Did Mughals Brought Biryani to India
Biryani is made from rice. Rice does not even grow in the original home of Mughals, which is Moghulistan/Mongolia, Biryani was consumed in Deccan in the 15th century before a single Mughal set his foot in India.
Mughals were originally speakers of the Chagatai language, which is a Turkic language belonging to the Altai family. This means Altai mountains in West Mongolia are their ultimate origin (Whence they migrated to Central Asia & later India). Rice does not grow in this Altai region. In the last 10-15 years, they have made attempts to cultivate rice in Mongolia using modern technology. The enterprise has largely not been successful.
At any rate, the first mention of Biryani comes only in the 17th century. This was centuries after Mughals entered India. This straightly disproves the claim that “Mughals brought Biryani to India”. The best quality of Biryani is made from Basmati rice, which is grown only in the Indian subcontinent. Not Arabia or Mongolia.
Now let’s examine the claim that “Mughals brought Biryani to India” with textual sources. In this respect, data from Baburnama is extremely valuable as a contemporary Mughal source for geographical and botanical data. To begin with, What was India (‘Hindustan’) during those days? In Baburnama, Hindustan begins from the East of Kabul. When Mughal emperor Babur reached Lamghan (Laghman), Ningnahar (Nangarhar), and Adinapur (Jalalabad) which are towns to the east of Kabul in today’s Northeast Afghanistan.
“Other grounds, other trees, other animals, other manners & customs” is how Babur describes the difference between Hindustan and Central Asia. The North/West of Kabul was known as “Khurasan” & wasn’t part of Hindustan. Kabul & Qandahar were entrepots between Hindustan and Khurasan. Babur declared that he reached the border of Hindustan.
With this background in place, let us examine the evidence from Babur’s mouth. Throughout Baburnama, Babur does not mention rice when he was in Central Asia. He mentions other crops and cereals but rice is completely absent. What to say of Biryani?
The first mention of rice farming in Baburnama occurs after Babur enters Hindustan. He mentions that good crops of rice and corn were cultivated in Nangarhar, a place which Babur describes as the “borderland of Hindustan”. Next, we are told that Rice was grown on “steep terraces” in the Nur valley of Laghman (today’s Northeast Afghanistan) in the Hindukush mountains, which was again considered a part of Hindustan. Today, these regions are Afghan Pak borderlands
Then, the Mughal army conducted a night raid and looted rice fields of “Mil Kafirs”. These were the Nuristani and Chitrali Kalash Kafirs of Hindukush mountains. They put up a brave resistance and fought the Mughal army.
The Persian word ‘Biryani’ comes from Persian ‘Birinj’ for rice. Now, this word is not found in Old Persian. It suddenly occurs in Middle Persian. According to Mayrhofer’s “Etymological Dictionary Of Old Indo Aryan”, the word Birinj comes from the Sanskrit word vrīhí (व्रीहि). The word “Biryani” does not appear in the Mughal records until the 17th century. It is absent in all the older records.
Ain-I-Akbari (16th century) describes the preparation of a dish known as Zard Birinj (yellow rice) which could be seen as a Mughal precursor to Mughal Biryani. In fact, the word ‘Zard Birinj" is a straight translation of “Haridranna”. Sanskrit हारिद्र (haridra) means “Yellow”. In Persian, Zard (زرد) means “Yellow”. “Anna” generally means rice in Sanskrit and “Birinj” is rice in Persian. By straight translation, Zard Birinj= Haridranna.
The first unambiguous mention of Biryani comes from Nuskha-i-Shahjahani in the 17th century. It was made in the kitchens of India which have access to spices. This is not surprising. Biryani is made of rice and spices which could be found only in India (or South East Asia). Its earlier name was “Hindavi Laziz” =“Indian delicacy”, a straight admission of its Indian origin.
The great Persian linguist Ali Nourai shows that a sound cluster of voiceless plosive, nonfront vowel, and a liquid is simply not existent in native Persian phonology Hence, a word such as “Pilaw/pilaf” is simply not a native Persian word. It is a borrowed loanword into Persian.
In “Etymological Dictionary of Persian”, leading Persian linguist Garnik Asatrian makes a very interesting point. He says the word “Pulav/Pilaw” or its ancestors are completely absent in Old & Middle Persian. It occurs in New Persian when Ghaznavids begin expanding into India.
Research indicates that rice was introduced into Central Asia from Indian subcontinent, even if cultivation attempts mostly failed. This most likely happened during the Greek and Kushan period.
Biryani is basically a dish made with rice, meat, and spices. Such a dish known as मांसौदन is mentioned even in Vedic literature. It is mentioned in Śatapathabrāhmaṇa (11. 5. 7. 5 & 14. 9. 4.17). Pāṇini in his Aṣṭādhyāyī also mentions it at 4. 4.67.
An ancient Indian book on food known as Pākadarpaṇa (पाकदर्पण) is attributed to King Nala. According to Mahabharata, Nala was a great cook and he was gifted this ability by none other than Yama. According to ancient Indian lore, Nala was a cook in the kitchen of King Rituparna.
Pākadarpaṇa was composed by King Nala according to the book itself and Indian tradition. It describes the preparation of मांसौदन which is an early form of Biryani. First, the author describes the preparation of boiled rice. He then adds meat, spices, and even flowers for decoration. The author then describes the preparation of मांसौदन which is an early form of Biryani. The author describes the process of rinsing, soaking rice, and then draining rice. He then describes cutting meat to the size of rice. Ghee and coconut milk was also added along with Ketaki. For the sake of fragrance, Kasturi and Karpura (musk and camphor) were also added. Then the vessel was closed with an upper lid, kept on fire, and mixed well until it becomes soft. Then, मांसौदन was served for eating. This marination technique is literally what is followed in the preparation of Dum Biryani. The author furthers adds that the ideal मांसौदन (an early form of Biryani) has to be रुचिकरं (tasty), वृष्यं (stimulating) पथ्यं (wholesome) & light.
Further, Pakadarpana describes the preparation of मांसौदन using the meat of quail bird. It uses spices, meat, ghee, aromatic substances, and marination technique. It also recommends layering/topping.
Pakadarpana describes the preparation of कुक्कुट मांसौदन (an early form of chicken Biryani). Using Chicken meat, salt & spices, he chops meat to the size and cooks it with Ghee. He soaks it & adds Asafoetida. He closes the upper lid, keeps it on fire & mixes well until it becomes soft. Further Pakadarpana recommends adding “Masala powder” which should be made of six materials(षट्-चूर्ण) and he also recommends Kevada petals for fragrance (instead of Gulabi rose petals). He recommends “kheema-like” the cutting of meat. He recommends enclosing the dish using आटा.
Before an ignoramus says “Where are potatoes, tomatoes, and Chilles?” There were no potatoes, tomatoes, and Chillies in the Mughalai Biryani of Shah Jahan & Aurangzeb. There is no mention of them in Nuskha I Shahjahani Biryani.
**Mughals did not bring Biryani to India. Far from it. They did not even have natively cultivated rice. Rice could not be grown in their homelands in those days. They first encountered rice fields in Hindustan and looted those rice fields during night raids. **