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Cosmopolitismes en Asie du Sud

Corinne Lefèvre
Ines G. Županov
Jorge Flores

Langues/traductions // Languages/translations

The English East India Company and Cultural Cosmopolitanism in Late Mughal Bengal

La Compagnie anglaise des Indes orientales et le cosmopolitisme culturel dans le Bengale moghol tardif

Kumkum Chatterjee


L’époque de la première modernité, en particulier la période du xvie au xviiie siècle a été particulièrement importante dans l’histoire sud-asiatique. Ces années ont vu la consolidation du pouvoir Moghol, le déclin de l’empire et l’établissement de la puissance politique de la Compagnie anglaise des Indes orientales. L’histoire culturelle de cette période a généralement retenu beaucoup moins l’attention des chercheurs que les aspects administratifs, économiques et autres facettes de l’histoire de cette période. C’est particulièrement vrai de l’Inde moghole ; mais l’histoire des débuts de la domination coloniale en Asie du Sud est aussi généralement étudiée sans beaucoup de référence à la manière dont le milieu culturel moghol a façonné les perceptions coloniales britanniques de la société sud-asiatique et de sa culture à la fin du xviiie siècle. Cet article se concentre tout d’abord sur une configuration culturelle indo-persane liée à la culture politique de l’Inde moghole jusqu’à son époque la plus tardive. Elle a été associée en particulier aux élites politiques de l’Inde moghole et était liée aussi bien à une notion de cosmopolitisme culturel qui prévalait dans une grande partie du monde musulman au-delà du sous-continent sud-asiatique.

En second lieu, cette article retrace la manière dont la Compagnie anglaise des Indes orientales a tenté de s’approprier et d’imiter certains aspects du cosmopolitisme culturel moghol. Dans cette partie de l’article, j’examine les facteurs qui ont sous-tendu les efforts de la Compagnie dans ce sens et les formes que ces efforts ont pris.

Texte intégral

We thank Kalyan Chatterjee for helping us with the last version of this article, which Kumkum was unable to finish herself. Regretfully, she fell ill and passed away in December of 2012 [nldr].

Mughal Political Culture and Persianization

1A growing body of scholarship in the recent past has situated the Indian subcontinent during the early modern period within a much larger cultural zone associated with a Persianate culture, and brought under close scrutiny the Persianized political culture carefully cultivated by political elites in Mughal India (Alam 2003 ; Alam & Subrahmanyam 2007 ; Subrahmanyam 1992 & 2005). As Alam and Subrahmanyam (2007 : 3-4) have pointed out, cultural zones are indeed “nebulous” and “far clearer at its centre than its edge.” The “Persianate” cultural zone can be loosely identified with what has been described as the Eastern Islamic world, including Iran, Afghanistan, parts of Central Asia, the Indian subcontinent and parts of South-East Asia. Iran, occupied the central place in this cultural configuration. From about the 10th century onwards — and for almost an entire millennium — the Persian language and a Persianized culture served as a common, overarching idiom of cosmopolitanism among court circles as well as aspiring regional elites and gentry of the Eastern Islamic world. The Persian language and literature comprised very important aspects of it. As Pollock observed, New Persian (i.e. “Arabized” Persian) became “the language that ruling elites from Sistan and Tabriz to Delhi would eventually adopt, regardless of what they spoke in the privacy of their bedrooms” (Pollock 2006 : 254). The primacy of Iran and its Persianized culture derived from the association of ancient Persia with a prestigious monarchical tradition and a sophisticated culture associated with political elites. The latter not only included Persian literary culture, but also “religious thought, political theory and practice, administrative models […], the sciences, and morals and manners” (Yarshater 2008 : 5). What needs to be kept in mind as well is that although not necessarily associated with Islam in a scriptural sense, this cultural zone was essentially a part of the Islamic cultural world and Persianization was a form of Islamicate culture.

