created, as well as displaced local rights. Amar Singh used a striking lotus-crested seal, which bore the Nagri-script legend ‘Sri Ram Upasak (Worshipper of Ram) Chandrawat Rao Amar Singh’.
This worshipper of the Hindu Vaishnava god Ram most likely belonged to Chandrawat branch of the Sisodia Rajputs of Udaipur, who were settled in Antri, at the northern edge of Malwa in the fifteenth century by the patronage of the Malwa Sultans. Their capital was Rampura.Footnote 70 Rescued from the control of Udaipur by Akbar and favoured with waṭan jāgīrs, that is, jāgīrs within one’s ‘homeland’ or power-base, as only Rajputs were, this clan became rebellious towards the end of the seventeenth century, because of one of those several succession crises badly handed by Aurangzeb.Footnote 71 In the mid-seventeenth century, the family seemed to be doing well. In 1060/1650, Amar Singh had received a mansab of 1000 zāt and 900 sawār and the title Rao; the next year, he received a small promotion and went up to 1000/1000 zāt/sawār; the following year, he was raised to 1500/1000 zāt/sawār; and in 1655–6, he was on 2000/800 zāt/sawār.Footnote 72
So in 1657, we see this member of a Mughal-sponsored Malwa Rajput clan being drawn into Prince Dara Shukoh’s entourage either with the grant of a derivative jāgīr or deputation to handle the prince’s jāgīrs close to his thikāna. But we also see this grant leading to an immediate effort to displace older officials, those of Murad Baksh, and to forge a relationship of deference with the local rural powerholders. The addressees of this parvāna were the chaudhrīs, qānūngōs, riaʿia (peasants), muzariʿān (agriculturists) and general inhabitants of the pargana of Dhar, which was within the jāgīr. And so, just as Mohan Das had picked up a retainer of a neighbouring Mughal-sponsored Rajput kingdom for his military adventure, his son Purshottam Das was drawn into subordinate service by yet another Rajput noble – the intertwining of empire and warrior groups continuing to create the local state machinery as well as local polities in a constant dance.
As for members of our zamīndār family, these documents, issued by nobles in the entourage of imperial princes, reveal both their entrenchment and the precariousness of their position. The claims of multi-generational occupation, of good service and past grant, as the transactions through which these confirmatory grants were extracted, will be discussed further in the subsection on inheritance. It is worth noting here, however, that despite both Murad Baksh and Dara Shikoh dying at their brother Aurangzeb’s behest, orders given by them and their officers were upheld later. For example, a parvāna dated 1674 confirmed Purshottam Das’s title to Ahu and nine other villages, 3,300 bighas of land and several mango trees, due to, it said explicitly, a nishān of Murad Baksh, as well as other asnād. The verso of this document produced a detailed and categorised list of all his rights – villages Ahu, Chandwada, Balwada, Dhamanda, Aguthia, Sindhawda, Phulwada, Taliwada and others forming a phonetically similar and surprisingly long arc stretching across several districts.Footnote 73 Mughal emperors and their nobles respected the orders of rulers of the past, even those that they had killed.
Besides the matter of martiality, honour and rights, we may also pause here for a brief reflection on the use of languages and script. The use of Nagri-script seals in Persian documents is unusual; we have only one other such example in our collection, from the later, Maratha-ruled period (1735 CE, to be precise). I will discuss that document in Chapter 4, because it is a transactional document, of a type called fārigh-khaṭṭī (a deed of release).Footnote 74 The opposite, that is, Persian seals in Hindi or other regional Indic language documents being a far more common practice, continued by landed families and princely states well into the twentieth century. As the symbolic display of power, seals are significant artefacts for studying the deployment of scripts in early modern South Asia. I intend to do this in a future project; for now I note the possibility of a precocious, that is, a Mughal-era Malwa Rajput tradition of the use of Hindi and Nagri in official documentation. We have two unsealed copies of parvānas in our collection, both issued in the summer of 1671 CE by the then-jagirdār of Amjhera, a Jujhar Singh. Jujhar Singh was very likely of the Rāthoḍ family that became entrenched in Amjhera as a result of service to the Mughals from the sixteenth century; he acquired the seat of power after his father’s death in a battle with Shivaji around the family’s fort at Morigarg in 1678.Footnote 75 Prince Jujhar Singh was already issuing orders a few years prior to that; his first order in our collection entailed informing the officials and landlords of the district of Amjhera that some parts of the qānūngōī of the district had been sold to Purshottam Das and his son Nathmal.Footnote 76 By the second parvāna, Rao Jujhar Singh granted 101 bīghas of fallow but arable land to Nathmal, for the setting up of a garden in the town of Amjhera, together with wells and mango trees. Both documents began: ‘Naql-i parvāna ba-mazmun-i Hindī ba-muhr-i Rao Jujhar Singh, jāgīrdār-i Amjhera … (Copy of a parvāna of contents/text in Hindi, bearing the seal of Rao Jujhar Singh, jāgīrdār of Amjhera …’Footnote 77 It does appear that at least some Rajput jāgīrdārs felt free to develop their own epistolary styles in Hindi (which may mean a range of languages, including variations of Rajasthani). But the recipients of such orders found it most useful to store only the Persian translations in their household archives. Such a finding should push us to reconsider the clean ethno-linguistic boundaries that we may anachronistically impose on the past by explaining bilinguality in documents on the basis of variable reading skills alone. People may simply prefer to keep Persian documents, even if they did not read them very well, because those appeared to be more authentically ‘legal’ to them.
