Hunger in Utopia: Shahjahan’s Padshahnamah and literary responses to the Deccan Drought

Dr Saqib Baburi, British Library, London


Within three years of a protracted succession struggle for the Timurid or Mogul throne, Emperor Shāhjahān’s official court chronicles record the occurrence of a devastating and lasting period of drought and famine in the region of the Deccan. Unlike similar droughts in other regions at other times, the effects of this event were felt by all social strata.

With the emperor and his court stationed in the affected region, we see the traumas experienced by courtiers and poets memorialised in a relatively large corpus of literature focused on personal testimonies, which add to the more systematic and impersonal descriptions of state records. This paper brings together these multivocal documents and identifies the various strands of narrative and imagery they deploy.