The History of India, as Told by Its Own Historians/III. Al Mas'údí

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The History of India, as Told by Its Own Historians

Sir H. M. Elliot, Edited by John Dowson, 1867, Volume I

Early Arab Geographers On History Of India


Introduction to Al Mas'údí

[p.18]: ABÚ-l Hasan 'Abí, son of Husain, was a native of Baghdád, and received the surname of Al Mas'údí after an ancestor named Mas'úd, whose eldest son accompanied the prophet in his flight from Mecca to Medina.1 The greater part of Mas'údí's life was spent in travelling, and his wanderings extended over nearly all the countries subject to Muhammadan sway, and others besides. He says of himself that he travelled so far to the west (Morocco and Spain) that he forgot the east, and so far to the east (China) that he forgot the west. He was an acute observer, and deservedly continues to be one of the most admired writers in the Arabic language. The fruits of his travels and observations were embodied in his work called "Murúju-l Zahab" (Meadows of Gold), of which Ibn Khaldún, as quoted by Sprenger, says, "Al Mas'údí in his book describes the state of the nations and countries of the east and west, as they were in his age-that is to say, in 330 (332) A.H.

He gives an account of the genius and usages of the nations; a description of the countries, mountains, seas, kingdoms and dynasties; and he distinguishes the Arabian race from the barbarians. Al Mas'údí became, through this work, the prototype of all historians: to whom they refer, and on whose authority they rely in the critical estimate of many facts

[p.19]: which form the subject of their labours."1 The date of his birth is not known, but he died in Egypt in 345 A.H. (956 A.D.)

Meadows of Gold

The first part of the "Meadows of Gold" was translated into English by Dr. Sprenger (London, 1841), and the complete text, with a translation into French, has since been published by MM. Barbier de Meynard and Pavet de Courteille (Paris, 1851). Both these works have been used in the preparation of the following extracts:-


CHAPTER VII.-Mas'údí begins this chapter by stating it to be the general opinion that India was the portion of the earth in which order and wisdom prevailed in distant ages. The Indians gave themselves a king, Brahma the Great, who reigned 366 years, and in whose times the book Sindhind [Siddhánta] and Arjabahad [Áryabhatta] were composed. His descendants have retained to our days the name of Brahmans.

They are honoured by Indians as forming the most noble and illustrious caste. They do not eat the flesh of any animal, and both men and women wear yellow threads suspended round their necks, like a baldrick, to distinguish them from the other castes of India.

He was succeeded by his eldest son Bahbúd, who reigned 100 years.

After him came Zámán [Ráma?], who reigned nearly 50 years.

He was succeeded by Por (Porus), who gave battle to Alexander, and was killed by that prince in single combat, after reigning 140 years.

After him came Dabshalim, the author of "Kalila wa Dimna," who reigned 110 years.

Balhit, the next king, reigned 80 years, but according to other manuscripts, 130 years.

He was succeeded by Koresh Harsha?), who abandoned the doctrines of the past, and introduced into India new religious ideas more suited to the requirements of the time, and more in consonance with the tendencies of his co-temporaries * * * He died after a reign of 120 years. At his death discord arose among the Indians, and they broke up into divers nations and tribes, each country having a chief of its own.

Thus were formed the kingdoms of Sind, Kanauj, and Kashmír. The city of Mánkír, which was the great centre of India, submitted

[p.20]: to a king called the Balhará, and the name of this prince continues to his successors who reign in that capital until the present time (332 A.H.)

Extent of India

Extent of India: India is a vast country, extending over sea, and land, and mountains; it borders on the country of Zábaj [Java], which is the kingdom of the Maharáj, the king of the islands, whose dominions separate India and China, but are considered as part of India. India extends on the side of the mountains to Khurásán and Sind, as far as Tibet. There prevails a great difference of language and religion in these kingdoms, and they are frequently at war with each other. The most of them believe in the metempsychosis, or the transmigration of the soul. The Hindús are distinct from all other black people, as the Zanjis, the Damádams, and others, in point of intellect, government, philosophy, strength of constitution, and purity of colour.

* * * * *

No king can succeed to the throne in India before he is forty years of age; nor does their sovereign ever appear before the public, except at certain distant intervals, and then only for the inspection of state affairs. In their opinion, the kings lose their dignity and bring contempt on their privileges if the public gazes at them frequently. Government is only maintained by good feeling and by respect for the various dignities of the state.1

* * * * *

Royalty is limited to the descendants of one family, and never goes to another. The same is the case with the families of the wazírs, kázís, and other high officers. They are all (hereditary and) never changed or altered. The Hindús abstain from drinking wine, and censure those who consume it; not because their religion forbids it, but in the dread of its clouding their reason and depriving them of its powers. If it can be proved of one of their kings, that he has drunk (wine), he forfeits the crown; for he is (not considered to be) able to rule and govern (the empire) if his mind is affected.

