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India in the Persianate Age: 1000-1765 Paperback – 15 September 2020
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By rethinking this history as India's 'Persianate age', Eaton breaks free from religious sectarianism that projects today's tensions into the past ... His book is a fine tribute to India. -- Tanjil Rashid ― The Times
Genius ... India in the Persianate Age is Eaton's mature masterpiece. It will, undoubtedly, become the authoritative account of this most politically controversial period of South Asia's long history. -- Katherine Schofield ― History Today
A richly researched, badly needed and wholly convincing account ... World history proves its worth. -- John Keay ― Literary Review
Richard Eaton employs rich empirical detail to demonstrate that intellectual encounters between the Sanksrit and Persian worlds were not tied to any one religion and that the two were not hostile ... and does so with great panache. -- Rudrangshu Mukherjee ― Business Standard
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- Publisher : Penguin (15 September 2020); Penguin Random House
- Language : English
- Paperback : 512 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0141985399
- ISBN-13 : 978-0141985398
- Item Weight : 375 g
- Dimensions : 12.9 x 2.2 x 19.8 cm
- Country of Origin : India
- Importer : Penguin Random House
- Packer : Penguin Random House
- Generic Name : Book
- Best Sellers Rank: #2,525 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Richard Eaton's book puts forward the perspective that what we call Indian today is a blend of several cultures and sub-cultures. Of these, the two major ones are the Sanskritic and the Persianate cultures, both embodiments of distinct values. Between 1000 and 1800, the soft, reflective, romanticist hues of Persianate culture seep into the staccato, perfectionist and distinct hues of Sanskritic culture. Eaton's book is the story of the political and social circumstances in the backdrop of which this blending of human minds took place.
With a fine historical pen, the author respects the reader's intellect and presents a subtle, complex, and very readable narrative of these times, showing clearly that the cliches of Islamic invaders oppressing the local populace, of strife between Hindus and Muslims, of 'good' kings and princes like Akbar and Dara Shikoh and 'bad' kings like Aurangzeb are over-simplifications of what was a vibrant and versatile time. Rather, the author suggests, the very category of religion that we take for granted had very different meanings at the time, and did not define a person's identity in the primary and power-driven ways that it does today. The most powerful illustration of this is the interaction between the Mughal power in Delhi and Agra and the Rajput kingdoms, an interaction that included both inter-marriage and working together, and also, less frequently, strife and power struggles. The only criticism one could have of the book is that it would have been even more enriching to read had it focused more on culture and less on politics.
The Persianate age has left an indelible mark on the consciousness of India, up to the present day. Its vocabulary, poetry, notions of love and of the divine have seeped into the literature, dance and cinema of the subcontinent. To understand this age and its origins is thus, to understand deeply who we are today, as Indians. It is a glimpse into the deep roots of our own collective consciousness, which the powers that be would like to shun away.
What we know is Mahmud of Ghazni raided The Temple at Somnath many times. What is clarified is that particular "Royal" Temples represented the "legitimacy" of The Ruling Dynasty and that Wars between Hindu Rulers also resulted in the transfer ("plunder") of everything precious to the Temples of the Conqueror, most notably, Rajendra Chola's successful campaign up the East Coast to The Ganga in Bengal.
Or the successful co-option of the Rajput Royals, who ruled their lands as they thought fit, but would provide Consorts, Generals and Troops to the Mughal Court. Indeed, Jahangir's Mother was a Rajput Princess, who stayed Hindu through her life, making Jahangir 50% Rajput.
The first Mosque at Verawal was sanctioned by The Temple Committee, on it's own lands, paid for by a Persian Trader, to provide a place of worship for the sizeable community of Muslim Traders -- attested by Sanskrit and Farsi commemorations.
The same intense interaction attracted both Hindu and Muslim talent to the Deccan Sultans and the Vijaynagar Empire.
India in Persianate Age covers the history of Indian subcontinent from 1000 CE till 1765 with focus on the Persianate rulers. Close to 500 pages long, it has pretty exhaustive coverage for a layman reader.
The book mainly deals with the influence of Persian culture on the existing culture of the subcontinent and its two-way cultural exchange. Along the narrative, it covers some interesting facts such as the evolution of Rajput clan (and how a Turkic warrior probably had a major role in defining the Rajput culture), the emergence and fall of Vijayanagara kingdom, the jump of east Bengal and west Punjab directly from a pre-Hindu culture to an Islamic one and so on. The good aspects of the book is well captured by other reviewers. In this review, I am focussing on few of the issues that I found with the book.
The prevailing socio-political scene of the era with multiple groups such as Turkic, Iranian, Aghans, Rajputs, Marathas etc. collaborating, colluding and conspiring against each other is well captured with some degree of objectivity but still one gets the feeling that the 21st century socio-political situation of the subcontinent is lingering behind the pages of the book. The rewriting of the history by right-wingers has somewhat pushed the book in other direction to downplay the role of religion in the Persianate era.
