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Pursuing an Elusive Seeker of Universal Truth – the Identity and Environment of the Author of the Dabistān–i Mazāhib

  • M. Athar Ali


Professor Athar Ali (born 18 January 1925) studied at Aligarh Muslim University 1948–53. His PhD studies were supervised by Professor Satish Chandra. In 1953 he was appointed research assistant at the university and became a Professor in 1978. He was Wilson Fellow at the Smithsonian Institute in 1986, Smuts Fellow, Cambridge, 1974–5 a nd President of the Indian History Congress in 1989. His major publications are The Mughal Nobility under Aurangzeb (Aligarh, 1966) and The Apparatus of Empire (Delhi, 1985). Sadly he died not long after this article was accepted for publication and was therefore unable to see it in print.



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1 Dabistān-i Mazāhib, pub. Muḥammad, Ibrāhīm ibn Nür (Bombay, 1292/1875, hereafter cited as DM), p.327.

2 DM, p. 105.

3 See Marshall, D. N., Mughals in India (Bombay, 1967), i, p. 299, for an incomplete list of the catalogued MSS.

3a ‘Ali Asghar Mustafawi's ed. (Teheran, 1361 Solar/1982) is a mere ofiset reprint of this edition, with a rather light-weight introduction added.

4 Marshall, op cit., reports earlier editions, Teheran, 1260/ 844, and Bombay, 1266/1849–50 and 1277/1860–1.

5 Data about translations derived from Rieu, C.Catalogue of the Persian MSS in the British Museum (London, 1879), p. 142a.

6 Ibid., p. 141b.

6a See Modi, Jivanji Jamshedji, “A Parsee High Priest (Dastur Azar Kaiwan, 1529–1614 A.C.) with his Zoroastrian Disciples in Patna in the 16th and 17th Century A.C.), Journal of the K.R. Cama Oriental Institute (hereafter JKRCOI), XX (1932), p. 7 & n.

7 Under the title Nānak Panthīs, originally appearing in Journal of Indian History, XIX(2). Characteristically, the translator commends the author of the Dabistān-i Mazāhib for giving “an impartial account of what he saw and heard of the Sikhs and their Gurus during his contact with them” (p. 3).

7a While rejecting the identification of the author of Dabistān with Muḥsin Fāni, Modi, J. J. (JKRCOI, pp. 811) still falls into the error of accepting the date of the death of Muhsin Fani as that of our author.

8 As stated for example as in the tide given to the Dabistān in Br. Mus. MS. Add. 7613 (Rieu, i, 143a).

9 DM, p. 33.

10 Ibid., pp. 33, 35.

11 Br. Mus. MSS. Add. 16,670 (A.D. 1792) and Add. 16,671 (A.D. 1797); Rieu, , i, p. 142b.

12 Ghiyās u'l Lughāt, s.v. mobad. Muḥammad Ghiyāṣuddin, the author of this very comprehensive dictionary, completed it in A.H. 1242/1826–7.

13 Rieu, , i, pp. 142qa143a.

14 Ma'āsir u'l Kirām (Hyderabad (Dn), 1910), i, p. 22.

15 Dabistan or School of Manners, tr. Shea, D. and Troyer, A. (London, 1843), i, PP. xiixv.

16 Rieu, , i, pp. 141a142a.

17 DM, p. 144. There is no sanction in the Dabistān for Modi's statement that the author was born in Persia and then brought to India (JRKCOI, XX, p. 9).

18 DM, p. 147. For Jahāngir's meetings with Jadrūp, see Tūzuk-i Jahāngiri, ed. Ahmad, Saiyid (Ghazipur & Aligarh, 18631864), PP. 175–6, 250–3, 279–81. His description of Jadrūp matches that of Chatrūpa in the Dabistān, pp. 146–7; the Dabistān also speaks of the high regard that jahāngir had for him.

19 DM, pp. 32–3. Cf.Modi, JKRCOI, XX, pp. 40–1.

20 DM, p. 33.

21 Ibid., pp. 36–7.

22 Ibid., p. 36.

23 Ibid., p. 34.

24 Ibid., p. 35.

25 Ibid., p. 41.

26 Ibid., p. 62.

27 Ibid., p. 63. This Shaidāb, probably for convenience, also bore the name Shamsuddin.

28 Ibid., p. 148.

29 Ibid., p. 323.

30 Ibid., pp. 42–3.

31 Ibid., p. 36.

32 Ibid., p. 63.

32a Ibid., pp. 62–3.

