Digitised Legal Documents from the Indo-Persian World

Document Features


Indo-Islamic rulers were deeply concerned with time – calendars were an assertion of sovereignty as much as a practical tool for ensuring the timely supply of resources. However, the familiarity of ordinary officials and subjects with certain ways of recording time meant that territorial conquests often led to the layering of new calendar systems rather than the displacement of those already in use.

As a result, a huge variety of calendars are used in Indo-Persian documents. Correspondingly, a variety of resources are required in order to convert these to the Gregorian calendar.

The calendar that is easiest to convert to Gregorian is the Islamic lunar calendar – the Hijri-Qamri calendar. Calculation begins from the day of the Prophet’s flight to Medina in 622 CE. There are twelve lunar (rather than solar) months (see Calendar months), which requires a complex formula to convert to the solar. For this website, we have used the converter on the Iran Chamber Society website.

In some documents, especially those concerned with revenue administration, we see the Fasli or Ilahi calendar, which is a solar calendar instituted by the Mughal emperor Akbar. Unlike the Islamic lunar calendar, the months of this calendar remained aligned with the seasons, through use of Indian (Hindu) or Iranian months. Adding 590/591 to the Fasli year gives us the Gregorian year. In some documents, we find reference to an ‘Amli calendar; we have taken this to be another term for the Fasli calendar.Use of the Fasli calendar extended into southern India with the gradual annexation of the Deccan Sultanates by the Mughals; the Hyderabad state continued its use after the demise of the Mughals.

Many Mughal documents combine the Islamic months with a regnal or ‘julus’ (literally, ‘seating’ or ‘enthronement’) year. Converting this to a Gregorian year requires, firstly, identifying the emperor whose reign is referred to. This is possible when the document bears the imperial seal, or the seal of an imperial Mughal official who declares allegiance to a named emperor; in other cases we can sometimes associate events described with a specific reign, but often, we cannot. Regnal years begin in the Islamic month of coronation of the named emperor – actual or assumed; for example, Emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir’s regnal year is taken to begin in the month of Ramzan 1658 CE, although he was crowned twice.

Mughal documents also frequently use the old Indic/Hindu calendar Vikram Samvat. Attributed to the mythic king Vikramaditya of Ujjain, years from the solar Samvat calendar are converted to the Gregorian by subtracting 57 or 56, depending on the month. The complication with the Samvat calendar is that it uses lunar months, adds the occasional intercalary month (a sort of leap-month) to keep the lunar calendar aligned to the seasons, and different parts of the country begin the year at different months. For precise conversions of the most common version of the Vikram Samvat calendar, starting in the spring month of Chaitra, the tables in L.D. Swamikannu Pillai’s An Indian Ephemeris can be used. Volume VI covers the period 1600 –1799 AD.

One calendar that occurs only in combination with others is the Turkish duodenary calendar, which is a twelve-year cycle, each year named after a specific animal or bird. This calendar is usually found in land grants or tax contract documents.

Among the several distinct calendars used by the Persian and Marathi documents from the south and southwestern parts of India is the Shuhur calendar, which is converted by adding 599 or 600, depending on the month.

Two other Indic calendars in use are the Brihaspati and the Saka calendars.

Calendar months

All calendars that we encounter in our documents have twelve months in the year, but they are of different lengths, and are named differently.

The Islamic Hijri-Qamri calendar has the following months:

  1. Muharram
  2. Safar
  3. Rabi al-awwal
  4. Rabiʿ al-sani or al-akhir
  5. Jumada al-awwal
  6. Jumada al-sani or al-akhir
  7. Rajab
  8. Shaʿban
  9. Ramzan
  10. Shawwal
  11. Zi al-qaʿda
  12. Zi al-hijja

These months are transliterated differently depending on language and region; on this site we follow the most common usages in the documents presented.

The Indian (Hindu) calendar has the following months, which are spelt slightly differently in different regions:

  1. Chaitra
  2. Vaisakha
  3. Jyeshtha
  4. Asadha
  5. Shravana
  6. Bhadra(pada)
  7. Ashvina
  8. Kartika
  9. Margashirsha (Aghrayana)
  10. Pausha
  11. Magha
  12. Phalguna

The year begins with Chaitra in spring, mid-March. In some regional traditions, it begins with Shravana.

