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FOREIGN CONTACTS: IBN BATTUTA’S ACCOUNTS

Foreign contact: Ibn Battuta’s accounts

  • Ibn Battuta (1304–1369) was a Moroccan explorer and occupies premier position among the writer of travelogues. He is known for his extensive travels, accounts of which were published in Rehla (Journey) in Arabic, a part of which is devoted to his experiences of the Indian life. He came to India in 1334.
  • 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.

ibn_battuta travel

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 Md Bin Tughluq. 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.
  • 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.
    • Attack on Ibn Battuta’s group:
      • 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.
    • 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.

Rehla as a source of Indian history

  • Rehla is a primary source of history of Delhi Sulatanate under the reign of Muhammad bin Tughlaq; it shows light on the socio-political condition of his time.
  • Ibn Batutah stayed in Delhi for eight years and was patronised by Md. bin Tughlaq who appointed him Qazi (judge).
  • When Batutah left Delhi in 1342 for China, Md. Bin Tughlaq designated him the head of diplomatic mission to the Chinese Emperor.
  • Personal nature of Md. Bin Tughlaq:
    • In Rehla, Ibn Battuta provides information on personal nature of Md. Bin Tughlaq.
    • For example,
      • Ibn Battuta learnt that Muhammad Bin Tughlaq liked to take gift from his visitors and in return used to give gifts which was of far superior worth for visitors.
      • The Sultan was tough against both non-Muslims and Muslims.
      • He used to punish people of his empire on small faults.
    • Battuta‟s descriptions of Muhammad Bin Tughlaq cast the king as an eccentric man, prone to severeness of temper.
  • Espionage and communication system:
    • He provides useful information on Tughlaq Empire, its administrative structure especially the espionage and communication systems.
    • He mentions the postal system (by horse and human runners).
      • The system is said to have employed a horse courier stationed every four miles and a foot courier stationed every mile.
      • It allowed merchants to not only send information and remit credit across long distances, but also to dispatch goods required at short notice.
    • 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
  • Policies and administrative measures of Md. Bin Tughluq:
    • He mentions the famous policies and administrative measures of Md. Bin Tughlaq, notably
    • Transfer of Capital from Delhi to Daulatabad
      • He mentioned that the long famine which lasted for about seven years from 1335 AD, which killed many people near Delhi, and during this time the Sultan was busy in attacking the rebellions.
    • Relief measures during the famine in Doab
      • He gave a detailed description of how the magnificent city of Delhi was, after Tughlaq compulsorily moved every resident of Delhi to Daulatabad.
    • (Note: The token coins are not mentioned by Ibn Battuta who come to Delhi in 1334 which shows that entire episode of Token currency was forgotten speedily after being given up in 1333.)
  • Insights into the social and economic life:
    • His observation on the following provide useful insights into the social and economic life of Tughluq sultanate:
      • slavery and slave market,
      • caste system,
      • social customs,
      • art and crafts,
      • trade specially import of horses,
      • practice of Sati – the burning of widows.
      • currency system,
      • manufacture of ships etc.
    • On marriage:
      • Muslim men were allowed to have four wives.
      • Ibn Battuta married his first wife on his way across North Africa. In Damascus he married again and fathered a son whom he never met.
      • In India he married again and had a daughter by her.
      • In the Maldive islands he had several wives and then divorced them. He had a child by at least one of them, a son whom he left with the child’s mother in the Maldive Islands. He noted:
        • It is easy to marry in these islands because of the smallness of the dowries and the pleasures of society which the women offer… When the ships put in, the crew marry; when they intend to leave they divorce their wives. This is a kind of temporary marriage. The women of these islands never leave their country.
    • On adultery:
      • Adultery was a very serious crime in Islamic countries, punishable by death. This was especially true for women, since there were legal ways men could have sexual relationships with multiple women simultaneously (e.g. marrying up to four women and taking slave women as concubines).
      • As a judge, Ibn Battuta would support the strict enforcement of this rule.
    • On eunuchs:
      • Eunuchs were a widespread phenomenon and they were usually associated with powerful empires. At times, various empires employed thousands of eunuchs in government positions.
      • Ibn Battuta tells of eunuchs in the service of amirs, shaikhs and sultans in Egypt, India, and China.
      • They serve the sultan or emperor in many ways: as protectors of the harem (the group of wives of the ruler), as the keepers of the Prophet Muhammad’s mosque in Medina and other shrines, and as administrators in China.
    • On celibacy:
      • Ibn Battuta praises several holy men and Turkish young men who have adopted the celibate life.
    • On pious women:
      • Ibn Battuta praises several women for their piety.
      • One was a famous scholar of the Quran.
      • One was the wife of a sultan who built wells along the pilgrimage route to Mecca.
      • He mentions a few others, including the mother of Muhammad Tughluq, for their charity.
    • Relations between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims:
      • Ibn Battuta was a strict Sunni Muslim.
      • At several points in the Rihla he takes righteous potshots at Shia’s beliefs or recounts disparaging little anecdotes about their fanatical and misguided observances.
      • He did not mix much with Shi’i scholars and deliberately avoided visiting certain towns having predominantly Shi’i populations.
    • Relations between Muslims and Hindus in India
      • The conflicts between Ibn Battuta’s travelling party and attackers whom he identifies as Hindu give insight into feelings between the groups at the time.
      • The relationship between Muhammad Tughluq and the local Hindu population is one of open hostility. The two sides are engaged in violent conflict.
    • 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
  • Meal and other edible taken in India:
    • On a hunting trip with the Sultan Muhammad Tughluq, he describes the following food: flesh of sheep, fattened fowls, cranes etc.
    • 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.
    • He also described the following:
      • mango;
      • pickled green ginger and peppers;
      • jack-fruit as “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 (as per Ibn Battuta)
      • Sesame and sugar cane were also sown.
    • He described trees and fruits with an adoration for the jack-fruit, which he termed the “Loveliest of all fruits in Hindustan‟.
    • He was intrigued by the mango.
    • He would chronicle everyday life, noting that a mango and ginger pickle was an accompaniment to meals.
    • He said the Indians ate millet (a type of grain) 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.
    • Pan and betel nut:
      • He described supply of pan and betel nut which was supplied to the imperial capital, which is said to have come from Chanderi, near Gwalior.
      • Betel plant looked like grape plant. It is grown for the sake its leaves.
    • People drank sherbet of sugared water before the meal and barley-water after. Then they had betel leaf and areca nut (a mild narcotic).
    • He details various pulses and chicken cooked in 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.
    • Description of coconut trees:
      • 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.
  • 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.
  • Agriculture:
    • Batutta noted that soil was very fertile and 2 crops of Rabi and Kharif were grown.
    • He wrote that
      • rice and sugarcane were grown in the east,
      • wheat and oil seeds were grown in the north and
      • other crops were cotton, barley, sesame etc.
  • Village industry:
    • He provided information about village industries for making jaggery, oil pressing industry, indigo spinning and weaving works etc.
  • He provided detailed information about
    • process of recruitment in army,
    • trading activities of nobles,
    • Sultans encouraging nobles to take up administrative works along with ships owned by the King and the nobles.
  • Ibn Batutah writes about the life-style of nobility, various customs and rituals prevailing at the court and important monuments, scholar and saints of the city of Delhi.
    • Ibn Batutta studied and wrote about the history of famous Qutb complex, and also about Quwat al-Islam Mosque and about the famous Qutb Minar.
    • His account also discusses jogis, who would perform magic tricks on the streets.
  • During his travel to south:
    • He mentions the magnificent fort of Deogiri, renamed Daulatabad by Tughlaq, with its massive walls stretching three miles.
    • He makes a mention of the Marathas living in the region and that the food of Marathas consists of rice, green vegetables and oil of sesame…they carefully wash their food.
  • Battuta also travelled to South India and stayed in Calicut, where he describes
    • way of living of South Indian people,
    • dominance of Muslims in international trade with India,
      • 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.
    • involvement of large Chinese junkers in trade with China.
  • 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.

