Events & News | Perso-Indica


March 9th and 10th, 2019 - Conference
Tokyo University of Foreign Studies

The Sixth Perso-Indica Conference: The Classification of Indic knowledge at the Mughal court: the Ā’īn-i Akbarī

The Classification of Indic knowledge at the Mughal court: the Ā’īn-i Akbarī

Download Conference Program

Download Abstract Volume.pdf

The Sixth Perso-Indica Conference will focus on the Ā’īn-i Akbarī, one of the sections (daftar) of the historical work Akbarnāma. The author, Abū al-Faḍl ibn Shaikh Mubārak (1551–1602), was one of the ideologues of the Mughal Empire who took part in the activities of the ‘ibādatkhāna (house of religions) established by the third Mughal emperor Akbar (r. 1556–1605). The Akbarnāma is a court-supported history of Akbar’s reign which was planned to comprise four daftars, each covering thirty solar years. The last one, entitled the Ā’īn-i Akbarī, consists of a collection of imperial institutions and it comprises a comprehensive description of India, Indian knowledge and traditions. The Ā’īn-i Akbarī comprises the following parts, an introduction and conclusion, (1) royal households and regulations of courtly practices, (2) imperial army and the manṣabdār system, (3) revenue practices including geographical descriptions and tax estimations of each ṣūba (state) of the Mughal Empire, (4) accounts of India, Indian flora and fauna, Indian philosophical schools, sciences, customs, traditions, foreign visitors to India, and (5) a collection of Akbar’s proverbs.

As one of the most important Persian writings of early modern South Asia, the Ā’īn-i Akbarī is a fundamental source for the institutional, economic, and cultural history of the Mughal Empire. Moreover, its unparalleled comprehensiveness covers not only the administrative institutions of the Mughal Empire, but also the Sanskrit-based knowledge of the Hindus. The model and the literary style of the Ā’īn-i Akbarī had a strong influence over Indian Muslim scholars and also on the works of Persian speaking Hindu writers, such as Devī Dās and Sujān Rāi. Moreover, the Ā’īn-i Akbarī attracted the attention of European scholars of the late Mughal and colonial periods, such as Francis Gladwin who published the first English translation of the text in 1783–86 in Calcutta. This translation shows that British scholars considered the Ā’īn-i Akbarī as an important source for the understanding of the history and governance of Mughal Empire. In this regard, a more precise understanding of the production and reception of the Ā’īn-i Akbarī would be necessary within the process of exchange of knowledge that took place in early modern South Asia between the royal court and the local vernacular societies, and between South Asian and the Western colonial environments.

The Sixth Perso-Indica conference aims to gather scholars and specialists of different fields of early modern South Asian and Persianate studies: political administration, Indian philosophies and sciences, literatures, religious traditions, customs, geography, etc. In particular, we propose to pay attention to the following topics:

Process of composition and its circumstances: due to the assassination of Abū al-Faḍl in 1602, the composition of Akbarnāma was interrupted in the middle of daftar two and remained incomplete. Notwithstanding, the Ā’īn-i Akbarī has the appearance of a complete book. In fact, Abū al-Faḍl completed the final daftar first. What were the actual dates of the beginning and completion of the work? What was the relationship to the other daftars, and also to other contemporary Persian historical works such as the Ṭabaqāt-i Akbarī of Niẓām al-Dīn Aḥmad (completed in 1003/1594)? Did Abū al-Faḍl originally name the final daftar as the Ā’īn-i Akbarī? If not, when did the book come to be known by this name?

Structure and aim of the text and its classification of knowledge: The Ā’īn-i Akbarī’s systematic accounts of India anticipate a kind of modern writing of history. Did Abū al-Faḍl use earlier Arabic or Persian historical work written in the Islamicate world to shape the structure of such a comprehensive work, or did he establish a completely new genre? How should the meaning of the word Ā’īn be precisely understood? For what concerns the Indic knowledge described in the Ā’īn-i Akbarī, do we find a similar classification of philosophical learning and schools in earlier Sanskrit texts and doxographies? What was the view of the Mughal Empire and of emperor Akbar that Abū al-Faḍl intended to convey to the readers of the book? Should we interpret it as a symbol of Akbar’s universal sovereignty that transcended the kingship of a Muslim ruler?

Sources, informants and method of translation: Abū al-Faḍl refers to some Sanskrit sources and non-Muslim informants in his text. In the case where he clearly refers to a source, did he faithfully translate it into Persian prose or did he change and adapt the contents in order to make it suitable for imperial ambitions and Persian speaking readers? Regarding the topics on which he keeps silent about the sources, to what extent can we identify the textual or oral sources used by the author? Does the analysis of the text allow us to ascertain if Abū al-Faḍl and its informants were close to a specific Hindu philosophical or religious school? What Indian regions, philosophical schools, and religious groups did he describe and which ones did he not consider? What method did Abū al-Faḍl use to transliterate Sanskrit and Indic lexicon in Persian script? How did he use Islamic philosophical terms of the concepts to translate and gloss Indic ones?

Readership and influence: what was the readership of the Ā’īn-i Akbarī? To what extent did the text circulate among Muslim scholars of South Asia and in other Persian speaking regions of the Muslim word such as Iran and Central Asia? How did Hindu and other non-Muslim writers use Ā’īn-i Akbarī as a model to write historical and political work in Persian and in other languages? How did the Ā’īn-i Akbarī influence the classification of Indic knowledge in Western Colonial scholarship? How did Western scholars of the colonial period perceive Mughal India and Indic learning through the study of the Ā’īn-i Akbarī?

Location and info

Date: March 9th and 10th, 2019

Venue: Large Conference Room, Research Institute for Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa (ILCAA), Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, Tokyo

Access Guide:

Organizing committee: Satoshi Ogura (ILCAA, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies) - Nobuhiro Ota (ILCAA, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies) - Nobuaki Kondo (ILCAA, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies) - Kazuyo Sakaki (Hokkaido Musashi Women's College) - Fabrizio Speziale (EHESS, Paris).