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CBSE Notes | Class 12 | History | Chapter 3 - Through the Eyes Of Travellers

The chapter introduces students to the various travellers who travelled to the Indian sub-continent: Al-Biruni, Ibn-Batutta & Francois Bernier. It highlights what the travellers saw and wrote into their accounts. These were the travellers who wrote detailed accounts regarding Indian social customs & religious practices.

Introduction

 

Many people travelled from place to place in search of safety from natural disasters in the early centuries as traders, merchants, soldiers, priests, pilgrims, or driven by a sense of adventure.


People also discovered a new world, both in terms of the landscape or physical environment and in terms of the customs, languages, beliefs, and practises of the people.


Many of them tried to adapt and meticulously recorded their efforts in their truly outstanding accounts.


There have been a number of accounts left by foreign visitors to India. Many people travelled from place to place in search of safety from natural disasters in the early centuries as traders, merchants, soldiers, priests, pilgrims, or driven by a sense of adventure.


People also discovered a new world, both in terms of the landscape or physical environment and in terms of the customs, languages, beliefs, and practises of the people.


Many of them tried to adapt and meticulously recorded their efforts in their truly outstanding accounts.


There have been a number of accounts left by foreign visitors to India.


Many people travelled from place to place in search of safety from natural disasters in the early centuries as traders, merchants, soldiers, priests, pilgrims, or driven by a sense of adventure.


People also discovered a new world, both in terms of the landscape or physical environment and in terms of the customs, languages, beliefs, and practises of the people.


Many of them tried to adapt and meticulously recorded their efforts in their truly outstanding accounts.

There have been a number of accounts left by foreign visitors to India.




AL- Biruni & the Kitab- Ul- Hind


In 973, Al-Biruni was born in Khwarizm (Uzbekistan).


It was an important centre of learning, and Al-Biruni received the best education available at the time.


He was well versed in Syriac, Arabic, Persian, Hebrew and Sanskrit. In 1017, when sultan Mahmud of Gazni invaded Khwarizm, he took several scholars & poets as hostages with him, Al-Biruni was one of them.


Al-Biruni came to India when Punjab became a part of a Ghaznavid empire. He spent years in the company of Brahmana learning Sanskrit & studying Religious and philosophical texts. He was designated as Vidya Sagar by Brahmanas.



Kitab-Ul-Hind is a book written by Al-Biruni.


  • Language: Arabic

  • It is divided into 80 Chapters on subjects such as religion, Philosophy, Festivals, astronomy, Alchemy, weights & measures etc.


The distinctive structure was adopted in each chapter beginning with a description following up with a description. Based on Sanskrit traditions and concluding that with a comparison with other cultures.


What were the barriers that obstructed Al-Biruni in understanding India?


There were several barriers that obstructed Al-biruni:


  • First, The barrier among these was the language According to him, Sanskrit was so different from Arabic and Persian that ideas and concepts could not be easily translated from one language into another.


  • Second, The difference in the religious beliefs and practices proved to be an ultimate barrier to him.


  • Third, the self-absorption and consequent insularity of the local population according to him, was another barrier.


He depended exclusively on the works of Brahmanas often citing passages from the Vedas, the Puranas, the Bhagavad Gita, the works of Patanjali, the Manusmriti, etc., to provide an understanding of Indian society.



Al-Biruni’s Description of the caste system


Al-Biruni tried to explain that social division was not unique in India.


He explained the “Varna” system, Brahmana is the highest who were created from the head of Brahman.


The next follows Kshatriyas who were created from the shoulders and hands of Brahman, then came Vaishya who were created from the thighs. The Shudras were at last, who was created from the feet of a Brahman.


He also noted that in ancient Persia four social categories were recognised: those of knights and princes; monks, fire-priests and lawyers; physicians, astronomers and other scientists; and finally, peasants and artisans.


Al-Biruni pointed out that within Islam all men were considered equal, differing only in their observance of piety.