The Iranian calendar was adopted by Emperor Akbar and thereafter frequently used in Mughal documents. It is similarly solar, and begins with the new year festival (Nouroz) in spring:

  1. Bahar
  2. Farvardin
  3. Urdbehesht
  4. Khurdad
  5. Tir
  6. Murdad
  7. Shahrivar
  8. Mehr
  9. Aban
  10. Azar
  11. Dey
  12. Bahman
  13. Isfand

Authorisations and endorsements

The most visible and common form of authorisation on a document was a seal impression. There were many different kinds of seals in use, and for different purposes.

Other than seals, one of the most powerful authorising marks was the ‘tughra’ (cipher), which was the stylized calligraphic representation of the emperor’s name. This can be seen in the Liverpool farman from 1692. Only farmans could have tughras, and unlike seal impressions, a tughra was drawn directly on to the paper of the farman. In Mughal farmans, tughras were typically drawn with red and gold ink.

In rare instances, a Mughal emperor could append a handprint on a farman. Such farmans, conveying the substance of the emperor’s body, were a mark of special favour, and are extant in the collections of the Rajasthan State Archives, the Arabic and Persian Research Institute, Tonk and the Bharat Itihasa Samsodhana Mandal, Pune.

More prosaically, qazis (Islamic judges) often wrote short notes on the top portion of deeds recording private transactions. These notes were written alongside their seals; they sometimes summarized the transaction in technical language; at others times they simply noted their role in validating it. Such notes could occasionally be in Arabic, even when the document was written in Persian. We see such an example in Declaration of Chand Bibi that she has sold her mansion in Dhar, 1803, where the qazi’s seal is accompanied by the note: ‘The servant of the law, the mufti (juriconsult), sealed the document.’

Marathi documents frequently included a small seal impression after the final word of the document, saying ‘murattab shud’(verified). We see this in the Order of Sadashiv Ram to Pandit Seshadri, 1741.

Clerical notes

Orders issued by Mughal emperors or mansabdars (nobles) often contain additional clerical notes on the margins of the document or on the reverse. These notes allow us to reconstruct the office procedures that were involved in the issuing of these documents.

Possibly in deference to the authority of the emperor, Mughal farmans (imperial orders) had no additional notes on the main front side (recto), but had multiple, frequently long notes, often with accompanying seals on the reverse (verso). We see such an example in the Liverpool farman from 1692; the verso has the note ‘By the letter of the least of the servants, Asad Khan’ together with the well-known Mughal noble Asad Khan’s seal. The farman had been issued in response to reports by Zulfiqar Khan, Asad Khan’s son and a major noble and general in his own right. We may speculate that Asad Khan played a role in bringing the matter to the emperor’s attention or in conveying the message to the recipient. Other Mughal farmans, especially those awarding grants of land and other rights, have much more detailed notes on the reverse, indicating the many offices that the order had to pass through in order for details to be added to the generally vague Mughal grants, and to become effective. Some such notes may be seen in a farman of the emperor Babur, preserved at the British Library, London.

The many parvanas (orders by non-imperial nobles) in the collections presented here, especially those issued by the noble Nawazish Khan, have some recurrent clerical notes on the right-hand margin or the verso. The most common note is the one seen in, for example, Order of Nawazish Khan to Purshottam Das and Paras Ram to collect taxes and populate the area, 1659. A note on the verso says: ‘Reached the office of the diwan on 30 Rajab in the year 1069’. Here, diwan could refer to the chief central or provincial officer of taxation and finance, but it could also refer to the secretary of a mansabdar’s (noble’s) household. Despite this ambiguity as to where and for what purpose the copy was sent, it is nevertheless clear that when grant deeds were issued, some kind of record was maintained in a repository – in nobles’ households or in state offices. To our knowledge, no such collection has been discovered thus far.

