Arabic Classical Accounts of India and China

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Item Code: IDH373
Author: S. Maqbul Ahmad
Publisher: Indian Institute Of Advanced Study, Shimla in assocation with Raddha-India, Calcutta
Edition: 1989
ISBN: 8185292043
Pages: 87
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.1" X 5.5"
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Book Description

From the Jacket

The work contains two books: (1) an account of India by Ibn Khurdadhbih (d. c. 912), one of the earliest Arab geographers, and forms a part of his world geography al-Masalik wa'l-Mamalik; (2) An account of India and China compiled in A.D. 851 and usually attributed to Sulayman, the Merchant. Professor Ahmad has presented the first complete English translation of the two works with exhaustive commentaries based on the latest editions of the works. The works deal with the geography, social and economic life of the peoples and the political set-up of India and China during the ninth century A.D. The account of China and India is based on the personal observations and experiences of merchants and travellers visiting these countries. The two works are of immense historical importance and provide valuable and authentic source material for the ancient history of India and China.

About The Author

Sayyid Maqbul Ahmad (b. 1919), educated at Oxford, is an eminent scholar in Islamic history and geography. He taught at Aligarh Muslim University for nearly three decades and is the founder of the Centre of West Asian Studies there. He also established the Centre of Central Asian Studies and the Central Asian Museum at the University of Kashmir, Srinagar. He is currently Professor Emeritus at Aligarh Muslim University. His publications include al-Idrisi, India and the Neighbouring Territories (1960) Indo-Arab Relations (1969) and part of al-Idrisi, Opus Geographicum, Kitab Nuzhat al-Mushtaq fi'khtiraq al -'Afaq (1970-78).



Ibn Khurdadhbih, Abu’1-Qasim ‘Ubay Allah ‘Abd Allah (b.c.820; d.c.912), of Persian origin, occupied the position of chief of post and information in al-Jibal (northern Iraq). In later years, he became a close associate of the ‘Abbasid Caliph al-Mu’tamid (A.D. 892-902) at Samarra’. Author of several works on a variety of subjects like history, geography, genealogy, music, cookery, etc., he was a highly erudite person. He claimed to have translated Claudius Ptolemy’s geographical compendium, Geographiya, from a ‘foreign language’ (probably Greek or Syriac) into Arabic but this translation is now extant. What has survived is his world geography entitled Kitab al-Masalik wa’l-Mamalik (‘The Book of Roads and Kingdoms’) which deals with deals with routes and distances and covers regional, descriptive and economic geography. But it is an abridged version of the original draft prepared in c. 846-7 which has not survived. The abridgement was not made later than 885-6. Ibn Khurdadhbih was the first Arab writer who wrote on world geography and belonged to the ‘Iraqi school of geographers of the period. In the presentation of the information, he used Persian terminology and names, hence it is not unlikely that he used some earlier Persian sources on the subject as well as government record which must have been available to him as chief of post and information. Besides, he used the reports of merchants, travellers and the envoys sent by the government to different parts of the world.

Kitab al-Masalik wa’l-Mamalik was first edited by M.J. De Goeje, the well-known Dutch scholar who published a large number of Arabic geographical texts of the mediaeval period. The work was published from Leiden in 1889 (Bibliotheca Geographorum Arabicorum, vii). My English translation of the portion relating to India is based on this text. The account of India deals with the itineraries of places, distances and trade-routes. The account of the ancient kings of India deals with the sundry dynasties who ruled in different parts of India like the Gurjara-Pratiharas, the Rastrakutas, the Palas, etc. Of the various dynastic rulers of the period, the Arabs considered the Rastrakutas as their friends and praised them. The reason behind this friendship and adoration was perhaps political. The Arab rulers of Sind at this time were confronted on their eastern frontiers (from Multan down to Deval, near Karachi) with the powerful Gurjara-Pratiharas with whom they seemed to have had continuous skirmishes. One of the strategies of the Arabs was that whenever there was a danger of an attack from the Gurjara-Pratiharas, they threatened to take out and destroy the deity of the temple of the sun-god Aditya in Multan which was annually visited by the Hindus, thereby they averted they averted a major war. The Gurjara Pratiharas, on the other hand, waged internecine wars with the Rastrakutas of the south. It was therefore quite natural for the Arabs to maintain good and peaceful relations with the Rastrakutas who provided them all facilities of trade and commerce in their kingdom and gave them full freedom of worship and protection of life and property.

Ibn Khurdadhbih’s account of the religious sects and schisms, as well as of the caste system, was based on a report prepared by the envoy of the ‘Abbasid minister Yahya b. Khalid al-Barmaki (d. 805). The envoy visited India and prepared the report in about A.D.800. This important report was utilized by a number of later writers but the full version is available only in Gardizi’s Zayn al-Akhbar. The latter enumerates ninety-nine divisions (sects) grouped under forty-four varieties (beliefs). Among the latter were: (1) those who believed in the Creator and the prophets; (2) those who confirmed the existence of the Creator but had no faith in the apostles and the prophets; (3) those who had no faith either in the Creator or the apostles; (4) those rejected everything but confirmed the truth of Retribution and Punishment; (5) some others who maintained that Retribution and Punishment consisted in rebirth, in happiness or in misfortune and that Paradise and the Fire are apportioned to one’s actions and are not of a lasting nature.


Book One
Roads and Kingdoms
II Commentary
Book Two
An Account of China and India
II Commentary


Sample Pages

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