Dabestan-e Mazaheb

The Dabestān-e Mazāheb (Persian: دبستان مذاهب‎) "school of religions" is a Persian language work that examines and compares South Asian religions and sects of the mid-17th century. The work, whose authorship is uncertain, was probably composed in about 1655 CE. The text's title is also transliterated as Dabistān-i Mazāhib , Dabistan-e Madahib, or Dabestan-e Madaheb.

Mughal Emperor Akbar the Great (r. 1556-1605) holds a Religious assembly in the Ibadat Khana (House of Worship) in Fatehpur Sikri; the two men dressed in black are the Jesuit missionaries Rodolfo Acquaviva and Francisco Henriques. Illustration to the Akbarnama, miniature painting by Nar Singh, ca. 1605

The text is best known for its chapter on the Dīn-i Ilāhī, the syncretic religion propounded by the Mughal emperor Jalāl ud-Dīn Muḥammad Akbar ("Akbar the Great") after 1581 and is possibly the most reliable account of the Ibādat Khāna discussions that led up to this.


The authorship of Dabestan is debated. .[1]However, this 1843 edition slightly flawed since the translators were not well-versed in much of the subject matter. The editors, who were not certain of the identity of the author, believed that he was a Sufi, but the 1993 edition of the Encyclopaedia Iranica suggests that the author was most likely a Zoroastrian.

More recently, Rahim Rezazadeh Malek, who edited a critical edition in 1983, has attributed the text's authorship to the 18th century Perso-Indian heresiographer Kay-Khosrow Esfandiyar.[1] Esfandiyar was the son and successor of Azar Kayvan, and may have belonged to a Persian tradition (Sipásíán) that can be considered to be heterodox relative to orthodox Zoroastrianism.


This work was first printed by Nazar Ashraf in a very accurate edition in movable type at Calcutta in 1809 (an offset reprint of this edition was published by Ali Asghar Mustafawi from Teheran in 1982). A lithographed edition was published by Ibrahim bin Nur Muhammad from Bombay in AH 1292 (1875). In 1877, Munshi Nawal Kishore published another Lithographed edition from Lucknow. The distinguished Persian scholar Francis Gladwin translated the chapter on the Persians into English and published it from Calcutta in 1789. A German version by E. Dalburg from Wurzburg was published in 1809. The chapter on the Raushanyas was translated into English by J. Leyden for the Asiatic Researches, xi, Calcutta. The entire work was translated into English by David Shea and Anthony Troyer under the title, The Dabistan or School of Manners (1843) in three volumes from London.[2]

The author describes that he spent time in Patna, Kashmir, Lahore, Surat and Srikakulam (Andhra Pradesh). He is perceived to have been a person of great scholarship and curiosity, and extremely open-minded for the context of his time. He mentions numerous interviews with scholars of numerous faiths, which suggests that he was well connected, and so qualified to report on the Dīn-i Ilāhī.

According to The Jew in the Lotus by Rodger Kamenetz, a Dabistan was commissioned by a Mughal mystic prince, Dara Shikoh. The section on Judaism consists of translations by a Persian Jewish Sufi Muslim convert, Sarmad Kashani, and his Hindu disciple from Sindh.[3] Walter Fischel notes:

Through the medium of the Dabistan Sarmad thus became the channel through which Jewish ideas, though with a Sufic blending, penetrated into the religious fabric of the India of his time.[4]

An English version of the Dabistan by David Shea (1843) is available at the Digital Library of India IISc.[5]

Author's perspectiveEdit

Although the author spent most of life in South Asia, he regarded himself as a Persian. However his perspective of the Hindus, and of other religions was unusually liberal. He writes:[6]

As inconstant fortune had torn away the author from the shores of Persia, and made him the associate of the believers in transmigration and those who addressed their prayers to idols and images and worshipped demons, therefore the tenets held by this most subtle class of reasoners come to be considered next after those of the Parsees.
... According to these sectaries, the worship offered to the forms of Mahadeo and Naráyan, and to the statues of the other spiritual beings, is highly to be commended. Strangers to their faith suppose them to look upon the idol as God, which is by no means the case, their belief being as follows: "The idol is merely a Kiblah, and they adore under that particular form, the Being who has neither accident nor form." ...
Rai Manuhar Kuchwáhhah has said:
"O Moslem! if the Kâbah be the object of thy worship,
Why dost thou reproach the adorers of idols?"