2During the period under review (16th-18th centuries), and actually preceding it as well, a Persianized culture had functioned as a mode of transregional cosmopolitanism throughout the Eastern Islamic world. Islamic dynasties such as the Ghaznavids, Ghurids, Seljuqs and others were patrons and adherents of this form of Persianized cosmopolitanism as were ruling families descended from Timur (d. 1405). The Ottoman, Safavid, Uzbek and Mughal dynasties whose empires dominated much of the Eastern Islamic world also shared this overarching cultural orientation. In the Indian subcontinent, Persianate cosmopolitanism was manifest in the use and currency of the Persian language and literature by political elites but also in norms of deportment, modes of formal attire, literary, musical and culinary tastes, the arts of book illustration and embellishment, etc. In India this form of cosmopolitanism was evident in kingdoms such as the Delhi sultanate (11th- 16th centuries) and in smaller regional kingdoms such as the sultanates of Golconda and Bengal. Persianization followed the coastline of the Bay of Bengal and extended into the kingdom of Roshang (Mrauk U) in the Arakan region and the entrepôt kingdom of Melaka, strategically located on the Straits of Malacca which derived its name from it. As Subrahmanyam has shown, maritime trade and contacts were significant factors in the diffusion of Persianization along the Bay of Bengal littoral (Subrahmanyam 2005).

  • 1 Chatterjee 2009a, especially chapter 4.
  • 2 For an analysis of the architectural remains, see Begum 1994.

3In the Indian subcontinent, thus, Persianization was well-entrenched even before the emergence of the Mughal empire in the 16th century. But, the greatest diffusion occurred under Babur (r. 1526-30) and his successors. Like many Indo-Islamic rulers before them, the Mughals were patrons of Persian poets, writers and scholars. But, the institutionalization of Persian as the official language of governance from the reign of the emperor Akbar (r. 1556- 1605) onwards played a critically important role in widening its currency well beyond a circle of Muslim nobility and gave it a professional, utilitarian and ultimately a cultural appeal for segments of the Hindu aristocracy and gentry throughout the Mughal dominions. Since Persianization functioned as a form of courtly civility, aspiring landed nobility and gentry in distant parts of the empire consciously cultivated aspects of it. Thus, in Bengal, which had been integrated into the Mughal empire as a province since the late 16th century, Persian became a language to be learned and cultivated by the gentry and aristocracy of this region. By the early 18th century, Persian was being regarded as a shastra, i.e. an intellectual discipline and an essential attribute of aristocratic status. Visual evidence and textual descriptions indicate that Bengal’s landed elites and the respectable gentry wore Mughal/Persianate attire consisting of tight-fitting trousers, a long tunic belted at the waist and headgear (turban), particularly for public and courtly purposes.1 Evidences of Persianization were also conspicuous in other aspects of material culture. Increasingly, through the 17th and 18th centuries, the same segments of Bengal’s population took to using circular cards, known commonly as “ganjifa” for card games. The ganjifa, in the form in which it spread to different parts of the Mughal empire represented an Islamicate style of card game to which the Mughals had added some modifications. Rudolf Van Leyden, in his work on the Mughal ganjifa observed that, the ganjifa was disseminated “along by the spread of Mughal culture, penetrating both different regions and new social strata” (von Leyden 1982 : 14 ; Chatterjee n.d.). One may also mention the ruins of a hammam at Ishwaripur in Jessore that was built by Raja Pratapaditya, one of the best-known among the anti-Mughal landed barons (Barabhuiyans) of Eastern Bengal.2 This reinforces the point that even in distant parts of the Mughal empire and in its margins as well, several elements of the political culture of courtly elites (from dress codes and forms of entertainment to bathing traditions and architecture) were appropriated and assimilated by provincial gentry and aristocracy. Thus, court culture was a critically important mode of integration within the Mughal polity. The aim of these remarks is not to minimize the importance of military-administrative institutions such as the mansabdari system that regulated the relations between the emperor and the mansabdars (literally, “those who hold a rank”) or the mechanisms that had been put in place to collect land revenue (the so-called zabt system), but to acknowledge and give due weight to the cultural facets of Mughal rule.

