The Asian Agri-History Foundation (AAHF), a non-profit Trust, was established and registered in 1994 to facilitate dissemination of information on agricultural history to promote research on sustainable agriculture in South and Southeast Asia region. This region had generally provided food security to its population for several millennia, with only occasional famines in a few limited pockets due primarily to drought. Farmers in the region had evolved some of the most sustainable agriculture management technologies suitable for different agroecoregions. There is a great deal to be learnt from the traditional wisdom and the indigenous, time-tested technologies that have sustained the farmers of South and Southeast Asia in the past. The historical perspective of gradual development of traditional technologies will provide clues for (i) understanding how farmers adjusted to changing environment in the past, and (ii) developing appropriate technologies leading to prosperous, sustainable agriculture. One of the major objectives of AAHF is to disseminate information on agriculture of the past by translating old texts/manuscripts into English and publish these translations with commentaries on the scientific content of texts. The aim of such commentaries by experts is to stimulate research to confirm, or otherwise, many old practices.
AAHF has so far published two bulletins: Vrikshayurveda (The Science of Plant Life) by Surapala (circa 1000 AD) and Krishi-Parashara (Agriculture by Parashara; circa 1st century AD). This bulletin, Nuskha Dar Fanni-Falahat (The Art of Agriculture) is approximately a 300-year-old manuscript written in Persian and the author, most likely, is Dara Shikoh. The manuscript of Nuskha Dar Fanni-Falahat (no. 51, Lytton collection) is available at the Maulana Azad Library of the Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, India.
According to Rahman, this manuscript was “transcribed” in 1693 and though attributed to Dara Shikoh, appears to be a work of Amanullah Husaini, son of Mahabat Khan, a noble in the court of Jahangir (1569-1627 AD), who was the Mughal ruler of a large part of the Indian subcontinent from 1605 to 1627 AD [Source: Rahman, A. 1984. Science and technology in medieval India. In: Science and Technology in Indian Culture - A Historical Perspective (Rahman, A., ed.). National Institute of Science, Technology & Development Studies (NISTADS), New Delhi, India. pp. 123-141.]. Jahangir wrote his memoirs in detail and one does find references to the names of Mahabat Khan and Amanullah, but always as loyal officers who were busy in battles almost all the time [Source: Rogers, A. and Beveridge, H. 1909 and 1914. The Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri (Memoirs of Jahangir). Vol. I & 11. Royal Asiatic Society, London, UK. 478 pp. and 315 pp.]. There is no indication about scholarship of AmanulIah and Rahman has given no reference to support his view about the authorship of this text. According to Rahman, this manuscript is a summarized version of a full text. Since the colophon clearly mentions Dara Shikoh as the compiler, and since he was known to be a great scholar, we would like to maintain that Dara Shikoh was the ‘author’ and not Amanullah. Since it is unlikely that Dara Shikoh had expertise in crop production, he must have sought help from experienced agriculturists.
Who was Dara Shikoh? A description by Maheshwar Dayal IS reproduced below [Source: Dayal, Maheshwar. 1975. Rediscovering Delhi - The Story of Shahajahanabad. S. Chand & Co. (Pvt.) Ltd., New Delhi, India. 237 pp.]. It gives an idea about Dara Shikoh’s scholarship, location of his library in the city of Delhi, and his tragic end.
“As soon as you pass the Lothian Bridge towards Kashmere Gate, you will come across a 300-year old building near the General Post Office. The pillars and verandah in this building were added by the British when they occupied Delhi in 1803 after defeatingthe Mahrattas. One can see in this building a tablet reading: “Qadimi Makan Residency.” Lord Metcalfe and David Ochterlony lived in this building, and Bishop Heber, the famous traveller, stayed here. At various times and for different periods, this building was occupied by the Delhi College, the District School, the Municipal Board School and the Government School. It is now a part of the Delhi Engineering College Complex. Until 50 years ago, another tablet could be seen at the gate of this building, which said: “Kutub Khana Dara Shikoh”-Dara Shikoh’s Library.”
“Emperor Shahjahan’s son Dara Shikoh was a very learned scholar, who spent long hours in study and in discussion with Hindu and Muslim saints and scholars, and collected many books, wrote several, and got a large number translated into Persian. In May 1657, he got together a number of Sanyasis and Yogis from Benares at Nigambodh in the city of Delhi, and had the Yoga- Vasishta translated into Persian. He also translated the Bhagavad Gita into Persian, probably with the help of Hindu scholars. The most significant and the most controversial of his translations was Sirr-i-Akbar, a Persian rendering of 52 Upanisads. The most important book Dara Shikoh wrote is Majmuaul-Baharain. It pleads for the “mingling of the two oceans” and is a comparative study of Hinduism and Islam. In it Dara ably expounds his theory and conviction that the two faiths are not irreconcilable. This one book is a living monument to Dara Shikoh’s liberal views.”
