Academic journal article Pakistan Historical Society. Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society

Studying the Authenticity of the Siyar Al-Muta'khkherin: Ghulam Hussein and His Magnum Opus

Academic journal article Pakistan Historical Society. Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society

Studying the Authenticity of the Siyar Al-Muta'khkherin: Ghulam Hussein and His Magnum Opus

Article excerpt

While being introduced to the study of modern Indian history through school, college and university syllabi, I had been made aware of the importance of several Persian texts as historical sources. One of these was Ghulam Hussein's Siyar al-Muta 'khkherin. Much later, when my own research interests started to focus on the vast eighteenth-century, I decided to pay closer attention to the textures of the Siyar. This renewed interest first led me to its multiple translations in the long and complex public career of the book. Many had tried to summarise Hussein's history, but it received its first unabridged translation in the hands of a Frenchman named Raymond. Writing under the twin pseudonyms of Hâjï Mustafa and Nota Manush, Raymond translated and published the full length of the Siyar, in four volumes, in the late eighteenth century. Over the years, this version was to be reprinted several times, receiving considerable acclaim from the reading public. Many other authors, however, subsequently decided to present their own interpretations and translations of the text, often in a disjointed or abortive manner. For such efforts we know of the Englishmen Briggs and Scott, as well as two stalwarts from the nascent native historian community, Sir Jadunath Sarkar1 and Gaur Mohan Maitreya.2 Sir Jadunath's version remains unpublished, although parts of it had once been printed in the Prabasi? Gaur Maitreya, who had attempted to produce a full Bengali translation, passed away before he could complete the mammoth task. Sir Jadunath would later eulogise his efforts:

Thirty years ago, Gaur Mohan Maitreya was working on a literal translation of the Siyar-ul-mutakherin into Bengali. His sons are now publishing it. Every Bengali ought to acquaint himself with this translation. Its prime merit is its authenticity; I have compared it against the first three chapters of the original Persian, and 1 can vouch that Maitreya got it right phrase-by-phrase. Neither has he left out any little detail, nor has he tried to embellish the original in order to make better sense.

Further, Sir Jadunath noted, Maitreya did not have much faith in Hâjï Mustafa's English translation, and apparently on his (that is, Sir Jadunath's) advice, he chose to

[...] rely on the Persian version, printed by Hakim Abdul Majid in 1833. That edition had been supervised and produced with a lot of care by pundits. [...] Maitreya's language is serious and powerful [...] I sincerely hope that the book will be appreciated by the Bengali literaiy world.

The Bangla Academy in Dhaka also published the first volume of the Siyar in Bengali. Let us briefly acquaint ourselves with some of its contours. The book has no introduction or preface,4 and is simply divided into five chapters. The first of these deals in great detail with the death of Bâdshâh 'Älamgir, followed by Bahadur Shäh's ascent to the throne and his eventual death. In the process, it glosses over topics as varied as the princesses in the Mughul court, the relations between Fahrukhshiyar (Farrukhsiyar) and his noblemen, the wars fought between the Mughul armies and the Punjabi Sikhs,* and even a brief social history of these latter.

The second chapter is principally concerned with the rise of Shähzädah Rafiud-Darzät (Raff al-Darjât) as Bädshäh. It also narrates to the reader two contradictory accounts of Fahrukhshiyar's death. We are given an ensemble collage of the chaotic post-Awrangzìb Mughul world: open revolt by the Nizäm al-mulk against the royalty; rising political tensions in Kashmir; war efforts in Burhanpore; a bitter rebellion centred around Hussein 'All Khan - that led to his assassination, and the presentation of his severed head to the Bädshäh; the resultant escalation of the insurgency, with the Khwäjah Maqbool of the Sübedär's harem being shaken enough to declare war on the emperor, a war that even the bhistiwâlâ** and jhärüdär*** classes joined in. It narrates to us in clear terms that every layer of society was expressing resentment with the upper echelons of the Mughul state. …

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