Of Demand, Supply, and Hunger

A few decades should count as a small blip in the long history of human civilization. The last few decades, however, have been immensely transformative for the human race. Many objects and experiences that were a persistent part of human story in the preceding millenniums are fading away quite fast. Mass hunger was one of them. It came often, it came hard and it left some deep hollow spaces in the tree of humanity.

The story of an officer’s efforts in dealing with mass hunger in a small town in Central India in 1833, and eyewitness accounts of other famines offer us an insight into what it was like to live through a calamity like this.


The end of Anglo-Maratha wars in 1818 effectively concluded the British conquest of India, with the British now gaining control of most of India. Among the newly conquered territories a large portion was what is now known as the state of Madhya Pradesh. The ancient land of Gonds, Satavahanas, Guptas, Chandelas, Bundelas, Mughals and Marathas was now ruled by the mega corporation: the East India Company.

The company which was initially chartered to explore the “trade of merchandize” with India was now deeply ensconced not only in the matters of Diwani (Revenue and Civil Administration), but also for Nizamat (Criminal and Police Administration). People in central India who recognised their rulers through clans, now saw officers coming from far away lands as representatives of the faceless corporation. Some of these officers found themselves in a position where their actions had a very significant impact on a large number of people. Many officers were acutely aware  of the burden tied to their bureaucratic strings. Among them, there was Sir William Henry Sleeman.

William Henry Sleeman
See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Born in Stratton, in Cornwall, Sleeman had come to India in 1809 at the age of 21 as an infantry cadet in the Bengal Army. He participated in the Nepal war during 1814-16 as a lieutenant. By the end of this war he had learned Arabic and Persian and had gained expertise in the religious customs and traditions of India. He moved to a civil posting in 1820 and was appointed Junior Assistant to the Agent of the Governor-General, in the Sagar and Nerbudda territories.

Sleeman soon found himself tackling the wide array of administrative tasks in the course of his postings in the region. Among them were matters of revenue collection, law and order, Sati burnings and other social reforms, treasury and mint, agriculture, thuggie and famines.

The Hunger Spiral

Famine was a frequent occurrence. Droughts, floods, warfare, locusts, monsoon, and many other factors caused frequent famines in medieval India. The Jataka tales, Jain literature, and other ancient texts mention severe famines in India. Contemporary writings during Mughal period mention severe famines of great intensity. During the reign of Shah Jahan some three million people are said to have perished due to famines.

It often started with crop failures, which led to food shortage, and increase in the price of food grain. In those closed loop economies, without much transportation and communication links with the outside world, speculation played a vital role. Nearly every generation had seen serious famines and people relied on old tales to make significant decisions that weighed heavily on their families’ fate. One old saying went:

सावन कृष्ण एकादशी, यदि गरजै अधिराक। तुम पिय जाओ मालवा, हम जावें गुजरात।।
(If there are heavy thunders during the Krishna Ekadashi of Sravan month; oh father, you go to Malwa and I will go to Gujarat)

Malwa was seen as a more fertile land where famines were less frequent. With the spread of panic, started a trail of migrations. Not knowing what to do, poor families abandoned their farms, homes, and cattle and often moved towards the centres of authority – local rulers or the administrative headquarters. Many rulers organised charity kitchens. As the famines intensified, torrents of poor, famished people flowed to cities.

At the sight of scarcity, the agriculture economy froze like a scared animal. The value chain consisted of farmers, traders, transporters, financiers, and consumers. Traders would often hoard the grain, sensing headwinds. Shortage of cattle added to the transportation challenges. The produce was carried on bullocks, covering 6-8 miles a day. Prices doubled for every 100 miles of transportation, and tripled in a season of scarcity. Insolvency of any debtors crippled the money supply in the markets dominated by small, closed communities. With the complete shutdown of a functioning society, the focus eventually came to the one and only essential commodity – FOOD

Those Sights, Sounds and Stench

Contemporary observers of famines describe a society stricken with hunger in chilling detail.

Still fresh in memory’s eye the scene I view,
The shrivelled limbs, sunk eyes, and lifeless hue ;
Still hear the mother’s shrieks and infant’s moans,
Cries of despair and agonizing groans.
In wild confusion dead and dying lie;–
Hark to the jackal’s yell and vulture’s cry,
The dogs’ fell howl, as midst the glare of day,
They riot unmolested on their prey !
Dire scenes of horror, which no pen can trace,
Nor rolling years from memory’s page efface.