It is frustrating to not be able to see what Jujhar Singh’s original Hindi/Hindvi parvānas were like, and compare them to what purported to be their Persian translations. As we shall see with bilingual tax contracts and legal deeds (in Chapters 3 and 4), such ‘translations’ often included significant variations, both in the formulaic opening and closing sections and in content that was considered relevant. Also, given the availability of a mass of Kacchwaha parvānas from the sixteenth through to the nineteenth centuries, with relation to the temples at Mathura, Vrindavan and later Jaipur, it would offer us the possibility of comparing the development of epistolary styles across various Rajput noble households.Footnote 78
We do have, however, a very intriguing Rajasthani document in our collection, which I gathered from the residual documents at the family’s household. The document is unsealed, but bears a decorative dagger-like symbol used like a cypher (as the Kacchwaha documents also do), and the date 1723 Saṃvat, which is 1667 CE. The invocation is ‘Shri Gopal Satya’. The document’s language, undifferentiated words and an eccentric archaic Nagri script make it very difficult to read, even with the assistance of experts from the region. In summary, however, it seems to be a letter written by a certain Maharajadhiraja Maha Singh to Nathmal qānungō, acknowledging the receipt of news about Hari Ram qānungō of pargana Amjhera. Thereafter, matters become a bit unclear, but the recipient is assured that his watan has been given him by Gopalji (i.e., Krishna; god), that the writer was pleased with him, and that Nathmal would always have a place in the writer’s court. Thus, Nathmal should remain content, work well and keep reporting.Footnote 79
While much remains unclear about the sender of this letter/order, it is clearly related to two other documents in the collection, both issued in the Regnal Year 9 of Aurangzeb or 1666–7, one currently at DAI, Kuwait, and the other at the NAI, New Delhi. The first document is a parvāna bearing the faint but clear seal of a high-ranking mansabdār, Wazīr Khan, ordering confiscation of the chaudhrāī of Hari Ram and qānungōī of Bulandar (name unclear) of Amjhera in favour of Purshottam Das and Paras Ram of Dhar and some other associates, who had stood z̤āmin for him.Footnote 80 The second is a copy of a yād-dāsht (literally, memory; in Mughal usage, a register entry) recording the ordered transfer.Footnote 81 Wazīr Khan was none other than the provincial governor or ṣūbadār of Malwa from 1664;Footnote 82 he appears at least twice in our documentary collections, both times in relation to confiscation of chaudhrāīs and qānungoīs. We shall discuss this episode in more detail in Chapter 3. Suffice here to note that while these transactions were recorded in Persian, somebody, perhaps the Rajput jāgirdār of Amjhera with a longer-term relationship with our landlord family, wrote to them in Rajasthani, congratulating them on their good fortune, and asking them to keep up the chain of communication that clearly proliferated in several languages alongside the Persian.
Jāgīrdār and Zamīndār
There was an unavoidable love-hate relationship between these two points of the Mughal spectrum of state. In theory, the jāgīr was an assignment of revenue from a specific jurisdiction – maḥāl – or several of them. Most maḥāls were territorial, but there were also important non-territorial jurisdictions, such as customs dues. Such assignments – the right to collect taxes from designated maḥāls – was the Mughal method of paying a centrally conceived military bureaucracy, without the necessity or ability of channeling all taxes to the centre and redistributing them again. Thus the highest-ranking imperial officers, called mansabdārs (holders of mansabs or positions) were assigned, besides the occasional and very partial cash salary, the right to collect taxes from a number of maḥāls – which formed their jāgīr. Again, while in theory there was a separate and autonomous revenue bureaucracy which would just deliver the taxes as collected to the relevant jāgīrdār, in most cases the jāgirdār was expected to supervise and even organise the collection of taxes. This then brought them into contact with those lynchpins of rural society – the zamīndārs – who held the keys to the wealth of the countryside. The extent to which a jāgīrdār was successful in extracting that wealth, depended on his military might, which, tautologically, depended on the funds he had available for recruiting his soldiers.
Even so, the relationship between jāgirdārs and zamīndārs was not persistently adversarial. Although the jāgīrdār’s demands for his share of the revenue pie squeezed what the zamīndār could retain for himself, the jāgīrdār also represented a ladder into the imperial system, and consequently, a route for the acquisition and legitimation of further resources. Documents within our collection indicate specific lines of mutual dependence, as well as stress between our zamīndārs of Dhar and the many imperial jāgīrdārs who came and went.
