Medieval Indian Historiography (Delhi Sultanate & Mughal Historiography)

It was in the wake of the Muslim conquest of India that historiography as a deliberate form of cultural expression was introduced into India.

The advent of Islam started a great series of Indian chronicles written by courtiers or officials on the orders of their rulers or in expectation of gaining their patronage.

Some of them wrote general or universal histories of the world until gradually a regional and domestic sense emerged, which was reinforced by the deliberate policy of Akbar in severing connections with the outer Muslim world.

Delhi Sultanate Period (1200-1426 AD)


At the beginning of the Turkish Muslim dominion in north India, a work titled the "Shajara" was presented by its author, "Mubarak Shah" to "Qutb-ud-Din Aibak" in 1206 AD.

In this, Aibak is praised and his career described.

The Shajara is religious and didactic in nature.

Minhaj: Tabaqat-i Nasiri

"Minhaj al-Siraj Juzjani" was a 13th-century Persian historian born in the region of Ghur.

In 1227, Minhaj migrated to Ucch then to Delhi.

He was the principal historian for the "Mamluk Sultanate of Delhi" in northern India.

He wrote the "Tabaqat-i Nasiri (1260 AD)" for Sultan Nasiruddin Mahmud Shah of Delhi.

"Tabaqat-i Nasiri" is an elaborate history of the Islamic world consisting of 23 volumes and written in a blunt straightforward style, Minhaj devoted many years to the creation of this book even providing references for his information.

Although a large portion of the book is devoted to the Ghurids, it also contains a history of the predecessors in Ghazna before the Ghaznavid Sebuktigin took power.

Minhaj's sources are "trustworthy chronicles", personal evidence, hearsay and unspecified accounts.

Sarhindi: Tarikh-i-Mubarak Shahi

"Yahya bin Ahmad Sirhindi" was a 15th century Indian chronicler who wrote "Tarikh-i-Mubarak Shahi", a Persian language chronicle of the Delhi Sultanate.

Written during the reign of "Mubarak Shah", his work is an important source of information for the Sayyid dynasty.

The book begins with the conquests of "Muhammad of Ghor (1149-1206)", and ends abruptly in 1434 AD.

It is a reign by reign treatment in strict chronological order of the deeds of the Muslim rulers and nobles of north India.

Employing no critical technique, Sarhindi has often recourse to the infallible formula that "God alone knows the truth."

Yet his information is fairly correct.

Hasan Nizami

Hasan Nizami was a Persian language poet and historian, who lived in the 12th and 13th centuries.

He migrated from Nishapur to Delhi in India, where he wrote "Tajul-Maasir", the first official history of the Delhi Sultanate.

"Tajul-Maasir" was written to tell the glorious deeds of the "Ghorid" conquerors but does it by recording the minimum of historical facts with a maximum of florid literary effects.

In this respect the author is on a par with his Hindu counterparts of old.

Amir Khusrau (1253–1325)

Amir Khusrau was an Indo-Persian Sufi singer, musician, poet and scholar who lived under the Delhi Sultanate.

He is an iconic figure in the cultural history of the Indian subcontinent.

He was a mystic and a spiritual disciple of "Nizamuddin Auliya" of Delhi, India.

He wrote poetry primarily in Persian, but also in Hindavi.

Khusrau is sometimes referred to as the "voice of India" or "Parrot of India" (Tuti-e-Hind), and has been called the "father of Urdu literature."

Khusrau is regarded as the "father of qawwali" and introduced the ghazal style of song into India, both of which still exist widely in India and Pakistan.

He wrote in many verse forms including ghazal, masnavi, qata, rubai, do-baiti and tarkib-band.

His contribution to the development of the ghazal was significant.


"Abdul Malik Isami" was a 14th-century Indian historian and court poet.

He wrote in Persian language, under the patronage of "Ala-ud-Din Bahman Shah", the founder of the Bahmani Sultanate.

He is best known for "Futuh-us-Salatin (1350 AD)", a poetic history of the Muslim conquest of India.

Zia ud-Din Barani (1285–1359 AD)

"Ziauddin Barani" was a Muslim political thinker of the Delhi Sultanate during Muhammad bin Tughlaq and Firuz Shah's reign.

