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‘Culture of Encounters: Sanskrit at the Mughal Court’ by Audrey Truschke

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Image source: drkristianpetersen.com

This book is available at Amazon.

Preetha Nair (IANS)

Mughal rulers patronised Sanskrit literature in their courts, especially between AD 1560 to 1660, and also took up Persian translations of epics like the Mahabharata and the Ramayana as ambitious projects, says scholar Audrey Truschke in her book ‘Culture of Encounters: Sanskrit at the Mughal Court’.

Truschke, an assistant professor of South Asian History at Rutgers University, says that Hindu nationalism is deeply tied to colonial ideas and rewriting the past is a “dangerous activity”. The author also says that she faced backlash from Indian right wing groups against the book, published by Penguin Books India.

To buy the book from Amazon, click here.

Excerpts from an email interview:

Q: Your book ‘Culture of Encounters’ comes at a time when there is a perceived effort to demonise and rewrite Mughal influence in Indian history. How do you view this?

A: The Mughal empire is a critical chapter in India’s long, diverse history. I think that it is essential for future generations to learn about the Mughals and the Indo-Islamic past more broadly.

Q: The book has revealed how Mughals patronised Sanskrit. Do you think it has helped the language flourish?

A: It is difficult to assess the degree to which Sanskrit was dependent on courtly patronage during the Mughal period. I would need more data from elsewhere in India in order to answer this question.

Q: What made you research on a subject like the patronage of Sanskrit in Mughal courts? What were the cultural, academic and social challenges you faced?

A: A combination of my language skills (I read both Sanskrit and Persian) and my interests led me to this topic. I have more recently faced some popular backlash against my work, mainly from the Hindu right.

Q: Was the Mughal court’s decision to translate the Ramayana and the Mahabharata more of a political necessity than a literary urge?

A: The Mughals did not fully distinguish between political and literary aims. On the contrary, they expressed and pursued political goals through literature, and so the translations of the Indian epics were about both aesthetics and power.

All translations point up the limits of understanding across cultural and linguistic divides. The Mughals found certain aspects of the Indian epics difficult to translate, such as some of the religious scaffolding of the texts, and so adjusted these aspects accordingly.

Q: What has been the impact of British rule in India in demonising the Mughals as anti-Hindu?

A: The British attempt to demonise the Mughals carries on today in the efforts of Hindu nationalists, who have gobbled up this colonial argument. Today two major impacts are the ongoing suspicion of Indian Muslims and the persistence of the troublesome notion that somehow Hindu and Indian are collapsible into a single identity.

Q: There is a perception in some quarters that Aurangzeb is being overtly demonised by the current political dispensation in India. Though he was instrumental in the destruction of many temples, the number of Hindus in the Mughal courts was the highest during his reign.

A: Yes, Aurangzeb is being historically demonised in India today. He destroyed some Hindu temples, although he protected many more. He killed some Hindus who opposed the Mughal state, such as Sambhaji, but he also welcomed willing Marathas into the Mughal administration to the extent that they outnumbered Rajputs at one point.

My argument is not that Aurangzeb was not as bad as we think, although that is probably true. Rather, I contend that we should strive to treat Aurangzeb with historical rigour and understand him on his own terms. This is a basic mission of historians, and I think that we stand to learn about pre-colonial India if we come to a more historically-grounded interpretation of Aurangzeb and his impact on the subcontinent.

Q: India is witnessing an emergence of Hindu nationalism. As a historian, how do you evaluate the trend? Also how worrisome are the attempts to rewrite history?

A: Hindu nationalism has a particular history that is deeply tied to colonial ideas, as I have written about elsewhere. Hindu nationalism faces a significant problem, however, which is that it advances historically bogus claims. Hence the need to rewrite history arises.

Rewriting the past is a dangerous activity with potentially serious repercussions in the present and future. Hindu nationalist attempts to simultaneously villainise and erase Indo-Islamic history go hand-in-hand with casting aspersions on modern Muslims and bode ill for religious tolerance in India.

Q: Your book says “Indo-Persian court histories often obfuscate the importance of Hindi as a spoken vernacular in the Mughal imperium, and that it was on the ascent in the 17th century”. Could that be the reason for the decline of Sanskrit?

A: Possibly, but we would need to explain why it suddenly became a problem that Sanskrit was an elite language. Sanskrit had been used for thousands of years in India, and at earlier points the language even attracted people (such as Buddhists) who had previously written in more accessible tongues. I am not convinced that Sanskrit’s limited reach is responsible for its demise, especially since the written versions of vernacular languages in the seventeenth century were hardly accessible to everyone.

Q: Persian translations are an eye-opener to how theological interpretations have been given to both the Ramayana and the Mahabaratha to juxtapose Hindu Gods as intermediaries between humans and Allah. You have extensively explained the use of gushayandah (solver) and rahunama (guide) in the translations. Please comment.

A: There is no set relationship between God and the gods in Akbar’s Persian Mahabharata. At times, Hindu deities occupy a middleman position between people and Allah. At other times, however, Allah replaces Hindu gods, such as Brahma. I argue that the Mughal translators necessarily understood the religious landscape of the Indian epics as mediated through Islam. Accordingly, they introduced Allah as needed to make the Mahabharata intelligible to readers who had an Islamic background but who were relatively unfamiliar with Hindu traditions.