Other clerical notes could be additional exhortations by minor officials – again, direct employees of the state or of noble households – to perform the actions ordered in the main document. An officer called Asadullah, associated with the noble Nawazish Khan’s household, had a penchant for writing such notes, together with his own pious invocations and seal. It is debatable whether such notes counted as clerical notes or indeed further authorisation; we have encoded Asadullah’s notes as authorisation.

Marathi documents had their own clerical conventions. We see on the verso of the Letter from Ahilyabai Holkar to Khando Baburao, 1785, the little word ‘bar’ which means ‘registered’. Once again, this suggests a system for keeping a record of orders issued; it maybe that the reference is to forms of registers called ‘rozkirds’, which were assiduously maintained by various arms of the strikingly bureaucratic Maratha Empire.

Epithets and honorifics

Indo-Persian documents are marked by the use of elaborate laudatory epithets preceding the names of individuals. These epithets are cleverly designed to signal the specific offices and social positions occupied by the individuals in question. Some examples of these epithets are as follows.

  • ʿAdalat Panah: Refuge of Justice (usually applied to a a qazi)
  • Zubdat al-Iqran: Eminent among Contemporaries (applied to landlords, generals)
  • Madar al-Maham: Centre of Important Affairs (possibly applied to the wazir or chief courtier)
  • Mutiʿ al-Islam: Obedient to Islam (usually applied to Hindu noblemen or landlords)
  • Sadarat Panah: Refuge of the Office of the Sadar (applied to Sadar, the supervisor of charities)
  • Shariʿat Panah – Refuge of Law (usually applied to a qazi)
  • Shujaʿat Dastgah – Court of Courage (usually applied to a general)

Epithets were also applied to places. For example, the province of Shahjahanabad (present-day Delhi) was referred to as ‘Dar al-Khilafat’ (Place of Rule); Ujjain, which features in our documents, as ‘Dar al-Fath’ (Place of Victory), Hyderabad as ‘Farkhunda Buniyad’ (Happy Foundation). Documents sometimes refer to a place by their epithets rather than commonly used names; identification requires knowledge of those epithets.

Rajasthani documents use more direct and less metaphorical (although not shorter!) epithets; in the Letter of the Rajput noble Maha Singh to Nathmal, 1667, Maha Singh prefixes ‘Maharajdhiraj Maharaj Shri’ (King of Kings, the Splendid King) to his own name.

Opening and closing formulae

Indo-Persian, Marathi, and Rajasthani documents had elaborate, standardised formulae for the opening and closing of documents, and for marking transitions between different parts within a document. These formulae varied by the type of document.

Indo-Persian, specifically Mughal farmans (imperial orders) frequently began with the phrase ‘At this time, the elevated farman has been issued’. In other cases, such routine orders could be addressed to local officials, to give effect to a grant, in which case they could begin: ‘Officials of district X, know that…’. When the order was more personal and immediate, the formulae would involve a direct address to the person most directly concerned, as in the case of the Liverpool farman: ‘[Epithet][Name], having hoped for imperial kindness, know that…’ This style is similar to the many dozens of farmans, some of them autographed, sent by emperors Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb to the Rajput noble Jai Singh Kacchwaha, which are preserved at the Rajasthan State Archives, Bikaner, India.

Indo-Persian deeds recording private transactions, such as the Declaration of Nathu that he received payment for the sale of a house, 1661, often begin with ‘The purpose of this document is that…’

Marathi royal orders had their own conventions of address, which were linked to the addressor and addressee’s social and political statuses as well as mutual relations. We see this in the Letter from Ahilyabai Holkar to Khando Baburao, 1785, where Ahilyabai begins her letter with the stylized ‘da’ character that commonly served as an abbreviation for ‘dandavat’ or ‘supplications.’ In what appears to be a very humble and even self-deprecating usage, Ahilybai, though she was a royal, may have used this salutation because she was a non-Brahman and a woman writing to a Brahman man, and also because she wished to express affection for him.

