Category Archives: Lifestyle

What did the Mughals eat?

While most of the historical narratives give detailed information about political developments under the Mughal Empire, there are certain aspects that have not been much touched upon regarding the Mughal past, Mughal eating habit is one of such topic.

In this article, we try to partly answer the question: What did the Mughals eat, with the help of information contained in an important Mughal source, Zakhiratul Khwanin.  This work forms an important source for understanding and reconstructing certain socio-cultural aspects of the Mughal Empire.  It is a biographical dictionary of Mughal nobles and forms part of Biographical Literature (Rijal).  It covers a range of nobles from Akbar’s reign to that of Shah Jahaan’s, till 1651 (A.H. 1061), when the work was completed.  Its author is Shaikh Farid Bhakkari who had joined Mughal service sometime before 1592, and having served under several important nobles retired after 1649.

Farid Bhakkari refers to various kinds of eatables laid out during feasts and special occasions and also the kinds which were consumed on a day to day basis. Mention is also found of the cultural underpinnings of the Mughal Nobility where pan, opium and wine appear to be an important part of the Mughal culture.


Babur feasting at Kohat, Baburnama, fol. 137r, AD 1597. National Museum, New Delhi.

Babur feasting at Kohat, Baburnama, fol. 137r, AD 1597. National Museum, New Delhi.

Mughal Feasts

It has been informed that Said Khan Chaghata, an important amir (noble) of Akbar’s time who used to organize for the first twelve days of the month of Rabiul Awwal , the death/birth  anniversary of the Prophet dinners of  lavish nature. In these feasts each person was served a meal of nine shirmal loaves and nine trays of dishes as well as a packet of five seers of sweets, wrapped in white cloth with velvet outer cover, to be taken home. There are also references in Zakhiratul Khwanin to other kinds of feasts which were held in the Mughal society amongst these the commemoration (urs) celebrations appear an important occasion for holding feasts. Feasts were also organized by nobles on special orders of the Emperor. Farid Bhakkari informs us of one such feast held on the orders of Akbar by Abul Fazl for Khudawand Khan Dakani, who used to hold a high position in the Nizamul Mulk regime of Ahmadnagar and had risen to a mansab of 3000 under Akbar. In this feast in front of each of Khudawand Khan’s servants nine trays of dishes and one roasted sheep with one hundred loaves were served, while in front of Khudawand Khan, various dishes like roast of fat fowl, partridge, titar (fowl), leafy vegetables (sag) and curries were laid. Farid Bhakkari also mentions that regarding this dinner Akbar said that ‘in India there is no feast more honourable and more elaborate than this.’


Daily Cuisine of Mughals

From Zakhiratul Khwanin we also come to know of the daily cuisine of the nobles. For Example  Farid Bhakkari mentions the food consumed by Nawwab Islam Khan Fathpuri, foster brother of Jahangir and governor of Orissa and Bengal, who took millet(jowar and bajra) bread, vegetables or spinach (sag) and dry rice (bhat) of the variety called sathi. Mention of food consumption by Mahabat Khan, an important noble under Jahangir and Shah Jahan, shows how elaborate the daily meals of nobles were. Mahabat Khan’s one-time meal consisted of two trays of pulao (fried rice cooked with meat), two trays of khishka (fried rice) made of  kamod rice, thirteen seers of melted butter, two trays of rice-khichri and two trays of millet-khichri  and a seer and a half sugar and a dish of meat, spinach (sag) and vegetable curry (salan). One very interesting observation that comes up from reading the text is that khichri figured as an important element in Mughal eating habit. We find a number of examples in the text, one of them being the khichri that was cooked the entire day in Abul Fazl’s establishment during the Deccan Expedition. Among the common dishes mentioned by Farid Bhakkari we also find reference to dal, for which hing was used as a frying condiment.


