Digitised Legal Documents from the Indo-Persian World

Document Types

Indo-Persian, Marathi and Rajasthani documents are of certain very distinct types. They vary by appearance, which includes layout, use of seals and other authorising marks, and by the quality of the paper. They also vary in textual structure and content, with specific documents using a certain number of stock phrases, and having a given structure for presenting their contents. The context, function and the mutual relations of the writer and the recipient determined the type of document used, failing which the document would be useless, invalid and could even constitute a major affront. Indo-Persian documents tend to name their own types in the initial or final lines of the document; contemporary writers of formularies also catetgorised and described the document types. We have used all these criteria to categorise the documents presented in this collection.


Farman (Imperial Order)

These were imperial orders. The name derived from the Persian verb ‘farmudan’, to order. In evidence from at least the Saljuk period (10th-12th centuries CE), farmans developed specific styles and conventions in the Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal empires, and distinct sub-types depending on the content and context of the order. For example, in the fifteenth century, the famous Ahmadnagar courtier Mahhmud Gawan described the eight pillars (features) of a farman. In the sixteenth century, the chief Mughal courtier, Abul Fazl, described two different kinds of farmans in use; the farman-i zabti and farman-i bayazi; the former used for at least three different purposes. Collections of farmans reveal clear differences in layout, seals, calendars and the use of set phrases between the Mughal and Bijapuri farmans. Farmans tended to be vague on details, and hence often had very detailed notes on the verso (zimn). They were also elaborated through supplementary orders from various grades of officials.

Bibliographic references: Saga of Mughal Farman: Understanding the Essentials (2019); The Chancellery and Persian Epistolography under the Mughals (1971), pp.45-84 ; Diplomatic (2012); The Ain i Akbari (1891), Vol. I, pp.269-75 ; Manazir al-Insha (2002)

Nishan (Princely Order)

A nishan was a Mughal term for orders issued by princes of the royal house, or by some exceptionally powerful queens and princesses.

Parvana (Noble Order)

Orders issued by nobles, not of the Mughal household, and including by Rajput nobles, later kings in their own right. Notably, in the Bijapur Sultanate, the word ‘parvangi’ was used to refer to a farman’s imperative content. Rajput imperial nobles who were semi-autonomous even during Mughal rule, continued to use parvanas when they became independent rulers in the eighteenth century.

Bibliographic references: The Chancellery and Persian Epistolography under the Mughals (1971), pp.85-86 ; In Favour of Govinddevji: Historical Documents Relating to a Deity of Vrindaban and Eastern Rajasthan (1999), pp.49-61

Dastak (Order by Lower Officials)

Routine orders by lower level officials were referred to as Dastak. Such orders could pertain to a variety of matters, such as right of travel - for which a 'dastak-i rahdari' was issued. Dastaks permitting duty-free transit of commercial goods came to be wildly replicated and abused by East India Company officials in Bengal in the mid-eighteenth century, leading to a conflict with the incumbent Nawab of Bengal, Mir Qasim.

Bibliographic references: The Central Structure of the Mughal Empire (1936, 2nd edition 1980), p.367 ; The Co-Ordinating State and the Economy: The Nizamat in Eighteenth-Century Bengal (2009), p.423-4 ; The Chancellery and Persian Epistolography under the Mughals (1971), pp.97-8

Sanad (Document (generically))

In Mughal contexts, this term referred generically to any type of document. However, in Rajasthani contexts, it came to mean a royal order from the Maharaja and in Marathi it was used for state-issued documents that conferred entitlements.

Takid Patra (Royal Letter (Maratha))

Takidpatras were royal letters associated with the Maratha state of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They were routinely sent to groups of district-level officials, and also to more elite notables, often with specific instructions for executing the decisions of a separate order or grant. In terms of form, they resembled the royal order (adnyapatra); however, they sometimes added a respectful greeting more commonly found in interpersonal letters. The standard title with which they referred to the officials addressed was derived from the Persian phrase "mashhur al-anam" (famous among mortals), which was in use during the earlier Deccan Sultanate period.