4Thus cultural cosmopolitanism in early modern South Asia denoted a form of Persianized, Islamicate courtly culture which played an important role in terms of the relationships between South Asian rulers and elites belonging to a wider Indian Ocean world stretching from the Persian Gulf and Red Sea regions to South-East Asia. Within South Asia, Persianization combined in interesting and complex ways with other subcontinental (e.g. Sanskritic cosmopolitanism which was evident in the patronage of Sanskrit literature and scholarship, continuing adherence to certain forms of Brahmanism, etc.) as well as regional and local varieties of cosmopolitanism (Chatterjee 2009a et b). But, there prevailed in certain courtly circles in particular, the sense that those who stood outside the Indo-Persian cultural milieu were clearly inferior. In this perspective, the woes of the Mughal prince Shah ShujaꜤ, who had fled into North-Eastern India following his father Shah Jahan (r. 1628-58)’s succession struggle and his military defeat at the hands of his brother Aurangzeb (r. 1658-1707), are of particular significance. Shah Shuja eventually found shelter at the court of Roshang (Mrauk U) in Arakan. Though a refugee who was dependent upon the hospitality of the king of Roshang, Prince Shuja was disdainful of the table manners and what he considered to be unrefined etiquette both of his host, the king of Roshang as well as the latter’s court. He clearly considered them to be outsiders to the rarefied realm of Indo-Persian civility. However, the royal court of Roshang had been trying on its own terms to reproduce aspects of Persianate culture through the patronage of literary productions in Bengali which were strongly imbued with motifs and themes derived from Persian literature. Another instance comes from the early 18th century, when two Burmese ambassadors arrived in South India en route to a formal visit to the Mughal imperial court. The clothes worn by the Burmese envoys shocked Daud Khan Panni, an eminent Mughal nobleman and bureaucrat who had been entrusted with the task of arranging for their travel up to the imperial court in Northern India. Daud Khan would not allow them to proceed to court and present themselves before the emperor until they had been suitably outfitted (Subrahmanyam 2005 : 77-79).

Persianized Political Culture as Cosmopolitanism

  • 3 See e.g. Elias 1978 and 1983 ; Bourdieu 1984 and 1990.

5The contemporary, social science-type concept of cosmopolitanism — sometimes called the “new” cosmopolitanism — basically understands “cosmopolitanism” as a phenomenon that transcends the boundaries of individual nation states. Robert Fine defines as its core principles “the integration of particular rights of subjective freedom with the common good” and “the idea of universal species-wide human solidarity with particular solidarities that are smaller and more specific than the human species” (Fine 2007 : 16). Such a definition underscores the predominance attached to the nation state as a political entity — so much so that other possible ways of understanding the term and concept of cosmopolitanism seem not to be of much interest to certain types of social scientists. Much more useful and relevant for understanding it during the early modern era is the notion of cosmopolitanism as developed by Norbert Elias, Pierre Bourdieu and some others.3 In these theorizations of the term cosmopolitanism, what emerges as some of the most important elements in this concept are : first, the idea that cosmopolitanism was associated with moral, ethical, cultural refinement which is manifest in cultural practices, judgement, taste, etc. ; and secondly, the idea that the possession of the above mentioned qualities entitled the holders thereof to be respected by society and to be objects of emulation. Elias’ formulation in particular posits a very strong connection between this type of cosmopolitanism and political power. In other words, political elites commanded respect not just because of their command of military power and economic financial resources but because they represented ethical values which were reflected in their cultural tastes and preferences. In the time period under scrutiny, the courts of monarchs and the courtly circles may be considered clusters of such individuals. Ali’s study of courtly culture in early medieval India makes the point that courtliness which functioned often as cosmopolitanism denoted “a coherent and relatively stable cultural formation which […] [was] defined by aesthetic and ethical emphasis around the ‘good’ or ‘noble’ life” (Ali 2004 : 69). As Ali further emphasizes, courtly cosmopolitanism was often more inclusive than it professed and the boundaries of the society that claimed to represent the best of courtly and cosmopolitan values were more porous than is often assumed. In Ali’s words, “courtly cosmopolitanism may be seen as an acculturative mechanism whereby men and women were integrated into a mutually intelligible pan-regional culture with its own distinctive protocols of sociability” (ibid. : 265).

The English East India Company (EIC) and Mughal Political Culture

  • 4 On Bengal’s emergence as an autonomous kingdom and the ensuing changes in its administration, see C(...)

