Ġizlān al-hind | Monography or Translations of known period | Survey | Perso-Indica

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Mīr ‘Alī Ḫān Ḥusaynī Wāsiṭī 'Āzād' Bilgrāmī, Ġizlān al-hind

Mīr ‘Alī Ḫān Ḥusaynī Wāsiṭī Bilgrāmī, known by his taḫalluṣ Āzād, was a prominent and influential Indian literary scholar and theologian. He was born into a famed Ḥusaynī Sayyid family connected with Bilgram (a town in modern-day Uttar Pradesh, India), which had produced generations of administrators and scholars. Āzād is unusual among South Asian men of letters in having been a prolific writer in Arabic poetry and prose as well as in Persian. He was also a practicing poet in hindī (here we refer to “hindī” rather than “Hindi” to underscore that the literary tradition being discussed cannot be identified unproblematically with either modern Hindi or Urdu). The chronology of his life is well-established from autobiographical references in his own works (Toorawa 2009; Storey 1972, pp. 855-866). He was born in 1116/1704 in the Maidanpura quarter of Bilgram and received his early education from his uncle, Mīr Muḥammad Bilgrāmī, and the noted scholar Mīr Ṭufayl Muḥammad Atrawlī. Later he studied with his grandfather, Mīr ʿAbd al-Jalīl Bilgrāmī, who had returned in 1720 from an extended period in imperial service. The next year he followed ʿAbd al-Jalīl to Delhi, returning to Bilgram in 1724. He became a devotee of the Čištiyya Sufi Mīr Sayyid Luṭf Allāh and was his disciple until Luṭf Allāh’s death in 1729. He accompanied his uncle to Sind, and worked in the administration there from 1730 to 1734. In October 1737, he set off on pilgrimage to the Hijaz, a decision which he concealed from his family fearing their disapproval. When he had made it as far as the Deccan that December, he met Niẓām al-Mulk Āṣaf Jāh (d. 1161/1748), the de facto ruler of the Deccan, and gained his favour. He arrived in Mecca the following May, missing that year’s Ḥajj period. He studied in Medina, performed the Ḥajj the following year, and boarded a ship to return to India in July 1739. In February 1740, Āṣaf Jāh invited him to Aurangabad. From 1745, he was in the service of the Governor of Awrangabad, Āṣaf Jāh’s son Naṣīr Jang, until the latter’s death in 1750. Besides a year spent in Hyderabad in 1754 at the request of Shāh Nawāz Ḫān, he lived the remainder of his life in Awrangabad without a patron. He died in 1200/1786, and is buried in the Khuldabad complex northwest of Awrangabad.

The Ġizlān al-hind (Gazelles of India) is a partial translation into Persian of the author’s Arabic Subḥāt al-marjān fī ātār hindustān (The Coral Rosary on the Antiquities of Hindustān). He states that the Persian adaptation of Subḥāt al-marjān was completed on the request of his friends Mīr ʿAbd al-Qādir 'Mihrbān' Awrangābādī and Lačhmī Narāyan “Šafīq” Awrangābādī. The Arabic text was compiled in 1177/1763-1764 from pieces Āzād had previously written and consists of four chapters on (i) references in Islamic traditions to India, (ii) biographies of 45 Indian scholars of Arabic, (iii) a catalogue of Indic rhetorical figures (ṣanāi‘, sing. ṣana), and (iv) a catalogue of Indic lovers and beloveds (nāyikā-bhed). It is the only Arabic work of his that has been critically edited (Toorawa 2009; Āzād 1976-80). Ġizlān al-hind is a condensed version of chapters three and four. The work is widely available in manuscript, implying a large readership. Chapter one, which appears in highly abbreviated form in the preface of Ġizlān al-hind, has been partially translated into English (Ernst 1995).

