SDMA Exhibition

Indo-Muslim Cultures in Transition


Professor Carlo Coppola
Zaheer v. Ali: Dissenting Views on the Early Years of the Progressive Movement

Communist Party of India organizer Sajjad Zaheer (19041973) was also an important figure in Urdu literature, one of the quartet of writers who published the ground-breaking literary anthology Angare (Embers) in 1932, often called the first work of Progressive literature in Urdu. He was also one of the organizers of the first meeting of the All-India Progressive Writers’ Association (AIPWA) in 1936 and continued to play a leadership role in this group for decades thereafter.His reminiscences about the Progressive Movement in Urdu literature, Roshnai (1954), has been the standard source of information for the Progressive Writers’ Association from its inception in the early 1930s up through the post-Partition years of the late 1940s. Recently published in an English translation as The Light: A History of the Movement for Progressive Literature in the Indo-Pak Subcontinent (2006), this work strongly reflects the author’s commitment to Marxism, and his perspective has been largely unchallenged. However, a dissenting viewpoint has been offered by another member of the Angare quartet, Ahmed Ali (1910-1994), in an interview published in the Journal of South Asian Literature. This presentation will juxtapose the two opposing perspectives regarding these early years of the Progressive Movement and will tease out heretofore private details regarding the publication of Angare, the in-fighting and disagreements that occurred during the preparations for the first meeting of the IAPWA, and the eventual acrimonious parting of the ways of these two once-close friends.

Ms. Chanchal Dadlani
The "Palais Indiens" Album: Representing Architecture, Writing History

This paper considers the intersections between aesthetics, representation, and historical subjectivity in 18th-century India, focusing on the Palais Indiens album (c. 1774-76).  Executed in Faizabad at the court of Shuja ud-Daula and commissioned by the French military officer Jean-Baptiste Gentil, the album depicts architectural monuments from across north India. The paper asserts that in addition to fusing Mughal and European modes of representation, the Palais Indiens album introduced a new subject matter into the repertoire of late Mughal painting: the architectural monument. The paper argues that these studies enabled and reflected a historicization of architecture during the period in question. The album is analyzed in conjunction with Gentil’s memoirs and contemporary Mughal texts in order to fully explore the historical self-consciousness evident in the architectural studies and the broader cultural currents informing their production.

Ms. Jennifer Dubrow
'The Bitter Medicine of Beneficial Counsel and the Honey of Humor': Mixing Humor and Reform in Fasana-e Azad and Late 19th-century Lucknow

This paper examines the complex and sometimes conflicting relationship of humor and reform in Fasana-e Azad, a highly successful Urdu “novel” from late nineteenth-century Lucknow. Fasana-e Azad began as a series of humorous sketches titled zarafat, or witticism, in Lucknow’s only daily newspaper. In addition to its commercial goals, however, Fasana-e Azad soon took aim at Lucknow’s elites and elders by satirizing them as frivolous navabs, sycophantic courtiers, lazy sons of nobles, corrupt maktab teachers, and superstitious old men.  In contrast to these characters, Fasana-e Azad centered on an enlightened young hero named Azad (‘free, independent’), who possessed no credentials besides a good education and noble qualities yet attained the ultimate material and romantic success.  Azad's speeches, ploys and model activities might have seemed to outline the parameters of new, middle-class respectability. But as some scholars have noted, a closer reading of Azad’s adventures reveals a more unstable figure, as often the object of jokes as the maker of them, and whose reformist ideals were consistently challenged by contrapuntal characters and voices in the text. This paper will look at a few such critical moments, and explore how Fasana-e Azad's humor often complicated and even conflicted with its reformist message. It will locate this conflict within the horizon of readers’ expectations in late nineteenth-century Lucknow by considering readers’ letters and the author’s own statements on the importance of combining “the bitter medicine of beneficial counsel and the honey of humor.”

Dr. Mehr Farooqi
Power, Culture and the Language of Poetry: The Transition from Vali to Ghalib

Literature in Urdu began not in Delhi but in such distant places as Gujarat and the Deccan. The ‘Goojri’ and ‘Dakhani’ registers of Urdu were, of course, distinct from the Delhi register. Delhi was known for its Persian influenced and induced hubris. When Vali Aurangabadi’s (1665-1708) Dakhni Divan arrived in Delhi, it must have been a shock for the Persianist elites. Yet very soon the new linguistic mode spread throughout, and the Delhi register overtook the regional ones, becoming the standard over large sections of the sub-continent. Ironically, it is as if the failure of the Mughal state to control the hinterlands results in the latter’s influencing the very cultural milieu of the locus of power and its reliance on a Persianized society, in favor of a more vernacularized culture. In my paper I propose to examine to what extent Mir Taqi Mir’s (1722-1810) creative elevation of common or spoken language to the literary sphere was influenced by the eighteenth century milieu and to what extent was Ghalib’s (1797-1869) Persianised, erudite, style in language and his self questioning individualism of thought, the result of the cultural transition from Mir’s times to his own.

