James Skinner and Tashrih al-aqvam

Colonel James Skinner,(1784-1841) or Sikander sahab was an Anglo-Indian military adventurer who is known for raising 2 cavalry regiments for the British, known as Skinner’s Horse. Even today they are part of the Indian army.James_Skinner_CB_(1778_–_1841)_,_19th_century

He spoke fluent Persian and is the author of the book Tashrih al-aqvam(an account of origins and occupations of some of the sects, castes, and tribes of India). It  was completed in 1825 and is part of the collection of the British Library.

Skinner translated into Persian the summary of the Vedas and Shastras with a survey survey of both Hindu and Muslim occupational groups and religious mendicants in the Delhi region.

The book also gives details of   Hindu, Jain, and Sikh religious faqeers (mendicants) such as yogis and sanyasis as well as the Muslim Afghans of Kasur, qawwals, and fakirs.

The text was illustrated by a number of Delhi artists commissioned by Skinner for  the album, the chief of them being Ghulam Ali Khan. The watercolor paintings all seem to have been made from live subjects by the painter who accompanied Skinner on his travels.

Some of them are given here

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A Khatri
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A Qawwal
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Khati or Tarkhan, carpenter caste of the Panjab
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The Badhik, (butcher)or sometimes pronounced Badhak are a Hindu caste found in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India
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Kamdangar, a bowmaker
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Dhundiya, a member of the strict Sthanakavasi sect of Jains. Wearing a mouthcloth to protect microscopic life from harm, he carries a brush to clear insects from his path
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A portrait of Bhajan Das Bairagi, a member of the Vaisnava order of ascetics, usually followers of Ramananda

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Qusuri or ‘Kusuri, an Afghan of Kasur
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An astrologer with his divination board.
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Kahar, the carrier or bearer class of the eastern Panjab.

Bavari, an itinerant predatory tribe, represented by a bird-snare

Banjara an itinerant trader, often a grain merchant. Man with oxen carrying sacks
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A Harlot

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A Barber
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A dhobi
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A screenmaker-dumna
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A Saiva mendicant
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A leather bottle maker
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Luniya -salt diggers
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Mallah- boatmen
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Tanner
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Gandhi’, a caste of perfumers or druggists, from ‘Tashrih al-aqvam’, 1825 (w/c on paper)
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A Mewati warrior
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Chipi (or chimba), a cloth printer – Tashrih al-aqvam (1825)
#TashrihAlAqvam – categorisation of castes &occupations
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Grain roaster
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Bavari, an itinerant predatory tribe, represented by a bird-snarer.
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Sadhu – a naked ascetic. This particular one is associated with the ‘Vairagis’ and is armed with a spear, gun and talwar.
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A water-seller. Saqqa, a Muslim caste of water-carriers.
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Nat – gypsy acrobat
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A cotton-dresser. Dhuniya or Pamjara, synonyms for the caste of cotton-dressers, represented by a masked man using a bow to prepare raw cotton
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A professional thief
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Female conjuror/Bhanmati
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Teli
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Sabzi farosh /Vegetable seller
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Rangrez/dyer
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A singer or bard. Bandijan or kalavant, a singer or bard from the Bhat caste.
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Kalāl, a caste of distillers and tavern keepers

(Images from Asia society site)

Comment List

  • yashpal gulia 12 / 12 / 2014 Reply

    Two Skinners books are not only rare but are realistic evidents about the casts/ tribes or professions of thatera. Can these books be available in India? If yes pl tell.
    Skinner was no less than a genious, he participated in many historic battles, like Battle of Jahajgarh ( JHAJJAR) in 1801. He was a fast friend of William Fraser and Ahmad Bux Khan etc. May God keep his soul in peace. with great regards YASHPAL GULIA

    • Rana Safvi 12 / 12 / 2014 Reply

      I found all these paintings and descriptions online The book is available only online I think.

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