Papers and Abstracts

Sanskrit and the Sultans: Inscriptional and Numismatic Sources on the Delhi Sultanate

Luther Obrock

Recently there has been a renewal of interest in charting the interaction between Sanskrit and the languages of Islamic high culture, Arabic and Persian. While this research continues to yield thought-provoking results, there is a tendency to privilege the Islamicate sources, especially translations into Islamicate languages, when delineating the history of Sanskrit intellectual heritage in South Asia. Shifting the emphasis back to Sanskrit production, this paper focuses on the entry of Islamic political power into the purview of Sanskrit, and the use of Sanskrit within this new political structure. I will investigate the first instances of Sanskrit in the inscriptional and numismatic record produced in the early years of the Delhi Sultanate. Numismatic and inscriptional evidence speaks not only to the circulation of objects, but also to the changing use of language in the early Sultanate period. A careful reading of these texts can provide a glimpse into the fluid possibilities for Sanskrit in the early second millennium under new political, religious, and aesthetic regimes. I will argue that Sanskrit takes part in an experimental ecology of South Asian languages, and that the Sultanate period was a time of creative possibilities for new types of elite expression. In such a way, Sanskrit not only acts within cosmopolitan spheres, but is also deeply imbricated in new regional modes of expression.

Remembering the Tughluq Sultans in Early Modern Śvetāmbara Jain Literature

Steven M. Vose

Two narratives of the encounter between Sultan Muḥammad bin Tughluq (r. 1325-1351) and Jinaprabhasūri (ca. 1261-1333 CE), an ācārya of the Kharatara Gaccha, appear in the monk’s own Vividhatīrthakalpa (Chapters on Various Pilgrimage Places). In these narratives, Sultan Muḥammad grants to Jinaprabhasūri several edicts (farmāns) protecting Jains and Jain pilgrimage places, returns an image of Mahāvīra taken in an earlier military operation, and establishes a quarter in Delhi for Jains. Jinaprabha claims his success with the sovereign rested on his skills as a poet and debater. Over the next two centuries, however, his story would be retold several times, especially by Tapā Gaccha monks. In several Tapā Gaccha narrative collections, his story begins to acquire new elements, claiming his special connection with the goddess Padmāvatī and his ability to effect minor miracles were the primary factors influencing the sultan. Curiously, the sultan he engages changes to Muḥammad’s successor, Fīrūz Shāh Tughluq (r. 1351-1388). This paper examines the Tapā Gaccha narratives about the Kharatara Gaccha monk in light of other evidence of Jain interactions with the Tughluqs to suggest that this change may indicate a closer and more extensive relationship between the Sultanate state and the Jains of western India than has previously been described. It also argues that the Tapā Gaccha’s interest in Jinaprabhasūri was as a locus for discussing several aspects of mendicancy and political leadership that the rival order faced throughout the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries as the Tapā order emerged as the leading gaccha of Śvetāmbara Jainism in this period.

A Pakistani Hero in Sanskrit Sources: ‘Ali Hamadani and Body Politics

Dean Accardi

In 1987, a conference was held in Azad Kashmir Pakistan to pay tribute to the fourteenth-century Kubrawi Sufi saint and scholar Saiyid ‘Ali Hamadani. Many Pakistani elites, including President Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, presented at this conference, casting ‘Ali Hamadani as an exemplar of Islamization, a notion prevalent among the Pakistani body politic. Whether he engaged in Islamization or not, it is generally understood that the effectiveness of Hamadani’s social and political activities was contingent upon the broader acceptance of his religious authority. While many today focus on Hamadani’s jurisprudential writings, late medieval and early modern records demonstrate that Hamadani’s religious authority was based on the power of his personal religious practices that in no small degree included ascetic bodily practices, a kind of body politics. This connection between asceticism and broader religious and political authority in Kashmir is not unique to Hamadani. Examining early writings on Hamadani against the backdrop of other Kashmiri political and religious texts, this paper argues that some of the ways in which asceticism articulates with religious and political authority in regard to Hamadani are closely related to how asceticism and religio-political authority are connected in some Kashmiri Sanskrit texts, including those of a pre- and non-Muslim variety. Thus, the authority of Hamadani, a model of Islamization in contemporary Pakistan, is based on religio-political paradigms that Islamization seeks to eradicate.

