• Ibn Battuta (1304 – 1368), was a Moroccan explorer of Berber descent. He is known for his extensive travels, accounts of which were published in the Rihla ( Journey) in Arabic.
  • Over a period of thirty years, Ibn Battuta visited most of the known Islamic world as well as many non-Muslim lands. His journeys included trips to North Africa, the Horn of Africa, West Africa and Eastern Europe, and to the Middle East, South Asia, Central Asia, Southeast Asia and China, a distance greatly surpassing that covered by his predecessors or by his near-contemporary, Marco Polo.
  • Ibn Battuta’s  contribution to history and geography is unquestionably as great as that of any historian and geographer.

Rihla and its criticism

  • After returning home from his travels in 1354, and at the instigation of the Marinid ruler of Morocco, Abu Inan Faris, Ibn Battuta dictated an account of his journeys to a scholar Ibn Juzayy. The account is the only source for Ibn Battuta’s adventures.
  • There is no indication that Ibn Battuta made any notes during his twenty-nine years of travelling. When he came to dictate an account of his experiences he had to rely on memory and manuscripts produced by earlier travellers. Ibn Juzayy did not acknowledge his sources and presented some of the earlier descriptions as Ibn Battuta’s own observations.
  • Scholars do not believe that Ibn Battuta visited all the places he described and argue that in order to provide a comprehensive description of places in the Muslim world, he relied on hearsay evidence and made use of accounts by earlier travellers.(
  • However, even if the Rihla is not fully based on what its author personally witnessed, it provides an important account of much of the 14th-century world including India.
Travel of Ibn Battuta
Route of Ibn Battuta Travels

Ibn Battuta’s Acccount of India (During his travel to India as mentioned in Rihla)

  • Ibn Battuta entered India in 1334 (up to 1341), through the high mountains of Afghanistan, following the footsteps of Turkish warriors who, a century earlier, had established the Sultanate of Delhi. In late 1334, Ibn Battuta went to Delhi to seek official employment. He cleverly assembled gifts for the sultan. Everyone knew that the Muhammad Tughluq would give to his visitors gifts of far greater value in return.

Employment of Ibn Battuta:

  • Ibn Battuta began working as a judge. Because he didn’t speak Persian well, he was given two assistants. He also had plenty of time to join the Sultan and high officials on elaborate hunting expeditions.
  • Extravagance and high living pushed Ibn Battuta into debt eventually, but the generous Sultan gave him more to pay his debts. He even gave Ibn Battuta another job: to take care of the Qutb al-Din Mubarak mausoleum. He acted as a judge giving out punishments and he took care of the tomb. His job of collecting debts from his villages was made harder because of disastrous famine that hit North India in 1335 and lasted seven years.
  • The Sultan returned after an unsuccessful campaign against the rebellious army in the south. Then army officers and a governor near Delhi also rebelled. The empire was disintegrating around Muhammad Tughluq. This time he proved himself a skillful soldier and marched out to secure the town. Ibn Battuta was witness to all this for future historians to read.

Problems faced by Ibn Battuta:

  • Even Ibn Battuta came under suspicion. While living in Delhi, Ibn Battuta married a woman who was the daughter of a court official who had plotted a rebellion and was executed by the Sultan.(
  • But the most serious problem for Ibn Battuta was his friendship with a Sufi holy man. This holy man refused to have anything to do with politics and tried to live a religious life. He snubbed the Sultan and refused to obey the Sultan’s commands. In retaliation Muhammad had the man was arrested, tortured and then beheaded. The following day the Sultan demanded a list of friends of the holy man, and Ibn Battuta’s name was included. For many days he remained under guard imaging in horror that he would be executed.

