Tag Archives: Mughals

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.

The Faqir who Read Half the Kalma

The complex of the Jama Masjid, Delhi, a symbol of one of the most glorious times witnessed by the Indian civilization houses the grave of a heretic. The alleged Jewish priest who read half the qalma and got executed by Aurangzeb, the alleged Muslim bigot, Sa’id Sarmad, lies beneath the sacred earth of the great congregational mosque, listening to and crying at, the enormous amount of  pain and prayers hurled at him every day, coming from all faiths and none. Saint Sarmad is remembered as one of the intellectual companions of another heretic, Dara Shikoh, the could-have-been philosopher king of India. Though it is well known that Dara had serious leanings towards comparative study in religions yet what is little known is that a Jewish priest who went about naked had a role in the formation of his intellectual imagination.

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It is claimed by scholars that Sarmad was an atheist and agnostic of sorts who didn’t believe in God and went about naked dismantling the social set up of his times. Ones’ mind wanders to what the “Saint” would have felt at being classified with atheists and at becoming the object of being prayed at and to, the collection of his verses which are known to the world by the name of Rubaiyat-i-Sarmad (1949) gives a slight peek into the working of the mind of this intriguing man. To stay true to the spirit of the time, it would be unjust to take his words literally when Sarmad claims to be a Sufi, a Catholic priest, a Buddhist monk, a Jewish rabbi, an infidel, and a Muslim at the same time. This might also suggest that the man belonged to all religions and none. And it can be agreed too that the naked fakir was a critical thinker of the highest order. He, when presented before the court of the newly enthroned Aurangzeb, and asked to read the Kalma to save his life, read half of it. La Ilaha, meaning, there is no god. And left it at that and when further questioned about it he claimed that he had till then reached only that stage of knowing god that he knows none and once he knows It he would recite the entire Kalma. This kind of critical spirit was the most dangerous weapon that could have existed, and it still is the most dangerous one to those who want to maintain the status quo and who feed off the ignorance of the minds of the people, be it the political establishment or the religious superstructures, nothing troubles them more than a man who could dare to think on his own without intermediaries. Thus execution of Sarmad was necessary. It would be unjust to not mention how Sarmad writes about his relation with God, his attitude towards God, seems definitely of the order of one of a Sufi in real search of truth, he claims that his poor heart desires nothing but union with the God. But his idea of God, wasn’t the idea that was being shoved down his throat by the orthodoxy.

On reading Sarmad it clearly surfaces that his battle was with the great bearded obnoxious orthodox Mullas who had caused the decay of the innocent minds, he says it clearly, “He who understands the secrets of the Truth, became vaster than the vast heaven; Mulla says, Ahmad went to heaven; Sarmad says, ‘Nay heaven came down to Ahmad”’. In these verses, giving his apparently heretical remark about the contested issue of Prophet Muhammad’s Miraj, he clearly seems disillusioned from the Mullas who do not really as much worry to seek the truth but to gain on their personal level from political establishment and the common ignorant folks.

He also comes close to the stand of Mansur Al Hallaj’s ‘I am the truth’ (An’al Haq) in his quest, he claims, that if your faith is pure than the entire world would be in your control. Thus execution of Sarmad becomes even more necessary than had been the execution of Mansur Al Hallaj, the 10th century mystic who was killed on the grounds that he claimed himself to be the God, because the latter had already found the answer, An’al Haq, and that answer didn’t match the established idea of truth, with Sarmad however the issue is even more dangerous he hadn’t found the truth, he was looking for it. He was looking for answers to believe in the remaining half of the Qalma and that was to come through, through a critical evaluation of every established structure around him, including the political one.

Thus for the survival of the establishment, Sarmad had to die and he was executed in 1660. Sarmad died a death where he was lost also because of the meager amount of information left behind about him; his ideas have been lately rediscovered and rethought about.

The question whether Sarmad was an example of a Saint which wanted to find the God and Truth in it through his own way or if he was a heretic anarchist who aimed at disrupting the established social and political order is a question that needs to be asked, thought and rethought again and again till one can come to a conclusion, but there are serious reasons to believe that he was a man who had had enough of the religious and even spiritual deterioration that had set in during the 17th century India and that is why though he speaks more or less the same things that the great sufi mystics of earlier times say yet he leaves no reason to be associated with them, he claims, “Whether an ascetic or anything else, I’m concerned with the Beloved only(God); Really I have no business with rosary or sacred thread. This woollen cloak (suf) which conceals hundreds of evils under it, I shall never put it on, as it is a disgrace”.

To sum up it needs to be said in defense of the saint who read half the Kalma that his actions were probably motivated by the most serious issue that ruins any society, the decay and rotting of its intellectual class. Sarmad was probably closer to the true idea of God than the idea the people who killed him had, people who killed him claiming he believed in none.

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