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Baharistan-i-Ghaibi


Baharistan-i-Ghaibi a chronicle in Persian written by Alauddin Isfahan alias mirza nathan, a Mughal general in Bengal. It is an important primary source for the reconstruction of the history of Bengal in the reign of jahangir (1605-1627). Unlike other histories of the Mughal Empire, written by court-historians and covering the history of the whole empire, Baharistan-i-Ghaibi deals only with the affairs of Bengal and the adjoining area.

The author, entitled Shitab Khan by Emperor Jahangir, passed his military career in Bengal and as an eyewitness of many events wrote from his personal observation. He adopted the takhullus or pseudonym of Ghaibi (invisible), and hence the name of his work is Baharistan-i-Ghaibi. His father Malik Ali, later entitled Ihtimam Khan, came to Bengal as Mir Bahr (Admiral of the imperial fleet) in 1608 along with islam khan chisti. Mirza Nathan, a valiant fighter, accompanied his father to Bengal and joined the imperial service. He took part in battles against musa khan, khwaja usman and pratapaditya during the viceroyalty of Islam Khan. When Prince shahjahan revolted against his father (Jahangir) and came to Bengal, Mirza Nathan joined him and helped in his war operations. After Prince Shahjahan left Bengal for the Deccan, Mirza Nathan went into oblivion. He was probably enjoying a retired life when he composed his voluminous book, the Baharistan-i-Ghaibi.

The book is divided into several chapters, marked as daftar by the author. The first daftar is named Islamnama having the account of the viceroyalty of Islam Khan; the second daftar deals with the subahdari of qasim khan chisti (but not named); the third daftar deals with the subahdari of ibrahim khan fath-i-jang and is called Ibrahimnama; while the fourth and last daftar deals with the usurpation of the government of Bengal by the rebel prince Shah Jahan, and is called the Waqiat-i-Jahanxahi.

The Baharistan-i-Ghaibi was for long lost to the historians. Sir jadunath sarkar discovered a manuscript of the book in the Bibliotheca Nationale of Paris. He brought it to the notice of the scholarly world by writing several articles in English and Bangla journals. The Dhaka University procured a photograph of the book and MI Borah, the then Professor of Persian in the Dhaka University translated it into English. The government of Assam published it in 1936, and the book has come down to us in two large volumes of about a thousand printed pages. The English translation of Borah is also very scholarly with copious notes of technical terms and geographical places.

Mirza Nathan is very uncaring in giving dates of the events he narrated; in fact there are only four complete dates (day, month and year) in the whole book, of which three have been found to be incorrect by his own narrative and the correctness of the fourth date could not be ascertained. But there are indications in his narratives by which chronology may be ascertained more or less correctly. These indications are the references to the month of Ramadan, the two Eid festivals, Muharram, Shab-i-Barat etc, ie the Muslim festivals, which the author and the Mughal army celebrated. The author did not give the date of writing or completion of his book; only in the introduction of the third daftar it is stated that 'on the 7 Zil-Qada, (10) 41 Hijri, the fifth year of the accession of Sahib-i-Qiran (i.e. Shah Jahan) (27 May 1632), it came out of the heart to the tongue and from the tongue to the pen'. In the fly-leaf it is stated that the manuscript was presented to Nawab Asalat Khan and the latter presented it to his foster brother Aga Muhammad Baqir on 1 Rabi I, 1051 AH (10 June 1641). So modern scholars have concluded that the 1st and 2nd daftars of the book were completed before 1632, and the last two daftars were completed before 1641. It appears that the author dictated the book to some one who wrote it down.

The Baharistan-i-Ghaibi is the only contemporary history of Bengal dealing with the subjugation of Bengal in the reign of Jahangir. The other contemporary source, the Memoirs of the emperor, the tuzuk-i-jahangiri mentions briefly only a few events of Bengal and does not refer to many others at all. The minute details of the wars and battles, the political condition in Bengal and the adjoining area, and the side-lights on social and economic life of the people as found in this book are not to be met with in any other source.

The importance of the Baharistan-i-Ghaibi shall be clear if we remember that no part of the history of Bengal in the pre-British period is so fully known to us as the history of the reign of Jahangir. [Abdul Karim]

Bibliography Mirza Nathan, Baharistan-i-Ghaibi, (Eng tr by MI Borah) Gauhati, 1936; Abdul Karim, History of Bengal, Mughal Period, I, Rajshahi, 1992.