The Broken Spell: Indian Storytelling and the Romance Genre in Persian and Urdu is a monograph on the rise and fall in popularity of “romances” (qissah)—tales of wonder and magic told by storytellers at princely courts and in public spaces in India from the sixteenth century to the twentieth. Using literary genre theory, author Pasha M. Khan points to the worldviews underlying the popularity of Urdu and Persian romances, before pre-existing Islamicate rationalist traditions gained traction and Western colonialism came to prominence in India.
In the introduction, Khan explains that it was around the end of the nineteenth century that these marvelous tales became devalued by Orientalists and intellectually colonized Indian elites, while at the same time a new genre, the novel, gained legitimacy. Khan goes on to narrate the life histories of professional storytellers, many of them émigrés from Iran to Mughal-ruled India, and considers how they raised their own worth and that of the romance in the face of changes in the economics, culture, and patronage of India. Khan shows the methods whereby such storytellers performed and how they promoted themselves and their art. The dividing line between marvelous tales and history is examined, showing how and why the boundary was porous. The study historicizes the Western understanding of the qissah as a local manifestation of a worldwide romance genre, showing that this genre equation had profound ideological effects. The book’s appendix contains a translation of an important text for understanding Iranian and Indian storytelling methods: the unpublished introductory portions to Fakhr al-Zamani’s manual for storytellers.
Beginning in the early 1400s, large numbers of Iranian elites began migrating to the Deccan plateau of southern India. Lured to the region for many reasons, these poets, traders, statesmen, and artists of all kinds left an indelible mark on the Islamic sultanates that ruled the Deccan until the late seventeenth century. The result was the creation of a robust transregional Persianate network linking such distant cities as Bidar and Shiraz, Bijapur and Isfahan, and Golconda and Mashhad. Iran and the Deccan explores the circulation of art, culture, and talent between Iran and the Deccan over a three hundred year period. Its interdisciplinary contributions consider the factors that prompted migration, the physical and intellectual poles of connectivity between the two regions, and processes of adaptation and response. Placing the Deccan at the center of Indo-Persian and early modern global history, Iran and the Deccan reveals how mobility, liminality, and cultural translation nuance the traditional methods and boundaries of the humanities.
Keelan Overton is an independent scholar and historian of art specializing in the eastern Islamic world from Iran to South Asia. She is author of “Book Culture, Royal Libraries, and Persianate Painting in Bijapur, circa 1580-1630” in Muqarnas and “Filming, Photographing and Purveying in ‘the New Iran:’ The Legacy of Stephen H. Nyman, ca. 1937–42” in Arthur Upham Pope and A New Survey of Persian Art.
In the early 1400s, Iranian elites began migrating to the Deccan plateau of southern India. Lured to the region for many reasons, these poets, traders, statesmen, and artists of all kinds left an indelible mark on the Islamic sultanates that ruled the Deccan until the late seventeenth century. The result was the creation of a robust transregional Persianate network linking such distant cities as Bidar and Shiraz, Bijapur and Isfahan, and Golconda and Mashhad.
Iran and the Deccan explores the circulation of art, culture, and talent between Iran and the Deccan over a three-hundred-year period. Its interdisciplinary contributions consider the factors that prompted migration, the physical and intellectual poles of connectivity between the two regions, and processes of adaptation and response. Placing the Deccan at the center of Indo-Persian and early modern global history, Iran and the Deccan reveals how mobility, liminality, and cultural translation nuance the traditional methods and boundaries of the humanities.
For centuries, Persian was the language of power and learning across Central, South, and West Asia, and Persians received a particular basic education through which they understood and engaged with the world. Not everyone who lived in the land of Iran was Persian, and Persians lived in many other lands as well. Thus to be Persian was to be embedded in a set of connections with people we today consider members of different groups. Persianate selfhood encompassed a broader range of possibilities than contemporary nationalist claims to place and origin allow. We cannot grasp these older connections without historicizing our conceptions of difference and affiliation.
Mana Kia sketches the contours of a larger Persianate world, historicizing place, origin, and selfhood through its tradition of proper form: adab. In this shared culture, proximities and similarities constituted a logic that distinguished between people while simultaneously accommodating plurality. Adab was the basis of cohesion for self and community over the turbulent eighteenth century, as populations dispersed and centers of power shifted, disrupting the circulations that linked Persianate regions. Challenging the bases of protonationalist community, Persianate Selves seeks to make sense of an earlier transregional Persianate culture outside the anachronistic shadow of nationalisms.
About the author
Mana Kia is Associate Professor of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies at Columbia University.
In the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, courtliness was crucial to the political and cultural life of the Deccan. Divided between six states competing for territory, resources and skills, the medieval and early modern Deccan was a region of striking ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity. People used multifaceted trans-regional networks – mercantile, kinship, friendship and intellectual – to move across the Persian-speaking world and to find employment at the Deccan courts. This movement, Emma J. Flatt argues, was facilitated by the existence of a shared courtly disposition. Engagement in courtly skills such as letter-writing, perfume-making, astrological divination, performing magic, sword-fighting and wrestling thus became a route to both worldly success and ethical refinement. Using a diverse range of treatises, chronicles, poetry and letters, Flatt unpicks the ways this challenged networks of acceptable behaviour and knowledge in the Indo-Islamicate courtly world – and challenges the idea of perpetual hostility between Islam and Hinduism in Indian history.
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.
Table of contents
Persian Language and Literature Beyond Iran and Islam (J. R. Perry)
PERSIAN LITERATURE IN THE INDIAN SUB-CONTINENT
Chapter 1: Establishment of Centers of
Indo-Persian Court Poetry (Alyssa Gabbay)
Chapter 2: Teaching Of Persian In South Asia
Chapter 3: The Persian Language Sciences in
India (J. R. Perry)
Chapter 4: Persian Historiography in India (B. Auer)
Chapter 5: Persian Literature of the Parsis in
India (J. K. Choksy)
Chapter 6: Ismaili Literature in Persian in
Central and South Asia (F. Daftary)
Chapter 7: Persian Medical Literature in South
Asia (F. Speziale)
Chapter 8: Inscriptions and Art-Historical
Writing (Y. Porter)
PERSIAN LITERATURE IN ANATOLIA AND THE OTTOMAN REALMS, POST-TIMURID CENTRAL
ASIA, TAJIKISTAN, MODERN AFGHANISTAN; JUDEO-PERSIAN LITERATURE
Chapter 9: Persian Literature in Anatolia and the Ottoman Realms (S. Kim)
Chapter 10: Persian Literature in Central Asia under Uzbek Rule (Ertugrul Ökten)
Chapter 11: Tajik Literature (K. Hitchins)
Chapter 12: Persian Literature in Modern Afghanistan (R. Farhadi And J. R. Perry)
Chapter 13: Judeo-Persian Literature (Vera Basch Moreen)
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.