~ Charles John Shore Baron Teignmouth (referring to the Bengal famine of 1770)
(Memoir of the Life and Correspondence of John, Lord Teignmouth, Volume 1)

Poor people, now homeless, without any possessions, were seen wearily dragging themselves along major roads. Those left behind in their villages, each passing day played Russian roulette with death; weighing the odds of improvement in the situation against the risk of abandoning their home, while they had the means and physical energy to do so. The definition of “food” started changing. Seed-grain was consumed, damaging the prospects of next year’s crops. Shrubs like Jharberi and many plant seeds became a large portion of diet. Grass, tree leaves were consumed. When the famines intensified, many cattle were slaughtered or abandoned by their owners.

The abandoned animals howling in agony of thirst and hunger went eventually silent. The stench of animal carcasses was felt in the air. The surviving animals, in their bare bones, scourged for food in shrubs, roots, and trees in extreme desperation. F.H.S. Merewether describes:

As we were coming back from the court-house, the Commissioner pointed out to me a few frameworks of cattle on the wayside; they were absolutely burrowing in the ground, like pigs, to get at the roots.

And it subsequently moved to humans. Younger children, in absence of prolonged absence of meals, were the most vulnerable and often perished quickly. In desperation, many children were sold into slavery. The practice of selling children during famines was an old one. Ain-e-Akbari mentions that Akbar had legalised the practice during the times of famines and distress, and gave their parents an option of buying them back later.

The malnourished children developed a swollen abdomen due to protein deficiency, a symptom known as Kwashiorkor. This was a fatal stage and very few children survived after that. The children tottered with a feebly, bereft of any childlike demeanour. Merewether describes:

One of the first objects I noticed on entering was a child of five, standing by itself near the middle of the enclosure. It’s arms were not so large round as my thumb its legs were scarcely larger; the pelvic bones were plainly shown; the ribs, back and front, started through the skin, like a wire cage. The eyes were fixed and unobservant; the expression of the little skull-face solemn, dreary and old. Will, impulse, and almost sensation, were destroyed in this tiny skeleton, which might have been a plump and happy baby. It seemed not to hear when addressed. I lifted it between my thumbs and fore-fingers; it did not weigh more than seven or eight pounds. Probably its earliest recollections were of hunger, and it could never have had a full meal. It was now deserted by those who had brought it into the world, or they were dead; its own life would be gone in a day or two. Its skin was quite cold. dry and rough. Pain had been its only experience from the first; it had never known or imagined the comforts that babies have.

As for adults, death came in many forms. Tribals wandered into forests in search of food, disoriented, and died of exhaustion there. Shortage of herbivorous animals caused wild beasts to wander into human territories and many people were killed by tigers. Many families chose to kill themselves with opium or other means after having all provisions exhausted. Pandita Ramabai, a famine survivor describes:

At last the day came when we had finished eating the last grain of rice – and nothing but death by starvation remained for our portion. Oh, the sorrow, the helplessness, and the disgrace of the situation •••• We assembled together and after a long discussion came to the conclusion that it was better to go into the forest and die there than bear the disgrace of poverty among our own people. Eleven days and nights – in which we subsisted on water and leaves and a handful of wild dates – were spent in great bodily and mental pain. At last our dear old .father could hold out no longer the tortures of hunger were too much for his poor, old, weak body. He determined to drown himself in a sacred tank nearby and thus to end all his earthly suffering ••• It was suggested that the rest of us should either drown ourselves or break the family and go our several ways.

Weakened bodies crawled around waiting to die, trying to avoid being mauled by impatient jackals and vultures. Sleeman wrote about the famine in Sagar:

At Sagar, mothers, unable to walk, were seen holding up their infants and imploring the passing stranger to take them in slavery, that they might at least live. Hundreds were seen creeping into gardens, courtyards, and old ruins, concealing themselves under shrubs, grass, mats, or straw, where they might die quietly, without having their bodies torn by birds and beasts before the breath had left them.

The Intervention Dilemma

In 1833 Sleeman was in the middle of his famous Thuggie trials, while serving as a magistrate in Saugor (Sagar) district in Bundelkhand. The autumn rains failed, and the spring crops could not be sown owing to the hardness of the ground, caused by the premature cessation of the rains, followed by the outbreak of famine. As the famine intensified in the countryside, streams of people started migrating towards Sagar, causing the all too familiar explosive situation.

Sagar was a major cantonment centre. Major Gregory, the military officer posted in Sagar, unsure of the future supply of grain and apprehensive of discontentment among his soldiers, decided to procure a large supply of grain at high prices. Everyone, consumers as well as traders, saw this as a certain signal of an impending crisis. Soon the markets got exhausted of any known supply of food, and the trade stopped.