He was best known for composing the "Tarikh-i-Firoz Shahi", a work on medieval India, which covers the period from the reign of "Ghiyas ud din Tughluq" to the first six years of reign of "Firoz Shah Tughluq".

Barani also wrote "Fatwa-i-Jahandari" which promoted a hierarchy among Muslim communities in the Indian subcontinent.

Barani categorized the law into two kinds , the "Shariat" and the "Zawabit".

The Zawabit were the state laws formulated by the monarch in consultation with the nobility in the changed circumstances to cater to the new requirements which the Shariat was unable to fulfill.

Barani's chief source of information was his own vast knowledge and prodigious memory.

Barani does not arrange events in their chronological order.

The Mughal Period

In the Mughal period a new kind of historiography - that of official histories or namahs - came into vogue in India under Persian influence.

Akbar introduced the practice by commissioning officials or others to write the history of his new empire giving them access for this purpose to state archives.

The practice continued down to the reign of Aurangazeb who, however, stopped it in his eleventh regnal year.

Royal Autobiographers

The most important royal autobiography are - "Babur-namah" of Babur, and the "Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri" of Jahangir.

The Baburnama ("History of Babur") or "Tuzk-e Babri" is the memoirs of Babur (1483–1530), founder of the Mughal Empire and a great-great-great-grandson of Timur.

It is written in the "Chagatai language", known to Babur as "Turki", the spoken language of the Andijan-Timurids.

During the reign of emperor Akbar, the work was translated into "Persian", the usual literary language of the Mughal court, by a Mughal courtier, Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khanan.

Tuzuk-e-Jahangiri is the autobiography of Mughal Emperor Jahangir (1569–1627).

It is written in Persian, and follows the tradition of his great-grandfather, Babur (1487–1530), who had written the Baburnama.

Though "Jahangir" went a step further and besides writing on the history of his reign, he included details such as his reflections on art, politics, and information about his family.

Jahangir wrote the memoirs in stages through most of his life until 1622.

Historiography during the Reign of Akbar

In Akbar's reign four histories were written besides other works of historical interest.

Of the four, two were official histories written at the instance of the emperor himself.

They are the "Tarikh-i-Alfi (Millennial History)" and "Akbar-namah" by "Abul Fazal".

Two unofficial histories written in Akbar's reign are - "Tabaqat-i-Akbari" of "Nizam ud-Din Ahmad", and the hostile "Muntakhab ut-Tawarikh" of "Abdul Qadir Badauni".


In 1582 Akbar ordered the writing of the "Tarikh-i-Alfi" which was to be a comprehensive history of the first millennium of Islam.

The history of the first thirty-five years of Islam after the death of the Prophet was written by a team of seven scholars of all shades of opinion.

Mulla Ahmad of Thatta brought the work fromt he thirty-sixth year to the time of "Chengiz Khan" when the author was murdered.

The rest of the work was brought up to the year 1588–89 by Asaf Khan.

In 1591, the millennial year, Badauni on the orders of the emperor, corrected the arrangement of dates etc, in the first two parts.

The third volume was likewise corrected by its author, Asaf Khan.

The work is arranged strictly in the chronological order.

Events are recorded year by year beginning with the first years of Prophet Muhammad's death.


The greatest among the histories sponsored by kings and financed by the state are Abul Fazal's twin works, the Akbar-namah and the Ain-i-Akbari.

The Akbarnama is the official chronicle of the reign of Akbar commissioned by Akbar himself and written by his court historian and biographer, Abul Fazal ibn Mubarak.

It was written in Persian, which was the literary language of the Mughals, and includes vivid and detailed descriptions of his life and times.

It was produced in the form of lavishly illustrated manuscripts.

The book took seven years to be completed.

The original manuscripts contained many miniature paintings supporting the texts, thought to have been illustrated between 1592 and 1594 by at least forty-nine different artists from Akbar's imperial workshop, representing the best of the Mughal school of painting.

Today, the illustrated manuscript of Akbarnma, with 116 miniature paintings, is at the Victoria and Albert Museum.


The Ain-i-Akbari is the third volume of the Akbarnama containing information on Akbar's reign in the form of administrative reports, similar to a gazetteer.

The Ain-i-Akbari is divided into five books.

