A Persian cultural elite developed first in imperial cities—Lahore, Delhi,
Agra, Allahabad, and Jaunpore—and then in regional capitals like
Lucknow, Dhaka and Hyderabad.
In the northern Mughal domains—from Afghanistan to Bengal—emerging
urban vernaculars and literary languages, Urdu and Hindustani, combined
elements from Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian and local dialects.
Upward mobility in imperial society came with admixtures of Persian. In
urbane Indo-Persian cultural settings, the more Persian one’s language,
was the more elite he was considered the less Persian, the lower class.
Indo-Persian cultural forms and vocabularies derived from Mughal
authority, spread well beyond the imperial reach in many vernacular
One example is the word sarkar, which came to mean ‘government’ in
vernacular speech, and hence, became a title, honorific, a place name, and
a respectful greeting. As people attached the honorific, sarkar, to personal
names and used it to give respect, it came to be part of family identities
and hence, a family name.
Many other official titles also became personal names. Mughal terms thus
traveled through imperial society and spread from city to city with Mughal
expansion; and then they spread out into society at large, with the
deepening penetration of military, administrative and judicial power.
The authority of the emperor was not, therefore, merely coercive; it was
moral, aesthetic, legal and spiritual. Hence, it did not depend on the everyday
exertion of physical force.
The idea that there exists an all-powerful emperor, who validates all the ranks
of all the officials who work in his name, and all the people who receive
entitlements from those officials, down to the smallest village, became a
pervasive feature of everyday life.
Like the Persian language, Indo-Persian political culture was most elaborately
developed in the Mughal heartland, in the Indus and Ganga basins. But it also
spread in many vernaculars to the far corners of Mughal expansion and
beyond; even eventually, to the southernmost tip of the Indian peninsula,
where no Mughal emperor ever set foot, and where Mughal authority
effectively arrived only in the