Al-Biruni disapproved of the notion of pollution. He remarked that everything which falls into a state of impurity strives and succeeds in regaining its original condition of purity. His description of the caste system was deeply influenced by his study of Normative Sanskrit texts which laid down the rules governing the system.

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Ibn-Battuta


Ibn- Battuta was a Moroccan traveller, he was born in Tangier into the most respected and reputed family. According to Ibn- Battuta experience comes from travelling, and it is a more important source of knowledge than books.


Before he set off for India in 1332-33, he had made pilgrimage trips to Mecca and had already travelled extensively in Syria, Iraq, Persia, Yemen, Oman and a few trading ports on the coast of East Africa.


He had heard about Muhammad bin Tughlaq. When he reached Sind, he purchased horses, camels and slaves. He wanted to offer them as gifts to Sultan Muhammad bin Tughlaq.


The sultan was impressed by his scholarship and appointed him the Qazi or Judge of Delhi.

He was also thrown into prison by a sultan. Once the misunderstanding got cleared he was restored to imperial services and was asked to proceed towards China.


He proceeded towards the Malabar coast from central India and went to the Maldives. He took a ship to Sumatra and then another ship to the Chinese port town Zaytun (Quanzhou).


He travelled extensively as far as Beijing and went back home in 1347.



Rihla was a book written by Ibn- Battuta


  • Language: Arabic

  • His account is often compared with that of Marco polo who visited china from his home base in Venice in the late thirteen century.


Why was travelling was insecure in the Medieval period according to Ibn-Battuta?


Ibn-Battuta was attacked by bands of robbers several times. He preferred travelling in caravans along with companions but this did not deter highway robbers.


He was on his way from ‘Multan to Delhi’ his caravan was attacked and looted several times, his fellow travellers also lost their lives.


Ibn-Battuta felt homesick & at many places he was not welcomed by the people.



The Excitement of the un-familiar


The Coconut


  • Coconut Trees looks like date Palms.

  • It resembles a man’s head. Inside of it looks like a brain.

  • Its Fibre looks like Human hair which is used for making rope which is used for pulling ships.



The Paan


  • Betel plants look like grapes plants.

  • The betel has no fruit and is grown only for the sake of its leaves.

  • People chew betel leaves with areca nut and lime.


Indian Cities


Ibn Battuta found cities in the subcontinent full of exciting opportunities. They were densely populated and prosperous, except for the occasional disruptions caused by wars and invasions.


Most cities had crowded streets and bright and colourful markets that were stacked with a wide variety of goods. Ibn-Battuta described Delhi and Daulatabad as vast cities, with a great population.


The bazaars were the hub of the economic transactions as well as the hub of social and cultural activities. Most bazaars had a mosque and a temple, also there were places for public performances by dancers, musicians & singers.


Ibn Battuta explains that towns derived a significant portion of their wealth through the appropriation of surplus from villages because of the fertility of the soil, which allowed farmers to cultivate two crops a year.


The subcontinent was well integrated with inter-Asian networks of trade and commerce, with Indian manufactures being in great demand in both West Asia and Southeast Asia, fetching huge profits for artisans and merchants.


Indian textiles, particularly cotton cloth, fine muslins, silks, brocade and satin, were in great demand.

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A Unique System of Communication


Almost all trade routes were well supplied with inns and guest houses. Ibn Battuta was also amazed by the efficiency of the postal system (by Horse & human runners) which allowed merchants to not only send information and remit credit across long distances but also to dispatch goods required at short notice.



Slaves


Slaves were openly traded and exchanged as gifts in the markets, just like any other commodity.

Because of the significant differences among slaves, some female slaves in the Sultan's service were experts in music and dance, and Ibn Battuta enjoyed their performance at the Sultan's sister's wedding.


The Sultan also employed female slaves to keep an eye on his nobles. Slaves who were male were used to transport Palanquins or Dola.


Slave prices, especially for female slaves, were extremely low because they were used for domestic labour.

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Class 9 French Reolution - A Society of Estates.jpg

Francois Bernier


A Frenchman, was a doctor, political philosopher and historian. He came to the Mughal Empire in search of opportunities.