Ibn Battuta described meal and other eadibles:

  • Royal meals included bread; large slabs of meat; round dough cakes made with ghee which they stuff with sweet almond paste and honey; meat cooked with ghee, onions and green ginger; “sambusak” (modern samoosas); rice cooked in ghee with chickens on top; sweetcakes and sweetmeats (pastries) for dessert.
  • They drank sherbet of sugared water before the meal and barley-water after. Then they had betel leaf and areca nut (a mild narcotic).
  • He also described the following: mango; pickled green ginger and peppers; jack-fruit and “barki” (like a yellow gourd with sweet pods and kernels) – “the best fruits in India”; tandu (fruit of the ebony tree); sweet oranges; wheat, chickpeas and lentils, and rice which was sown three times a year! Sesame and sugar cane were also sown.
  • He said the Indians ate millet most often. They also ate peas and mung beans cooked with rice and ghee which the Indians ate for breakfast every day. Animals were fed barley, chickpeas, and leaves as fodder and even given ghee.
  • A favorite dish of the Muslim community in Kerala in the southern state of India (where Ibn Battuta had his disastrous ship-wreck) is rasoi (made of rice, lamb, grated coconut and onion). Ibn Battuta told that Muslim women ate separately from the men in India, as in most of the Muslim countries he visited.(
  • Coconut trees looked like date palms. It resembles a man’s head. Inside of it looks like a brain. Its fibre looks like human hair. Its fibre used for making rope which is used for pulling ships.
  • Betel plant looked like grape plant. It is grown for the sake its leaves. People chew betel leaves with areca nut and lime.

Ibn Battuta describes Indian cities

  • Ibn Battuta found cities in the subcontinent full of exciting opportunities , resources and skills. They were densely populated and prosperous, except for the occasional disruptions caused by wars and invasions.
  • Most cities had crowded streets and bright and colourful markets that were stacked with a wide variety of goods. Ibn Battuta described Delhi and Daulatabad as vast cities, with a great population, the largest in India.
  • The bazaars were not only places of economic transactions, but also the hub of social and cultural activities. Most bazaars had a mosque and a temple, and in some of them at least, spaces were marked for public performances by dancers, musicians and singers.
  • Ibn Battuta explains that towns derived a significant portion of their wealth through the appropriation of surplus from villages because of the fertility of the soil, which allowed farmers to cultivate two crops a year.
  • He also noted that the subcontinent was well integrated with inter-Asian networks of trade and commerce, with Indian manufactures being in great demand in both West Asia and Southeast Asia, fetching huge profits for artisans and merchants. Indian textiles, particularly cotton cloth, fine muslins, silks, brocade and satin, were in great demand.

Description of a unique system of communication

  • Almost all trade routes were well supplied with inns and guest houses. Ibn Battuta was also amazed by the efficiency of the postal system (by horse and human runners) which allowed merchants to not only send information and remit credit across long distances, but also to dispatch goods required at short notice.

Use of slaves

  • Slaves were openly sold in markets, like any other commodity, and were regularly exchanged as gifts. As it is mentioned earlier, when Ibn Battuta reached Sind he purchased “horses, camels and slaves” as gifts for Sultan Muhammad bin Tughlaq.
  • There was considerable differentiation among slaves. Some female slaves in the service of the Sultan were experts in music and dance, and Ibn Battuta enjoyed their performance at the wedding of the Sultan’s sister.(
  • Female slaves were also employed by the Sultan to keep a watch on his nobles. They were generally used for domestic labour.
  • Ibn Battuta found that men slaves were used for carrying rich women and men on palanquins.
  • The price of slaves, particularly female slaves required for domestic labour, was very low, and most families who could afford to do so kept at least one or two of them.

Other observations:

  • Ibn Battuta often experienced culture shock in regions he visited where the local customs of recently converted peoples did not fit in with his orthodox Muslim background. Among the Turks and Mongols, he was astonished at the freedom and respect enjoyed by women and remarked that on seeing a Turkish couple in a bazaar one might assume that the man was the woman’s servant when he was in fact her husband. He also felt that dress customs in some regions were too revealing.

