Introducing: The Custodians

It has been a while since there has been a post on this blog; six months to be precise. But that does not, automatically mean, we haven’t posted anything. We have been busy with a new blog, slightly more thematic, topical in nature, and massive in purpose; introducing, The Custodians.

Introducing

As is probably obvious, The Custodians looks to being a primary resource of historical and cultural information and knowledge of the Indian Subcontinent. We will keep up academic rigour, yet, create a simple and engaging material, and be true story-tellers. Apart from creating original work from our contributors, we are also developing a large repository of open source material and links to interesting articles and other sites.

We know that the journey is long and it is hard, and we cannot do justice by ourselves.

So we are inviting like-minded people to join us in this journey, and contribute to this initiative.  We welcome different types of contributions, so do have a look, and let us know if you could also become a Custodian.

In the meanwhile, if you have liked His Story Telling, we think you will enjoy this new initiative; please follow, The Custodians.

Here’s the Blog and it’s feed. We are also on Twitter and Facebook.

Thank you, and looking forward to your visits at The Custodians!

PS: The His Story Telling blog will remain live and we may have occasional posts, on themes and topics outside of what we post on The Custodians.

Ancient Kolhapur: A (Very) Short History

Kolhapur, a major city in the state of Maharashtra is steeped in popular history. It has an important place in Maratha history, primarily after 1707, following the succession dispute between the descendants of Chhatrapati Shivaji. References to Kolhapur in this period are many, and well documented. There’s more to this city than this recent history, however.

It goes way back; more than 2000 years ago.

Satavahana Kingdom. Image via Wikipedia

Satavahana Kingdom. Image via Wikipedia

Excavations in and around Kolhapur reveal that it was first occupied during the Satavahana period (c. 200 BCE to 200 CE). The early Satavahanas ruled, what is now Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. They were the vassals of the Mauryan empire, and established themselves after the decline of the Mauryan kingdom, around 230 BCE.

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Around 1st century CE, the western parts of India were ruled by Saka (Indo-Scythians) rulers, who were collectively known as the Western Satraps. The Western Satraps, occupied territories from the early Satavahanas during their reign in this region. By 63 CE, Nahapana, one of the most powerful Satraps, was ruling over Malwa, Southern Gujarat, and Northern Konkan, from Broach (Modern Bharuch, in Gujarat) to Sopara (Modern Nalla Sopara, near Mumbai)  and the Nasik and Poona districts. While I haven’t found any specific mention that Nahapana’s domains included Kolhapur, we have other sources to confirm this. Suffice it to say for now, that Kolhapur was under the rule of the Western Satraps.

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Come 126 CE, and we have one of the most famous kings of the Andhra Satavahana dynasty — Vilivayakura II, also known as Gautamiputra Sri Satakarni, also known as Shalivahan. (Yes, he is the one who gave us the Shalivahan calendar, which is used in India throughout.) Vilivayakura II recovers the territories lost by the Satavahanas to the Wester Satraps. Vilivayakura II makes Kolhapur his western capital. Kolhapur is mentioned as Hippokoura by Ptolemy and Vilivayakura II is referred to as Baleokouros. Couple of decades later, Vilivayakura II’s son, Pulumayi II moved the capital to Pratishthan (Modern Paithan, in Maharashtra) on the upper waters of the Godavari River.

Safe to say, then that there is enough influence on Kolhapur, of the Yavanas (Ionians, or Asiatic Greeks), the Indo-Scythians, the Parthians (of Persia), and the Andhra Satvahanas.

In other sources, Kolhapur is mentioned as Kollaksetra, from where it derives its current name — Kolhapur, as seen on inscriptions from the Shilaharas (800 CE – 1256 CE).

The site of Brahmapuri where the excavations were made is now almost within Kolhapur city, and the artefacts are available to view from the Town Hall Museum at Kolhapur.

References

  • Ghosh, Amalananda. An Encyclopaedia of Indian Archeology. Vol. II. Brill, 1990. 84.
  • Smith, Vincent A. “The Sunga, Kanva, and Andhra Dynasties.” In History of India, edited by A. V. Williams, 194. London: Grolier Society Publishers, 1906.
  • Lévi, Sylvain, Jean Przyluski, Jules Bloch, and Prabodh Chandra Bagchi. Pre-Aryan and Pre-Dravidian in India. [Articles.]. Asian Educational Services, 1929. 173-175.
  • Prasad, Durga. “Chapter II—The Satavahanas.” In History of the Andhras: Upto 1565 A. D., 33. Guntur, Andhra Pradesh: P. G. Publishers, 1988.
  • Rawlinson, H. G. “India and The Roman Empire.” In Intercourse between India and the Western World: From the Earliest Times to the Fall of Rome, 117-119. London: Cambridge University Press, 1916.
  • “Appendix 4 – Chronology of the Sunga, Kanya, and Andhra Dynasties.” Appendix 4 – Chronology of the Sunga, Kanya, and Andhra Dynasties. Accessed July 15, 2015. http://www.ibiblio.org/britishraj/Jackson2/appendix04.html.