Rudra Kavi and the Mughal Elite

Pranav Prakash

This paper revisits the writings of Rudra Kavi who was a court poet of Prata­̄pa Siṃha, a ruler of Mayūragiri (Baglana) in Maharashtra. At the behest of his patron, he composed Dāna·Śāha·Caritaṃ (1593), Navāba·Khāna·Khānāna·Caritaṃ (1609-10), Jahānagīra·Caritaṃ and Kīrti·samullāsa (or Khuramma·Caritaṃ) in the honour of Daniyāl Mīrza (1572 – 1604), ʿAbd al-Raḥīm Khān-i Khānān (1556 – 1626), Jahāngīr (1605 – 1627), and Shāh Jahān (1594 – 1666) respectively. His earliest work is a historical poem titled Rāṣṭrauḍha·vaṃśa·mahākāvya (1596) that narrates the history of the Bāgula dynasty from the time of its founder, Rāṣṭrauḍha, a king of Kanauj, until the rule of Nārāyaṇa Shāh, a king of Mayūragiri. As a court poet of Mayūragiri, which was a Rajput tributary of the Mughal Empire, Rudra Kavi often encountered members of the ruling class, and composed poems for them. His writings therefore reveal how some prominent members of the Mughal elite were represented in subservient courts of the empire. Subsequently his deployment of formal elements of carita and campukāvya elucidates how traditional genres were being modulated in order to accommodate the portrayal of Mughal rulers and patrons of art. Furthermore, since his writings exhibit differential approaches to dynastic histories and biographical narratives, they reflect the mind of an ordinary artist who negotiated diverse aspects of classical genres, patronage ties and regional histories. Given the relevance of his writings for understanding the interaction between Sanskrit poets and the Mughal elite, this paper undertakes a critical study of his poetics and historiography.

“Islam” in Sanskrit Doxography: A Reconsideration

Shankar Nair

In the ongoing discussion regarding the origin and construction of the modern concept of “Hinduism” (see Bloch, Keppens, and Hegde 2011; Viswanathan 2007; Pennington 2005; Sweetman 2003; et al.), one fruitful avenue of research has been to consider the ways in which the early modern encounter with Islam may have served as an important step in the crystallization of an increasingly self-aware “Hindu” communal identity (Ernst 2003, Lorenzen 1999). Andrew Nicholson (2013), in particular, has examined the genre of Sanskrit doxographies to affirm that such a process of crystallization was indeed taking place: even though “Muslims” are never explicitly mentioned in pre-colonial Sanskrit doxographies, Nicholson argues, the transformations that we can observe in this genre over time are indeed indicative of a nascent Hindu identity emerging in the face of the “military and ideological threat” posed by Islam (p. 196). In this working paper, I aim to reevaluate and refine the above account with reference to the work of one Sanskrit intellectual operating at the height of Muslim power in Persianate India: Madhusūdana Sarasvatī (fl. 16th-17th c.). In particular, I argue that a more nuanced consideration of the different types of audiences that different doxographers may have in mind – and, thus, the different intentions with which these doxographers may have been writing – can lead us to a modified picture of how early modern Sanskrit intellectuals were reacting to the Muslim presence in the subcontinent.

