- Dr Arthur Dudney (Oxford), Convenor
- Dr Walter Hakala (SUNY-Buffalo), presenting “A Way with Words: Indo-Persian Nisābs and the Limits of Lexical Evidence”
- Dr Jan-Peter Hartung (SOAS), presenting “Dictionaries and the Problem of Conceptual History in Pre-Modern Muslim South Asia”
- Prof Edmund Herzig (Oxford), Roundtable Speaker
- Dr Prashant Keshavmurthy (McGill), presenting “Translating Rāma as a Proto-Muhammadan Prophet: Masih’s Masnavi-ye Rām va Sitā”
- Dr Anubhuti Maurya (Delhi University), presenting “Of Tulips and Daffodils: The Imaginary of Kashmir Jannat Nazir in the political landscapes of the Mughal Chronicles”
- Ms Jane Mikkelson (University of Chicago), [withdrawn]
- Prof Polly O’Hanlon (Oxford), Roundtable Speaker
- Prof Francesca Orsini (SOAS), Roundtable Speaker
- Prof Stefano Pellò (Ca’ Foscari University of Venice), presenting “The Fashionable zunnar: Being an 18th-century Hindu Poet of Persian”
- Dr C Ryan Perkins (formerly Oxford), presenting “Laughing at the Mughals: Satire in the Eighteenth-Century Mughal Court”
- Dr Nur Sobers-Khan (Museum of Islamic Art, Doha)
- Dr Richard Williams (King’s College London), presenting “Vernacular Vibrations: Multilingual Musicology under the Late Mughals”
Audio recordings of the presentations are available here.
Dr Walter Hakala (SUNY-Buffalo), “A Way with Words: Indo-Persian Nisābs and the Limits of Lexical Evidence”
The study of pre-print genres of Persianate lexicography draws on various disciplines, including sociolinguistics, material history, philology, and especially literature to make sense of the kinds of terms that are included in these texts, the ways in which they are arranged, and the conditions of their production. I will discuss the challenges in interpreting lexical evidence in the study of the nisab genre of vocabularies in verse. How, for example, might “surface reading” be used to identify broader patterns in language use and material culture? How might we combine these emerging practices with more traditional literary approaches to help avoid the pitfalls of merely mining these texts for their content? This study presents the initial results of an ongoing project to transcribe sixteen 19th-century lithograph nisabs. By tagging these vocabularies for parts of speech and preparing concordances from the broader corpus of nisabs, it is becoming possible to identify both a core set of terms that recur in multiple lexicons and the distinctive lexis within individual works. Nisabs demonstrate a varying prevalence of Persian and Hindvi as glossing metalanguages: by documenting the proportion of the glossing languages employed by poet-lexicographers in their nisabs, I will be able to offer evidence of how shifting patterns of language instruction and competencies in South Asian Islamicate education correspond with contemporaneous political and social developments.
Dr Jan-Peter Hartung (SOAS), “Dictionaries and the Problem of Conceptual History in Pre-Modern Muslim South Asia”
In a recent article, Sudipta Kaviraj has attempted to frame “the political” as a concept in pre-modern Muslim South Asia. Inspired by the path-breaking work of Reinhard Koselleck, Kaviraj establishes various “saddle periods”, during which significant semantic shifts have occurred to give “the political” altered meaning. In this paper, I will challenge at least some of Kaviraj’s claims here, based, among others, on a preliminary analysis of numerous Indo-Persian dictionaries, ranging from the late thirteenth-century Farhang-i qavvās of Fakhr al-Dīn Qavvās Qazvīnī to Munshī Tek Chand’s Bahār-i ʿajam in the mid-eighteenth century. I frame lexicography here as an discursive practice which, therefore, requires the acknowledgement of additional and often also rather normative materials that would demarcate the semantic field of “the political”. Finally, I shall make some suggestions for the inclusion of further, this time less normative, materials in an attempt to establish a sounder basis for the establishment of this semantic field.
Dr Prashant Keshavmurthy (McGill), “Translating Rāma as a Proto-Muhammadan Prophet: Masih’s Masnavi-ye Rām va Sitā”
This lecture aims to finesse understanding of pre-colonial Islamic-Persian literary translations of Indic language texts on Hindu themes by considering Mullāh Masih’s famous early seventeenth century Masnavi-ye Rām va Sitā, a Persian translation of Vālmiki’s (circa 2nd century BCE) Sanskrit epic Rāmāyana. It opens by remarking on a shift in the study of the relations between poetics and politics of Persian translations of Indic texts. Then, purporting to finesse understanding of this relation, it takes issue with prior studies of this poem before answering the following questions these studies fail to pose: how does the Ibn Arabi-derived prophetological metaphysics of the prefatory chapters relate to the poetics of emotion in the main body of his tale? And: what does this relation let us infer of Masih’s Sufi theology of translation?
Dr Anubhuti Maurya (Delhi University), presenting “Of Tulips and Daffodils: The Imaginary of Kashmir Jannat Nazir in the political landscapes of the Mughal Chronicles”
After the Mughal conquest of Kashmir in the late sixteenth century the region appeared in both the literary productions and the chronicles of the Mughal court. Early chronicles reflected the anxieties of a new conqueror, with lengthy discussions on the roads, routes and passes and the difficulties of access. Synchronically, the poets of the Mughal court were writing about the Valley, as a site of soul alleviating beauty, as a garden and paradise. By the mid-seventeenth century, the literary trope had become the established form of reference to the region and a fully fledged imaginary of Kashmir Jannat Nazir (Kashmir which is paradise like) looks out at us from the imperial textual productions.
