Accounts of ancient, medieval India by foreigners

Shaitan

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Here we can compile accounts of ancient and medieval India by foreigners.

Starting with the Portuguese Dominigo Paes account of the medieval Vijayanagara empire.

Returning then to the city of Bisnaga [Vijayanagara], you must know that from it to the new city goes a street as wide as a place of tourney, with both sides lined throughout with rows of houses and shops where they sell everything; and all along this road are many trees that the king commanded to be planted, so as to afford shade to those that pass along. On this road he commanded to be erected a very beautiful temple of stone, and there are other pagodas that the captains and great lords caused to be erected.
Before you arrive at the city gates there is a gate with a wall that encloses all the other enclosures of the city, and this wall is a very strong one and of massive stonework; but at the present time it is injured in some places. They do not fail to have citadels in it. This wall has a moat of water in some places, and in the parts where it was constructed on low ground. [...] From this first circuit until you enter the city there is a great distance, in which are fields in which they sow rice and have many gardens and much water, which water comes from two lakes. The water passes through this first line of wall, and there is much water in the lakes because of springs; and here there are orchards and a little grove of palms, and many houses. [...]
Then going forward you have another gate with another line of wall, and it also encircles the city inside the first, and from here to the king's palace is all streets and rows of houses, very beautiful, and houses of captains and other rich and honourable men; you will see rows of houses with many figures and decorations pleasing to look at. Going along the principal street, you have one of the chief gateways, which issues from a great open space in front of the king's palace[...]

This palace of the king is surrounded by a very strong wall like some of the others, and encloses a greater space than all the castle of Lisbon. Still going forward, passing to the other gate you see two temples connected with it, one on each side, and at the door of one of these they kill every day many sheep[...]

Close to these pagodas is a triumphal car covered with carved work and images, and on one day in each year during a festival they drag this through the city in such streets as it can traverse. It is large and cannot turn corners.

Going forward, you have a broad and beautiful street, full of rows of fine houses and streets of the sort I have described, and it is to be understood that the houses belong to men rich enough to afford such. In this street live many merchants, and there you will find all sorts of rubies, and diamonds, and emeralds, and pearls, and seed-pearls, and cloths, and every other sort of thing there is on earth and that you may wish to buy. [...]

Then when this gate is passed you have another street where there are many craftsmen, and they sell many things; and in this street there are two small temples. There are temples in every street, for these appertain to institutions like the confraternities you know of in our parts of all the craftsmen and merchants; but the principal and greatest pagodas are outside the city. In this street lodged Christovão de Figueiredo. On every Friday you have a fair there, with many pigs and fowls and dried fish from the sea, and other things the produce of the country, of which I do not know the name; and in like manner a fair is held every day in different parts of the city. At the end of this street is the Moorish quarter, which is at the very end of the city, and of these Moors there are many who are natives of the country and who are paid by the king and belong to his guard. In this city you will find men belonging to every nation and people, because of the great trade which it has, and the many precious stones there, principally diamonds.
The size of this city I do not write here, because it cannot all be seen from any one spot, but I climbed a hill whence I could see a great part of it; I could not see it all because it lies between several ranges of hills. What I saw from thence seemed to me as large as Rome, and very beautiful to the sight; there are many groves of trees within it, in the gardens of the houses, and many conduits of water which flow into the midst of it, and in places there are lakes; and the king has close to his palace a palm-grove and other rich-bearing fruit-trees. Below the Moorish quarter is a little river, and on this side are many orchards and gardens with many fruit-trees, for the most part mangoes and areca-palms and jack-trees, and also many lime and orange trees, growing so closely one to another that it appears like a thick forest; and there are also white grapes. All the water which is in the city comes from the two tanks of which I have spoken, outside the first enclosing wall.
The people in this city are countless in number, so much so that I do not wish to write it down for fear it should be thought fabulous; but I declare that no troops, horse or foot, could break their way through any street or lane, so great are the numbers of the people and elephants. This is the best provided city in the world.[…]
You should know that among these heathen there are days when they celebrate their feasts as with us; and they have their days of fasting, when all day they eat nothing, and eat only at midnight. When the time of the principal festival arrives the king comes from the new city to this city of Bisnaga, since it is the capital of the kingdom and it is the custom there to make their feasts and to assemble. For these feasts are summoned all the dancing-women of the kingdom, in order that they should be present; and also the captains and kings and great lords with all their retinues,—except only those whom the king may have sent to make war, or those who are in other parts, or at the far end of the kingdom on the side where (an attack) is feared, such as the kingdom of Oria and the territories of the Ydallcão [Adilshahi dynasty of Bijapur]; and even if such captains are absent in such places, there appear for them at the feasts those whom I shall hereafter mention.
These feasts begin on the 12th of September, and they last nine days, and take place at the king's palace.
[...]

