NCERT Textbook - Through the Eyes Of Travelers Humanities/Arts Notes | EduRev

History Class 12

UPSC : NCERT Textbook - Through the Eyes Of Travelers Humanities/Arts Notes | EduRev

 Page 1


115
Women and men have travelled in search of work, to escape
from natural disasters, as traders, merchants, soldiers,
priests, pilgrims, or driven by a sense of adventure.
Those who visit or come to stay in a new land
invariably encounter a world that is different:
in terms of the landscape or physical
environment as well as customs, languages,
beliefs and practices of people. Many of them
try to adapt to these differences; others,
somewhat exceptional, note them carefully in
accounts, generally recording what they find
unusual or remarkable. Unfortunately, we have
practically no accounts of travel left by women, though
we know that they travelled.
The accounts that survive are often varied in terms of
their subject matter. Some deal with affairs of the court,
while others are mainly focused on religious issues, or
architectural features and monuments. For example, one
of the most important descriptions of the city of
Vijayanagara (Chapter 7) in the fifteenth century comes
from Abdur Razzaq Samarqandi, a diplomat who came
visiting from Herat.
In a few cases, travellers did not go to distant lands. For
example, in the Mughal Empire (Chapters 8 and 9),
administrators sometimes travelled within the
empire and recorded their observations. Some
of them were interested in looking at popular
customs and the folklore and traditions of
their own land.
In this chapter we shall see how our
knowledge of the past can be enriched
through a consideration of descriptions of
social life provided by travellers who visited
the subcontinent, focusing on the accounts of three
men: Al-Biruni who came from Uzbekistan (eleventh
century), Ibn Battuta who came from Morocco, in
northwestern Africa (fourteenth century) and the
Frenchman François Bernier (seventeenth century).
Through the Eyes of Travellers
Perceptions of Society Perceptions of Society Perceptions of Society Perceptions of Society Perceptions of Society
( ( ( ( (c c c c c. tenth to seventeenth century) . tenth to seventeenth century) . tenth to seventeenth century) . tenth to seventeenth century) . tenth to seventeenth century)
THEME
FIVE
Fig. 5.1b
A coconut
The coconut and the paan
were things that struck many
travellers as unusual.
Fig. 5.1a
Paan leaves
2019-2020
Page 2


115
Women and men have travelled in search of work, to escape
from natural disasters, as traders, merchants, soldiers,
priests, pilgrims, or driven by a sense of adventure.
Those who visit or come to stay in a new land
invariably encounter a world that is different:
in terms of the landscape or physical
environment as well as customs, languages,
beliefs and practices of people. Many of them
try to adapt to these differences; others,
somewhat exceptional, note them carefully in
accounts, generally recording what they find
unusual or remarkable. Unfortunately, we have
practically no accounts of travel left by women, though
we know that they travelled.
The accounts that survive are often varied in terms of
their subject matter. Some deal with affairs of the court,
while others are mainly focused on religious issues, or
architectural features and monuments. For example, one
of the most important descriptions of the city of
Vijayanagara (Chapter 7) in the fifteenth century comes
from Abdur Razzaq Samarqandi, a diplomat who came
visiting from Herat.
In a few cases, travellers did not go to distant lands. For
example, in the Mughal Empire (Chapters 8 and 9),
administrators sometimes travelled within the
empire and recorded their observations. Some
of them were interested in looking at popular
customs and the folklore and traditions of
their own land.
In this chapter we shall see how our
knowledge of the past can be enriched
through a consideration of descriptions of
social life provided by travellers who visited
the subcontinent, focusing on the accounts of three
men: Al-Biruni who came from Uzbekistan (eleventh
century), Ibn Battuta who came from Morocco, in
northwestern Africa (fourteenth century) and the
Frenchman François Bernier (seventeenth century).
Through the Eyes of Travellers
Perceptions of Society Perceptions of Society Perceptions of Society Perceptions of Society Perceptions of Society
( ( ( ( (c c c c c. tenth to seventeenth century) . tenth to seventeenth century) . tenth to seventeenth century) . tenth to seventeenth century) . tenth to seventeenth century)
THEME
FIVE
Fig. 5.1b
A coconut
The coconut and the paan
were things that struck many
travellers as unusual.