In this paper, I explore the emergence of the imaginary of Kashmir as a paradisiacal space in the Mughal textual traditions. I argue that the literary imagery travels into the political discourse and becomes central to the articulation of Mughal authority in the region and to imperial self representation.
Ms Jane Mikkelson (University of Chicago), “Traditions of Choice: Annotations on the Concept of Entekhāb”
[Unfortunately, due to the speaker’s inability to travel to the symposium, we have decided not to include what promised to be a fascinating paper.]
The renowned literary critic and lexicographer Ārzū in his biographical compendium of poets remarked of Ḥāfeẓ that from this great master’s corpus “there can be no selection” (“entekhāb nadārad”); therefore, when providing examples of his verse, Ārzū chose to cite an earlier tazkereh-writer’s selection rather than cull one of his own. In his entry on Bīdel, however, while paying him the complement that, like Ḥāfeẓ, there could be no selection of his verses, Ārzū nevertheless does present a selection of his own. In another entry, Ārzū interrupts his reproduction of an earlier critic’s selection of that poet’s verses to comment upon the infelicity of a particular distich, and extends his disapproval to that critic, whose evident error in judgement had caused him to mar his selection. Ārzu’s use of entekhāb in his biographical compendium is but one example of how the practice of selection may have modulated later Indo-Persian perspectives on the relationship between the classical and contemporary Persian lyrical canons, and on critical evaluation of poetic value. This paper pursues some of the implications of the concept of entekhāb by tracking the use of this term across several Indo-Persian works of different genres, including ghazals (lyric poetry), tazkerāt (biographical compendia), and roqaʿāt (epistolary correspondence), culminating in a look at the last great Indo-Persian poet’s double selection of his own Persian and Urdu verses, Ghāleb’s Gol-e raʿnā.
Prof Stefano Pellò (Ca’ Foscari University of Venice), presenting “The Fashionable zunnar: Being an 18th-century Hindu Poet of Persian”
This paper aims to think theoretically about the power of rhetorics, poetics and textual frames in conveying the complex socio-semiotic features of the literary community writing in Persian from non-Muslim backgrounds, during the eighteenth century. Basing on heterogeneous material, from lexicographic to poetic texts, but mainly focusing on tazkira literature (a literary genre whose relations with history and historiography still need to be properly understood), I will discuss the opportunities of (and the modalities for) looking historically at the late Indo-Persian poetic language and its metaphorical practices. If “imagining a language means imagining a form of life”, as Wittgenstein writes, which new “forms of life” take place in the Indo-Persian “imagined” hypertext at the dawn of the colonial discourses on identity? By following the significant structure of texts such as Lakshmi Narayan Shafiq’s Gul-i ra’na and Mohan Lal Anis’s Anis al-ahibba, and the transitional biographies of authors such as Bhupat Rai Bigham Bairagi and Mirza Qatil, I will thus try to show how historical narratives might materialize from the decontextualized realm of Persian literary codes.
Dr C Ryan Perkins (formerly Oxford), presenting “Laughing at the Mughals: Satire in the Eighteenth-Century Mughal Court”
While historians of eighteenth century India have focused on understanding the nature of the decentralization or decline of the Mughal Empire, there has been little work done on a cultural and social historical level to understand what role humour played in society at this time. While it would be difficult to draw too many conclusions about society as a whole from a few satires, the fact that satires were being written by prominent figures about other prominent figures in a public forum points to humor and more specifically the satire as playing a significant role in eighteenth century society. In other words, the satire reveals a world where humor and satire were significant forms in which social, political, and cultural critique flourished. The satire acted as the evil doppelgänger of the qasida whose aim it was to flatter. The satire had no pretensions and for this reason it reveals a different world than the one where tahzīb (refinement) and adab (etiquette) ruled. In this essay I examine the satires of the one of the most well known poets of the eighteenth century, Muhammad Mirza Rafi Sauda (1713-1781), and point to the ways in which the satire acted as a significant platform for political and social critique. Rather than examining satire as purely a literary genre disconnected from any historical reality I point to the ways in which satire is a worthy category of historical analysis. In other words, satire in eighteenth century India provided one of the avenues through which political and social critique found representation and points to further areas of study, particularly in relation to the ways in which the circulation of humor acted to inform a larger public of political and social realities.
Dr Richard Williams (King’s College London), “Vernacular Vibrations: Multilingual Musicology under the Late Mughals”
Music was not only the performance of arranged sound in practice, but also an autonomous intellectual and technical tradition. Over the early modern period, works on the theory and history of music were steadily produced across languages. The act of translating musical lore into a new language – and literary field – made new editorial decisions possible, and each writer brought his own cultivating strategies to bear upon his predecessors. A core of essential yet esoteric principles regarding the ontology, conceptual groundwork, and history of music could be framed by different kinds of literary material, according to the interests of the individual intellectual. These treatises served as tools for connoisseur patrons – either as helpful manuals to learn from, or as textual expressions of the patron-writer’s erudition – and could include extensive genealogies of, or praśasti verses to, the patron’s family. While some treatises were succinct, others were extremely literary, and conscious of the relevance of poetics to the lyrical and affective dimensions of music.
The musicological text was evidently understood as an important resource in the tool kit of connoisseurs, and the most successful examples were considered crucial points of reference for the visual and literary arts. This paper will explore how musicological literature spoke to a variety of different intellectual connotations and social functions in different contexts. Since the authors of these texts had quite distinct relationships to courtly and temple patronage, was there a shared understanding of musical connoisseurship that transcended these differences? As new works on music were quickly translated into other languages, what can be said about the relationship between cosmopolitan and vernacular transmissions of esoteric knowledge? By approaching these texts as part of a connected realm of intellectual pursuits – rather than as obscure reference works for musicians alone – this paper will consider the relationship between sound, society, and the vernaculars.