Pan, Wine and Opium

In addition it appears that certain edibles formed an important part of Mughal cultural life; a number of references in Zakhiratul Khwanin are made to pan, wine and opium consumption which must have become symbols of high cultural life of Mughal society. Itiqad Khan Mirza Shahpur, son of Itimadud-Daula, who was considered a person of the most refined taste in India, had a liking of pan and Farid Bhakkari informs that for him kangiri pan were sent from Burhanpur. Pan as an important element of eating habit of Mughal nobles is also reflected in the incidence where Raja Man Singh proposed paying the Muslim nobles money equivalent to a pan-leaf every day as a compensation for him not being able to dine with them due to his caste. Thus pan appears an important element of consumption by the nobility. There are also a number of references to wine drinking by nobles in Zakhiratul Khwanin, Farid Bhakkari mentions the tempting wine parties of Nawwab Mirza Ghazi Baig Tarkhan, a noble of Jahangir. According to Shaikh Farid these parties were held in such a way that if a hundred year old ascetic would have passed by, even he would have forsaken prayer and fast to join this assembly. From the account of nobles mentioned by Farid Bhakkari it appears that Mughal Emperor had elaborate arrangements for wine drinking, with certain timings fixed for it. Wine and wine drinking also appear to have ceremonial significance, Khan Jahan Lodi was offered the cup of Ram-rangi wine by Jahangir before any other grandees, this, Shaikh Farid informs us, was an expression of the favours enjoyed by Khan Jahan Lodi.

Another element which we find considerable mention of in Zakhiratul Khwanin, is opium. Quite a few nobles are mentioned to be addicted to this intoxicant. Examples of this can be  Mirza Ali, an important noble of Akbar, who was addicted to opium and Safdar Khan who was sent as an envoy to the King of  Iran during Shah Jahan’s reign, was offered poppy fruit by Shah Safi, and eventually formed a habit of taking opium.


These references to not only the daily food habits of Mughal nobility but to the food served during feasts and the intoxicating edibles like opium and wine help us develop an idea of how the life of the Mughals were in context of food and hunger. The preference given to khichri by Mughals and their love for wine are points of interest.

Identifying and brushing up life changing Skills

What are we missing and why are we not able to assess the problems?

In a world where the competitive spirit rules and one ought to pull down the other to rise up the ladder of ‘success’, those with a bit of sensitivity need to stop and  examine why have we reached such a hopeless place. What we never bother to ask are the questions of what success actually is? Where are we as a society heading with such hedonistic ideals? And what we truly need to make world a better place for not just ourselves but for a large number of people around us. We also need to realize how this need of making the world better is not an act motivated by selflessness but is in fact a very selfish act because we need the people around us to be good, for the maintenance and upkeep of a harmonious society. A far sighted vision and an open approach towards things is what we need.


Success: A myth?

When we talk about someone being successful, what is it that we refer to? The power. The money, The happiness? To be true, success may have different meanings for different people and these meanings may vary widely. But what we need to wonder is, if these different meanings of success are to be seen as a problem, some people might say they need to be, because with different meanings of success one would not be able to classify the levels of success of different people and would not be able to create a hierarchy. But why is having a hierarchy so important? It is not! It’s just that some people make us think of it is important. Different people have different opinions, views and aspirations and them having different definitions of success seems like a natural phenomenon.


How do we succeed?

The key to success is hard work and there is no de tour to success they say apart from hard work and it might be true, but what we need to understand is where we direct our hard work is equally important. Channelizing once potential towards developing a skill is a hard work that promises long term benefits. People might develop inclination towards some things but working hard on that inclination and passion is what transforms it into a skill that would help you succeed. But the sad truth is, we ignore the need to nurture individual skills and passions from a very basic level. By burdening the students with the responsibility of meeting the standards of success set by the society, we are doing a disservice to ourselves. We are leaving no scope for the creativity to take roots and flourish. We are leaving no space to breathe for the ‘round pegs in square holes’.


Ignorance of Diversity by our Education System:

There is an inherent contradiction in the Indian Education System, while we expect students to grow and contribute to the society and the nation with their varied skills, we teach all of them the same things for a large part of their student life, these things mostly turn out to be irrelevant in the greater struggles of practical life of these students. While a 12 year old would easily solve complex arithmetic problem, he would not be able to speak a single sentence about himself in front of a small crowd. Yes, it is true that we might not expect all the students to be vocal extroverts, but the point here is the negligence on the part of the teaching elements of the unique ability and talent of each student. This contradiction is explicitly visible to most of the people and organisations but hardly anyone tries to raise their voice against this inhuman practice of forcing on students to learn what they are not interested in and then demoralising and degrading them when they fail to meet the ‘set standards’ of success.