Mohan Das and his descendants – his son Purshottam Das and grandson Nathmal – reveal their incorporation into the regime by the regular summons they received from the incumbent jāgīrdār to render military and other services. In particular, a not-very successful mansabdār-jāgīrdār called Nawazish Khan developed a long-standing relationship with the family: at least twenty-six out of the ninety-five parvānas or their copies were issued under his seal, or that of his servants. Nawazish Khan was appointed qila ͑dār and faujdār of Mandsaur in the thirtieth year of Aurangzeb’s reign, or 1687, and then of Mandu until the forty-eighth year of Aurangzeb’s reign, or 1704.Footnote 83 He also appears in documentary collections related to other landed families in the region, especially the qānūngō of Dharampuri, Nandlal.Footnote 84 He is mentioned several times as fairly ineffective against Maratha invasions in a collection of Aurangzeb’s orders known as the Kalimāt-i Tayyibāt.Footnote 85 He struggled throughout his career, recording his woes in an unhappy little notebook of which a single, highly damaged contemporary manuscript copy survives in the National Library, Kolkata, as part of Jadunath Sarkar’s collection. Fortunately for us, there is a pristine copy at Sitamau, commissioned by Jadunath Sarkar’s princely scholar-disciple, Raghubir Sinh. It is a small codex, consisting of a compilation of letters (ruqa‘āt) addressed to nobody in particular (i.e., anonymised), and completed, according to the final folio, on 24 Zil-Hijjah 1115 (1704 CE). The letters mention several characters in our story – the Rāthoḍ jāgirdār based in Amjhera, Jagrup; Wazir Khan, an important mansabdār and sūbadār of Malwa for a period from 1664; as well as Purshottam Das himself. In his letters, Nawazish Khan complains incessantly – of the weather, his poor health, undue punishments from the emperor and Maratha invasions.Footnote 86 Plaintive as he may seem in his letters, in the documents in our family’s collection, Nawazish Khan comes across as an intimidating man and a formidable, if occasionally benevolent patron, in whose dā’ira lay, for a period, the work and fortunes of our family of landlords.
Of the twenty-five parvānas in our collection that are clearly associated with Nawazish Khan, several are issued under the seal of a certain Asadullah, who designates himself in the legend on the seal as ‘murīd-i khāṣ’ (special servant/disciple) of Nawazish Khan. The parvānas range in date from 1659 CE to 1675 CE, that is, from an earlier period of his career than evidenced by the imperial chronicles. This noble was clearly deeply, if unhappily, entrenched in the region. Most of the parvānas are written in what appears to me to be a similar hand, and bear marginal notes in a very distinctive handwriting, written with a thicker pen than the main text. It would be a plausible speculation that these marginal notes were written by Nawazish Khan in his own hand, adding a further layer to what we know about corporeality and authenticity/authority in Mughal documents. It was not just emperors whose palm-prints could render orders more valuable;Footnote 87 the ‘sign of the hand’ of nobles could do similar, if smaller tricks.
The first three parvānas we have under the seal of Nawazish Khan bear dates ranging from April to May 1659 and clearly relate to a tense period when the imperial throne was still in dispute. It is striking that, although by this time Shah Jahan had been imprisoned and Dara Shukoh in flight, this noble hung on to his old seal, according to which he was ‘murīd (disciple)’ of Hazrat Shah Jahan. The first of these parvānas was written in response to a petition from Purshottam chaudhrī and his long-term associate Paras Ram qānūngō of Dhar about their nānkār villages, that is, villages whose revenues were given as payment to chaudhrīs for their tax-collection duties.Footnote 88 Nawazish Khan said dismissively that the matter had already been raised by an unnamed qāz̤ī ‘jīū’ and would be decided according to the recommendations of the same qāz̤ī.Footnote 89 The marginal note merely summarised what the main text had said. The next two orders from Nawazish Khan were strict instructions to pay up; the first said that the arrears of the year 1065 Hijri (1654–5 CE) must be paid up, and that anything Purshottam Das or Paras Ram had to say in the matter could be sent in writing to the wizārat panāh (the wazīr?). A marginal note summarised the order and then said: Whatever the petitioners had to say could be said to the qāz̤ī ‘jīū’ when he reached the area.Footnote 90 The second document backs up the first with a generally intimidating order to Purshottam Das and Paras Ram to make sure that the cultivation of the area was improved significantly, because their welfare lay in achieving these goals.Footnote 91
In the next year, 1660 CE, Nawazish Khan was cracking his whip again. Nawazish Khan’s ‘murīd-i khāṣ’ (therefore, probably Asadullah), wrote to Purshottam Das and Paras Ram reporting that a camel of Khalīfa jīū had been stolen from the town of Dhar. It is not clear who this Khalīfa, literally ‘successor’ may have been; perhaps it was being used as a laqāb (honorific title) for the jāgirdār himself, nicely indigenised through twinning with the Indic honorific ‘jīū’, as the qāz̤ī’s title had been in the first set of parvānas. Whoever it was that had a camel stolen, he was important enough for Purshottam Das and his colleague to be set scurrying. ‘Search, and make such efforts’, the parvāna said, ‘Such that the camel may be found. Certainly do not consider yourself forgiven/exempt (maʿāf) in this matter’.Footnote 92 It was a spree of highway robberies, including the looting of the caravan of a rich merchant, which had offered Mohan Das his career break sometime in the early seventeenth century. Now, maybe forty years later, his son found himself ordered to catch thieves as a routine matter.
Again, in the very hot months of the 1664, a clearly harried Nawazish Khan, still taking tax proceeds from the same jāgīr, urged Purshottam Das: ‘It is necessary that [you] appoint and engage [your] own son in the collection of revenues, [and] come with [your] collection of horsemen and foot soldiers.’ However, military exigency did not excuse sloppiness in maintaining the cash flow, so the jāgīrdār warned darkly, ‘If there occurs any laziness in the collection (of revenues), the results will not be good and his excuses will not be heard, the arrears will be seized.’Footnote 93 We can only speculate what the urgency was about.
