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.)


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).

The Illustrated History Of South India


The Illustrated History of South India, an adapted and illustrated version of the original book (A History of South India, first published in 1955), aims to sensitise young readers to the country’s historic past and rich cultural heritage, and the need to preserve it.

Key chapters discuss the coming of the Aryans, the Mauryan Empire, the rise of Vijayanagar, social and economic conditions, literature, religion and philosophy, and the art and architecture of South India. The volume includes an Introduction by renowned historian R. Champakalakshmi, written especially for this edition, and a Prologue by eminent historian P.M. Rajan Gurukkal.

Interspersed with photographs and line drawings, including maps and genealogical charts, this illustrated edition will be invaluable for students and teachers of history, in particular, history of South India, as well as general readers. India, which over the years has achieved a near-classic status, this illustrated edition provides a comprehensive account of the history of South India from the prehistoric times to the fall of the kingdom of Vijayanagar in 1565 AD. This volume includes a new Introduction by renowned historian R. Champakalakshmi, and a Prologue by eminent historian P.M. Rajan Gurukkal.

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