Travels in the Mogul Empire


Travels in the Mogul Empire is the first authoritative translation into English of François Bernier’s Histoire de la dernière révolution des états du Grand Mogol, published in Paris in 1670‒71. Bernier was born at Joué in the Loire, France, and educated in medicine at the University of Montpellier. Desiring to see the world, he traveled to Syria and Palestine in 1654. He returned to the Middle East in 1656, where he lived for a year in Cairo before sailing south through the Red Sea with the intent of making his way to Gondar (in present-day Ethiopia). Upon learning that conditions there were unsafe for travel, he embarked on a ship bound for the port of Surat on the west coast of India. He remained in India for some 12 years, from 1658 to 1669. He initially served as personal physician to Dara Shikoh, the eldest son of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and the emperor’s designated successor, and later worked for Daneshmand Khan, a nobleman in the court of Emperor Aurangzeb. Bernier witnessed firsthand the bloody civil war and succession struggle of 1656‒59 in which Aurangzeb, a younger brother of Dara Shikoh, seized the Mughal throne. In 1664 Bernier traveled with Aurangzeb to Kashmir, “commonly called the paradise of India,” becoming most likely the first European to visit the province. Bernier wrote several long letters to correspondents in France, in which he gave detailed descriptions of economic conditions and religious and social customs in northern India, including one to Jean-Baptiste Colbert, finance minister to King Louis XIV. These letters form part of Travels in the Mogul Empire. Along with his compatriots Jean Chardin (1643‒1713) and Jean-Baptiste Tavernier (1605‒89), both of whom he met on his travels, Bernier was the source of most of what Europeans knew about India in the late 17th century‒early 18th centuries. Bernier was a thinker as well as an adventurer, and the book is replete with excursions on a range of topics, for example, on the nature of atoms, the Lost Tribes of Israel, winds and currents, rains, and the Nile River. There is also an appendix on the history of travel to India. The book contains a preface by the translator, Irving Brock, an English merchant banker who had literary interests. It has illustrations of notable people and scenes and three fold-out maps.

Last updated: September 30, 2016