Sight (The Traveler Book 2)

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Al-Biruni, who wrote in Arabic, probably intended his work for peoples living along the frontiers of the subcontinent. He was familiar with translations and adaptations of Sanskrit, Pali and Prakrit texts into Arabic — these ranged from fables to works on astronomy and medicine. However, he was also critical about the ways in which these texts were written, and clearly wanted to improve on them.

None of these expressions indicated the religious identity of the people. It was much later that the term developed religious connotations. Discuss… If Al-Biruni lived in the twenty-first century, which are the areas of the world where he could have been easily understood, if he still knew the same languages?

The bird leaves its nest This is an excerpt from the Rihla: My departure from Tangier, my birthplace, took place on Thursday … I set out alone, having neither fellowtraveller … nor caravan whose party I might join, but swayed by an overmastering impulse within me and a desire long-cherished in my bosom to visit these illustrious sanctuaries. So I braced my resolution to quit all my dear ones, female and male, and forsook my home as birds forsake their nests … My age at that time was twenty-two years. Ibn Battuta returned home in , about 30 years after he had set out.

True to the tradition of his family, Ibn Battuta received literary and scholastic education when he was quite young. Unlike most other members of his class, Ibn Battuta considered experience gained through travels to be a more important source of knowledge than books. He just loved travelling, and went to far-off places, exploring new worlds and peoples. Before he set off for India in , he had made pilgrimage trips to Mecca, and had already travelled extensively in Syria, Iraq, Persia, Yemen, Oman and a few trading ports on the coast of East Africa.

He had heard about Muhammad bin Tughlaq, the Sultan of Delhi, and lured by his reputation as a generous patron of arts and letters, set off for Delhi, passing through Multan and Uch. The Sultan was impressed by his scholarship, and appointed him the qazi or judge of Delhi. He remained in that position for several years, until he fell out of favour and was thrown into prison.

With the new assignment, Ibn Battuta proceeded to the Malabar coast through central India. From Malabar he went to the Maldives, where he stayed for eighteen months as the qazi, but eventually decided to proceed to Sri Lanka. He then went back once more to the Malabar coast and the Maldives, and before resuming his mission to China, visited Bengal and Assam as well. He took a ship to Sumatra, and from there another ship for the Chinese port town of. Zaytun now known as Quanzhou. He travelled extensively in China, going as far as Beijing, but did not stay for long, deciding to return home in His account is often compared with that of Marco Polo, who visited China and also India from his home base in Venice in the late thirteenth century.

Ibn Battuta meticulously recorded his observations about new cultures, peoples, beliefs, values, etc. We need to bear in mind that this globe-trotter was travelling in the fourteenth century, when it was much more arduous and hazardous to travel than it is today. The distance from Daulatabad to Delhi was covered in forty days, while that from Gwalior to Delhi took ten days.

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The lonely traveller Robbers were not the only hazard on long journeys: the traveller could feel homesick, or fall ill. Here is an excerpt from the Rihla: I was attacked by the fever, and I actually tied myself on the saddle with a turbancloth in case I should fall off by reason of my weakness … So at last we reached the town of Tunis, and the townsfolk came out to welcome the shaikh … and … the son of the qazi … On all sides they came forward with greetings and questions to one another, but not a soul said a word of greeting to me, since there was none of them I knew.

I felt so sad at heart on account of my loneliness that I could not restrain the tears that started to my eyes, and wept bitterly. But one of the pilgrims, realising the cause of my distress, came up to me with a greeting. Travelling was also more insecure: Ibn Battuta was attacked by bands of robbers several times.

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In fact he preferred travelling in a caravan along with companions, but this did not deter highway robbers. While travelling from Multan to Delhi, for instance, his caravan was attacked and many of his fellow travellers lost their lives; those travellers who survived, including Ibn Battuta, were severely wounded. When he returned, the local ruler issued instructions that his stories be recorded. Education and entertainment This is what Ibn Juzayy, who was deputed to write what Ibn Battuta dictated, said in his introduction: A gracious direction was transmitted by the ruler that he Ibn Battuta should dictate an account of the cities which he had seen in his travel, and of the interesting events which had clung to his memory, and that he should speak of those whom he had met of the rulers of countries, of their distinguished men of learning, and their pious saints.

Accordingly, he dictated upon these subjects a narrative which gave entertainment to the mind and delight to the ears and eyes, with a variety of curious particulars by the exposition of which he gave edification and of marvellous things, by referring to which he aroused interest. In the footsteps of Ibn Battuta In the centuries between and visitors to India wrote a number of travelogues in Persian. At the same time, Indian visitors to Central Asia, Iran and the Ottoman empire also sometimes wrote about their experiences. These writers followed in the footsteps of Al-Biruni and Ibn Battuta, and had sometimes read these earlier authors.

