Here we detail about the ten medieval centres of Islamic learning. The centres are (1) Delhi, (2) Agra, (3) Lahore, (4) Fatepur Sikri, (5) Multan, (6) Jaunpur, (7) Gujrat, (8) Kashmir, (9) Gour (Lakhnauti) (10) Bidar.
Medieval India witnessed the existence of many important centres of learning. These included Delhi, Agra, Jaunpur, Lahore, Bidar, Gour, Patna, Dacca, Murshidabad, Goolkonda, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Multan, Kashmir, Lahore, Ajmer and others. Delhi was an important centre of education during the Medieval Age. It was also the centre of political gravity. This enabled her to become a famous seat of Islamic culture and education.
It was the capital of the Sultans of Delhi for many years, and as such it was an older educational centre for the Muslims. The same tradition was upheld even during the Mughal period. During the reigns of different rulers, a large number of schools and colleges (Maktab and Madrasahs) were established there. During the Mughal regime many new institutions were added.
Humayun established a school on the bank of the Jamuna. He also established a beautiful library. Later by Humayun’s tomb a madrasah known as the Madrasah-I-Begum was built. It was a residential institution and had a magnificent building with residential rooms and lecture halls. Under royal patronage a large number of specialists in different branches of knowledge such as Muslim jurisprudence, philosophy, poetry, astronomy, astrology, theology, history, geography, public administration, medical science, music, calligraphy, literature, fine arts and vocational arts settled at Delhi.
Delhi attracted through the centuries numerous scholars, writers and historians from far and wide. Some of them are Jiauddin Barni, Amir Khqsrau, Ferishta, Rumi etc. Barm informs us that there was there at that time an intelligentsia, who surpassed even the pick of Bokhara, Baghdad, Cairo, Damascus Ispahan and Tabrez—the renowned Muslim university of the East. Ferishta also refers to Delhi as an important educational centre and says that “palaces, mosques, universities, baths……..seemed to rise as if by magic”. “Neither did there in any age appear such a concourse of learned men from all parts.”
Numerous learned men flocked to Delhi which could compare very favourably with the great universities of the world. The standard of education imparted at Delhi was very high. This was due to the combined efforts of private individuals as well as monarchs. The library of Ghazi Khan testifies the type of knowledge and culture in vogue at Delhi on the eve of Babar’s invasion. Besides the books on theology, it contained a number of valuable books on the sciences. Shaikh Abdullah of Talna was a famous teacher at Delhi. Hundreds of students gathered there from near and far to take lessons from him.
During the Mughal period, Agra was a famous seat of learning and a celebrated centre of education for the Muslims. Many colleges and schools of Islamic learning were established there by the Mughal emperors themselves, and also by their nobles and learned scholars. A large number of advanced students flocked there from far and wide to take lessons from renowned specialists in different branches of learning.
Distinguished scholars of Shiraj were appointed as professors. Mirza Muftis was a famous teacher in the Juma Masjid at Agra. It had a big madrasah and Akbar appointed a famous philosopher of Shiraj as a professor in that institution.
Lahore was also an important centre of Muslim education during the Mughal rule. It was an eminent abode of literary work. It was here that the celebrated Tarikh-I-Alfi was written and the Mahabharata and the Rajtarangini were translated into Persian. The reputation of its scholars attracted students from places far and wide. It produced many famous teachers like Maulana Jalal and Mulla Imamuddin. Many Muslim saints and scholars lived and breathed their last at Lahore.
It became a famous seat of learning during the reign of Akbar who founded it. It had several schools and seminaries. The well-known Ibadat Khana (a house of worship or a debating hall) played a prominent role in influencing the life and thought of the people. It was the meeting place of the intellectuals of various nationalities and the centre of a set of brilliant scholars during the reign of Akbar.
In it the representatives of different schools of thought used to discuss minute points of their religions. Its importance lay in the fact that it was used as a place, a pulpit and a platform, from which unity was preached and propagated. The Din-I-Ilahi (Divine Faith), the real aim of which was not religious but national unity, was promulgated there.
Multan was a conspicuous seat of learning and culture. It possessed a superior standard of education and as such it attracted hosts of scholars from distant lands. The city testifies the presence of a large number of tombs of Muslim saints and scholars. It was in fact an important asylum of persecuted and ousted literary persons.
The tomb of Shah Shams Tabrez in Multan, a poet of pure vigorous diction and sublime imagination, is still now a place of pilgrimage to the devout Muslims.
It was a famous place of Muslim learning during the reign of Ibrahim Sharqi (1402-40) when it came to have several good colleges and mosques. It was a great university-city and maintained its fame for a fairly long time. Education greatly influenced the hearts and minds of its people. During Ibrahim’s reign, Jaunpur received the honour of Shiraj of India (Shiraj- i-Hind) for its eminence as an important centre of learning.
Many learned scholars took their residence here. Hundreds of men flocked here from far and near for higher learning. It produced many learned scholars like Shaik Allahabad Jaunpuri, Zabir Dilwari Maulana, Hasan Baqshi and Nur-Ul-Haq. There were hundreds of madrashas at Jaunpur and the teachers and the taught were awarded medals and jagirs in recognition of their literary merit.
Munim Khan established the famous Jaunpur Madrasah where the learned Shaikhu was the teacher. Bibi Raji, the celebrated wife of Mahmud Shah, also constructed a Jami-Masjid, a monastery and a madrasah in Jaunpur. Sher Shah received his education at Jaunpur. The subjects which he studied were history, poetry, philosophy. He also learnt Persian and Arabic.