Dr. Nile Green
Barracks Islam: Sepoy Religion in the Hyderabad Contingent

This paper looks at the relationship between the Hyderabad Contingent (the appendage of the Indian Army in the Nizam’s State) and the religious practices of its Muslim soldiers. The ‘barracks Islam’ of the Hyderabadi soldier centred on allegiance to faqir holy men, whose careers as religious specialists were alternatively promoted or suppressed by the institutions of army life. After describing the distinct character of this ‘barracks Islam’ and the supernatural service industry that developed around the well-paid colonial soldier, the paper therefore examines the two-way process in which the colonial army helped promote certain aspects of the soldiers’ Islam at the same time that it quashed others. In this way, the institutional forms of army life are shown to have been responsible for mediating the relationship between a barracks culture of miracle stories, carnivals, drug-use and sepoy madness and a colonial culture of cantonment rules, asylums and Evangelical officers. 

Dr. Talinn Grigor
Patronize the Modern Self: Indo-Persian Architectural Migrations out of 19th-Century India

When Manekji Limji Hataria landed on the Persian Gulf in April 1854, personal contact between the Parsis of India and their co-religious Zoroastrians in Qajar Iran had been virtually nonexistent since the fall of the Sassanian Empire to the Arabs in the 7th century. Manekji had been sent to Iran by the Society for the Amelioration of the Conditions of the Zoroastrians in Persia, which was founded by the affluent Parsi industrialists and philanthropists of the Indian Empire and later the British Raj. Their goals for the betterment of the lives of their co-religionists were many, including the abolition of the heavy poll-tax on non-Muslims and the right to travel and educate. Despite Muslim prohibition on the preservation of Zoroastrian historical structures, Manekji first undertook to restore and enlarge the fire temple of Yazd within a year of his arrival. In 1857, he also erected one in Kerman. As a British citizen, he subsequently collaborated with Western thinkers, such as Sir Henry Rawlinson, Comte de Gobineau, and Edward Browne, to secure an audience with Naser al-Din Shah in London and, in 1882, persuaded him to abolish the poll-tax. Manekji’s agency was the beginning of the Parsi reformist affect on not only his adopted Zoroastrian community, but on the whole of modern Iranian society well into the 20th century. For, as this paper will demonstrate, though in normative architectural historiography, the neo-Achaemenid revival of the 1920s and 1930s -- promoted by Western orientalists and erected under Reza Shah Pahalvi -- is considered an artistic manifestation of Iranian nationalism, it is in fact to the 19th-century Parsi philanthropists of India that we ought to turn to for the origin of such a pivotal cultural movement and national identity. This identity was initially endemic of (post)colonial conditions of in-between-ness and hybridity. Individual Parsi patrons, who thus impacted Indo-Persian arts and politics, operated from a range of marginal identities as Zoroastrians, as original Iranians, as British citizens, and as Indian subjects: in short, as local others. It is their dual perspective that both rendered their artistic vision unique and their politics effective. Here, moreover, we observe a shift in power politics that overturned the flow of cultural influence: the Parsis had for centuries perceived Persia as their motherland and Irani Zoroastrians as their socio-cultural models; now, with the rise of British hegemony, Zoroastrians were to turn to the Parsis of the Raj for the reinvention of a progressive modern self. When the first fire temple was constructed in Tehran in 1913, it was designed on the “Parsi Plan”. This same ‘progressive modern self’ would, in due course, become the dominant national discourse of the Muslim reformists under the Pahlavis.

