- This book demands a lot of the general reader. It is very detailed and dense. A problem – as with Russian novels – is that there are lots of characters with unfamiliar names so it’s difficult to keep track of who is who. Additionally, the geography is unfamiliar, and the maps – such as they exist – are insufficiently detailed to make it easy to see what is happening where. So, it’s all a bit confusing.
- I’m not sure of the purpose of all the detail – other than “because it’s there”. I suppose it needs to be told, but the highly-compressed details are maybe of greater interest and intelligibility to those from (or whose forebears are from) the Indian Sub-Continent than to Europeans.
- I think the author has an overall political agenda, which is basically to say that the antipathy between Hindus and Muslims was something invented by the British – or at least a British historian1 in 1900. However, I may be being a little “woke” in all this, seeing slights against “the British” wherever I look. Any antipathy to the British is submerged in the bulk of the text and only pops up occasionally in any explicit sense.
- The history doesn’t seem to take any moral stance on the continual warfare between the various kingdoms that rise and fall. But I can’t see why waves of invasions by Afghans, Turks and Mongols should be seen as any less reprehensible than the British takeover, which was orders of magnitude less bloody, and was – like the earlier takeovers – facilitated by discord and rivalry amongst the Indian princes (to over-simplify somewhat).
- It occurs to me that this – despite its contemporary provenance – is very much a book in “great man2” style of historiography. The common people only seem to be mentioned as the payers of the taxes that enable the ostentatious lifestyles and continual warfare of the rulers; and as supplying the armies thereof.
- There’s no social commentary at all, and there’s an undercurrent of the thought that women are men’s property. It’s remarked (p. 220) that Akhbar’s harem had between 300 and 5,000 “wives” in it, supplied to cement political relationships, without any comment on what the women thought of this state of affairs. The terminology is tendentious – it’s not possible to have 5,000 “wives” without using the term “wife” in such a way as to empty it of any of the status and privileges usually accruing thereto.
- Also, there are several mentions of the “terrible” tradition of Jauhar3, wherein if a citadel was undergoing a siege that was likely to be successful for the attackers, the defenders would “destroy” their womenfolk before fighting to the death. Note the terminology – “destruction” – to stop their property falling into their enemies’ hands – not “brutal murder”. It’s not as though transfer from one harem to another would be a fate worse than death (as would be the case of falling into the hands of the Romans at Masada, a possible parallel).
- A point made throughout the book is that the destruction of temples was the sort of thing that Indian rulers did to one another as part of their wars: a ruler would offer patronage to his preferred religions or sects, whether he believed in them or not, mainly to make a name for himself. Then, when he was defeated, the victor would loot and smash, to extinguish the vanquished ruler’s name. There was no religious motive for this. It seems that this is all fine – despite the killing and smashing – but things got nasty when people started believing their religions. I might also add that India (including Pakistan and Bangladesh) wasn’t a nation but a collection of nations, unified (to some degree) under an empire. Without this central authority to provide unification, a cultural or religious unification is needed.
- The author argues that the Mughals (rather than the British, of course) set up the Sub-Continent for the modern world by providing a universal legal and tax system and a common language of culture and courtly communication, namely Persian. Maybe, but there’s no actual evaluation of this; and the Mughals only fairly briefly controlled the (bulk of the) lower half of India.
- Where to from here? I would like to get a variety of perspectives on India and its history (irrespective of the impact of the British thereon). So,
- I need to compare in detail how this book deals with the topic of Aurangzeb as against "Truschke (Audrey) - A much-maligned Mughal", by re-reading the latter.
- Read or re-read other books that deal – in whole or part – with Indian history and culture, such as:-
→ "Cameron (James) - An Indian Summer"
→ "Dalrymple (William) - City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi"
→ "Dalrymple (William) - The Age of Kali: Indian Travels and Encounters"
→ "Darwin (John) - Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain"
→ "Forster (E.M.) - A Passage to India"
→ "Keay (John) - India: A History"
→ "McNeill (Wiliam H.) & Iriye (Mitsuko), Eds. - Readings in World History, Vol. 9 (Modern Asia & Africa)"
→ "Mistry (Rohinton) - A Fine Balance"
→ "Roberts (J.M.) - The Pelican History of the World"
→ "Rushdie (Salmon) - The Satanic Verses"
→ "Seth (Vikram) - A Suitable Boy"
→ "Tharoor (Shashi) - Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India"
→ "Tully (Mark) & Wright (Gillian) - India in Slow Motion"
Amazon Book Description4
- Shortlisted for the 2020 Cundill History Prize.
