Men of learning and craftsmen were, therefore, bound in their activity to many subjective factors of their patrons, such as those of religion, language, personal whims and fancies. Consequently only those aspects of science and technology were promoted which were useful to, or fulfilled the requirements of their patrons.
The emphasis, however, was a religious attainments, philosophy and literature. Amongst the sciences, medicine, civil engineering, architecture and astronomy-astrology, in view of their practical significance and use, were both respected and encouraged. Craftsmen were also honoured, but this was a different type of recognition. Their status was not that of the men of learning.
- Multi-Barrelled Cannon
Against this general background of medieval trends, the latter half of the sixteenth century stands out in relief. This was the age of Emperor Akbar. He had a mind radically different from the mind of the age. Enlightened, liberal and rationally disposed, under his long, well established rule clerical authority receded to the background, science flourished in an unprecedented manner. It was with his court that Fathullah Shirazi was finally associated, and where his hitherto dormant potentialities, as a man of science, found expression. Unfortunately, he was associated with Akbar’s court for only seven years, as his career was cut short by an early death. Fathullah was a versatile genius. He specialized in many subjects, theology, literature, grammar, philosophy, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, astrology, mechanics, talisman and magic.
In the context of medieval tradition marked by lack of continuity, the sudden flowering of the genius of Shirazi and his attainments raise significant questions for history of science.
Firstly, what was the source of his inspiration and the actual content of his achievements? Was his work a mere reproduction of the past?
Secondly, why this line of activity having impressed his contemporaries so much was not developed further?
Fathullah Shirazi’s attainments do suggest that given the necessary incentive, genius could be directed to ‘mechanical arts’ and could contribute significantly to inventing mechanical gadgets in the medieval context. The developments in civil engineering and architecture are other examples of this on a greater scale. If Shirazi is an isolated example, and not a tradition, it is a phenomenon which has to be studied.
Fathullah’s life and his inventions
- Machine for cleaning gun-barrds
Fathullah was born, brought up and educated at Shiraz. In early youth he came under the influence of a spiritual recluse, Mir Shah Mir by name. Soon he acquired a taste for learning. Khwajah Jamaluddin Mahmud, pupil of the well known logician Jalaluddin Dawwani, initiated him in logic and philosophy. From Mir Ghayasuddin Mansur he learned medicine, mathematics and other sciences. He also studied philosophy in the school of the Zoroastrian intellectual Azar Kaiwan. He seems to have adopted teaching as his first career in Shiraz. Among those of his students who later rose to prominence were Mir Taqiyuddin Muhammad, Afzal Khan, Grand Vizir of Ali Adil Shah I of Bijapur (1558-1580) and Raffiuddin Shirazi, steward and historian of the same ruler.
Fathullah came to India after repeated invitations had been sent to him by Sultan Ali Adil Shah I of Bijapur. He lived in Bijapur for a pretty long time until the death of his patron in 1580. In 1583 he accepted an invitation from Akbar and joined the Mughal Court at Agra. The following New Year’s Day, when the fancy Bazaar was held, he put up a splendid show in his stall with several mechanical contrivances all at work at the same time. In the same year (1584) he calculated the so called Ilahi era. In 1558 Fathullah accompanied the king to Kashmir. There he fell ill and died. He was ordered to be buried on the Koh-i-sulaiman.
Fathullah’s reputation as a scientist mainly rests on the mechanical devices — a machine for cleaning gun-barrels, a wagon-mill, two cannons, a carriage and solar calendar known as the Ilahi calendar. Unfortunately, he left no works of his own. We have to depend on information entirely on the historical and biographical sources, chief of them being the A’in-i-Akbari and the Akbar Namah. These sources, however, contain only passing references ’’so that the people should know of their existence from the technical point of view they contain almost nothing worthwhile. A detailed account of the Ilahi Calendar is however available.
His actual and immediate sources of inspiration were the achievements of the Arabs and Persians, who revived and transmitted their knowledge to the world. By the end of eleventh century, all the simple machines like lever, wheel and axle, pulley, inclined plane, toothed wheel, endless screw, siphon and pump had come to be used in Iran and the Mediterranean countries.
Fathullah’s milling device shows its derivation from those of the Persians. The Persians had a similar system, except that they used wind as the prime source of power. They developed their mills between the 9th and 14th centuries.
Mention might as well be made of some other devices not ascribed to anyone by the historians, but could well have been the product of Fathullah’s mind; or those which for want of workable technical data could not be included in the previous discussion. Abul-Fazl, for instance, speaks of a system of waterworks principally compromising of several wheels ‘so constructed as to raise water from far flung low depths to a high level… and to turn (at the same time) a millstone. Our interference that the waterworks may have been the innovation of Fathullah Shirazi rests on three points. First, the enormous quantity of water daily supplied could not have been possibly raised by an ordinary apparatus. It must have required considerable improvement in the mechanism involved, particularly the gear-wheel. The Persian wheel which existed before was in a very rudimentary form, such as those observed by Babar in Dipalpur, Multan and Lahore.
