DABISTĀN-I-MAZĀHIB, a seventeenth-century work in Persian, is a unique study of different religious creeds and systems, including early Sikhism. It first attracted wide notice when it was translated into English by David Shea and Anthony Troyer and was published by Oriental Translation Fund of Great Britain and Ireland, London, in 1843. The section on Nānakpanthīs, i. e. Sikhs, was first translated into English by Sardār Umrāo Siṅgh Majīṭhīā, and into English and Punjabi by Dr Gaṇḍā Siṅgh. The latter's English translation was published in the Journal of lndian History, vol. XIX, part 2, August 1940. It reappeared in Panjab Past and Present, vol. I, part 1, April 1967. There has been a good deal of controversy about the authorship of Dabistān-i-Mazāhib. The writer himself has nowhere in the book mentioned his name, parentage or date of birth. Earlier, Mohsin-i-Fānī Kashmīrī was commonly known to be the author of the book, but the work is now attributed by scholars to an Iranian named Maubad Zulfiqār Ardastānī (1615 c. -70). Maubad was a general term for a member or leader of the priestly order of the Zoroastrians. Zulfiqār grew up under the care of Maubad Hushiyar, himself a disciple of Azhar Kaiwan (d. 1627), the high priest of the Zoroastrians, who had come from Iran to India in the time of Emperor Akbar (1542-1605) and made Paṭnā his second home. Zulfiqār was a religious-minded youth with a liberal outlook. He devoted himself to the comparative study of religions and travelled extensively to this end, visiting far-flung places such as Gujarāt, Hyderābād (1053-59 AH / AD 1643-49), Oṛīssā and Coromaṇḍal Coast (1061-63 AH / AD 1651-53). He also spent many years in Kashmīr and Lahore (1040-52 AH / AD 1631-42). Returning to Paṭnā, he settled down in the sector now known as Gulzārbāgh. There he started compiling from his notes the book which has become famous as Dabistān-i-Mazāhib. A manuscript of the work was discovered by Professor Syed Hasan 'Askarī in the city in the 1930's in the family of an Iranian Muslim who in his scribbles on the flyleaf (now lost) and in critical marginal notes on certain pages (still preserved) furnished valuable information about the author which was not available to Shea and Troyer.
The Dabistān (lit. school) is divided into 12 main sections dealing with Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Sūfis, Kabīrpanthīs, Nānakpanthīs and different sects of Zoroastrianism. The account of Sikhism in this work, given under the title "Nānak Panthiāṅ, " is the earliest from the pen of a non-Sikh contemporary writer. Despite certain errors of fact that have crept into it, it is impartial and sympathetic in tone. As the author tells us, he knew two of the Gurūs - Gurū Hargobind (1595-1644) and Gurū Har Rāi (1630-61) -personally and had met them at Kīratpur.
Nānakpanthīs, says the author, are known as Gurū Sikhs. They have no faith in idols or temples containing idols. (Gurū) Nānak, a Bedi Khatrī, became famous during the reign of Emperor Bābar. He, like the Muhammadans, believed in the oneness of God, (but) he also believed in metempsychosis or transmigration of soul. He held the consumption of meat, pork and intoxicating drinks as forbidden. (However) after him meat eating became common among his followers. Just as Nānak praised the Muhammadans so also he praised the incarnations and gods and goddesses of the Hindus, but he knew them all as the creation of the Almighty Lord. Many legends and miracle stories about him had, continues the author, become current among his disciples. After Gurū Nānak, Aṅgad, a Trehaṇ Khatrī, Amar Dās, a Bhallā Khatrī, Rām Dās, a Soḍhī Khatrī, became Gurūs in that order. During the time of each Gurū, the Sikhs grew in number. In the reign of Gurū Arjan, successor of Gurū Rām Dās, "they had become so numerous that there were not many cities in the inhabited countries where some Sikhs were not to be found. "
Again, in the words of Dabistān-i-Mazāhib, "The disciples of Gurū Nānak condemn idol worship. Their belief is that all their Gurūs are Nānaks. They did not read the mantras of the Hindus. They do not venerate their temples or idols, nor do they esteem their avatāras. They have no regard for the Sanskrit language which, according to the Hindus, is the speech of the angels. " That the Sikhs believed all Gurūs to be of one light one in spirit though different in body is vividly perceived by the author. "The Sikhs say that when Gurū Nānak left the body, he descended (halūl kard) into Gurū Aṅgad. . . who in turn similarly entered into the body of Gurū Amar Dās, . . . and so on to Gurū Arjan Mall. They refer to each of them as mahal such as Gurū Nānak is Mahal I, Aṅgad Mahal II, and so on to Mahal V, Arjan Mall. They [the Sikhs] say that he who does not know Gurū Arjan Mall as Bābā Nānak is a manmukh, i. e. non-believer. "
Zulfiqār Ardastānī then narrates certain anecdotes about the Gurūs and about some of the Sikhs. He alludes to the institutions of masands and tithes. He records that Gurū Hargobind "adopted the form of a soldier, girded sword against the practice of his father, kept servants and took to hunting. . . . He had to fight with the armies of Imperial agents and the servants of Shāh Jahāṅ. . . . In short, after the battle of Kartārpur he went to Phagwāṛā. As residence in places near Lahore was full of risk, he hastened from there to Kīratpur, which is in the hills of the Punjab. . . . Gurū Har Rāi is the grandson of Gurū Hargobind. . . . The Sikhs call Har Rāi the seventh mahal. He is very well known to the chronicler. . . . The Gurū kept 700 horses in his stable and had 300 horsemen and 60 gunners in his service. "
Syad Hasan Askarī