François Bernier [1620 - 1688]

Francois Bernier, a French physician, political philosopher, traveler, and historian, lived in India for 12 years. He was associated with the Mughal Court as a personal physician of Dara Shikoh (eldest son of emperor Shah Jahan) and later as a scientist with Danishmand Khan (Nole at Mughal Court). Read more about Mughal emperor Shah Jahan on the given link. 

Francois Bernier’s travels to the middle east and west coast of India are mentioned in the book ‘Travels in the Mugol Empire’.

This article aims to share the facts related to Francois Bernier’s visit to India for candidates preparing for the IAS Exam

Information on Francois Bernier’s description about India is relevant for Civil Services aspirants under the Indian History part of the UPSC Prelims exam.  

Given below are the links that give information on the account of various foreign travelers who visited India – 

Francois Bernier – Early Life

  1. Francois Bernier was born in Joue, near Gonnord, in Anjou to a family of farmers. 
  2. Bernier was orphaned very young and was cared for by his uncle. At the age of 15, he moved to Paris to study at the Collège de Clermont.
  3. At the age of 36, he set out on his twelve-year journey to the East that covered Palestine, Egypt, Cairo, Arabia, Ethiopia and India.
  4. In 1654, Bernier travelled to Syria and Palestine. In 1656, he extended his travels to Egypt where he contracted the Plague. Post-recovery, instead of following up with a trip to Abyssinia, Bernier decided to travel to Surat and finally stepped foot on Indian soil in 1658 or early 1659.

Francois Bernier Visit to India – UPSC Prelims Facts

    1. Bernier seems to have visited India by chance as his journey towards Abyssinia was diverted to India. He set for sail towards India and thus reached Surat in 1658 A.D.
    2. His association with the emperors of Mughals began with his meeting with the defeated Prince Dara Shikoh (who battled his brother Aurangzeb at Deora) on his way from Surat to Agra. Dara was in search of a physician for his wife. Bernier alleviated the princess’s pain, impressed by which Dara Shikoh appointed Bernier as his private medical man.
    3. Later when Dara Shikoh fled due to betrayal from his own servants, Francois found a refugee with Daneshmand Khan (Mughal Nobleman) who accompanied him to Aurangzeb court.  Read the details of Aurangzeb’s appointment as Mughal emperor on the linked page. 
    4. A tour of inspection by Aurangzeb gave Bernier the opportunity to describe Kashmir.
    5. After his return from Kashmir, Francois visited the other extreme of the empire in Bengal.
    6. He returned once more to Surat in1668) to write a memoir on Indian commerce. In 1669, Francois Bernier left India for his further journey to Paris. 
    7. In Aurangzeb’s court, Bernier lived for 12 years and compiled his experiences in the work named ‘Travels in the Mogul Empire’. Francois has inexhaustibly and intricately provided the testimony of the political  intrigues, the strategies and methods of warfare, the war of succession among the four sons of Shah Jahan, social and economic aspects of the empire, its geographical and strategic extent.  
    8. In addition to this, the letters that he wrote to his fellow Frenchmen back home giving details of the economic conditions and religious beliefs of the Hindus (whom he referred as Gentils), the socio-cultural as well as the religious practices followed by the people particularly of the northern part of the empire. The vivid picture of the capital cities of Delhi and Agra, all complete the literature that he produced on his visit to India. 

Mentions about the Mughal Empire –

  • Francois explained the battle for the throne among the four sons of Shah Jahan which spanned five years, tracing the characteristic traits of each of his sons.
  • Aurangzeb’s image of a cunning, scheming, devout Muslim, the tension in Dara’s (considerate, polite, liberal, and swift at wordplay) camp awaiting the attack, etc. Moving on to Shah Shuja, Bernier’s observation was that he was more discreet, firmer of purpose, and excelled Dara Shikoh in conduct and address. Talking about Murad Baksh (the youngest son), Francois remarked that he was generous and polite, trusted only the strength of his arm and his sword, and was filled with courage and valor.
  • A vivid description of military organization, war tactics, armies on both the sides, the cavalry etc., and a detailed description of the battles of Bahadurgarh, Dharmat as well as Samugarh is given.

Aspirants can check out the following relevant links for the preparation of the UPSC Civil services exam comprehensively –

Mentions about Science and Technology-

Indian Vaids and Hakims did not show any interest in Harvey’s discovery concerning the circulation of blood. Except for Madarsa for religious studies, there were no academies where subjects like science and philosophy could be taken up for study. Thus has a poor opinion about India’s knowledge of anatomy.

Landowners and peasants relations – 

  • Since the jagir or owners were frequently transferred, the governors and revenue contractors were not concerned about the deplorable state of the peasantry, what concerned them was only the production and the cultivation. Thus, farmers were exploited to the maximum.
  • Bernier described that Mughal Empire was different from European states in two major aspects, One, the king here was the landowner i.e. the exactor of the rent. two, those who actually collected the tax-rent held only temporary tenures as holders or jagirs, unlike the hereditary European lords.
  • The king was the owner of the land who distributed the lands among his owners and they passed it to peasants. Owing to the crown ownership of land, the landholders could not pass on the lands to their children. This will have disastrous consequences on the economy and society. 
  • The Mughals Were the followers of ‘Hanafi School of Thought’, which says, ‘once the settlement is made with the conquered people, the ruler could not revoke their ownership of land, even if they are non-Muslims.