Hoarding compounded the problem. The merchants hid the grain in underground granaries, pits inside their homes and warehouses. The greed for profit caused the merchants to accumulate grain, and the fear of rioting or coercive action by authorities caused them to hide it. This made it hard for authorities to estimate the actual quantity of grain available in the market. Quite often the grain rotted in the traders pit without reaching the markets. This led to authorities raiding the traders storage, confiscating it or forcing them to sell it at a discounted prices. Arthashastra by Kautilya recommended making the rich “vomit (वमनं)” their wealth during harsh famine.

With the intensifying famine, shortage of food and arrival of migrants, Sleeman faced the pressure to act against the traders. The kotwal of Police declared that a crisis was impending and the police and others would be unsafe unless such action is taken.

Sleeman had been a long advocate of free trade. His concern was that the forcing a trader to sell his stock deprived him of his cash flow. In absence of incentives and the fear of such actions discouraged the traders to import grains from elsewhere, which in the ensuing period made things much worse.

But was there any grain from other districts to import? Sleeman got an estimate of stock in Jabalpur and other places, which indicated that there was stock.

Graphic Famine Natives Buying Grain 1897
By F. C. Dickinson (drawn) from sketches by Lieut. C de W. Crookshank (The Graphic, March 27, 1897) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
With that confirmation, Sleeman issued a formal proclamation, with a pledge that a trader’s right to sell his grain whenever and wherever will be respected. He expressed hope that people will be assured that his solemnly pledged word would never be broken, and that people would sell what stores they had, and apply themselves without apprehension to the collecting of more.

He showed his pledge to Major Gregory, assuring that no amount of clamour should ever make the administration violate the pledge given to the traders, and he was prepared to risk his situation and reputation as a public officer upon the result.

This proclamation was issued in the city in the afternoon and further police force was deployed to provide assurance to the traders.

As Sleeman had hoped, the markets started to open. Grain started to appear in the market, and traders, with their apprehensions reduced and cash flows operating again, sent out to import grain from other districts. The high prices attracted more people to venture into the trade, and soon the prices started coming down.

The crisis, at least for a while, was avoided.


A lot of water has passed under those medieval bridges crossed by Sleeman in the 1800s.

Ruins of the Old Collectorate, Sagar. Sleeman’s headquarter
Ruins of the Old Collectorate, Sagar. Sleeman’s headquarter

He went on to become the Commissioner for the Suppression of Thuggee and Dacoity, and later a resident a Gwalior and eventually at Awadh, with Wajid Ali Shah. After spending 47 years in India, he died in February 1856 near Ceylon (Sri Lanka) at the age of 67, on the way home. He was buried at sea.

Sleeman’s footprints can be traced across the landscape of central India. Among them, a bounty of literature describing the world he saw. Statistical records of his time, a variety of sugarcane he brought from Fiji, first Dinosaur fossils in India found by him, the modifications he made in the Indian penal code, the institutions he establishe and a little village called Sleemanabad near Jabalpur.

The British administration presided over many severe famines, causing several millions of deaths. India gained independence in 1947. The Food Corporations Act of 1964 resulted in the establishment of Food Corporation of India in 1965.

In 2012, Madhya Pradesh became the second largest wheat-producing state in India, much of the wheat comes from the region around Sagar. There has not been a single large-scale famine in India since independence. That stench, those shrieks and groans, howling of animals and that stench of death have been largely forgotten.

Sleeman’s collectorate in Sagar was demolished in 2016 to make way for new construction. Few other relics of that era survive.

Etched in the DNA of humanity, there are traces of events that created major voids in the genealogy trees. Somewhere around them there are also markers of a day in a bygone era when some hungry people were able to eat.


  1. Memoirs on the History, Folk-lore, and Distribution of the Races of the North Western Provinces of India Link
  2. Rambles and recollections of an Indian official
    by Sleeman, Sir, William Henry Link
  3. Indian Famines: Their Historical, Financial, & Other Aspects, Containing Remarks on Their Management, and Some Notes on Preventive and Mitigative Measures Link
  4. The Starvation Process: Dearth, Famishment and Morbility. Link

The Dynasties of Maharashtra

An overview of the various dynasties that ruled the region that is now Maharashtra, from 230 BCE – 1300 CE. A very short description of all these dynasties follows.

We are very grateful to Brigadier Gerard, who had first posted this as a sketch on Twitter, and gave us permission adapt it and post it here.

Dynasties of Maharashtra
Click to view large size

The Dynasties of Maharashtra

Most of the content below is sourced from Wikipedia. Apart from this, some references have been made to various books listed at the end.