6The English East India Company’s interactions with Mughal political culture developed at multiple levels and multiple sites. But one of its most ubiquitous interfaces with the cosmopolitan culture of elite circles occurred in the context of the hierarchy of darbars (general audiences) in which the English factors had to participate very regularly. By the late 17th-early 18th centuries, Bengal had begun the silent process of becoming practically autonomous from the central Mughal administration. However, as is well-known, the political fiction that it was still part of the Mughal empire was very carefully preserved by the nawabs (sing. naib, literally “deputy”) of Bengal, the de facto rulers of the region, well into the middle of the 18th century. In many other ways too, the political relationship between Delhi and the new capital of the Bengal nawabs at Murshidabad, remained somewhat ambiguous and unclear.4

7During the 18th century, the issues which most frequently drew the EIC into contact with Mughal-derived darbars had to do with what may be called “the politics of permission,” i.e. the formal protocols of seeking permission for the Company’s trade as well as behind the scenes intrigues regarding how best to secure these permissions. These were accompanied by the participation of the Company in the rituals and economies of gift-giving to various political personalities and included such vexed questions (from the perspective of EIC and its employees) as : preventing European competitors — such as the Dutch or the Ostenders for example — from securing trading privileges, obtaining the permission to trade in inland items as well as to trade duty free, and securing the necessary permits to build fortresses (buildings with defenses such as moats, towers, etc.). Typically, the EIC engaged in complicated and simultaneous dealings at different levels of the political system which, most interestingly for the present purpose, were all referred to as darbars. Thus the seat of the faujdar (a military officer in charge of extensive districts) of Hugli (one of Bengal’s two principal ports) was described as a darbar as were the seats of the naib-nazims (governors subordinate to the Murshidabad nawab) at Dacca and Patna ; the court of the nawab of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa was of course also referred to as a darbar and then, crowning it all was the highest darbar in the realm, i.e. the court of the Mughal emperor.

8One of the most conspicuous manifestations of the EIC’s acquaintance with a Persianized Mughal political culture was the familiarity of several of its officials with Persian. Thus, from the 1760s onwards, evidence of a Persianproficient orientalism — an exploration of specifically Mughal governmental styles via the study of Persian texts — may be found, the best-known example thereof being the English translation of Abu’l Fazl’s Aʾin-i Akbari (Ayeen Akaberry or the Institutes of the Emperor Akbar 1777) produced by Francis Gladwin at the behest of Warren Hastings, the first Governor-General of Bengal.

  • 5 Foster, ed. (1906-1927) ; Home Public : volumes from 1700-1758.

9What is also particularly striking in this regard is that through the late 17th and early 18th centuries, the correspondence the EIC generated from Bengal demonstrates the extent to which the Company attempted to assimilate aspects of Mughal courtly cosmopolitanism. The early correspondence of the EIC in India contains a fair number of references to Persian scribes and akhunds (tutors of manners and deportment) who could teach the English factors how to behave properly in Mughal court settings.5 The Patna factors of the EIC mentioned the commercial acumen of a person name Ramchand Pandit whom they wanted to engage in the procurement of saltpetre, textiles and the occasional “darbar business” in Bihar. One of the chief drawbacks of Ramchand Pandit was his lack of proficiency in Persian (Chatterjee 1996).

  • 6 Home Miscellaneous : vol. 69, consultation (hereafter referred to as cons) of June 3, 1716.

10In fact much of the early correspondence contains references to the importance of being seen as respectable, well-mannered, polished, refined and with knowledge of requisite court etiquette in order to be an employee whom the EIC could appoint as its “vakeel” (from wakil, agent or representative). There are also several mentions of high-ranking employees who were despatched by the EIC to various courts to engage in what a consultation dated June 3, 1716 described as “darbar business.”6

  • 7 Home Miscellaneous : vol. 69, consultation of September 15, 1714.
  • 8 Bengal Public Consultations : P/1/8, consultation of January 28, 1731.

11For instance, Khwaja Surhaud Israel played an important role as a key figure who accompanied the Surman delegation from Bengal to Delhi in 1715. His main utility in the eyes of the EIC was his prior knowledge and experience of how to negotiate darbar politics and protocol and his close acquaintance with several high-ranking nobles at the Mughal imperial court. As was to be expected, Khwaja Surhaud Israel was to be assisted by a number of underling “vakeels.” One of them, named Anoopchand was appointed to serve under Khwaja Surhaud for the following reasons : “Upon enquiry we find him to be a person of some substance and clear reputation, being particularly recommended for his eloquence and learning.”7 Thus respectability and familiarity with the culture of the court were keys to holding certain types of offices in the employment of the EIC. The Kasimbazar factors reported in 1731 that a merchant named Bishnudas Seth who was associated with them had appointed someone named Bau Singh to be his agent at the Murshidabad darbar.8

