by William Crooke (1925)
abridged and edited by FWP

.... The most important question connected with Tavernier's work is the credibility of the narrative. Lord Curzon, dealing with his Persian travels, writes:-- 'I am aware that grave charges have been brought, with some truth, against Tavernier. Chardin said he never understood a word of Persian. One critic declares that he could neither read nor write. His descriptions of some places are manifestly incorrect. There is no doubt that his editors experienced some difficulty in arranging his papers, which were in a state of chaos. Nevertheless his work retains its value, both for its independence and general freedom from exaggeration.' Gibbon describes him as ' that wandering jeweller, who had read nothing, but had seen so much and so well'. Whatever may have been his know,ledge of Persian, it is certain that he had little or no acquaintance with any of the languages of India, and he was always obliged to do his business through an interpreter. It is now impossible to say what record, in the shape of notes or diaries, he kept up during his wanderings; his book gives no information on this point. But it seems unlikely that he could have carried on his extensive business of the sale and purchase of precious stones, the weights and prices of which he carefully describes, or that he could have investigated the various products of the country, without systematic notes; still less that he could have trusted to his memory for the names of his many halting places.

My personal impression coincides on the whole with that expressed by Dr. Ball, that his narrative, when tested by modern authorities, is much more accurate than it has often been supposed to be. The places which he visited, and the events which occurred under his own observation, appear to be described with honesty and candour, and occasionally with some caustic humour. For matters of which he was not an eye-witness he depended on the merchants' tales current in the ports and cities which he visited. A somewhat parallel case is that of Dr. John Fryer, who visited India about the same time. He includes hearsay information with the record of his personal experiences. Unfortunately neither of these writers thought it necessary to distinguish clearly between information based on his own experience and that acquired, in the case of Tavernier, from shipmasters or other travellers, particularly the priests and friars of the Roman Catholic Church, whose friendship he enjoyed.

By a study of the routes which he carefully records we are in a position to estimate the credibility of his narrative. On the whole they stand the test fairly we1I. The distances seem generally to be stated with substantial accuracy; but the place­names are occasionally so distorted that it is now almost impossible to identify them on modem maps, or by the aid of gazetteers or other official publications. We can only speculate on the causes of inaccuracies such as these. They may be due to want of care in keeping up his notes or diaries; to difficulties in understanding the statements of his interpreter or other persons from whom he derived his information; to the carelessness or ignordnce of those who edited his work from scattered or ill-written notes.

At the same time, while we may admit the occasional inaccuracy of his geographical knowledge, it is certain that he did travel by the routes which he describes, and that he recorded them to the best of his ability. We must remember that many of his halts were made at Sarais or hostelries provided by the Mughal Government along the main roads, and these were often known by the names of their lessees or caretakers, of whom no recollection survives. Other journeys, again, were made through districts which were imperfectly opened up in the days of Tavernier, and now owing to the increase of cultivation and population, or from other causes, their condition has greatly changed. Dr. Ball, by his long experience of marches along frequented or unfrequented routes, was able to identify many of the places at which Tavernier halted. But there is no hope of finality in this kind of investigation.

My personal knowledge of parts of northern India, and a comparison of the journeys of other travellers, such as Sir Thomas Roe and Peter Mundy, have enabled me to make some corrections. The routes through the territories of the Nizam of Hyderabad and the Madras Presidency are more perplexing. By the kind assistance of the British Resident at the Court of H.H. the Nizam, Mr. Yazdani, on the staff of the Archaeological Survey of the State, has been able to clear up several doubtful points. I am indebted to Mr. F. J. Richards, of the Madras Civil Service, for similar assistance, with the co-operation of several district o.fficers: Mr. P. L. Moore for the Kistna District; Mr. F. W. Robertson for Guntur; Mr. H. J. Gharpuray for Cuddapah; Mr. J. C. Molony for Karnul; Mr. F. W. Bateman, of the Revenue Survey, in other places. But even now the work of identification is not quite complete, and it must be left to other officers possessed of local information to settle some doubtful points. It may be objected that little is to be gained by an attempt to identify obscure villages and inns. But the work of Tavernier is a classic, and I venture to think that the task of tracing his routes is not altogether labour misspent.