Evidence of slavery in Ibn Battuta’s account

  • Ibn Batuta’s observation provide useful insights into the social and economic life of Tughluq sultanate including slavery and slave market.
  • Slave market:
    • Ibn Batutta’s travelling accounts tell us that slaves (male and female) were openly sold in the markets like any other commodity and were regularly exchanged as gifts.
    • Ibn Battuta bought several slaves (including two Greek female slaves with whom he fathered child) while on his journey.
    • He says that everything in Chittagong was cheap, including slaves. He bought “an extremely beautiful” girl and a friend bought a young boy for a couple of gold dinar.
    • 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.
  • Giving slaves as gift:
    • When Ibn Batutta reached Sind, he purchased horses, camels and slaves (including female slaves) as gifts for Sultan Muhammad bin Tughlaq.
    • He has recorded that the sultan of Delhi was once so happy with the sermon of a preacher named Nasiruddin that he gifted him a hundred thousand tankas (coins) and two hundred slaves (male and female).
    • According to Ibn Battuta: “The Chinese emissaries had earlier arrived in Delhi with 100 slaves and cartloads of fine clothing, brocade, musk, and swords as a gift to Muhammad Tughluq. Muhammad Tughluq naturally felt obliged to reciprocate with an even more magnificent array of gifts. The list included 200 Hindi slaves, songstresses, and dancers.
  • On sex with (female) slaves:
    • This practice was legal according to the medieval Islamic laws Ibn Battuta followed.
    • He fathered children by at least two of his slaves.
    • One young Greek slave woman bore him a daughter who died in India, and one died when his ship sank in India on its way to China.
  • Works of slaves:
    • Most female slaves were women captured in raids and expeditions.
    • Some female slaves in Sultan’s court were experts in music and dance, while some were used for domestic labour. Ibn Battuta enjoyed their performance at the wedding of the sister of Sultan.
    • Ibn Batutta found the services of men slaves necessary for carrying rich women and men on palanquins.
    • Female slaves were also employed by the Sultan to keep a watch on his nobles. They were generally used for domestic labour.
  • On prostitution by slave girls:
    • Though Ibn Battuta approves of concubinage (in this case, having a sexual relationship with his female slaves), he is critical of prostitution and considered it immoral.
    • He mentioned how slave-girls were put to prostitution, and each girl has to pay a regular due to her master.
  • On run-away slaves:
    • We never learn of the punishment for running away, but it happened at least twice to Ibn Battuta when his slave escaped and later punished.

Criticism of Rehla

  • After returning home from his travels in 1354, and at the instigation of the ruler of Morocco, 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.
  • 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.
  • Being a foreigner, he could not converse in the language of the masses. As a result, he could not collect information directly from common people.
  • Chronological errors in his accounts.
  • Sometimes, he mixes facts with hearsay which reduces credibility of his accounts.

However, even if the Rehla is not fully based on what its author personally witnessed and some of his observations are found incorrect, the overall picture that is given by him is an important source of not only political history but also social and economic life of India.

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2 thoughts on “FOREIGN CONTACTS: IBN BATTUTA’S ACCOUNTS”

  1. please allow the content to be copied ..!! :XD and also reading the announcements is really difficult please work on it .

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