Most manuscripts give the title Ġizlān al-hind and this is the consensus among scholars, but the editor of the critical edition has used Ġazālān al-hind (with an extra alif) instead (Āzād 2003). As the text itself tells us, the title serves as a chronogram of the work’s completion, which would be 1178 in the case of the former and 1179 in the case of the latter. The date 1178 is unambiguously spelled out in Arabic as the date writing commenced (Āzād 2003, p. 24). Although it is not impossible that Āzād began working on the text in 1178, finished it the following year and changed the title so that the chronogram would reflect the new year, the extra alif is more likely a copyist’s mistake. The modern editor seems unaware that Ġazālān al-hind does not add up to 1178, which he accepts as the date of completion, and does not address the stylistic oddity of using the Persian animate plural suffix (-ān) together with the Arabic iẓāfa (al-).

The first half of Ġizlān al-hind is a catalogue of rhetorical figures, the classification of which is the task of the sub-discipline of rhetoric known as ‘ilm-i badī‘. Some examples of important figures shared between Arabic and hindī, he notes in the preface, are īhām, ḥusn al-talīl, tajāhul al-ārif, marājatistiārah, tašbīh, jinās, and saj‘ (Āzād 2003, p. 32). The total analysis comes to 67 specific rhetorical figures: he offers 27 known in hindī and Arabic. He then describes 35 that he has invented (muḫtara‘) himself, which is to say that no previous theorist had ever named them as unique rhetorical figures. He concludes the section with a description of four miscellaneous hindī figures, one of which is a kind of multilingual īhām (roughly: punning) attributed to Amīr Ḳhusraw, and three which are “ancient” (qadīm) figures. These four are specific to Persian (and hindī), and thus did not appear in the Arabic Subḥat al-marjān. One remaining figure, istiḫdām, is mentioned in the preface as one of the 67 but Āzād states that it warrants no further discussion because it is not used in Persian (Āzād 2003, p. 33).

The second half is the nāyikā-bhed proper. He glosses this term as asrār al-niswān (secrets of women). As in the rhetorical figures section, it contains both traditional categories, for which he supplies the Indic names, and some of Āzād’s own invention: for the beloveds, he provides six traditional classifications on the basis of virtue, age, style of complaining, whether excited during the day or at night, cleverness in speech or deed, and type of arrogance. There is also a miscellaneous category with three further descriptions. He then presents nine types of his own invention. For lovers, he provides a traditional Indian division between monogamous and polyamorous lovers (that is, between anukūla and dakṣiṇa in traditional terminology, see Rakesagupta 1967, pp. 85-87). He offers his own fourteen descriptions of lovers (for useful charts of these, which provides a concordance between the present work and Subḥāt al-marjān, see Ernst 2013, pp. 49-51).

Taken together the categories in Āzād’s classification system do not match up to any other author’s system (a number of which are described in Rakesgupta 1967). He probably therefore depended on an oral recension of nāyikā-bhed and not a particular text in Sanskrit or Braj such as Keshavdās’s Rasikapriyā or Sundardās’s Sundaršringār (Sharma 2009). The latter in fact has a dedication to Šāh Jahān (r. 1628-1658), suggesting an interest in the technical aspects of hindī poetry at the Mughal imperial court. The nāyikā-bhed section of Ġizlān al-hind should be seen in the context of two other major works on the poetics of the Indic beloved, namely the Risāla-yi Rāg-darpan of Faqīr Allāh Sayf Ḫān (d. 1095/1684) and the fourth chapter of Mīrzā Ḫān’s Tuḥfat al-hind. The nāyikā-bhed section of Subḥāt al-marjān is the longest engagement with these poetics in the Arabo-Persian tradition (Ernst 2013, pp. 38-39).

