The Ni matnama Manuscript of the Sultan Ghiyath Shahi of Mandu (1469 AD to 1500 AD)

July 2016

The Ni'matnama or Book of Delights, written in a mix of Urdu and Farsi, is a book recipes and fifty miniature paintings depicting Sultan Ghiyath Shahi of Mandu, his companions, slaves, cooks, and attendants either cooking a dish or preparing betel leaves or perfumes or going hunting. Besides recipes for foods and drinks, it also contains recipes for the distillation of perfumes and essences, and concocting aphrodisiacs and remedies for illnesses.

The Ni’mtnama is a valuable source of food history. Although heavily influenced by the cuisine of Persia, Indian elements are quite relevant. The book also features a selection of rural recipes, a number of which call for the use of millets. The distinctiveness of this text lies in its form as well as its subject matter. The text is written in bold naskh script, characteristic of Mandu calligraphy. The miniature paintings that represent some of the earliest paintings from Muslim courts of India are done in the Persian Turkman tradition in fusion with Indian styles. The reason for this influence lies in the history of the region, an area that was exposed to foreign influences as early as the third century B.C.

A Brief History of Malwa Region The period between the sixth through the third centuries BC witnessed the rise of many ambitious monarchs in India who successfully established four great kingdoms, or the Mahajanapadas, including the kingdom of Avanti in the Malwa region in the present state of Madhya Pradesh. The Avantis, the ancient people belonging to this realm were described as mahavala (very powerful) in the Mahabharata. Avanti gradually began to be referred to as Malwa. Avanti emerged as the first major kingdom in north central India, King Chandra Pradyota Mahasena ruled Avanti, from his capital at Ujjaini. Avanti was on the overland trade routes between northern and southern India and to the port of Bharukaccha (modern Bharuch) on the Arabian Sea. As it was a key political and trade center, Avanti was defeated and conquered by various dynasties through the centuries.

In the 4th century BC Chandragupta Maurya conquered and annexed Avanti and in the mid third century BC Chandragupta's grandson Asoka became the Governor of Avanti. After Ashoka’s death in 232 BC the Maurya Empire began to collapse. The Scythians (known as Sakas in Sanskrit), an Iranian tribe of horse-riding pastoralists, entered Malwa region and founded the ruling line of the Kshatrapa. Thus Malwa was exposed to the Persian culture from very early days. Indo-Scythian rule ended in the fourth century when Emperor Chandragupta II of the Gupta Empire conquered the region. After the Guptas, rival groups ruled this area. In 786 A.D. it was captured by the Rashtrakuta king of the Deccan who appointed the Paramaras, a Rajput clan, as governors they ruled Malwa. The Plateau was overrun by Muslim invasions from the twelfth century onwards and the territory was the bone of contention between the local Rajput rulers and the rulers of the Delhi Sultanate.

In 1305 Malwa was conquered by the Delhi Sultanate. In 1401 the Mughal conqueror Timur attacked Delhi, resulting in the break-up of the sultanate into smaller states. Dilawar Khan, previously the governor of Malwa under the Delhi sultanate, declared himself sultan of Malwa. Hoshang Shah, son of Dilawar Khan, transferred his capital from Dhar to Mandu and raised it to its greatest splendor. Hoshang’s son Mohammed ruled for just one year before being poisoned by the military general Muhammad Khilji, who then ruled for 33 years. His son Sultan Ghiyath Shahi succeeded in 1469. Soon after he ascended the throne, he appointed his son, Nasir Shah, to run state affairs. He wanted to dedicate his time in the pursuit of worldly pleasures - food, aphrodisiacs, and paan.