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Maasir-ul-Umara


Maasir-ul-Umara a biographical dictionary of the officers in the Mughal empire until 1780 AD. It was the work of Shah Nawaz Khan (entitled Samsamuddaula) and his son Abdul Hai. Shah Nawaz Khan devoted himself to the compilation of the work from August 1741 to 1747. During this period, he was in forced retirement, falling in disfavour of the ruling authority. But he was re-appointed governor of Berar in 1747. He apparently forgot about his work, and when his son Abdul Hai reminded him of the importance of the work, he suggested that the latter should complete it. In another turn of events Shah Nawaz Khan was arrested in 1758, his house was plundered and all his books, including the manuscript of the Maasir-ul-Umara were lost.

After about a year the manuscript was recovered in an incomplete form, and the author's close friend and associate Mir Ghulam Ali Azad rearranged the book. This rearranged copy is called the first edition of the Maasir-ul-Umara. Shah Nawaz Khan's son Abdul Hai fortunately escaped death, received his father's title Samsamuddaula and attained a high rank. He started the preparation of Additional biographies in 1768-69, and completed it in 1780 AD. This is called the second edition of the book.

The publication of the text edition of the book was started by the asiatic society of Bengal, Calcutta, in 1887 under the editorship of Abdur Rahim, and the work was completed by Mirza Ashraf Ali in three volumes in 1896. The volumes were translated into English by H Beveridge and revised, annotated and completed by Beni Prasad in 1941, and 1952; the English version consisting of two printed volumes includes 734 biographies arranged in alphabetical order. The original Persian work was a text of about, 2,700 pages.

The Maasir-ul-Umara is a storehouse of knowledge about history of the Mughals in India. There is no dearth of contemporary history of the Mughal empire; these include the namahs, such as Baburnamah, humayun namah, padshahnamah, alamgirnamah etc, containing the life and achievements of the Mughal emperors, history books written by order of the emperors or written by individuals at their own initiative, official records and newsletters are also available. In spite of this the Maasir-ul-Umara provides with important materials about the life and career of the imperial officers, their education and culture, their passion and pastime and they provide supplementary information which are necessary to get a full picture of the Mughal empire.

The Maasir-ul-Umara is also very important for reconstruction of the history of Bengal. Officers posted to Bengal did not receive due attention in the imperial histories, because Bengal was just a subah (province), ie 1/15th or 1/19th part of the whole Mughal empire. So the Maasir dealing with the life and career of the officers often supplement information about the Bengal officers also. The Maasir-ul-Umara, a big and voluminous work very ably written by the authors, is full of important historical details. It includes the lives of almost all eminent personalities, nobles and generals, ministers, governors, financial experts, poets and literateurs, ie all Mughal peers who attained perfection and achieved fame in their respective fields. [Abdul Karim]

Bibliography Shahnawaz Khan and Abdul Hai, Maasir-ul-Umara, text published in the Bibliotheca Indica, Calcutta, 1887-1896; H Beveridge and B Prasad (tr), Maasir-ul-Umara of Shahnawaz Khan and Abdul Hai, Calcutta, I, 1941, II, 1952.