  • 9 For a comparative reflection on gift-giving in Europe and India and a useful bibliography on the to (...)
  • 10 Calcutta Factory Records : G/7/2, consultation of June 24, 1697.
  • 11 Bengal Public Consultations : P/1/6, consultation of March 13, 1727.
  • 12 See for instance Calcutta Factory Records : G/7/2, consultation of May 30, 1695 where the terms “pr (...)
  • 13 Calcutta Factory Records : G/7/2, consultation of May 30, 1695.

12One of the very important arenas of contact between the EIC and the various darbars occurred through the economy and politics of gift giving. A large literature exists on the subject of the ritual, cultural and ideological significance of such public, political gift giving and there is therefore no need to linger on it here.9 As pointed out by a consultation from the EIC factory at Calcutta dated June 24, 1697, “persons who have business [at court] are not accepted and welcomed to these great persons empty-handed.”10 Thus a great deal of meticulous attention was paid to ensure that the EIC and its representatives did not offend etiquette (and thereby hold up some crucial commercial concession they were expecting to get) when engaging in the elaborate theater of “gift giving.” Thus, for example, a consultation from the early 18th century expressed consternation that a sum of money had perhaps been offered too publicly to a certain court heavyweight ; this was followed by deliberations as to whether another attempt should be made in a more discreet manner and through a third party (i.e. someone not directly employed by the EIC). Besides, there are plenty of indications that the EIC in its internal correspondence referred for the most part to ceremonial gifts — especially to gifts of money — as “bribes.” In a consultation of 13th March 1727, the chief of the Kasimbazar factory named Edward Stephenson stated with extreme bluntness : “We can’t give away money, unless we benefit from it.”11 Non-monetary presents to darbar personalities tended to be referred much less frequently as bribes.12 These gifts included pieces of cloth, and “small things” like a magnifying glass and glass-handled knives.13

  • 14 On robing in precolonial and colonial India, see Gordon, ed., 2003.
  • 15 Padre or padree Stephanus was considered by some as an Armenian priest (Wilson 1911 : 45).

13What also stands out is the great deal of importance given by the EIC in its internal correspondence to the receipt of such ceremonial gifts as headgears (“siropas,” from the Persian sar-u-pa which designated a robe of honour).14 Padre Stephanus, an EIC agent at the Mughal imperial court, is reported to have brought headgears given in the context of the darbar to John Surman and Khwaja Surhaud.15 The EIC personnel are reported to have received these “siropas” with what is called the “customary ceremony” with which gifts from the emperor were received by Mughal political elites and provincial aristocracy.

  • 16 Bengal Public Consultations : P/1/3, consultation of June 26, 1718, copy of a letter of Jaffercawn (...)
  • 17 Home Miscellaneous : vol. 69, consultation of July 5, 1715.

14Equally important for the employees of the EIC was the need to be treated like nobility by the Mughal elites and to be seen by others as some sort of noble, princely entity. In a letter to nawab Murshid Quli Khan of Bengal (d. 1727), a representative of the Company noted : “we are people who have for long continuance been honoured with kingly favours and have obtained royal phirmauns [Persian, farmans].”16 It was clearly critically important for the EIC agents to adopt the public postures and manners of the Mughal elites. Thus, as the Surman delegation neared Delhi and was assured by one of its contact persons at the Delhi darbar (Padre Stephanus) that its members would be given “handsome reception” by Khan Dauran, one of the most powerful Mughal nobles of the time, the EIC factors stated resolutely that “some money is necessary to be flung among the crowds and by [that] means, aggrandizing our first appearance [at the Mughal capital].”17 During the preparations of the Surman delegation for its trip to Delhi, its members had come to the decision that the soldiers accompanying them needed to make what they described as “a handsome appearance.” The soldiers were therefore given new jackets in order to uphold the image and prestige of the EIC vis-à-vis courtly elites.

  • 18 Bengal Public Consultations : P/1/3, consultation of November 6, 1714.
  • 19 Home Miscellaneous : vol. 69, consultation of July 25, 1717.

