CORRESPONDENCE iv. On the subcontinent of India



iv. On the subcontinent of India

The chancellery of official and diplomatic correspondence was an organ of Indian Muslim political organization. At various times it was known as dīvān-­e resālat, dīvānal-enšāʾ, dīvānal-rasāʾel, or dār al-­enšāʾ. Under the Turkish Ghaznavids (366-582/979-­1186), who ruled much of northern India, the chief secretary was designated dabīr-e ḵāṣṣ, in contrast to monšī-e nāẓer or monšī al-monšīyāt, titles used in some other Muslim countries (Mohiuddin, 1971, pp. 3-10). In addition to directing state correspondence and drafting royal orders (tawqīʿāt), the dabīr-e ḵāṣṣ was expected to be a master of calligraphy and literary style (ṣāḥeb al-qalam), responsible for “the supervi­sion of "the pen" and (official correspondence) . . . in order to protect the ruler’s secrets and to preserve good style” in the epistolary art befitting the royal grandeur of his master (Ebn Ḵaldūn, II, p. 10).

In the 13th century, at approximately the same period in which the Mongols came to power in Central Asia, Turkish Muslim rule in India was in full flower. The sultans at Delhi and other centers had adopted the bureaucratic system already familiar to them; Ḡazna was the immediate model for organization and admin­istration of state departments. The head of the dīvān-­e enšāʾ in the sultanate of Delhi was designated dabīr al-mamālek or dabīr-e ḵāṣṣ (Qalqašandī, IV, p. 92). During the reign of the Ḵaljīs (689-720/1290-1320) in Delhi the post became extremely important politically, but a gradual decline in the literary standards of the dīvān-e enšāʾ began (Baranī, pp. 153, 337). By the time of the advent of the Mughals in 932/1526 the post of dabīr-e ḵāṣṣ had been reduced to a merely political one, and its occupant did not necessarily have to be a literary figure.

Under Akbar I (963-1014/1556-1605) the office of state secretary again came to be regarded as the pre­rogative of a fine stylist. The role of the monšī, or secretary, in the Mughal period was based on that of the kāteb under the early caliphs and the dabīr ii. in the eastern Muslim kingdoms, but it differed in important respects. The essential qualification for a monšī was skill in drafting chancellery edicts (farāmīn and aḥkām) in elegant and refined prose style (cf. Mohiuddin, pp. 10, 235-36). At the time of the em­peror Awrangzēb (q.v.; 1068-1118/1658-1707) the state secretary bore the title monšī al-mamālek, as under the contemporary Safavids (see ii, above), a title already attested under the Mongols (Taḏkerat al-molūk, ed. Minorsky, p. 132).

In the Mughal period the development of Persian enšāʾ (ornate prose) and tarassol (epistolography) was closely allied to literary trends and diplomatic policies (cf. Čahār maqāla, ed. Qazvīnī, pp. 13-25). These genres provided fertile ground for the cultivation of refined prose and the secretarial art. Secretaries who were both learned scholars and well versed in state­craft used the pen as an instrument of practical politics and a means of displaying their erudition. Already under the Great Saljuqs (429-552/1063-1157) and Ḵᵛārazmšāhs (ca. 470-628/1077-1231) Persian epistolography had reached a high degree of perfec­tion, and several eminent secretaries had produced collections of epistles that could serve as manuals for the secretarial art (see ii, above). No doubt some of the earlier collections, like Montajab-al-Dīn Jovaynī’s ʿAtabat al-kataba and Neẓāmī ʿArūżī’s Čahārmaqāla, were taken as models by Indian secretaries, but in the course of time a distinctive Indian style evolved, including elements of local dialects and vernaculars. H. Blochmann collected a number of words and phrases peculiar to Indian usage (esteʿmāl-e Hend), as distinct from that of Persia (esteʿmāl-e Fārs). Such changes in spelling, form, expression, and construction (ta­ṣarrofāt) contributed to the development of a charac­teristic Indian prose style (sabk-e hendī; Mohiuddin, 1959). The famous poet Amīr Ḵosrow Dehlavī (651-725/1253-1325), in his Eʿjāz-e ḵosravī (British Library, London, ms. Add. 16,841), one of the earliest Indian treatises on the art of epistolary composition and rhetoric, noted that, as the style of the earlier monšīs had become too conventionalized to permit innovation, a new kind of prose writing had begun to develop in India. He sought to introduce an original epistolary style, “a medley (sekbā) prepared with the flavor and spices of īhām (plays on words) and ḵayāl to the exclusion of all other verbal tropes.” He claimed that this style was distinct from “all the nine styles” employed in contemporary enšāʾ (fols. 25a, 28b, 321 a-­b, 19b-22a). It was in fact based largely on word play and puns; two centuries later it inspired such followers as Mollā Ẓohūrī, the famous prose writer of the court of the ʿĀdelšāhīs (895-1097/1490-1686) at Bijapur; Abu’l-Barakāt Monīr (see below); Neʿmat Khan ʿĀlī; and Mīrzā ʿAbd-al-Qāder Bīdel (Mohiuddin, 1971, p. 24).