* * * * * *

The kingdom of Balhará

[p.21]: The kingdom of Balhará: The greatest of the kings of India in our time is the Balhará, sovereign of the city of Mánkír. Many of the kings of India turn their faces towards him in their prayers, and they make supplications to his ambassadors, who come to visit them. The kingdom of Balhará is bordered by many other countries of India. Some kings have their territory in the mountains away from the sea, like the Ráí, King of Kashmír, the King of Táfan, and others. There are other kings who possess both land and sea. The capital of the Balhará is eighty Sindí parasangs from the sea, and the parasang is equal to eight miles. His troops and elephants are innumerable, but his troops are mostly infantry, because the seat of his government is among the mountains.

King Bauüra

King Bauüra: One of the neighbouring kings of India, who is far from the sea, is the Bauüra, who is lord of the city of Kanauj. This is the title given to all the sovereigns of that kingdom. He has large armies in garrisons on the north and on the south, on the east and on the west, for he is surrounded on all sides by warlike kings.

The river Mihrán

CHAPTER IX.-Al-Jáhiz supposes that the river Mihrán in Sind comes from the Nile, alleging as a proof that crocodiles live in it. I cannot understand how he advanced this as a proof, He states it in his book, "Kitábu-l' Amsár wa 'ajaibu-l buldán" ("On great cities and the wonders of the countries.") It is an excellent work, but as the author has never made a voyage and but few journeys and travels through kingdoms and cities, he did not know that the Mihrán of Sind comes from well-known sources in the highlands of Sind, from the country belonging to Kanauj in the kingdom of Bauüra, and from Kashmír, Kandahár, and Táfan; and at length, running into Múltán, it receives the name of the Mihrán of gold, just as Múltán means boundary of gold. The king of Múltán is a Kuraishite, and of the children of Usámah bin Lawí bin Ghálib. The caravans for Khurásán assemble here. The lord who rules over the kingdom of Mansúra is a Kuraishite, who is descended from Habbár bin al-Aswad. The crown of Múltán has been hereditary in the family which rules at present, since ancient times, from the beginning of Islám.

The river Mihrán takes its course through the country of Mansúra, and falls near Debal into the Indian ocean. In the bays of this sea there are many crocodiles, as in the bay of Sindábúr in the kingdom

[p.22]: of Bághara,1 in India; the bay of Zábaj, in the dominions of the Maharáj, and the gulfs of the aghyáb [aghbáb], which extend towards the island of Sarandíb [Ceylon]. Crocodiles live more particularly in sweet water, and, as we have said, in the estuaries of India, the water of which is for the most part sweet, because the streams which form them are derived from the rains.

CHAPTER XVI.-The king of India is the Balhará; the king of Kanauj, who is one of the kings of Sind, is Bauüra2; this is a title common to all kings of Kanauj.

There is also a city called Bauüra, after its princes, which is now in the territories of Islám, and is one of the dependencies of Múltán. Through this town passes one of the (five) rivers, which form together the river Mihrán in Sind, which is considered by al-Jáhiz as derived from the Nile, and by others from the Jaihún of Khurásán. This Bauüra, who is the king of Kanauj, is an enemy of the Balhará, the king of India.

The king of Kandahár, who is one of the kings of Sind and its mountains, is called Hahaj; this name is common to all sovereigns of that country. From his dominions comes the river Raíd, one of the five rivers which form the Mihrán of Sind. Kandahár is called the country of the Rahbút [Rájput?]. Another river of the five is called Bahátil, it comes also from the mountains of Sind, and runs through


the country of the Rahbút, which is the country of Kandahár: the fourth river comes from the country of Kábul, and its mountains on the frontier of Sind towards Bust, Ghaznin, Zara'ún, ar-Rukhaj, and the country of Dáwar, which is the frontier of Sijistán. The last of the five rivers comes from the country of Kashmir. The king of Kashmír has the name of Ráí, which is a general title for all the kings. Kashmír forms part of Sind.

* * * * *

The kingdom of the Bauüra, king of Kanauj, extends about one hundred and twenty square parasangs of Sind, each parasang being equal to eight miles of this country. This king has four armies, according to the four quarters of the wind. Each of them numbers 700,000 or 900,000 men. The army of the north wars against the prince of Múltán, and with the Musulmans, his subjects, on the frontier. The army of the south fights against the Balhará, king of Mánkir. The other two armies march to meet enemies in every direction.

