Safarnama refers to a travelogue. The lafz is of Persian origin.
The suffix ‘-nama’ is frequently used in Urdu and Persian literature to connote writings, letters, books. E.g. Istifa-nama is a resignation letter (istifa meaning resignation) or mohabbat-nama is a love letter or taaziyat-nama is a condolence letter. A passport is referred to as guzar-nama and a newsletter as khabar-nama.
Safarnāma, also spelled as safarnameh, was a travel literature written during the 11th century by Nasir Khusraw (1003-1077). It is also known as the Book of Travels and was a work that shaped the future of classical Persian travel writing, as an account of Khusraw’s seven-year journey through the Islamic world. He initially set out on a Hajj, the obligatory Pilgrimage to Mecca. Departing on March 5, 1046, Khusraw took a less than direct route, heading north toward the Caspian Sea. Throughout his travels he kept a minutely detailed journal which clearly describes many facets of life in the Islamic world of the 11th Century.
Nasir Khusraw compiled the Safarnama in a later period of his life, using notes that he had taken along his seven-year journey. His prose is straightforward, resembling a travelogue as opposed to his more poetic and philosophical Diwan. Khusraw begins his Safarnama with a description of himself, his life, and his monumental decision to travel to Mecca. He recounts an extraordinary dream in which he converses with a man who encourages him to seek out that which is beneficial to the intellect. Before the dream ends, the man allegedly points towards the qibla and says nothing more. This was the impetus that drove Khusraw to perform the hajj.
In the remaining sections of the Safarnama, Khusraw describes cities and towns along the path of his journey, with particular focus on Mecca, Jerusalem, and Cairo (the capital of the Fatimid Caliphate at the time). Khusraw’s work is appreciated for its detailed descriptions of these cities, with precise accounts of civic buildings and markets.
Syed Ziaur Rahman said:
Some of the rare travelogues extant in the Library of Ibn Sina Academy (Aligarh/India) by Daniel Majchrowicz (Harvard)
One of the great joys of writing a dissertation on Urdu travel writing is that such a project is itself a journey, in every sense of the word. A journey through time, across intellectual frontiers, and, of course, a journey in its most basic sense, that is, across space. Like their authors, Urdu Safarname have been incredibly itinerant, and can be found in libraries spread across three continents. Over the past two years, I have traveled through the US, UK, Pakistan and India in search of rare travel accounts.
Despite these extensive searches, a number of travelogues from the 19th century continued to elude me, that is, until a recent visit to Aligarh. There, through the kindness of Hakim Syed Zillur Rahman, himself a noteworthy sahib-i safarnama, I discovered a trove of rare works in pristine condition at the Ibn Sina Academy in Dodhpur, Aligarh.
The purpose of this short article is to bring the merits of this small, but extremely important collection of works to the notice of the community. In the lines that follow, I will mention briefly a number of rare works from the late 19th and early 20th century, many of which only have two or three surviving copies. In addition to the works I mention here, there exist in the library’s collection a number of other important travelogues that are also relatively rare and of significant historical value. These include, for instance, Vali Muhammad Mir’s Safarnama-yi Andalus.
The intent here is not to give full bibliographic or annotated accounts of these works, but rather to draw attention to them, as the only surviving copies of an important historical archive.
Arzhang-i Chin and Farhang-i Farang: These two works, both published in 1891, are the work of the self-styled “Ra’is-i himmat-buland, Sayyah-i Chin o Farang, Nawab-i mu’alla alqab, Muhammad Umar Ali Khan, Bahadur Feroz-Jang.” The brave Nawab of Basodah (to be more prosaic) wrote at least nine travel accounts, which took him all over the globe at the end of the 19th century. As such, he belongs to a group of royal travelers in fin-de siècle India who made a tradition of writing about their princely tours. Despite his prodigious output, the nawab’s works are exceedingly rare today. I have only located six of his nine books. The two mentioned here are each available in three libraries worldwide, but these copies are at significant risk, or are already damaged, making their preservation and availability extremely important.
Arzhang-i Farang: The Arzhang-i Farang is the translation of work originally written in English and published in Bombay, entitled My Impressions of England. To my knowledge, it is the only extant copy of the Urdu translation, which differs from the original English in some respects.
Safarnamah-yi Haramain: Muhammad Muhiuddin Husain’s Hajj account was published in Urdu from Madras. The copy at the Ibn Sina Academy is likely the only currently existing copy.
Nazir al-Tariq ila Bait al-Atiq: This work was published from Bombay in 1911 by Muhammad Nazir Husain. It includes a number of lithographed etchings of the holy places, including Jerusalem. The only other known copy is available at the Raza Library, Rampur.
Safarnamah-yi Baghdad: Munshi Mahbub Alam, the founder of Lahore’s seminal Paisa Akhbar, was a firm believer in the importance of traveling. He coupled this belief with his devotion to publishing and produced several travelogues intended to be beneficial to the public (He even argued that any traveler who did not write about his or her experiences abroad for the benefit of the public had wasted their time on “khud-gharzana ayyashi”) Amongst these is his Safarnamah-yi Baghdad, written in 1917 as a war correspondent in Iraq. This work is available in four libraries world-wide, including one copy at the British Library. The copy at the Ibn Sina Academy is noteworthy for being exceptionally-well preserved.
Sarguzasht-i Hijaz, yani Wafd-i Khuddam-i Haramain ki report: As will be known to readers of the Academy’s Newsletters, the first quarter of the twentieth century saw a large scale effort to protect both the khilafat and the Hijaz from the turbulent events taking place in the Ottoman Empire. In 1925, after the consolidation of Saudi rule over the Hijaz and Najd, a small delegation traveled to Arabia to speak with Abd al-Aziz bin Saud about his plans to protect the holy cities. This small work narrates the experiences and demands of those khuddam-i haramain. I have not encountered this document elsewhere; it seems possible that this is the only remaining copy.
Rahnuma-e Hajjaj: This magisterial work, by Munshi Sayyid Barkat Ali, was written in 1891, making it among the earliest Hajj accounts written in Urdu. For its period, it is without a doubt the largest. It is available at the Raza Library, Rampur, in addition to the Ibn Sina Academy.
While the sheer existence of such works is cause for celebration, it goes without saying that a library’s collection is only as valuable as the access which is given to it. In this respect, Ibn Sina Academy Library is one of the most welcoming, comfortable and useful libraries that I have visited in India. The library’s policies, which allow scholars unfettered, quick access to valuable research material surely increases the academic value of that material manifold. Given the attention devoted to the preservation and accessibility of these materials, it is certain that they will be available to scholars like myself for many generations to come.
[The above write-up is contributed by Daniel Majchrowicz, for the Newsletter of Ibn Sina Academy. Daniel is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University, Massachusetts. He completed his M.A. in South Asian studies and B.A. in Spanish literature, both at University of Texas, Austin. When not traveling or writing, Mr. Majchrowicz is active on campus as a cultural-intellectual fellow and facilitates a workshop dedicated to scholarship on South Asia. His publications include work on late nineteenth- and early twentieth century travel literature. By combining tools from sociolinguistics and literary analysis, Mr. Majchrowicz’s Fulbright research project, “Writing Language, Reading Travel: Language, Politics and Identity in the Indian Travelogue,” will explore how self and other are discussed in increasingly inventive and expressive ways in this literature. He will also explore why the travelogue suddenly became one of the most popular literary genres in India from the mid-nineteenth century and how the interest in travel writing grew and expanded beyond this foundation through independence. Travel can be one of life’s most liminal experiences; how is this conveyed through discussions of language?]