Did Muslims and Hindus
interact during Muslim rule?
By Maqbool Ahmed Siraj
(The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ramayana was translated into Persian at the behest of emperor Akbar. Long after
Akbar, the Mughal court continued the tradition of cultural blending.
Hindus and Muslims did not live like frozen cubes all through the span of 650
years of Muslim rule in India. Lively intercourse pervaded all sectors of
existence, social, political, intellectual and cultural.
The protagonists of cultural nationalism today make out a case for purging the
national life of any traces of composite culture that developed in the Indo-Gangetic
plains during the 650 years of Muslim rule. This has necessitated them to
fabricate a history of cultural suppression of Hindus in the medieval India.
Alongside has emerged a project to project a homogenized Hindu cultural identity
by underplaying the fissures and contradictions within them and ignoring the
A closer examination of the history reveals that Muslim developed a profound
cultural understanding of Indian ethos, customs, mythology and literature
inasmuch as Ramayana became the most translated book in Islamic languages like
Arabic, Persian and Urdu.
It is hard to share the sense of amazement of some non-Muslims when they hear
that Ramayana was translated into Persian at the behest of emperor Akbar.
Ramayana is not the only book that was transferred to Persian. Akbar ordered
several of Sanskrit classics to be translated. A committee of scholars with
cross-lingual expertise had been constituted by the Mughal court to oversee
important translation assignments. Bearded maulvis trained in Sanskrit engaged
in discourse with saffron robed Persian scholars. It included worthies such as
Naqeeb Khan, Mulla Abdul Qadir Badayuni, Mulla Sheri and Sultan Haji Thanesari.
It rendered Mahabharath into Persian and titled it Razm Namah (literally the
Saga of theBatlefield). The royal ateliers were directed to illustrate and gild
its pages. Ramayana was translated by Mulla Abdul Qadir Badayuni a year later.
Atharva Veda was translated by Haji Ibrahim Sirhindi. Translation of Lord
Krishnaís biography, Harbans was undertaken by Mullah Sheri. Badayuni took up
the task of Singhasan Batisi into Persian and titled it Khurd Afza in Persian.
The famous Sanskrit treatise Rajataringini by Kalhana was translated by Maulana
Shah Mohammad Shahabadi. It may be recalled that it was originally commissioned
by Kashmiri sultan Zainulabedin. The famous Sanskrit folktales Panchtantra were
rendered into Persian by Mulla Hussain Waiz and was named Kaleela wa Dimna.
Akbar found the morals of the stories too inspiring and found that the Waizís
translation was deficient in transferring the essence. He then ordered its
review by his noble courtier Abul Fazal who ultimately came up with a simple
rendering and titled as Ayyar e Danish.
Malik Mohammad Jaisi (b. 1498) wrote Padmavath during the reign of Sher Shah (in
1542) and later authored Akhravat and Chitra Rekha. Padmavath is of no less
literary value than Ramayana.
Abul Fazlís elder brother Faizi translated famous Sanskrit work Leelavath into
Persian and the Persian book Zeech Jadeed Mirzai into Sanskrit. On the
translation board of these two works were Gangadhar, Kishen Jyotishi, Fatehullah
Khan Shirazi and Abul Fazal.
Akbar himself wrote poetry in Hindi and took the pseudonym of Rai Karan. His
Jako jas hai jagat mein, jagat sarai jahi, Tako japon saphal hai, kahe Akbar
Akbarís court bristled with Hindi and Sanskrit poets and scholars. Among whom
Raimanohar Mol, Raja Mukund Singh, Rai Jagannath, Raja Todermal and Raja Man
Singh were prominent. The list is endless. The general encouragement accorded to
Indian languages led to blossoming of Hindi as a lingua franca. Leading Hindi
poets like Haridas, Surdas, Tulsi Das, Ras Khan, Nandas, Kabir Das, Raheem
Khankahnan, Chaturbhuj Das, Chechet Swami, Parmanand Das, Govindswamy were
products of this age. Joining this poetic galaxy was emperorís own son, Prince
Sultan Daniyal. Emperor Jehangir has lauded his brotherís Hindi poetry in his
chronicle known as Tuzk e Jehangiri.
It is also a fantastic fallacy of history to attribute founding of a new faith,
ĎDin e Ilahií to emperor Akbar. Akbar himself was unlettered. Death of his
erudite father Babur early in the childhood did not allow him to attain
education. But what he missed by pedagogy, he tried to attain through proximity
to a wide ranging ulema and scholars. Governance of a country of as vast a
diversity as India imparted a rare catholicity to his outlook. Be it Purkottham
Brahman or Sheikh Tajuddin, Portuguese missionaries or Zoroastrian delegation
from Navsari in Gujarat, all had free access to the emperorís court. Their daily
discourses, debates and arguments cast diverse influences on the emperor. All
this led to Akbar developing a basic belief in the commonness of all religions
but never to the extent of heresy against Islam and coercing his citizen to
follow a new faith. Nevertheless, several apocryphal accounts have blended with
history to prove that Akbar founded Din e Ilahi1. Firmans like ban on cow
slaughter owed itself more to the respect for the sensitivities of Hindu
subjects who worshipped cow as well as on advice of royal hakeems that cow beef
caused several ailments and was not desirable from health point of view. Along
with cow, the ban extended to buffalo, horses and camels too. His commandments
with regard to appreciation of light (charagh afrozi) have been exaggerated to
mean sun worship. The essence of Akbarís catholic outlook was Sulhe kul or
Ďgeneral consensusí among all religions on certain human values.