Lacunae between what we learn and what we need:

The greatest misunderstanding of the student life which is busted when one wakes up to the harsh morning of adulthood is that their entire childhood marked with Results, Mark-sheets and home works was a lie and these things hardly play any role in the greater struggles of survival and success. It is at this stage that we think about learning skills which would actually help us survive. Skills like Content Writing, IT management, Designing, Communication skills etc. are the skills which have always been ignored in our school lives and if not totally ignored these skills were always overshadowed by the need to study the ‘greater subjects’. However in practical life these are the skills that count the most. And not just that, our education system is in general very averse to progress, most of the courses still teach age old syllabi and hardly any attempt is made to understand and incorporate new researches. May be it is here that we can find a suitable explanation to the pathetic condition of employment of Indian Youth and the slow rate of progress of India as a whole.


What possibly can cause such blindness on the part of the Educational System?

Utter lack of interest on part of the Educational Organizations to improve the deplorable condition of Indian Education System is explicitly visible. The reason might be the selfish short sighted vision of most of the elements of the System. While the elaborate educational system provides livelihood to a huge amount of population of the country, the returns from this field might not be equal to the amount of investment being put into it. This affects the national growth adversely in the long run. While illiteracy still looms large as a huge dark cloud over the future of the nation, the means of overcoming it are also not showing promising results. Though we have national level organizations to look after skill development programs but what we tend to ignore is that skill development should be a part of the overall educational system of the country.


Degree: A Piece of Paper that creates more problems than it solves:

The paranoia over having a degree is basically because of the promise of livelihood that comes with it. While it is true that basic training is necessary to perform a particular task, and degree acts as a proof of this training, today degrees have become a mere piece of paper which guarantee no skill in most of the cases. This havoc over acquiring degrees has led to mushrooming up of a number of institutes that ‘sell’ these degrees to the students in need and make their own fortunes by charging huge amounts of money. Can we blame the students or even these institutions? No we can’t because the functioning of the state and its organizations makes it impossible for the ‘degree-less’ folks to even  attempt to make any difference no matter how skilled they are. There have been instances where even peons are expected to have a high school degree to get employment. How is one supposed to survive in such situations without giving in to the faulty corrupt system?


Skills: Definition and Need:

As we step into the huge world of opportunities we encounter the harsh reality of how ill qualified we are for being of any use in that huge world. What makes us useful are the skills, and skills may have a varied definition but we may say anything that helps us contribute productively to the cause of the development of society can be a skill of importance, it can serve material, sociological, emotional or psychological ends. But it would contribute to the betterment of the society as a whole in the long run. Here we would need to redefine what we mean by skills, they do not just include the qualities we acquire after rigorous training, but also some basic things necessary for survival, they might range from the ability to fix an electric wire to be able to manage information on a large scale. IT management is one of the growing fields these days however we hardly see any institute providing training in this field. Nor do we see any seriousness in the society about the development of skills of content writing or graphic designing or public speaking, when these are the skills which play a major role in shaping of the society.


What needs to be done?

In this huge world resonating with material benefits a writer can just try to provoke the human sensitivities of the people in charge. In our society we have already seen a lot of stagnation due to the huge disparity between the skilled individuals and the organizations wanting of such skilled individuals. While the restructuring of the education system would serve a long term greater goal, the immediate action might be to make the skilled meet the organizations in need of skilled people. And for doing that one needs to learn to sell their skills in such a way that it helps the growth of the individual along with the organization it is meant to serve while contributing to the growth of society. Because we don’t realize that the huge population that is often seen as a liability can very easily be turned into an invaluable asset if we concentrate on skill development of these masses.


Is the ability to sell your skill also a skill?

When we talk about skills and contribution of these skilled individuals in the long-term development of the society and nation, we mean that these individuals would also use these skills as means of their survival and sustenance. And this in turn would mean that they would need to sell their skill to the potential buyers who would nurture these skills and use them for their benefits. What is relevant here is the gap between the two. And we need to devise a way to bridge the gap between the two and create more opportunities for the skilled. The means to achieving that end is inculcating in the skilled the ability to sell their skills, one other important thing that comes in to play is the confidence of people in their skills and confidence in significance of those skills for the world. Thus what we need to learn is to have confidence in our own abilities to contribute for the betterment of the nation, and to have faith, because we need to accept that skills don’t develop in a day and nor are they recognized in first attempt.

Resilience and tireless effort is the way to developing skills and ascending our own ladder of success.

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