SOAS University of London

Department of History, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

Persian Taz̠kirāts and Circulation of Knowledge in the Sixteenth Century North India: Tracing Narratives and History in the Ak̲h̲bār al-Ak̲h̲yār

Sushmita Banerjea (Miranda House, University of Delhi)

Date: 5 February 2019Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 5 February 2019Time: 7:00 PM


Type of Event: 0

In the Persianiate world of the sixteenth century South Asia textual production increased phenomenally under the aegis of the Mughal state. The Akbarid intervention was critical in the shaping of the imperial discourse, but several individuals outside the agency of the state produced a wide range of texts that question, challenge and provide alternate perspectives regarding the literary and cultural world of the Mughals. ‘Abd al-Haqq Muhaddis Dehlawi,  a sixteenth-seventeenth century scholar of hadis, sufism and history gained considerable renown in the early seventeenth century on account of his vast repertoire of literary productions in Persian and Arabic. Abd al-Haqq’s numerous writings varied widely in style and genre, and carry a deep engagement with the memory and texts produced by Muslims from South Asia and beyond with regards to sufis, sultans, theologians, Prophet Muhammad and related themes. The knowledge archive that he created sought to guide Muslims about their impressive past and counter the statist narrative eloquently and vigorously circulated from the Akbarid chancery. This paper focuses on a sufi taz̠kirāt (biographical dictionary), the Ak̲h̲bār al-Ak̲h̲yār produced by ‘Abd al-Haqq, arguably the earliest comprehensive taz̠kirāt of the sufis and ‘ulamā’ from the thirteenth to the sixteenth century, and it draws out its unique marshalling of information. Most often sufi taz̠kirāts focus on a single silsila (sufi order), or report biographies of sufis settled in a particular region; ‘Abd al-Haqq however chose to move away from the conventional portrayal of sufi preceptors within the paradigm of sufi silsilas. In this paper I focus on (a) how its author structured the text to track a complex history of the Muslim community outside the paradigm of the state; (b) how ‘Abd al-Haqq used pre-existing information – malfuzat (table talks) and taz̠kirāt – in his narrative in an effort to understand the circulation of texts, norms and ideas. I highlight the author’s complex rendition of the Muslim past through his usage of texts and people to project a fascinating and unique history of the Muslim world in the sixteenth century.

Organiser: Eleanor Newbigin

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