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Through The Eyes Of Travellers

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Themes in Indian History II

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History

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Discuss the picture of urban centres that emerges from Bernier’s account.


The picture of Urban centres and Bernier’s account:

(i) During the seventeenth century about 15 per cent of the population lived in towns. This was, an average, higher than the proportion of urban population in Western Europe in the same period. In spite of this Bernier described Mughal cities as "camp towns", by which he meant towns that owed their existence, and depended for their survival, on the imperial camp. He believed that these came into existence when the imperial court moved in and rapidly declined when it moved out.

(ii) Bernier suggested that cities did not have viable social and economic foundations but were dependent on imperial patronage.

(iii) Bernier was drawing an oversimplified picture. There were all kinds of towns: manufacturing towns, trading towns, port towns, sacred centres, pilgrimage towns, etc. Their existence is an index of the prosperity of merchant communities and professional classes.

(iv) Merchants often had strong community and were organised into their own caste-cum-occupational bodies. In western India these groups were called mahajans, and their chief, the sheth. In urban centres such as Ahmedabad the mahajans were collectively represented by the chief of the merchant community who was called the nagarsheth.

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Compare and contrast the perspectives from which Ibn-Battuta and Bernier wrote their accounts of their travels in India.


Ibn-Battuta and Bernier have written the accounts of their travels from different perspectives. Ibn-Battuta described everything that impressed and excited him because of its novelty On the other hand, Francois Bernier had a different intellectural tradition. He wrote about whatever he saw in India. But he compared and contrasted it with the situation in Europe in general and France in particular. He focussed on situations which seemed depressing to him. He wanted to influence the policy makers and the intelligentsia. He wanted them to take right decisions.

In fact Bernier wanted to pin-point the weaknesses of the Indian society. He considered the Mughal India inferior to the European society.

On the other hand, Ibn-Battuta recorded his observations about new cultures, peoples, beliefs and values.

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Analyse the evidence for slavery provided by Ibn-Battuta.


According to Ibn-Battuta, slaves like any other commodity, were openly sold in the markets. They were also regularly exchanged as gifts.

(i) When Ibn-Battuta reached Sind, he purchased horses, camels and slaves. He wanted to offer them as gifts to Sultan Muhammad bin Tughlaq.

(ii) When Ibn-Battuta reached Multan, he presented not only raisins and almonds to the governor but also a slave and horse.

(iii) There were some female slaves in the service of the Sultan. They were experts in music and dance. Ibn-Battuta enjoyed their performance at the wedding of the sister of Sultan.

(iv) The Sultan also employed female slaves to keep a watch on his nobles.

(v) The slaves were also engaged for domestic work. They carried men and women on palanquins or dola. But they were given low wages.

(vi) Most families kept one or two slaves.

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What were the elements of the practice of sati that drew the attention of Bernier?


The following elements of the practice of sati drew the attention of Bernier:

(i) It was a cruel practice in which the widow was made to sit on the pyre of her husband alive.

(ii) The widow was an unwilling victim of the sati-practice. She was forced to be a sati.

(iii) The people had no sympathy even for the child-widows.

(iv) The cries of the woman going to be a sati, did not move anyone.

(v) The Brahmans and the elderly women of the house participated in this practice or process.

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Write a note on the Kitab-ul-Hind.


Al-Biruni’s Kitab-ul-Hind, was written in Arabic. It is simple and lucid. It is a voluminous text, divided into 80 chapters on subjects such as religion and philosophy, festivals, astronomy, alchemy, manners and customs, social life, weights and measures, iconography, laws and metrology.

Generally (though not always), Al-Biruni adopted a distinctive structure in each chapter, beginning with a question, following this up with a description based on Sanskritic traditions, and concluding with a comparison with other cultures.

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