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Sarkar, Jadunath


Sarkar, Jadunath (1870-1958) historian. Jadunath Sarkar was born on 10 December 1870 in village Karchamaria, under Singra upazila of Natore district. Son of Rajkumar Sarkar, a zamindar of Karchamaria, he graduated with Honours in English and History in 1891 and stood first class first in MA in English in 1892. He got the premchand roychand studentship in 1897, and his essay, India of Aurangzeb was published in 1901.

In 1893, Jadunath joined Ripon College, Calcutta as a teacher in English literature. In 1898, he joined the Provincial Education Service and was posted at presidency college, Calcutta. In 1917, he joined the History Department of Banaras Hindu University and in 1918 was nominated to the Indian Educational Service and was transferred to Ravenshaw College, Cuttack, to teach both English and History. In 1926, on retirement from government service, Jadunath was appointed Vice Chancellor of Calcutta University. He was offered a second term on 7 August 1928, which he refused.  

Jadunath Sarkar

Jadunath's father was attracted to the Brahmo religion. It is difficult to say how much Jadunath was drawn to it. He had published a summary English translation of the chaitanya charitamrita (17th century) of u krsnadasa kaviraja . The Brahmos never claimed Jadunath as one of them.

Jadunath was against those nationalist Bengali writings which tried to refute the current English view that the Bengalis were cowards. As a result, Jadunath had often been dubbed a supporter of the English. Such a view of Jadunath gained momentum when the British Government knighted him. His words of praise for the English, whom he thought to have been instrumental in bringing progress in India, further strengthened this view.

The historical works of Jadunath can be divided into two broad types. In the first category were his major works, such as History of Aurangzib (5 Vols, 1912-1958), Shivaji and His Times (1919), Mughal Administration (1920), Later Mughals (ed., 1922, 2 Vols.), Fall of the Mughal Empire (4 Vols, 1932-38), Military History of India (1960) etc. The other category included all his translations into English and Bangla of the Persian and Marathi documents as well as innumerable articles in English and Bengali, reviews, forewards etc. His published Bengali articles numbered 148, much less than his English articles which numbered 365. He had only four Bengali books while the number of his English books, including those edited by him, was thirty-one. It is difficult to formulate Jadunath's concept of history since he had rarely written on the subject. It is also difficult to determine why Jadunath veered to the medieval history of India after studying English literature.

In nineteenth century Bengal, two historical concepts were confronting each other. One derived from the writings of English historians from the end of the eighteenth century. The second came from Bengali nationalistic writings, which often created heroes in Bengal and against which Jadunath had written often. Such writings, particularly against the historicity of the 'freedom fighter' pratapaditya strengthened the view that Jadunath was pro-English.

Elliot and Dowson influenced Jadunath, but he did not belong to their school. His first book showed that the Muslim historians had not written only on political history, contrary to the claim of Elliot, but on socio-economic aspects of the Mughal Empire as well. In a broader sense, Jadunath had taken the cue from Mill. Jadunath regarded the pre-Mughal Sultanate period as one of darkness. He believed that akbar had brought a new civilising light in the arts, in administration, in law and order. Interestingly neither Mill nor Elphinstone had termed the Sultanate period as a dark age because they always made a comparison on racial and communal lines.

Although Jadunath had praised Akbar, he chose aurangzeb for his first major work, thus coming closer to that of Elphinstone. There Jadunath differed from him. The objective of Elphinstone was to show the break-up of the Mughal Empire as a reaction to Aurangzeb's policy, and the rescue of Indian civilisation by the progressively civilised English. Jadunath tried to show in his study of Aurangzeb as in his Fall of the Mughal Empire, that the Mughal Empire fell due to its own internal weaknesses. However he remained silent on the role of the English. It was only after the description of the battle of palashi that he heralded the English victory as a harbinger of a 'new renaissance... the like of which the world had never seen...'.

Jadunath was equally reticent about the periodisation of Indian history by James Mill. He did not specifically protest against the racial and communal basis of such periodisation, but foresaw difficulties in periods overlapping each other. One of the methodologies of Jadunath was his insistence on the 'evidence', although he was not so profuse or detailed in the notes supporting the evidence. He took great pains to get documents in different languages to establish the 'facts'. Given the situation of the times, Jadunath, like most of his predecessors, established 'facts' of mostly a political and military nature. But the results of his search unearthed several important documents, including Akhbarat from Jaipur, Baharistan-i Ghayebi, Haft Anjuman and other documents, some of which had remained for so long either in personal collections or in the European archives.

As a matter of fact, Jadunath spent his whole life in collecting such documents, which he often presented in the annual conferences of the Indian Historical Records Commission. He gave almost equal importance to contemporary English and the French documents, and translated portions of the diary of the seventeenth century French merchant Francois Martin. His translation was however heavily criticised by Surendranath Sen. On the other hand, Jadunath had begun to question the value of Sanskrit poems, Maratha documents and Bakhar literature. To Jadunath, the contemporary English correspondences, for example the Poona Residency Correspondences, were more important since they revealed the details lacking in Indian documents.

These European documents helped Jadunath to establish his 'facts'. In his work on the battles, he would take great pains to describe troop movements and identify the exact spots, for which he would take the trouble of visiting the spots again and again. As a result, the descriptions of the battles become far livelier, in which he had used the knowledge of geography unlike other contemporary historians. Often he corrected his earlier identifications. Jadunath was therefore searching for the truth in the 'facts', almost impersonally, but only in those 'facts' which appeared to him from his documents.