Fig. 5.1a
Paan leaves
2019-2020
 THEMES IN INDIAN HISTORY – PART II 116
As these authors came from vastly different
social and cultural environments, they were often
more attentive to everyday activities and practices
which were taken for granted by indigenous
writers, for whom these were routine matters, not
worthy of being recorded. It is this difference in
perspective that makes the accounts of travellers
interesting. Who did these travellers write for? As
we will see, the answers vary from one instance
to the next.
1. Al-Biruni and the
Kitab-ul-Hind
1.1 From Khwarizm to the Punjab
Al-Biruni was born in 973, in Khwarizm in present-
day Uzbekistan. Khwarizm was an important centre
of learning, and Al-Biruni received the best
education available at the time. He was well versed
in several languages: Syriac, Arabic, Persian,
Hebrew and Sanskrit. Although he did not know
Greek, he was familiar with the works of Plato
and other Greek philosophers, having read
them  in Arabic translations. In 1017, when Sultan
Mahmud invaded Khwarizm, he took several
scholars and poets back to his capital, Ghazni;
Al-Biruni was one of them. He arrived in Ghazni as
a hostage, but gradually developed a liking for the
city, where he spent the rest of his life until his
death at the age of 70.
It was in Ghazni that Al-Biruni developed an
interest in India. This was not unusual. Sanskrit
works on astronomy, mathematics and medicine had
been translated into Arabic from the eighth century
onwards. When the Punjab became a part of the
Ghaznavid empire, contacts with the local population
helped create an environment of mutual trust and
understanding. Al-Biruni spent years in the company
of Brahmana priests and scholars, learning Sanskrit,
and studying religious and philosophical texts. While
his itinerary is not clear, it is likely that he travelled
widely in the Punjab and parts of northern India.
Travel literature was already an accepted part of
Arabic literature by the time he wrote. This literature
dealt with lands as far apart as the Sahara desert
in the west to the River Volga in the north. So, while
Translating texts,
sharing ideas
Al-Biruni’s expertise in several
languages allowed him to
compare languages and
translate texts. He translated
several Sanskrit works, including
Patanjali’s work on grammar,
into Arabic. For his Brahmana
friends, he translated the
works of Euclid (a Greek
mathematician) into Sanskrit.
Al-Biruni’s objectives
Al-Biruni described his work as:
a help to those who want to
discuss religious questions
with them (the Hindus), and
as a repertory of information
to those who want to
associate with them.
Source 1
Ü Read the excerpt from
Al-Biruni (Source 5) and
discuss whether his work
met these objectives.
2019-2020
Page 3


115
Women and men have travelled in search of work, to escape
from natural disasters, as traders, merchants, soldiers,
priests, pilgrims, or driven by a sense of adventure.
Those who visit or come to stay in a new land
invariably encounter a world that is different:
in terms of the landscape or physical
environment as well as customs, languages,
beliefs and practices of people. Many of them
try to adapt to these differences; others,
somewhat exceptional, note them carefully in
accounts, generally recording what they find
unusual or remarkable. Unfortunately, we have
practically no accounts of travel left by women, though
we know that they travelled.
The accounts that survive are often varied in terms of
their subject matter. Some deal with affairs of the court,
while others are mainly focused on religious issues, or
architectural features and monuments. For example, one
of the most important descriptions of the city of
Vijayanagara (Chapter 7) in the fifteenth century comes
from Abdur Razzaq Samarqandi, a diplomat who came
visiting from Herat.
In a few cases, travellers did not go to distant lands. For
example, in the Mughal Empire (Chapters 8 and 9),
administrators sometimes travelled within the
empire and recorded their observations. Some
of them were interested in looking at popular
customs and the folklore and traditions of
their own land.