Dr. Syed Akbar Hyder
Reading Josh Malihabadi through the Lens of Autobiography

Ms. Mana Kia
Accounting for Difference:
A Comparative Look at the Auto-Biographical Travel Narratives of Muhammad ‘Ali Hazin Lahiji and ‘Abd al-Karim Kashmiri

Shaykh Muhammad Ali Hazin Lahiji often serves as an iconic figure, representative of the changing relationship between Iran and India in the eighteenth century. Scholars generally foreground the denigration of all things Indian in Hazin’s memoir, his lampooning of Indians during his time in India, and his acrimonious literary debates with local Persianate poets, yet most of Hazin’s memoir is structured by the fall of the Safavid state, ensuing turbulence in Iran and mourning for all that was lost. Reading Hazin’s memoir in relation to another traveler between Iran and India in the mid-eighteenth century problematizes this dominant reading of his text as representative of a proto-nationalist Iranian disdain for all things Indian, especially given that India is absent in the majority of the text. How important was place of origin in the representation of cultural hierarchies? ‘Abd al-Karim Kashmiri wrote an auto-biographical travel narrative soon after Hazin, detailing his journey with Nadir Shah’s army from Delhi to Iran, his further travels to perform the hajj, and his return to India. Like Hazin, Kashmiri’s personal experiences are narrated as firmly embedded in the volatile historical context of the times, and, indeed, Kashmiri draws on Hazin’s historical accounts in his own text. This paper examines these two texts comparatively as a way to understand a shared tradition of literary and textual borrowing, even in the midst of different attributions of cultural valuation and historical meaning. Their common cultural repository made possible a literary and historical borrowing which could be made to express diverging, and sometimes conflicting, claims. From this recognition of a common culture, beyond just a shared linguistic heritage, we can understand how Persianate culture could accommodate conflicting regional concerns.

Dr. Scott Levi
Indo-Central Asian Relations in Transition: the View from the Ferghana Valley

Situated in the southeast corner of modern Uzbekistan and surrounded by the snow-capped peaks of the Tian Shan and Pamir mountain ranges, the Ferghana Valley has been a crossroads of civilizations and one of the most densely populated regions of Central Asia for more than two thousand years. From the perspective of Indian history, the Ferghana Valley is recognized predominantly as the homeland of Zahir al-Din Muhammad Babur, the Timurid prince and first Mughal emperor (r. 1526-30).  But further investigation reveals that the relationships between the peoples of India and the Ferghana Valley were both multifaceted and profound.  This paper will introduce several key features of this relationship as they developed and transformed during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, directing attention to both commercial and cultural interactions.

Professor C.M. Naim
Rereading Sharar on Lucknow
Sharar's book translated into English by Husain and Harcourt as Lucknow: The Last Phase of an Oriental Culture is considered the best source of information on the elite culture of Lucknow as it developed before 1857. My attempt is to read it as a book of history written by a certain author (Sharar) at a certain place (Lucknow) and also at a certain time (the second decade of the 20th century). I do so bearing in mind the overarching theme of the conference, namely the concept of "decline" as it plays out in the cultural history of the Muslims of India.

Ms. Keelan Overton
Between Bijapur and Lucknow: Collecting, Copying and Clarifying Adil Shahi Painting

During the eighteenth century, Bijapuri painting produced during the reign of Ibrahim Adil Shah II (r. 1580-1627) enjoyed a significant legacy in Awadh.  While collectors such as Colonel Antoine Polier and Captain Archibald Swinton assembled Bijapuri originals into their albums, Lucknow artists such as Mihr Chand and Mir Kalan Khan produced accomplished copies of Bijapuri originals.  This paper begins with an introduction to the collecting and copying of Bijapuri painting in eighteenth century Lucknow.  I will then turn to two specific case studies involving Bijapuri originals and corresponding Lucknow copies.  The first centers on Mir Kalan Khan’s “Maid killing a snake” (British Library) and versions of this painting preserved in St. Petersburg.  The goal of this case study is to distinguish between original and copy and to trace the legacy of this image over time from Bijapur to Lucknow.  The second case study centers on an elusive masterpiece of Bijapuri painting entitled, “A dervish receives a visitor” (Bodleian Library).  By considering this damaged Bijapuri original in relation to its perfectly intact Lucknow copy (Museum für Islamische Kunst), I will increase understanding of its complex setting, principal characters, and general visual language.  Taken together, these two case studies reveal that the simultaneous study of Bijapuri original and Lucknow copy is a viable methodology for students of Adil Shahi painting.

