Travellers - Mughal India


Created by Bethan | Last printed 4/17/2020 6:57 PM

Staffroom – sourcebook / background

Traveller’s Tales - Trade

The world experienced by the Mughals is hard for us to imagine. We live in a ‘Global

Village,’ a world where we can switch on the television, log onto the Internet and immediately see and hear up-to-date news of life and events going on in other cultures.

For the Mughals and their contemporaries, other worlds, peoples and nations, were only just beginning to come to light.

During the 15 th

and 16 th

centuries, European travellers began to arrive in India. Their main interests revolved around trade. Europeans had heard of the great wealth in the East, and wanted to cut out the Arab ‘middlemen’ with whom they had previously had to do business through. This would certainly increase their profit and their control.

The Portuguese were the first to find a direct trade route to India, arriving at the end of the 15 th

century. They were quickly followed by the English, who in addition to trade opportunities, found the prospect of travel and the ‘exotic’ unknown, very attractive.

Travelogues, or travel diaries, were written by men wanting to capture all that they had seen that was new and strange to them.

Although the Mughals recorded much of their own activities through their official court chroniclers, these European accounts do much to help us fill in the gaps. For the

Mughals, everyday events were mundane and uninteresting, so they were not recorded – for the visiting Europeans however, even the smallest detail of daily life could be fascinating.

Secondly, the Mughals were prone to giving events at court a very ‘glossy’ sheen. Being able to contrast their observations with European reports can be very revealing, offering a different (if no less biased) angle.

Famous Travellers.

This collection of extracts from original sources draws on the accounts of several historical figures:

Francois Bernier

A Frenchman, Francois Bernier wanted to ‘see the world.’

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Created by Bethan | Last printed 4/17/2020 6:57 PM

Staffroom – sourcebook / background

He arrived in India during the reign of Shah Jahan where he observed action in the

Mughal court at first hand, taking note of its ‘multinational’ community and attitude of religious tolerance.

Bernier’s accounts capture the historical infighting between Shah Jahan’s four sons, all eager to take the throne after their father. This led to a brutal war which Bernier witnessed and writes of in his key work, ‘ Travels in the Mogul Empire, A.D. 1656 –


.’ His intention was always to ‘record history.’

To help fund his stay in India, Bernier was court physician to Shah Jahan for 8 years.

Father Thomas Stephens

Father Stephens was the first known Englishman to have settled in India. He arrived in

Goa in 1579, and set about learning the languages that he encountered.

Father Antonio Monserrate

Father Antonio Monserrate was a Jesuit priest from Portugal. He arrived at the court of

Emperor Akbar in 1580, where he was warmly welcomed by the interested, inquisitive and open-minded Mughal ruler.

Father Monserrate’s mission to convert Akbar to Christianity failed, despite this friendly reception.

Jean Baptiste Tavernier

Jean Baptiste Tavernier was one of the first and most important French travellers to India.

He made five voyages to India in the 17 th

century, attracted by the lucrative gem trade.

He was at Agra in 1640 whilst Shah Jahan was there, and sold many jewels to the later

Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb.

Tavernier travelled extensively and in 1669 wrote ‘letters of nobility’ to his French King,

Louis XIV, describing the Indian culture he was trading in.

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