- 'Remarkable ... this brilliant book stands as an important monument to an almost forgotten world'
→ William Dalrymple, Spectator
- A sweeping, magisterial new history of India from the middle ages to the arrival of the British.
- The Indian subcontinent might seem a self-contained world. Protected by vast mountains and seas, it has created its own religions, philosophies and social systems. And yet this ancient land experienced prolonged and intense interaction with the peoples and cultures of East and Southeast Asia, Europe, Africa and, especially, Central Asia and the Iranian plateau between the eleventh and eighteenth centuries.
- Richard M. Eaton's wonderful new book tells this extraordinary story with relish and originality. His major theme is the rise of 'Persianate' culture - a many-faceted transregional world informed by a canon of texts that circulated through ever-widening networks across much of Asia. Introduced to India in the eleventh century by dynasties based in eastern Afghanistan, this culture would become thoroughly indigenized by the time of the great Mughals in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. This long-term process of cultural interaction and assimilation is reflected in India's language, literature, cuisine, attire, religion, styles of rulership and warfare, science, art, music, architecture, and more.
- The book brilliantly elaborates the complex encounter between India's Sanskrit culture - which continued to flourish and grow throughout this period - and Persian culture, which helped shape the Delhi Sultanate, the Mughal Empire and a host of regional states, and made India what it is today.
Inside Cover Blurb & Back Cover Affidavits
- Richard M. Eaton has over a long and varied career published a number of ground-breaking books on India before 1800, including major works on the social roles of Sufis, slavery, Indian biography, the growth of Muslim societies along Bengal’s eastern frontiers, the social history of the Deccan, and the place of Islam in the sub-continent’s history. India in the Persianate Age draws on a lifetime of teaching and research. He is Professor of History at the University of Arizona.
- 'This is the epic period in which India was invented. The Hindi language, the biryani and to some extent Hinduism (a Persian word) all come from this Persianate age. By rethinking this history, Eaton breaks free from religious sectarianism ... His book is a fine tribute to India’
→ Tanjil Rashid, The Times
- 'A richly researched, badly needed and wholly convincing account’
→ John Keay, Literary Review
- 'Richard Eaton employs rich empirical detail to demonstrate that intellectual encounters between the Sanskrit and Persian worlds were not tied to any one religion and that the two were not hostile ... and does so with great panache’
→ Rudrangshu Mukherjee, Business Standard
- 'Lucid and elegant... a masterful survey written by a leading historian of the medieval and early modern eras of South Asia’
→ Azfar Moin
List of Illustrations – ix
List of Maps – xi
Acknowledgements – xiii
Introduction – 3
→ Stereotypes and Challenges – 3
→ Two Transregional Worlds: Sanskrit and Persianate – 10
- The Growth of Turkic Power, 1000-1300 – 19
→ A Tale of Two Raids: 1022, 1025 – 19
→ Political Culture in the Sanskrit World – 23
→ Political Culture in the Persianate World – 30
→ The Ghurid Conquest of North India, 1192-1206 – 37
→ The Delhi Sultanate under the Mamluks, or Slave Kings – 45
→ Conclusion – 57
- The Diffusion of Sultanate Systems, 1200-1400 – 62
→ Imperial Expansion Across the Vindhyas – 62
→ Settlers, Shaikhs and the Diffusion of Sultanate Institutions – 73
→ The Early Bengal Sultanate – 76
→ Sultanates of the Deccan: the Bahmanis and Vijayanagara – 80
→ The Early Kashmir Sultanate – 88