Within all kinds of documents, specific words and phrases marked the transition between various parts of the document – for example, the movement from formulaic greetings to substantive content. In Indo-Persian documents, this could be ‘ama baʿd’ (so, after that) or simply ‘ke’ (that). In Marathi documents, the same transition marker was ‘ase je’ (thus) and in Rajasthani documents, ‘agay’ (ahead/thus), ‘tatha’ (in this way), or ‘aparanch’ (thus). Some of these words had a range of meanings. For example, the word ‘agay’ in Rajasthani documents could indicate an order, signal structural movement within parts of the documents (greetings to substance), or indeed be used to indicate narrative sequence when a chain of events was being narrated. ‘Agaye’ is used in all three senses in the Letter of Rajput noble Maha Singh to Nathmal expressing pleasure with Nathmal's deeds, 1667. The term’s range of use was also reflected in literary texts.

Indo-Persian Mughal imperial and noble orders frequently end with admonitory clauses, insisting on obedience and warning of dire consequences if the order is disobeyed, followed by the date of the document’s issue. Deeds recording private transactions (e.g. sales, contracts, acknowledgments of loans), such as Declaration of Chand Bibi that she has sold her mansion in Dhar, 1803, often end with the phrase ‘These words are written and given as a lawful deed, so that they may be useful in future’ followed by the date. In rare instances, the admonitory clause might be a curse; this is however more commonly seen in grants and orders inscribed in stone.

Marathi documents also ended with dates and had their specific formulae. An admonition is seen in the bi-lingual Persian-Marathi Statement of Adi Sethi about a dispute with the merchant and landlord Nar Sethi, 1582; the Marathi portion of the document ends with: ‘After this, if any opposition should be made then may [they] be criminals of the diwan. This katba is approved by us.’ This is followed by the date. Royal letters, such as Letter from Ahilyabai Holkar to Khando Baburao, 1785, often ended with ‘Bahut kay lihine,’ or ‘Why write more?’

There were shorter phrases and logographs (compressed symbols representing, rather than spelling words) that were used to indicate the end of a document, or an endorsement. The two most common that we see in the Indo-Persian documents presented in these collections are ‘faqat’ (literally: only, which we have translated as ‘nothing further’) and ‘baiza’ (literally: white; we have translated as ‘validated’). In Marathi documents, the standard closing mark, stamped or handwritten, is the Perso-Marathi phrase ‘morattab shud’ (validated).

Two faqat symbols, placed at the end of the final line, in the authorisation notes on right hand margin of Order of Nawazish Khan to Purshotam Das and Paras Ram about the remission of revenues due

Baiza, at the end of the final line of Order of Asadullah to Purshottam Das and Paras Ram to collect taxes

Morattab shud, stamped at the end of the final line, in Order if Sadashiv Ram to Pandit Sesadri to employ nine horsemen to guard the village station

Lists and particulars

Some types of documents, especially grants, records of property divisions, revenue records, or sale deeds, often include long lists of villages, lands, trees, and other properties. These lists are sometimes presented in tabular format with additional diagrams or sketches.

In Declaration of Chand Bibi that she has sold her mansion in Dhar, 1803, we see a rectangle that represents the plot of land on which the house is situated, with descriptions of adjoining properties on its east, north, west, and south. The rectangle is itself divided into two rows, the top row offering the length and breadth of the plot of land, and the bottom row, details about the house located on it. As such, while this is a method of organising and presenting information visually, it is a combination of a schematic map and table that is not quite either.

Diagrams or tables such as these often involve the use of cryptic numerals known as siyaq. The characters used to indicate numbers in siyaq were not really numerals as we understand them, they were logographs or compressed or distorted words. Every siyaq number was a stylized representation of the word for that number in the Arabic language. Scribes and revenue officials in the Mughal empire had to acquire full working knowledge of siyaq; many manuals were produced for their training and were published for the guidance of British colonial officials in the eighteenth century and nineteenth centuries. For an example, see the manual Siyaq Nama (requires free registration and login). The principles of siyaq espoused in these manuals included not just the use of the accountancy logographs, but also principles for dividing up the space of the page and arranging information.

From Fehrist-e-Kutub Matb‘a-i Munshi Nawal Kishore, 1896 (eds) Chander Shekhar and Abdur Rasheed (Delhi: Dilli Kitab Ghar, 2012), p. 31.