On other occasions, Nawazish Khan could be more helpful to Purshottam Das and his associates. In 1660, for example, Nawazish Khan granted the possession of two houses to Purshottam Das. The first parvāna was addressed to a certain (again anonymous) qāz̤ī ‘jīū’, informing him that he (Nawazish Khan) had given a house, formerly belonging to Muhammad Hashim Shiqdar, to Purshottam Das. This order also said that the wood and tiles of the house, should be dispatched to Nawazish Khan himself and the land made over Purshottam Das, on payment of 150 rupees as pīshkash (tribute).Footnote 94 Then there were two other parvānas, issued within two days of each other, both about a house formerly belonging to a certain Bulaqi Chand. The first of these spoke of an architect called Hamid who had done some good work. After this, the order gets somewhat difficult to interpret because of the poor use of pronouns that plagues Persian documents. According to ‘his’ request, ‘he’ was gifted the house on condition that the wood be sent to ‘the Lord’ along with a pīshkash of 150 rupees.Footnote 95 The second of these two parvānas was clearer; here Bulaqi Chand’s house was granted unequivocally to Purshottam Das ‘out of kindness’. The instruction that the house be destroyed (mismār) and the wood sent to His Lord (the noble who issued the parvāna, i.e., Nawazish Khan himself) was repeated.Footnote 96 It is not clear what Nawazish Khan was going to do with all that wood, but this was a regular pattern.
Handing over a mansion or two were important acts of self-interested benevolence; in some cases such transfers helped not just aggrandise Purshottam Das’s family, but discipline unruly relatives. As we shall see in greater detail in the following section, Nawazish Khan also played an important role in sorting out disputes relating to inheritance within the family. In these matters, Nawazish Khan’s responses could vary – sometimes he helped sideline and excise difficult or nonconformist members of the family, and on others, he insisted on the respecting of the proper distribution of inherited rights.
In addition to parvānas, we also have qaul-qarār documents (tax contracts, to be discussed in Chapter 3) sealed by servants of Nawazish Khan. For example, we have a bilingual qaul-qarār, dated 1664, whereby Gambhir Chand, another son of Purshottam Das, took on the ijāra of the village Nalawada for 894 rupees for the year.Footnote 97 There are also multiple collective qaul-qarārs covering the entire district, for example, one for Dhar in 1659, for the amount of 109,571 rupees. This agreement, which involved many chaudhrīs, also had a very clear seal of Nawazish Khan, and also a characteristic superscript.Footnote 98
Such engagements led to further difficulties, negotiations and orders. A final parvāna we have from Nawazish Khan dates from the thirtieth year of an unnamed emperor, most likely Aurangzeb, that is, the year 1675 CE.Footnote 99 This is a response to a petition that Purshottam Das and Paras Ram had written, complaining about the ‘setting aside’ of certain villages by two men called Abdul Hamid and Khuda Dost. The parvāna ordered these men to withdraw their soldiers, and as a compensation, exempted Purshottam Das and his associate from a payment of 3000 rupees, possibly from the taxes they had agreed to collect. In a rambling and plaintive marginal note that circled around the main text, a clearly desperate hand wrote with a thick pen, ‘It is strange that you have not sent me a part of mine [my dues]. Now, it is suitable that you send the money here, and you make a little effort to please me’. A second note added: ‘Entrust my money, with speed, to the person selected by me, so that he can send it’, continuing, somewhat contradictorily: ‘Allah, Allah, zar che khwāhad būd’, which could mean ‘God, what will happen of the money’, or indeed, ‘God, what good is such money!’
The jāgīrdār’s frustration, in conjunction with his willingness to be flexible, reining in imperial officials and offering discounts, demonstrates the constant negotiation that structured the relationship between the jāgīrdār and the zamindār. The episodes described in this section also highlight the crucial role of the jāgīrdār in representing the ‘state’ in the Mughal empire. Here we see not a state–society binary, but in fact a three-way formation: the mansabdār-jāgīrdār, the faujdār and the zamīndār. The jāgīrdār could hardly hope for an automatic smooth flow of taxes towards his salary; what flowed in depended on the relationships he could cultivate, which included both intimidation and negotiation. Also, what the jāgīrdār could achieve, in terms of his duties, depended on such local ties – the faujdār of Nalcha had been helpless to maintain law and order or protect highways without the help of zamindārs such as Mohan Das; Nawazish Khan needed to turn to Mohan Das’s son Purshottam Das to deal with thefts of property belonging to important people. At times, this negotiation approached a breaking point, and we can sense a figurative throwing up of hands by either side or both. But in most cases, difficult terrains, interrupted cash flows and endemic violence served to establish symbiotic relationships between jāgīrdār and the zamindār – two points on the spectrum of martiality that constituted the Mughal state – and ensured the continuance of landed patrilineages such as ours.
Passing the Mantle: Death, Incorporation and Succession
Deaths of incumbent patriarchs inevitably led to a flurry of documentary activity, recording negotiations of the family with outside authorities as well as efforts to re-define the boundaries of kinship and associated entitlements. This was so when the family mantle passed to Purshottam Das. We observe this in high focus during the period of Prince Murad Baksh’s holding of Dhar as jāgīr.