Escape from Delhi: 

  • Ibn Battuta had feared for his life working as a judge under the moody and tyrannical Sultan of India, Muhammad Tughluq. But Knowing of Ibn Battuta’s love of travel and sightseeing, the Sultan had a task in mind, one that Ibn Battuta found fascinating. He wanted to make Ibn Battuta his ambassador to the Mongol court of China. He would accompany 15 Chinese messengers back to their homeland and carry shiploads of gifts to the emperor. Now he could get away from Muhammad Tughluq and visit more lands of Dar ul-Islam.
  • In 1341 Ibn Battuta set out from Delhi at the head of a group bound for China.There were about 1,000 soldiers under his command to protect the treasure and supplies until they could board ships to China.
  • A few days outside of Delhi the group was attacked by about 4,000 Hindu rebels. Although vastly outnumbered, they defeated the rebels easily. Later, there was another attack and Ibn Battuta was separated from his companions. After escaping, he was again confronted, this time by forty Hindus who robbed him of everything except his clothes. Some robbers kept their prisoner in a cave overnight and planned his death in the morning. Fortunately, Ibn Battuta who now had almost nothing more to rob, was able to convince his captors to let him go in exchange for his clothes.
  • Eight days later, exhausted, barefooted and wearing nothing but his trousers, Ibn Battuta was rescued by a Muslim who carried him to a village. Two days later he rejoined the party and was ready to proceed on his original mission to China.(
  • After a few days rest they continued to the coastal city of Cambay filled with foreign traders who lived in fine homes. Within days the group was at Gandhar where they boarded four ships. Three were large dhows to carry to the gifts. The fourth was a war ship which carried soldiers to defend them against attack from pirates. (About half of the soldiers were from Africa and were skilled archers and spear throwers.)

Problems in Calicut:

  • Using the monsoon winds to propel them, the four ships headed south and arrived in the port of Calicut (refer  to travel root map given at the starting of this chapter). There they were received with drums, trumpets, horns, and flags. In the same harbor were 13 Chinese junks, much larger ships than the dhows he had sailed on in the Indian Ocean. Ibn Battuta admired these huge ships with their luxury accommodations. It would be on three of these large ships that they would continue to China.
  • But before he got on his ship, a terrible event occurred. A violent storm came up. Because the harbor was not very deep, the captains of the junks ordered the ships to wait out the storm in deeper water out to sea. Ibn Battuta waited helplessly on the beach all night and the next morning watched in horror as two ships were pushed onto shore, broke apart, and sank. Some of the crew on one of the junks were saved, but no one survived from the other ship – the one that he was supposed to be on. Ibn Battuta was now alone and ashamed – a failure as the leader for the trip to China for the Sultan of Delhi – but lucky to be alive.

Leaving India:

  • Where was he to go? He wanted to return to the Sultan of Delhi, Muhammad Tughluq, but he feared that he would be executed for his failed trip. He decided it was safer to seek employment and protection from another Muslim sultan in southern India. To gain favor with this sultan Ibn Battuta actually joined in a day-long battle. But when the next battle seemed to be an inevitable defeat, Ibn Battuta somehow managed to escape through the battle lines and headed down the coast reaching Calicut for the fifth time. Here he decided to continue on to China on his own. But again, he decided to take the long way – this time to make a brief tour of the Maldive Islands, then continue to Sri Lanka (Ceylon) to make a pilgrimage to the sacred Adam’s Peak. And then he would go on to China.(

Dominance of Muslims in maritime activities

  • Ibn Battuta’s sea voyages and references to shipping reveal that the Muslims completely dominated the maritime activity of the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean, and the Chinese waters. Also it is seen that though the Christian traders were subject to certain restrictions, most of the economic negotiations were transacted on the basis of equality and mutual respect.

Why was travelling more insecure in the medieval period according to Ibn Battuta?

  • Ibn Battuta was attacked by bands of robbers several times. In fact he preferred travelling in a caravan along with companions, but this did not deter highway robbers.
  • While travelling from Multan to Delhi, his caravan was attacked and many of his fellow travellers lost their lives; those travellers, who survived, including Ibn Battuta, were severely wounded.
  • He suffered from home sick and in many places he was not welcomed by the people.


Q. What is your assessment of Ibn Batutah’s Rehla as an important source of Indian history?



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