Genealogical Records of Medieval India

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By S. A. I. Tirmizi, In World Conference on Records: Preserving Our Heritage, August 12-15, 1980.

Born in India. Resides in New Delhi, India. Director, National Archives of India and visiting professor of history, University of Delhi. M.A. (Persian and Urdu), Univeristy of Bombay, India. M.A. (history), Aligarth Muslim University. Author, lecturer.

The aim of the present study is restricted: it is to draw the attention of scholars to some genealogical records of medieval India which have not received the attention they deserve. The reasons for this phenomenon are not hard to find. The study of genealogy has been considered a sign of an obsolete, effete, and worn-out nation. Moreover, many jest at what is called pedigree-hunting. There have, however, been not a few who have been more or less interested in knowing something of their own genealogy, however humble it might be. This is proved by the number of those who have taken some pains to trace their pedigree and place it on permanent record.

It is pertinent to point out in this connection that all races of men seem to posses an instinctive feeling that a line of honorable ancestry is a subject of legitimate pride. It is true that this feeling has been exaggerated into what may be termed ancestor-worship, and with those people with whom it does not attain such a form, the family trees of their kings are usually deduced from a god or at least a demigod. It was so with the Greeks and the Romans. It is so with the Indians, who claim divine origin particularly for their kings, whose pedigrees they trace back to the Sun, the Moon, and the Fire.

The idea of preserving genealogies seems to have appealed to Indians since remote times. In ancient India, historical records were called vamsas or dynasties. Their title indicates their origin as genealogies.<ref>R.C. Majumdar in Historians of India, Pakistan and Ceylon, ed. C. H. Phillips (London, 1962), p. 56</ref> According to the Vayu Purana, it was the special duty of the sutas to preserve the genealogies of gods, rishis, or sages and most glorious kings.<ref>Ibid., p. 15.</ref>From the time of the Imperial Guptas, the royal archives kept the genealogical lists. This is evident from the epigraphical records that give stereotyped lists of kings of some dynasties for generations together, and in some cases with regnal years, exactly as in the Puranas.<ref>Ibid., p. 16.</ref>

As in ancient India, so in medieval times, honorable ancestry was highly esteemed. This is showm by the attention given to genealogy in medieval Indian chronicles which usually include shajarat, or family trees, and nasabnamas, or genealogical fables of kings.

At the very beginning of the Turkish rule in north India, Fakhri Mudabbir wrote Shajara-i-Ansab-i-Mubarak Shahi comprising mainly the genealogical tables. The one hundred and thirty-seven genealogies relate to Adam and Eve and their descendants, the prophets mentioned in the Qur'an, the Ghassanids, pre-Islamic and Islamic poets, the pre-Islamic Persian kings, the Umayyads, the Abbasids and their nobles, and so on down to the Ghaznavids and the Ghorids. The author was probably a native of Multan and went to Lahore after the Ghorid occupation in 1186 A.D.<ref>Peter Hardy in Historians of India, pp. 116-17.</ref>

An anonymous writer composed in about 968 A.H./1561 A.D. a sort of diary or notebook containing, among other things, genealogies. It is entitled Tafsili Salatin i Delhi. It comprises a series of short notes on the emperors of Delhi from 602 to 1206 A.H./960 to 1561 A.D.<ref>H. Ethe Catalogue of Persian Manuscripts in the Library of the India Office I (Oxford, 1903), no. 412.</ref> Half a century later, in 1016 A.H./ 1607 A.D., Fursi compiled Nasabnama i Shahryari which is a poem on the history of the Qutb Shahi dynasty extending to the beginning of Muhammad Quli's reign (989-1020 A.H./1581-1611 A.D.).

Unlike the Nasabnama i Shahryari, the Nasabul ansab is in prose.

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