You must know that when it is morning the king comes to this House of Victory, and betakes himself to that room where the idol is with its Brahmans, and he performs his prayers and ceremonies. Outside the house are some of his favourites, and on the square are many dancing-girls dancing. In their verandahs round the square are many captains and chief people who come there in order to see; and on the ground, near the platform of the house, are eleven horses with handsome and well-arranged trappings, and behind them are four beautiful elephants with many adornments. After the king has entered inside he comes out, and with him a Brahman who takes in his hand a basket full of white roses and approaches the king on the platform, and the king, taking three handfuls of these roses, throws them to the horses and after he has thrown them he takes a basket of perfumes and acts towards them as though he would cense them; and when he has finished doing this he reaches towards the elephants and does the same to them.[...]Thence he witnesses the slaughter of twenty-four buffaloes and a hundred and fifty sheep, with which a sacrifice is made to that idol; you must know that they cut off the heads of these buffaloes and sheep at one blow with certain large sickles which are wielded by a man who has charge of this slaughter; they are so sure of hand that no blow misses. When they have finished the slaughter of these cattle the king goes out and goes to the other large buildings, on the platforms of which is a crowd of Brahmans, and as soon as the king ascends to where they stand they throw to the king ten or twelve roses—those (that is) who are nearest to him. Then he passes all along the top of the buildings, [...] and as soon as he is at the end he takes the cap from his head, and after placing it on the ground turns back (to the place) where the idol is; here he lies extended on the ground. When he has arisen he betakes himself to the interior of the building, […] Then he goes back to the place whence he threw the flowers to the horses, and as soon as he is here all the captains and chief people come and make their salaam to him, and some, if they so desire, present some gifts to him; then as they came so they retire, and each one betakes himself to his own dwelling. And the king withdraws to the interior of his palace, the courtesans and bayadères remain dancing in front of the temple and idol for a long time.[...]

In this way are celebrated these festivals of nine days; on the last day there are slaughtered two hundred and fifty buffaloes and four thousand five hundred sheep.


When these days of festival are past, the king holds a review of all his forces, and the review is thus arranged. The king commands to pitch his tent of Mecca velvet a full league from the city, at a place already fixed for that purpose; and in this tent they place the idol in honour of which all these festivals are celebrated. From this tent to the king's palace the captains range themselves with their troops and array, each one in his place according to his rank in the king's household. Thus the soldiers stand in line; but it does not appear to you to be only one line but in some places two or three, one behind the other. Where there was a lake it was surrounded with troops, and where the road was narrow they were drawn up on the plain; and so on the slope of the hills and eminences, in such a way that you could see neither plain nor hill that was not entirely covered with troops. Those on foot stood in front of those on horses, and the elephants behind the horses; in this array was each captain with his troops. [...]

 

Shaitan

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This king is of medium height, and of fair complexion and good figure,
rather fat than thin, he has on his face signs of small-pox. He is
the most feared and perfect king that could possibly be, cheerful of
disposition and very merry; he is one that seeks to honour foreigners,
and receives them kindly, asking about all their affairs whatever
their condition may be He is a great ruler and a man of much justice,
but subject to sudden fits of rage,[398] and this is his title ~~
"Crisnarao Macacao,[399] king of kings, lord of the greater lords of
India, lord of the three seas and of the land." He has this title[400]
because he is by rank a greater lord than any, by reason of what he
possesses in (?) armies and territories, but it seems that he has (in
fact) nothing compared to what a man like him ought to have, so gallant
and perfect is he in all things. This king was constantly at war with
the king of Orya, and entered his kingdom, taking and destroying many
cities and towns; he put to rout numbers of his soldiers and elephants,
and took captive his son, whom he kept for a long time in this city of
Bisnaga, where he died; and in order to make a treaty and (preserve)
peace, the king of Orya gave him a daughter whom the king of Bisnaga
married and has as his wife.