The Basis of Bias

Most history is guessing, and the rest is prejudice. ~ Will Durant, The Story of Civilisation: Our Oriental Heritage

In a recent interview, Thomas Holland said, “The very idea that history should be written without bias is itself a biased one.” How much can we agree with Holland? And does this mean that all of history writing is (or should be) essentially biased?

Perhaps the only way to write about history without bias, and it is possible, is to list facts. And this statement of fact should not have a single adjective. That itself may seem almost impossible. And even if it were done, reading of such history would be dull, to say the least.

    The sword of history has two edges, one that cuts open new possibilities in the future, and one that cuts through the noise, contradictions, and lies of the past.” ~ The History Manifesto, by David Armitage, Jo Guldi

The sword of history has two edges, one that cuts open new possibilities in the future, and one that cuts through the noise, contradictions, and lies of the past.”
~ The History Manifesto, by David Armitage, Jo Guldi

All bias is essentially political in nature, when stripped of the stage from which it speaks. It may not necessarily have an inherent propaganda, but the nature of the bias is political. The locus of the writer in relation to the history that she writes, determines the nature and degree of the bias. It may get further aggravated by the discipline of an -ism that she follows. Her personal understanding of the constructs of history-telling also come into play. Uday Kulkarni makes a pithy point here of these constructs:

These constructs, and other -isms are essential for a rounded reading of history. (If we are not to read history as a list of dates, places, and name) Equally necessary, is for the reader to be aware of these -isms. For further refining the roundedness of a particular history, it would be a good idea to read the same history by different authors. A writer’s bias of a particular -ism is identified by knowing about the author. Other biases leak through (a) the use of extreme adjectives or (b) the use of extremely vague or extremely specific descriptions of constructs. Superlative adjectives do a disservice to the reading of history. Most of them are prone to visualisation, and almost all of them fuel extreme emotions (and bias) in the reader and propagate the bias.

The writing and reading of history, both, also need to be situated in the era of that history. Our understanding of society, as we live in, should never be the standard by which we decide the good and the bad. The civilised society that we live in is a result of the events that we read of. Standing tall at the end of the refined time-line of evolution, it is irrational, to look back and judge it from where we stand. That is a sure sign of introducing bias.

Holland says:

A concern always to be true to the facts as they can be ascertained; a recognition that people in the past lived by different standards; an obligation to get things right about the dead; a sensitivity to what shapes primary sources. All these are crucial. But I repeat — the greatest virtue of all in a historian is curiosity!

The responsible writer of history therefore will attempt to reduce bias, but need not invest effort at eliminating it altogether. The responsible reader will identify the genesis, nature, and purpose of the bias. Hopefully not introducing his own, but recognise the existing bias, nonetheless.

History has this power to create major theoretical debates, revealing that what was previously accepted as a natural truth is actually no more than unexamined bias. ~ The History Manifesto, Jo Guldi & David Armitage (Free download)

The writer and the reader of history, are both historians. And questions need to be asked, constantly.

History’s Coin

In my opinion, this would undoubtedly be the most impressive project ever undertaken in the realm of History. Especially because the project does not attempt to create a singular view of history, rather, it just places them alongside each other for you, the student, to evaluate the two views.

IMG_3657

History as a concept as well as a subject has been subject to much maligning. This project and similar such projects (if they come up in the future) will help history reclaim its deserving position, not just in academia, but also for the curious mind.

“In school, we learn that History isn’t like Maths. It isn’t a ‘scoring subject’. A two plus two will yield the same result all over the world, but history is subjective. It’s written by people, after all. People are subjective too; people find it difficult to not pick sides, a fact borne out by those history textbooks of India and Pakistan.

In a way, this conflict led to a book that illuminates the biases and subjectivity inherent in history. The History Project — launched on April 30 — was born at the Seeds of Peace, an annual camp for teenagers from countries in conflict, held at Maine, in the U.S. Feruzan Mehta, then director of Seeds of Peace-India, came up with the idea in 2005. Six years later, The History Project was founded by three young Pakistanis: Qasim Aslam, Ayyaz Ahmad and Zoya Siddiqui. They brought together a team of editors and volunteers from both countries to produce the Project’s first history textbook.”