Āzād’s rhetoric on the purpose of his addressing Indic poetry is striking: he implies that he means for it to be literarily productive rather than an exercise in cataloguing. In the preface, he says of nāyikā-bhed (in the context of his project in Subḥāt al-marjān) that “this rare offering, which is a speciality of the Indians, must be given in service of the true Arabs” (īn armaġān-i šigarf rā kih maḫṣūṣ-i hindiyān ast bah ḫidmat-i ‘arab-i ‘arbā bāyad sipurd). Whether he literally means that he wants an Arabic-knowing readership to have some sense of nāyikā-bhed is unclear but he makes a similarly sweeping claim for Ġizlān al-hind, namely that it will bring the “delightfulness of the parrots of India” to “the people of ability of Persia” (ṣāḥib-i ṭab‘i-yi furs) (Āzād 2004, p. 24). In both cases, at least rhetorically, he meant for his ideas to circulate. Indeed, in the preface to another work, the taḏkirah Ḫizānah-i ʿĀmirah (1176/1762-3), Āzād implies that Persian has already been influenced by hindī. This has been a boon to the tradition because, he posits, “the rule is that art gets perfected when ideas blend with each other (ba-talāḥuq-i afkār)” (Alam 2004, p. 179). He uses the symbol common in both early-modern Europe and the Persianate world of translation as changing clothes, namely putting hindī poetry into Persian garb (Āzād 2004, p. 24). It is noteworthy that Āzād uses the term tafrīs to mean describing Indic rhetorical devices in Persian (Āzād 2004, p. 36). This is the word used by contemporary lexicographers to refer to what we would call lexical borrowing from other languages into Persian.

Āzād presents the Arabic, Persian, and hindī literary traditions as being fundamentally compatible albeit with notable differences in specific aspects. Though the Persian metaphorical system was ultimately derived from Arabic, the Indic system is not derived from either (Āzād 2003, pp. 31-32). Nonetheless, since ancient Indians were apparently familiar with the concept of rhetorical devices as being ma‘nawī (based on the sense) or lafẓī (based on the word), Āzād implies that the systems work on commensurate principles. A similar implication is clear in the context of his discussion of poetic metres, some of which are shared among the three literary traditions (Āzād 2003, p. 28). Thus although they sprang from different sources, Āzād recognises a universality in poetic systems. In this regard, Mīrzā Ḫān’s sense of the relationship of hindī and Persian poetics likely influenced Āzād though no direct evidence connecting the two works has come to light. The philologist Sirāj al-Dīn ‘Alī Ḫān Ārzū (d. 1169/1756), with whom Āzād corresponded, has a similar view on the universality of poetics (Keshavmurthy 2013b) However, while the Persian Ġizlān al-hind version gives Indic names for categories in the text, the Arabic Subḥāt al-marjān does not (except in the margins of some copies), and this implies more fluid movement of concepts between hindī and Persian than between hindī and Arabic (Ernst 2013, p. 39). A key difference between the traditions is to be found in their treatment of gender since Arabic and hindī poetry tend to portray an explicitly heterosexual situation (to use anachronistic terminology) with Turkish and Persian poetry tend to be homoerotic. Āzād discusses this at length in the introduction to the nāyikā-bhed, even invoking the concept of satī to explain Indian women’s devotion to their husbands (Āzād 2013, p. 116; on gender in Arabic poetics, see Bauer 1998, pp. 150-184)

The most pertinent general observation on the mechanics of translation for Āzād is that in this account of hindī poetic practices, he does not actually quote a single line of Indic poetry in the original language. Instead, he offers quotations of Persian poets that illustrate the argument he is making about hindī. On several occasions he introduces qur’anic quotations or ḥadīṯ in discussing the characteristics of Indic poetry. The Persian poets he quotes range from Ḥāfiz̤ and Amīr Ḳhusraw on the classical side of the tradition to recent greats like Ġanī Kašmīrī, Ṣā’ib, and Bedil as well as to contemporary Indian and Iranian poets (including, unsurprisingly, copious quotations from his own poetry, some of which is translated from hindī). By contrast, Mīrzā Ḫān does provide examples in hindī. Āzād came from a family of practicing hindī poets (as his own Sarw-i Āzād demonstrates), and in fact he mentions translating his own hindī poetry into Arabic to serve as examples in Subḥāt al-marjān (Ernst 2013, p. 42). Oddly, the only vernacular work attributed to him to come to light is Billī-nāma, the story of a greedy cat who who atones for his misdeeds by going on a pilgrimage, and it is probably spurious (Husain 1936, pp. 129-130).

i) Place of copying; ii) Period of copying; iii) Copyist; iv) Commissioner;
v) Information on colophon; vi) Description of miniatures/illustrations; vii) Other remarks; viii) Information on catalogue(s)