→ The Decline of the Tughluq Empire – 92
→ Conclusion – 97
- Timur’s Invasion and Legacy, 1400-1550 – 100
→ Overview – 100
→ Upper India – 105
→ Bengal – 111
→ Kashmir – 114
→ Gujarat – 119
→ Malwa – 122
→ Emerging Identities: the Idea of ‘Rajput’ – 128
→ Writing in Vernacular Languages – 133
→ Conclusion – 138
- The Deccan and the South, 1400-1650 – 142
→ Links to the Persianate World – 142
→ Successors to the Bahmani State – 149
→ Political and Cultural Evolution at Vijayanagara – 157
→ Gunpowder Technology in the Deccan – 167
→ Cultural Production in the Gunpowder Age – 173
→ Vijayanagara’s Successors and South India – 175
→ Conclusion – 190
- The Consolidation of Mughal Rule, 1526-1605 – 195
→ Overview – 195
→ Babur – 198
→ Humayun – 206
→ Akbar’s Early Years – 215
→ Emerging Identities: Rajputs – 217
→ Mughal Expansion Under Akbar – 224
→ Akbar’s Religious Ideas – 233
→ Conclusion – 239
- India under Jahangir and Shah Jahan, 1605-1658 – 244
→ Jahangir – 244
→ The View from the Frontier – 252
→ The Deccan: Africans and Marathas – 259
→ Emerging Identities: the Idea of ‘Sikh’ – 264
→ Assessing Jahangir – 271
→ Shah Jahan – 273
→ Conclusion – 282
- Aurangzeb - from Prince to Emperor ‘Alamgir, 1618-1707 – 288
→ Prince Aurangzeb - Four Vignettes – 288
→ War of Succession, 1657-9 – 301
→ ‘Alamgir’s Early Reign – 309
→ Emerging Identities: the Marathas from Shahji to Tarabai – 314
→ ‘One Pomegranate to Serve a Hundred Sick Men’ – 325
→ Religion and Sovereignty Under ‘Alamgir – 327
→ Conclusion – 338
- Eighteenth century Transitions – 340
→ Political Changes, 1707-48 – 340
→ Maratha Uprisings – 350
→ Sikh Uprisings – 355
→ Emerging Identities: Muslims in Bengal and Punjab – 361
→ Early Modern Globalization – 368
→ Conclusion – 377
- Conclusion and Epilogue – 380
→ India in the Persianate World – 380
→ The Mughals in the Sanskrit World – 386
→ The Lotus and the Lion – 390
→ Towards Modernity – 393
Notes – 399
Index – 461
In-Page Footnotes ("Eaton (Richard M.) - India in the Persianate Age: 1000-1765")
- Or a class of such historians. See p. 190. The representative cited is Robert Sewell, author of A Forgotten Empire – Vijayanagar, who described Vijayanagara as “A Hindu bulwark against Muhammadan conquest”.
- This book appears to be a translation of two Portuguese manuscripts written by two different Portuguese merchants around 1520.
- Wikipedia has a rather denigratory account of Robert Sewell as a publicist and apologist for the British Raj (Wikipedia: Robert Sewell).
- “As with other British administrators of his type at that period, his purpose was not scholarly but rather to bolster administrative control by constructing a history that placed British rule as a virtue and a necessity rather than something to be denigrated”.
- This might have been written by Eaton himself.
- This style includes “great women” when they occupy the great offices of state or influence those so occupying. No historian misses off Elizabeth I or Catherine the Great.
- I only remember coming across Nur Jahan in this regard. See Wikipedia: Nur Jahan: “the twentieth (and last) wife of the Mughal emperor Jahangir”; and Tarabai Mohite (1675 – 1761), who was the regent of the Maratha Empire - a rival to the Mughals - from 1700 until 1708. See Wikipedia: Tarabai.
- See p. 130 (and elsewhere) and Wikipedia: Jauhar.
- Wikipedia - presumably written by those who think the situation heroic and raise the ‘clash of civilisations’ model that Eaton is seeking to refute – describes the practice as one of “self immolation” by the women themselves.
- I’m not sure where this text comes from as it’s not on the covers of my copy, which is restricted to affidavits.
Penguin (16 July 2020)
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2021
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)