Among the best known of these writers were Abdur Razzaq Samarqandi, who visited south India in the s, Mahmud Wali Balkhi, who travelled very widely in the s, and Shaikh Ali Hazin, who came to north India in the s.

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Some of these authors were fascinated by India, and one of them — Mahmud Balkhi — even became a sort of sanyasi for a time. Others such as Hazin were disappointed and even disgusted with India, where they expected to receive a red carpet treatment. Most of them saw India as a land of wonders. Discuss… around a campfire Compare the objectives of Al-Biruni and Ibn Battuta in writing their accounts.

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A few of them, such as the Jesuit Roberto Nobili, even translated Indian texts into European languages. Among the best known of the Portuguese writers is Duarte Barbosa, who wrote a detailed account of trade and society in south India. Later, after , we find growing numbers of Dutch, English and French travellers coming to India.

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One of the most famous was the French jeweller Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, who travelled to India at least six times. He was particularly fascinated with the trading conditions in India, and compared India to Iran and the Ottoman empire. Some of these travellers, like the Italian doctor Manucci, never returned to Europe, and settled down in India. Like many others, he came to the Mughal Empire in search of opportunities.


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He was in India for twelve years, from to , and was closely associated with the Mughal court, as a physician to Prince Dara Shukoh, the eldest son of Emperor Shah Jahan, and later as an intellectual and scientist, with Danishmand Khan, an Armenian noble at the Mughal court. He dedicated his major writing to Louis XIV, the king of France, and many of his other works were written in the form of letters to influential officials and ministers.

In virtually every instance Bernier described what he saw in India as a bleak situation in comparison to developments in Europe. As we will see, this assessment was not always accurate. Travelling with the Mughal army Bernier often travelled with the army. I am also provided with every useful article, such as a tent of moderate size, a carpet, a portable bed made of four very strong but light canes, a pillow, a mattress, round leather table-cloths used at meals, some few napkins of dyed cloth, three small bags with culinary utensils which are all placed in a large bag, and this bag is again carried in a very capacious and strong double sack or net made of leather thongs.

This double sack likewise contains the provisions, linen and wearing apparel, both of master and servants. Nor have I forgotten a linen bag with its small iron hook for the purpose of suspending and draining dahi or curds; nothing being considered so refreshing in this country as lemonade and dahi. Between and his account was reprinted eight times in French, and by it had been reprinted three times in English.


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  • This was in marked contrast to the accounts in Arabic and Persian, which circulated as manuscripts and were generally not published before The creation and circulation of ideas about India The writings of European travellers helped produce an image of India for Europeans through the printing and circulation of their books. Later, after , when Indians like Shaikh Itisamuddin and Mirza Abu Talib visited Europe and confronted this image that Europeans had of their society, they tried to influence it by producing their own version of matters.

    Discuss… There is a very rich travel literature in Indian languages. Find out about travel writers in the language you use at home.

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    Al-Biruni described Sanskrit as follows: If you want to conquer this difficulty i. God knows best! Travellers did not always believe what they were told. When faced with the story of a wooden idol that supposedly lasted for , years, Al-Biruni asks: How, then, could wood have lasted such a length of time, and particularly in a place where the air and the soil are rather wet? Each traveller adopted distinct strategies to understand what they observed. Al-Biruni, for instance, was aware of the problems inherent in the task he had set himself.

    The first amongst these was language. According to him, Sanskrit was so different from Arabic and Persian that ideas and concepts could not be easily translated from one language into another. The second barrier he identified was the difference in religious beliefs and practices. The self-absorption and consequent insularity of the local population according to him, constituted the third barrier.

    What is interesting is that even though he was aware of these problems, Al-Biruni depended almost exclusively on the works of Brahmanas, often citing passages from the Vedas, the Puranas, the Bhagavad Gita, the works of Patanjali, the Manusmriti, etc. He noted that in ancient Persia, four social categories were recognised: those of knights and princes; monks, fire-priests and lawyers; physicians, astronomers and other scientists; and finally, peasants and artisans. In other words, he attempted to suggest that social divisions were not unique to India. At the same time he pointed out that within Islam all men were considered equal, differing only in their observance of piety.

    In spite of his acceptance of the Brahmanical description of the caste system, Al-Biruni disapproved of the notion of pollution. He remarked that everything which falls into a state of impurity strives and succeeds in regaining its original condition of purity. The sun cleanses the air, and the salt in the sea prevents the water from becoming polluted.

    If it. The conception of social pollution, intrinsic to the caste system, was according to him, contrary to the laws of nature.


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    • And as the Brahman is only another name for the force called nature, and the head is the highest part of the … body, the Brahmana are the choice part of the whole genus. Therefore the Hindus consider them as the very best of mankind. The next caste are the Kshatriya, who were created, as they say, from the shoulders and hands of Brahman.

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