Current Issue Article Abstracts
Spring 2019 Vol. 4.1
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Arthur Dudney and Neer aja Poddar
HUMANISTIC SCHOLARSHIP ON SOUTH Asia has become increasingly interested in examining culture not as a monolith but as a field where the actors, objects, and ideas are mobile and frequently altered by interactions with each other.1Recent publications in art history, literary studies, history, and religious studies have taken notice of this dynamism and concern themselves with the "circulation of culture—its producers, products, and practices."2 As opposed to privileging an "original" avatar with a fixed meaning, which has been the fate of many itinerant objects and texts that have previously been studied, scholars have begun to probe the layers of meaning acquired by texts and objects that move across time, place, and contexts, their mobility forming them into hybrid products shaped from myriad points of contact.3 These objects and texts are frequently treated as sites where the interface between cultures can be traced; a large proportion of new scholarship on such questions is focused on the encounter of Indic artistic and literary idioms and practices with Islam.
A text that has found renewed interest among scholars of early modern India is the Persian compendium of religion called Dabistān-i Maẕāhib. Written between 1645 and 1658, the Dabistān presents a lively ethnographic and historical account of customs and habits of various major and minor religious communities in northern India during the heyday of the Mughal Empire (1526-1707). Written like a travelogue, it moves between various modes of description including mythical revelations, storytelling, ethnographic notes, and authorial commentary. The Dabistān-i Maẕāhib is also valuable because it is the earliest work outside of the Sikh literary tradition that contains first-hand accounts of the growing Sikh socio-religious movement established in Punjab during the sixteenth century. Focusing on this section titled "The Nanak Panthis", this article explores what translators, commentators, and historians have variously understood as comprising the original text. Since the early twentieth century, scholars have relied on later manuscript and print editions in their English translations and use of this work without necessarily reflecting on how these choices have preconditioned interpretive possibilities. My analysis of a recently discovered and earliest known manuscript copy of the Dabistān-i Maẕāhib from 1650 suggests that all of the later hand written and print editions, which have now become standardized through scholarly convention, omit certain details and even entire passages. This has major implications for how we have understood the genesis and transmission of the text, and perhaps more significantly, the social groups and historical moments depicted in this one-of-a-kind work.
What work do manuscripts perform? How are we to understand their socio-political impact? What happens when we find drastically different permutations of the same dialogical text in multiple manuscripts, where the interlocutors take different positions in different versions? How do we deal with that in the light of existing printed editions that intervene and "freeze" one version and marginalize others? This paper focuses on how old Hindi dialogical texts fare in manuscript and print, with the case study of the dialogue between the famous iconoclastic Kabīr and his purported guru the Rāma-worshiper Rāmānand, as preserved in a fascinating illustrated manuscript from the beginning of the eighteenth century that combines yogic and devotional texts.
Christopher L. Diamond
This article examines the difficult aspects of working with anthological manuscripts and printed editions of lyrical vernacular poetry in South Asia by focusing on the textual reception of Vidyāpati Ṭhākura. In his own life, Vidyāpati wrote technical treatises in Sanskrit, historical narratives in Apabhraṃśa, and a corpus of lyrical poems (padas) and two dramas in the vernacular Maithili language. While his technical works remained relatively static and limited in their circulation, Vidyāpati's lyrical poems had a more enduring and geographically widespread effect on the languages, literatures, and religions of Mithilā and Eastern India (Bengal, Orissa, and Assam). The anthologies of padas, usually called "padāvalī's", whatever their historical manifestation or locality, were usually collections of disconnected padas without contextual narratives or explanations.
This analysis focuses on the difficulty of working with free-standing small lyrical poems, which were never conceived of as unified textual entities, in both organized padāvalīs and small disposable manuscript handbooks (pothīs). The padas were used pragmatically by elite poets, devotional saints, and musicians from the 15 th century CE onwards. This creates problems when one tries to trace physical remains and textual sources from this period. There exists a gap between the Maithili padāvalīs of the 16 th and 17 th centuries and the Bengali Vaiṣṇava padāvalīs writing in a hybrid Bengali-Maithili kuntsprache of the 18 th and 19 th centuries. Since the linguistic and poetic variations and total number of attestations are so extensive, what relationship can be inferred between the Maithili padāvalī tradition and later anthologies based on manuscript and other textual evidence? I argue for a strategy of closely reading the variances and additions to the bhaṇitā (poetic signature) that reveal an appeal to the courtly prestige of Mithilā, even in the devotional communities of Bengal.
