HARKARN DĀS KANBŌH B. MATHURĀ DĀS MULTĀNI, the first Hindu author of a Persian work, namely Eršād al-ṭālebin, more commonly known as Enšāʾ-e Harkarn, a collection of documents and model letters written by him as a secretary. The details of his early career are not known. He was attached for a long time as a secretary (monši) to Nawwāb Eʿtebār Khan Ḵᵛāja-sarā, later called Momtāz Khan (d. 1034/1625), most probably a Hindu convert to Islam (Bazmee Ansari, p. 225) and a confidant and retainer of the Mughal emperor Jahāngir (1014-37/1605–27). It is not known when Harkarn Dās joined the chancellery of Eʿtebār Khan, but he was already in his service when Eʿtebār Khan was appointed governor of Agra in 1031/1622 (Šahnavāz Khan, I, pp. 704-5).

Enšāʾ-e Harkarn is a celebrated work of epistolary art, containing a collection of fictitious models of various forms of letter compositions. It was lithographed at least twice (in 1869 and 1871) in Lahore. The exact date of its compilation is not known, though references to Eʿtebār Khan by the obituary formulas of ḡofrān-panāh and reżwān-panāh, as well as the dates of some letters clearly indicate that it took place after Eʿtebār Khan’s death in 1034, most probably after 1055/1645 in the reign of Shah Jahān (Marshall, p. 176; Moʾmen, p. 213). Harkarn undertook the compilation of his work at the suggestion of some friends at Mathurā, who argued that since he had spent his entire life in the pursuits of epistolary art, he should compile a collection of various forms of correspondence (enšāʾ) to be used as a textbook (Harkarn, preamble), hence its title Eršād al-ṭālebin in several manuscripts (Maulana Azad Library, Solaymān collection, Aligarh No. 275; see Marshall, p. 177). The book is divided into a preamble and seven chapters (bāb): (1) Royal missives exchanged between kings on diplomatic relations through peace, threats of war, etc.; (2) farmāns (eṣdār-e farāmin) containing specimens of edicts (aḥkām-e divāni), such as letters addressed to judges, governors, castellans (kōtvāl), grant of a jāgir, etc.; (3) ministerial rescripts (parvānajāt) consisting of sanad-e ḵedmat (letters patent), administrative orders (ḥasab al-ḥokm), etc.; (4) petitions (ʿarāʾezµ) and letters addressed to a superior (ʿarżdāšt); (5) letters (maktubāt) exchanged between equals, relatives, and friends; (6) forms of civil contracts and legal documents (qabālāt-e šarʿi); (7) dastaks (permits) issued by royal order and by officials concerning departmental transactions and models of a saqaṭ-nāma (letter of dismissal, of rejection), maḥżar-nāma (summons), and other certificates. The book ends with a stock of the forms of address under the caption sar-nāma (superscription).

Eršād al-ṭālebin is written in a simple style, free of pedantic embellishments. The influence of the prose style of Abu’l-Fażl ʿAllāmi is evident in the use of certain idioms, phrases, and even ideas that are taken directly from ʿAllāmi’s Maktubāt, though Harkarn has failed to match the charming style of his model (Moʾmen, pp. 218-19).

Enšāʾ-e Harkarn was used in schools as a textbook for teaching Persian. It was the first Persian work of its kind to be translated into English (Balfour, 1781) in order to provide employees of the East India Company with model letters for official correspondence with local dignitaries, and was also used in schools as a textbook for teaching Persian.



Sayyed ʿAbd-Allāh, Adabiyāt-e fārsi mēn Henduon kā ḥeṣṣa, Delhi, 1942; tr. Moḥammad Aslam Kahan as Adabiyāt-e fārsidar miān-e Henduān, Tehran, 1371 Š./1992.

A. S. Bazmee Ansari, “Harkarn,” in EI2 III, pp. 225-26.

Herman Ethé, Catalogue of Persian Manuscripts in the India Office Library, London, 1980, nos. 2069-76, 2932-33.

Harkarn Dās, Enšāʾ-e Harkarn, Delhi, 1286/1869; ed. and tr. Francis Balfour as The Forms of Herkern, Calcutta, 1781, repr. Lahore, 1871.

D. N. Marshall, Mughals in India: A Bibliographical Survey, London, 1985, pp. 176-77.

Moḥi-al-Din Moʾmen, “The Chancellery and Persian Epistolography under the Mughals,” Iran Society, Calcutta, 1971.

Charles Rieu, Catalogues of The Persian Manuscripts in the British Museum, 3 vols., Oxford, 1966, II, p. 530.

Ṣamṣām-al-Dawla Šahnavāz Khan Awrangābādi, Maʾāṯer al-omarāʾ, tr. Henry Beveridge as Maāthir-ul-umara . . . , revised with commentaies by Baini Prashad, 2 vols., Bibliotheca Indica 203, Calcutta, 1914-52, repr., India, 1979, I, p. 573.

C. A. Storey, Persian Literature:A Bio-BibliographicalSurvey III/2, Oxford, 1990, pp. 297-98.

(S.H. Qasemi)

Originally Published: December 15, 2003

Last Updated: March 6, 2012

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