Many reports or surveys, such as List of answers to queries about agriculture and revenue collection in pargana Dhar, 1820, were produced as various parts of South Asia came under colonial supervision or direct control. In producing such reports, local officials used techniques and styles already in use in the region. In this report, we see topics itemised, and the beginning of each item marked by a character that looks like the Hindi numeral for 1 - १. It may also be a character known as ‘anji’ which has the function similar to a bullet point.


There are many different kinds of seals, or to be technically accurate – seal impressions – in the documents presented on this website. We know that marking documents with seals was an important part of authorising their contents. The most spectacular seal was indisputably the round genealogical seal of the Mughal emperor, which presented the name of the reigning emperor in the central circle and was surrounded by smaller circles bearing the names of the emperor’s ancestors, from his father back to Amir Timur, the Central Asian conqueror and the progenitor of the Timurids. We see such a seal in Aurangzeb’s order to Shahuji Bhonsle in 1692. This seal is to be read beginning from the central circle and bottom up, as is the case with many Indo-Islamic seals. Also, parts of the emperor’s name are split and re-arranged for aesthetic benefit, but visually disrupting the normal reading order. To read it, we have to put it back together, beginning with the bottom line: ‘Abul Muzaffar’, continuing to the next line up, ‘Muhyi- al-din Muhammad’ which is actually written, right to left ‘al-Din Muhammad, Muhyi’. We then continue up to ‘Alamgir Padshah’, and finally to ‘Ghazi’. The reading then continues on the outer circle, from the 1 o’clock position, which reads ‘son of Shah Jahan Badshah’. Moving clockwise, we arrive at the 12 o’clock position, which says ‘son of Amir Timur, Sahib Qiran’. The seal also bears two dates, from two calendars – 1079 Hijri Qamri and the regnal year (Julus) 12, both of which convert to 1692 CE.

For discussion on Mughal genealogical seals see, Annabell Teh Gallop, ‘The Genealogical Seal of the Mughal Emperors of India’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Third Series, 9, no. 1 (1999): 77–140.

Nobles, that is, Mughal mansabdars, including royal princes, had their own seals, which usually declared formal allegiance to the reigning monarch. We see such an example in the seal of Nawazish Khan, which appears in several documents, for example his order in 1659 to Purshottam Das and Paras Ram, both local landlords, to populate the area and collect taxes. This small circular seal is also to be read bottom up, and has to be adjusted for the splitting and re-arranging of names.

Thus we read, bottom-up:

  1. Nawazish Khan
  2. murid (disciple) of Hazrat (Lord)
  3. Shah Jahan.

This pattern, of declaring allegiance and self-subordination, and visually depicting the socio-political hierarchy, becomes even clearer as we move further down the ladder. Asadullah was a man with a long-term position – possibly as clerk – in the household of the noble Nawazish Khan. His seal can be seen on several documents, including the one in 1659 where he ordered the landlords Purshottam Das and Paras Ram to pay fees for the measurement of the many parcels of tax-free lands that they held.

Here an additional complication is introduced by the pious necessity of rendering God’s name in the highest position, even when that means splitting a person’s name. Thus, Asadullah’s name is split into Asad and Allah, the latter moving to the top. In terms of placement on the seal, bottom up and right to left, we have:

  1. ‘Murid ba-ikhlas (The friendly follower) Asad'
  2. ‘Nawazish Khani (Of Nawazish Khan)’
  3. ‘Allah.’

There are also seals of qazis, or Islamic judges, on a number of documents, especially those that record inter-personal transactions such as sales. We see one such in the Declaration of Gundappa Munjgonda in 1696, regarding alleged theft of trees from a garden. Unlike the seals of emperors and nobles, the seals of judges are much more trans-regional in design – usually bearing the legend ‘khadim-i shariʿa (servant of the holy law).’

Private individuals frequently possessed and used seals too, and affixed these next to their names alongside witness statements on the margins of documents.

The majority of our documents are in Persian, as are the seal impressions they bear. However, some Persian documents do bear seals in Devanagri script – as with the Rajput noble Amar Singh in his order dated 1657.

