The originally Persian title of dewan (also quite commonly known as Diwan; also spelled -van) has, at various points in Islamic history, designated a powerful government official, minister or ruler. Diwan surname in India belongs to high caste Hindu or Sikh people .
The word is Persian in origin, and was loaned into Arabic. The original meaning was "bundle (of written sheets)", hence "book", especially "book of accounts," and hence "office of accounts," "custom house," "council chamber". The meaning divan "long, cushioned seat" is due to such seats having been found along the walls in Middle Eastern council chambers.
The divan of the Sublime Porte was the council or Cabinet of the state. In the Ottoman Empire, it consisted of the usually (except in the Sultan's presence) presiding Grand Vizier and other viziers, and occasionally the Janissary Ağa.
In Javanese and related languages, the cognate Dewan is the standard word for council, as in the Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat or (Indonesia's Council of People's Representatives) and Dewan Negara (Senate of Malaysia).
Later, when most vassal states gained various degrees of self-determination, the finance — and/or chief minister and leader of many princely states (especially Muslim, but also many Hindu, including Baroda, Hyderabad, Mysore, Kochi, Travancore — referred as Dalawa until 1811) became known as a dewan. See Oswal, Tandon
Exceptionally, a ruler was himself titled Dewan or Nawab notably:
- in Jaso (Jassu) and in Bandhora (which was split from the former c. 1750)
- in Khilchipur until 1873, then Rai Bahadur
- in Junagadh, where Shah Nawaz Bhutto was the prime-minister of the former princley state.
Nowadays, the title is used amongst certain upper-middle-class families in South Asia; several landlords in villages and provinces across the subcontinent have names prefixed with this title. The title, in its variant form "Dewan", is especially common amongst Muslim land-owners in Bengal and the Punjab.
Derived and compound titles
As a title used in various Middle kingdoms of India, Diwan denoted the highest officials in the court after the king; the suffix '-ji' is added as a mark of respect in India.. In the major Maratha kingdoms of Baroda (ruled by the Gaekwad), Gwalior (ruled by Scindias or Shinde), Indore (ruled by Holkar), and Nagpur (ruled by Bhonsle, but not from the Chhatrapati Shivaji family), the highest officer after the king was called the Diwan. Diwan/Rao Bahadur Atmaram Kulkarni was the Diwan of Jamkhandi ["The Marathas: 1600 to 1818" by Stewart Gordon, Cambridge University Press]. In the 19th century the British Parliament established in British India a supreme court for revenue matters (non-criminal matters) named the "Sudder Dewanny Adawlut", which applied Hindu law.
In French India, one of its colonies, Yanaon, had Zamindar and Diwan. They were active in its local and municipal administration during French rule. The Zamindar of Yanam was given a 4 gun salute by French counterparts.
- Zamindar — Manion Canacaya
- Diwan — Bouloussou Soubramaniam Sastroulou
- Sovereignty — French Colonial Empire
Sources and references
- Campbell, Lawrence Dundas (ed), Asiatic Annual Register for 1802, or A View of the History of Hindustan and of the Politics, Commerce and Literature of Asia, London, J. Debrett, 1803, footnote pp.97-100, Miscellaneous Tracts 
- Definition per James Mill (1826): "Dewan, Duan: place of assembly. Native minister of the revenue department; and chief justice, in civil causes, within his jurisdiction; receiver-general of a province. The term is also used, to designate the principal revenue servant under an European collector, and even of a Zemindar. By this title, the East India Company are receivers-general of the revenues of Bengal, under a grant from the Great Mogul"..."Dewanny, Duannee: the office, or jurisdiction of a Dewan" (Mill, James, The History of British India, Vol. 1 (of 6), 3rd Edition, London, 1826, Glossary)