Dabistan-i-Mazahib - A 17th Century Chronicle in Persian

Dr. Jasbir Singh Sarna*

* History scholar. Address: Near Super Bazar, Baramulla-193101 (Kashmir)

The FARSI magnum opus of seventeenth century, Dabistan-i-Mazahib has been ascribed by many writers to Mulla Mohsin Fani Kashmiri. But when examined in depth this authorship is assailed by doubt. Many biographers have mentioned Mohsin Fani, but not a single historiographer has ascribed the Dabistan to him.

The Dabistan-i-Mazahib has nothing to do with Mohsin Fani Kashmiri. There are many reasons for this argument. The prose style of Mohsin Fani is quite different from that of Dabistan-i-Mazahib.

There are 395 pages of the Dabistan, out of which 134 pages deal with the various Iranian religious sects, particularly the Parsi and Sapasi faiths.

For Islam and its various sects, only 38 pages (6th Chapter) are reserved wherein the information is at best from secondary sources, mostly based on hearsay and what other scholars had told him.

Mulla Mohsin Fani Kashmiri was doubtless a great scholar of his time. His Masdarul-Athar Mathnavi reveals his profound knowledge of Islam. In dealing with contemporary Sufis the author has not mentioned Muhibullah Allahabadi, of whom he was a devout disciple, and whom he could never ignore.

The author of the Dabistan-i-Mazahib, had probably lived in Kashmir for several years, but he never claimed Kashmir as his native home, while Mulla Mohsin Fani was unquestionably a native of the valley of Kashmir.

Recent researches tend to show that Maubad Zulfiqar Ardistani (C.1615-1670), a Zoroastrian priest was the author of the Dabistan-i-Mazahib. Zulfiqar had spent a lot of time in Kashmir, Punjab, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Patna in Bihar where he spent his childhood.

The main reason that has creeped in historiography about Dabistan’s author as Mohsin Fani, because some of the Manuscripts of Dabistan, in the beginning, read "Mohsin Fani Says", and then follow two couplets of Muhsin Fani. In this regard, the judgment of Mulla Firuz is crystal clear, "That a careless or ignorant reader may have considered the words, "Mohsin Fani says," as forming the commencement of the volume, and containing the name of the author of the whole book; whereas they merely indicate the author of the couplets that follow" (The Dabistan-i-Mazhib, Vol.I, P.XI).

Dr. S.A.H. Abidi in his Mathnawiyyat-I-Fani Kashmiri says, "Sir Willian Jones thought that the book was composed by Mohsin Fani and his judgment gave weight to the idea of somehow or other linking the book with the name of Fani Kashmiri.

On the other hand William Erskin discovered an account of Mohsin Fani in the Gul-i-Raina, but says, "it is to be observed that Lachhmi does not mention the Dabistan as a production of Mohsin Fani". (The Dabistan-I-Mazahib, Vol-I, P-XI).

Similarly Shay and Troyer Say, "Erskine.......concludes that it seems improbable that Mohsin Fani and the author of the Dabistan were the same person............ he coincides with................... Vans Kennedy". (Op. Cit; Paris).

Nevertheless, Mulla Mohsin Fani (Fani was his penname) was a Kashmiri. He was the pupil of Mulla Yakub Safri (death : 1605 A.D.) and Muhibullah Allahabadi (death : 1648-49 A.D.). Muhsin Fani was the teacher of Ghani Kashmiri (death : 1668-69 A.D) and Salim Kashmiri (death : 1707 A.D.). Mohsin Fani Kashmiri also remained courtier of Prince Dara Shukoh for several years. He was in the service of Nazr Mohd Khan (death : 1650 A.D.), the ruler of Balkh. He also remained in the service of Shah Jahan for sometime and became Chief Judge. When Murad Bakhsh defeated Nazr Mohd, there was found in the library of the latter a copy of Fani’s Diwan which contained qasidas in praise of Nazr Mohd. Fani was dismissed from the post of Chief Judge but was permitted to receive a small pension. After his certain dismissal from the service, Mohsin Fani began to lead a retired life in his native home Kashmir. In Kashmir, Fani spend most of time in teaching well known persons, writers, scholars, teachers used to visit him regularly. The name of Mohsin Fani’s house was ‘Hauz Khas’.

According to the Masnawiyyat-i-Fani Kashmiri, when Zafar Khan became the Governor of Kashmir, Fani was very jubilant and wrote a number of lines in the praise of Zafar Khan. Later on, they had a disagreement. Mohsin Fani was in deep love with a dancing Kashmiri girl known as NIJI, who was loved by Zafar Khan also. When the girl did not respond to Zafar Khan he satirized both NIJI and Mohsin Fani. Fani in his return lampooned Zafar Khan. In these prevailing circumstances, Mohsin Fani had to leave his birth place, Kashmir and take refuge in Delhi. Some of his couplets show that Fani had a great love for his motherland Kashmir. One of the contemporary of Mohsin Fani, Mulla Mufid Balakhi has written that Fani was addicted to opium and wine during the last years of his life and died in 1670-71 A.D.