33 Ibid., p. 40.

34 Ibid., p. 211.

35 Ibid., p. 321.

36 Ibid., p. 135.

37 Ibid., p. 144.

38 Ibid., p. 154.

39 Ibid., p. 33.

40 Ibid., p. 162.

41 Ibid., p. 162.

42 Ibid., p. 161.

43 Ibid., pp. 218, 254.

44 Ibid., pp. 147, 190.

45 Ibid., p. 299.

46 Ibid., p. 241.

47 Ibid., p. 231.

48 Ibid., p. 152.

49 Ibid., p. 144.

50 Ibid., p. 167.

51 Ibid., p. 167.

52 Ibid., p. 202. There seems to be no sanction in the Dabistān for Modi's suggestion (JKRCOI, XX, pp. 910) that he visited Navsari, the famous Parsi settlement near Surat, and obtained information about from Dastur Birzo Kamdin there.

53 DM, p. 194.

54 Paikar and jahān Nūr (ibid., p. 62).

55 Ibid., p. 125.

56 Ibid., p. 15.

57 Ibid., p. 105.

58 Ibid., p. 119.

59 Rieu, , i, p. 142a.

60 DM, p. 105.

61 Rieu, , i, p. 142a. He is right in contesting the reference to “the Shores of Persia” in the Shea-Troyer translation, ii, p. 2.

62 DM, p. 27. For a reconstruction of Āzar Kaiwān's life, mostly based on the Dabislan see Modi, , JKRCOI, XX, pp. 2534.

63 DM, pp. 2644.

64 Ibid., pp. 32–3.

65 Ibid., pp. 26–31.

65a Cf. Modi, , JKRCOI, XX, pp. 3451, for information on 13 Zoroastrian and 10 non-Zoroastrian followers of Āzar Kaiwān.

66 I take it that nez here is a mistranscription for bad.

67 DM, p. 42.Modi, , JKRCOI, XX, pp. 5675, draws up a list of the beliefs of Āzar Kaiwān and his disciples and traces their antecedents; on pp. 75–85 he compares them with those of earlier Zoroastrian tradition. A very perceptive and sympathetic treatment will be found in Corbin, H., “Āzar Kayvān”, Encyclopaedia Iranica, i, pp. 183–7, where the Ishrāqī antecedents of the school are strongly brought out.

68 DM, p. 190. There is no justification in the text for Ganda Singh's rendering: “Guru Hargobind in his letters to the Chronicler remembered [himself] by the title of Nānak who is the spiritual head of this sect”. (Nānakpantkis, tr., p. 20).

69 DM, p. 192.

70 Rieu, , i, p. 141b. The editor of the Teheran reprint of DM, in his preface, p. xvii, justifiably points out that it would have been very difficult for a Muslim to attribute the original foundations of Mecca and Medina to Parsi shrines of the Moon (mah) as the author does (pp. 15–16).

71 Hadi, Nabi, Dictionary of Indo-Persian Literature (New Delhi, 1995), pp. 360–1.

72 DM, p. 32.

73 Ibid., p. 60.

74 Ibid., p. 63.

75 Ibid., p. 23.

76 Ibid., p. 35. This work is extant (pub. Fattāh, Sayyid ‘AbdulurfMir Ashraf‘Ali, Bombay, 1848), but the author gives his own name as Khudā Jūi (God-seeker); this may well be his pen-name (cf. Modi, , JKRCOI, XX, pp. 20–1).

77 DM, p. 37. He was also the author of Azhrang-i Mānī (DM, p. 36), which may be the Shahristān, litho. pub. Bombay, 1851, and described by Modi, , JKRCOI, XX, pp. 21–3.

78 DM, p. 36.

79 Khurram ān roz kazīn manzil-i wīrān bi-rawam, etc. (“Happy the day I leave this desolate stage of journey”), DM, p. 38. The author himself quotes from an elegy he composed for Shaidosh upon his death in 1040/1630–1 (P. 39).

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