In questions of science and topography Dr. Ball's annotations are excellent. But a careful examination of the book showed that in order to make the work more valuable to the reader, and to conform it with the system pursued in other volumes of this series of reprints of classical works on India, it was necessary to add further information on questions of archaeology, historical events and personages, the social and religious life of the people. This I have, to the best of my ability, endeavoured to supply.

Since the publication of the first edition in 1889 many important works have increased our knowledge. It is necessary only to mention the new edition of The Imperial Gazetteer; Dr. Vincent Smith's Early History of India, History of Fine Art in India and Ceylon, and The Oxford History of India; Professor Jadunath Sarkar's History of Aurangzib and other works on the later Mughal period; Mr. W. Irvine's edition of Niccolao Manucci's Storia do Mogor, or Mogul India, and his Army of the Indian Moguls; the editions of Bernier's Travels in the Mogul Empire; Sleeman's Rambles and Recollections of an Indian Official; Grant Duff's History of the Mahrattas; and Tod's Annals of Rajasthan -- all published in this series. To these may be added the editions published by the Hakluyt Society of The Book of Duarte Barbosa, the Travels of Sir Thomas Roe, Peter Mundy, and John Fryer. The use I was able to make ofthese and other authorities was limited by considerations of space, but it may be estimated by the references in the commentary.

With all its obvious limitations, .the work of Tavernier is an important contribution to our knowledge of Mughal India. We must remember that he was not a scientifically trained observer who visited India with the intention of describing the country and its people. He observed it from the point of view of a merchant, and nothing engages his attention so much as a successful bargain. This devotion to trade interests enabled him to collect much valuable information on the conditions of commerce, the methods and tricks of the native banker, of the Shroff or money-changer. He gives precise accounts of the production and sale of the standard commodities -- spices, snake-stones, bezoar, musk, indigo, ivory, and the like -- which are an important contribution to the history of oriental commerce. Even more useful, because it was based on the knowledge of an expert, are his lucid descriptions of the varieties of precious stones and pearls.

He looks on Orientals as a foreign gentleman, new to the country, naturally would do. Many of his anecdotes illustrate his cleverness in bargaining and his acumen and presence of mind in dealing with Orientals. He shows no hesitation in describing his bravery during a naval action with a British fleet when he was a passenger on a Dutch vessel, and when he more than once endured grave perils of the sea. Some of his personal remarks are characteristic; as when the Dutch officials, by offering wine, tried to induce him to disclose trade secrets, he remarks that 'they need not have brought wine for that purpose to make me drink; because I differed from most men, who speak much and say more than they know when they have drunk, but, as for myself, it is then I talk least '. He thus sums up his philosophy of life:

'I praise God that notwithstanding the troubles I had experienced in Batavia, and of which I have as yet told only a part, and the small dissipations which one cannot altogether avoid in this country, I have taken such good care of myself that I have never been inconvenienced by the least headache, or by a bloody flux, which is the ailment that carries away many people. That which in my opinion has contributed most to my health is, that I do not think I have ever grieved on account of any misfortune which has happened to me. I have sometimes made great profits, and I have sometimes experienced severe losses; but when in unpleasant circumstances I have never been more than half an hour in deciding what course I shotild adopt, without thinking more of the past, having always in my mind the thought of Job, that God gives and takes away as it pleases Him, and that one should render thanks for all that happens, whether it be good or evil.'
He certainly showed great courage and self-reIiance in his journeys by sea and land, along routes in the jungles and uninhabited tracts, where, unprotected by guards, he was constantly exposed to the attacks of wild beasts and snakes, or of the more dangerous robber bands, which the inefficient MughaI police were unable or unwilling to repress. His,marches were not interrupted even in the hot and rainy seasons, when a traveller not provided with a full supply of tents, and forced to depend on the chance accommodation in Sarais along the main roads and peasants' huts in the less frequented districts, must suffer much hardship. An epicure like Tavernier, who loved good food and a good glass of wine, must have found it diflictilt to put up with the coarse, badly cooked food on which he was obliged to subsist. But he seldom complains of the many inconveniences to which he was exposed.