Dominigo Paes's description of Krishnadevaraya

This king is accustomed every day to drink QUARTILHO (three-quarter
pint) of oil of GINGELLY[403] before daylight, and anoints himself
all over with the said oil; he covers his loins with a small cloth,
and takes in his arms great weights made of earthenware, and then,
taking a sword, he exercises himself with it till he has sweated out
all the oil, and then he wrestles with one of his wrestlers. After this
labour he mounts a horse and gallops about the plain in one direction
and another till dawn, for he does all this before daybreak. Then he
goes to wash himself, and a Brahman washes him whom he holds sacred,
and who is a great favourite of his and is a man of great wealth; and
after he is washed he goes to where his pagoda is inside the palace,
and makes his orisons and ceremonies, according to custom. Thence
he goes to a building made in the shape of a porch without walls,
which has many pillars hung with cloths right up to the top, and
with the walls handsomely painted; it has on each side two figures of
women very well made. In such a building he despatches his work with
those men who bear office in his kingdom, and govern his cities,
and his favourites talk with them. The greatest favourite is an
old man called Temersea;[404] he commands the whole household,
and to him all the great lords act as to the king. After the king
has talked with these men on subjects pleasing to him he bids enter
the lords and captains who wait at the gate, and these at once enter
to make their salaam to him. As soon as they appear they make their
salaam to him, and place themselves along the walls far off from him;
they do not speak one to another, nor do they chew betel before him,
but they place their hands in the sleeves of their tunics (CABAYAS)
and cast their eyes on the ground; and if the king desires to speak
to any one it is done through a second person, and then he to whom the
king desires to speak raises his eyes and replies to him who questions
him, and then returns to his former position. So they remain till the
king bids them go, and then they all turn to make the salaam to him
and go out. The salaam, which is the greatest courtesy that exists
among them, is that they put their hands joined above their head as
high as they can. Every day they go to make the salaam to the king.
Some routine of the Vijayanagara emperor

The size of this city I do not write here, because it cannot all
be seen from any one spot, but I climbed a hill whence I could see
a great part of it; I could not see it all because it lies between
several ranges of hills. What I saw from thence seemed to me as large
as Rome, and very beautiful to the sight; there are many groves of
trees within it, in the gardens of the houses, and many conduits of
water which flow into the midst of it, and in places there are lakes
(TAMQUES); and the king has close to his palace a palm-grove and other
rich-bearing fruit-trees. Below the Moorish quarter is a little river,
and on this side are many orchards and gardens with many fruit-trees,
for the most part mangoes and areca-palms and jack-trees, and also
many lime and orange trees, growing so closely one to another that
it appears like a thick forest; and there are also white grapes. All
the water which is in the city comes from the two tanks of which I
have spoken, outside the first enclosing wall.

The people in this city are countless in number, so much so that I
do not wish to write it down for fear it should be thought fabulous;
but I declare that no troops, horse or foot, could break their way
through any street or lane, so great are the numbers of the people
and elephants.
Returning then to the city of Bisnaga, you must know that from it
to the new city goes a street as wide as a place of tourney, with
both sides lined throughout with rows of houses and shops where they
sell everything; and all along this road are many trees that the
king commanded to be planted, so as to afford shade to those that
pass along. On this road he commanded to be erected a very beautiful
temple of stone,[410] and there are other pagodas that the captains
and great lords caused to be erected.

So that, returning to the city of Bisnaga, you must know that before
you arrive at the city gates there is a gate with a wall that encloses
all the other enclosures of the city, and this wall is a very strong
one and of massive stonework; but at the present time it is injured
in some places. They do not fail to have citadels[411] in it. This
wall has a moat of water in some places, and in the parts where it was
constructed on low ground. And there is, separate from it, yet another
(defence) made in the following manner. Certain pointed stones of great
height are fixed in the ground as high as a man's breast; they are
in breadth a lance-shaft and a half, with the same distance between
them and the great wall. This wall rises in all the low ground till
it reaches some hill or rocky land. From this first circuit until
you enter the city there is a great distance, in which are fields
in which they sow rice and have many gardens and much water, which
water comes from two lakes. The water passes through this first line
of wall, and there is much water in the lakes because of springs; and
here there are orchards and a little grove of palms, and many houses.

