The Dabestān-e Mazāheb
, also transliterated as Dabistān-i Mazāhib
(دبستان مذاهب) "School of Religions" is an imaginative examination and comparison of South Asian
religions and sects of the mid-17th century. The work is believed to have been written around 1655 CE
The Dabistan-e Madahib is best known for its chapter on the Dīn-i Ilāhī, the syncretic religion propounded by the Mughal emperor Jalālu d-Dīn Muḥammad Akbar ("Akbar the Great") after 1581 and is possibly the most reliable account of the Ibādat Khāna discussions that led up to this.
A critical English-language edition by David Shea and Anthony Troyer in 1843 is slightly flawed since the translators were not well-versed in much of the subject matter. The editors, who were not certain of the identity of the author, suggest a certain Muhsin Fani and propose 1670 as his date of death. They furthermore stated that he was "of the philosophic sect of Sufis", but the 1993 edition of the Encyclopaedia Iranica suggests that the author was most likely a Zoroastrian. The present Persian edition of the text by Rezazadeh Malik attributes it to the son and successor of Azar Kayvan, Kay Khosrow Esfandiyar. The author may have belonged to a Persian tradition (Sipásíán) that can be considered to be hetrodox relative to modern orthodox Zoroastrianism.
The author describes that he spent time in Patna, Kashmir, Lahore, Surat and Srikakulam (Andhra Pradesh). He is perceived to have been a person of great scholarship and curiosity, and extremely open-minded for the context of his time. He mentions numerous interviews with scholars of numerous faiths, which suggests that he was well connected, and so qualified to report on the Dīn-i Ilāhī.
According to The Jew in the Lotus by Rodger Kamenetz, a Dabistan was commissioned by an Mughal mystic prince Dara Shikoh. The section on Judaism consists of translations by a Persian Jewish Sufi Muslim convert, Sarmad, and his Hindu disciple from Sindh. Walter Fischel notes: An English version of the Dabistan by David Shea (1843) is available at the Digital Library of India IISc.
Although the author spent most of life in South Asia, he regarded himself as a Persian. However his perspective of the Hindus, and of other religions was unusually liberal. He writes:
- As inconstant fortune had torn away the author from the shores of Persia, and made him the associate of the believers in transmigration and those who addressed their prayers to idols and images and worshipped demons, therefore the tenets held by this most subtle class of reasoners come to be considered next after those of the Parsees.
- ..According to these sectaries, the worship offered to the forms of Mahadeo and Naráyan, and to the statues of the other spiritual beings, is highly to be commended. Strangers to their faith suppose them to look upon the idol as God, which is by no means the case, their belief being as follows: “The idol is merely a Kiblah, and they adore under that particular form, the Being who has neither accident nor form.” ...
- Rai Manuhar Kuchwáhhah has said:
- “O Moslem! if the Kâbah be the object of thy worship,
- Why dost thou reproach the adorers of idols?”
He personally met many scholars of different faiths. For example, about the Jains he writes:
- The author of this book affirms he has seen a great number of Srivaras and their followers. From them he knew Meher chand, a Lúnú , in the year 1056 of the Hejira (1646 A. D.), in Dotárah, which is under the dominion of Jodpur Márawár, he found also Síva rama, a Pujári, in Mirta, which place belongs to Marawar, and one named Jagna, a Banian, in Ráwel Pandi: he was adorned with all the good qualities of Jatis. When he saw a bird in the hands of a fowler, he bought it of him and set it free. This sect do whatever they can for the liberation of living beings. ...
- Hafiz Shirázi says:
- “Avoid hurting any living animal, and do whatever thou likest,
- For in my book of laws there is no crime but this.”
He observes that while Hindus dress following their own custom, the non-Muslims of Iran and Turan pass themselves off as Muslims, while practicing their faith in secret:
- ...there are Samradíán, Khodaníán, Radián, Shíderangíán, Pâikeríán, Mílánían, Aláríán, Shídábíán, Akhshían, and Mazdakían, who are dispersed in Iran and Turan, and all appear in the dress of Musulmans, although in secret they follow each the path of their own chosen faith; in the same manner various sects are also established in Hindostan, but they do not appear in the dress of Musulmans.
He describes the disputations in Akbar's Ibadat Khana in details, as if he was present there:
- A learned philosopher came into the hall, where Hindus also were present, and three other learned men; a Musulman, a Nazarene, and a Jew: these were summoned, and ranged in opposition to the learned philosopher.The latter opened the discussion in this manner: “The divine mission of your prophets has not been proved, for several reasons: the first is, that whatever the prophet says ought to be conformable to reason; the second is, that he ought to be free from crime, and not hurtful to other beings. But Moses, according to the opinion of the Jews, was brought up by Pharâoh, and yet he caused him by a stratagem to be drowned in the waters of the Nile,... Jesus permitted the killing and ill using of animals. And Muhammed himself attacked the forces and caravans of the Koreish; he shed blood, nay, with his own hand put to death animated beings.
- ...Now the Christian said: “The Messiah was born without a father.” The doctor replied: “You yourselves say that Joseph, the carpenter, had taken Mary to wife; how can it be made out that Jesus was not the son of Joseph?” The Nazarene was reduced to silence. ...
He describes and defends the liberal views of Akbar:
- His Majesty, Akbar, as he was ordered by God, used to read prayers, containing the praise of the sun, in the Persian, Hindi, Turkish, and Arabic languages, among which all was one prayer which is proper to the Hindus, and which they sing at midnight and at sun-rise. Besides, the emperor forbade his subjects to kill cows and to eat their flesh; .... The Hindus say also that, as many advantages are derived from the cow, it is not right to kill it. The Yezdánian maintained that it is tyranny to kill harmless animals ...
- CHAPT. I. Religious traditions of the Persian.
- Sipásíán, Jemsháspián, Samrádíán, Khodáníán,Rádían, Shídrangíán, Pykeríán, Miláníán, Aláríán, Shídábíán, Akhshíán, Zerdushtián (Zoroastrian), Mazdakíán.
- CHAPT. II. Hindus.
- Smártí (smarta), Vedanta Sankhya , Jogís, Saktíán (Shakta), Vishnú, Chárvákián, Tárkikán, Búdah (actually Jain), and several new sects including
- Sanyási, Avaduta, Jangama, Sufi-Hindus (Madárían, Jelalían, Kakan), Yógi, Narayaní (Gosáin Haridas), Dadu Panthi, Píára panthi, Gosáin Jáni, Surya-makhan, Chandra bhakta, Pavana bhakta, Jala bhakta, Prithivi bhakta (earth worshippers), Manushya bhakta (humanists), Nanak-Panthi (Sikh).
- CHAPT. III. Tibetans.
- CHAPT. IV. Jews, as learned from Sufi Sarmad, who was born a Jew.
- CHAPT. V. Christians.
- CHAPT. VI. Muslims.
- CHAPT. VII. Sádakíah, founded by Musaylima, a contemporary of Prophet Muhammad.
- CHAPT. VIII. Váhadiáh (Unitarians), a central Asian sect founded by Váhed Mahmúd.
- CHAPT. IX. Rósheníán.
- CHAPT. X. Ilahíah (Din-e-Ilahi).
- CHAPT. XI. Wise (Philosophers who studied the Hellenic tradition).
- CHAPT. XII. Súfíah (Sufis).
Chapter II includes one of the earliest historical account of the Sikhs.