Abstract

In situating the questions of how languages shape the ideas of history, history writing, and self-identification of community, the importance of colonialism is key. Allison Busch's scholarship framed an important intervention in our collective approach to the early-modern subcontinent. This article introduces a special section consisting of articles by students, colleagues, and mentors of Busch.

In Poetry of Kings, Allison Busch (see fig. 1) focused on a poet largely missing from the canonical studies of Hindi literature. That poet was Keshavdas (fl. 1600), and part of the reason he went missing was that his major works were in a genre of literature, riti, that itself was understood to be archaic, tinged with an excess of eroticism or courtly culture. Busch not only argued for the centrality of the poet and the genre but also reminded the scholars of the circuits of cultural and aesthetic exchanges between “Hindi” and the Mughal rulers of India. Keshavdas wrote in the bhasa (language) of the desh—Awadhi, Hindustani, Braj, Rekhta, and Dakani being some of the regionally specific names for it. This bhasa stood in contrast to Sanskrit, a language of Gods, and it incorporated some of the vocabulary or ethos of Persian, another language of political power. In rethinking Keshavdas, Busch pulled back the curtains to reveal a host of riti poets who wrote and produced important critical works in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as they moved to-and-fro across Rajput and Mughal courts. As Busch pointed out in her introduction, such movements would be familiar to any intellectual historian of, say, France who could trace such networks of literary production and courtly patronage in medieval Europe. Yet, the nineteenth century, and colonial rule, ended riti and broke certain circuits of cultural movement that connected religious communities such as Vaishnavite, Sunni, Jain, Shi‘a, and Saivite. In order to situate this particular special section, and its indebtedness to the scholarship of Allison Busch, I want to begin at the beginning of the end, by examining the fate of one particular text—Padmavat—which meant much to Busch's own scholarship and about which we conversed often.

Near the end of the eighteenth century, two poets attached to the court of Rampur authored a rendition of Malik Muhammad Jayasi's Awadhi epic Padmavat (completed ca. 1540). A courtier at Rampur had commissioned from Ziauddin ‘Ibrat (d. 1795) an Urdu (zaban-i Rehkta) rendition of Jayasi's famous invention of a romance of Chittor's Raja Ratansen's love for Siṃhal Dvīp's Padmini. ‘Ibrat managed to finish a fourth of the text before he passed away. He titled it Marsiya-e Shama’ o Parvāna (Poem of Moth and Flame). After his death, the commission was taken up by another poet, Ghulam Ali ‘Ishrat (1762–1821). ‘Ishrat finished the rendition in 1796. It circulated widely and was printed from Lucknow in 1848 as Padmavat Urdu tasnif-e du Sha'ir.1

‘Ibrat (and later ‘Ishrat) remained reasonably faithful to Jayasi's story. Their audience heard and read a tragedy just as embedded in sufic and yogic frames—with both bhakti and riti aspects of the story highlighted—as Jayasi's audience. In ‘Ibrat's version, Padmini and Ratansen remain devout worshippers of Shiva, Parvati, and Hanuman; their love remains unsullied by ‘Alauddin Khilji. The sati of Padmini and Nagmati after Ratansen's death is described with great empathy and detail, with all of the heft of a marsiya (elegiac poem on the death of Imam Husayn at Karbala). It is no mere translation, however. The material world of Ratansen and Padmini is updated to the political realities of late eighteenth-century Hindustan. There are firangi (Europeans) alongside guns, cannons, and large vessels with pronounced sails. The description of foods, delicacies, flowers, and gardens relies more distinctly on the landscape of Delhi and Lucknow. Particularly, in the poem's opening sections—following the template of Jayasi's composition—after the praise for the unity of the Creator (apparent in the love of Padm and Ratan), the Prophet, the Shaykh, and the Nawab, the poets turn to Hindustan itself. ‘Ibrat introduces a longish section on praise of “Paradise-emulating Hindustan,” whose romance, language, and cultural sites are enviably sought after by the Arabs and the Persians. This Hindustan, for ‘Ibrat, is best realized by the all-consuming love of Ratansen and Padmini. It is this love that fires his pen, and it is this Hindustan that claims the distinction for being closest to God in their devotion. These putative Muslim poets at a Muslim court in the middle of a politically tumultuous period remain wedded to an inclusive vision of Hindustan, faith, belonging, sensuality, and spirituality.

