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Exchanges between India and Central Asia in the field of Medicine - Part One

1) Introduction

There had been a great intermingling among nations particularly those located in the same geographical regions and areas since time immemorial. India's contact with Central Asia dates back to remote past and covers many fields-social, political, intellectual and economic. Caravans of men and streams of thought constantly moved and flowed between India and Central Asia, resulting in intimate cultural relations between these two regions. The history of such contacts falls into four distinct phases: (i) from the 7th century to 1220 i.e. From the Arab conquest of Central Asia to the overthrow of Central Asian states particularly Bukhara by Chingez Khan in 1220, (ii) from 1220 to 1370 i.e. from Chingez Khan's conquest of Central Asia to the rise of Timur, (iii) from 1370 to 1526 i.e. from the rise of Timur to the advent of Babur in India, (iv) from the beginning of the 16th century to the middle of the 17th century, being the era of the Great Mughals in India, the Safawids in Persia and the Uzbeks in Central Asia."1"
When the Abbasid Caliphs evinced interest in Indian sciences and invited Indian scholars to work in the bureau of translation, a new source of transmission of Indian ideas to Central Asia came into prominence. Ibn Nadim has given a long list of Indian works which were translated into Arabic at the instance of the Barmecides."2" Evidently these Indian works must have reached the Central Asian scholars.
In 770 A.D. Brahamasphuta-Siddhanta of Brahma Gupta was translated into Arabic as AI-Sind Hind."3" Similarly other Sanskrit works on astronomy like Aryabhatiya (499 A.D.) and Arya-Siddhanta of Aryabhatta, (b. 476 A.D.) were rendered into Arabic as Arkand or Zij-i Arjabhar. Through these works the Siddhantic astronomy reached Central Asia and many Indian astronomical-mathematical concepts found currency there. An example of the latter is AIKhwarizmi's (Circa 835) book on Indian arithmetic or methods of calculation."4"

Indian medical ideas, herbs and methods of treatment were also transmitted from Baghdad to distant parts of the Caliphate. Manaka who had cured Caliph Harun Al-Rashid, was appointed as an incharge of a bureau of translation for rendering Sanskrit works on medicine into Arabic. The earliest works on medicine by Charaka and Su'sruta are frequently referred to by Razi (Rhazes) and Ibn Sina (Avicenna) in their works."5" in the 14th century, we find Il-Khani envoys including men like Rashid-ud-Din Fadlullah"6" visiting India in search of Indian herbs and medicines. It is quite significant that the earliest work of Indian medicine, the Bower manuscript was found in Chinese Turkistan in 1890."7"
In the field of religion, the impact of Indian thought was more significant. The Mutazalite treatises of the 8th century contain accounts of Indian monks and hermits. The extent of Central Asian knowledge about Indian religions can be gauged from the section on India given by Shahristani (1076-1153) in his Kitab al-milal wa al-nihal. Of course, the philosophic enquiries of Al-Biruni about Indian thought were unprecedented in depth and dimension."8"
In the Medieval period, however, the current of transmission reversed. The four great books on Traditions on which the Muslim religious sciences are based, came from Central Asia: The Sahih of Imam Muhammad bin Isma°il Bukhari (ca. 870), Kashshaf of Abul Qasim Mahmud bin °Umar al-Zamakhshari (ca. 1144), the Usul of Ali b. Muhammad Bazdavi (ca. 1089) and the Hiddya of 'Ali bin Abu Bakr Marghinani. Throughout the medieval period these books were prescribed in the syllabus of Indian madrasas and formed the basis of intellectual activity, as the Indian °Ulama' wrote commentaries, annotations, summaries on these works."9"
In the 14th century A.D., Indian scholars had achieved greater mastery over all the branches of Islamic learning than the scholars of Central Asia so much so that the Muftis of Bukhara and Samarqand used to seek from Delhi the fatawa for their problems. `Isami"10" is confirmed by Diya al-Din Barni who says that there were scholars in Delhi whose equal could not be found in Bukhara, Samarqand, Baghdad, Khwarizm or any other part of the contemporary Muslim World. He refers to the visits of the Central Asian scholars"11" to India in order to learn at the feet of Indian °Ulama'. Amir Khusrow Dehlavi had declared about Delhi at that time: Zin Ilm-i ba Amal Dilli Bukhara."12"
Devotion to the Sufi and his mystic cult formed an important feature of life during the medieval period. Many towns of this region: Aush, Jam, Suhraward [Suharward], Gilan, Yasi, Bukhara, Samarqand etc. were cradles of mystic orders and many important saints who planted those silsilahs in India came from Afghanistan, Central Asia or Persia. It is, however a noteworthy fact that the development of these mystic orders was greater in India than in the lands of their birth! It is interesting to note that libraries in Tashkent and Samarqand abound in large number of Indian manuscripts not only of mystic works of the 16th-17th centuries,"13" but also of works on sciences and medicine."14"