Here, the reading is top down, but the words are not separated and broken off at the end of the line without regard for the integrity of words. The seal reads ‘Sri Ram Upasak (Worshipper of Ram) Chandrawat Rao Amar Singh…’ Under Maratha rule, many royals seals are in Devanagri script, as with the Order of the Peshwa, Bajirao Ballal, in 1735.

Finally, seal impressions are often incomplete, and legibility is offered only by comparing with other seals of the same person (when that is available). We have such an example in the two documents from 1644, both of which are sealed by a low-ranking official called Abdussalam, disciple of Prince Murad Bakhsh, Order to Purshottam Das to send records and news in 1644 and the Order of a Mughal official to Purshottam Das and Paras Ram about a dispute with other officials in 1655.

Here, we see another feature related to the use of seals: most lower-ranking officials and private individuals did not find it worthwhile to spend money in replacing their seals regularly, resulting in a difference between the date in the seal and in the document.

Witness statements

Documents involving transactions such as sales or gifts were frequently witnessed by transacting parties and local notables. These witness statements were written in a variety of languages and scripts, and were often accompanied by personal seal impressions and hand-drawn symbols representing caste or professional affiliations.

Languages and scripts used in witness statements were related to community, caste, and status, and not simply to region. For example, many Persian documents in the Purshottam Das collection from central India have the names of Kayasth landlord witnesses written in the margins in Devanagari script. Even more strikingly, documents from present-day northern Karnataka (in India) were generally written in Persian and Marathi (written in the Modi script), although most people spoke Kannada. But priests and heads of mathas, or monasteries, wrote their endorsements in Kannada. However, since witness marks were typically brief and incorporated few grammatical features, sometimes it is not possible to distinguish with certainty between languages written in the same script, such as Hindi and Rajasthani.

Witness statements often included drawings of what appear to be caste or occupational symbols; for example, in Declaration of Chand Bibi that she has sold her mansion in Dhar, 1803, the name of the Afghan woman Chand Bibi, who was probably illiterate, was accompanied by a small drawing of what appears to be a spinning wheel.

Later additions and alterations

Many of the documents on the site include small amounts of text added at some point after the composition of the main document. For the most part, these additions are archiving marks or reference aids, such as numbers labelling or sequencing the documents, and brief summaries of document written in Persian and/or Hindi. These additions are often found on the verso of the document.

The later addition labelling the document as 'number 2' on the verso of Order of Asadullah to Purshottam Das and Paras Ram to collect taxes, 1663.

However, in a small number of cases, later additions to the text seek to alter the meaning of the document. These are typically insertions or alterations to existing text and can be identified through careful attention to changes in word spacing, ink colour, and handwriting, sometimes in combination with clear alteration of existing text. In the examples we have seen in this collection, such forgery is most commonly applied to quantities, especially in the particulars recorded on the verso of the document.

In the image below, from the recto of the 1675 Order of Islam Khan to the officials of district Dhar regarding a grant of land to Purshottam Das, the word spacing in the middle of this selection is noticeably more cramped, suggesting that words were inserted, changing the Persian in this selection from the meaning 'village Ahu, etc., ten villages, five hundred and fifty bighas of land' to 'village Ahu, etc., eleven villages, three thousand seven hundred and fifty bighas of land.' Comparing this to the details on the verso of this document and to other documents related to this grant of land, such as the Order of a Mughal official to the revenue officials of Dhar reconfirming a revenue grant to Purshottam Das and his descendants from 1672 suggests that these are more likely intentional efforts to alter the meaning rather than a case where the scribe corrected an error or inserted missed words.

Indeed, looking at the related details on the verso of the 1675 document, pictured below, the siyaq notation in the section header appears to have been altered from 550 to 3750, and looking at the entries in left-hand column, we see that the ink used in this column appears darker and there are noticeable stylistic differences in how the scribe writes the word 'bigha'.

Similarly, the entry furthest to the left in the particulars of the 1576 Order of a Mughal official to Jayanti Das and other landlords granting lands as reward for services, shows a markedly darker ink colour and different scribal hand. In this case, the amount of land mentioned in this final entry also brings the total amount of land described in the particulars above the amount of land mentioned elsewhere in the document, which suggests that it is a later addition.