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05 October 2012

Paupa Braminy – an overlooked Indian historian

By the middle of the eighteenth century the Carnatic was experiencing more than its fair share of instability within the fragmenting Mogul Empire. Intense political and military upheaval among rival ruling families, coupled with Anglo-French intrigues laid the ground work for the beginnings of the imperial phase of the East India Company’s existence.


Nawab of Arcot's palace
The Palace of the Late Nabob of Arcot BL, X 768 © The British Library Board Images Online


Working as the head interpreter (chief dubash) for the English Governor at the Company’s settlement in Madras during the 1740s and 1750s, Paupa Braminy was a keen observer of the unfolding events in the Carnatic. He was also a colleague and correspondent of the famous historian Robert Orme who worked at Madras during the same period. With a similar interest in the recent history of the Indian subcontinent it was only natural that the two men would exchange historical information with one another around the time of Orme’s return to England. Some of these exchanges survive in the collections of Robert Orme at the British Library. Amongst Orme’s papers scattered works by Braminy include: The meaning of some titles in Indostan by Paupa Braminy, 1752Of  the justice administered in Carnatica, and more importantly The state of the province of Arcot, alias Pauyeen-Ghaut Carnatica, which covered the history of the region from 1700 to about 1750.

Unlike the important diaries of another contemporary dubash named Ananda Ranga Pillai, Braminy’s surviving papers are entirely in English which makes him one of the earliest Indian historians writing in the English language. His father and grandfather had worked as dubashes for the Company before him and this no doubt goes a long way towards explaining the high levels of accuracy and fluency Braminy’s works display. Robert Orme counted him as a very reliable source of information a point well attested by the fact that he submitted a shortened version of Braminy’s work on the Carnatic to the Secretary of State Lord Holdernesse around 1757 which can now be found in the Home Miscellaneous series of the India Office Records.

Histories recording events in the Carnatic during this period are always of interest, however this small corpus of writing is especially significant as it provides an excellent example of how one hitherto unknown Indian writer had a significant impact on the writings and thoughts of one of the most important early historians on British India and subsequent historiography.

Richard Scott Morel
Archivist, East India Company Records

Further reading -

Writings of Paupa Braminy are scattered through the Orme collection:IOPP/Mss Eur Orme.

Robert Orme’s version of Braminy’s work can be found in IOR/H/94 (20) pp. 295-336: Brief relation of the succession of Nabobs in the Province of Arcot from the year 1700.


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