Description of Indian Society – 

  • The society consisted of undifferentiated masses of poor people controlled by a small minority of the rich and ruling class.
  • There were no social groups or classes of middle status between the rich and the poor.
  • The cities were ruined and towns were contaminated with ill air. The fields were pestilential marshes and overspread with bushes.
  • The artisans were not appreciated and no incentives were given to their manufactures. Vast quantities of precious metals from the world flowed into India as manufacturers were declining in the country and were exported for Gold and Silvers.
  • Treatment of women was the crucial mark of difference between the east and western society. Women were treated like laborers and the practice of Sati prevailed because of the social obligation as well as coercion imposed by the family members or largely by the Brahmans.
  • Not only wives immolated but slaves too burned themselves with their masters.
  • The gentiles (Hindus) believed in the idea of transmigration of the soul and superstitious beliefs and importance were given to astrologers.
  • Bernier emphasized that the imperative tradition of exchange of gifts and commodities, etc. existed during the Mughal rule and that they followed the rigorous tax collection process.
  • There was the prevalence of the caste system in India during the rule of Mughals which alienated people by birth and hereditary occupation. No one marries but in his own trade or profession.
  • The administrative system and judiciary during the Mughals were of exploitative nature.

Mentions of the Towns – 

  • Francois Bernier described the cities during the Mughal rule as ‘camp towns’, saying they were set up and grown when the imperial court moved in and as it moved out the towns declined along.
  • As per Bernier, the total population during Shah Jahan’s reign was around 3 to 4 lakhs and about 15% of the population lived in the towns.
  • There exist different kinds of Towns such as Pilgrim towns, manufacturing towns, sacred centers, port towns, trading towns, etc. 
  • The merchant had strong community ties and was organized in their own occupational bodies. They were called Mahajans. While the urban groups constituted the professionals such as teachers, doctors, architects, musicians, etc.

Mentions of Trade and Commerce – 

  • The reception of many foreign diplomats, ambassadors and embassies in Aurangzeb’s court sent by the Dutch, Uzbek, Ethiopia and Persia throws light upon the Mughal foreign relations, tracing the establishment of diplomatic and cordial relationship of Mughal Empire with the outside world. 

Mentions about Bengal – 

  • Bengal was the cache of merchandise for the Mughals as huge bullion flowed into the empire from different corners of the world.
  • Bengal province was known for its economic richness, fertile soil, and the highest revenue generating due to the production of varied numbers of crops and cash crops. 
  • It produces rice, sugar, sweetmeats, cotton, silk, etc,  and exported these items within and outside the frontiers of the Mughal state such as Ceylon and Maldives, Golconda, Karnatic, Arabia, Mesopotamia and Persia.
  • An important item Saltpeter was imported from Chapra, in Patna to Bengal. 

Mentions of Delhi and Agra – 

  • Delhi and Agra were the revenue resources of Mughals.
  • He described that Delhi located on the bank of river Yamuna on one side and the other three sides are covered with walls. 
  • There were Mahals, palaces and various royal establishments in the citadel which were under constant guard. A detailed description of patterns of houses, bazaars, streets, royal palace, imperial fort, the dwelling places of Mansabdars, influential merchants and the houses of common troopers is given. Check out the details of the Mansabdari system during the Mughal empire on the linked page. 
  • The courtly etiquette and manners were strictly followed by the nobles and the officials. 
  • Agra was the favourite and more frequent abode of the rulers of the Mughal empire. 

Mentions of Kashmir – 

  • During his journey in Kashmir, he noticed the process of encampment, where almost a replica of the capital is built for the stay of the emperor facilitating every necessity of life. Large Tents and different chambers for the emperor, nobles, royal ladies, etc, were built and demarcated. 
  • Francois was spellbound and bewildered by the beauty of Kashmir and the physical beauty of its inhabitants, especially the female folk of Kashmir. He mentions ‘The women especially are very handsome; and it is from this country that nearly every individual, when first admitted to the court of Great Mogul, selects wives or concubines, that his children may be whiter than the Indians and pass for genuine Moguls.’
  • Bernier describes Kashmiris as wit, intelligent and ingenious, active and industrious. He says, In poetry and the sciences, Kashmiris are not inferior to the Persians. 
  • He also mentioned the Shawl trade and other handicrafts production of Kashmir. Their workmanship included Palekys, bedsteads, trunks, inkstands, boxes, spoons, etc. 

FAQ about Francois Bernier For UPSC

What were the observation made by Bernier?

Bernier noted that a large portion of land was extremely fertile and the kingdom of Bengal surpassed Egypt in agricultural production and innumerable articles like, silk, cotton, indigo, etc. He observed that many parts of India were sufficiently populated and the land was well tilled.

Who were the French Travellers visited India during the Mughal period?

Jean-Baptiste Tavernier and Francois Bernier

Aspirants can visit the UPSC Syllabus page to familiarise themselves with the topics generally asked in the exam. For further assistance visit the following links –


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