Returning, then, to the first gate of the city, before you arrive at
it you pass a little piece of water and then you arrive at the wall,
which is very strong, all of stonework, and it makes a bend before
you arrive at the gate; and at the entrance of this gate are two
towers, one on each side, which makes it very strong. It is large and
beautiful. As soon as you pass inside there are two little temples;
one of them has an enclosing wall with many trees, while the whole
of the other consists of buildings; and this wall of the first gate
encircles the whole city. Then going forward you have another gate with
another line of wall, and it also encircles the city inside the first,
and from here to the king's palace is all streets and rows of houses,
very beautiful, and houses of captains and other rich and honourable
men; you will see rows of houses with many figures and decorations
pleasing to look at. Going along the principal street, you have one
of the chief gateways,[412] which issues from a great open space[413]
in front of the king's palace; opposite this is another which passes
along to the other side of the city; and across this open space pass
all the carts and conveyances carrying stores and everything else,
and because it is in the middle of the city it cannot but be useful.

This palace of the king is surrounded by a very strong wall like
some of the others, and encloses a greater space (TERAA MOOR CERCA)
than all the castle of Lisbon.

Still going forward, passing to the other gate you see two temples
connected with it, one on each side, and at the door of one of these
they kill every day many sheep, for in all the city they do not kill
any sheep for the use of the heathen (Hindus), or for sale in the
markets, except at the gate of this pagoda. Of their blood they make
sacrifices to the idol that is in the temple. They leave the heads
to him, and for each sheep they give a SACO (CHAKRAM), which is a
coin like a CARTILHA (QUARTILHA ~~ a farthing).

There is present at the slaughter of these beasts a JOGI (priest)
who has charge of the temple, and as soon as they cut off the head
of the sheep or goat this JOGI blows a horn as a sign that the idol
receives that sacrifice. Hereafter I shall tell of these JOGIS,
what sort of men they are.[414]

Close to these pagodas is a triumphal car covered with carved work
and images, and on one day in each year during a festival they drag
this through the city in such streets as it can traverse. It is large
and cannot turn corners.

Going forward, you have a broad and beautiful street, full of rows
of fine houses and streets of the sort I have described, and it
is to be understood that the houses belong to men rich enough to
afford such. In this street live many merchants, and there you will
find all sorts of rubies, and diamonds, and emeralds, and pearls,
and seed-pearls, and cloths, and every other sort of thing there
is on earth and that you may wish to buy. Then you have there every
evening a fair where they sell many common horses and nags (ROCIS E
SEMDEIROS), and also many citrons, and limes, and oranges, and grapes,
and every other kind of garden stuff, and wood; you have all in this
street. At the end of it you have another gate with its wall, which
wall goes to meet the wall of the second gate of which I have spoken
in such sort that this city has three fortresses, with another which
is the king's palace. Then when this gate is passed you have another
street where there are many craftsmen, and they sell many things; and
in this street there are two small temples. There are temples in every
street, for these appertain to institutions like the confraternities
you know of in our parts,[415] of all the craftsmen and merchants;
but the principal and greatest pagodas are outside the city. In this
street lodged Christovao de Figueiredo. On every Friday you have a
fair there, with many pigs and fowls and dried fish from the sea,
and other things the produce of the country, of which I do not know
the name; and in like manner a fair is held every day in different
parts of the city. At the end of this street is the Moorish quarter,
which is at the very end of the city, and of these Moors there are
many who are natives of the country[416] and who are paid by the king
and belong to his guard. In this city you will find men belonging
to every nation and people, because of the great trade which it has,
and the many precious stones there, principally diamonds.
Account of the capital city