Bibliographic references: Jedhe Shakavali-Karina (1999), pp. 75-7, 89-95, 103-5, 123, 147-151

Private Deeds

Baiʿ Nama (Sale Deed)

The word baiʿ means 'sale' in Arabic. An alternative terms for Indo-Persian sale deeds was 'Khat-i kharidgi'. Sale deeds were frequently written in the form of iqrars, that is, legally binding declarations, in the presence of parties, witnesses and a judge or qazi. They were often, although not always, sealed and verified by the qazi. Baiʿ Namas from the Indian subcontinent were frequently bi-lingual and written in two or more scripts. Names of witnesses were written in multiple scripts, and were accompanied by caste or community symbols. Certain kinds of sales, for example, sales of goods held in security for loans, or revocable sales, were legally suspect (in Islamic law). This was because they were (correctly) suspected of being devices for getting around the Islamic prohibition of interest. They existed, nevertheless, and are in evidence from across the subcontinent and the Indian Ocean.

Bibliographic references: The Chancellery and Persian Epistolography under the Mughals (1971), pp.114-117; A Sea of Debt: Law and Economic Life in the Western Indian Ocean, 1780-1950 (2017), pp.90-99

Chak Nama (Land Measurement Deed)

Grants of land were usually vague in terms of locational details. Once such a grant was made by the emperor or a noble, local revenue officials and village headmen were tasked with identifying a suitable plot of land, measuring it out, and writing out a document which described the location and adjoining properties. This document was the Chak Nama; the process of such measuring and recording was called 'chakbandi.' The Chak Nama documents was usually witnessed by locals and sealed by a qazi.

Bibliographic references: The Chancellery and Persian Epistolography under the Mughals (1971), pp.91-92

Farigh Khatti (Quittance Deed)

A farigh-khatti was the written record of the fulfilment of obligations. They might be written when a loan was repaid, or a business partnership was terminated. The point of writing such a document was to produce a legal document to the effect that no dues remained payable from one party to another. In Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Marathi and Rajasthani, they were referred to as pharkhat, pharikhat or pharkati. In Marathi- and Gujarati-writing areas, they were used to record divorce settlements. These documents were usually, although not always, witnessed and sealed by a qazi.

Bibliographic references: Translating Obligations: Tamassuk and Fārigh-khaṭṭī in the Indo-Persian World (2021), pp. 548-50

Girwi Nama (Mortgage or pawn deed)

Girwi is the Hindi term for rahn. See Rahn Nama.

Hundi (Bill of exchange)

A hundi was a bill of exchange, used to transfer funds, often across long distances. They were issued by a merchant banker in exchange for a deposit and could be encashed at a different location. Originating in South Asia, hundis were widely used throughout the Mughal Empire and, by the nineteenth century, around the Indian Ocean and in parts of Central Asia and Russia. Although primarily a commercial instrument, they also played a role in state-financing, such as in the eighteenth-century Rajput kingdoms.

Bibliographic references: Huṇḍī and Nirakh Huṇḍāwan: Indic Mercantile Instruments in the Persianate Bazaar

Iqrar (Declaration)

An iqrar was a legally binding declaration (sometimes translated as ‘confession’) in Islamic law, and hence of highest probative value. Document recording such declarations also came to be called iqrars or iqrar-namas, and were used to record sales, debts and other inter-personal transactions. These were inevitably sealed by the qazi. In the Indian sub-continent, they were frequently bi-lingual, and included multiple attestations in the margins of the documents, also in various scripts and accompanied by seals and symbols. It appears that in the Arabic-writing parts of the Indian Ocean, iqrars came to be used primarily as record of debt.

Bibliographic references: A Sea of Debt: Law and Economic Life in the Western Indian Ocean, 1780-1950 (2017), pp.58-63 ; Indian Ocean in World History

Katba (Statement)

In the western Deccan, individual statements and undertakings were committed to paper by means of a flexible genre known as the katba (from the Arabic kitab). In private disputes, opposing parties presented katbas attesting to a claim and acknowledging the authority of the court or judicial assembly, as in the case of Adi Sethi's statement in our corpus. But katbas were also integral to state revenue administration. Village record-keepers routinely produced katbas in which cultivators and headmen would undertake to pay a certain sum of money or produce to the state following the next harvest. Finally, in the compound karja-katba form, this document type could serve as an interpersonal loan contract.

La Daʿwa Sulh Nama (Quittance Deed)

Quittance deeds were produced after the resolution or termination of disputes, to record that the parties had no further claims on each other. To some extent, they were interchangeable with farigh-khattis, but the latter had a wider usage, for example as tax rexeipts, divorce deeds, and records of debt repayment. Also see farigh-khatti.