Dhaka, Madrasa-yi ‘Āliyah, no ms. number

, i) Hyderabad, Deccan, ii)

sih-šanba-yi jumādī al-āḫirī 1293/June-July 1876

, iii) Sayyid Pīr Qālhī, iv) Mawlawī Najm al-Dīn Ḥasan Qālhī, v)

it was copied in the quarter called Yāqūtpūra

, vii)

this Ms. forms the basis for the published edition of the text, Āzād 2003


Tehran, Tehran University, 7444

, ii)

yakšanba 22 jumādī al-āḫirī 1319/ Sunday 6 October 1901

, iii) Sayyid Muḥammad Jalāl al-Dīn, vii)

this Ms. was consulted by the editor of the published edition, Āzād 2003


London, British Library, IO Islamic 1814, ff. 23b-68b

, vii)

appears in same Ms. as Āzād’s Rawżat al-awliyā (ff. 1-23)

, viii)

Éthé 1903, pp. 1172-1173


Berlin, Staatsbibliothek, Petermann II 219, ff. 72

, vii)


, viii)

Pertsch 1888, pp 1001-1002


Rampur, Rażā Library, 5122m, 68 ff.

, vii)

Accession number 2674

, viii)

Fihrist-i nusḫahā-yi ḫaṭṭī-i fārsī-i kitābḫāna-yi Rażā Rāmpūr, 1997, vol. 2 p. 97


Delhi, Anjuman-i Taraqqī-i Urdū, Ms. 8916523/4, 178 ff.

, ii)

29 ramażān 1197/ 28 August 1783

, iii) Ġulām Muḥī al-Dīn, viii)

Fihrist-i nusḫahā-yi ḫaṭṭī-i fārsī-i kitābḫāna-yi anjuman-i taraqqī-i urdū1999, p. 38


Lucknow, Nadwat al-‘ulamā, 35


Hyderabad, Mawlawī Sayyid ‘Alī Ḥusayn Bilgrāmī Library, Kūča-yi Madrasa-yi A‘izza

, ii)


, vii)

This information comes from a publication a century ago, and the present writer has not been able to trace the collection mentioned. The collection is described as follows: “This library, containing 1,082 MSS., is in a very good condition and possesses a valuable collection of MSS. It also contains autographs and fine specimens of calligraphy seldom found in other libraries. The owner is very fond of acquiring more MSS. The library has an excellent MS. Catalogue in Persian” (Suhrawardy 1917-1918, pp. lxxxiii, cccliii)


Aligarh, Mawlānā Āzād Library, Aligarh Muslim University, Habib Ganj 50/119, 40 ff.

, ii)


, iii) Jān-i ‘Alī, viii)

Razvi - Amrohvi 1985, p. 178


Chennai, Government Oriental Manuscripts Library, 792

, v)

colophon (as cited in the catalogue) gives the title as Ġazālān al-Hind

, vii)

according to the cataloguer, “This is also a restored copy of the manuscript which was borrowed from Dr. M. Abdul Haq, M.A., D. Phil.”

, viii)

Chandrasekharan 1950, pp. 929-931


Edition:  Ġhazālān al-hind,

Sīrūs Šamīsa, ed.

, Tehran, Ṣadā-yi Muʻasir, 2003. 

Alam, Muzaffar, 2003, “The Culture and Politics of Persian in Pre-Colonial Hindustan”, in: S. Pollock, ed., Literary Cultures in History: Reconstructions from South Asia, Berkeley, University of California.

Āzād, Ġulām ‘Alī Bilgrāmī, 1976-1980, Subḥat al-marjān fī āṯār hindustān: jild-i yakkum wa duwwum, Muḥammad Fażl al-Raḥman al-Nadwī al-Siwānī, ed., Aligarh, Jami‘at ‘Alīgaṛh al-Islāmiyya.

Āzād, Ġulām ‘Alī Bilgrāmī, 2003, Ġhazālān al-hind, Sīrūs Šamīsa, ed., Tehran, Ṣadā-yi Muʻasir.

Bauer, Thomas, 1998, Liebe und Liebesdichtung in der Arabischen Welt des 9. und 10. Jahrhunderts, Wiesbaden, Harrasowitz Verlag.

