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Art and Craft Workshops Under the Mughals (A Study of Jaipur Karkhanas)

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Item Code: NAM034
Author: Sumbul Halim Khan
Publisher: Primus Books, Delhi
Language: English
Edition: 2015
ISBN: 9789384082307
Pages: 134 (39 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.5 inch x 6.5 inch
Weight 400 gm
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Book Description
About the Book

The karkhanas of Jaipur, though primarily concerned with the production of goods for the royal household and the army, were also an inextricable part of the larger Mughal economy. With specialized skills in bookbinding, cartography, textile designing, gem encrustation, even manufacture and decoration of canons, the products they manufactured were not merely utilitarian items but also exquisite masterpieces of art craft and many of them today adorn museums and art galleries in India and abroad.

Based on the karkhanajat papers comprising roznama, arhsatta, siyah and taujih, and rare documents in the Town Hall Museum at Jaipur and the Rajasthan State Archives, Bikaner, this volume focuses not only on the materials used and the means of production but also on their technical aspects of production. Tapping into the rich statistical data and profusion of micro level details locked in these regional sources, this volume also showcases the literary corpus of the karkhana documents which helps the reader gain a better understanding of the conditions of production, cost prices of raw materials, as well as the economic organization of these workshops.


About the Author

Sumbul Halim Khan is Associate Professor of History at Aligarh Muslim University. Specializing in medieval Indian history, the central theme of her research continues to be the documentary evidence pertaining to the regional history of Rajasthan. She is the co-author of Mughal Documents Taqsim. She has worked on the Taqsim papers and the Wakils report that focuses on the administrative apparatus of the Amber/Jaipur Sate. Her interests include the planning of the pink city, Rajput administration of suba Kabul and the agrarian landscape of pargana Udehi.



The Interface of Mughal and Jaipur art is best reflected in the exquisite masterpieces of karkhana (workshop) products. The imperial karkhanas inducted the best possible raw material and techniques from India and abroad. In turn, the masterpieces combined the ideal combination of raw material and technique. Each karkhana produced unique artefacts. For instance, the swords in Silehkhana were damascened, a technique inducted from Damascus. Further, the animal trappings were jewel-studded and beautified by gem encrustation and inlaywork. Similarly, in the Topkhana, the cannons were profusely decorated with floral and animal motifs. The Jaipur karkhanas applied ingenious techniques and combined it with local expertise. For example, minakari, an indigenous technique of Rajasthan was used on artillery products such as cannons. Similarly, local colouring techniques were used on textile and palanquin products.

Prior to the Mughal age, karkhanas were known and discussed by Afif, from whom one can glean information on the efficient working of 36 karkhanas, including Filkhana (elephant stables), Shuturkhana (camel stables), Rikabkhana (saddles and harness), Itardarkhana (perfumery), etc. The karkhanas of the Mughal Emperor maintained at the capital were discussed in the accounts of Abul Fazi and Bernier. Nevertheless, it is fortunate that exceptional details that are lacking in these works have been covered in the Jaipur karkhana records.

The karkhana documents extant at the archives pertain to the period AD 1683 to 1843. These cover karkhanas such as Silehkhana (manufactory of arms), Topkhana (manufactory of cannons), Filkhana, Shuturkhana, Zinkhana (workshop of harness and bridles), Palkikhana (workshop of palanquins) and a variety of others as can be discerned from the listings at the end of this chapter.

The arts and crafts of medieval India have received considerable attention from scholars. The field itself has opened up three genres of historiography. The first consisting the appreciation of fine art and beauty, which include observations by Anand Coomaraswamy, Percy Brown and a host of others. Publications by Anand Coomaraswamy on aspects of Indian art have given way to a floodgate of works on art. The second strand focused on technology, exploring aspects of the composition of ingredients, the application and operations of the products (such as cannons, muskets, building construction, etc). techniques used, skills required, etc. The third approach connected art with economy. Here, scholars analysed wage structure, price trends, and income and expenditures incurred during any operation of art and craft.