The essay elaborates on the manuscript tradition of transmission, commentary, and glossing of fiqh or "Islamic jurisprudence" texts in medieval and early-modern juridical culture from the Indian sub-continent. Premodern Muslim jurists composed doctrinal treatises primarily in Arabic, the shared theological language of the 'ulamā' or "learned scholars". However, in the Indian context, Persian too had acquired the status of a language of Islamic law. From the fourteenth century, fatāwā compilations were made in Persian. By seventeenth-century Mughal rule in northern India, sharḥ or "commentary" and ḥāshiya or "super-commentary" in Persian were deployed as a mechanism for pedagogical transmission. Analyzing two extant Persian manuscripts pertaining to the Ḥanafī madhhab or "school" of juridical thought, Fatāwā-i fīrūzshāhī (fourteenth century) and 'Abd al-Ḥaqq Sajādil Sirhindī's Sharḥ-i hidāya (seventeenth century), the essay appraises the nature of textual and manuscript practices involved in generating Islamic juridical norms and practices. Examining philological and textual features exhibited internal to these two texts, I argue that fiqh doctrinal writing in the age of post-classical Islamic sciences (twelfth to eighteenth Centuries) had become "hybrid" in style. Rather than indicating tendencies towards a phase of "decline" due to "orthodox" adherence to tradition, such texts of legal genre portray a complex culture of Islamic law-making in the premodern period.
Anais Da Fonseca
In the Southern Indian state of Telangana, itinerant storytellers narrate genealogies of the local castes using a scroll painting on cloth as a visual aid to their performance. These scrolls are the only archive of these otherwise oral narratives; hence key markers of their evolution. Once a scroll commission has been decided, performers bring an old scroll to the painters and request for a 'copy.' Considered as such by both performers and painters, a closer look at several scrolls of the same narrative highlights a certain degree of alteration. This paper focuses on the Padmasali Purana that narrate the origin of the weavers' caste of Telangana. On the basis of five painted scrolls of this same narrative, ranging from 1625 to 2000, this article explores the nature and degree of modification undergone by the narrative. In so doing, it questions the extant of the concept of replication within the narrative and painting traditions. While performers decide for changes in the overall organisation and iconography of the narrative, painters are responsible for the materiality, technique and style of the scroll. In illustrating each of these aspects, this article argues that changes reflect the social and cultural environment of the communities involved in the production, presentation and reception of these scrolls, i.e. painters, performers and patrons, and that variations but also fixity to be speaking for the necessities of the communities. Finally, it argues that through reproductions over the course of time, aspects of the visual narrative have become conventions while others are repeatedly revised.
Widespread textual variations feature in the poems transmitted across north India in the name of Kabir, the popular Hindi saint and poet. Kabirian poems, even the early ones, incorporate a variety of traditions due to their appropriation and adaption by different communities, which have generated anthologies that favor works of particular themes or styles. This ever-expanding and transforming corpus serves as a reproducible and mutable coding system that indicates how Kabir was remembered, interpreted and transmitted. Certain types of textual mutations, although posing challenges to philologists, whose aim is to restore the original text, can help us map out how the diversified Kabirian tradition took shape. This paper is a case study on a particular type of textual mutation, known as "missense" mutation, found in the early Kabirian padas reproduced in Winand Callewaert's The Millennium Kabīr Vānī. The cases under study include word variations like rasa/sara, satari/satagura, raghurāī/ṣudāi and phrase-sentence substitution, which yield different but reasonable readings. Though possibilities of casual factors like a slip of the pen cannot be ruled out totally, the fact that these variations were appreciated, remembered and transmitted urges us to think about the motivations behind them. These could include technical reasons, like concern for prosody, and intellectual influences like bhaktification or mystification. How these external factors were responded to textually with a spectrum of variations has contributed to the multifacetedness and popularity of the Kabirian tradition from an early stage.
How did one make a work 'public' in the world of pre-print South Asia? What are the textual and material aspects of manuscripts that alert us to their character as 'published' works intended to be circulated among members of an imagined readership removed from the author or scribe in space and time? Can such textual artifacts be systematically distinguished from copies intended primarily for the use of a single individual? This essay explores these questions in the context of literary and religious works and their copies produced in South Asia during the fourteenth through eighteenth centuries in the vernacular language known variously as Hindi, Urdu, Hindavi, or Hindustani. Comparing paratextual material like colophons, opening formulae, rubrics, and marginal inscriptions across different literary genres and across different reader communities as well as comparing material aspects of different types of manuscripts—e.g. bound and unbound, illustrated and unillustrated, notebooks and liturgical manuals, etc.—reveals patterns in the way that authors and scribes signaled the public character of a finished textual artifact. Making such comparisons among large corpora of manuscripts and reading certain paratexts "against the grain" reveals the contours of various emergent reading 'publics' before the rapid expansion of print technology in the eighteenth century.
Matti Peikola, Aleksi Mäkilähde, Hanna Salmi, Mari-Liisa Varila, and Janne Skaffari, eds. Verbal and Visual Communication in Early English Texts. Utrecht Studies in Medieval Literacy 37. (review by Lydia Yaitsky Kertz)