In this chapter we shall see how our
knowledge of the past can be enriched
through a consideration of descriptions of
social life provided by travellers who visited
the subcontinent, focusing on the accounts of three
men: Al-Biruni who came from Uzbekistan (eleventh
century), Ibn Battuta who came from Morocco, in
northwestern Africa (fourteenth century) and the
Frenchman François Bernier (seventeenth century).
Through the Eyes of Travellers
Perceptions of Society Perceptions of Society Perceptions of Society Perceptions of Society Perceptions of Society
( ( ( ( (c c c c c. tenth to seventeenth century) . tenth to seventeenth century) . tenth to seventeenth century) . tenth to seventeenth century) . tenth to seventeenth century)
THEME
FIVE
Fig. 5.1b
A coconut
The coconut and the paan
were things that struck many
travellers as unusual.
Fig. 5.1a
Paan leaves
2019-2020
 THEMES IN INDIAN HISTORY – PART II 116
As these authors came from vastly different
social and cultural environments, they were often
more attentive to everyday activities and practices
which were taken for granted by indigenous
writers, for whom these were routine matters, not
worthy of being recorded. It is this difference in
perspective that makes the accounts of travellers
interesting. Who did these travellers write for? As
we will see, the answers vary from one instance
to the next.
1. Al-Biruni and the
Kitab-ul-Hind
1.1 From Khwarizm to the Punjab
Al-Biruni was born in 973, in Khwarizm in present-
day Uzbekistan. Khwarizm was an important centre
of learning, and Al-Biruni received the best
education available at the time. He was well versed
in several languages: Syriac, Arabic, Persian,
Hebrew and Sanskrit. Although he did not know
Greek, he was familiar with the works of Plato
and other Greek philosophers, having read
them  in Arabic translations. In 1017, when Sultan
Mahmud invaded Khwarizm, he took several
scholars and poets back to his capital, Ghazni;
Al-Biruni was one of them. He arrived in Ghazni as
a hostage, but gradually developed a liking for the
city, where he spent the rest of his life until his
death at the age of 70.
It was in Ghazni that Al-Biruni developed an
interest in India. This was not unusual. Sanskrit
works on astronomy, mathematics and medicine had
been translated into Arabic from the eighth century
onwards. When the Punjab became a part of the
Ghaznavid empire, contacts with the local population
helped create an environment of mutual trust and
understanding. Al-Biruni spent years in the company
of Brahmana priests and scholars, learning Sanskrit,
and studying religious and philosophical texts. While
his itinerary is not clear, it is likely that he travelled
widely in the Punjab and parts of northern India.
Travel literature was already an accepted part of
Arabic literature by the time he wrote. This literature
dealt with lands as far apart as the Sahara desert
in the west to the River Volga in the north. So, while
Translating texts,
sharing ideas
Al-Biruni’s expertise in several
languages allowed him to
compare languages and
translate texts. He translated
several Sanskrit works, including
Patanjali’s work on grammar,
into Arabic. For his Brahmana
friends, he translated the
works of Euclid (a Greek
mathematician) into Sanskrit.
Al-Biruni’s objectives
Al-Biruni described his work as:
a help to those who want to
discuss religious questions
with them (the Hindus), and
as a repertory of information
to those who want to
associate with them.
Source 1
Ü Read the excerpt from
Al-Biruni (Source 5) and
discuss whether his work
met these objectives.
2019-2020
117
few people in India would have read Al-Biruni before
1500, many others outside India may have done so.
1.2 The Kitab-ul-Hind
Al-Biruni’s Kitab-ul-Hind, written in Arabic, 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. Some
present-day scholars have argued that this almost
geometric structure, remarkable for its precision and
predictability, owed much to his mathematical
orientation.
Al-Biruni, who wrote in Arabic, probably intended
his work for peoples living along the frontiers of the
subcontinent. He was familiar with translations
and adaptations of Sanskrit, Pali and Prakrit texts
into Arabic – these ranged from fables to works on
astronomy and medicine. However, he was also
critical about the ways in which these texts were
written, and clearly wanted to improve on them.
THROUGH THE EYES OF TRAVELLERS
Metrology is the science of
measurement.