Tarassol-e ʿayn-al-molkī, commonly known as Enšāʾ-e Māhrū, written by Malek ʿAyn-al-Molk Moltānī, a prominent political figure in the Tughluqid period (7201-187/1320-1414), is perhaps the earliest Indian collection of state papers and private letters that has survived (Royal Asiatic Society, Bengal, ms. Ivanow 338; cf. JASB 19, 1923, p. 253). The most exhaustive, learned, and critical surviving treatise on Indian enšāʾ and rhetoric is certainly Manāẓer al-enšāʾ (British Museum, ms. Add. 22,706), compiled in 880/1475 by the Bahmanid (see bahmanid dynasty) vizier ʿEmād-al-Dīn Maḥmūd Gāvān, popularly known as Ḵᵛāja-ye Jahān. This work, though largely theoretical and mechanistic in its treatment, is nevertheless a system­atic presentation of the principles of elegant prose composition and the rigid rules of epistolography and was widely admired in India and Turkey. It contains guidance for the prospective monšī, particularly ad­vice to avoid ambiguity resulting from words subject to more than one interpretation, considered a virtue by Amīr Ḵosrow (fols. 11b-14a). The work also casts considerable light on the conventions and standards prevailing in Persian, Indian, and Central Asian courts and on the official ethics of Muslim chancelleries in the 15th century. These principles are abundantly illustrated with examples of his own work, collected under the title Rīāż al-enšāʾ.

The Mughal period in India was one of the great periods of eastern Islamic culture. Persian prose writ­ing, especially enšāʾ, was cultivated by eminent writ­ers under the patronage of the Mughal emperors and the contemporary rulers of the Deccan, continuing the tradition established in the Delhi sultanate (Ahmad, p. 227). Akbar’s reign has in fact been called the “Indian summer of Persian literature,” for it was in his reign that Abu’l-Fażl ʿAllāmī laid the foundations for the new secretarial style (sabk-e monšīāna) of enšāʾ. His predilection for esteʿmāl-e Hend, distinctive phras­ing, and novel compounds influenced a whole generation of Indian monšīs (Mohiuddin, 1971, pp. 157, 180­-81). His Enšāʾ-e Abu’l-Fażl, also known as Mokātabāt-­e Abu’l-Fażl, completed in the years 1011-16/1602-07, became very popular among intellectuals in Mughal society, particularly those with Sufi leanings. Abu’l-­Fażl’s command of fine style is demonstrated by the different literary character of each of the three sections of the work. The first contains letters that he drafted for the emperor and addressed to the rulers of Persia and other countries; they reveal Abu’l-Fażl as a “finished diplomatist, who guards and elevates the honour of his master in the eyes of the foreign rulers and refractory chiefs, with a decided political flavour and statesmanlike expressions of vague threats and a pa­tronizing tone” (Blochmann, in ʿAllāmī, 1867, pref­ace). In a second epistolary work, Roqʿāt-e Abu’l-­Fażl, he revealed yet another facet of his style.