A note on dates: You will notice some discrepancies in the dates in the infographic above and sources (including Wikipedia). This is primarily due to how historians interpret dates. Some take it starting from when a dynasty was established, some take it at later time. Most of the dynasties listed below were vassals or feudatories of the dynasties that preceded them. In such situations, they were semi-independent to an extent.


The Satavahana dynasty ruled the Deccan region between 230 BCE – 225 CE. They were probably vassals of the Mauryas, and established their supremacy in the Deccan after the decline of the Maurya Empire. The dynasty was established by Simuka, however, Gautamiputra Satakarni (86–110 CE) is the most well-known king of this dynasty. The Satavahanas ruled from Pratishthana (modern-day Paithan) and Amravati (Dist. Guntur, Andhra Pradesh) [Link]


The Satavahanas were succeeded by the Vakatakas, who ruled during 250 – 525 CE, with their capital at Nandivardhana (modern-day Nandardhan, near Ramtek) and Vatsagulma (modern-day Washim). This dynasty was founded by Vindhyashakti (c. 250 – c. 270 CE). Vakatakas are known for their patronage of art & architecture. The famous Ajanta caves, were built by under the patronage of Vakataka emperor, Harishena. [Link]


The Kalachuri dynasty, ruled in Ujjayini, Vidisha, and Anandapura; and their capital was Mahishmati, which lies along the banks of the Narmada River. Not much is known about the founder of this dynasty; the earliest mentioned king was called Krishnaraja. Like the Vakatakas, the Kalachuris were also patrons of art & architecture. The Elephanta caves and the early Ellora caves were built under their patronage. [Link]

Chalukyas of Vatapi (Badami)

One of the most significant dynasties of the Deccan, the early Chalukyas, or the Chalukyas of Vatapi ruled a large area of the Deccan between 550 – 760 CE, covering the entire region between the Narmada and the Kaveri rivers. Their rule is considered to be an era of prosperity. It also saw the birth of a new architectural style called Chalukyan architecture. The Chalukyas were natives of Karnataka; this dynasty was founded by Pulakeshin I. [Link]


The Rashtrakuta dynasty ruled most of the Indian subcontinent, between 753 – 973 CE, with their capital at Manyakheta (Modern-day Malkhed). The Rashtrakutas were feudatories of the Chalukyas of Vatapi and at peak, the Rashtrakutas ruled from the Ganges River to Cape Comorin. This period saw the development of many literary works as well as development of architecture, which include the Kailashnath temple at Ellora and the Jain Narayana Temple at Pattadakal. [Link]


The Silahara were vassals of the Rashtrakutas and were split in three branches: North Konkan, South Konkan, and Kolhapur. Across these three branches, the Silaharas ruled between 765 – 1215 CE. The Northern branch was founded by Kapardin, and their capital was Puri (modern-day Rajapur, in the Raigad district). The Silaharas of Kolhapur originally ruled from Karad, and later shifted their capital to Kolhapur. The Panhala fort, near Kolhapur was originally built by the Silahara ruler, Bhoja II between 1178 and 1209 CE. [Link]

Chalukyas of Kalyani

The Chalukyas of Kalyani, or the Western Chalukyas, ruled the Indian subcontinent during 973 CE – 1180 CE, with their capital, earlier at Manyakheta, and later at Kalyani (modern-day Basavakalyan). Major ruling families of the Deccan, the Hoysalas, the Seuna Yadavas of Devagiri, the Kakatiya dynasty and the Southern Kalachuris of Kalyani, were subordinates of the Western Chalukyas. The Western Chalukyan architectural style is well known as the transitional style between the earlier Chalukyas and the Hoysalas. [Link]


The Kadamba dynasty ruled northern Karnataka and the Konkan from Banavasi. The dynasty was founded by Mayurasharma in 345 CE. Kadambas were the first rulers to use Kannada as another official administrative language. The Kadambas of Goa, first ruled from Chandor, and laters shifted their capital to Gopakapattana (Goa). The Kadambas of Goa ruled between 960 – 1310 CE and succumbed to the Seuna Yadavs. [Link]

Seuna Yadav

The Seuna Yadavs were feudatories of the Western Chalukyas, and established their independence as the Chalukyan power declined. The Yadavas of Devgiris, as they are also known, ruled from 1189 – 1310 CE, from Devgiri (modern-day Daulatabad). The name Seuna comes from Seunachandra, who originally ruled a region called Seunadesha (modern-day Khandesh), this dynasty was established by Bhillama V (1173–1192 CE). Singhana II (1200–1247 CE), however is considered the greatest ruler of this dynasty who expanded the Seuna kingdom. In 1317 CE, this kingdom was annexed by the Khilji Sultanate. [Link]


