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South Asia Department

Indo-Persian Literature Conference

Genres, Contexts, Styles
University of Cambridge, 16-18 June 2008
Convenors: Francesca Orsini (SOAS), Stefano Pello’ (University of Venice) & Christine van Ruymbeke (University of Cambridge)

After the historical surveys by Ghani and Bausani, scholarly work on Persian literature in India has been limited to a few individual authors (Amir Khusrau, Faizi, Mas‘ud Sa‘d Salman) or, at best, to regions (e.g. Gujarat). Due to its “peripheral” position vis-à-vis scholarship on Persian poets in Iran, and to the decline of Persian literary studies in the subcontinent, barring a few exceptions significant, Persian poetry in India is nowadays usually mentioned in terms of very general categories: ‘sabk-e Hindi’, the ‘Indian style’, or the migration of Iranian poets into India, and its position at the pinnacle of Indo-Persian courtly culture. While studies like Paul Losensky’s show the great sophistication of Persian poetic culture in India and its ideal vicinity to the ancient and modern masters of Iran, Muzaffar Alam’s recent survey of the position of Persian in Sultanate and Mughal India and Christopher Shackle’s many studies of Punjabi and Sindhi poets influenced by Persian stylemes point to the fact that Persian poetry in India existed within a context that was multilingual and socially layered, and in locations that included the royal court, regional and local elite circles, Sufi khanqahs, etc.

Thematic clusters:

  • Language ideology and language use: as Persian acted as elite language for a number of local and immigrant groups, and older Central Asian elites were confronted by the increased Iranian diaspora and the spread of Persian to more and more Indian scribal groups, what kind of language tools and language reflection did these processes produce? How was local linguistic diversity discussed or accommodated within Persian language works? (dictionaries, language-learning tools, works on rhetoric, etc.) What was the wider circulation of Persian?
  • Localism and internationalism: when was India decidedly a centre of the international Persian world, and when was it more invested in a local identity?
  • The Persian book: we need more consolidated information and reflection on the range of Persian manuscript books, the processes of paper-making, book production and copying beyond the imperial karkhana, and the uses and collection of Persian books (private libraries, institutional libraries?).
  • Rethinking sabk-i hindi: what are the actual ties between the rise of the so-called “Indian style” and the multilingual environment of North India? Among other features, can we locate a process of internationalization of a new South Asian aesthetic system in a greater Persian-writing koinè? A new analysis of sabk-i hindi, whose unity and uniformity as a phenomenon should be finally questioned, might be useful to address and try to resolve a series of quite rigid theoretical dicotomies between “internationalism” and “localism” in the study of Indo-Persian literature.
  • Mirrors (not just) for princes: Muzaffar Alam and others have pointed to the currency of akhlaq texts and norms within the Mughal ecumene. How did the “mirrors for princes” provide a model for other groups aspiring to be incorporated?
  • Travelling tales: story collections formed a significant part of Mughal Indo-Persian literary, as older “translated” collections were re-written in more sophisticated style, and new collections appeared (Anwar-i Suhayli, Tuti-nama, ‘Aiyar-i Danish, Bahar-i Danish, etc.). How do these collections combine instruction and entertainment, and what kinds of “translations” are they?
  • Translations: from and into Persian.
  • The forms of the Indo-Persian masnavi: barring Muzaffar Alam and Sanjay Subrahmanyam’s work on Faizi, the masnavis of this period await critical study.
  • Patronage: Nalini Delvoye’s project on patronage in Indo-Persian culture has considered many forms and aspects of patronage in Mughal India. Is there a need for any new investigation or synthesis of the relationships between poets & scholars and their patrons? What difference did it make to be a professional poet, a literary-minded munshi or an elite amateur?
  • Shaping a literary culture: tazkiras, canon and memory.
  • Life-stories and authorship: scholars have noted the significant increase in personal narratives, whether of travel or of one’s life, in this period. What can these narratives tell us about the horizons, expectations and tensions of being a Mughal bureaucrat/soldier/poet/envoy? What were these narratives for?

List of speakers:

  • Bert Fragner (Vienna): Persophonie (paper only)
  • Muzaffar Alam (University of Chicago) and Sanjay Subrahmanyam (UCLA): Frank Discussions: The court of Jahangir and Indo-European encounters
  • Corinne Lefevre-Agrati (CNRS, Paris): Advice literature in the time of Jahangir: the Risala-i Nuriyya-i Sultaniyya of ‘Abd-ul-Haqq Muhaddis Dihlawi
  • Thibault d’Hubert (EPHE): Poetical majlis and literary identities in 17th century Bengal and Arakan: Abū al-Barakāt Munīr Lāhūrī and Ālāol
  • Katherine Brown (Leeds): The idea of South: the "classicisation" of Hindustani music under the Mughals c.1660
  • Najaf Haider (JNU): The Persian Book in Medieval India: Production, Circulation and Reception
  • John Seyller (University of Vermont): Seals, Ownership, and the Circulation of Persian Manuscripts
  • Diego Giolitti (University of Cambridge): Bridging the gap between history and literature: a portrait of Humayun Padshah
  • Polly O’Hanlon (Oxford): Writing the self in Mughal India
  • Shamsur Rahman Faruqi (Allahabad, India): title tbc
  • Paul Losensky (University of Indiana): Zafar Khān Ahsan as Patron and Poet
  • Sunil Sharma (Boston University): Literary Geographies of Mughal Biographical Dictionaries (Tazkirahs)
  • Stefano Pellò (University of Venice, Italy): Representing multilingualism through Persian: translations, lexicography and the tazkiras
  • Rajeev Kinra (Northwestern University, Boston): Persian ↔ Hindi and Poetic Philology in an Early Modern Masnavi: Tajalli’s Allāh-Khudā’ī
  • Audrey Truschke (Columbia University): The Mughal Book of War: A Persian Translation of the Sanskrit Mahabharata
  • Shantanu Phukan (San Jose): Vernacular Forays: Uses of Hindi in the Persianate Poetry of Sauda
  • Christine van Ruymbeke (University of Cambridge): The ‘Iyar-e Danesh: From bombast to simplicity? The Anvar-e Sohayli re-written for Akbar
  • Ebba Koch (Institute of Art History, University of Vienna): Salomon, Majnun and Orpheus as Symbols of the Ideal Ruler in Mughal India or Jahangir and Shah Jahan's Muraqqa`s as a Think Tank for Mughal Allegory.
Discussants:
  • Christopher Shackle (SOAS)
  • Francesca Orsini (SOAS)
  • Nalini Delvoye (EPHE, Paris)

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