This is a website about pre-modern legal documents from South Asia and the Indian Ocean.
Taking a broad view of ‘law’, the website includes legal deeds recording the possession or transfer of property and monetary obligations, grants and charters creating, supplementing, or abrogating titles, as well as routine administrative documents related to taxation and receipts.
The documents cover the last phase of the ‘Persianate’ period of South Asian history, that is, the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries. Persian was still the principal language of administration, contracting and formal correspondence, although other, including vernacular languages were beginning to take its place. In the documents, therefore, Persian predominates, but several other languages regularly appear as well, including Arabic, Gujarati, Hindi, Marathi, and Rajasthani, as well as English. At the core of the corpus of documents presented on this website is the household collection of a landlord family from Dhar district in present-day Madhya Pradesh in India. Members of this family held various offices of state under multiple regimes: the Mughals, the Marathas, and a princely state under the British. The bulk of the documents are in Persian, the principal language of administrative and legal record-keeping in the Mughal Empire. A small but varied sub-set of documents are in Hindi, Marathi (written in the archaic Modi script), and Rajasthani. These materials form the basis of the monograph by Nandini Chatterjee: Negotiating Mughal Law: A Family of Landlords across Three Indian Empires (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020). This title is open access and available for free download. There is an appendix of all documents used at the end of the book; readers may wish to relate that appendix to the collection presented here.
Documents from several other collections are also presented on the website. These range from the Persian and Marathi documents of landowning merchants of present-day Maharashtra, to the Arabic and Gujarati records of Gujarati merchants operating from Zanzibar and Oman.
We present images of the documents, together with a transcription in the original languages and scripts, a guiding summary and a full translation for all documents. Where we are unsure or unable to read the text, we have made our doubt obvious. The paleographic challenges of reading these documents are enormous; the Lawforms team hopes that the combination of images, transcriptions and translations will help students and scholars learn, practice, and teach how to read such materials. More broadly, we hope this corpus will be a useful resource for researchers, teachers, students, and the general public interested in the history of South Asia and the Indian Ocean world.
This digital publication has been prepared as part of the ERC-funded project Forms of Law in the Early Modern Persianate World, 17th-19th centuries.
Using CMS 17 guidelines:
Sample bibliographic citation for the site as whole:
Chatterjee, Nandini, Elizabeth Thelen, and Dominic Vendell, eds. Lawforms: Digitised Legal Documents from the Indo-Persian World, University of Exeter. Accessed June 17, 2021. https://lawforms.exeter.ac.uk.
Sample bibliographic citation for an individual document (use the editor's name specified in the source details at the end of each document):
Thelen, Elizabeth, ed. “Order of Asadullah to Several Banjaras Regarding Tax-Free Grain Purchases.” Lawforms: Digitising Legal Documents from the Indo-Persian World. University of Exeter. Accessed 17 June 2021. https://lawforms.exeter.ac.uk/text.html?id=lf_pDas_1663_dai_lns235ms_n1.
Using MLA guidelines:
Sample Works Cited List citation for the resource as a whole:
Chatterjee, Nandini, Elizabeth Thelen and Dominic Vendell, editors. Lawforms: Digitised Legal Documents from the Indo-Persian World, University of Exeter, https://lawforms.exeter.ac.uk. Accessed 17 June 2021.
Sample Works Cited List citation for an individual document (use the editor's name specified in the source details at the end of each document):
Thelen, Elizabeth, editor. “Order of Asadullah to Several Banjaras Regarding Tax-Free Grain Purchases.” Lawforms: Digitising Legal Documents from the Indo-Persian World, University of Exeter, https://lawforms.exeter.ac.uk/text.html?id=lf_pDas_1663_dai_lns235ms_n1. Accessed 17 June 2021.
Professor Nandini Chatterjee, Project Lead.
Professor Chander Shekhar, Senior Advisor.
Dr Elizabeth Thelen, Postdoctoral Research Associate.
Dr Dominic Vendell, Postdoctoral Research Associate.
Dr Lizzy Williamson, Technical Director.
Eva Bodenschatz, Richard Holding, Julia Hopkin, Gary Stringer, Digital Humanities Team, University of Exeter.
Dr Hannah Archambault, Copy Editor.
Dr Mehrbod Khanizadeh, Research Assistant.
Note of Thanks
Several individuals and institutions have assisted us by sharing with us their time, expertise and document images. We are grateful to Mr Muntazir Ali (ASI), Dr Fahad Bishara, Mr Amit Choudhary, Ms Ayesha Deshmukh, Dr Prachi Deshpande, Mr Sameer Hamdani, Dr Mohammad Shahnawaz, Dr Hollian Wint, Mr Shreekant Zamindar, the Bharat Itihas Samsodhan Mandal, the Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah, the Islamicate Digital Humanities Network, the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, and the National Museums, Liverpool.
Copyright and Licensing
Images on this site are for research and education purposes only. If you would like to reproduce or reuse them, you must seek permission from the relevant repository or individual. Images are copyright of:
Sameer Hamdani; please contact the PI Nandini Chatterjee if you would like copies.
Indore Mandloi Collection
The Mandloi Family; please contact the PI Nandini Chatterjee if you would like copies.
National Museums, Liverpool; please contact the museum if you would like copies.
Purshottam Das Collection
Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah Museum, Kuwait; please contact the museum if you would like copies, and
Amit Choudhary; please contact the PI Nandini Chatterjee if you would like copies.
Ratansi Purshottam Collection
Vimal Purecha; please contact the PI Nandini Chatterjee if you would like copies.
Solapur Deshmukh Collection
Bharat Itihas Sansodhak Mandal; please contact the research institute if you would like copies.
Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland; please contact the Society if you would like copies.
Valota Deshmukh Collection
Ayesha Deshmukh; please contact the PI Nandini Chatterjee if you would like copies.
The document transcripts are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. This means that you can use these transcripts providing you acknowledge the Lawforms project. You can download PDFs of individual texts on the document pages, and XML files of all texts and metadata here.
Various documents and fabrics © Nandini Chatterjee
People: Thakur Pratap Chand, © Choudhary Family Collection, Bada Raola, Dhar.
Places: Latha Masjid, Dhar, India © Amit Choudhary.
Texts: Legal document from Jaipur 1932 © Nandini Chatterjee
Created by Erik Goosman, Mappa Mundi Cartography. Free to use with credit to Lawforms project and Mappa Mundi Cartography
Issues and Errors
If you notice any errors or technical issues with this project, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.