Bibliographic references: The Chancellery and Persian Epistolography under the Mughals (1971), p. 112

Qabala (Deed)

This is the generic Arabic and Persian term for a legal document, usually one involving an inter-personal contract.

Rahn Nama (Mortgage or pawn deed)

A rahn nama recorded property held as security against a loan. The property so deposited with the lender could be recovered by the borrower, subject to repayment of the loan, in some cases, within a given time period only. The legal validity of rahn transactions was suspect in Islamic law, since they opened up the possibility of riba, or usury. Rahn Namas usually included detailed physical descriptions of the contracting parties. The Hindi word for rahn is girwi, also see Girwi Nama.

Bibliographic references: The Chancellery and Persian Epistolography under the Mughals (1971), pp. 119-120 ; The Central Structure of the Mughal Empire (1936, 2nd edition 1980), p. 367

Tamassuk (Bond/Record of Debt)

A tamassuk was a bond recording a range of obligations. At the simplest, they could be the record of a loan taken; they could also be bonds of paid or unpaid service - a kind of deed of self-enslavement. As with many other documents for recording transactions, a tamassuk was usually an iqrar (a binding declaration) recorded in front of an Islamic judge (qazi) and validated by him in writing.

Bibliographic references: The Chancellery and Persian Epistolography under the Mughals (1971), pp.122-4 ; Translating Obligations: Tamassuk and Fārigh-khaṭṭī in the Indo-Persian World (2021)

Taqsim Nama (Partition Deed)

A taqsim nama was a record of the division of property among heirs, usually after a death or a dispute. It was usually sealed and authorised by a qazi, and included a list of properties involved, presented in a tabular format.

Bibliographic references: The Chancellery and Persian Epistolography under the Mughals (1971), pp.122-4

Administrative Records

Awarja (Record of Taxes Collected)

An awarja is a record or tally of taxes due from a small area, usually a village. These office documents were written on paper on low quality, usually in very cursive, careless handwriting, with siyaq characters for the amounts of money involved - all these features making them very difficult to read. There are hundreds of awarjas in the Inayat Jung Collection, which pertains to the Golconda province, conquered by the Mughals in 1687, and later the Hyderabad state.

Bibliographic references: Mughal Administration in Golconda (1975), pp.167, 194

Bahi (register, account book)

A bahi is a physical format of record-keeping, more than a particular genre. It is typically a long narrow book, bound at the short side, which constitutes the top and read vertically. When not in use, it was rolled up for storage. Bahis were widely used to keep accounts by merchants and government officials, especially those with ties to Rajasthan. They were also used in government offices to record copies of orders and letters and, in these uses, often have clerical notes or headings identifying the departments, places, and/or persons involved.

Bibliographic references: Disputed Transactions: Documents, Language, and Authority in Eighteenth-Century Marwar (2021), pp. 809-11

Qaul Qarar (Tax Contract)

These were contracts between village landlords and imperial tax officials or jagirdars, for the payment of the agreed amount of revenues into the treasury of the state or the jagirdar. In the Mughal period, these documents often started with the words 'qaul qarar patta-yi ijara', indicating the leasing out (ijara) of tax collection duties. In colonial times, they came to be termed ‘cowles’ and were handed to significant villagers by district officials. These documents were frequently bi-lingual - Persian and the local language, and often use siyaq numerals to indicate the amount payable.

Bibliographic references: The Chancellery and Persian Epistolography under the Mughals (1971), pp. 124

Tasdiq (Note of Verification)

Various kinds of verification notes were produced by Islamic judges (qazis) and other officials in the Mughal empire. Sometimes, a tasdiq was produced to check and validate a copy of an older deed. In other cases, paymaster-general of the army (bakshi) issued tasdiqs to verify the number of soldiers in the employ of a noble on provincial duty.

Bibliographic references: The Chancellery and Persian Epistolography under the Mughals (1971), pp. 101, 104

Qabz al-Wasul (Receipts for cash or goods received)

These are short receipts for tax monies deposited with the treasurer - at district, provincial or other administrative level.

