When the Dutch, French and British first arrived in India, they found themselves in a subcontinent that was largely under the control of the Mughal empire. For ease of administration, the empire was organised under provinces or subahs and governed by subahdars. Akbar who introduced the system initially created 12 subahs, which expanded to 15 by the end of his rule. These were Agra, Ajmer, Bengal, Bihar, Delhi, Gujarat, Illahabad, Kabul, Lahore, Malwa, Multan, and later Ahmadnagar, Berar, and Khandesh. Shah Jahan added 4 more to the list: Bidar, Kashmir, Tatta, Orissa. Another 4 were added by Aurangzeb during his reign increasing the tally to 23: Arcot, Bijapur, Golkonda, and Sira.
Naturally keeping track of all these subahs would have been a difficult task for the Europeans. And so, they commissioned their own maps to keep apprised of the political geography. Except for the first map, all of the maps featured here were commissioned from local artists by Jean Baptiste Joseph Gentil in 1770. They were also the first maps to be based on an indigenous literary source, the Ain-i-Akbari of Abul-Fazl.
In this photo album we embark on a cartographic adventure to explore some Mughal subahs through European maps of the empire!
German map of the Mughal empire in 1740
Engraved by Albrecht Carl Seutter and published by Matthias Seutter in 1740, this map shows the “imperii Magni Mogolis“, or the empire of the Great Mughals. It is rife with cartographic errors, the most obvious being the lengthening of the Indian subcontinent. In the bottom left corner, the Greek gods Hermes, Poseidon and Fame examine the wonders of the Mughal empire, signified by jewels, ivory, and precious metals.
It is interesting to note that at the time this map was made, the Mughal empire under Muhammad Shah was effectively crumbling. Why then did map maker attribute such glories to the empire?
Subah of Awadh
Jean Baptiste Joseph Gentil was the French resident at the court of the Nawab of Awadh, Shuja-ud-Doulah. One of the original Mughal subahs, Awadh was the “cultural capital of North India”. On the left, an illustration of the Ramayana alludes to Awadh’s ancient past as the site of the Kosala kingdom.
Subah of Lahore
Lahore was an important centre for the Empire. Along with Delhi, it was the leading subah for the manufacture of military products. On the bottom corners of the map, the artist has illustrated the main rivals of Mughals in the region: “Sikh Cavaliers” in the East, and Afghan Durrani warriors on the West.
Subah of Bidar
Beder or Bidar became a Mughal subah as a result of Aurangzeb’s campaigns in the South under his father’s rule. Bidar is known for its unique metalworking tradition known as Bidri. It makes a feature on this map as well!
Subah of Tatta
Subah of Tatta (Thatta) was the province of Sindh in the Mughal empire. It was the refuge of Shah Jahan for many years, who built a beautiful mosque in return for the loving hospitality he was shown there. The map does not show the mosque, but instead features two scenes on the practice of Sati. In a letter to the French King, Gentil mentioned how Thatta would be a perfect place to open clothing and garment factories. Perhaps the horrific images of Sati served to validate the pursuit of the imperialist agenda.
Subah of Kashmir
The Subah of Kashmir was carved out of the Kabul Subah by Shah Jahan. The map is dotted with mountains reflecting the terrain of the region. It also features the local fauna. Can you name them all?
Subah of Aurangabad
The Subah of Ahmednagar was renamed to Aurangabad by Aurangzeb when he became the Viceroy of the Deccan. He even temporarily moved his capital to Aurangabad when he became Emperor. The top border shows the famous Aurangabad caves, followed by a border depicting the Maratha army.
Subah of Multan
Multan was another important subah. It was a centre for agricultural production, cotton textile manufacture and also housed the mint where currency was issued. The map features some of these coins. Multan was also known as Dar al-Aman (abode of peace), but ironically the map displays 9 different types of torturous punishments that could be issued by a judge in the province! A border at the bottom also features mythical creatures from Islamic lore, including Prophet Muhammad’s Buraq, the camel that carried Ali’s corpse, and the angel Gabriel.
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