Chandrasekharan, T., 1950, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Islamic Manuscripts in the Government Oriental Manuscripts Library, Madras, Madras, Government Press.

Ernst, Carl W., 2013, “Indian Lovers in Arabic and Persian Guise: Āzād Bilgrāmī’s Depiction of Nāyikas”, Journal of Hindu Studies, 6, 1, pp. 37-51.

Ernst, Carl W., 1995, “India as a Sacred Islamic Land”, in: D. S. Lopez, Jr., ed., Religions of India in Practice, Princeton, Princeton University Press, pp. 556-564.

Ethé, Hermann, 1903, Catalogue of Persian Manuscripts in the Library of the India Office, Oxford.

Fihrist-i nusḫahā-yi aṭṭī-i fārsī-i kitābāna-yi anjuman-i taraqqī-i urdū, dihlī-i naw, 1999, New Delhi, Iran Culture House.

Fihrist-i nusḫahā-yi aṭṭī-i fārsī-i kitābāna-yi Rażā Rāmpūr, 1997, Rampur, 2 vols.

Husain, Sayyid Wajahat, 1936, “Azad Bilgrami”, Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, series iii, 2, pp. 119-113.

Keshavmurthy, Prashant, 2013a, “Tuḥfat al-hind”, Perso-Indica. An Analytical Survey of Persian Works on Indian Learned Traditions, F. Speziale – C. W. Ernst, eds., available at http://www.perso-indica.net/work/treatises_of_mixed_contents/tuhfat_al-hind-1.

Keshavmurthy, Prashant, 2013b, “The Local Universality of Poetic Pleasure: Sirājuddin ‘Ali Khān Ārzu and the Speaking Subject”, Indian Economic and Social History Review, 50, 1, pp. 27-45.

Pertsch, Wilhem, 1888, Verzeichniss der Persischen Handschriften der Königlichen Bibliothek zu Berlin, Berlin.

Rakesagupta, 1967, Studies in Nāyaka-Nāyikā-Bheda, Aligarh, Granthayan.

Razvi, M. H. - Amrohvi, M. H. Qaisar, 1985, Catalogue of Manuscripts in the Maulana Azad Library, vol. I, part II, Aligarh, Aligarh Muslim University.

Sharma, Sunil, 2009, “Translating Gender: Āzād Bilgrāmī on the Poetics of the Love Lyric and Cultural Synthesis”, The Translator, 15, 1, pp. 87-103.

Storey, C. A., 1972, Persian Literature: A Bio-Bibliographical Survey, vol. 1, London, Luzac & Company.

Suhrawardy, A., 1917-1918, “Notes on Important Arabic and Persian Manuscripts Found in Various Libraries in India”, Journal & Proceedings of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, new series 13/14, pp. lxxvii-cxxxix, cxcix-ccclvi.

Toorawa, Shawkat M., 2009, “Āzād Bilgrāmī”, in: J. E. Lowry – D. J. Stewart, eds., Essays in Arabic Literary Biography, 1350-1850, Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz Verlag, pp. 91-97.

Arthur D. Dudney

Originally published: 22 April 2015
How to quote this article:

Dudney, Arthur D., 2015, "Ġizlān al-hind", Perso-Indica. An Analytical Survey of Persian Works on Indian Learned Traditions, F. Speziale - C. W. Ernst, eds.,

available at http://www.perso-indica.net/work/gizlan_al-hind.

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Main Persian Title: Ġizlān al-hind
English Translation of Main Persian Title: The Gazelles of India
Translator: Mīr ‘Alī Ḫān Ḥusaynī Wāsiṭī 'Āzād' Bilgrāmī
Original Sources:

Mīr ‘Alī Ḫān Ḥusaynī Wāsiṭī Bilgrāmī

Subḥāt al-marjān fī ātār hindustān

Alternative Title(s):
Ġazālān al-hind
Year / Period of Composition: 1178/1764

sar āmad-i maḥsināt-i kalām sitāyiš-i ṣāni‘ī kih ḫalwat-kada-yi tanzīh rā wujūd-i ū nawāḫt

Place: Awrangabad