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Log In Sign Up. The Ardhakathanaka by Banarasi Das: Eugenia Vanina. A great number of travelogues enables us to view medieval India through the eyes of visitors from all parts of the globe. The source to be analysed in this article will hardly stand comparison with the above-mentioned materials.
It is a biography of an insignificant man, a family history of modest middle-class people unconnected with court intrigues and political battles. And the title of the book is anything but serious. Ardhakathanaka means "Haifa Tale". The author, a Jain merchant named Banarasi Das, completed it in , being fifty-five at that time; the ideal life span of the great Jain sages was believed to be one hundred and ten years.
Thus Banarasi, who harboured no ambitions to equal the great sages, titled his autobiography "Haifa Tale", displaying a somewhat bitter humour he died shortly after completing the book. Banarasi was a resident of imperial Agra where famous court historians lived and worked hard to describe and praise the pomp and glory of the Mughals, deeds of valour and statecraft, court intrigues, wars and coups.
And Banarasi, a modest shopkeeper, ventured into competition with them, knowing quite well that his work would be limited to an audience from a narrow circle of true friends and kinsmen. He had no illusions about the fate of his book: Many intelligent and socially responsible people of all countries and epochs did so with the same purpose in mind. The Ardhakathanaka is a relatively new source for researchers in Mughal history.
It was discovered by the Nagari Pracharini Sabha and first published by the celebrated specialist in medieval Indian literature, Dr Mataprasad Gupta, in Premi, the author of a well-known study of Jain literature and history, published the text in Ardhakathanaka Jaipur, , p. This article is based on the Hindi text as produced by Dr Lath.
The quotations are translated by the present author and this translation in some cases differs from Lath's. Lath's English rendering is also referred to for the readers' convenience. The source is hereafter abbreviated to AK. Premi ed.
Jain in This book also includes a scholarly preface which throws light on historical aspects of the text, Banarasi's religious background, etc. Two years later Dr Lath published his introduction to the text and translation in Delhi under the title Half a Tale: Sharma published his English rendering of the Ardhakathanaka under the somewhat bitter- sounding title: For instance, Professor Tapan Raychaudhuri in the Cambridge Economic History of India quoted from the Ardhakathanaka while discussing small-scale trade and industrial castes.
At the 33rd session of the Indian History Congress R. Sharma presented his paper titled "Aspects of business in northern India in the seventeenth century". This paper was mainly based on evidence from the Ardhakathanaka concerning business communities, partnership rules, capital formation, etc.
Most researchers concerned with Mughal history deal with socio-economic, administrative and political problems. Banarasi Das was but a commoner; he had no authentic information about affairs of state, and if he discussed historical events, it could add little, if anything, to the well-known chronicles and documents.
For a study of the Mughal economy the Ardhakathanaka does furnish some valuable material, but it lacks statistics and the data it provides is by the nature of the text incidental and limited geographically.
The present author, fully acknowledging the contribution of those who have discovered this text, translated or rendered it into English and analysed at least some of its contents, intends to discuss the phenomena of socio-economic, cultural and religious life as reflected in Banarasi's autobiography.
But this discussion has a broader purpose: Medieval literary works, the Ardhakathanaka being no exception, can no doubt be dismissed as minor or insignificant sources for historical studies compared with chronicles and documents which offer much more direct information and even statistics.
This is true if we follow a traditional approach to history and concentrate chiefly on political events, forms of property, modes of production and the faceless "masses". But if we want to understand the mentality of a medieval Indian, to evaluate the social, cultural, ethical and 4 Ravindra K.
Jain, Kavivar Banarasi. Jivani aur Kritittva Varanasi, Indica, VII , pt. Chandra ed. The Ardhakathanaka by Banarasi Das behavioural values of the epoch, the humble life-story of Banarasi becomes a source of immense value. Historical and social environment Banarasi Das completed his autobiography or, to be more precise, autobiography-cum- family history at the end of It was a period of relative prosperity for the Mughal state. Though Banarasi started his family history in a remote period before the Mughal invasion, the first date mentioned by him was In this year Banarasi's grandfather Muldas joined the service of a Mughal noble in Malwa.
This noble was a jagirdar and a brave soldier of the Emperor Humayun. Such an approach to history is a feature of Banarasi's text. All the events he was destined to witness are described through the effect they had on our author's family, surroundings or business. Banarasi did have some interest in history and in his account of his native city of Jaunpur he briefly reviewed the pre-Mughal rulers of this place.
But political events are reflected by Banarasi through the understanding of a commoner. Thus the revolt of the crown prince Salim against his father Akbar is described by Banarasi as a misunderstanding or "much ado about nothing". The real motives of either Salim's "hunting expedition" in the vicinity of Jaunpur or Akbar's irritated reaction were unknown to Banarasi and his family members and neighbours who were simply scared by the impending danger of war.
