ʿALĪ EBRĀHĪM KHAN, Indian statesman and literary figure (d. 1208/1793-94). His full name, including titles, was Navvāb Amīn-al-dawla ʿAzīz-al-molk ʿAlī Ebrāhīm Khan Bahādor Naṣīr Jang; he used the taḵalloṣ Ḵalīl or Ḵalīl ʿAẓīmābādī in his Persian poetry. He was perhaps the most politically astute of the brilliant circle Persian-descended Shiʿites who gathered at the Murshidabad court of ʿAlī Vardī Khan (Navvāb of Bengal, 1155-69/1740-56), a group which included his close friend, the historian Ḡolām-Ḥosayn Khan (1140-1213/1727-99), who provides most of the known facts of his career; but his lasting reputation rests on the literary work of his later years, especially his Persian biographies of the Indian writers of his generation. If Nota Manus’ reference to him as “a man of seventy” in 1198/1784 (Sīar al-motaʾaḵḵerīn, p. 83 fn.) is accepted, then it may be conjectured that he was born ca. 1126/1714. According to both Garcin de Tassy (Histoire de la Littérature Hindouie II, p. 1) and Aḵtar Oraynvī (Behār men Ordū zabān va adab, p. 324), his father’s name was Ḵᵛāǰa ʿAbd-al-Ḥakīm. ʿAlī Ebrāhīm apparently spent his childhood and youth in Šayḵpūra and ʿAẓīmābād (Patna); in 1161/1748 during a visit to ʿAẓīmābād ʿAlī Vardī Khan invited ʿAlī Ebrāhīm to join his court at Murshidabad, where he soon impressed his fellow courtiers as much through his integrity and loyalty as his exceptional literary skills. In the years 1173-76/1760-63, ʿAlī Ebrāhīm was the most trusted advisor to the ill-fated Navvāb Mīr Qāsem, who tried to reverse the East India Company’s conquest of Bengal. The British and their Indian collaborators respected ʿAlī Ebrāhīm’s abilities and they soon employed him in the civil administration; in 1781 he accepted the post of Chief Magistrate of Civil Courts (dārūḡa-ye ʿadālāt-e dīvān) at Benares and the temporary role of amīn, executive assistant to the British Resident, in the overall government of Benares district. The Governor-General wrote that “such is the opinion entertained of the Wisdom, and Integrity of Ally Ibrahim Cawn that the Naib will respect his opinions, and will at least fear to commit any gross Neglect or Misdemeanor with such an eye constantly regarding him” (Warren Hastings to Council, Fort William, from Lucknow, 13 June 1784, f. 1027; Fort William correspondence in India Office Library, London). There was then in Benares a vigorous Persian-Shiʿite literary and social circle, dating from the times of the Iranian immigrant Shaikh Moḥammad ʿAlī Ḥazīn (1102-80/1692-1766), who was certainly admired in ʿAlī Ebrāhīm’s circle.
Though ʿAlī Ebrāhīm began to write in Murshidabad, where he was also a patron of poets, all his surviving works were completed at Benares. His most important literary work is Golzār-e Ebrāhīm, a taḏkera of Urdu poets, begun in 1184/1770 and completed in 1198/1784 (published with its Urdu tr., Golšan-e Hend by Mīrzā ʿAlī Loṭf, in Aligarh, 1934); Garcin de Tassy (Histoire II, p. 2) acknowledges it as one of his most important sources. Ḵolāṣat al-kalām, also completed in 1198/1784, provides notices on seventy-eight writers of Persian maṯnawīs. Ṣoḥof-e Ebrāhīm, completed in 1205/1790, includes biographical sketches of over 3,000 ancient and contemporary Persian poets. ʿAlī Ebrāhīm also wrote on the history of his times, most notably a chronological summary of the Marathas’ campaigns for control of the failing Mughal empire, a work variously titled Tārīḵ-eEbrāhīm Khan, Waqāʾeʿ-e ǰang-e Marhaṭṭa, or Aḥwāl-e ǰang-e Marhaṭṭa. One of the most lucid 18th century accounts of the Marathas, it was translated into English by A. R. Fuller and published in Elliot, History of India VIII, pp. 257-97; an Urdu translation in 1209/1794-95 was one of the earliest books printed in that language.
Storey, I, pp. 700-02, 761-62, 1100.
Sayyed Ḡolām-Ḥosayn Khan, Sīar al-motaʾaḵḵerīn, translated, with annotations by Nota Manus, Calcutta, 1789; repr. Lahore, 1975, II, pp. 69-70 and passim; III, pp. 26, 68 n., 69, 80-86, 102-04.
S. A. A. Aḵtar Oraynvī, Behār men Ordū zabān va adab kā erteqā sanh 1204 ʿe tā sanh 1857 ʿe tak (Urdu), Patna, 1957, pp. 324-26.
K. Aḥmad, ed., Do Taḏkera, 2 vols., Patna, 1959-63, I ( Taḏkera-ye šūreš of 1195/1781), pp. 243-46.
J. H. Garcin de Tassy, Histoire de la Littérature Hindouie et Hindoustani, Paris, 1870-71; repr. New York, 1965, I, p. 44; II, pp. 1-3, 191.
A. Schimmel, Classical Urdu Literature from the Beginning to Iqbal (in J. Gonda, ed., A History of Indian Literature VIII, fasc. 3), Wiesbaden, 1975, pp. 211-12.
Marshall, Mughals in India, pp. 60-61.
Originally Published: December 15, 1985
Last Updated: August 1, 2011
This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 8, pp. 860-861