Book: Asar-us-Sanadid Author: Sayyid Ahmad Khan Translated and Edited by: RanaSafvi Publisher: Tulika Books (2018), ISBN: 978-93-82381-87-7 Pages: 409 Price: 1500
Author: Sayyid Ahmad Khan
Translated and Edited by: RanaSafvi
Publisher: Tulika Books (2018), ISBN: 978-93-82381-87-7
Mumtaz Ahmad Numani
Sayyid Ahmad Khan (CE 1817-1898), [also spelled Syed Ahmed Khan] commonly known as ‘Sir Sayyid’ was not only a multilingual person, but, ‘a many person rolled into one’.
Being an Islamic reformist and founder of an educational Institution—the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College in Aligarh (now Aligarh Muslim University), he has been best recognized as the author and editor of several books.
His passion for understanding and moreover recognizing the importance of ‘religious’, ‘cultural’, ‘political’ and ‘art’ history is manifest in his authorship and editorship.
Asar-us-Sanadid (“The Remnants of Ancient Monuments”) is one of those books of Sayyid Ahmad Khan, which guarantees an insight of knowledge to the readers and researchers of ‘architectural’ and ‘cultural’ history of India.
Originally, the book has been brought out in print in two separate editions. The first edition of the book was printed out in 1847, which consists of four chapters. The second edition of the book consists of three chapters and an epilogue, is the revised, improved, and enlarged version, which, as the author himself admits, was written as a course correction to the first edition on the request of Royal Asiatic Society members in 1854.
Chapter 1 (pp. 21-1442) of the first edition describes around 130 monuments outside the walled city of Shahjahanabad—now called the ‘Old Delhi’. Chapter 2 (pp. 143-170) is a description of the 32 buildings inside the Qila-e-Mu’alla or QilaShahjahan—now much known as the Red Fort. Chapter 3 (pp. 171-206) describes 70 buildings, gateways and canals inside the walled city that is the KhasShahr ‘Shahjahanabad’. It also gives a description of the population of the city. Chapter 4 (pp. 207-261) which is the last chapter of the first edition of the book, records the character and mannerism of the people of Delhi.
Sayyid Ahmad Khan begins this chapter with a note on the climate and language of Delhi. He would observe that, how growing urbanism in the city had destroyed its natural landscape and the environment around. In this chapter, Sayyid Ahmad further goes on to list the Sufi masters, noted physicians, the Ulema, the reciters and memorizers of the Qur’an, the poets and musicians.
Chapters 1 and 2 (pp. 267-295) of the second edition of the book, present a brief description of the ruling dynasties of India, the origins of Delhi and a list of the Forts built by the rulers of different times. Chapter 3 (pp. 296-350) provides a chronological list including description of the monuments built by the Badshahs and Amirs of Delhi. Chapter 3 is followed by an epilogue, which is ‘an explanation in explanation of Urdu’. It explains: how the mixing of Persian with the Hindi language brought a new language into being called ‘Urdu’.
The first edition of Asar-us-Sanadid had received its four review comments from the four stalwarts of that time. One of the four reviews had come from the pen of MirzaAsadullah Khan Ghalib.
However, the second edition of the book (unlike receiving review comments) includes a preface by the author in English. The basic difference (apart from other differences) between the two editions of Asar-us-Sanadid, as admitted by the author himself and felt while translating and editing (the book) by RanaSafvi had remained in the ‘choice and usage of words’ and ‘the style of writing’.
Asar-us-Sanadid is an indispensable piece of work reached to us through the hardwork of its author Sayyid Ahmad Khan—who occasionally had put his life at risk while obtaining an exact copy of the inscriptions of monuments, as in the case of the QutbMinar, a fact penned by his biographer Altaf Husain Hali in Hayat-i-Javed and underlined in the ‘Translator’s Note’.
Safvi further brings to our knowledge that, “in India, for the first time a book had lithographically produced illustrations. These 130 illustrations of Delhi’s monuments were drawn by Faiz Ali Khan and MirzaShahrukh Beg. The drawings were probably based on rough sketches provided by Sayyid Ahmad Khan himself (p. 11).”
As a reader and reviewer of the book, I must put on record that, Safvi, with the help of other scholars, has done a commendable job in putting together the two editions of Asar-us-Sanadid into a single binding.
Also, a special mention must be made of the notes that have been provided at the end of each chapter and the appendices and glossary that have been carefully prepared and incorporated in the book just to raise the interest as well as improve on the knowledge of the students/scholars and general readers.
As Sayyid Ahmad Khan, apart from sharing the knowledge of the city of Delhi, its people and surroundings, had succeeded in preserving the knowledge of built monuments for the upcoming generations, so has succeeded Safvi in translating and editing the book in a lucid English language, which, if I have to judge and convey to, will be manifest to its readers in many ways.