Abu’l-Fażl’s elder brother Abu’l-Fayż (d. 1004/1595), who used the pen name Fayżī, was equally distinguished in literary attainment, scholarship, and intellect (Badāʾūnī, p. 299). His Laṭīfa-ye fayyāżī (completed in 1035/1625) is a collection of letters addressed to scholars and men of letters, arranged in five sections. Fayżī was the first to introduce a plain style (sāda-negārī) in correspondence. His Persian was generally simple and succinct, rarely encumbered with elaborate metaphors and learned diction. In this respect he was rivaled only by his contemporary Ḥakīm Abu’l-Fatḥ Gīlānī, author of the collection Čahārbāḡ (India Office Library, London, ms. 2063, fols. 2a, 15b, 17b, 20b, 27a; cf. Šeblī Noʿmānī, III, p. 67).

Nūr-al-Dīn Moḥammad ʿAbd-Allāh b. Ḥakīm ʿAyn-al-Molk Šīrāzī (d. 1003/1595), a nephew of Abu’l-­Fażl and Fayżī, compiled two works on epistolography, Enšāʾ-e ṭarab al-ṣebyān and Enšāʾ-e ʿayyār-e dāneš (India Office Library, ms. 2066, fols. 46, 60-192 re­spectively). He imitated the style of Abu’l-Fażl closely, and his work thus lacks originality, reflecting the rigidity that had already come to characterize the epistolary art under Shah Jahān (1037-68/1628-57). To the same period also belongs the Enšā-ye Ḵānazād Ḵān of Amān-Allāh Ḵānazād Khan Fīrūz-jang (d. 1047/1637), who wrote under the name Amānī. He also compiled Roqaʿāt-e Amān-Allāh Ḥosaynī (British Library, ms. Or. 1410), a collection of his correspondence on mystical subjects with the famous Sufis and religious scholars of his day. Amānī’s profound knowl­edge of Arabic, the religious sciences, and Persian poetry is reflected in the style of both works. Bāqer Khan Najm-e Ṯānī, who used the pen name Bāqer, in his Enšā-ye Bāqer Ḵān (India Office Library, ms. 1535) followed the established epistolary style with­out originality. The work includes two petitions (ʿarż-­dāšts), one addressed to the empress Nūr-e Jahān, expressing condolences at the death of Jahāngīr in 1037/1627, the other to Shah Jahān on his accession to the throne in 1037/1628.

Writing prose in Persian was fashionable under Jahāngīr and Shah Jahān. Even Hindus practiced the art and served as monšīs. They enriched the Persian language with Indian vocabulary, homely metaphors, and imagery drawn from indigenous life. In this connection two names figure prominently, Harkarn Das Kanboh and Chandra Bhan Barahman (d. 1068/1657-58). Enšāʾ-e Harkarn provides useful evidence on the drafting of official correspondence in the Mughal chancellery. Chandra Bhan was a more significant literary figure; although he adopted traditional Persian forms, he maintained his identity as a Brahman, and Hindu beliefs and ways of thought are common in his work in all genres. His Monšaʾāt-e Barahman (cf. Edinburgh University library, ms. 334) is a collection of petitions addressed to Shah Jahān; Čahārčaman (Four meadows; British Library, ms. 1892) is a collec­tion of his roqaʿāt and enšāʾ. Barahman wrote succinct and sober prose, though with considerable ease and fluency, apparently in imitation of the style of Saʿdī’s Golestān. He did not indulge in secretarial pomposity, nor did he emulate the flowery diction and majesty of Abu’l-Fażl. His influence can be perceived in the epistolary compositions of later Hindu monšīs, like Bal Krishn Barahman and Ānand Rām Moḵleṣ.