Jadunath is remembered for his books, some of which he re-edited in his later years. His Aurangzib and Shivaji narrated the history of the seventeenth century around two individuals while his Later Mughals and Fall of the Mughal Empire dealt with the personalities and events of the eighteenth century. Aurangzib traced the fall of the Mughal Empire and Shivaji, a contrast, the rise of a nation under a heroic leader. To Jadunath, it was individual leadership which mattered, but actually, these two were tales of the decadence of an empire and the rise of another, the state being the principal object.

The other works almost had the same picture, the decline of both the Mughals and the Marathas and the rise of the English. It was the country and the state that concerned Jadunath in the background of the contrasting forces. Strictly speaking, Jadunath dealt only with the decline of the Mughals and did not go into the details of the decline of the Marathas or the rise of the English, who were kept always in the background, so that their attempts at expansion were not given due attention. This becomes quite clear in his narrative of the fall of Nawab sirajuddaula in Bengal in 1757, where the internal weakness of the Nizamat, and the weak character of the nawab had been painted in detail. Jadunath supported such analysis by drawing on the later Persian sources written under the aegis of the British officials.

Jadunath was attracted to Vincent Smith's pragmatic concept of history as a view of the past, from which one could learn some lessons. But he was far more concerned with the concept of the progress of civilisation, obviously taken from Mill. The change towards the pragmatic concept came somewhere between 1928 and 1932. By then Jadunath had become conscious about the formation of Indian nationality. That Aurangzib, by his fundamentalist approach, had heightened communal tension, thereby destroying the formation of Indian nationality, in contrast to that of Akbar, an Elphinstonian touch, had been the theme of Jadunath. Later researches of M Athar Ali (Mughal Nobility Under Aurangzeb, 1966) and Irfan Habib (Agrarian System of Mughal Empire, 1963) had shown that the concept of Elphinstone, taken by Jadunath, was historically inaccurate and that there were administrative-economic reasons for the decline of the Mughal Empire. Therefore the theory of the crisis, as seen by Jadunath, caused by moral degeneration and communal politics, would not hold good.

Nineteenth and twentieth century Maratha nationalism had no impact on Shivaji by Jadunath, who, as seen earlier, was against the nationalists for basing their writings on unhistorical facts. Yet a closer reading of Shivaji would give the impression that Jadunath was not immune to Maratha nationalism. However, he felt that the Maratha movement after Baji Rao had undergone a change, when fundamentalist Hinduism had become dominant, whose seeds Jadunath had traced in the administrative set-up of Shivaji. At the same time, he had written strongly against the Shivaji myth.

In the 1952 edition of Volume V of History of Aurangzib, Jadunath had added a chapter entitled 'Aurangzib and the Indian Nation'. Here he had shown that the Hindus were under the domination of the Muslims, although the Muslims were more progressive. The downtrodden majority could not make the nation. Finally, the Muslims looked beyond India and brought their downfall, while the caste system and their conflicts had brought the downfall of the Hindus. At that time Europe was going forward in acquiring and applying technological knowledge that resulted in their conquest of Asia and Africa.

In a broader sense, this is the concept of the progress of civilisation as envisaged by Mill. Each conquest is an affirmation of the progress. By the same token, the Sultanate period should have been seen as such, but Jadunath had categorised it as a dark period. Tarafdar has rightly asked how the age of Akbar had become the bacon of civilisation if the preceding age was so dark. Recent researches have shown that while Akbar had limited his patronage to only two Rajput houses, his successors, Jahahgir and Shah Jahan, had expanded it. Actually compared to Akbar's period, the number of Hindu Mansabdars had increased during the period of Aurangzeb, thus belying the thesis of Jadunath. That Aurangzeb had given generous grants to non-Muslim monasteries, including the Vrndaban monastery of the Vaishnavas, has been shown in recent years.

Even then, one could see that Jadunath believed in the plural society of medieval India, grown out of various influences coming from outside, including those of the Muslim Sufis. But this 'mixed culture' was very limited according to Jadunath. The exchanges between the Hindus and the Muslims had occurred at a lower level and among the lower classes and lower castes. Jadunath believed that improvement would come through progressive English education, but he did not specify it.

In his edition of the medieval History of Bengal Vol. II (Dhaka University, 1943), Jadunath seemed to believe that the English had rescued the Bengalis from oblivion and darkness, a kind of 'reverse nationalism', which did not look at the colonial policies of the English. He was silent on the question of independence of India and in a sense, there was not much difference between him and the English historians. He evaded the questions arising from the fact that the English colonial policy had started soon after the battle of Palashi.

Despite all these, Jadunath has narrated events with extraordinary skill and eloquence. The structure he has given to the decline and fall of the Mughal Empire in his account, with some modifications, has remained intact. The picture of the individual Mughal and Maratha nobles moving towards their final destiny like the characters of a Greek tragedy against the background of the decline, with all their personal conflicts, cowardice, heroism and self-sacrifice, so ably created by Jadunath, has remained unsurpassed even to this day. Jadunath Sarkar died on 19 May 1958. [Aniruddha Ray]