Like Ink on Water (reading the records on medieval maritime world)

During my study visits in Konkan along the west coast of India, I chanced upon something that I had only heard of. It is a genealogical scroll in the possession of Sayyid family in one of the coastal towns of Konkan. The genealogical scroll traces a biological as well as spiritual lineages.

A close reading of the scroll has indeed opened up new layers to understand the medieval maritime networks in Konkan. The scroll speaks of merchants and traders, along with their Sufi masters on some occasions; traveling from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran to the port cities of Konkan. We also hear of members from Sayyid family appointed as port-overseers on Konkani ports during Adilshahi (c.1490 – 1608 CE) period that could have later continued till the takeover of maritime ports by the Marathas from the Mughals in around 1730 CE onwards.

I had the pleasure of presenting some of the preliminary readings of the text and its overall cultural milieu at a conference in 2021. The following embed is my full presentation of the topic here.

Part of the International Conference on Maharashtra in September 2021 – Durga Kale, University of Calgary, Canada


The coastal villages in Maharashtra have maintained a porous existence with the cultural influence flowing from the mainland (desh) and from the regions connected by maritime trade of the medieval period (c. 900-1700 CE). The genealogical records of the medieval period dominated the literary and social inroads of establishing connectedness in various spheres of activity.

The genealogical records preserved in Muslim community along the Konkan coast highlight a network of circulation within the greater Indian Ocean trade network. This paper focuses on a genealogical manuscript produced during the medieval period that highlights geological and spiritual networks in Maharashtra and beyond. Highlighting the flow of Sufi spiritual traditions, the text anchors the family in Maharashtra as a part of a diasporic nexus of the 14th century CE.

My paper proposes an interdisciplinary analysis using oral histories, documented history through literary survey and a cursory study of material culture in Konkan to situate the genealogical document. One of three such documents revealed in my recent field-study in Konkan, I propose metanarratives of the time that may have fostered a specific literary production such as the genealogical text in discussion.
Although my paper does not delve into the dating or material analysis of the document itself, the networks presented in this Arabic document purport the idea of a connected Muslim identity for individuals from Egypt, Arabia and Swahili coast, who made their home in medieval Konkan.

Durga @kalemighty


Published by Kalemighty

Penned thoughts from South Asian culture. Follow for thoughts on Archaeology, Anthropology, and Pedagogy around the world

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