There was frequent movement of men between India and Central Asia. Besides tribal pressures, love of learning, mystic wanderjahre, prospects of employment and unsettled conditions were some of the determining factors for that mobility (movement). During 11th and 13th centuries, the Ghuzz and Mongol invasions threw a large number of people into India. When Chingez tore the social and political fabric of Central Asia to pieces and razed all its buildings, mosques, madrasahs and Khanqas etc. to the ground, large number of men belonging to different walks of life came into India to hide their heads under safer kingdoms. Not only did they supply personnel to the nascent Delhi Sultanate but also planted the traditions of Muslim scholarship in India. Many distinguished families which played a vital role in the cultural history of India during the medieval period came from Central Asian towns of Bukhara, Samarqand, Nakhshab, Muhmera etc. Balban (reign: 1266-1286) settled the Central Asian princes, nobles and scholars in different localities and named these Muhallahs after their homes as Muhallah-i Khwarizm Shahi, Muhallah-i Atabaki, Muhallah-i Samarqandi, Muhallah-i Khita'i."15" Balban also instituted an enquiry into the genealogies of many families which had settled in India. For instance, the ancestors of Shaykh Nizam al-Din Awliya' of Delhi, Sayyid Jalal al-Din of Uch, Shaykh 'Abdul Haq Muhaddith of Delhi came from Bukhara.
During the reign of Sultan Sikandar of Kashmir (1389-1413), many Central Asian scholars like Sayyid Muhammad, Sayyid Jalal al-Din, Baba Haji Adhham came to Kashmir and settled down there."16"

The most significant contacts, however, which India had with Central Asia on large scale were from the beginning of 16th century to the middle of 17th century in the era of the Great Mughals in India, the Safawids in Persia and the Uzbeks in Central Asia."17"

In the court of Akbar (reigned: 1556-1605), we find people belonging to Central Asia working in different capacities. Among the nobles of Akbar, Quli Khan, a mansabdar (Officer) of six thousand dhat (infantry men) and five thousand Sawar (cavalry men), was from Andijan. Amongst his distinguished poets Abul Fadl mentions the names of Mushfiqi of Bukhara who had once been the Poet Laureate of °Abdullah Khan ,"18" and &hwaja Hasan of Merv "19" who received a reward of two lac takas for his excellent poems on the birth of Salim and Murad. Qadi Abul Ma'ali, a distinguished jurist, came from Bukhara and men like Naqib Khan learnt "at his feet"."20" Akbar who was very fond of pigeons, employed Central Asian men like Quli Ali and 'Abdul Latif of Bukhara, Maqsud and Masti of Samarqand "21" to look after his pigeons, as Central Asia had a reputation for finest breeds of pigeons.

Diplomatic embassies were exchanged between India and Turan from time to time for conclusion of alliances, collection of information and other political purposes. During the reign of Emperor Akbar (1556-1605), the ruler of Turan, Abd Allah Khan Uzbek sent two embassies in 1572 and 1577"22" and one return embassy was sent by Akbar. Again, in 1586 A.D. Abd Allah Khan sent an envoy to Akbar's court with offers of alliance against Persia and Akbar sent Hakim Humam to monitor the thinking in Turan. Ultimately a treaty was concluded which was broken time and again.

2.1 EMPEROR BABUR (REIGN: 1526-1530)


One of the early physicians who came to the court of Babur (reigned 1526-30), the founder of the Mughal Empire in India, was Hakim Amir Abul Baqa'. He was a close confidant of the Emperor, was well-versed in both medicine and philosophy and was also famous for his depth of knowledge."23" He also lived in the reign of Emperor Humayun for a long time. Humayun held him in high esteem. He died in an accident in 948 A.H./1541 A.D."24"
Hakim Baqa° is known to be the author of a Persian Commentary on Mir Sayyid Sharif."25"