Dr. Laura Parodi
Imperial Mughal Portraits after Shah Jahan

Imperial Mughal portraiture from the reign of the Mughal emperor ‘Alamgir or Aurangzeb (r. 1658-1707) onward has received limited attention, other than as a transitional phase between the high style under Shah Jahan and the resurgence of patronage at Lucknow. With few exceptions, our appreciation of it depends on scattered mentions and poorly published, or unpublished, examples. Although usually dismissed as the product of a period of decay, post-Shahjahani imperial portraits are a prime document of their time, displaying subtle shifts in style and iconography, reflective of changes in ceremonial and the patrons’ expectations. Along with an attempt to gather a more substantial number of paintings than ever before, the paper will provide a discussion of this less-known, but not-so-minor, phase in Mughal painting, a visual testimony to a world in transition.

Dr. Alka Patel
Reinscribing Home: The Architectural Patronage of Hyderabad's Banking and Mercantile Communities

This paper forms part of a larger collaborative project on the architectural patronage of the banking and mercantile communities of India during the 18th through early 20th centuries.* The project will focus on three principal caste-based groups -- the Gujaratis, Goswamys, and Marwaris -- and their historical and continuing linkages between their “homelands” in northern India and their diasporas in the city of Hyderabad, the capital of the Nizam’s State of Hyderabad (ca.1750-1948).

The present paper analyzes the results of fieldwork in 2007-2008 in Marwar and Hyderabad. Belonging to an otherwise frugal and generally reserved community, many diasporic Marwari businessmen and financiers lived principally in metropolitan cities such as Bombay and Kolkata. But particularly in Hyderabad, they were important participants in this city’s cosmopolitanism, itself derived from a 17th-century Mughal cultural ethos. The paper will trace the cultural and stylistic origins of the architectural projects diasporic Marwaris commissioned both in their home towns and in the diaspora of Hyderabad. Imperial Mughal styles and methods of building, formulated mainly between the late 16th and mid-17th centuries, commanded long-term pan-Indic appeal and usage. Throughout the subcontinent architectural foundations dating to the 18th through early 20th centuries provide evidence of the dispersal and longevity of these ways of building. The diasporic Marwaris’ participation in the post-Mughal, early colonial ethos of these cities was instrumental to their adoption of Mughal-derived building modes and, consequently, to their reinscribing and reinvention of both their Marwari origins and their "adopted home" of Hyderabad through architectural patronage.

*The project is a collaboration with historian-anthropologist Dr. Karen Leonard (UC-Irvine) and is titled Building New Identities in the Diaspora: The Banking and Mercantile Communities of Hyderabad, India ca. 1730-1940. See for details.

Dr. Heidi Pauwels
Literary  Moments of Exchange in the 18th Century: the New Urdu Vogue Meets Krishna Bhakti

This paper highlights the interface of Braj and early Urdu poetry in the 18th century.  It focuses on the sponsor of the arts Savant Singh of Kishangarh alias the bhakta- poet Nagridas. He is best-known as the source of inspiration for the famous Kishangarh "sub-imperial" minature paintings, several of which were inspired by his own poetic works. He was a prolific poet in Braj, and also tried his hand at some Urdu- then under the name of Rekhta newly de vogue in Delhi in the wake of the arrival of Wali Deccani's diwan. Nagridas' Rekhta work is little-known and not appreciated by the writers of the canons of Hindi literature. Yet, it raises all kind of issues regarding circulation of ideas in 18th-century North India, fluidity of boundaries between poetic register and genre at the time, and later canon-formation and  erasure or suppression of Indo-Muslim hybridity.

Dr. Teena Purohit
Conversion and Islam: Passages from the Medieval to the Modern

In the Aga Khan Case of 1866, the caste group of khojas was given an “Ismaili” religious identity by the Bombay High Court. Crucial to this re-evaluation was the judge’s reading of Dasavatar (Ten Avatars of Vishnu), a medieval Gujarati poem of the ginan genre. The judge’s declaration of the Dasavatar ginan as a conversion text – in which Hindus became Muslims -- fundamentally transformed the self-conception of khoja community in the colonial and post-colonial periods. The logic of this conversion story -– in which khojas were identified as Hindu converts to Islam -- has been naturalized the Ismaili studies scholarship, whereby Ismaili Islam is represented as sect of Islam originating in Persia and culminating with the conversion of khojas in India. I argue that the beliefs and practices enjoined in ginan poetry cannot be conceptualized through notions of “sect” or as an addendum to a Middle East-centered Islamic grand narrative, which is how the ginans continue to be described in authoritative accounts. These texts were also shaped by uniquely Indic devotional and intellectual currents of the medieval/early modern period, among them Vaisnava, sant and bhakti traditions. In this paper, I offer readings from the Dasavatar ginan as a way of engaging with the role of the vernacular in the history of Islam’s expansion and recent scholarship on “syncretistic” Islamic thought and practice in South Asia.