In January 1655, a parvāna was issued, possibly under the seal of Dianat Khan, officially affirming Purshottam Das’s status as chaudhrī of pargana Dhar, and also helpfully tracing the genealogical and historical route by which the office and its perquisites were inherited by him. ‘Mutiʿ al-Islam Purshottam Das’, said the parvāna, ‘son of the elder brother of Chandar Bhan, chaudhrī of pargana Dhar, know that the petition you had sent, has reached, and from its contents, we learnt that Chandar Bhan has died … according to [i.e. conditional upon] good service, you will receive the sanad of chaudhrāī’. The parvāna also noted that the family was in some difficulty at this juncture, with 4,000 rupees of dues remaining outstanding. However, it noted that a certain sādat and iqbāl panāh (Refuge of blessings and glory) Mir Ibrahim had written in, no doubt to encourage leniency, hence, it was loftily declared: ‘investigations in this regard would [only] lead to exile [of the defaulters] and nothing would be achieved’.Footnote 100 Mir Ibrahim’s recommendation appears to have hit the mark, thus in the following month, Rabi II, an order was issued, forgiving the outstanding dues, confirming Purshottam Das in place of his uncle and, per form, admonishing him to stay loyal and work hard, or else. Here, the source of authority was clearly spelled out: the madār al-mahām Dianat Khan had agreed to excuse the pīshkash of 4,000, the document said.Footnote 101
While the position of the chaudhrī and qānūngō tended to be hereditary, they clearly had to be negotiated at generational borders, and this involved hefty exchanges that modelled themselves on imperial ones. Pīshkash is most commonly translated as tribute, and indeed conquerors from around the Persianate world made claims to it from defeated kings, especially when they were principally interested in a quick raid-and-return operation.Footnote 102 But it always included a spectrum of implications ranging from tribute to tax to gift.Footnote 103 In post-conquest Golconda in the late seventeenth century – that is, a few decades after Purshottam Das’s succession to his uncle’s estate – Naiks, semi-independent warlords, paid pīshkash as they formally acknowledge the overlordship of the Mughal empire and their own transformation into zamīndārs.Footnote 104 However, the payment of pīshkash was not necessarily attached to the immediate aftermath of conquest and change in regimes; in the early eighteenth century, the dēśmukh (southern equivalent of chaudhrī) of pargana Pathri in erstwhile Bijapur paid a hefty pīshkash in order to receive an imperial farmān confirming his succession.Footnote 105 Before the consolidation of Anglo-Hindu law from the late eighteenth century, succession to zamīndāri titles was more a process of royal incorporation than reference to abstract doctrine of any kind. Scholarship on courtly gift-givingFootnote 106 points us towards understanding the simultaneity of royal incorporation, economic transaction and assertion of entitlement that is contained in this moment when pīshkash was demanded of Purshottam Das, but also graciously excused, as royalty can always do. In this case, such grace may have been exercised by a noble who had a penchant for appropriating royal jurisdiction; for instance, by granting jāgīrs of his own accord.Footnote 107
Purshottam Das’s father, as we know, was Mohan Das, the brave man who had defeated the highwayman Bira. Why had Mohan Das not passed on the chaudhrāī of pargana Dhar to his son, but to his younger brother, Chandar Bhan, leaving him to make the transfer in turn? Was it because his son had been too young? Or was it a case of co-parcenery title, which was being affirmed on the death of a senior co-parcener? Or maybe it a bit of both: the position of chaudhrī, while inheritable, entailed certain specific services relating to tax-collection and administration, and could not be passed on to an unsuitable family member at will, since it required affirmation by the senior provincial officials. With Purshottam Das having demonstrated his worth for nearly thirty years, and his uncle, perhaps the oldest male member of the family, now dead, the provincial governor willingly confirmed his title, despite the evident glitch during the period of transition.
However, as generally happens with large propertied families, matters were not quite as smooth as this suggests. Purshottam Das may have been an obvious successor, and clearly the documentary record the dominant line of the family preserved made him look that way, but he was not the only claimant to Chandar Bhan’s legacy. Almost immediately after Purshottam Das was confirmed in his position, Chandar Bhan’s own son, Suraj Bhan, turned up to assert his claims. Now this cousin was one who has been systematically erased from the family’s documentary records (more about which in later chapters), and we only know about him (and his line) because of their occasional disruptive appearances, always to make complaints about rights that they were being denied. In doing so, they reveal to us the multiple bases of entitlements in the villages of Mughal India, and the variety of authorities that could (or had to) be mobilised in order to claim them.
In 1660, Purshottam Das wrote an ʿarzdāsht (petition) to this patron, Nawazish Khan, which led to the latter seizing Suraj Bhan’s havelī (mansion), which was attached to that of Purshottam Das’s own, for reasons unknown. In any case, the mansion as handed over to Purshottam Das, subject to the payment of a substantial sum of money – two hundred rupees.Footnote 108
As we have already seen, there was a long-term relationship between Purshottam Das and the not-so-eminent jāgīrdār, Nawazish Khan. However, in the next few years, this relationship failed to shield all of Purshottam Das’s wheeling and dealing. August 1664, Purshottam Das received a rather stern parvāna from the provincial governor (sūbadār), Najabat Khan.Footnote 109 ‘Purshottam Das’, it said, ‘you should know that Suraj Bhan had come as a petitioner (mustaghas-i shud) complaining that the chaudhrāī of pargana Hindola (which had been gained by the family by defeating Bira) belonged to the plaintiff, as co-owner with him (ba-sharkat-i ū, ba-rafeʿ taʿaluq dārad) [but] at present, he had no control over the dastūr (customary due) of chaudhrāī, [for] by oppression and force [Purshottam Das] had himself taken possession of these. Apart from this, there was also the matter of the eighteen villages which had been allocated to the family as ʿinām, from ancient times. Of these ʿināmī villages, Suraj Bhan had populated one village called Ajnai.Footnote 110 Out of malice, the partner [i.e., Purshottam Das] had desolated the peasants of that village’. Now, while familial squabbling was something that all aristocratic families were used to, destroying the revenue capacity of a village was not something that a jāgirdār would put up with. So, he wrote rather crossly to Purshottam Das that he should not interfere with the plaintiff, but above all, that none of them should cause disturbance to the population of the village (dar abādānī-yi mauzaʿ khallal nakunad), or else. After this general instruction from the governor, the local qāz̤ī was set to work out the details of the two cousins’ respective entitlements, which clearly spilled beyond the district of Dhar into the neighbouring district of Hindola and towns such as Sultanpur.Footnote 111
Suraj Bhan appears to have fared much the worse in this conflict. In 1673, he turned up, practically begging, at the door of the kotwāl of the pargana, Sheikh Ghulam Muhammad, asking for a house to live in. He declared himself currently resident in the village of Kharpura, in the same pargana, but clearly life was intolerable in the village, and he wished to move to the town of Dhar. The kotwāl was sympathetic, and so he called for Bardman and Bhagwati Das, who appear to be members of the same extended family, and asked them to arrange things. A suitable empty townhouse was found – it had belonged to someone called Santokni, who was now dead, and before her (?), to Sundar Das, resident of Sultanpur. The house, together with some goods left therein, was made over to Suraj Bhan, who, let us hope, was able to end his days in peace in there.Footnote 112 Forty years later, somebody in the family found it necessary to have a copy of this document – which must have functioned like a kind of conveyance deed – made, and Qāz̤ī Muhammad Mustafa dutifully affixed his seal, bearing the date 1123 (1711 CE) noting that it was a ‘true copy’.