- Portable Cannon
The second point which helps in our conclusion is the strong conceptual affinity existing between the milling device connected to this machine and the wagon-mill of Fathullah’s invention. It is most obvious that if, the Persian-wheel and the millstone were both moved by a common power, the only method could have been to link them by means of an additional cogged wheel and a gear. This was exactly how Fathullah did, in the case of wagon-mill.
Finally, with what ease “two or four of these wheels came in motion simultaneously by the efforts of one or two bullocks” is a feature characteristics of the wheeled devices of Fathullah Shirazi, as has been observed in the travelling bath.
Thus, it appears that the waterworks was constructed sometimes between 1571 and 1585. By the later date, Fathullah had already spent three years in the court of Akbar, and to this period all his mechanical devices belong.
Other devices are, the light carriage, which was the most delicate of all the carriages and could carry a few persons on a smooth roads, and the mirrors, which showed strange figures from far and near.
Ilahi Era (Calendar)
The Ilahi Calendar was a true solar calendar. It was based on the astronomical tables of Ulugh Beg Gorgan (called Zij-i Ulugh Beg) then the latest computation of the planetary motions. Accordingly the length of the year was reckoned at 365 days, 5 hours, 49 minutes, 15 seconds. It is defined as the time taken by the sun between his departure from, and return to one determinate point in the zodiac. For the Ilahi calendar this was fixed at the conjunction of the zodiacal signs Pisces and the Aries, that is to say, the vernal equinox was the starting point.
A solar month is defined as the interval of time the sun would take in his transit through a particular sign of the zodiac. The same was true of the Ilahi months. According to Abul-Fazl, the number of days in the Ilahi months varied from 29 to 32.
The name of the months were the same as those current in the Yazjardi era but were distinguished by the appellation of “Ilahi”, affixed to each one of them. There were no weeks. Instead each day of the month was called by a different name. There were the same as were current in the Persian system with two additional terms, being Ruz and Shab given to the 31st and the 32nd days. The distinguishing feature of the Ilahi era was that the year had a fixed number of 365 days. There was absolutely no intercalation.
The years were also recorded in duodenary cycles, called Awan and sometimes Dawrah or Dawr. Each year of the cycle had a name similar to that of a month, beginning from Farwardin and was distinguished by the appellation of Sal-I Ilahi.
After the laps of a cycle, these names were repeated. Thus, for instance, the 25th Ilahi year could also be written as the year Farwardin-i Ilahi of Dawr third.
Writings Fathullah Shirazi has left no writings of his own in science or technology. A part of the Zij-i Jadid-i Mirzai had been translated under his guidance by Kishan Jotishi, Ganga Dhar, Mahesa Mahanand and Abul-Fazl. It seems that the whole work could not be completed because of hid other assignments and sudden death.
Yet, he was a prolific writer. Badaoni says that he has some excellent works to his credit, “but”, in his opinion, “next to those of Mirza Jan Shirazi,” Fathullah’s contemporary and classmate. This refers t his book in religion and philosophy. Mohammed Husain Azad tells us that he had written on all kinds of subjects but regrets that the writings are no more extant.
Equally well-known has been Fathullah’s Takmilah-i-Hashiyah, an extension of Dawwani’s commentary on Tuftazani’s Tahzibul-Mantiq in logic. He also wrote a super-commentary on the same by the title Hashiyah bar Hashiyah ala Tahzibil-Mantiq.
Conclusion The work of Shah Fathullah Shirazi which we have examined in the previous pages represents only a brief spell of his activity in the year 1584. The major part of his life is wrapped in mysterious obscurity. He is praised by historians, but there is little information about him.
Viewing from the quality of his work however, the impressive fund of ready ideas he had and the promptness with which he was able to translate them into practice, one is inclined to doubt if his earlier life was entirely barren of productive scientific activity. May be, in the deep debris of oblivion, there is still lying a book of his writing, which can throw more light on his contribution.
We have no evidence of any attempt on the part of Fathullah Shirazi to have taken up theoretical work. His method rested on empirically matured thought process. Nor do the sources afford us the reason to believe that his work was actually carried further by way of study or improvement.
As a matter of fact, the whole question of the recognition and subsequent exploitation of the generative potentialities of a work in technology is very much a historical one. What social, economic, psychological or other factors might have been responsible for want of this line of development has yet been studied. To say anything at this stage would be premature.
[MONOGRAPH Series N° 2, THE NATIONL INSTITUTE OF SCIENCES OF INDIA 1968]