Hindu
The term “Hindu” was derived
from an Old Persian word,
used c. sixth-fifth centuries
BCE, to refer to the region east
of the river Sindhu (Indus).
The Arabs continued the
Persian usage and called this
region “al-Hind” and its
people “Hindi”. Later the
Turks referred to the people
east of the Indus as “Hindu”,
their land as “Hindustan”, and
their language as “Hindavi”.
None of these expressions
indicated the religious identity
of the people. It was much
later that the term developed
religious connotations.
Ü Discuss...
If Al-Biruni lived in the
twenty-first century, which
are the areas of the world
where he could have been
easily understood, if he still
knew the same languages?
Fig. 5.2
An illustration from a thirteenth-
century Arabic manuscript
showing the Athenian
statesman and poet Solon, who
lived in the sixth century BCE,
addressing his students
Notice the clothes they are
shown in.
Ü Are these clothes Greek
or Arabian?
2019-2020
Page 4


115
Women and men have travelled in search of work, to escape
from natural disasters, as traders, merchants, soldiers,
priests, pilgrims, or driven by a sense of adventure.
Those who visit or come to stay in a new land
invariably encounter a world that is different:
in terms of the landscape or physical
environment as well as customs, languages,
beliefs and practices of people. Many of them
try to adapt to these differences; others,
somewhat exceptional, note them carefully in
accounts, generally recording what they find
unusual or remarkable. Unfortunately, we have
practically no accounts of travel left by women, though
we know that they travelled.
The accounts that survive are often varied in terms of
their subject matter. Some deal with affairs of the court,
while others are mainly focused on religious issues, or
architectural features and monuments. For example, one
of the most important descriptions of the city of
Vijayanagara (Chapter 7) in the fifteenth century comes
from Abdur Razzaq Samarqandi, a diplomat who came
visiting from Herat.
In a few cases, travellers did not go to distant lands. For
example, in the Mughal Empire (Chapters 8 and 9),
administrators sometimes travelled within the
empire and recorded their observations. Some
of them were interested in looking at popular
customs and the folklore and traditions of
their own land.
In this chapter we shall see how our
knowledge of the past can be enriched
through a consideration of descriptions of
social life provided by travellers who visited
the subcontinent, focusing on the accounts of three
men: Al-Biruni who came from Uzbekistan (eleventh
century), Ibn Battuta who came from Morocco, in
northwestern Africa (fourteenth century) and the
Frenchman François Bernier (seventeenth century).
Through the Eyes of Travellers
Perceptions of Society Perceptions of Society Perceptions of Society Perceptions of Society Perceptions of Society
( ( ( ( (c c c c c. tenth to seventeenth century) . tenth to seventeenth century) . tenth to seventeenth century) . tenth to seventeenth century) . tenth to seventeenth century)
THEME
FIVE
Fig. 5.1b
A coconut
The coconut and the paan
were things that struck many
travellers as unusual.
Fig. 5.1a
Paan leaves
2019-2020
 THEMES IN INDIAN HISTORY – PART II 116
As these authors came from vastly different
social and cultural environments, they were often
more attentive to everyday activities and practices
which were taken for granted by indigenous
writers, for whom these were routine matters, not
worthy of being recorded. It is this difference in
perspective that makes the accounts of travellers
interesting. Who did these travellers write for? As
we will see, the answers vary from one instance
to the next.
1. Al-Biruni and the
Kitab-ul-Hind
1.1 From Khwarizm to the Punjab
Al-Biruni was born in 973, in Khwarizm in present-
day Uzbekistan. Khwarizm was an important centre
of learning, and Al-Biruni received the best
education available at the time. He was well versed
in several languages: Syriac, Arabic, Persian,
Hebrew and Sanskrit. Although he did not know
Greek, he was familiar with the works of Plato
and other Greek philosophers, having read
them  in Arabic translations. In 1017, when Sultan
Mahmud invaded Khwarizm, he took several
scholars and poets back to his capital, Ghazni;
Al-Biruni was one of them. He arrived in Ghazni as
a hostage, but gradually developed a liking for the
city, where he spent the rest of his life until his
death at the age of 70.