Around the same time as ‘Ibrat and ‘Ishrat were working on the Padmavat, colonial accounts were also noting the text of Jayasi and the vernacular in their surveys, grammars, and catalogs. From German, French, and English travelers and Orientalists such as Joseph Tieffenthaler, Henry Thomas Colebrooke, and John Gilchrist to Garcin de Tassy, there is almost a hundred-years-long effort to know the text and its relationship to Hindustani. However, in the colonial rendering, Jayasi and Padmavat are linguistic and sectarian problems to be resolved. The most critical step in framing—and thus bifurcating—the text was done by George Grierson (author of the famed Linguistic Survey of India). In 1893, he framed Jayasi as “the oldest poet of Hindustan of whom we have any uncontested remains” who was “writing in the actual vernacular of his times.”2 For Grierson, Jayasi's “Muslim predilections” had contaminated the text with some Persian words, but Jayasi's muslim-ness was also the reason for Padmavat's survival: Jayasi was seen as a saint by his fellow Muslims. Jayasi had written Padmavat in Awadhi (or Hindustani) in the Persian script. Grierson was convinced that the Persian script could not capture the true “Hindi” language and hence, with the help of manuscripts in both Persian and Devnagari scripts, he began the effort to “reproduce in the Nāgarī character, the actual words written by the poet.”3 The bifurcation of scripts thus introduced by Grierson is between the “actual words” and “written by the poet” that would go on to shape the afterlife of Padmavat. For Grierson an inimical relationship existed between the “Muslimness” of Jayasi and the Persian script and between the religiosity within Padmavat and its author. Padmavat, once reproduced by Grierson and Sudhkara Dvivedi in 1911, would be situated solely in a history of Hindi literature. This colonial bifurcation made Padmavat Urdu authored by two poets, in reverse, an orphaned text. It does not feature within the histories of Urdu literature once they began to be written in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The rendition by ‘Ibrat and ‘Ishrat became, to follow Allison Busch, a “lost past” for the history of Urdu literature.

Padmavat Urdu exemplifies a complex of script, faith, and belonging in Hindustan that underwent a systemic communalization in the twentieth century. Texts, rather entire genres, as Busch demonstrated for riti texts in Poetry of Kings, orphaned by colonial philology have proven to be a difficult inheritance for the postcolonial scholarship. Aditya Behl memorably reminded the field, in 2007, of the “uncomfortable fact” about Maulana Da'ud's Candayan (1379), Husain Shah Sharqi's Mirigavati (1503), Jayasi's Padmavat (1540), and other such texts that “the first substantial body of devotional and narrative literature in pre-modern Hindi was penned by Muslims.”4 Behl was commenting on the ways in which a “Hindu devotional tradition,” denoted as bhakti, was imagined through sixteenth- and seventeenth-century texts written in Braj with stalwart exemplars such as Tulsidas's Ramacaritamanasa (1577) or Kabir's or Surdas's poetic collections. This imagined origin for bhakti dovetails as well with the imagined origins for Hindi literature itself in the work of literary criticism in the early twentieth century—most critically in Ramcandra Sukla's Hindi Sahitya ka Itihas (1929). The “Muslim” as author, as script (Avadhi was inscribed in Perso-Arabic script), and as a believer was explicitly written out during the early twentieth-century canonization of Hindi literature during colonial rule. Busch would enlarge this critique to give full stature to riti texts, written in Braj, that focused on poetic and rhetoric theory, produced in and about courtly spheres, with military valor, sexuality and sensuality, and praise and hagiography often predominant themes. As Busch argued, colonial framings gave way to a “story of Hindi as the gainful trek to nationhood and modernity” during the postcolonial period that marginalized historical facts such as the coproduction of bhakti devotional texts by Muslims, or the patronage and support of Mughal courts of poets producing works of riti.5