Hakim Yusuf b. Muhammad b. Yusuf al-Harawi was the son of Hakim Muhammad b. Yusuf, a famous physician of Hirat. He came to India with the retinue of the Mughal Emperor Babur in 1526 A.D. and was appointed as the personal physician of the emperor. He also lived during the reign of Emperor Humayun and served as Emperor's secretary."26" He was also a good poet.
Yusuf b. Muhammad Harawi is the author of the following medical works, mostly in verse."27"

1. Usul al-Usul (Beginning of 16th Century)

2. Dala'il al-Bawl (1536)
3. Dala°il al-Nabd (1538)
4. Fawa'id al-Akhyar (1507)
5. Ilaj al-Amrad (Beginning of 16th Century)
6. Jamil al-Fawa'id (1508)"28"
7. Qasidah dar Hifz-i Sihhat (1531)
8. Risalah Makul wa Mashrub (1557-58)
9. Riyad al-Adwiyah (154-0)
10. Sittah-i Daruriyah (1538)
11. Amrad-i Chashm (1535)

Yusuf b. Muhammad is also the author of a non-medical work known as Biyad al-Insha' on rhetoric and composition. [to be continued]
1) Central Asia: Movement of peoples and Ideas from Pre-historic to Modern, Ed. Amalendu Guha (ICCR and Vikas Publications, Delhi, 1970., pp. 157-158.
2) Ibid p.159 quoting al-Fahrist Ibn Nadim
3) Ibid, p. 159
4) Ibid, p. 159
5) Ibid pp. 159
Mukatibat-i Rashidi, Ed. by S..M. Shafi, quoted in 1 above, p. 160.
Archaeological Survey of India,Vol.XXII, 1893-1912.
8) Central Asia: Movement of peoples and Ideas from Pre-historic to Modern, Ed. Amalendu Guha (ICCR and Vikas Publications, Delhi, 1970., pp. 160
9) Ibid, p. 160
10) Ibid, p. 161, quoting Futuh-al-Salatin of Isami
Tarikhi-i Firoz Shahi, by Diyauddin Barni, Asiatic Society of Bengal, Calcutta, 1862, pp. 352-353, also see 1 above, p. 161.
12) Dawal Rani Khizr Khan, p. 46, as quoted in CA, p. 161
13) Central Asia: Movement of peoples and Ideas from Pre-historic to Modern, Ed. Amalendu Guha (ICCR and Vikas Publications, Delhi, 1970., pp. 161-162
According to a recent survey by S.M.R. Ansari (Aligarh/Delhi), almost all works/ publications of 18-19th C. India are extant at Samarqand on Medicine, on astronomy etc. at Tashkent.
Tarikh-i Farishtah, by Muhammad Qasim Hindu Shah Farishtah (Nawal Kishore Press), Kanpur, 1874., Vol. I, p. 75
16) Ibid, 1874., Vol. I, p. 341
17) Badshah Nama, by Abdul Hamid Lahori (Asiatic Society of Bengal), Calcutta, 1868. (Trans.) 1, p. 81, as referred by GAbdur Rahim in I.C., Vol. XI, No. 1, (1937), p. 81
18) Ain-i Akbari, by Abdul Fadl (Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal), Calcutta 1883 Traslation by Blochmann, Calcutta, 1939., p. 653.
Ibid, p. 644; MT, Vol. 11, pp. 120, 132.
Ma'athir al-Tawarikh, by Mulla Abdul Qadir BAdayuni (College Press), Calcutta, 1865, Vol. II, pp. 210-211.
Ain-i Akbari, by Abdul Fadl (Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal), Calcutta 1883 Traslation by Blochmann, Calcutta, 1939., p. 315.
Akbar Nama, by Abdul Fadl, Calcutta 1877 , Vol. 11, p. 534 and Vol. 111, p. 296 (quoted by 'Abdur Rahim in I.C., Vol. Xl, No. 1 (1937), p. 82.
23) Ma'athir-i Rahimi, by A.B. Nahawandi (Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal), Calcutta 1924-26, Vol. 1, p. 516.
For the only reference, see Atibba-i Ahd-i Mughaliya, by Sayyid Ali Kauthar Chandpuri, (Hamdard Academy), Karachi, 1955, p. 26.
25) Ibid, p. 26.
A Medical History of Persia, by Cyril Elgood, Cambridge, 1910., p. 378.
27) Science and Technology in Medieval India - A Bibliography of Source Material in Sanskrit, Arabic and Persian, by A. Rahman et al, (Indian National Science Academy), New Delhi, 1982., p. 266.
28) It is a commentary on Ilaj al-Amrad, No. 5 above.



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