The remarkable work of Mohsin Fani Kashmiri was his "The kulliyat-e-Fani" (Manuscript No.3565, Rampur). The Diwan of Fani contains 5000-7000 Verses.

Masnawis 4 Couplets 7366

Ghazals - Verses 5265

Qasidas 5 Verses 1680

Quatrains 166

Total: 13131

The masnawis of Mohsin Fani are as follows:

Naz-u-Niya (historical love story), Maikhane (in this, he praised gardens, streams, rivers and beautiful places of Kashmir). In this mathnawi, Fani poet satirised qazis for their dubious character; Masdarul-Attar (In praise of Shah Jahan); Haft-Akhtar (Dedicated to Alamgir). Beside these Mohsin Fani has composed many qasidas, Ghazals, quatrains. Mohsin Fani has also introduced a number of Hindi words in his mathnawi and qasidas. Mohsin Fani has also written marginal notes in prose on the ‘Shah-i-Aqaid’ in Arabic. This manuscript is preserved under Ms. No. 794, Islamia College, Peshawar.

Zulfiqar Ardistani, who is the real author of Dabistan-i-Mazhib (Schools of religions) died at Gulzarbagh, Patna (Bihar) in 1670 A.D.

Dabistan-i-Mazhib mentions some of the aspects of philosophy and partial History of the religions prevalent in the sub-continent during the seventeenth century. This book contains introduction and main aspects of the following religions into fourteen chapters viz Parsis, Hindus, Tibetians, Jews, Nanak Panthis (Sikhs), Muslims, Sachikes, Bahudies, Roshnies, Illahies, Hakims, Sufies, Kabir Panthies, etc.

The author of the Dabistan had met Guru Hargobind Sahib and Guru Har Rai Sahib in Kashmir, during their travels. According to the Dr. Harjinder Singh Dilgeer, "Ardastani has recorded several basic postulates of the Sikh philosophy as well as the History of the Sikhs for that period. Though there is some incorrect data and minor flaws but still his depiction is almost near reality. (The Sikh Reference Book, Canada, 1997, P. : 266).

The main postulates in the Dabistan about Sikhism are:

l The Sikhs believe that all Guru Sahiban were Nanak(s) in spirit. Those who did not believe this were considered heretical.

l The Sikhs worshipped only one Creator timeless person : Akal Purukh.

l The Sikh gave no special regard to Sanskrit language sacred to the Hindus, and used folk language for disseminating faith.

l The Sikhs were found every where (cosmopolitan).

Mention is also made about the army, the horsemen, the guns of the Guru Sahib, the Masand system, the battles of Guru Hargobind Sahib, etc.

The Dabistan-i-Mazhib has been translated into several languages, including the early Punjabi scripts, ‘Takre’ and ‘Nagri’ between 1870 to 1880 A.D. ‘Takre’ Manuscript is lying in the Dogri Deptt., Jammu University, Jammu under No.: 380/156 - when author of these lines saw this manuscript its leaves were slightly damaged. This manuscript was shifted from Srinagar to Jammu in 1980. This manuscript begins with a word in ‘Takre’ followed by ‘Sri Wahe-Guru Sahib’ in Persian. It has about 250 pages (handwritten).

The ‘Nagri’ script is still preserved in the Research Library, University of Kashmir, Srinagar. Every page of this manuscript has 24 lines and are beautifully written. This manuscript has 519 pages.

The chapter on the Sikhs "Nanak Panthis" is included from 223-240 pages. This Dabistan is believed to be written in 1645 A.D.

The author of the Dabistan was an admirer of Guru Hargobind Sahib and his account of the Sikhs and Sikhism of those days is therefore of great value to a research student of Sikh history and religion.

The work has been translated into English by Shea and Troyer, and section on the Sikhs or Nanak Panthies has been translated by S. Umrao Singh Majithia in English. Shea and Troyer have apparently made major mistakes while translating some of the lines which form the basic postulates of Sikhism. The well know historian, Dr. Ganda Singh translated, in 1939, a portion on "Nanak Panthis" in latter stage, both in English and Punjabi, along with footnotes. This translation was published in Journal of India : History published by Kerala University, Trivandrum. The ‘Dabistan-Mazhib was compiled in 1055 A.H., (1645 A.D.). It was published in book form by Nawal Kishore press, Cawnpore in 1904.