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Athar-us-Sanadid by Sir Syed

It is said, that history is written by the victors. This makes the role of Historians doubtful. However, there are cases where certain facts are available and mentioned by multiple authors/travellers, yet, some historians fail to interpret them correctly.

When I started studying Delhi’s monuments, I was told to read Athar-us-Sanadid by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. We all know Sir Syed as a reformer and founder of various educational institutions in India. His contribution to the field of education cannot be ignored and at the same time, he was also instrumental in devising various acts, that still influence the constitution of India. He also has a very huge list of religious and academic work to his credit.

His work, Athar-us-Sanadid is one of the oldest compilation of Delhi’s monuments and is regarded as the oldest bible of Delhi’s heritage. I had to learn Urdu to read that book, only to find that Prof. R. Nath had translated his book decades ago. However, now that I can read Sir Syed’s work, I spent quality time reading and analysing it. There were few things that did not make any sense, but being new to this field, I felt as if challenging Sir Syed’s work would be blasphemy.

As I read more, I realized that Sir Syed’s work has numerous flaws. I have read several pages and I would like to use this post for a detailed discussion on his work:

What is Athar-us-Sanadid?

Athar-us-Sanadid is Urdu work, originally published in 1846. It was the first attempt of any Indian author to present Delhi’s heritage in vernacular language. The original work was divided into 4 parts, covered in about 600 pages. The work was presented in the Asiatic Society, London, where they requested it to be translated to English. Sir Syed and Mr. Roberts, the district magistrate of Shahjahanabad started its translation. It was then, when they found that this original work is full of flaws and is not organized properly. Sir Syed had to stall the translation and fix the flaws. In the preface of second edition, Sir Syed mentions “The original work was then found to be insufficient and full of defects, and the need to re-write it afresh in order to remove those drawbacks was realized. Hence the translation work was postponed and the book was re-written afresh.

However, I feel that even in this second edition of 1854, many of the flaws were not fixed, perhaps, new were introduced.

Flaws in Athar-us-Sanadid

This Blog post will get too long if I were to discuss every page of Athar-us-Sanadid. However, to spark the conversation let me point out following things:

  1. About Qutub Minar, Sir Syed mentions that the first door of minaret faces Northward, as the hindus always have it, whereas Mohammedans always have it eastward.
    Fact: Direction of gate depends on many factors in Hindu Vastu Kala. We have numerous temples facing West, East or South. Also, It is not important that Muslims buildings face eastward. We have strong examples from Feroz Shah Kotla, Khirki, Bijai Mandal and few others. Even Taj Mahal has entry from South.
  2. More about Qutub Minar, he mentions that it is customary for Hindus to commence building without any platform. But mohamedans first make a platform and then erect the building.
    Fact: There is only 1 temple (brick temple near Kanpur), that I am aware of, where we do not have a platform. All other Hindu buildings are made with a platform. Take Temples, or even if we talk about towers, take example of Kirti Stambh in Chhittorgarh. Platform is an important element everywhere and has a strong significance in Vastu Shastra.
  3. Sir Syed mentions that the first level of Qutub Minar was made by Prithvi Raj Chauhan (Rai Pithora, as he mentions), but his conclusion is majorly based on above two points, which we know, were written without gathering proper information about Hindu architecture.
  4. Sir Syed attributes talks about Indraprastha and says that King Indra (the god of rain) distributed pearls in this area and hence it is called Indraprastha. Kind Indra, the king of sky is also the king of this land.
  5. Sir Syed attributes King Anangpal Tomar with the construction of Old Fort.
    Fact: Anangpal built Lal Kot of Mehrauli and not Old Fort. Ain-i-Akbari mentions this fort as Kaurav-Pandav ka Qila. The present fort was built by Sher Shah Suri. On reading complete description of Sir Syed, I realized that he mixed up Lal Kot and Shergarh
  6. Sir Syed mentions that Qila Rai Pithora was built in 1143 AD.
    Fact: Prithvi Raj Chauhan was born in 1149 AD
  7. Sir Syed mentions at one place that Mehrauli is called so because of ‘Meher-i-Wali’. Wali here is refered to Khwaja Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki
    Fact: Mehrauli is a corruption of Mihirapuri. The name finds mention in Jain Pattawalis and in records of several travellers, who came to the observatory of Varah Mihir, which was in Mihirapuri (now Mehrauli).

I want to mention several more, but the post will become very long. I may keep adding information to same blog in future, if required.

Please feel free to correct me, if I am wrong. And in case you have better information to add, please use the comments section below.

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