History Optional Paper- 2 Solution – 2011: Q.5 (c)
Q.5 (c) What is your assessment of Ibn Batutah’s Rehla as an important source of Indian history?
Ibn Battuta (1304–1368) 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.
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 deignated him the ambassador to the Chinese Emperor.
(1) In Rehla, Ibn Batutah 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).
(2) He mentions the famous policies and administrative measures of Md. Bin Tughlaq, notably the transfer of Capital from Delhi to Daulatabad and relief measures during the famine in Doab. His account provides information on personal nature of Md. Bin Tughlaq.
(3) Ibn Batutah writes about the life and style of nobility, various customs and rituals prevailing at the court and important monuments, scholar and saints of the city of Delhi.
(4) His observation in slavery, slave market, caste syestem, social customs, art and crafts, trade specially import of horses, currency system and manufacture of ships provide useful insights into the social and economic life of the Tughlaq Empire. He gives comprehensive account of meal and other eadible taken in India.
(5) When he left for China as an ambassador, he also travelled to South India and stayed in Calicut, where he describes way of living of South India, dominance of Muslims in international trade with India, involvement of large Chinese junkers in trade with China.
Criticism of Rehla
(1) 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. There is no indication that Ibn Battuta made any notes during his travelling. When he came to dictate an account of his experiences he had to rely on memory and manuscripts produced by earlier travellers.
(2) 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 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.