It was in Ghazni that Al-Biruni developed an
interest in India. This was not unusual. Sanskrit
works on astronomy, mathematics and medicine had
been translated into Arabic from the eighth century
onwards. When the Punjab became a part of the
Ghaznavid empire, contacts with the local population
helped create an environment of mutual trust and
understanding. Al-Biruni spent years in the company
of Brahmana priests and scholars, learning Sanskrit,
and studying religious and philosophical texts. While
his itinerary is not clear, it is likely that he travelled
widely in the Punjab and parts of northern India.
Travel literature was already an accepted part of
Arabic literature by the time he wrote. This literature
dealt with lands as far apart as the Sahara desert
in the west to the River Volga in the north. So, while
Translating texts,
sharing ideas
Al-Biruni’s expertise in several
languages allowed him to
compare languages and
translate texts. He translated
several Sanskrit works, including
Patanjali’s work on grammar,
into Arabic. For his Brahmana
friends, he translated the
works of Euclid (a Greek
mathematician) into Sanskrit.
Al-Biruni’s objectives
Al-Biruni described his work as:
a help to those who want to
discuss religious questions
with them (the Hindus), and
as a repertory of information
to those who want to
associate with them.
Source 1
Ü Read the excerpt from
Al-Biruni (Source 5) and
discuss whether his work
met these objectives.
2019-2020
117
few people in India would have read Al-Biruni before
1500, many others outside India may have done so.
1.2 The Kitab-ul-Hind
Al-Biruni’s Kitab-ul-Hind, written in Arabic, 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. Some
present-day scholars have argued that this almost
geometric structure, remarkable for its precision and
predictability, owed much to his mathematical
orientation.
Al-Biruni, who wrote in Arabic, probably intended
his work for peoples living along the frontiers of the
subcontinent. He was familiar with translations
and adaptations of Sanskrit, Pali and Prakrit texts
into Arabic – these ranged from fables to works on
astronomy and medicine. However, he was also
critical about the ways in which these texts were
written, and clearly wanted to improve on them.
THROUGH THE EYES OF TRAVELLERS
Metrology is the science of
measurement.
Hindu
The term “Hindu” was derived
from an Old Persian word,
used c. sixth-fifth centuries
BCE, to refer to the region east
of the river Sindhu (Indus).
The Arabs continued the
Persian usage and called this
region “al-Hind” and its
people “Hindi”. Later the
Turks referred to the people
east of the Indus as “Hindu”,
their land as “Hindustan”, and
their language as “Hindavi”.
None of these expressions
indicated the religious identity
of the people. It was much
later that the term developed
religious connotations.
Ü Discuss...
If Al-Biruni lived in the
twenty-first century, which
are the areas of the world
where he could have been
easily understood, if he still
knew the same languages?
Fig. 5.2
An illustration from a thirteenth-
century Arabic manuscript
showing the Athenian
statesman and poet Solon, who
lived in the sixth century BCE,
addressing his students
Notice the clothes they are
shown in.
Ü Are these clothes Greek
or Arabian?
2019-2020
 THEMES IN INDIAN HISTORY – PART II 118
2. Ibn Battuta’s Rihla
2.1 An early globe-trotter
Ibn Battuta’s book of travels, called Rihla, written in
Arabic, provides extremely rich and interesting
details about the social and cultural life in the
subcontinent in the fourteenth century. This
Moroccan traveller was born in Tangier into one of
the most respectable and educated families known
for their expertise in Islamic religious law or shari‘a.
True to the tradition of his family, Ibn Battuta
received literary and scholastic education when he
was quite young.
Unlike most other members of his class, Ibn
Battuta considered experience gained through travels
to be a more important source of knowledge than
books. He just loved travelling, and went to far-off
places, exploring new worlds and peoples. 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.