15As a matter of fact, the importance given by the EIC to representational insignia was tremendous. Thus, Khwaja Surhaud, a key agent of the EIC, particularly in its dealings with various darbars, informed the Company that it was of critical importance for him to be seen wearing what he described as “union flags.” Surhaud said that he had worn such flags at Hugli and requested permission to wear them again during the journey of the Surman delegation to Delhi. For Surhaud, an employee of the EIC, the wearing of such flags most probably marked out the fact the Company was not merely a body of traders, but had almost a political-territorial identity as well. Moreover, the fact that the EIC whole-heartedly agreed with Surhaud’s suggestion in this matter indicates that its English representatives too considered it extremely important to make public shows of their insignia. As the consultation of 6th November 1714 recorded, “there is an absolute necessity of his [Khwaja Surhaud’s] appearing in some state.”18 By the middle of 1717, however, Khwaja Surhaud and the English factors who made up the rest of the Surman delegation had had a falling out. The Company therefore wrote a terse missive to Surhaud forbidding him from using the Company’s flags when he travelled in an official capactity and in public. “You have no further occasion for the state of flags in your procession,” he was informed.19

  • 20 Bengal Public Consultations : P/1/1, consultation of August 9, 1708.
  • 21 Bengal Public Consultations : P/1/1, consultation of September 20, 1705.
  • 22 Bengal Public Consultations : P/1/1, consultation of November 22, 1708.

16While the EIC was very careful about the need to conform to elite protocol at courts via adherence to the norms of courtly culture, it also duplicated some of these customs in terms of relationships with its own employees. There are thus references to the EIC making ceremonial gifts of turbans to two people who had just been appointed as brokers. The brokers were thus virtually given a ceremonial investiture into their otherwise humdrum, quotidian job of procuring textiles and other commodities for the EIC. When Manikchand Shahu, a merchant of substance and someone who was on friendly terms with nawab Murshid Quli Khan and Prince Farrukhsiyar (r. 1713-1719) came to visit the EIC personnel, the latter made him a formal presentation of gifts of “European goods.”20 In other respects too, the EIC representatives engaged in social niceties and observances with people whom they deemed to be their equals (for instance, high-ranking court notables and officials) or, were important for their commercial interests. In 1705, the EIC agents reported that they had received a present of sugar candy and betel from the faujdar of Hugli in celebration of his grandson’s birth. The EIC agents immediately reciprocated by sending him a gift of seven mohurs (Mughal gold coins), because “it is usual on such occasions.”21 Following a similar pattern, the chief nawabi official at Dacca — the EIC records refer to everybody as “nawab” — came to pay a condolence visit when Henry Clare, the chief of the EIC factory at Dacca, died. It is significant that these social visits and exchanges of gifts were meticulously recorded in the EIC correspondence. On the death of Ballabhdas, one of the chief merchants of the EIC at Calcutta, the Company decided to present each of his two nephews with shawls because that would be “according to the country custom.” The EIC traders also noted that it was important for them to keep on good terms with these two businessmen who had undertaken to fulfil the contracts their late uncle had had with the EIC. What is significant though is that, in the early 18th century, the EIC very deliberately chose regional, local idioms of gentility used by respectable peoples and by elites to forge relationships with Indian employees.22


17In conclusion, it is worth emphasizing one of the factors that may have strengthened the EIC’s pursuit of Persianized manners and etiquette in imitation of Mughal courtly culture, that is to say the position of the Company as landlord (zamindar) and so-to-speak “ruler” of the three villages of Sutanuti, Govindapur and Kolikata [Calcutta] (Sarkar 1948 : 418). At Calcutta, the EIC through its representatives engaged in revenue collection, maintained security, administered justice and in imitation of indigenous rajas convened “jati kacharis” (caste councils) to arbitrate in matters of social conduct and behavior. In other words, the EIC, at some level, behaved like other territorial barons. There are also some indications that the Company was aware that some changes were under way in the Mughal political elites’ perception of its status. In the 1690s, Mirza Burhanulla, the Mughal faujdar of Hugli visited the EIC settlement at Calcutta several times and, on one occasion, requested the EIC personnel to arrange a lodging for him at Calcutta as he got ready to travel to Hijli with his retinue. As the EIC correspondence for those years shows, the Company agents were thrilled to bits by these visits and duly noted how Mirza Burhanulla had “honoured us with his company several times.” They also noted with a degree of surprise that it was “unusual for men of his quality and post” to have done so. A single episode is not enough to allow for a definite conclusion and much more evidence is needed. But, it may be suggested that the EIC’s status as the territorial master of Calcutta resulted in a change in attitude on the part of some Mughal nobles even though the growing strength and wealth of the Company at Calcutta simultaneously created tensions regarding issues of sovereignty and political authority vis-à-vis the nawabs of Murshidabad.