This king has twelve lawful wives, of whom there are three principal
ones, the sons of each of these three being heirs of the kingdom,
but not these of the others; this is (the case) when there are sons
to all of them, but when there is only one son, whosesoever he may
be, he is heir. One of these principal wives is the daughter of the
king of Orya, and others daughters of a king his vassal who is king
of Serimgapatao; another wife is a courtezan whom in his youth he had
for mistress before he became king, and she made him promise that if
he came to be king he would take her to wife, and thus it came to
pass that this courtezan became his wife. For love of her he built
this new city, and its name was ... (SIC IN ORIG.) ... Each one of
these wives has her house to herself, with her maidens and women of
the chamber, and women guards and all other women servants necessary;
all these are women, and no man enters where they are, save only the
eunuchs, who guard them. These women are never seen by any man, except
perhaps by some old man of high rank by favour of the king. When they
wish to go out they are carried in litters shut up and closed,[401]
so that they cannot be seen, and all the eunuchs with them fully
three or four hundred; and all other people keep a long distance
from them. They told us that each of these queens has a very large
sum of money and treasure and personal ornaments, namely armlets,
bracelets, seed-pearls,[402] pearls and diamonds, and that in great
quantity: and they also say that each of them has sixty maidens
adorned as richly as could possibly be with many jewels, and rubies
and diamonds and pearls and seed-pearls. These we afterwards saw,
and stood astonished; we saw them at certain festivals which I will
afterwards speak of, and of the manner in which they came. Within,
with these maidens, they say that there are twelve thousand women;
for you must know that there are women who handle sword and shield,
and others who wrestle, and others who blow trumpets, and others
pipes, and others instruments which are different from ours; and in
the same way they have women as bearers (BOOIS) and washing-folk,
and for other offices inside their gates, just as the king has the
officers of his household. These three principal wives have each
the same, one as much as the other, so that there may never be any
discord or ill feeling between them; all of them are great friends,
and each one lives by herself. It may be gathered from this what a
large enclosure there must be for these houses where so many people
live, and what streets and lanes they must have.

Account of the emperor's wives

This is the best provided city in the world, and is stocked with
provisions such as rice, wheat, grains, Indian-corn, and a certain
amount of barley and beans, MOONG,[417] pulses, horse-gram,[418]
and many other seeds which grow in this country which are the food
of the people, and there is large store of these and very cheap;
but wheat is not so common as the other grains, since no one eats
it except the Moors. But you will find what I have mentioned. The
streets and markets are full of laden oxen without count, so that you
cannot get along for them, and in many streets you come upon so many
of them that you have to wait for them to pass, or else have to go by
another way. There is much poultry; they give three fowls in the city
for a coin worth a VINTEM,[419] which coins are called FAVAOS;[420]
outside the city they give four fowls for a VINTEM.
Capital city's food habit


 
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Shaitan

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Accounts of Ludovico di Varthema an Italian traveler from the 15th-16th century.

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Foreign traders in Calicut

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Calicuts military

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Personal wealth of the Calicut king

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City of Cacolon and Orthodox community


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City of Paleachet

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City of Tarnassari

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Portuguese arms producers for the king of Calicut
 

Shaitan

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Ludovico di Varthema11.png

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Ludovico di Varthema account of Vijayanagara and use of elephants in war and ship industry

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Account of Bahmani Sultanate
 
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Shaitan

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Afanasy Nikitin was a Russian merchant, traveler gives some accounts of India at the 15th Century AD

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Occupation of Deccan, etc. by Islamic empires, etc.

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Sultan of Bidar and the Deccan city of Bidar

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Continue

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Deccan sultanates war against Vijayanagar

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Sack of Vijayanagar
 

Shaitan

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More from Ludovico Di Varthema

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Vijayanagar emperors personal wealth, clothing descriptions, etc.

=======================================================

Abdur Razzaq was a ambassador of Shah Rukh from the Timurids. He made travels through South India and gave his accounts.

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Description of Calicut, law and order, mercantile activity in the city

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Description of attire of locals, King, Muslims, etc.

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Vijayanagara's supremacy in the south


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An impressive monument inside Vijayanagara territory

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Another impressive monument inside Vijayanagara territory
 
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Shaitan

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Abdur Razzaq was a ambassador of Shah Rukh from the Timurids. He made travels through South India and gave his accounts. (Continued)


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Descriptions of Vijayanagara

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Descriptions of Vijayanagara's capital

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The city's defences

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Personal wealth of the city

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Annual grand gathering held in Vijayanagara
 
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Varun2002

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It would be nice to read about the accounts of merchants/traders throughout Indian history. Both those engaging in internal trade, as well as external. The history of the use of coinage in India for trade vs the use of barter. Battles are fine, particularly those where Indian armies successfully repelled foreign invaders. But war accounts can get dreary after a while, given the sheer number of wars spanning more than 2300 years of recorded history!😩
 

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