Travelling overland through Central Asia, Ibn
Battuta reached Sind in 1333. He had heard
about Muhammad bin Tughlaq, the Sultan of Delhi,
and lured by his reputation as a generous patron
of arts and letters, set off for Delhi, passing through
Multan and Uch. The Sultan was impressed by
his scholarship, and appointed him the qazi  or judge
of Delhi. He remained in that position for several
years, until he fell out of favour and was thrown
into prison. Once the misunderstanding between
him and the Sultan was cleared, he was
restored to imperial service, and was
ordered in 1342 to proceed to China as the
Sultan’s envoy to the Mongol ruler.
With the new assignment, Ibn Battuta
proceeded to the Malabar coast through
central India. From Malabar he went to
the Maldives, where he stayed for eighteen
months as the qazi, but eventually decided
to proceed to Sri Lanka. He then went back
once more to the Malabar coast and the
Maldives, and before resuming his mission
to China, visited Bengal and Assam as well.
He took a ship to Sumatra, and from there
another ship for the Chinese port town of
Source 2
Fig. 5.3
Robbers attacking travellers, a
sixteenth-century Mughal painting
Ü How can you distinguish the
travellers from the robbers?
The bird leaves its nest
This is an excerpt from the Rihla:
My departure from Tangier,
my birthplace, took place on
Thursday ... I set out alone,
having neither fellow-
traveller ... nor caravan
whose party I might join, but
swayed by an overmastering
impulse within me and a
desire long-cherished in my
bosom to visit these
illustrious sanctuaries. So I
braced my resolution to quit
all my dear ones, female and
male, and forsook my home
as birds forsake their nests ...
My age at that time was
twenty-two years.
Ibn Battuta returned home in
1354, about 30 years after he
had set out.
2019-2020
Page 5


115
Women and men have travelled in search of work, to escape
from natural disasters, as traders, merchants, soldiers,
priests, pilgrims, or driven by a sense of adventure.
Those who visit or come to stay in a new land
invariably encounter a world that is different:
in terms of the landscape or physical
environment as well as customs, languages,
beliefs and practices of people. Many of them
try to adapt to these differences; others,
somewhat exceptional, note them carefully in
accounts, generally recording what they find
unusual or remarkable. Unfortunately, we have
practically no accounts of travel left by women, though
we know that they travelled.
The accounts that survive are often varied in terms of
their subject matter. Some deal with affairs of the court,
while others are mainly focused on religious issues, or
architectural features and monuments. For example, one
of the most important descriptions of the city of
Vijayanagara (Chapter 7) in the fifteenth century comes
from Abdur Razzaq Samarqandi, a diplomat who came
visiting from Herat.
In a few cases, travellers did not go to distant lands. For
example, in the Mughal Empire (Chapters 8 and 9),
administrators sometimes travelled within the
empire and recorded their observations. Some
of them were interested in looking at popular
customs and the folklore and traditions of
their own land.
In this chapter we shall see how our
knowledge of the past can be enriched
through a consideration of descriptions of
social life provided by travellers who visited
the subcontinent, focusing on the accounts of three
men: Al-Biruni who came from Uzbekistan (eleventh
century), Ibn Battuta who came from Morocco, in
northwestern Africa (fourteenth century) and the
Frenchman François Bernier (seventeenth century).
Through the Eyes of Travellers
Perceptions of Society Perceptions of Society Perceptions of Society Perceptions of Society Perceptions of Society
( ( ( ( (c c c c c. tenth to seventeenth century) . tenth to seventeenth century) . tenth to seventeenth century) . tenth to seventeenth century) . tenth to seventeenth century)
THEME
FIVE
Fig. 5.1b
A coconut
The coconut and the paan
were things that struck many
travellers as unusual.
Fig. 5.1a
Paan leaves
2019-2020
 THEMES IN INDIAN HISTORY – PART II 116
As these authors came from vastly different
social and cultural environments, they were often
more attentive to everyday activities and practices
which were taken for granted by indigenous
writers, for whom these were routine matters, not
worthy of being recorded. It is this difference in
perspective that makes the accounts of travellers
interesting. Who did these travellers write for? As
we will see, the answers vary from one instance
to the next.