The cycle of disputing and recording was repeated in the next generation. Around 1684, for example, Purshottam Das died, and his heirs immediately fell upon each other to gain bigger shares for themselves. In that year, an unsealed maḥz̤ar-nāma was produced in favour of Purshottam Das’s son, Narsingh Das. The document again told the rollicking tale of exploits of their illustrious ancestor, Mohan Das, but also narrated how the cycle of order and disorder had been repeated in the next generation. Because his own sons were too young, the title had passed from Mohan Das to his brother Chandar Bhan. When Purshottam Das came of age, he had secured his title by seeking and receiving various confirmatory orders from jāgīrdār. But because he had not been able to keep up a sufficient armed contingent, the Bhils and girāsiyas had again surfaced as a major problem, blocking the trade route to Gujarat. The merchants, peasants and general inhabitants now testified that after Purshottam Das, his son Narsingh Das was the best man to be granted the titles and dues, so that he could protect the area and make life and trade possible again.Footnote 113
Narsingh Das was not the only claimant, in fact, he may have been the weaker party, for in 1683, it had been decided in a court (it is not clear whose) that Hamir Chand, the eldest brother, had exclusive right to certain villages, because they were associated with the office of the chaudhr̄i; the rest of the family estate had been shared out.Footnote 114 But Narsingh Das had clearly not been satisfied, for he kept seeking and securing specific grants giving him titles to lands and rights,Footnote 115 while probably also battling more distant cousins, such as Kanwal Das and Tilok Chand, whose claims had to be warded off with yet another maḥz̤ar-nāma, repeating a variant of the Mohan Das story, and favouring the main line of the family.Footnote 116
It is worth noting in this connection that in none of these documents is there any reference to an entity such as ‘Hindu law’. Inheritable property, which included offices and associated perks travelled downwards along the male agnatic line, but not according to any of the dharmaśāstric rules that came to dominate the legal fortunes of Hindu zamīndāri families under British rule. What appeared to apply instead was a conjunction of documented possession of specific shares and remaining within the family’s affective circle and in the good books of incumbent jāgirdārs. Having said that, there was at least a sense of long-established custom, repeatedly referenced as dastūr, and the sense that property and offices that had remained in the family for generations may not be lightly disposed of, even within the same family. Hence the sūbadār’s stern intervention in 1663, when Purshottam Das tried to cut out Suraj Bhan from his dastūr (customary entitlements). But here, too, it was no śāstrī that made the decision, but an imperial mansabdār, aided by a qāz̤ī.
Noblesse oblige required that members of a wealthy family such as this one also undertake charitable activities, with enlightened self-interest at work. Conspicuous giving, especially associated with permanent and popular structures, was an effective way of stamping one’s status on the landscape, from emperors down to rural grandees. Especially where such architectural interjections could rest on, and feed off, existing lines of worship and/or commerce, it also offered opportunities for dialogue or, more cynically speaking, transaction, between lower and higher rungs of the imperial hierarchy. The seeking and granting of royal and sub-royal grants, inevitably out of the same pool of agrarian resources, was yet another mode of creating spaces of entitlements, but it was also a way of demonstrating the power of benevolence of several powerholders at the same time.