“After his defeat by his brother Aurangzeb at Samugarh, Dara Shikoh wandered from place to place with a band of loyal followers, until he was ultimately betrayed by Malik Jiwan, a person whom he had once saved from being trampled under the feet of elephants. Dara Shikoh was brought to Delhi on a~ elephant with an open howdah, his feet tied together, and closely guarded by Jiwan Khan, and a corps of archers carrying arrows fitted ready into their bows. In shabby clothes the prince was paraded through the streets and bazars. A vast crowd in Chandni Chowkshowed their sympathy by throwing dust and stones at the treacherous Jiwan Khan. In the prison a group of assassins set upon Dara Shikoh, and took his severed head to Aurangzeb.”
“After Dara Shikoh’s death in 1659, the whole estate comprising his palace, haveli, library and garden was given to the Subedar of Lahore, Ali Mardan Khan, and later on, it came into the possession of Wazir Safdarjung, until it was captured by the British. In 1842, as if to revive the memory of Dara Shikoh, and to restore the building to the purpose for which it had been constructed, the Delhi college was shifted here from Madrasa Ghazi-ud-din outside the Ajmeri Gate, the building now occupied by it. Ghazi-ud-din Khan was the trusted Subedar of Deccan, both of Alamgir (Aurangzeb) and Bahadur Shah I, and the father of the first Nizam. When he died in 1710, his body was brought to Delhi and laid to rest in a mausoleum near Ajmeri Gate, which he had himself constructed a few years earlier. Close by, a madrasa was established after him, in 1792, at which the study of Oriental Languages and Islamic religious education were imparted. When the British Parliament approved an expenditure of Rs. I lakh for the education of Indians for the first time in 1824, a grant of Rs. 500 per month was given to Delhi College out of this sum. Charles Metcalfe introduced the teaching of English in 1828 and in 1830 the departments of Oriental Languages and English were separated, though under the same Principal and Managing Committee. With gradual expansion, the College was shifted in 1842 to Dara Shikoh’s library building. In the meantime, opposition began to grow to the teaching of English and Muslims began discouraging their children from going to this College. This national feeling reached its culmination on the l l “ May 1857, when the sepoys and sowars from Meerut looted the College and destroyed all the books.”
According to Eraly, “Dara was the most cultured of the sons of Shahjahan; he was in fact the finest scholar the Mughal dynasty had ever produced, and was the author of six books. He was alsoa poet and like Babur, a skilled calligraphist.” [Source: Eraly, A. 1997. The Last Spring. The Lives and Times of the Great Mughals. VIKING Penguin Books India (P) Ltd., New Delhi, India. 944 pp.]
“Dara’s Persian translation of the Upanisads, rendered in turn into Latin and published in Europe a century and a half later, in 1801, was read by Schopenhauer, the German philosopher, who spoke of the book as the solace of my life, the solace of my death.”
The translation of the Persian text, Nuskha Dar Fanni-Falahat, was completed with paintstaking efforts by Dr Razia Akbar, Professor of Persian (Retired), Osmania University, Hyderabad, India. AAHF is especially grateful to her for completing a rather challenging and difficult task.
Three well-known agricultural scientists, Drs J S Kanwar, K L Chadha, and K L Mehra, agreed to critically read the contents of the text and offer their comments. In addition, I also wrote a commentary. All the commentators were fully conscious of the fact that the manuscript is a 300-year-old, abridged version and describes practices that would appear too simple, routine, and/or even weird. However, each one has tried to unveil the scientific validity wherever noticed. The commentators have repeatedly pointed out the need to confirm or otherwise, several of the practices that are not easily understood today.
One of the difficulties faced with old texts is that the recommendations stated are too brief and it is not easy to comprehend the steps that had been followed. Also, reasons for recommending a specific prescription are not given, forcing us to use our imagination. Frequently, therefore, we are tempted to discard recommendations as something nonsense. Such a temptation, however, is unfortunate because surely our ancestors were no fools. It would be prudent to give deep thought to all recommendations and do our best to devise experiments to confirm or otherwise the recommendations made in such old texts. We should look at the contents of old manuscripts as fresh opportunities to carry out research and utilize the generated information, if practical, in the present-day agriculture.
The author of the manuscript has apparently attempted to compile a compendium of economic plants grown at that time with a view to document and share information with others. If this text is a “summarized version” as Rahman has pointed out, there probably exists a “full text” or may be it is lost forever.
The translator Dr Razia Akbar and Dr K L Mehra did their best in identifying the English and Latin names of most plant species from the Persian names given in the text. The staff of the AAHF (V L Nene and Sheifa Vijayakumar) also made efforts to identify Latin names; these are given in Appendix 1.
The original manuscript does not have paragraph numbers. We have numbered the paragraphs in the English translation to facilitate work of commentators. Latin names of plant species are listed in the commentary by Dr K L Mehra and in Appendix 1. Therefore, the names of all plant species are not given in other commentaries and in the English translation.
AAHF is grateful to the translator, Dr Razia Akbar and commentators Drs J S Kanwar, K L Chadha, and K L Mehra for their hard work without which this Persian text would have remained a museum piece.
Nuskha Dar Fanni-Falahat (Translated by Razia Akbar) The Art of Agriculture About the Translator
Commentary - K L Mehra
Commentary - K L Chadha
Commentary - J S Kanwar
Commentary - Y L Nene
Nuskha Dar Fanni-Falahat
(from back cover)
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