The partition of the colonized subcontinent in 1947 along putative lines of religious communities (Hindus and Muslims) created a schism that reached far back into the past. The colonial logic of two separate civilizations, once internalized and co-opted as “political” genealogy, manifested parallel and antagonistic timelines for the history of the subcontinent. All that rested across the two imagined binaries was rejected, jettisoned, or forgotten by the national memory projects. The post–World War II era saw numerous partitions enacted by colonial and imperial authorities—in Korea, Palestine, Cyprus, Vietnam, and Germany. Yet the legacy of 1947 remains unique in that the partition only set into motion a seven-decades-long process that is unweaving, almost thread by thread, a history of a thousand plus years. The hate and animosity that successfully mobilizes contemporary politics depends entirely on this process of ongoing partitioning. The examples are too numerous to mention, but the 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid mosque in Ayodhya by a mob remains a significant landmark in this process. Arrayed against this long process are scholars who have remained steadfast in their commitment to narrating the complexity, hybridity, and persistence of the social worlds of precolonial Hindustan.

This Festschrift in memory of Allison Busch comprises the work of her peers, colleagues, and students. The nine essays in this special section, “Circuits of Culture in Early Modern South Asia,” are collectively engaged in documenting, with close attention to texts and practices, a rich fabric of Hindustan from the eleventh to the nineteenth centuries. Molly Emma Aitken and Busch trace the melding of the figurative and poetic in an illustrated manuscript of Candayan that combines Braj and Persian aesthetic registers. Andrew Ollett makes a critical study of an Apabhramsha poem by the Jain poet Dhanapāla from the early eleventh century. Cynthia Talbot delves into the intricacies of Rajput masculinity and performative social function as illustrated in the Brajbhasa story Dalpat Vilas from the 1570s. Christine Marrewa-Karwoski focuses on Mughal patronage of Gorakhnath yogis by reading the Naravai Bodh from ca. 1614. Audrey Truschke reads a Jain biography from ca. 1620, Bhanucandraganicarita, that highlights with praise interactions between Jain ascetics and Mughal elites. Samyak Ghosh turns to the early eighteenth-century Brahmaputra Valley, where courtly love and devotion encompassed unique ideas of kingship. Sohini Sarah Pillai examines manuscripts of Sabalsingh Chauhan's Mahabharat, produced in the early to mid-eighteenth century, to trace how they remember (and not) the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. Julie Vig reads Gurbilās literature from the eighteenth to early nineteenth centuries for ways in which it overlaps with Braj martial poetry. William Pinch deciphers the histories of poetry writ into landscapes and kinship structures by tracing the late eighteenth-century Anupa-Prakasa and Himmatbahadur Virudavali to their sites in Bundelkhand. Finally, Dalpat Singh Rajpurohit highlights Marwari riti-granths from the early to mid-nineteenth century to demonstrate the continuation of Braj literary culture into modern Rajasthan. These essays enable us to see how imbricated and rich were the worlds of the precolonial subcontinent—how inventive and responsive to political change; how humane and generous to cultural difference; how deeply situated in the land called Hindustan.

“Knowledge,” Busch wrote, “is always better than ignorance, remembering is better than forgetting, and trying to piece together a literary past is better than walking away from it.”6 Busch's scholarship created knowledge of an imbricated and entwined history for Hindi literature, one that did not forget its Muslim authors, the “Muslim” courts that sponsored the production of texts, or the ways in which script did not produce civilizational separation but rather cultural unity. These nine essays in their focus on specific texts at specific moments of the past thousand years of history demonstrate not only the validity and importance of Busch's work but the absolute necessity of it. The impoverishment to understand these shared histories in the contemporary political imagination rests on the political forgetting that Busch sought to contest and overcome. Along with many friends and loved ones, we submit these essays as a mala (flowers-on-a-string)—an act of bhakti to our teacher, colleague, and a dear friend.

Notes

References

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Presence and Absence in Bhakti: An Afterword
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Grierson, G. A.
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