In 1662 (1073 AH) a certain Kishan Das managed to secure a grant from Muhammad Hussain of twenty bīghas of banjar pokhta (fallow) land in Sultanpur, the thāna-town in the neighbouring pargana of Hindola which Mohan Das had established, for setting up a much-needed garden and rest-house for travellers.Footnote 117 A remarkably accurate, although scrappily scribed copy of this parvāna was also produced and authenticated at some point, and preserved within the collection before it was dispersed.Footnote 118 Since this is the only instance in which Kishan Das is mentioned in our collection of documents, it is hard to say what exactly his relationship was with the other protagonists, whom we have come to know better. It is possible that he was an individual unrelated to the family. Since in the 1655 dispute between Suraj Bhan and Purshottam Das, the latter had secured control over the well-bearing towns and villages of Sultanpur, Kishan Das’s grant would have impinged upon the holdings of the dominant family faction, and this maybe why the document was preserved in the family collection. The family would have looked upon the building of said garden and rest-house as an effective way of attracting potentially toll-paying commercial traffic through their areas. In other instances, it is clear that such percolation was facilitated by recognisable members of the family. The official called Muhammad Hussain made more than one grant in the month of Rabi I, year 1073/1662, this too for the establishment of gardens in which travellers could rest. A few days before the grant to Kishan Das, another grant of 25 bīghas of fallow land, located in the village of Sindhauri had been made to Nathmal, son of Purshottam Das chaudhrī.Footnote 119
Muhammad Hussain himself declared the grant a taṣadduq – that is, a virtuous act of charity. Quite like Kishan Das and Nathmal, his piety was no doubt along the lines of enlightened self-interest, for, as he said, the garden would be for the ārām-i musāfirān (comfort of the travellers). Such grants may be connected with similar awards made in the same period by higher-ranking noble/officials of Malwa to the temple complexes of Ujjain and their keepers.Footnote 120 In recent and ongoing studies of the Rajput Kacchwaha dynasty, their channelling of imperial grants and redistribution of their own empire-derived resources have much to tell us about layered efforts at capturing sacred geographies; that can take us beyond the stale and inaccurate stories of Mughal ‘tolerance’ or its obverse.Footnote 121 Of course all these grants were made in Emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir’s time; but they were not all his own, and as such are poor evidence for his tolerance or bigotry. As in earlier periods in south-central India, the creation of resources providing water supply and facilitating travel were an established form of charity in which locally deputed officials and local gentry could cooperate.Footnote 122 Just as the neighbouring Bijapuri nobles had been, Mughal nobles-officers were provided with opportunities for patronage; zamīndārs such as this family witnessed the drawing of the apparatus of the Mughal state into rural pockets, and managed to haul themselves up into it, bit by it.
As Mughal nobles-officers themselves, local Rajput families with jāgīrs did not hold back from making similar charitable grants. We have already seen how Nathmal, son of Purshottam Das, was able to benefit from one such grant in 1672, when the Amjhera-based Rāthoḍ noble Jujhar Singh granted 101 bīghas of land, tax-free, for the setting up of a garden in Amjhera town. This order did not call the grant anything specific; it was just said that a certain amount of land ‘was given’. The order had a certain earthiness about it – it declared that anybody who interfered with the grant would be judged nāmak-harām or unfaithful, and appended some kind of specific curse/threat towards such Hindu and Muslim interlopers.Footnote 123
Finally, all these grants were repeatedly reconfirmed by additional confirmations. In 1671, Purshottam Das’s son Nathmal appears to have been on a spree of organising gardens; he secured another parvāna, this time from the district tax official (amīn) Sheikh Ibrahim, confirming 50 bighas of land in the village of Gondhra, pargana Dhar, on the basis of old custom (ba-dastūr-i sābiq) and unspecified old documents.Footnote 124
Here, it is worth commenting on the terminology used in the making and recording of grants such as these. The endowment of lands or property for the establishment and upkeep of charitable institutions is recorded across the Islamicate world with the legal device of waqf, which derives from the Arabic root w-q-f, implying stopping, bringing to a standstill. For centuries, the making of waqf has been a method for taking property out of the fiscal reach of the state and beyond the ordinary distributive rules of Islamic inheritance laws. Within the Persianate sphere, deeds creating waqfs – waqf-nāmas – were prolific well into the twentieth century.Footnote 125 In South Asia, despite acrid politics over the validity of specific types of waqfs, and their significance for Muslim identity formation under British colonial rule and afterwards,Footnote 126 the legal device of waqf and waqf-nāma documents appear to be startlingly absent until the nineteenth century.Footnote 127 The situation may have been somewhat different in the Deccan Sultanates,Footnote 128 but this was certainly the case in the Mughal empire. None of the collections of documents associated with charitable grants that I have seen, these including grants to Hindu temples and monasteries as well as Muslim scholarly families, contain any waqf-nāmas. The term of choice for charitable grants in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries is madad-i maʿash (lit. ‘help with livelihood expenses’). Such grants are made using documentary forms for royal and sub-royal orders – farmāns, parvānas – and so on.
In the first two documents discussed, the officer-noble Muhammad Hussain uses a particular set phrase ‘taṣadduq-i farq-i mubārak-i bandegān-i haz̤rat Suleimān martabat’, which is best translated as ‘charitable donation on the part of the servants of His Solomonic Majesty’. The phrase is followed by a gap in the text which is the usually the indication of elevatio, or a name respectfully elevated. Here one is clearly meant to read the name of the donor, Muhammad Hussain himself, as written within the seal. Looking at the formulaic phrase more closely, however, one finds elaborations of Indo-Persianate legal terminology that occupied the lexical space for ‘waqf’. The phrase ‘tasadduq-i farq-i mubārak’ was pan-Mughal; it also occurs in a parvāna issued by a Mughal governor, which granted a regular levy from certain villages to a group of ascetics associated with the temple complex at Vṛndavan. ‘Farq-i mubārak’ is difficult to translate; Habib has suggested ‘For His Majesty’s good fortune’.Footnote 129 Another scholar proposed that the literal meaning of ‘blessed head’ may indicate the cultural practice of twirling a donation above the recipient’s head before handing over.Footnote 130 It may also mean that that all such donations were theoretically made on the behalf of the emperor. In any case, Muhammad Hussain aimed, by making this taṣadduq or charitable grant, to enact the royalty through generosity, just as Solomon the Great had done in his legendary charitableness.