He always took care to pose, not as a common merchant, but as a gentleman trader, who brought novelties in art work from Parisian studios, and invested the proceeds in precious stones and pearls. He constantly boasted that he travelled under the patronage of the Kings of France and Persia, whose protection he was accustomed to claim when he was subjected to any special loss or indignity. By this means he gained the unique distinction of being admitted to familiar intercourse with the nobles of the Imperial Court, and was allowed to handle and weigh the jewels in the royal collection.

His account of the Koh-i-Nur and other famous stones suggested the essays in which Dr. Ball discussed their characteristics and later history. To his intimacy with the Mughal nobility we owe his life-sketches of the leading personages of the time -- of Shaista Khan and his dealings in precious stones; of Mir Jumla at the siege of Gandikota and his remarkable method of administering justice and conducting business; of Ja'far Khan, the Wazir, and his clever wife. From his pages we can draw a realistic picture of Mughal India: of the Court and army; of the splendid presents which the profits of his business allowed him to offer to the Emperor and his officials; of the Kazi and the administration of justice; of the police and the custom-house officials. He displays no desire to make a case for or against the administration as he studied it; and in this respect his narrative is a document of great importance when contrasted with .the more detailed statements of Bernier or Manucci.

He also gives us vivid sketches of the foreign powers and their servants who competed for the Eastern trade. He certainly brings some ugly charges against the Dutch. One of their officers, he says, stole his mail bag and some jewels; others cheated him over some pay warrants in which he speculated. In the former case he consoles himself by the fact that his enemies met with sudden death, in the second case we cannot say what the Dutch had to urge in their defence; but it would clearly seem that the Dutch were right in preventing these warrants from being sold at much below their value. At any rate, if the result was that Tavernier, a foreigner, lost his money, they punished their own officials more severely for similar offences.

To the archaeologist the evidence of Tavernier is of importance.... For those who know the ground covered in his wanderings it is interesting to visit Mathura in his company while the great temple of Kesava Deva was still standing, and before the shrine of Visvesvara had been demolished and replaced by the stately minarets which dominate the Benares of our time. But his search for information was generally limited to objects like these. It is disappointing to find that he tells us little of the condition of the peasantry, of the revenue system, of the social economy of the jungle tribes which he encountered in his wanderings. He was lacking in the preliminary knowledge which wouJd have helped him to understand the religions of the people.... his descriptions of religion and custom lack that clearness which can be gained only by minute observation, the study of the sacred books, and a knowledge of the vernacular dialects....

Besides my obligations to the officers of the Madras service and that of Hyderabad, I am indebted to many other authorities for assistance in elucidating some of the difficulties in the narrative of Tavernier. Among these I may mention the following: Dr. L. D. Barnett, Keeper of the Oriental Printed Books and Manuscripts in the British Museum; his pupil, Mr. S. K. Chatterji; the late Mr. M. Longworth Dames, the learned editor of The Book of Duarte Barbosa; Sir G. Grierson; Mr. W. Foster, C.I.E., late Registrar and Superintendent of Records at the India Office; Dr. E. Sidney Hartland; Mr. E. Heawood, Librarian of the Royal Geographical Society; Rev. H. Hosten, S.J.; Mr. L. K. Anantha Krishna Iyer, Superintendent of the Ethnographical Survey, Cochin State; Sir H. H. Johnston; Sir A. Keith, Curator of the Museum, Royal College of Surgeons; Mr. J. P. Lewis, C.M.G., late of the Ceylon Civil Service; Sir G. Watt, K.C.I.E.; Mr. GhuJam Yazdani, Archaeological Surveyor in the Dominions of H.H. the Nizam of Hyderabad.


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