  1. A., N. S. (1976). A history of South India from prehistoric times to the fall of Vijayanagar. Madras: Oxford University Press.
  2. Bhāndārkar, R. G. (1957). Early History of the Dekkan. Calcutta: Gupta.
  3. Nagpur District Gazetteer. (n.d.). Retrieved January 07, 2017, from https://web.archive.org/web/20060603010304/http://www.maharashtra.gov.in/english/gazetteer/FINAL_GAZETTEE/his1.html
  4. Sharma, L. P. (1987). History of Ancient India: (pre-historic age to 1200 A.D.). New Delhi: Konark .
  5. Singh, U. (2008). A history of ancient and early medieval India: from the Stone Age to the 12th century. New Delhi: Pearson Education.

Featured Image: By Dey.sandip (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons


Conversations of the Dead

Sri Aurobindo wrote these dialogues in 1910 or shortly before. He published the first two in the Karmayogin in 1910. The other three were published in 1920–23 without his editorial supervision; the fourth, between Jay Singh and Chh. Shivaji is reproduced here, from his manuscripts.

Download the entire PDF here


Shivaji, Jaysingh

JAYSINGH: Neither of us has prevailed. A third force has entered into the land and taken the fruits of your work, and as for mine, it is broken; the ideal I cherished has gone down into the dust.

SHIVAJI: For the fruit I did not work and by the failure I am not amazed nor discouraged.

JAYSINGH: Neither did I work for a reward, but to uphold the ideal of the Rajput. Unflinching courage in honourable warfare, chivalry to friend and foe, a noble loyalty to the sovereign of my choice, this seemed to me the true Indian tradition, preferable even to the unity and predominance of the Hindu races. Therefore I could not accept your overtures. But I gave you the opportunity to accept my own tradition and, when faith was not kept with either of us, I saved my honour and assisted your escape.

SHIVAJI: God extended to me His protection and moved the heart of a woman to give me love and aid. Traditions change. The ideal of the Rajput has its future, but the mould had to be broken in order that what was temporary in it might pass. Loyalty to the sovereign of my choice, that is good; but loyalty to the sovereign of my nation’s choice, that is better. The monarch is divine by the power of God expressed within him, but he has the power because he is the incarnation of the people. God in the nation is the deity of which the monarch must be the servant and the devotee. Vithoba, Virat of the Mahrattas, — Bhavani, incarnate as India, — in that strength I conquered.

JAYSINGH: Your political ideal was great, but your standard of means was abhorrent to our morality. Ruse, treachery, pillage, assassination were never excluded from your activity.

SHIVAJI: Not for myself I fought and ruled, but for God and the Maharashtra dharma, the religion of Hindu nationality which Ramdas enunciated. I offered my head to Bhavani and She bade me keep it to scheme and plot for the greatness of the nation. I gave my kingdom to Ramdas and he bade me take it back as a gift from God and the Mahrattas. I obeyed their commands. I slew when God commanded me, plundered because it was the means He pointed out to me. Treacherous I was not, but I helped my weakness in resource and numbers by ruse and stratagem, I conquered physical force by keenness of wit and brain-power. The world has accepted ruse in war and politics, and the chivalrous openness of the Rajput is not practiced either by the European or the Asiatic nations.

JAYSINGH: I hold the dharma as supreme and even the voice of God could not persuade me to abandon it.

SHIVAJI: I gave up all to Him and did not keep even the dharma. His will was my religion; for He was my captain and I his soldier. That was my loyalty, — not to Aurangzeb, not to a code of morals, but to God who sent me.

JAYSINGH: He sends us all, but for different purposes, and according to the purpose He moulds the ideal and the character. I am not grieved that the Mogul has fallen. Had he deserved to retain sovereignty, he could not have lost it; but even when he ceased to deserve, I kept my faith, my service, my loyalty. It was not for me to dispute the will of my emperor. God who appointed him might judge him; it was not my office.

SHIVAJI: God also appoints the man who rebels and refuses to prolong unjust authority by acquiescence. He is not always on the side of power; sometimes He manifests as the deliverer.

JAYSINGH: Let Him come down Himself, then, as He promised. Then alone would rebellion be justified.

SHIVAJI: From whence will He come down who is here already in our hearts? Because I saw Him there, therefore I was strong to carry out my mission.

JAYSINGH: Where is the seal upon your work, the pledge of His authority?

SHIVAJI: I undermined an empire, and it has not been rebuilt. I created a nation, and it has not yet perished.

