The Ni’matnama of the Sultans of Mandu By Colleen Taylor Sen

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The Ni’matnama of the Sultans of Mandu By Colleen Taylor Sen[i]

Adapted from Feasts and Fasts: A History of Food in India, to be published by Reaktion Books in November 2014

In 1401 Dilawar Khan, the governor of Malwa, a small state in central western India,  declared his independence from the Sultanate in Delhi and set up his capital at Mandu. When his grandson Ghiyath Shahi ascended the throne in 1469, he announced that he had decided to leave the ruling of the kingdom to his son Nasir Shah (r. 1500-1511) in order to devote his life to the pursuit of pleasure. He filled his palace with musicians, cooks, painters, and thousands of women, many of whom were taught an art or skill, such as wrestling and cooking. Five hundred female Abyssinian slaves, clad in armour, formed his personal bodyguard. During his reign, Mandu became known as Shadiyabad , or City of Joy.

To document his luxurious lifestyle, he commissioned the Ni’matnama, or Book of Delights. Composed over the period 1495-1505, it consists of several hundred recipes written in a mixture of Urdu and Persian illustrated by fifty paintings. The paintings depict the preparation of various dishes. Giyath Shah himself, recognizable by his splendid moustache, is usually present, watching and supervising the operations, enjoying his food, or hunting and fishing. The book was completed by his son Nasir Shah.

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[i]  The Ni’matnama Manuscript of the Sultans of Mandu, trans. Norah M. Titley (London and New York, 2005)