The Ain-i-Akbari is a detailed, descriptive statistical record of the Mughal empire in the sixteenth century.

Abul Fazal

Abul-Fazl ibn Mubarak was the grand vizier of the Mughal emperor Akbar, from his appointment in 1579 until his death in 1602.

"Abul Fazal" was born in Agra in 1551, son of Shaikh Mubarak, in a Hejazi family that iiad migrated to India and settled at Nagaur near Ajmer.

Presented to Akbar in 1574 by his brother, the poet Abul Faizi, the young scholar quickly rose to high position at the imperial court with his vast learning and assiduous devotion to the emperor.

He was the author of the "Akbarnama", the official history of Akbar's reign in three volumes, (the third volume is known as the Ain-i-Akbari) and a Persian translation of the Bible.

He was also one of the Nine Jewels (Hindi: Navaratnas) of Akbar's royal court and the brother of Faizi, the poet laureate of Emperor Akbar.

Tabaqat-i-Akbari (1593)

Tabaqat-i-Akbari was completed in "1593" and the author - "Nizam ud-Din Ahmad" - died the next year.

The Tabaqat-i-Akbari in three volumes is a history of nine regions and of the first thirty-eight years of Akbar's reign.

The account of the thirty-eight years of Akbar's reign is written in the form of an annual chronicle, meticulously maintaining the chronological order of events.

The contents of the work comprise information on accession of rulers to the throne, their wars, rebellions of the nobles, etc.

Muntakhab ut-Tawarikh

The "Muntakhab ut-Tawarikh" is a history written with a vengeance intended to give a "true" version of the anti-Islamic "heresies" and "innovations" of Akbar's reign.

The Muntakhab is written in three volumes.

The first volume is a formal political history from Subuktagin/ to Humayun.

The second volume comprises the events of the first forty years of Akbar's reign set in the form of an annual chronicle.

The third volume consists of a series of biographical sketches of the ulama, the physicians and poets of Akbar's court.


Badauni was born in August 1540 at Todah, brought up at Bhusawar - Badauni regretted having been born at all.

In 1574 Badauni was presented to Akbar at Agra.

It was the time when the young, determined emperor was feeling uneasy about the pretentious dominance of the ulama.

Badauni easily challenged the spurious profundity of the ulama and Akbar was pleased.

Badauni adopted rigidly orthodox attitudes towards the new flexibility, the more liberal thinking, initiated by Akbar’s policies.

Akbar began to suspect that Badauni was a fanatic.

Badauni criticized everything that Akbar did—not only such religious and social reforms as fixing the age of marriage and establishing poor houses, but administrative measures like the branding of horses and the Mansabdari system.

Historiography under Jahangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangazeb (1606–1707)

The practice of writing Memoirs and official annals as well as private histories continued under Jahangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangazeb though no work could measure up to the Akbar-namah.

Jahangir's own Memoirs Maathir-i- ahangiri is an important history of the period, completed in 1630.

Shah Jahan commissioned "Abdul Hamid Lahori" to write the history of his reign.

Lahori wrote a detailed account, the "Padshah-namahy" though many of its details were of interest only to the nobles and courtiers of the time.

The religious orthodoxy of Shah Jahan's reign is reflected in Lahori's introduction which emphasizes that the one path to salvation is the path of the Shariat.

In the matter of history writing as in other matters of culture, Aurangazeb was not enthusiastic like his predecessors.

Yet, he did not put a sudden end to the practice of his predecessors, and directed "Muhammad Kazim" to write an account of his reign.

Kazim began work on the "Alamgir-namah" which was to be the official history of the reign of Aurangazeb.

Historiography in Eighteenth Century

The political and economic decline of the Mughal empire that had begun in the latter half of Aurangazeb's reign became rapid after the emperor's death in 1707.

Muhammad Saqi Mustaid Khan's "Maathir-i-Alamgiri" was a good history of the reign of Aurangazeb.

"Muntakhab-ul-Lubab" by Khafi Khan, completed in 1733, and the "Ahwal-ul-Khawaqin" by "Muhammad Qasim", written around 1738, are two works that give us a more or less faithful account of this historical period.

Khafi Khan's "Muntakhab" is a complete history of the Mughals from Babur (1519) to the fourteenth year of Muhammad Shah's reign in 1733.