He personally met many scholars of different faiths. For example, about the Jains he writes:

The author of this book affirms he has seen a great number of Srivaras [7] and their followers. From them he knew Meher chand, a Lúnú,[8] in the year 1056 of the Hejira (1646 A. D.), in Dotárah, which is under the dominion of Jodpur Márawár, he found also Síva rama, a Pujári, in Mirta, which place belongs to Marawar, and one named Jagna, a Banian, in Ráwel Pandi: he was adorned with all the good qualities of Jatis. When he saw a bird in the hands of a fowler, he bought it of him and set it free. This sect do whatever they can for the liberation of living beings.
Hafiz Shirázi says:
"Avoid hurting any living animal, and do whatever thou likest,
For in my book of laws there is no crime but this."
"Parsis of Bombay" with traditional Parsi hats, a wood engraving, ca. 1878

He observes that while Hindus dress following their own custom, the non-Muslims of Iran and Turan pass themselves off as Muslims, while practicing their faith in secret:

... there are Samradíán, Khodaníán, Radián, Shíderangíán, Pâikeríán, Mílánían, Aláríán, Shídábíán, Akhshían, and Mazdakían, who are dispersed in Iran and Turan, and all appear in the dress of Musulmans, although in secret they follow each the path of their own chosen faith; in the same manner various sects are also established in Hindostan, but they do not appear in the dress of Musulmans.

He describes the disputations in Akbar's Ibadat Khana in detail, as if he had been there:

A learned philosopher came into the hall, where Hindus also were present, and three other learned men; a Musulman, a Nazarene, and a Jew: these were summoned, and ranged in opposition to the learned philosopher. The latter opened the discussion in this manner: "The divine mission of your prophets has not been proved, for several reasons: the first is, that whatever the prophet says ought to be conformable to reason; the second is, that he ought to be free from crime, and not hurtful to other beings. But Moses, according to the opinion of the Jews, was brought up by Pharâoh, and yet he caused him by a stratagem to be drowned in the waters of the Nile,... Jesus permitted the killing and ill using of animals. And Muhammed himself attacked the forces and caravans of the Koreish; he shed blood, nay, with his own hand put to death animated beings.
... Now the Christian said: "The Messiah was born without a father." The doctor replied: "You yourselves say that Joseph, the carpenter, had taken Mary to wife; how can it be made out that Jesus was not the son of Joseph?" The Nazarene was reduced to silence.

He describes and defends the liberal views of Akbar:

His Majesty, Akbar, as he was ordered by God, used to read prayers, containing the praise of the sun, in the Persian, Hindi, Turkish, and Arabic languages, among which all was one prayer, which is proper to the Hindus, and which they sing at midnight and at sun-rise. Besides, the emperor forbade his subjects to kill cows and to eat their flesh; .... The Hindus say also that, as many advantages are derived from the cow, it is not right to kill it. The Yezdánian maintained that it is tyranny to kill harmless animals ...


The text is divided into twelve ta‘lims (chapters):

  • Chapter I. Religious traditions of the Persian.
    • Sipásíán, Jemsháspián, Samrádíán, Khodáníán, Rádían, Shídrangíán, Pykeríán, Miláníán, Aláríán, Shídábíán, Akhshíán, Zerdushtián (Zoroastrian), Mazdakíán.
  • Chapter II. Hindus.
    • Smártí (Smarta Tradition), Vedanta Sankhya, Jogís (Yoga), Saktíán (Shakta), Vishnú (Vishnu), Chárvákián, Tárkikán, Búdah (actually Jain), and several new sects including
      • Sanyási, Avaduta, Jangama, Sufi-Hindus (Madárían, Jelalían, Kakan), Yógi, Narayaní (Gosáin Haridas), Dadu Panthi, Píára panthi, Gosáin Jáni, Surya-makhan, Chandra bhakta, Pavana bhakta, Jala bhakta, Prithivi bhakta (earth worshippers), Manushya bhakta (humanists), Nanak-Panthi (Sikh).
  • Chapter III. Kera Tabitian (Tibetan Buddhism), as learned from unsatisfactory translation.
  • Chapter IV. Yahuds (Jews), as learned from Sufi Sarmad Kashani, who was born a Jew.
  • Chapter V. Tarsa (Christians).
  • Chapter VI. Muhammedans (Muslims).
  • Chapter VII. Sádakíah, founded by Musaylima, a contemporary of Muhammad.
  • Chapter VIII. Váhadiáh (Unitarians), a central Asian religion founded by Váhed Mahmúd.
  • Chapter IX. Rósheníán (Roshanniya), a central Asian religion founded by Pir Roshan.
  • Chapter X. Ilahíah (Din-e-Ilahi).
  • Chapter XI. Wise (Philosophers who studied the Hellenic tradition)
  • Chapter XII. Súfíah (Sufis).

Chapter II includes one of the earliest historical account of the Sikhs.


  1. ^ a b Abbas Amanat (2018). "Remembering the Persianate". The Persianate World: Rethinking a Shared Sphere. BRILL. p. 18. ISBN 978-90-04-38728-7.
  2. ^ Ali, M. Athar (2008). Mughal India, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-569661-1, pp.216-28
  3. ^ Jews and Judaism at the Court of the Moghul Emperors in Medieval India, Walter J. Fischel, Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research, Vol. 18, (1948 - 1949), pp. 137-177
  4. ^ Kamenetz p. 249
  5. ^ [1] Archived 2011-07-19 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ Sevada implies a Jain monk of the Shvetambara order, from Sanskrit Shvetapata.
  8. ^ Lunia means someone belonging to the Lonka Gachchha

External linksEdit