OpenSource Books | Ājnāpatra or The Royal Edict

The complete Ājnāpatra (आज्ञापत्र), or the Royal Edict is available as an English translation from the Digital Library of India (DLI)

This translation was published in the Journal of Indian History, Volume VIII ,Part 1 in the year 1929 (Serial No. 22).

In this Volume, the text of the Adnyapatra has been split into 2 parts. The first section is in pages 81 – 105. The second section is in pages 207 – 233.

This is a very important primary source to gain an insight into the administrative setup of Shivaji’s kingdom, foreign/trade policy, management of forts, weapons and armoury of the time, duties of a king, practical wisdom on how to keep employees happy and satisfied, the nature of rewards and remuneration. It also describes the policy towards watandars and hereditary grants. It ends with a treatise on naval policy.

From the Introduction:

This Ājnāpatra was first published in the Marathi Monthly Vividha-dyānavistāra in 1875 and 1876. The original manuscript from which it was printed seems to have been lost. It was reprinted in the same magazine in 1890 and 1891. […] It was issued on November 21, 1716, by Sambhaji of Kolhapur (1712-1760). Rāmachandrapant Amātya is responsible for the contents. The importance of the work is due to Rāmachandrapant’s knowledge of Maratha state policy and the political events during the most important period of Maratha history from 1672 to 1717. He took part in the establishment of Swarājya under Śivāji, in its protection under Rājarām and Tārābai, and in the civil war between Tārābai and Shāhu. […] It mainly relates to the methods and principles of Śivāji the Great. They were approved of as the best, and laid down as the standard to be followed. This Ājnāpatra consists of nine chapters relating to various aspects of state policy. It seems to have been written when Rājarām was alive (1700), but issued later in 1716 under Sambhaji’s order.




  1. Troubles of the Kingdom during the War of Independence
  2. Troubles of the Kingdom during the War of Independence (Continued)
  3. The General principles of State Policy and Organisation
  4. Administrative and Ministerial Policy & Organisation
  5. Commercial Policy
  6. Policy towards Watandārs
  7. Policy regarding Hereditary Vrittis and Inams
  8. Policy about Forts and their Construction and Organisation
  9. Naval Policy

Download the scanned PDF from this page on the DLI site. [49.6 MB]

We are grateful to Brigadier Gerard for the permission to adapt this post, from the series of tweets, posted recently.

Shivaji, London Gazette, 1672

We found this interesting mention of Sevagée (Shivaji) in the London Gazette of 1762. It mentions Shivaji seeking tributes from Surat, and follows up with the implications on Mumbai (Bombay).

The original text is available here.



The London Gazette.

Published by Authority.

From Sunday February 17. to Thursday February 20. 1672

Extract of a letter written from Aleppo;

November 19. 1672.

TWo days since we received Letters from India, written by the English President residing in Suratte, who acquaints us with the daily fears that have there, from Sevagée the Rebel, who having beaten the Mogul in several Battels, remains almost Master of that Countrey, and takes the boldness to write to all European Ministers in Suratte, that if they refuse to send him such and such immediate presents of Money (which as he puts them would amount to vast sums) by way of Contribution, he will return and ruine that City. That he exacts the like from the Inhabitants, who certainly would comply with his Demands, but that the Officers of the Mogul, being there hinder them. Which puts them into an extream Straight, and causes others daily to convey away their richesse; many also embarking and transporting themselves into other parts, to avoid the storm they fear will fall upon them.

‘Tis probable that the Island of Bombay, belonging to the English, will reap no smal benefit by these Broyles; to which place many Bannians flock with their Families and Estates. ‘Tis reported that that Island is now made one of the richest and pleasantest places in all India. ‘Tis said, they want nothing but some industrious English hands, and that it is intended to engage what numbers may be, to come and inhabit there with a promise of many considerable advantages, especially that of Trade in all Asia, and to Africa, as far as the Cape of Good Hope, and to the Gulfe of Persia, and several islands in those parts.


Historians: Dr. RC Majumdar

Dr. RC Majumdar was the series editor of (and a contributor to) “The History and Culture of the Indian People,” a definitive collection, of history and culture, right from the Vedic Age to the Indian freedom struggle. The eleven-volume series started in 1951, which took 26 years to complete. Dr. Majumdar was 88, when the final volume was published.

Dr. Majumdar has many other books to his credit. [Wikipedia]. Dr. Majumdar was interviewed by Dr. Jyotsna Kamat (of Kamat’s Potpourri) shortly before he passed away, in 1980.