In his preface and commentaries Dr Lath dealt at length with Banarasi's perception of historical events and mistakes in narrating them. The main background of the story is not the royal palaces or battlefields, but the city bazaars, crooked streets, caravansarais and trade routes. Banarasi provides us with information on the daily life of the towns folk, their business activities and social relations, the religious and cultural life of the trading communities and their relations with the Mughal authorities which is more valuable than any chronicle or travelogue on which many a work on medieval India is based.
Banarasi and his family belonged to the middle ranks of the mercantile community. They could boast of neither big capital nor huge profits. Compared with some of his contemporaries or near-contemporaries like Shantidas Jawahari or Virji Vorah, Banarasi, who went on his first trading expedition with capital worth rupees, was a poor man, superior in his financial and social position only to small vendors and petty shopkeepers.
In Mughal India, much like any medieval society, the majority of the population was 9 AK, p. See also Lath's preface and commentaries. A Miscellany Aligarh, , p. Among the important trade centres of northern India Banarasi made special reference to Agra, Delhi, Jaunpur, Allahabad, Patna and Khairabad along with some other minor towns of the Gangetic valley. Jaunpur, Banarasi's birthplace, was a well-known industrial and commercial centre. As far back as early in the fifteenth century it was described by the great Maithili poet Vidyapati Thakur as a beautiful and flourishing city.
According to him, the bazaar of Jaunpur was so full of goods and so crowded, it was " as if Ocean set aside his pride and came there". Banarasi gives no information about its population, but since there were fifty-two caravansarais, fifty-two bazaars and fifty-two mandis wholesale markets for agricultural products ,13 Jaunpur was evidently a populous centre of commerce and industry.
Banarasi listed thirty-six professional castes of craftsmen,14 but his contemporary like Abd ur-Rahim Khankhanan mentioned many more in his poem "Nagar Shobha". These sources enable us to reconstruct the system of labour division in the urban industries of medieval India. Commercial activities were carried on by a number of trading castes.
Banarasi's family belonged to the Srimali Jains; our author reproduced a family legend that his forefathers were princely Rajputs,16 but this story was perhaps a mere fiction. Many lower castes, especially traders and craftsmen, tried their best to elevate their status and invented legends to justify their claims.
According to Banarasi, who described some of his and his father's experiences, partners had equal shares in profits and losses; they kept separate accounts. If a partnership was to be dissolved, one had to obtain the consent of all its members and have all mutual obligations and accounts cleared appropriately.
A written statement had to be prepared and signed by all partners. The Ardhakathanaka describes a well-developed system of credit, promissory notes hundis and other forms of commercial and financial activities.
After his failure in Agra Banarasi received financial assistance from his wife and mother-in-law, bought some coarse cloth, had it washed and bleached and then sold it. When the market was restricted and most operations in the technological process were carried on by a craftsman and his family, the producer 12 13 Vidyapati Thakur, Kirtilata Jhansi, , pp.
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I, pp. Vanina, "Urban industries of medieval India: Calcutta, i , p. Sharma's paper. The Ardhakathanaka by Banarasi Das either sold his goods himself or, in many cases, worked to order. But with the development of a market economy a middleman was necessary to bring the separate participants in the technological chain together. At first the banyas just bought ready-made goods from craftsmen, but with the development of the market economy and labour division another form of entrepreneurship came into existence: This practice was widespread among both Indian and European businessmen in the late Middle Ages.
A respectable merchant had to be enterprising, trustworthy, honest and parsimonious; he had to keep commercial secrets and follow in his behaviour a middle course between wastefulness and meanness.
Despite the well-known importance of family and kinship in traditional Indian values, the laws and standards of business ethics were to be strictly observed irrespective of family bonds and caste solidarity. Many foreign travellers testified to the extremely high business abilities of medieval Indian merchants. These, with caste values and ideals were preserved in the family where a future merchant was brought up and trained by his father.
Banarasi's schooling was, as Professor Raychaudhuri put it, "utilitarian"22 and included, along with reading, writing and languages, maths, letter-writing, practical training in cost accounting, book-keeping, testing jewels and drafting commercial documents.
The system of education and commercial training was very effective in the families of medieval merchants, as Tavernier observed in his travelogue,24 but in Banarasi's case it was not so successful. Unlike his father Kharagsen, who, according to our author, possessed all the qualities of an ideal businessman, Banarasi sustained many losses and failed in his commercial activities.