Yadi (Memorandum)

The yadi, yad, or yad-dasht was a memorandum. It derives from the Persian noun 'yad' and verb phrase 'yad dashtan,' which mean 'memory' and 'to remember,' respectively. Mughal chancelleries relied on the yad-dasht to record the details of numerous and wide-ranging administrative operations, from the branding and verification of horses (yad-dasht-i dagh wa tashiha) to the receipt of monies (yad-dasht-i wusul) to the attendance, promotion, and death of soldiers. Local notables and officials verified the information contained in yad-dashts by applying seals and writing endorsements. For example, memoranda on the collection of revenue from lands granted in the Deccan (yad-dasht-i hal wa hasil) featured Marathi endorsements of district-level record-keepers (deshpande). Whereas the Mughal yad-dasht was thoroughly administrative in function, its offshoot genre of yad or yadi in the Maratha Empire was used for both administrative and diplomatic purposes. Maratha rulers exchanged yadis containing the proposed terms and conditions of an anticipated alliance or reconciliation following conflict.


ʿArzdasht (Petition)

Petitioning rulers and social superiors was an essential part of statecraft in Mughal India and even afterwards, during the colonial era. There were elaborate rules for the correct drafting of such petitions. They had to be sufficiently respectful and self-deprecatory, but also properly calibrated to the relative status of the petitioner and the recipient. Petitions sometimes contained specific requests, but very often, all formal communication with the ruler or a social superior had to be in the form of a petition. The tradition of petitioning continued well into the colonial period.

Bibliographic references: The Chancellery and Persian Epistolography under the Mughals (1971), p. 151 ; Petitioning and Political Cultures in South Asia (2019)

Khat (Letter)

The word khat derives from one of the many Arabic words for writing. As such, it can be a generic word for note, or document, such as khat-i kharidgi - note/deed of sale. More often, however, khat implies a letter. It is sometimes used interchangeably with kharita, which inevitably means letter, usually a diplomatic or official letter. There are hundreds of Persian and Rajasthani kharitas, written between the states of Rajasthan, stored at the Rajasthan State Archives, Bikaner, India.

Patra (Letter)

Quite like the word 'nama' in Persian, the word 'patra' can mean letter, but it can also indicate a legal document. When implying document, it is used as a generic suffix, such as inam patra.

Judicial Documents

Mahzar Nama (Collective Testimony)

A Mahzar Nama is similar to an affidavit. It consists of a statement of facts regarding a property, a person or certain events, solicited by specific persons, and attested to by their professional and social associates. Such a document was usually prepared in the context of a legal dispute, sometimes to replace missing or damaged legal deeds. It was nearly always sealed and verified by an Islamic judge, a qazi. Mughal Mahzar Namas often began with a quote from the Quran exhorting witnesses not to conceal testimony. They were different from mahzars in the Marathi-writing parts of the country, which were records of decisions made by judicial assemblies. In Sunni Hanafi legal texts such as the imperially sponsored Fatawa-yi Alamgiri, mahzars are similarly described as documents that recorded the proceedings of a legal dispute.

Bibliographic references: The Chancellery and Persian Epistolography under the Mughals (1971), pp.110-112 ; Mahzar-namas in the Mughal and British Empires: The Uses of an Indo-Islamic Legal Form (2016)

Takrir (Statement)

Statement or narrative of an individual case, usually offered to a judicial assembly towards the resolution of a dispute.


Akhbarat (Newsletters)

The word khabar means 'news' in Arabic, and also in Persian and Urdu; akhbar is the plural of that word. Important nobles (see mansabdars) and external rulers posted wakils (representatives) at the Mughal court, who sent back regular reports of happenings. The best known of such Mughal-era newsletters are those that were sent back to the Kacchwaha court at Jaipur. Several of these were procured by the colonial official James Tod, and are currently housed at the Royal Asiatic Society Library, London. Several remained, however, in Jaipur, and are currently housed at the Rajasthan State Archives, Bikaner, where they have been digitised and may be consulted online. The tradition continued into the colonial period, for the early nineteenth century, newsletters reporting on the Mughal court in Delhi as well as mobile Maratha and Afghan encampments in central India continued to be produced for the English East India Company government and its agents. Some of these Company-period akhbarat are collected in the Persian manuscripts section of the British Library.

Bibliographic references: The Tangled Roots of Vīraśaivism: On the Vīramāheśvara Textual Culture of Srisailam (2019); Information and the Public Sphere: Persian Newsletters from Mughal Delhi (2009); Aitihasik Farsi Sahitya, Sahava Khand (1973)

Ishtihar (Proclamation, Public Notice)

These appear to be a nineteenth-century innovation, used to make public declarations of new legislation, or of new arrangements in princely states. They were frequently printed, and hence intended for wider distribution.