Copies, Lists and Assertion of Rights
However successful one might be, in the Mughal empire it was essential to be proactive about one’s entitlements, and the family was well aware of this need, demonstrating this awareness by acquiring authenticated copies nishāns issued by imperial princes. In this section, we will consider the possibility that the making and validating of such copies reveals an active approach to recording rights, and excluding those of others. And in doing so, I shall consciously depart from standard practice in Mughal historiography, in which historians display great care in detecting forgeries but treat what appears to them as plausible copies as the equivalent of originals.Footnote 131
Reconfirmation could take place through the instrumentality of a documentary form specifically intended for this purpose, called taṣdīq (derived from the Arabic root ṣa-da-qa, related to truth). We have one such taṣdīq, said to be issued under the seal of a certain Mirza Khan, which noted that since farmāns of Arsh Āshiyānī (Akbar) and Jannat Makānī (Jahangir) and other documents of past governors, [granting] village Ahu and others as ʿinām and nānkār, in the name of Mohan Das, Chandar Bhan and Purshottam Das, had reached the office [of the verifying authority] and had been found correct after checking, ‘For this reason, these two words were written in the manner of taṣdīq (li-hazā, in dō kalme tarīq-i taṣdīq tahrīr yāft)’. There followed a list of fifteen villages, grouped into two categories: ten in their entirety (mawāzī dah mauzaʿ) and five in which some bīghas of land were claimed.Footnote 132
Although by content alone, it would appear that the taṣdīq was issued to Purshottam Das, the document we have is itself a copy. This naql of the taṣdīq was validated by the seal of the familiar qāz̤ī, Muhammad Mustafa, who, as we know, worked in the area between the 1690s and 1710s. Thus, rather mind-bogglingly, what we have is a validated copy of a verificatory document confirming older orders; which shows, if nothing else, how the family’s claims on various villages and their produce, on the basis of ʿinām and nānkār (that is, non-specific and specifically office-related grants) had expanded. The making of this copy also hints that, towards the end of the seventeenth century, a certain line of the family was obsessively recording and rerecording those rights, to establish a seemingly uncomplicated line of succession to those rights.
Reconfirmation could also be achieved through declarative orders. In 1672, for example, Islam Khan, the jāgīrdār who appears to have replaced Nawazish Khan as principal patron of the family, declared that since several villages including Ahu, further arable land and several mango trees belonged to Purshottam Das as a result of nishāns and asnād (generally, documents), their possession was reconfirmed.Footnote 133 By 1693, by which time Purshottam Das was dead and gone, a serious division of spoils needed to be achieved. On that occasion, the then-jāgīrdār Asad Khan, possibly a well-known noble of Aurangzeb’s reign, together with the Qāz̤ī Muhammad Mustafa sealed a taqsīm-nāma (partition deed) pertaining to no fewer than 178 villages. Three major lines, related to the five original māliks emerge from the divisions – and so fifty-two villages went to Tilokchand, Lalchand and others, heirs of Gopal Das; fifty-six villages to the descendants of Bhagwant, and fifty-six to the descendants of Jayanti Das.Footnote 134
In 1731, the family secured a parvāna from none other than the wazīr al-mumālik Qamar al-Din Khan, ‘Asaf Jah’, who had by this time established a practically autonomous kingdom of his own, the Nizamat of Hyderabad.Footnote 135 But a breakaway provincial governor still respected old imperial documents. When Hamir Chand and Nihal Chand, two sons of Purshottam Das, who did not quite get along with their other brothers, petitioned the governor, stating the chaudhrāī of the pargana Dhar belonged to them, noting their loyalty (to whom, one wonders) and the fact that they possessed copies of farmāns and a nishān of Murad Baksh in support of their rights, their claims were upheld and confirmed. In the twilight of the Mughal empire, there was a clear case of authentication inflation – and so a copy of this order was sealed by none less than the Chief Qāz̤ī – the Qāz̤ī al-Quz̤z̤āt.Footnote 136
Ironically, these efforts at recording and erasing assist us in recreating the family tree, tracking the genealogical, but even more importantly, personal and consequently legal relationships of various men and women with each other. Conceiving of the family as a fluid matrix of emotional and material resourcesFootnote 137 complements our concept of law and an interlocking field of orders, transactions, obligations and entitlements. As we shall see in subsequent chapters, the documents in our collection played an active role in the evolution of the matrix of kinship and entitlements within this family – and bear clear signs of having been deployed as instruments for the consolidation of certain familial knots, paired with the exclusion of certain other lines.
Orders issued by emperors, princes and nobles co-created enforceable rights in the countryside, which rested on multiple references, most importantly to pre-existing titles, custom and written documents. Custom, or customary dues, while being references to antiquity, could themselves derive from older written orders conferring rights – of office-holding, collecting taxes or exemption from them. These rights were acquired and expanded through a capacious portfolio of enterprise by families such as ours; clan-based landholding, military enterprise and literacy- and numeracy-based state services all fed into the building of rural eminence that made the zamīndār. The entitlements all broadly consisted of the rights to share in the produce of the land – whether one calls that landowning with right to rent, office-holding with right to tax, or tax exemption. And so it is to tax – the state’s extraction of resources from its subjects, and its potential as a business opportunity – that we turn in the next chapter.