These failures were a result of his ignorance in marketing for instance Banarasi brought a load of textiles to the over-supplied market of Agra , his lack of entrepreneurial skill, inactivity and carelessness. Apart from commercial losses, a trader was always endangered by highway robberies. One such episode is described in our text, and it was only Banarasi's quick thinking that saved him and his companions, as Banarasi recited a Sanskrit sloka, blessed the robbers and was thus mistaken for a Brahman and spared by the God-fearing highwaymen.
Indian medieval literature abounds in evidence of this kind; there were instances of outraged craftsmen and traders fleeing their cities or organising strikes against 20 I.
Chicherov, India. Outline History of Crafts and Trade Moscow, , pp. AK, pp. Banarasi described such a merchant by name, Rai Dhana who had been a diwan head of the Revenue Office under one of the rulers of Bengal. Rai Dhana was not only influential himself, but also employed a number of his caste group and entrusted them with important posts. Being a teenager and a commoner, Banarasi had no information about the fateful events of the period, wars, rebellions and the religious pursuits of the great reformer.
The only episode which found its way into Banarasi's narrative was the above-mentioned rebellion of Prince Salim.
Of much more interest is Banarasi's description of the events which followed the demise of Akbar. Our author wrote a graphic and very moving description of his and his fellow townspeople's sincere grief and shock as the news of Akbar's death reached them. All business activities in Jaunpur came to a standstill, people closed their doors, put on shabby clothes and did their best to hide their money and jewels.
Perhaps it was fear of a civil war, but at the same time, it appears from Banarasi's narrative, Akbar was sincerely mourned by the people for whom he had been anything but an ideal king. Indeed, was it not his loyal servant Chini Qilij who tortured the merchants of Jaunpur? Still, the townspeople mourned Akbar greatly, and Banarasi himself, when the sad news reached him, fell down in a faint and was seriously injured.
We may suggest that the sincere sorrow of the townspeople could be explained by the popularity of Akbar's policies. Akbar was a patron of trade and industry, he abolished many taxes and tolls from merchants and craftsmen, most importantly the humiliating jizya. AK, p p. Nizami, Akbar and Religion Delhi, , p p. Blochmann and H. Jarrett, Ain-i Akbari Delhi, , iii, p p.
The Ardhakathanaka by Banarasi Das During the reign of Akbar favourable conditions were created for the development of Hindu-Muslim cultural interaction which proved fruitful in all spheres of social life, the arts, literature, science, etc. Indian languages were enriched by borrowings from Persian, and the language of the Ardhakathanaka, eastern Hindi, was evidence of this process.
Many non-Muslims of that period learned Persian, the language of state transactions and many a literary masterpiece. This practice was already widespread before Akbar's reign, and Banarasi made special mention that his grandfather Muldas had learned both Hindi and Persian. Banarasi was a friend of a Mughal noble and helped him to study the Jain texts in Sanskrit.
Banarasi specially mentioned that to recite the Sufi love poems like Qutban's "Mrigavati" and Manjhan's "Madhumalati" in the company of friends was his favourite pastime. We see no direct reference to the principles of state administration or political turmoil, no documentary account of Akbar's religious and social policies, but the events of the author's life, his own attitudes, values and behaviour bore the clear stamp of the epoch with its socio-economic and cultural trends.
Banarasi and religion The Ardhakathanaka furnishes us with much information on the religious life and values of the Jain laity. Throughout Banarasi's narrative we see descriptions of religious ceremonies, pilgrimages, fasts, vows and so on.
Pilgrimages to Jain shrines like Mount Samet were an integral part of Banarasi's life. Very often a respectable man organised a pilgrimage party and sent invitations to his friends to join.
At the same time it emerges from the Ardhakathanaka that our author witnessed a very 35 36 AK, p. See also C. Thus Banarasi's parents visited a Sati shrine in order to pray for the birth of a son.
Banarasi's grandmother was also a devotee of the Sati Aut though Jainism never approved of the ritual of widow- immolation. Jainism itself accepted caste division despite the fact that the early Jain communities had been built on egalitarian principles. Whatever person is mentioned in Banarasi's narrative, his caste is in all cases stated by the author.
Jainism made a deep impact on Banarasi's mentality. Thus the death of a person is depicted as a liberation of his or her soul from its earthly bonds. A deceased man is compared by our author to a bird freed from a cage, a tired porter who has got rid of his heavy burden.
The text abounds in reflections on life and death, the good and evil sides of human nature. The author's religious outlook helped him to endure hard times, but still, despite all this, human nature inevitably manifested itself, and the devoted Jain mourned the death of his near and dear, forgetting for the moment all concepts of religion and philosophy.Deenan -Shabad -Telugu.
MA History. The poem is inspirational and evokes veer ras. Gajendra Sahu says: Motilal Banarsidass. This book also includes a scholarly preface which throws light on historical aspects of the text, Banarasi's religious background, etc.