Eunuch slaves were an integral part of the haram establishment in Mughal India. This specialised group of slaves primarily functioned as guards and superintendents of the women’s apartments but with the passage of time were also appointed in important administrative and military posts. Aurangzeb’s eunuch slave Bakhtawar Khan opted for a unique pursuit while operating parallelly in both domestic and administrative capacities. He chose to become a historian. His passion for the study of history, which he nurtured from an early age, received further encouragement when his master, Aurangzeb, came out victorious of the war of succession, ascended the Mughal throne and promoted his trusted eunuch slave from a regular attendant to the post of the dāroghā of the khawāses. The paper explores the career and contributions of Bakhtawar Khan with a focus on his literary and intellectual ventures.
Cite this article:
Shreejita Basak. Aurangzeb’s Eunuch Slave Bakhtawar Khan and His Passion for History. Research Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences. 2023;14(2):77-1. doi: 10.52711/2321-5828.2023.00016
Shreejita Basak. Aurangzeb’s Eunuch Slave Bakhtawar Khan and His Passion for History. Research Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences. 2023;14(2):77-1. doi: 10.52711/2321-5828.2023.00016 Available on: https://www.rjhssonline.com/AbstractView.aspx?PID=2023-14-2-4
1. For example, while the Delhi Sultans established their sway over the larger part of northern India with the help of the military slaves pooled in from Central Asia, the Bahmani Sultans of the Deccan followed a similar strategy by importing large numbers of slaves from Ethiopia or the Habash. These Habashi slaves continued to form a substantial section of the army of the five successor states (Ahmadnagar, Golconda, Bijapur, Bidar and Berar) which came into existence after the disintegration of the Bahmanis.
2. Richard M. Eaton. ‘Introduction’. In Slavery and South Asian History, Edited by Indrani Chatterjee and Richard M. Eaton. Indiana University Press, Indiana. 2006; p. 1.
3. Ibid., p. 5.
4. Ibid., p. 6.
5. Margaret Miller. Athens and Persia in the Fifth Century BC: A Study in Cultural Receptivity. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. 1997; p. 213.
6. Serena Nanda. Neither Man nor Woman: The Hijras of India, Wadsworth Publishing Company, Toronto. 1999; p. 23.
7. Edward Terry. A Voyage to East India: Wherein Some Things are taken Notice of, in our Passage Thither But many more in our Abode there, Within the Rich and the most Spacious Empire of the Great Mogul. London. 1777; p. 89.
8. Ibid., p. 284.
9. Peter Mundy. The Travels of Peter Mundy in Europe and Asia 1608-1667. 5 Vols. Edited by Richard Carnac Temple. The Hakluyt Society, London. 1914; vol. II: p. 164.
10. Bakhtawar Khan. Mirat-ul Alam. Edited and translated by Sajida S. Alvi. Research Society of Pakistan, Lahore. 1979; p. 16.
11. During the war of succession among Shahjahan’s sons, all four of them were accompanied by eunuch slaves who played critical roles in the causes of their respective masters. Shahbaz Khan thus served Murad Bakhsh, Khawaja Basant was beside Dara Shukoh, Bakhtawar Khan served Aurangzeb, while Khwaja Ishrat Shah Shujai defended Shah Shuja’s interests.
12. Bakhtawar Khan. Mirat-ul Alam. p. 17.
13. Saqi Must‘ad Khan. Maasir-i Alamgiri. Edited and translated by Jadunath Sarkar. The Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, Calcutta. 1947; p. 61.
14. Ibid., p. 85. According to Kewal Ram, he received a mansab of 1,000 in the tenth regnal year. Lala Kewal Ram Agarwal. Tazkirat-ul Umara. Translated by S.M. Azizuddin Hussain. Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers, New Delhi. 1985; p. 36.
15. There is a dispute over the authorship of the text. H. M. Elliot is of the opinion that it was not Bakhtawar Khan but Muhammad Baqa who composed the Mirat. ‘It will be seen, therefore, that the real author of these various works is Muhammad Baqa, though he is the person to whom they are least ascribed, in consequence not only of his attributing his own labours to others, but from the prominence which his editors have endeavoured to give to their own names.’ However, Sajida S. Alvi, the editor of the Mirat is of the opinion that the work was indeed Bakhtawar’s own who was assisted by Muhammad Baqa and Must‘ad Khan with the compilation. Henry Miers Elliot. The History of India as Told by its Own Historians. Translated by Henry Miers Elliot. Edited by John Dowson. 8 Vols. Trubner & Company, London. 1877; vol. VII, pp. 150-153.; Bakhtawar Khan. Mirat-ul Alam. p. 16.
16. The Mirat is described as ‘a most valuable Universal History; written, in Persian, by Bukhtaver Khan, who by travels and assiduous study had qualified himself for the task of a Historian.’ Bernard Dorn. History of the Afghans: Translated from the Persian of Neamet Ullah. 2 Vols. The Oriental Translation Committee, London. 1829; vol. I: p. xiv.
17. Charles Rieu. Catalogue of the Persian Manuscripts in the British Museum. 3 Vols. London. 1879; vol. I: p. 126.
18. Kewal Ram. Tazkiratul Umara. p. 36.
19. Alexander Dow. The History of Hindostan: From the Death of Akbar to the Complete Settlement of the Empire under Aurungzebe. 3 Vols. John Murray, London. 1792; vol. III.
20. Bakhtawar Khan. Mirat-ul Alam. pp. 19-20.
21. Ibid., p. 13.
22. Bakhtawar Khan chose the universal history genre beginning his work with a description of the creation of the universe and ending it with highlighting Aurangzeb’s period. ‘It indicates the author’s belief in the closely continuation of historical process, the climax of which was Awrangzeb’s period—perhaps for him the most important link in that chain.’ Ibid., p. 24.
23. Ibid., p. 31.
24. Ibid., p. 56.
25. Must‘ad Khan. Maasir-i Alamgiri. pp. 141-42.
26. Bakhtawar Khan. Mirat-ul Alam. p. 17.
27. Must‘ad Khan. Maasir-i Alamgiri. p. 61.
28. Ibid., p. 90.
29. Ibid., p. 155.
30. Ibid.,‘On Thursday, the 26th February, 1685/ 2nd Rabi. S., Darbar Khan Superintendent (nāzir) of the harem (mahal) died. He was an old, high-minded, and benevolent officer, devoted to His Majesty, who simultaneously ordered his bier to be brought and himself acted as the Imām at the funeral prayer. The corpse was sent to Delhi…’
31. Charles Rieu. Catalogue of the Persian Manuscripts. vol. I: p. 126.
32. Must ‘ad Khan. Maasir-i Alamgiri. p. 155.
33. M. Athar Ali, Mughal Nobility under Aurangzeb. Asia Publishing House for the Aligarh Muslim University, Bombay. 1966; p. 166.
34. Elliot. The History of India as Told by its Own Historians. vol. VII: p. 150.
35. Athar Ali. Mughal Nobility under Aurangzeb. pp. 165-66.