He was in India for twelve years, from 1656 to 1668.


He was closely associated with the Mughal court, as a physician to Prince Dara Shukoh, the eldest son of Emperor Shah Jahan, and later as an intellectual and scientist, with Danishmand Khan, an Armenian noble at the Mughal court.


He travelled in several parts of the country and wrote his account comparing with the situation in Europe.


Bernier dedicated his major writings to the king of France, Louis XIV. Many of his other works were written in the form of letters to influential officials & ministers. He also described what he saw in India in comparison to Europe, the assessment was not very accurate.



Bernier & the Disintegrate East


Crown Ownership of land


One of the fundamental differences between Mughal India and Europe was the lack of private property in land which is harmful to both state and its people.


He thought that in the Mughal Empire the emperor owned all the land and distributed it among his nobles, and nobles to peasants.


Owing to crown ownership of land, argued Bernier, landholders could not pass on their land to their children. So they were averse to any long-term investment in the sustenance and expansion of production.


Bernier saw the Mughal Empire – its king was the king of “beggars and barbarians”; its cities and towns were ruined and contaminated with “ill air”; and its fields, “overspread with bushes” and full of “pestilential marishes”.


This was because of the crown ownership of land.



Complex social reality


Bernier description points to a more complex social reality. Artisans had no incentive to improve the quality of their manufactures since profits were appropriated by the state.


The vast quantities of the world’s precious metals flowed into India, as manufactures were exported in exchange for gold and silver.


He also noticed the existence of a prosperous merchant community, engaged in the long-distance exchange.



Mughal Cities


In the seventh century, 15% of the population lived in towns, this proportion was higher than that of Western Europe.


Mughal cities were described as “Camp towns”. These cities came into existence & grow when the imperial court moved in and declined rapidly when it moved out.


Different types of towns were there: Trading towns, manufacturing towns, port towns etc.

Strong communities or Kin ties of merchants were there into their own caste-cum-communities bodies. 


These groups were called Mahajans their chief was called nagarseth or Seth.


Urban groups included physicians(Hakim or vaid), teachers(Pundit or Mulla), lawyers(wakil), painters, architects etc. Some of the people were dependent on imperial patronage they made their living by serving other patrons.

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Sati & Women labourers


The treatment of women was identified by European travellers as a critical marker of difference between Western and Eastern societies.


As a detailed description, Bernier chose the practice of sati. He observed that while some women welcomed death with joy, others were forced to die.


Both agricultural and non-agricultural production relied heavily on women's labour. Women from merchant families were involved in commercial activities, and mercantile disputes were sometimes taken to court.


Travellers who wrote detailed accounts regarding Indian social Customs & religious practices.


  • Jesuit Roberto Nobili- He translated Indian texts into European languages.

  • Duarte Barbosa: He wrote a detailed account of trade & society in south India.

  • Jean-Baptiste Tavernier: he was particularly fascinated with the trading conditions in India & compared India to Iran and Ottoman Empire

  • Italian Dr Manucci: He wrote a detailed account regarding Indian social customs and religious practices and settled in India.



How did Francois Bernier’s descriptions Influence western theorists From Eighteen century?


Bernier's Travels in the Mughal Empire is known for its meticulous observations, critical insights, and introspection. His account includes discussions attempting to put the Mughal dynasty's history into some sort of universal context.


He was always comparing Mughal India to modern Europe.


From the eighteenth century onwards, Bernier's descriptions influenced Western theorists.


For example, the French philosopher Montesquieu used this account to develop the concept of oriental despotism, in which Asian rulers exercised absolute authority over their subjects, who were kept in slavery and poverty.


Karl Marx developed this idea into the concept of the Asiatic mode of production in the nineteenth century. He claimed that before colonialism, a surplus in India (and other Asian countries) was appropriated by the state.


As a result, a society made up of a large number of autonomous and (internally) egalitarian village communities arose.


This portrayal of rural society, however, was far from accurate. Rural society was, in fact, marked by significant social and economic differentiation during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.