Most scholars, regardless of their standpoints, converge on the issue of treating the karkhana as a closed form of production which had no output because it did not cater to the lay people and was not linked with the market. This, in turn, separated it from the productive forces of the economy. Karkhanas, though always appreciated by scholars, have constantly been considered as production house of luxury goods that catered to royal or imperial needs. Since these products were believed to have never reached the open market and hence the masses, these karkhanas in effect never had any significant effect on the economy of the Mughals or larger society in general. In other words, the entire karkhana expertise and level of production is believed to be bundled up in isolation, separate from developmental processes for society and the economy in general.

This perspective cannot be entirely true from our study. At a preliminary stage, the karkhana was connected to the market by the very processes of acquiring and employing raw material and craftsmen. Raw materials were purchased from the market and so were craftsmen hired and paid by the karkhana. Thus, a karkhana did not just provide jobs to people in general, it must also have, in however miniscule a manner, had an effect on the economy, as a variety of products, ranging from textiles to leather to precious stones were bought from the market. Details for these are profuse in our records. Though the documents do not show that these karkhana products ever reached the open market, they were price tagged. The records also show every minute detail of purchase of raw materials, whether wood, textile or rope; emeralds, topaz or sapphire; or even squirrel tails hair (for making paint brushes); expenses incurred during production and in some records the final price of the finished product is also provided (e.g. the final price of a finished palki is given to be Rs.268; a painting album was priced at Rs.600 to name just a few). Why these details were given if such products were never sold in the open market remains to be explored.

Second, all the manpower in the karkhana could not have been drawn from slaves; there were freemen too who worked during the day. When they finally completed their services, they resident independently outside the confines of karkhanas. On such occasions they would transmit their skills to their community. There might well have been a spillover of this heightened activity undertaken in the karkhanas. It is possible to deduce that this rubbing off of the expertise might have touched the productive forces, markets and masses. Therefore, to treat karkhanas as a closed centre of production with a deadend, does not seem entirely convincing. It seems unlikely that an improved level of expertise will remain in complete isolation from the diverse spheres of production of the economy.

Karkhanas were not deadends. This is illustrated from the fact that when others were mourning the Shahr i Ashob or cultural decay in Delhi, the Jaipur karkhanas was carrying forward the tradition by adding an ivory workshop (Dantgrah), lamp and candle workshop (Roshanchowki), to their list of karkhanas. Thus, eighteenth-century karkhanas showed additions, sustenance and an improvement of a variety of karkhanas and not only of army equipment workshops as has been suggested by Eugenia Vanina.


The term ‘karkhana’ indicates a manufactory. It has been variously defined to encompass either a factory or store. The karkhana papers however reveal that each of the various karkhanas was simultaneously a manufactory. Store as well as a repair workshop. For the region under discussion, it is difficult to divide these karkhanas such that they cover stores, and others—factories.


The source material available for these karkhanas are the collection classified as karkhanajat papers. These comprise the following:

1. Roznama or Roznamcha (daily ledgers) mention the details of processes taking place each day in a particular karkhana. It was maintained by the potdar or treasurer. These records are available for the Silehkhana, Filkhana, Shikarkhana, Shuturkhana, Zinkhana, Zargarkhana, Ratangrah, Dantgrah and Toshakkhana.

2. Arhsatta entail the income and expenditure. The naqd (cash) and jinsi (kind) details of the expenditure are of particular interest. These documents enable us to gauge the total amount and raw material assigned to a particular karkhana. Arhsatta records are mostly twelve-monthly though some eight-monthly documents have also been used in this volume.

3. Siyah lists the raw material in a karkhana. Siyah documents of the Silehkhana, Filkhana, Patrkhana, Mashalkhana, Rasoikhana are available in the Rajasthan State Archives, Bikaner.