Long after Akbar, the Mughal court continued the tradition of cultural
Ramayana was translated into Persian in a poetic style by Sheikh Saadullah
during the tenure of Jehangir and was titled as Rama wo Seeta.2 Famous Sanskrit
work Padmavat was rendered into Persian in 1617. Chitravalli, the Hindi poetry
collection by poet Usman is creation of Jehangirís age. Sheikh Nabi Hindi of
Mhow compiled his Hindi poems in a book Gyan Deep, which is sufi-cum-romantic
Hindi poet Jagannath Pandit Raj was the most favourite poet of Shah Jehan on
whom he conferred the titled of Kavi Rai. He appointed Hindi poet Sundar as poet
laureate who later compiled Sundar Shringar. It was during Shah Jehanís tenure
that Maulana Abdur Rahman Chishti penned the dialogue between Mahadev and
Parvathi and built up an analogy with Adam and Eve, the first ancestors of human
beings according to the Islamic and Christian theology. He made a poetic
translation of Geeta into Persian.
Dara Shikoh, the third son of Shah Jehan, wrote Majmaaul Bahrain wherein he
tries to close the gap between Islam and Hinduism and considers them two springs
from the same source. Mughal literary activity did not confine itself to on
literary masterpieces. Dara Shikoh developed a deep understanding of rural
ambience and compiled a book of farming tips tieled Nuskha dar Fanni Falahat
(The Art of Agriculture)3.
Hindu-Muslim interaction went beyond literature and gave rise to several
syncretic movements like Kabir Panthis, blending elements of faith and culture
of both Hinduism and Islam. On a larger plane, even Sikhism and Arya Samaj
represent the trend. But there are even less heard variants such as Sultani Jats
of Jalandhar. They are known so as they are devotees of Sultan Sakhi Sarwar, a
sage whose mausoleum is in Shahkot, now Pakistan. They eat only Halal meat. They
are mostly peasants and smoke on huqqa. They set up Sultan ziyarat outside their
villages. They clean this on Thursday evenings and light up lamps. This may not
be pleasing to the ears of followers of Salafi Islam or other puritanical
Till 1947 they used to take out jatra to Shahkotís mausoleum every year.
Partition discontinued this tradition. During Sikh rule, the Sikh governor of
Multan banned it and levied Rs. 100 as fine on every one who attempted at going
on a jatra. But the practice could not be curbed. It continued to be in practice
till Ludhiana and Jalandhar Gazetteers were started to publish.
Cultural interaction extended beyond the Hindi heartland. Sultan Nasir Shah
(1282-1325) was fond of Bangla language. When he found that classical literary
masterpieces were absent in Bangla, he commissioned the translation of
Mahabharat and Ramayana in Bangla language. Sultan Hussain Shah appointed
Maladhar Basu to translate Bhagwat Puranas in Bangla. Hussain Shahís
commander-in-chief Praful commissioned the second translation of Mahabharat. He
appointed Jayasri Karan on the project.
Hindutva or Muslim zealots may be interested in projecting the ancient and
medieval history into neat compartments of Hindu and Muslim history. But people
have absorbed influences from each otherís faith, cultures, customs, ethos and
habits. It is why one needs to look at South Asian Islam as it has been lived
out, rather than from the doctrinal prism.
Notes and references
1-Accounts of a Portuguese Father in 1594 (Akbar died in 1606 after 50 years of
rule) merely mention rumours about Akbarís intention to found a new faith. Din e
Ilahi does not find any mention among the chronicles of his age which are a
legion. Famous chronicler Abul Fazal has titled his firmans as Aayeen e
Rahnumaii (Constitutional Guidance). The term Din e Ilahi was first used in
Dabistan e Mazahib, which was compiled nearly 70 years after emperorís death.
2-Makhtutat e Farsi, India Office Library, Vol. 1
3- Nuskha Dar Fanni-Falahat (The Art of Agriculture) by Dara Shikoh and
translated by Razia Akbar has been published by Asian Agri-History Foundation,
47-ICRISAT Colony-I, Brig. Sayeed Road, Secunderabad-500 009 in 2002.
4-Sheikh Mohammad Ikram, Aab-e-Kausar, Adabi Dunia, Matiamahal, New Delhi, 1991