Ramesh Chandra Majumdar was born in 1888 in East Bengal (present day Bangladesh) in the village of Khandarapara of Faridapur District. His talent knew no bounds, like the Padma (Podda) river that flows there. The story of this famous historian is also interesting. In East Bengal, there are rivers, lakes, and streams everywhere, and children grow up with water. In Majumdar’s house, even to go from one room to another, he had to walk in ankleful of water! When it poured, the whole house was flooded. When he was an infant, one day he was about to be swept away in the floods in the night. “Somehow my aunt was woken up, and I am alive today to tell you my story.” — He laughed.

Read the full interview here: Kamat’s Potpourri: India’s Greatest Historian

Link | Genetic Sequencing Traces Gypsies Back to Ancient Indian Origin


Tracing the History of the Gypsies/Roma people, to India

Earlier studies of their language and cursory analysis of genetic patterns pinpointed India as the group’s place of origin and a later influence of Middle Eastern and Central Asian linguistics. But a new study uses genome-wide sequencing to point to a single group’s departure from northwestern Indian some 1,500 years ago and has also revealed various subsequent population changes as the population spread throughout Europe.

Source: Genetic Sequencing Traces Gypsies Back to Ancient Indian Origin – Scientific American Blog Network

Featured Image: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-J0525-0500-003 / CC-BY-SA 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 de], via Wikimedia Commons

OpenSource Books | Riyazu-s-Salatin; A History of Bengal

The Riyazu-s-Salātīn, is a description of the History of Bengal by Ghulam Husain Salim. This book was translated from the original persian by Maulvi Abdus Salam, and an English translation was published by the Asiatic Society in 1902.

The Riyazu-s-Salatin translates to “Gardens of Kings”. The Riyazu-s-Salatin, was completed by Ghulam Husain Salim Zaidpuri, during 1787-8. Salim Zaidpuri, as he addresses himself in the book, wrote this book when he was the Dak Munshi or the Post Master in Malda, under Sir George Udny (a Commercial Resident of the East India Company). He was originally from Zaidpur in Oudh (Awadh). Ghulam Husain Salim died in 1817. (The dates are suspect; Sir George Udny was born in 1813, and entered the civil services around 18 years of age.)

Bengal, at the time was one of the richest and most flourishing of the provinces. It contributed maximum revenue, of all provinces to the Delhi Emperors and was a coveted post for viceroyalty for the nobles.

The early part of the book covers the region and other demographic information, characteristics of the land and the cities, and a brief history of the pre-mughal period. It then follows the history of the rulers of the region, the Nizamat period, and ends with the arrival of the Europeans, and eventual domination of the English.

The book is 478 pages, the searchable and scanned PDF is about 30 MB. It available for download from archive.org. Visit Riyazu-s-Salatin, on archive.org, and select the format of your choice.

Administration & Villages in Deccan: Maratha Period – II

In the first part of this article we saw that the otherwise common structure of land divisions has remained more-or-less the same for over 2,000 years. There were small changes as generations passed, new divisions came into being, and the names changed, but the structure essentially remained the same.

But what of the lowest unit of these sub-divisions—the village?

By far, all through the various changes, handovers, divisions and transfers of lands between rulers and dynasties, the village remained an independent and a self-sufficient unit. Undoubtedly, villages and villagers suffered the most during wartime, or campaigns by various kings and warlords, yet in administrative terms, the village wasn’t affected (significantly) by the mergers, takeovers, and acquisitions by empires.

During the reign of Chh. Shivaji, one notable change that the administrative system underwent was the visible hand of the central government. The indirect system of tax collection was abolished, and government officers were appointed in villages to manage matters of tax. This greatly improved tax collections because it assigned responsibility to government officers, rather than local lords.

Yet, the republican nature of the village remained intact.

The Village: Land Division

Villages during this period were typically divided in two parts, based on the land quality: one for the settlements and the other for cultivation. The section for the settlements, made of the white soil was called gharthan, and the one with black soil was allocated for cultivation. The word pandhari, meaning white, later took on the meaning to refer the settlers on the white soil.