3.1 Amongst these, the most substantial information is contained in the Taujih Jama Kharch category. These documents provide exhaustive details on raw material, manufacturing processes as also finished products. Remarks on wages and the operational techniques of the various craftsmen are replete in the margins of the documents.

Literature survey

So far scant attention was paid to the study of karkhanas, apart from the brief survey made by Jadunath Sarkar in his study of Mughal administration. Moreland was not aware of the karkhanas of the nobles. Recently, Tripta Verma, in her monograph Karkhanas Under the Mughals has focused on the socio-economic relevance of the imperial karkhanas at the centre.

It was Athar Ali who felt the absence of any substantial study of karkhanas at the provincial level. I have focused on the Mughal karkhanas at Amber in a series of articles covering some of the karkhanas. Meanwhile, The Catalogue of Historical Documents in Kapat Dwara Jaipur, Maps and Plans facilitated researchers to utilize the maps and other documents in the Pothikhana collection of Kapat Dwara. An article by Girija Shankar surveys in brief the extant karkhana papers at the Rajasthan State Archives, Bikaner, where the author provides a preliminary reading for those new to this category of documents. Pareekh also summarily deals with the karkhanas as they were in the modern period.

Other notable state repositories, apart from the Rajasthan State Archives, are the Kota karkhanas and the Kapat Dwara treasury records, Town Hall Museum, Jaipur. Most records of the karkhanas are overlapping in all the three state repositories. However, the Taterakhana (hardware industry) and Mistrikhana (mason workshop) are unique features of Kapat Dwara, Jaipur, as also the taksal (mint) in the Kota collection. Though the collection at Bikaner and Jaipur both relate to the Amber state, they are listed under separate repositories. Moreover, the Kota state came into being at a later stage. Therefore, the documents belong mainly to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The Region

Having made a distinction between Mughal karkhanas at the central and provincial levels, I will also identify the region focused on in our study. The karkhanas under study here essentially belonged to Jaipur. It must be clarified that jaipur was the seat of power of the Amber house in the eighteenth century and consequently, the karkhanas were built here. However, the conglomeration of karkhanas located at Jaipur catered to demands that arose in the entire jagir area under the Amber raja as well as his subedari and faujdari jurisdiction. It has been observed elsewhere that jagir assignments were sought in close proximity to the watan Amber. The core area in the Amber principality were parganas of Chatsu, Dausa, Bahatri, Lalsoth, Deoti Sanchari and Malarna. The other responsibilities of subedari were in far-flung areas like Kabul and Assam.

It is also noteworthy that the Jaipur karkhanas acted as a mother unit to the various satellite karkhanas at different postings of the Amber raja. Mutual transactions occurred within this entire network, testimony of which survives in the minute records of each entry. References to such satellite karkhanas are evident in the contexts of different animal stables.

About the Karkhanas

The karkhanas seemed to be vital for the emperor as well as the nobles as they were located in the heart of the fort and not in a separate segregated area. This is true for Shahjahanabad, Fatehpur Sikri, and Jaipur. The testimonies of Amal i Saleh, and Tazkirat ul Muluk indicate that a specious area was set aside for a workshop in Shahjahanabad. Likewise, the Fatehpur Sikri Fort housed a massive area for a workshop. An important example is the surviving gun foundry at Jaigarh Fort.

Karkhanas also find mention with the court and other major departments. The fact of their constant operation indicates the amount of work undertaken daily. This incessant work in the karkhanas continued even when Jaipur became a princely state.




  Acknowledgements ix
1 Introduction 1
2 Painting and Cartography in Suratkhana and Chitragrah 17
3 Rangkhana: The Colouring of Textiles 36
4 Pothikhana: The Library 45
5 Silehkhana: The Arsenal 64
6 Topkhana: The Gun Foundry 72
7 Palkikhana: Palanquins and Carriages 82
8 Shuturkhana: Camel Stables 92
9 Zinkhana: Manufactory of Harness and Bridles 97
10 Conclusion 104
  Bibliography 109
  Index 113


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