After the fall of the Sassanian Empire and with it the gradual decline of Middle Persian as a literary language, New Persian literature emerged in Transoxiana, beyond the frontiers of present-day Iran, and was written and read in India even before it became firmly established in cities such as Isfahan on the Iranian plateau. Over the course of a millennium (ca. 900-1900 CE), Persian established itself as a contact vernacular and an international literary language from Sarajevo to Madras, with Persian poetry serving as a universal cultural cachet for literati both Muslim and non-Muslim. The role of Persian, beyond its early habitat of Iran and other Islamic lands, has long been recognized: European scholars first came to Persian via Turkey and British orientalists via India. Yet the universal popularity of poets such as Sa’di and Hafez of Shiraz and the ultimate rise of Iran to claim the centre of Persian writing and scholarship led to a relative neglect of the Persianate periphery until recently. This volume contributes to the scholarship of the Persianate fringe with the aid of the abundant material (notably in Tajik, Uzbek and Russian) long neglected by Western scholars and the perspectives of a new generation on this complex and important aspect of Persian literature.
Preconference in Madison, WI on Thursday, October 22, 2015
Sanskrit and Persian—both as languages and cultural systems—overlapped in time and space for several centuries on the precolonial subcontinent. But only more recently have scholars investigated points of intersection and exchange between these two linguistic and intellectual traditions. Scholars of Indo-Persian have recently devoted substantial attention to various sorts of Sanskrit-Persian encounters, such as the translation of Sanskrit works into Persian and multilingual patronage ties. In this conference, we aim to highlight and spur thinking about similar cross-cultural interactions between members of the Sanskrit and Persian traditions from the vantage point of Sanskrit literary culture.
The last few decades have witnessed a surge in scholarly attention to Sanskrit during the medieval and early modern periods. Within this wider area of interest, many scholars have begun to ask questions about how Sanskrit thinkers conceptualized Persian, the only viable rival to Sanskrit as a transregional idiom, and exchanges between the two traditions. Sanskrit-focused scholarship sheds light on intellectual, social and literary aspects of medieval and early modern India and is thus crucial for understanding these complex periods. Sanskrit texts also provide tools for analyzing the larger categories that we use for precolonial Indian literature, including the popular but problematic idea of “Indo-Persian” as a distinct literary and cultural realm. Yet such scholarship is still in its infancy and struggles for attention among a wider audience. This conference will highlight fresh, dynamic research and consider future avenues, both individually and collectively, for emphasizing Sanskrit materials in the exciting, but currently Persian-dominated, study of medieval and early modern India. We aim to give coherence and visibility to an emerging, vibrant subfield of South Asian studies, especially the crucial place of Sanskrit materials and Sanskritists within that subfield.
Writing Self, Writing Empire examines the life, career, and writings of the Mughal state secretary, or munshi, Chandar Bhan Brahman (d. ca. 1670), one of the great Indo-Persian poets and prose stylists of early modern South Asia. Chandar Bhan’s life spanned the reigns of four emperors: Akbar (1556–1605), Jahangir (1605–1627), Shah Jahan (1628–1658), and Aurangzeb ‘Alamgir (1658–1707), the last of the “Great Mughals” whose courts dominated the culture and politics of the subcontinent at the height of the empire’s power, territorial reach, and global influence.
Chandar Bhan was a high-caste Hindu who worked for a series of Muslim monarchs and other officials, forming powerful friendships along the way; his experience bears vivid testimony to the pluralistic atmosphere of the Mughal court, particularly during the reign of Shah Jahan, the celebrated builder of the Taj Mahal. But his widely circulated and emulated works also touch on a range of topics central to our understanding of the court’s literary, mystical, administrative, and ethical cultures, while his letters and autobiographical writings provide tantalizing examples of early modern Indo-Persian modes of self-fashioning. Chandar Bhan’s oeuvre is a valuable window onto a crucial, though surprisingly neglected, period of Mughal cultural and political history.
The rendering of Sanskrit texts into Persian constitutes one of the largest translation movements in world history. Sanskrit and Persian coexisted as languages and cultural systems on the subcontinent for hundreds of years, chiefly between the 14th and 18th centuries CE. During this period, intellectuals and poets performed hundreds of translations and adaptions of Sanskrit stories, knowledge systems, and philosophies into the Persian language. This sustained movement of Sanskrit based ideas, narratives, and even words into Persian resulted in a distinctive realm of Persianate culture on the subcontinent that is often characterized by the modern descriptor Indo-Persian. Today, however, Persian translations of Sanskrit materials are largely forgotten. Most Indo-Persian translations are severely understudied; many moulder away in manuscript libraries, unpublished and in want of sustained philological attention. In this article, I highlight my research on these overlooked texts in light of current trends in Indian historiography and historical memory.