1. Al-Biruni and the
Kitab-ul-Hind
1.1 From Khwarizm to the Punjab
Al-Biruni was born in 973, in Khwarizm in present-
day Uzbekistan. Khwarizm was an important centre
of learning, and Al-Biruni received the best
education available at the time. He was well versed
in several languages: Syriac, Arabic, Persian,
Hebrew and Sanskrit. Although he did not know
Greek, he was familiar with the works of Plato
and other Greek philosophers, having read
them  in Arabic translations. In 1017, when Sultan
Mahmud invaded Khwarizm, he took several
scholars and poets back to his capital, Ghazni;
Al-Biruni was one of them. He arrived in Ghazni as
a hostage, but gradually developed a liking for the
city, where he spent the rest of his life until his
death at the age of 70.
It was in Ghazni that Al-Biruni developed an
interest in India. This was not unusual. Sanskrit
works on astronomy, mathematics and medicine had
been translated into Arabic from the eighth century
onwards. When the Punjab became a part of the
Ghaznavid empire, contacts with the local population
helped create an environment of mutual trust and
understanding. Al-Biruni spent years in the company
of Brahmana priests and scholars, learning Sanskrit,
and studying religious and philosophical texts. While
his itinerary is not clear, it is likely that he travelled
widely in the Punjab and parts of northern India.
Travel literature was already an accepted part of
Arabic literature by the time he wrote. This literature
dealt with lands as far apart as the Sahara desert
in the west to the River Volga in the north. So, while
Translating texts,
sharing ideas
Al-Biruni’s expertise in several
languages allowed him to
compare languages and
translate texts. He translated
several Sanskrit works, including
Patanjali’s work on grammar,
into Arabic. For his Brahmana
friends, he translated the
works of Euclid (a Greek
mathematician) into Sanskrit.
Al-Biruni’s objectives
Al-Biruni described his work as:
a help to those who want to
discuss religious questions
with them (the Hindus), and
as a repertory of information
to those who want to
associate with them.
Source 1
Ü Read the excerpt from
Al-Biruni (Source 5) and
discuss whether his work
met these objectives.
2019-2020
117
few people in India would have read Al-Biruni before
1500, many others outside India may have done so.
1.2 The Kitab-ul-Hind
Al-Biruni’s Kitab-ul-Hind, written in Arabic, 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. Some
present-day scholars have argued that this almost
geometric structure, remarkable for its precision and
predictability, owed much to his mathematical
orientation.
Al-Biruni, who wrote in Arabic, probably intended
his work for peoples living along the frontiers of the
subcontinent. He was familiar with translations
and adaptations of Sanskrit, Pali and Prakrit texts
into Arabic – these ranged from fables to works on
astronomy and medicine. However, he was also
critical about the ways in which these texts were
written, and clearly wanted to improve on them.
THROUGH THE EYES OF TRAVELLERS
Metrology is the science of
measurement.
Hindu
The term “Hindu” was derived
from an Old Persian word,
used c. sixth-fifth centuries
BCE, to refer to the region east
of the river Sindhu (Indus).
The Arabs continued the
Persian usage and called this
region “al-Hind” and its
people “Hindi”. Later the
Turks referred to the people
east of the Indus as “Hindu”,
their land as “Hindustan”, and
their language as “Hindavi”.
None of these expressions
indicated the religious identity
of the people. It was much
later that the term developed
religious connotations.
Ü Discuss...
If Al-Biruni lived in the
twenty-first century, which
are the areas of the world
where he could have been
easily understood, if he still
knew the same languages?
Fig. 5.2
An illustration from a thirteenth-
century Arabic manuscript
showing the Athenian
statesman and poet Solon, who
lived in the sixth century BCE,
addressing his students
Notice the clothes they are
shown in.
Ü Are these clothes Greek
or Arabian?
