Bernier, Francois

Bernier, Francois (1626-1688) a French physician who visited India and Bengal between 1656 and 1668. His travel account is an important source for historians of Mughal India. As a perceptive observer Bernier noticed and recorded manners, customs, institutions, society and economy of various parts of India including Bengal. He was at Delhi when Prince Dara, a son of Emperor shahjahan, was brought there as a captive towards the close of the War of Succession and paraded through the streets in disgrace. As one of the members of the curious crowd, Bernier observed that though the assembled people seemed to have sympathy for the fallen prince, yet none of them had raised a voice in his favour. Bernier then describes the political character of the Indian people and princes. He also described the character of Shahjahan and aurangzeb from his closest observations.

Francois Bernier had been to Bengal twice during the period of his stay in India. He mentioned that of all the provinces of the Mughal Empire, Bengal was the most resourceful. According to him, the volume of Bengal's production of cotton and cotton products, rice, sugar and other commodities was simply astounding. He found the market price of commodities in Bengal incredibly cheap. In the same breadth, he mentions with compunction that the general people were very poor and insecure. According to him the rulers expropriated the resources of the country for their own splendour. He observed that the pomp and grandeur of the Mughal Court was maintained at the expense of the general people.

The original account of Bernier, first published in French, was first translated into English by Archibald Constable under the title Travels in the Mogul Empire, AD 1656-68. In view of its historical significance, the book has been published so far into many languages including Bangla. [Sirajul Islam]