Verses at the Court of the King: Shifts in the Historical Imagination of the Sanskrit Literary Tradition during the Second Millennium

Daud Ali

This paper seeks to connect two elements of second millennium Sanskrit literary culture to ask larger questions about shifts in the self-perception of the Sanskrit literary tradition during Sultanate times. The first is the rise to prominence of subhāṣitas and subhāṣita anthologies, which mark, I believe, a new way of thinking about and experiencing literature. Velchuru Narayana Rao and David Shulman have stressed the distinctly oral culture of these subhāṣitas, but I wish to suggest that the literate anthologization of these verses particularly from the thirteenth century, often ascribed to individual authors and topically arranged, suggests a new dialogical and indexical experience of poetry. The second phenomena is a novel and marked interest in stories about the lives and careers of poets. We see from roughly contemporary times, the widespread appearance of poets as the subject of short biographical narratives in both commentarial and prabandha literatures. The lives of poets of the past were often connected to the courts of bygone kings, the most prominent of these being the ancient king Vikramāditya, whose narratives saw a remarkable expansion during the second millennium, and the more recent king Bhoja of Dhārā, in many ways Vikramāditya’s successor, who becomes a literary patron par excellence during Sultanate times. The Bhoja cycles perhaps best illustrate this new historical imagination within the Sanskrit literary tradition, and prompt us to think further about relations between poetry, history, and canon in the second millennium.

Sanskrit Histories of Indo-Islamic Dynasties

Audrey Truschke

Second-millennium Sanskrit intellectuals wrote numerous historical works that discuss Indo-Islamic dynasties. Many of these texts have been ignored in modern scholarship, whereas others have been treated as anomolous works. The continued resistance to admitting a substantial body of Sanskrit historical materials that address Indo-Islamic rule stems from two long-standing, but ultimately incorrect assumptions. First, many scholars have proclaimed that Sanskrit intellectuals authored no histories. Second, many academics have mistakenly conflated the lack of theological interest in Islam among Sanskrit thinkers (which is generally true) with the much broader and false idea that Sanskrit intellectuals had no interest in the Islamicate world. I seek to move past both of these highly limiting notions and begin the serious work of defining and theorizing Sanskrit histories of Indo-Islamic dynasties as a collection of texts. These works date from the 13th through the 18th centuries and were authored by both Jains and Brahmans, primarily in north and central India. They appear in a variety of genres, including kavya, carita, and prabandha. All discuss real persons and events, although individual writers strike difference balances between historical accuracy, aesthetic appeal, and narrative exigency. In order to fruitfully analyze such works we need to draw upon an array of critical historical and literary tools. This body of materials ultimately has much to tell us about the rapidly changing constitution of the early modern Sanskrit tradition, especially its internal reformulations in the face of pressure from the Perso-Islamic realm.

Iran between Xwanīrah and Jambudvīpa: Locating Zoroastrianism in the Sanskrit Cosmopolis

Daniel Sheffield

Beginning in the twelfth century, Zoroastrian priests in Western India began to translate texts from their religious corpus into Sanskrit, the cosmopolitan language of their adopted home. Though these Sanskrit texts were important to the first generation of students of Zoroastrianism, later generations of scholars have paid little attention to these translation texts, dismissing them for their non-standard Sanskrit and for their imperfect understanding of Avestan. Yet, the Sanskrit and later Old Gujarati translations of the Avesta and other Zoroastrian texts give us unique insight into the mind of the medieval Indian Zoroastrian hermeneute. The texts are rich with theological and religious equivalences drawn between familiar conceptual categories in the Iranian and Indic traditions, illustrating the creation of an intersemiotic space between Zoroastrian and Sanskritic religious discourse. The extant manuscripts of these texts also show that Zoroastrian priests participated in broader networks of Sanskrit learning in South Asia. In this paper, I survey the history of Zoroastrian translation of religious texts in Avestan and Middle Persian into Sanskrit and Old Gujarati. Further, I argue that the translation strategies employed in this process laid the foundations for the later adaptation of New Persian works into Gujarati.


One Response to Papers and Abstracts

  1. Pingback: Sanskrit in Persianate India | Bibliographia Iranica

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