2019-2020
 THEMES IN INDIAN HISTORY – PART II 118
2. Ibn Battuta’s Rihla
2.1 An early globe-trotter
Ibn Battuta’s book of travels, called Rihla, written in
Arabic, provides extremely rich and interesting
details about the social and cultural life in the
subcontinent in the fourteenth century. This
Moroccan traveller was born in Tangier into one of
the most respectable and educated families known
for their expertise in Islamic religious law or shari‘a.
True to the tradition of his family, Ibn Battuta
received literary and scholastic education when he
was quite young.
Unlike most other members of his class, Ibn
Battuta considered experience gained through travels
to be a more important source of knowledge than
books. He just loved travelling, and went to far-off
places, exploring new worlds and peoples. 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.
Travelling overland through Central Asia, Ibn
Battuta reached Sind in 1333. He had heard
about Muhammad bin Tughlaq, the Sultan of Delhi,
and lured by his reputation as a generous patron
of arts and letters, set off for Delhi, passing through
Multan and Uch. The Sultan was impressed by
his scholarship, and appointed him the qazi  or judge
of Delhi. He remained in that position for several
years, until he fell out of favour and was thrown
into prison. Once the misunderstanding between
him and the Sultan was cleared, he was
restored to imperial service, and was
ordered in 1342 to proceed to China as the
Sultan’s envoy to the Mongol ruler.
With the new assignment, Ibn Battuta
proceeded to the Malabar coast through
central India. From Malabar he went to
the Maldives, where he stayed for eighteen
months as the qazi, but eventually decided
to proceed to Sri Lanka. He then went back
once more to the Malabar coast and the
Maldives, and before resuming his mission
to China, visited Bengal and Assam as well.
He took a ship to Sumatra, and from there
another ship for the Chinese port town of
Source 2
Fig. 5.3
Robbers attacking travellers, a
sixteenth-century Mughal painting
Ü How can you distinguish the
travellers from the robbers?
The bird leaves its nest
This is an excerpt from the Rihla:
My departure from Tangier,
my birthplace, took place on
Thursday ... I set out alone,
having neither fellow-
traveller ... nor caravan
whose party I might join, but
swayed by an overmastering
impulse within me and a
desire long-cherished in my
bosom to visit these
illustrious sanctuaries. So I
braced my resolution to quit
all my dear ones, female and
male, and forsook my home
as birds forsake their nests ...
My age at that time was
twenty-two years.
Ibn Battuta returned home in
1354, about 30 years after he
had set out.
2019-2020
119
Zaytun (now known as Quanzhou). He travelled
extensively in China, going as far as Beijing, but did
not stay for long, deciding to return home in 1347.
His account is often compared with that of Marco
Polo, who visited China (and also India) from his
home base in Venice in the late thirteenth century.
Ibn Battuta meticulously recorded his observations
about new cultures, peoples, beliefs, values, etc.
We need to bear in mind that this globe-trotter was
travelling in the fourteenth century, when it was
much more arduous and hazardous to travel than it
is today. According to Ibn Battuta, it took forty days
to travel from Multan to Delhi and about fifty days
from Sind to Delhi. The distance from Daulatabad
to Delhi was covered in forty days, while that from
Gwalior to Delhi took ten days.
Fig. 5.4
A boat carrying passengers,
a terracotta sculpture from
a temple in Bengal
(c.seventeenth-eighteenth centuries)
Ü Why do you think some of
the passengers are carrying
arms?
THROUGH THE EYES OF TRAVELLERS
The lonely traveller
Robbers were not the only hazard on long journeys: the traveller could feel homesick,
or fall ill. Here is an excerpt from the Rihla:
I was attacked by the fever, and I actually tied myself on the saddle with a turban-
cloth in case I should fall off by reason of my weakness ... So at last we reached
the town of Tunis, and the townsfolk came out to welcome the shaikh ... and ...
the son of the qazi ... On all sides they came forward with greetings and questions
to one another, but not a soul said a word of greeting to me, since there was none
of them I knew. I felt so sad at heart on account of my loneliness that I could not
restrain the tears that started to my eyes, and wept bitterly. But one of the pilgrims,
realising the cause of my distress, came up to me with a greeting ...
2019-2020
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