Dr. Alison Mackenzie Shah
The Langar Parade in Nineteenth-Century Hyderabad: Transformations of Shia Inheritance and the Commemoration of the Asaf Jahi State

This paper analyzes the development of the most famous urban festival in nineteenth-century Hyderabad, the Langar Parade. Founded by the Qutb Shahs in the sixteenth century, the Langar procession opened the annual festival of Muharram in Hyderabad by commemorating an act of royal devotion.  The Sunni Asaf Jahs' embrace of this Shia ritual commemoration has widely been perceived as simply an inheritance continued from their predecessors in Hyderabad - evidence of a broad-minded religious tolerance in the nineteenth-century Deccan.  A critical examination of the Asaf Jahs' performance of this parade however reveals a much more complex relationship amongst religious, social, and political identities. Capitalizing on the ability of Shia ritual practices to incorporate Sunni and Hindu participants, the multi-religious Asaf Jahi aristocracy played upon the parade's heritage to negotiate profound changes in their capital's urban character and political identity.  Performed before vast numbers of urban spectators, the nineteenth-century form of this procession highlighted a new organization of urban space and a new kind of society that were explicitly situated in the era of British and French expansion. For example, courtiers and militias invented new ceremonial for the transformed procession with calls to battle in French and the display of outmoded, eighteenth-century weapons.  This new "tradition" transformed one of the city's inherited festivals to define and commemorate the distinctness of the Asaf Jahi state.

Dr. Sunil Sharma
People of the Empire: Ethnographic Representations in Mughal Art and Literature

Pre-colonial ethnographic representations of various people inhabiting the cities of the empire were a common feature of many genres of Persian literature from biographical dictionaries to verse narratives. While such verbal descriptions were exuberant and often idealized, works such as Abu al-Fazl’s 'Ain-i Akbari' attempted a more objective documentation of the makeup of the Mughal empire in order to celebrate the diversity of Indian culture. Instances of ethnographic representations, especially of dervishes and craftsmen, are also found in miniatures, usually as single paintings or album leaves. These paintings betray strong links to the art of portraiture as well. This paper will study the ideological connections between the visual and literary forms of such portrayals of types or groups of people in the Mughal cityscape and deal with the question of the unity of the aesthetic impulse that inspired these works. Comparisons will also be made to other imperial polities of the Deccan and the larger Persianate world.

Dr. Yuthika Sharma
A View from the City: Topographical Paintings of Delhi from 1750-1815

This paper looks at an emergent modality of topographical representation in mid-late 18th century Delhi that took the City as a figure of artistic enquiry. Focusing on a selection of large-scale images of Delhi painted between 1750-1815 this paper attempts to understand the ways in which artists in Delhi, Avadh, and Faizabad utilized an amalgam of Indo-Persian and European cartographic and topological practices to capture the cityscape through a scaled depiction of it on a two-dimensional surface. I argue that artists such as Nidhamal and Nevasilal sought to adapt the empirical undertones of genres such as the ‘architectural record’ and the ‘survey map’ to arrive at historically and politically relevant portrayals of the city and its environs. In doing so, they creatively referenced ongoing contestations between Mughal rulers at Delhi and competing groups of the Nawabs, Marathas, Jats, and European officers. Finally, I will evaluate the role of such representations in the evolution of a distinctive vocabulary of topographical painting, which was standardized in the early decades of the 19th century.

Ms. Sarah F. Waheed
Bombay Film as Home to Muslim Modernity: Ismat Chughtai’s Ajeeb Admi

This paper seeks to historically situate Ismat Chughtai’s novel, Ajeeb Aadmi (An Odd Fellow), published in 1968, which is her account of film director Guru Dutt’s life. The novel—cast as one of Chughtai’s more “popular” ones—is an indictment of both the commercial Bombay film industry as well as Muslim bourgeois marriage practices. It is set against the broader context of the ‘decline’ of the Progressive Writers Movement, and the early state-building years of post-independence India. Chughtai’s psychological portrait of Guru Dutt is a rich cultural and literary text from which to examine questions of nation, gender, and Muslim minority. I explore Chughtai’s “progressive” legacy (and one might add that as an intellectual, like many ‘progressives’, she had a deeply ambivalent relationship to modernity) through the intersection of film, history and memory, to explore wider questions about Muslims, gender, secular politics, and nationalism in South Asia.

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