Abu’l-Barakāt Monīr, or Mollā Monīr, Barahman’s friend and admirer, was a prominent poet and prose stylist (enšāʾ-pardāz). Like most monšīs in the time of Shah Jahān he was essentially a dilettante, who wrote in a very ornate style (see, e.g., Enšāʾ-e Monīr). Others in his circle included Ṭoḡrā Mašhadī, ʿAbd-al-Qāder Bīdel, Qatīl, and Mīrzā Asad-Allāh Ḡāleb, all admir­ers of the style of Amīr Ḵosrow and his follower Mollā Ẓohūrī (see above), whose Se naṯr-e Ẓohūrī and Panj roqaʿāt they considered models of pedantic enšāʾ and tarassol respectively. Among this group eloquence (faṣāḥat) meant indulgence in rhetorical devices, a diction chosen to match the rhythm of the phrases, and the revival of literary artifice.

With the decline of the Mughal empire in the later 17th century both prose and poetry became more affected and insipid. The decadence of the Persian language in Indian literature generated a controversy between Persian and Indian connoisseurs, focused on the prevailing idiom and proliferation of monšīs, par­ticularly Hindus. The pretensions of Persian immigrants and visitors to literary superiority were coun­tered by such Indian writers as Mawlānā Monīr Lāhūrī, Moḥammad- Ṣāleḥ Kanboh, and Mollā Šaydā Fatḥpūr. Mīrzā Jalālā Ṭabāṭabāʾī, author of Rīāż al-fayż, a treatise on epistolography, and Enšā-ye Jalālā Ṭabāṭabāʾī (Āṣafīya Library, Hyderabad, Fehrest I, p. 132 no. 20), considered himself a more elegant chroni­cler than Abu’l-Fażl, but he had to discontinue work on his Šāh-Jahān-nāma owing to rivalry at court. It was in connection with this controversy over style that critical dictionaries began to be compiled by Indian authors, mostly Hindus.



Abu’l-Fażl ʿAllāmī, Akbar-nāma, ed. H. Blochmann as Āʾīn-e akbarī I, Calcutta, 1867.

Idem, Roqaʿāt-e Abu’l-Fażl, Calcutta, 1238/1822.

A. Ahmad, Studies in Islamic Culture in the Indian Environment, Oxford, 1964.

ʿAbd-al-Qāder Badāʾūnī, Montaḵab al-tawārīḵ, Calcutta, 1869.

Chandra Bhan Barahman, Monšaʾāt-e Barahman, lithograph ed., Lucknow, 1885.

Żīāʾ-al-Dīn Baranī, Tārīḵ-eFīrūzšāhī, Calcutta, 1862.

H. Blochmann, “Contri­butions to Persian Lexicology,” JASB 37/1, 1868.

Ebn Ḵaldūn, Moqaddema, tr. F. Rosenthal as The Muqaddimah. An Introduction to History, 2nd ed., 3 vols., Princeton, N.J., 1967.

Harkarn Dās Kanboh, Enšā-ye Harkarn, ed. and tr. F. Balfour, Calcutta, 1781.

Maḥmūd Gavān, Rīāż al-enšāʾ, Hyderabad, 1948.

M. Mohiuddin, “Sabk-i-Hindi,” Indo-Iranica (Calcutta), 1959.

Idem, The Chancellery and Per­sian Epistolography under the Mughals. From Bābur to Shāh Jahān, Calcutta, 1971.

Malek ʿAyn-al-Molk Moltānī, Rīāż al-enšāʾ, ed. Ch. Ḥosayn, Hyderabad, 1948.

Abu’l-Barakāt Monīr, Enšāʾ-ye Monīr (litho­graph), Cawnpore, 1874.

Šehāb-al-Dīn Aḥmad Qalqašandī, Ṣobḥ al-aʿšā IV, Cairo, n.d., p. 92; tr. O. Spies as An Arab Account of India in the 14th Cen­tury, Stuttgart, 1936, p. 68.

V. Rosen, Les manu­scripts persans de l’Institut des Langues Orientales, St. Petersburg, 1886.

Šeblī Noʿmānī, Šeʿr al-ʿajam III, Aligarh, 1324/1920.

(Momin Mohiuddin)

Originally Published: December 15, 1993

Last Updated: October 31, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. VI, Fasc. 3, pp. 298-300