The Village: Residents

There four types or groups of residents in a village. These were:

  1. Deshak (देशक) or Watandars (वतनदार): Deshaks were officers of the village, and revenue-paying heredity owners of land. Watandars did not pay revenue for the land, instead the served the kingdom.
  2. Thalkari (थलकरी) or Mirasdars:(मिरासदार) Thalkari or Mirasdar paid land revenue, but were not officials and formed a large part of the village community, and were hereditary owners of the land. Mirasdar is an Arabic word (Miras=Inherit)for Thalkari.
  3. Upris (उपरी): The Upris were tenant-at-will, of government land, held land on a renewable basis, called Kaulnama (कौलनामा), also paid land revenue, but were tenants, rather than owners. They did not enjoy the advantage and the position of the Mirasdars.
  4. Balutedar (बालुतेदार) & Alutedars (अलुतेदार): In simplest terms these were the “service-providers” to the village. Baluta signifies a share of grain (or agricultural produce) and in most cases, these folks were paid in kind, annually.
Division and Residents of the Village
Division and Residents of the Village

The Deshmukh, was the head of all the Patils of the villages in a Paragana, while the Deshpande was the head of all the Kulkarnis. Of the various Deshaks the Patil, undoubtedly was the most important person, in the village. He was the village headman, and was responsible for peace and order, revenue management, and paying revenues to the government. It was not necessary that he lived an affluent life, but wielded much power.

In a saying in old Marathi, a bride prefers a Patilas her groom, even if there is no grain in the house.

उतरंडीला नसेना दाणा, पण दादला असावा पाटील राणा.

Balutedars & Alutedars
Balutedars & Alutedars

Typically, there were twelve Balutedars (बारा बालुतेदार) and an equal number of Alutedars. We say typically, because this number varied from village to village, possibly due to the size of the village. The Balutedars served the village, where as the Alutedars (also known as Khooms) served in the Peth or the market of the village.

The village also practiced its own judicial system, known as the Gotsabha (गोतसभा). All residents of the village had representation in the Gotsabha, except the tenants — the Upris. The Mahar, was a Watandar of the village, and performed a significant task in the village community with respect to providing security. Grant Duff, praises the Mahar community as hard-working and intelligent. In one instance we have the Mahar being called up to resolve boundary disputes and fix the boundaries of villages under Torna fort.

Various documents give an insight into the independent functioning of the village in Deccan. While villages faced a severe brunt during war and plunder, and their top-bosses changed with the fates of the kings, the village remained an independent, self-governing, republican unit.


  1. Habib, Irfan. The Agrarian System of Mughal India: 1556-1707. New Delhi: Oxford U, 2004. Print.
  2. Kulakarṇi, A. R. Maharashtra in the Age of Shivaji. Poona: Deshmukh, 2008. Print.
  3. Sen, Surendra Nath. “Village Communities.” Administrative System of the Marathas. 2nd ed. Calcutta: K.P. Bagchi, 1976. 143. Print.
  4. Gune, Vithal Trimbak. The Judicial System of the Marathas. Poona: Deccan College PGRI, 1953.
  5. Kulkarni, A. R. शिवकालीन महाराष्ट्र (Shivkaleen Maharashtra). Pune: Rajhans, 1996

Post Script:

I am looking for helps with translations of the following terms: Security (महार/ढेर), Singer (भाट/शाहीर), Priest (मौलाना), Musician (गोसावी), Musician (घडसी), Ramoshi (रामोशी), as it applies in the above context.

About A Sher (शेर)

Way back, in 2009, a family wedding pulled me away in the fine month of December, to Kolhapur, a city steeped in history. The bastion of Maratha history, it is a photographer’s delight, full of colour and fine imagery. Once an agrarian town, now, a city bustling with industry. But history is in its spirit, always. When you seek bits of history, they are available to you, everywhere.

Sher (Traditional Measure) - 1

One such bit that caught my attention was a standard measure, called a Sher (शेर) that was being cleaned and polished for a wedding ritual. When the bride enters the groom’s residence for the first time, she strikes inward, a Sher, full of grain (usually Rice) at the threshold with her right foot (thumb, if you care for the finer details). This ritual is called “Maap Olandne” (माप ओलांडणे), loosely translated, “Crossing the Threshold (or Measure, literally)”. It signifies the ushering of wealth and food (धन, धान्य) by virtue of her entry. I believe, this is a common tradition followed in most Maharashtrian weddings.

My focus however, is the Sher.

Sher (Traditional Measure) - 3

This particular Sher was made in the year 1910 and has a rhomboidal inscription, each corner displaying म श्री छ प on it (M, Shri, Chh, P). This stands for महाराज श्रीमंत छत्रपाती परवाना (Maharaj Shrimant Chhatrapati Parwana). It’s the seal of the king, and was perhaps completely in copper.

Sher (Traditional Measure) - 4

So how much is a Sher?

1 Sher = 1.25kgs, so
4 Sher = 5kgs, which is also known as a Payli (पायली)

Other related Sher terminology:

1/2 a Sher = 1 Mapta (मापटं)
1/4 a Sher – 1 Chipta (चिपटं)
1/2 a Chipta = 1 Kolwa (कोळवं)