  • 23 See especially Chatterjee & Hawes 2008 : 22 ; Subrahmanyam 1999 : 134.

18While the EIC so carefully and deliberately engaged in performances of Persianized courtly culture, a somewhat different image of not just the English but other European trading organizations may have been operative at other levels of Bengal’s society. In the panels and bas-reliefs decorating the magnificent terracotta temples built in Bengal through the 17th-18th centuries, Europeans are typically identified by the clothes they wore (trousers, tight fitting jackets and top hats), the war ships they sailed and the guns they carried as people who were associated with ships and guns.23



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Siebenhüner, K. (2013), “Approaching Diplomatic and Courtly Gift-giving in Europe and Mughal India : Shared Practices and Cultural Diversity,” The Medieval History Journal 16 (2), pp. 525-546.

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1 Chatterjee 2009a, especially chapter 4.

2 For an analysis of the architectural remains, see Begum 1994.

3 See e.g. Elias 1978 and 1983 ; Bourdieu 1984 and 1990.

4 On Bengal’s emergence as an autonomous kingdom and the ensuing changes in its administration, see Chatterjee 1992 : 236-238.

5 Foster, ed. (1906-1927) ; Home Public : volumes from 1700-1758.

6 Home Miscellaneous : vol. 69, consultation (hereafter referred to as cons) of June 3, 1716.

7 Home Miscellaneous : vol. 69, consultation of September 15, 1714.

8 Bengal Public Consultations : P/1/8, consultation of January 28, 1731.

9 For a comparative reflection on gift-giving in Europe and India and a useful bibliography on the topic, see Siebenhüner 2013.

10 Calcutta Factory Records : G/7/2, consultation of June 24, 1697.

11 Bengal Public Consultations : P/1/6, consultation of March 13, 1727.

12 See for instance Calcutta Factory Records : G/7/2, consultation of May 30, 1695 where the terms “present” and “favour” are used to describe the “customary gifts” given to the governor of Hugli (actually, the faujdar of Hugli).

13 Calcutta Factory Records : G/7/2, consultation of May 30, 1695.

14 On robing in precolonial and colonial India, see Gordon, ed., 2003.

15 Padre or padree Stephanus was considered by some as an Armenian priest (Wilson 1911 : 45).

16 Bengal Public Consultations : P/1/3, consultation of June 26, 1718, copy of a letter of Jaffercawn (Jafar Khan) of the same date.

17 Home Miscellaneous : vol. 69, consultation of July 5, 1715.

18 Bengal Public Consultations : P/1/3, consultation of November 6, 1714.

19 Home Miscellaneous : vol. 69, consultation of July 25, 1717.

20 Bengal Public Consultations : P/1/1, consultation of August 9, 1708.

21 Bengal Public Consultations : P/1/1, consultation of September 20, 1705.

22 Bengal Public Consultations : P/1/1, consultation of November 22, 1708.

23 See especially Chatterjee & Hawes 2008 : 22 ; Subrahmanyam 1999 : 134.


[June 12 1958-Dec 13 2012] Historian, she received her Ph.D from Calcutta University and taught in the History Department at Penn State from 1989. Her field on India covered a period from the seventeenth century to the early nineteenth century, from the Mughal through the post-Mughal to the early “Company” period. Her work focused on merchants and scribes, on trade and political culture, on historical and travel writing, on Bihar and Bengal, and on courtly and popular culture. She helped to redefine the field of the early modern period in South Asia as well as its place in the world.
– 1996 Merchants, Politics and Society in Early Modern India, Bihar 1733-1820, Leiden, Brill.
– 2009 The Cultures of History in Early Modern India: Persianization and Mughal Culture in Bengal, New Delhi, Oxford University Press.

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