The book starts with two contemporary invasions of North India; one by the Chola King Rajendra 1 in 1022 CE and the other by Mahmud Ghazni 1025 CE and making a comparison of the two. While the comparison make sense to show that religion may not a major factor in invasions and plunders in pre-modern times but that doesn't necessarily mean that religion is not at all a factor. The two invasions are not fully equivalent as one invader "destroyed" idols and temples to strengthen his image as an iconoclast whereas the other invader "took away" the idols to his kingdom to show his superiority in protecting the gods.
Another example in the book is that of execution of Guru Arjan by Jahangir as the guru showed loyalty towards the rebel son Khusrau. The book rightly pointed the political motive being the primary reason behind it but it refrain from evaluating the subtlety if religion too acted as a catalyst resulting in a harsher punishment. Had it been a sufi saint insted of Guru Arjan, would the emperor had given such a harsh punishment? The book itself later on cannot avoid mentioning the religious friction between later mughals and sikhs.
The subcontinent has always been a melting pot with invaders/migrants pouring into it for thousands of years. Before the Persianate age, they would assimilate into the culture. May be not exactly dissolving but mostly forming a colloid by adjusting to the Jati system. By the time of Persianate age, it was slightly different as the Islamic tribes with a strong sense of pastoralist bloodline and a centralized well established religion. Though they adopted and adapted their new home as time passed by, still they maintained their distinct ethnicity to a large extent. The book, by downplaying the religion, has missed an opportunity to appraise this new socio-political dynamics of the subcontinent during that era.
Another issue I have with the book is that I found it to be somewhat too patronizing of Aurangzeb (again maybe pushed by his extreme portrayal by right-wingers). The chapter about Aurangzeb starts with an anecdotal story about his bravery which sounds too fantastical and is a typical panegyric that influential rulers get written for themselves. The chapter always try to establish Aurangzeb's superiority to this rival brothers. The book talks about 4 failed attempts by Shah Jahan (lead by his sons) to expand empire's western front. The failures one each by Murad and Dara Sukoh are attributed to their lack of courage and skills while the two failure by Aurangzeb are blamed on bad weather and his incompetent artillery men. The chapter consistently associates Dara Sukoh with adjectives such as "jealousy", "arrogance", "immature behaviour" etc. whereas Aurangzeb is associated with adjectives like "courageous", "prudent", "ablest" etc. Even the intellectual endeavours of Dara Sukoh are mostly mentioned in the context of the fight for the throne.
A must read for all.
Top reviews from other countries
Discussions of dress, court ritual, fortification building, trade, tax, and the whole interplay of socio-cultural history are discussed. It is here that the book's one technical weakness shows through: it spends a remarkable amount of time discussing and describing architecture, but features very few pictures, all of which are clumped together in the middle.
The suffusion of Persianate culture into North India is well-argued and well researched, with the history of Kashmir in particular providing a fascinating insight into this. The only major flaw in this element is the author's attempt to suggest the sultunate model's relative separation of church and state to be somehow unique, as if the Christian churches across the world were not religious bodies separate to the state. This is not, in itself important, but it is an early indicator (along with some mild pejoratives about colonial rule scattered about the book) of Eaton's revisionist prejudices.
This becomes most apparent when the author moves into the Mughal period, with particular the reign of Aurangzeb. Early on, the author sets out to downplay the religious aspect to conflict in India across this period: and, indeed, for most of the period, he successfully does this by demonstrating the clear religious pluralism and tolerance of the various rulers. Unfortunately, rather than discuss the realities of Aurangzeb's reign (whom he persists in calling Alamgir), Eaton chooses to engage in apologetics, eliding both the religious bigotry which was at the heart of Aurangzeb's reign and the increasingly religiosity of the conflict between Mughal and Maratha.
Ultimately though, the book is a solid read, though anyone who's interests lie primarily in the Mughal period, I would recommend Abraham Eraly's The Mughal Throne for a political history of that storied dynasty, and for a somewhat different criticism of this world, I direct readers to also Sumeet P's insightful review of this tome.
This book helps enormously. Although detailed and impressively researched, it is a credit to the author that it is always readable, clear and enjoyable. Anyone with any interest in Indian history should not miss this contribution. I particularly enjoyed the assessment of Aurangzeb (Alamgir) and his reign, though the whole period of Mughal rule was covered with great eloquence and erudition. Indeed, this book is a steady, safe guide to understanding what shaped and influenced India during the whole of this lengthy period ( 1000-1765).
My only regret is that I did not buy the hardback copy. This book is a 'keeper', one to revisit for enjoyment and information. If you are interested in Indian history, if you love India, don't hesitate. Buy!