Razm-nāma | Monography or Translations of known period | Survey | Perso-Indica

Monography or Translations of known period
Naqīb Ḫān, Razm-nāma

[Preliminary Entry] The Razm-nāma (Book of War) is a translation of the Sanskrit Mahābhārata into Persian that was sponsored by the Mughal Emperor Akbar (r. 1556-1605) in the 1580s. The translation includes all eighteen books of the Mahābhārata and the Harivaṃśa appendix. The translation is based primarily on the Devanagari version (northern recension) of the Sanskrit Mahābhārata. However, the Aśvamedha Parvan (Horse Sacrifice Book) is based on the Jaiminīyāśvamedha, an alternative and starkly different Sanskrit retelling. The Harivaṃśa remains unprinted, and scholars have not yet determined its source text(s).

The project involved two teams of translators who transmitted the epic verbally via their shared language of Hindi. A colophon that appears as early as 1599 lists the Sanskrit interpreters (mu‘abbirān) as: Deva Miśra, Śatāvadhāna, Madhusūdana Miśra, Caturbhuja, and Shayḫ Bhāvan. Of these Brahman interpreters, the only clearly identifiable person is Shayḫ Bhavan, who converted Islam and appears several times in Persianate histories of the period. The Persianate translators (mutarjimān) include Naqīb Ḫān (a court historian), Mullā Shīrī (a poet), Sultan Thānīsarī (a fiscal administrator), and Badā’ūnī (a secretary and prolific translator). The initial translation took eighteen months, but the Persian text was likely polished for some time thereafter.

In 1587, Akbar commissioned his vizier, Abū al-Fażl ibn Mubārak, to compose a learned preface (“Muqaddama”) to the Razm-nāma that thereafter accompanied the text. Abū al-Fażl’s preface contains a list of reasons that prompted Akbar to initiate the translation, which is of notable historical value. Later readers often attributed the entire Razm-nāma to Abū al-Fażl, although we lack evidence that he was involved in the initial translation process.

The Razm-nāma was lavishly illustrated in both imperial and subimperial manuscript copies. The translation was also voraciously recopied and survives today in hundreds of manuscript copies across South Asia and Europe.

A. T.

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)

London, British Library, Persian Oriental 12076. (books 14-18)


London, British Library, Persian Additional 5641-5642.

, ii)



Aligarh, Aligarh Muslim University, University Collection No. Persian/Ikhbar 2.

, i) Kashmir, ii)



Illustrated manuscripts: 

Jaipur, Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum, acc. no. AG 1683-AG 1850.

, ii)


, iv) Akbar.

Lucknow, State Museum A.N. 57,106. (Harivaṃśa)

, ii)



Calcutta, Birla Family Personal Collection.

, ii)



Srinagar, Oriental Research Library, Persian 211.


Srinagar, Oriental Research Library, Persian 175.


Delhi, National Museum, 63.47.


Mumbai, Asiatic Society of Bombay, 143693.


Lithograph:  Mahābhārat-i Fārsī, Lucknow, Nawal Kišor,



Edition:  Mahabharata: The Oldest and Longest Sanskrit Epic. Translated by Mir Ghayasuddin Ali Qazvini Known As Naqib Khan (D. 1023 AH), 4 vols., S. M. Reza Jalali Naini and Dr. N. S. Shukla, ed., Tehran, Kitabkhanah-i Tahuri,



English translation: The last days of Krishna and the sons of Pandu: from the concluding section of the Mahabharat, 1831, translated by Major David Price. London. (available at : http://persian.packhum.org/persian/main)


Das, Asok Kumar, 1983, “The Imperial Razm Nama and Ramayana of the Emperor Akbar,” In K. Khandalavala, ed., An Age of Splendor: Islamic Art in India, Bombay, Marg.

Das, Asok Kumar, 1998, “Daswant: His Last Drawings in the Razmnama,” In A. K. Das, ed., Mughal Masters: Further Studies, Mumbai, Marg.

Das, Asok Kumar, 2004, “Notes on Four Illustrations of the Birla Razmnama and their counterparts in other Razmnama Manuscripts,” In R. Crill - S. Stronge – A. Topsfield, eds, Arts of Mughal India: Studies in Honour of Robert Skelton, Ahmedabad, Mapin.

Das, Asok Kumar, 2005, Paintings of the Razmnama: The Book of War, Ahmedabad, Mapin.

Ernst, Carl. W., 2003, “Muslim Studies of Hinduism? A Reconsideration of Arabic and Persian Translations from Indian Languages,” Iranian Studies, 36, 2, pp. 173-195.

Hendley, Thomas Holbein, 1883, Memorials of the Jeypore Exhibition, Vol 4, London, W. Griggs.

Rice, Yael, 2010, “A Persian Mahabharata: The 1598–1599 Razmnama,” Manoa, 22, 1, pp. 125-131.

Seyller, John, 1985, “Model and Copy: The Illustration of Three Razmnāma Manuscripts,” Archives of Asian Art, 38, pp. 37-66.

Truschke, Audrey, 2011, “The Mughal Book of War: A Persian Translation of the Sanskrit Mahabharata,Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, 31, 2, pp. 506-520.

Main Persian Title: Razm-nāma
Translator: Naqīb Ḫān
Original Sources:

Alternative Title(s):
Tarjuma-i Mahābhārat
Approximate period of composition: 1580-1600
Place: Fatehpur Sikri 
Local Informants: Deva Miśra,  Śatāvadhāna,  Madhusūdana Miśra,  Caturbhuja,  Shayḫ Bhavan
Quoted sources on India:
Mahābhārata (Devanagari version)