(Via One story, two sides – The Hindu.)

The project page is here and the “textbook” can be downloaded here. [18MB PDF]. If you are willing to appreciate history without embellishment, opinion or colour, this is a definite read.

10 must-read books on Indian History | The Better India

Since the list does not talk about the books in any specific order, my recommendation would be #9 and #10. John Keay’s book is the perfect concise history of India, that I have come across. For a broad-based introduction to Indian History, this one is very good.

“In our quest to know what books to read to get a better understanding of India’s history, we turned to you, our readers. A few days ago we asked everyone on our Facebook and Twitter pages to recommend a book on Indian history. Many of you responded with some wonderful suggestions. We also received many e-mails suggesting books we had never heard of. Here then, is the list of 10 books (in no particular order) on Indian history that we have compiled based on your responses.”

(Via 10 must-read books on Indian History | The Better India.)

 

About The Marathas

The Mahrattas, and probably all natives of India, are in a peculiar manner, roused from indolence and apathy when charged in any degree with responsibility, either in what regards their own conduct, or that of another person.

~ James Grant Duff, Esq. (Captain in the first or Grenadier, Regiment of BombayNative Infantry and Late Political Resident at Satara), A History of the Mahrattas, In Three Volumes, Volume 1, Chapter VII, Page 228

Zat and Sawar

When we think of titles conferred on people, it is easy to relate to them especially the ones like Mahatma (great soul) or Sardar (leader) and such. It is interesting to note that in Mughal times there was a significant background to the way titles were conferred. You may have heard of the commonly used jagirdar and mansabdar, if you have been interested in any aspect of the history of the Deccan. In any case, it is not uncommon to to have Jagirdar as a surname in Maharashtra. If you have seen Hindi movies in the ’70s and the ’80s then you know Gajanan Jagirdar.

According to Wikipedia, the word jagirdar is derived from jagir and sardar. Mansabdar, probably was derived the same way. But we will let that pass for this post. While reading, Parties and Politics at the Mughal Court, 1707-1740, I stumbled upon the terms: Zat and Sawar. While the context of it all made sense regarding what these two terms went, I felt the need to know more and I found some information that was fairly interesting.

[Before I start, a quick note: Ideally, I think, these should be spelled as Zaat and Sawaar because of the way they are pronounced, however most authoritative historical texts, books and documents spell them as zat and sawar, so I shall go with the same spelling.]

While I am not sure of the etymology of these words I suspect that zat is the same as the near-Hindi word (zaat or jaat) meaning breed, caste or class. Sawar refers to horses; a ride, perhaps linked to Sawari.

The zat and sawar were parameters of defining a mansabdar’s “level”. Before this system was introduced, there was a single parameter – the count of horses that a mansabdar maintained during Akbar’s times and therefore (possibly) the subsidy that he received in exchange for that. Mansabdars didn’t often maintain the required troops or horses, and this new, fairly elaborate system was used to classify mansabdars.

The zat was a rank conferred by the king on the mansabdar, whereas the sawar was a count of horsemen that were to be maintained. The actual number of horses that they had to maintain is a different and interesting story.

There were three levels of mansabdars and this was a factor of the zat and sawar count.

The mansabdar at the highest level was the one who had equal zat and sawar, e.g. 4000 zat and 4000 sawar. The second level was when the sawar was half the zat, e.g. 4000 zat and 2000 sawar. The lowest level of mansabdar was when the sawar was less than half of the zat.

One would imagine that a mansabdar with a sawar of 10 would have 10 horses, but this wasn’t so. And for good reason. A sawar of 10 was to maintain 20 horses. There were to be three backup horses for the first 3 sawar, 2 backup horses for the next 4 sawar and no back up for the last 3 horses in the sawar of 10. So you had 20 (9+8+3) horses for a sawar of 10. The good reason being that the backup horses would come in use in case for fatigue or death of the mounts.

The system was actually more elaborate than what I have presented.

However, I shall leave that for when I compare this with the Saranjam system employed by the Marathas. It would be an interesting study, given that the Marathas were well versed with the Mughal mansabdari system, given that a few Marathas actually served as mansabdars or jagirdars for the Mughals.

Primary References:

Chandra, Satish. Medieval India: from Sultanat to the Mughals. Revised ed. New Delhi: Har-Anand Publications, 2005.

Secondary References:

Chandra, Satish. Parties and politics at the Mughal Court, 1707-1740. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Kadam, V. S.. Maratha confederacy: a study in its origin and development. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers, 1993.

“Mansabdar: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.” Wikipedia. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mansabdar (accessed November 10, 2007).