* * * * *

Múltán is one of the strongest frontier places of the Musalmans, and around it there are one hundred and twenty thousand towns and villages. In it is the idol also known by the name of Múltán. The inhabitants of Sind and India perform pilgrimages to it from the most distant places: they carry money, precious stones, aloe-wood, and all sorts of perfumes there to fulfill their vows. The greatest part of the revenue of the king of Múltán is derived from the rich presents brought to the idol of the pure aloe-wood of Kumár, which is of the finest quality, and one man of which is worth 200 dinárs * * * * When the unbelievers march against Múltán, and the faithful do not feel themselves strong enough to oppose them, they threaten to break their idol, and their enemies immediately withdraw.

When all the rivers which we have enumerated have passed the "boundary of the house of gold," which is the meaning of the name of Múltán, they unite at about three days' journey below this city and above Mansúra, at a place called Dúsháb,1 into one stream, which proceeds to the town of Al Rúr (Alor), which lies on its western

1. Duab ? refereing to either to the country between Ghara and Chenab or to that between Panchnad and Indus.

[p.24]: bank and belongs to Mansúra, where it receives the name of Mihrán. There it divides into two branches, both of which fall at the town of Shákira,1 which belongs also to one of the districts of Mansúra, into the Indian sea, under the name of Mihrán of Sind, about two days' journey from the town of Debal.

Múltán is seventy-five Sindian parasangs from Mansúra. Each parasang is eight miles, as stated above. The estates and villages dependent on Mansúra amount to three hundred thousand. The whole country is well cultivated, and covered with trees and fields. It is constantly at war with a nation called the Meds, who are a race of Sind, and also with other races on the frontiers of Sind. Like Múltán it is on the frontier of Sind, and so are the towns and villages belonging to it. Mansúra has its name from Mansúr bin Jamhúr, governor of the 'Ummayides. The king of Mansúra has eighty war elephants, every one of which is supported by five hundred infantry in battle, as we have already remarked; and these elephants oppose thousands of horses.

* * * * *

Kings of Sind and India

Let us now resume our short account of the kings of Sind and India. The language of Sind is different from that of India. Sind is the country which is nearer the dominions of the Moslims, India is farther from them.

Balhará: The inhabitants of Mánkír, which is the capital of the Balhará, speak the Kíríya language, which has this name from Kira, the place where it is spoken. On the coast, as in Saimúr, Súbára, Tána, and other towns, a language called Láriya2 is spoken which has its name from the sea which washes these countries; and this is the Lárawí sea, which has been described above. On this coast there are great rivers, which run from the south, whilst all other rivers of the world flow from north to south, excepting the Nile of Egypt, and the Mihrán of Sind, and a few others. * * * Of all the kings of Sind and India, there is no one who pays greater respect to the Musulmans than the Balhará. In his kingdom Islám is honoured and protected * * * The money consists of dirhams, called Táhiriya,3 each weighing a dirham and a half. They

[p.25] are impressed with the date of the reign. The Balhará possesses many war elephants. This country is also called Kamkar. On one side it is exposed to the attacks of the king of Juzr (Guzerat); a king who is rich in horses and camels, and has a large army.

  • * * * *

Táfan: Next comes the country of Táfan. The king is on friendly terms with the neighbouring sovereigns and with the Moslims; his military forces are less considerable than those of the kings whom we have named.

* * * * *

Rahma: Beyond this kingdom is that of Rahma, which is the title for their kings, and generally at the same time their name. His dominions border on those of the king of Juzr (Guzerat), and, on one side, on those of the Balhará, with both of whom he is frequently at war. The Rahma has more troops, elephants, and horses, than the Balhará, the king of Juzr and of Táfan. When he takes the field, he has no less than fifty thousand elephants. He never goes to war but in winter, because elephants cannot bear thirst. His forces are generally exaggerated; some assert that the number of fullers and washers in his camp is from ten to fifteen thousand * * * * * The kingdom of Rahma extends both along the sea and the continent. It is bounded by an inland state called the kingdom of Káman.

Káman: The inhabitants are fair, and have their ears pierced. They have elephants, camels, and horses. Both sexes are generally handsome. Afterwards comes the kingdom of Firanj,1 which has power both on land and sea, It is situated on a tongue of land which stretches into the sea, from whence large quantities of amber are obtained. The country produces only little pepper, but large numbers of elephants are found here. The king is brave, haughty, and proud, but to tell the truth he has more haughtiness than power, and more pride than courage.

1. Sulaiman writes it as Kiranj