The court of Jaunpur was adorned by eminent poets and scholars who received generous patronage from the monarch. It became the resort of all the learned men of the East. Jaunpur was an El Dorado of learning in India. It retained its prominence throughout the Mughal period. The Mughal emperors took a very keen interest in the progress of the educational institutions in Jaunpur.
They used to provide liberal grants to its educational institutions. Even in Muhammad Shah’s time, 20 famous schools existed in Jaunpur. Nor was scholastic learning only cultivated. The noble Masjids of Ibrahim and Hussain testify that different arts were successfully cultivated. Jaunpur lost its glory as a centre of higher learning for lack of patronage in later times.
There were many maktabs in Gujrat and pious moulavis were engaged to give instruction to the young Muslim learners there. Mian Wajih- Uddin and Shaikh Dehlvi, two renowned scholars of Humayun’s reign, used to teach here logic and philosophy to scholars coming from different parts of India and abroad. The madrasah “Faiz Safa” in Gujrat was attached to a mosque. A college named “Langer-I-Duwazda Imam” was established at Ahmedabad by Burhan Nizam Shah I for imparting Shia learning. He brought highly learned scholars from Iraq, Arabia and Persia to teach in this college. Akram-Uddin also built a large college there in 1697 at an estimated cost of Rs. 1, 24,000.
Kashmir was a well-known centre of Islamic education. Some eminent scholars wrote their works in the cool and clear atmosphere of the valley. Jahanara, the eldest daughter of Shah Jahan, received her early education in Kashmir. Mirza Abu Talib Kalim wrote in Kashmir his poetical works in the reign of Shah Jahan.
It was the capital of Bengal—a famous place of cultural integration. Ghiyas-Uddin I of Bengal was a man of letters and contributed much to the cause of education. He built a madrasah in his capital. Ghiyas- Uddin II himself was a poet and a liberal patron of letters. He also founded a college called Darasbari. Hussain Shah and Nusrat Shah, the most remarkable kings of Bengal, were great exponents of Hindu and Muslim literature.
During their reigns the progress of education was remarkable. They founded many schools and colleges (madrasahs) in their kingdom and created vast endowments for their maintenance. The Muslim kings of Bengal contributed highly to the growth of Bengali literature.
The provincial vernacular (Bengali) rose to a literary status due to the continuous encouragement of the patriotic Mussalman rulers of Bengal. This is a historical truth. The celebrated epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata first caught the eyes of the Sultans of Bengal. The first Bengali translation of the Mahabharata was made under the orders of Sultan Nasir Shah. This Sultan was a fervent lover of Bengali literature.
Sultan Ghiyas-Uddin II also did much for the development of Bengali language. It was probably at his initiative that a vernacular rendering of the Ramayana was made by Krittivasa. One of the most brilliant features of the Hussaini Rule in Bengal is the rapid growth of native literature under its aegis. The contributions of Hussain Shah and Nusrat Shah were not only restricted to the promotion of Islamic learning, but they also took Bengali literature under their fostering care.
Hussain Shah had engaged one Maladhar Basu to translate the Bhagavata Purana into the provincial vernacular. Paragal Khan, his general, and Chhuti Khan, his son, have left their names in Bengali literature by translating a part of the epic of Mahabharata into that vernacular. It was due to the patronage of Hussain Shah, the Mahabharata was translated into Bengali by Kavindra Parameshwara up to the Sri Parva.
Sultan Nusrat Shah was responsible for another Bengali version of the Mahabharata. Due to the religious tolerance of Muslim rulers of Bengal, a synthetic culture developed. At their initiative numerous Bengali works were translated into Persian. This led to the renaissance in Bengali literature. Education, both Muslim and Hindu, made considerable progress in Bengal under the patronage of Muslim chiefs.
It was the capital city of the Bahamani Kingdom which produced an outstanding educationist, Mahmud Gawan. He had great learning and mastery in the composition of both prose and poetry. He was an elegant writer, an excellent author and an expert mathematician. He wrote two invaluable and immortal works.
He was, in fact, so learned that Maulana Abdur Rahman Jami, the renowned poet of Persia, regularly corresponded with him. In the sphere of education his contribution was so unique that he acquired lasting fame and glory. He was a man of vast knowledge and of high literary tastes. His literary benefactions were- so extensive that “there was scarcely a town or a city the learned men of which had not derived advantage out of him”. His name is preserved in history chiefly because he built a famous college in the city of Bidar.
This was known as Madrasha-I- Mahmud Gawan. It was housed in a splendid building which he erected. The college had a mosque attached to it. It was equipped with a large library containing 3,000 volumes for the use of its professors and students. Religious education was imparted side by side with secular learning. The college was a residential one.
Distinguished scholars of distant countries were conveniently accommodated there and provided with all the necessities of life gratis. Gawan invited the most accomplished teachers of Persia, but was unsuccessful. Gawan appointed. Shaikh Ibrahim Multani, a well-known saint and scholar, as the head of the Madrasah-Gawan. Under Shaikh’s guidance, Gawan’s college grew into a flourishing institution. In recognition of his learning and piety, Shaikh was afterwards appointed as the chief Qazi of the kingdom.
There were also many other scholars of great reputation serving at the Gawan college. The madrasah was built at a cost of several lakhs of rupees and it took three years to be completed. It was one of the most magnificent and beautiful buildings of the time. “Of the ancient buildings of India, now extant, this building is by far the best and unparalleled” (Richard Temple); “The noble college of Mahmud Gawan in the city of Bidar”, says the historian Meadows Taylor “was perhaps the grandest completed work of the period.”
Brigg’s note on the madrasah is interesting as well as informing: “The College is one of the many beautiful remains of the grandeur of the Bahamani dynasty which flourished at Bidar.” The college which Gawan founded is a monument to his memory.