DABISTANIMAZAHIB, a seventeenth century work in Persian, is a unique study of different religious creeds and systems, including early Sikhism. It first attracted wide notice when it was translated into English by David Shea and Anthony Troyer and was published by Oriental Translation Fund of Great Britain and Ireland, London, in 1843. The section on Nanakpanthis, i.e. Sikhs, was first translated into English by Sardar Umrao Singh Majithia, and into English and Punjabi by Dr Ganda Singh.
The latter`s English translation was published in the Journal of Indian History, vol. XIX, part 2, August 1940. It reappeared in Panjab Past and Present, vol. I, part 1, April 1967. There has been a good deal of controversy about the authorship of Dabistani Mazahib. The writer himself has nowhere in the book mentioned his name, parentage or date of birth. Earlier, Mohsini Fani Kashmir! was commonly known to be the author of the book, but the work is now attributed by scholars to an Iranian named Maubad Zulfiqar Ardastani (1615 c. 70). Maubad was a general term for a member or leader of the priestly order of the Zoroastrians.
Zulfiqar grew up under the care of Maubad Hushiyar, himself a disciple of Azhar Kaiwan (d. 1627), the high priest of the Zoroastrians, who had come from Iran to India in the time of Emperor Akbar (1542-1605) and made Patna his second home. Zulfiqar was a religious minded youth with a liberal outlook. He devoted himself to the comparative study of religions and travelled extensively to this end, visiting farflung places such as Gujarat, Hyderabad (1053-59 AH / AD 1643-49), Onssa and Coromandal Coast (1061-63 AH / AD 1651-53). He also spent many years in Kashmir and Lahore (1040-52 AH / AD 1631-42).
Returning to Patna, he settled down in the sector now known as Gulzarbagh. There he started compiling from his notes the book which has become famous as Dabistani Mazahib. A manuscript of the work was discovered by Professor Syed Hasan Askari in the city in the 1930`s in the family of an Iranian Muslim who in his scribbles on the flyleaf (now lost) and in critical marginal notes on certain pages (still preserved) furnished valuable information about the author which was not available to Shea and Troyer. The Dabistan (lit. school) is divided into 12 main sections dealing with Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Sufis, Kabirpanthis, Nanakpanthis and different sects of Zoroastrianism.
The account of Sikhism in this work, given under the title “Nanak Panthiari,” is the earliest from the pen of a non Sikh contemporary writer. Despite certain errors of fact that have crept into it, it is impartial and sympathetic in tone. As the author tells us, he knew two of the Gurus Guru Hargobind (1595-1644) and Guru Har Rai (1630-61) personally and had met them at Kiratpur. Nanakpanthis, says the author, are known as Guru Sikhs. They have no faith in idols or temples containing idols. (Guru) Nanak, a Bedi Khatri, became famous during the reign of Emperor Babar. He, like the Muhammadans, believed in the oneness of God, (but) he also believed in metempsychosis or transmigration of soul.
He held the consumption of meat, pork and intoxicating drinks as forbidden. (However) after him meat eating became common among his followers. Just as Nanak praised the Muhammadans so also he praised the incarnations and gods and goddesses of the Hindus, but he knew them all as the creation of the Almighty Lord. Many legends and miracle stories about him had, continues the author, become current among his disciples. After Guru Nanak, Arigad, a Trehan Khatri, Amar Das, a Bhalla Khatri, Ram Das, a Sodhi Khatri, became Gurus in that order.
During the time of each Guru, the Sikhs grew in number. In the reign of Guru Arjan, successor of Guru Ram Das, “they had become so numerous that there were not many cities in the inhabited countries where some Sikhs were not to be found.” Again, in the words of Dabistani Mazahib, “The disciples of Guru Nanak condemn idol worship. Their belief is that all their Gurus are Nanaks. They did not read the mantras of the Hindus. They do not venerate their temples or idols, nor do they esteem their avataras. They have no regard for the Sanskrit language which, according to the Hindus, is the speech of the angels.” That the Sikhs believed all Gurus to be of one light one in spirit though different in bodyis vividly perceived by the author.
“The Sikhs say that when Guru Nanak left the body, he descended (halul kard) into Guru Arigad … who in turn similarly entered into the body of Guru Amar Das, … and so on to Guru Arjan Mall. They refer to each of them as mahall such as Guru Nanak is Mahal I, Arigad Mahal II, and so on to Mahal V, Arjan Mall. They [the Sikhs] say that he who does not know Guru Arjan Mall as Baba Nanak is a manmukh, i.e. nonbeliever.” Zulfiqar Ardastani then narrates certain anecdotes about the Gurus and about some of the Sikhs. He alludes to the institutions of masands and tithes.
He records that Guru Hargobind “adopted the form of a soldier, girded sword against the practice of his father, kept servants and took to hunting …. He had to fight with the armies of Imperial agents and the servants of Shah Jahari …. In short, after the battle of Kartarpur he went to Phagwara. As residence in places near Lahore was full of risk, he hastened from there to Kiratpur, which is in the hills of the Punjab …. Guru Har Rai is the grandson of Guru Hargobind…. The Sikhs call Har Rai the seventh mahal. He is very well known to the chronicler…. The Guru kept 700 horses in his stable and had 300 horsemen and 60 gunners in his service.”
1. Shea, David, and Anthony Troyer, tr., Dabistan-i-Mazahib. London, 1843
2. Ganda Singh, “Nanakpanthis” in tAe Panjab Past and Present, vol. I, part I. April 1967