Q: The Mughal translators have adopted a severely shortened Bhagavad Gita, a text considered as the soul of Hinduism, to a few pages. Do you think it was necessitated due to social, political or religious reasons?

A: I think that the Bhagavad Gita made little sense within the Mughal concept of the Mahabharata as a book about India’s past. For the Mughals, the Mahabharata was what the Brahmins understood to be Indian history. The Gita was arguably a digression from this narrative, from a Mughal perspective, and in any case the Gita was theologically awkward within an Islamic worldview. ( IANS)

(Preetha Nair can be reached at preetha.n@ians.in)

You can buy the book from Amazon.

 

 

 

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India Demands Data on UN Staff Misconduct, Use of Immunity

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India has demanded the secretariat disclose information about misconduct by UN staff. Flickr

United Nations, Oct 7: In an attempt to break the wall of silence around the crimes and UN staff misconduct and those on its assignments, India has demanded the secretariat disclose information about such cases and the immunity invoked against prosecutions.

Yedla Umasankar, the legal advisor in India’s UN Mission, touched a raw nerve here by criticising the UN on Friday for not vigorously following up allegations of serious wrongdoing by its employees who enjoy the equivalent of diplomatic immunity, a prized possession of its staff.

“It appears that the UN system itself may be reluctant to waive immunity even for serious misconduct carried out by its personnel while serving on its missions, so that such cases can be prosecuted by the host governments,” he told the General Assembly’s committee on legal affairs.

“Even a few of such instances or allegations of crimes committed by UN personnel is highly damaging for the image and credibility of the United Nations system and its work around the world,” he added.

His statement also touched on the practice of some countries that protect their wrongdoers at the UN.

Umasankar demanded that secretariat disclose how many cases of serious misconduct by UN personnel were registered and the number of cases where the UN refused to waive immunity to allow their prosecution.

He also wanted to know in how many cases the host country wanted the immunity waived so it can prosecute those accused; the number of times the UN asked the host country or the country that sent them to prosecute them; how many times it consulted countries before waiver of the immunity of their personnel and how many of them refused UN’s request to waive their citizens’ immunity.

The information he wanted does not cover the diplomats sent by member countries to represent them at UN bodies and enjoy diplomatic immunity with the nations hosting the UN facilities.

After scores of serious allegations of sexual misconduct by peacekeepers, especially exploitation of children, the UN vowed to uphold a policy of zero tolerance and began publishing data on such cases in peacekeeping operations including how they were dealt with.

Starting with the year 2015, it began identifying the nationalities of those accused.

However, it has not made public a roster detailing all the allegations and proven cases of serious misconduct across the entire UN.

While the focus has been on sexual exploitation and abuse reported on peacekeeping operations, Umasankar said that “at a broader level, the issue of accountability has remained elusive in some cases”.

He attributed it to “the complexities of legal aspects relating to sovereignty and jurisdiction”, the immunity or privileges that may be necessary for UN operations, and the capability or willingness of countries to investigate and prosecute the accused.

He noted that the UN itself cannot make criminal prosecutions.

While Indian laws has provisions for dealing with crimes committed abroad by its citizens, not all countries have them, he said.

Those countries should be encouraged and helped to implement such measures, he added. (IANS)

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Indo-Pak Peace Talks Futile Unless Islamabad Sheds Links with Terrorism, says Study

A Study by a U.S. think tank calls India and Pakistan talks futile, until Pakistan changes its approach.

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India and Pakistan
India and Pakistan. Wikimedia.

A Top United States of America (U.S.) think tank, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace called the relations between India and Pakistan futile, unless Islamabad changes its approach and sheds its links with Jihadi terrorism.

A report “Are India and Pakistan Peace Talks Worth a Damn”, authored by Ashley J Tellis stated that such a move supported by foreign countries would be counterproductive and misguided.

The report suggests that International community’s call for the India and Pakistan talks don’t recognize that the tension between the two countries is not actually due to the sharp differences between them, but due to the long rooted ideological, territorial and power-political hatred. The report states that these antagonisms are fueled by Pakistani army’s desire to subvert India’s powerful global position.

Tellis writes that Pakistan’s hatred is driven by its aim to be considered and treated equal to India, despite the vast differences in their achievements and capabilities.

Also ReadMilitant Groups in Pakistan Emerge as Political Parties : Can Violent Extremism and Politics Co-exist? 

New Delhi, however, has kept their stance clear and mentioned that India and Pakistan talks cannot be conducted, until, the latter stops supporting terrorism, and the people conducting destructive activities in India.

The report further suggests that Pakistan sees India as a genuine threat and continuously uses Jihadi terrorism as a source to weaken India. The report extends its support to India’s position and asks other international powers, including the U.S., to extend their support to New Delhi.

Earlier in September, Union External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) slammed Pakistan for its continuous terror activities. She attacked the country by saying that India has produced engineers, doctors, and scholars; Pakistan has produced terrorists.

Sushma Swaraj further said that when India is being recognised in the world for its IT and achievements in the space, Pakistan is producing Terrorist Organisations like Lashkar-e-Taiba. She said that Pakistan is the world’s greatest exporter of havoc, death and inhumanity.

-by Megha Acharya  of NewsGram. Megha can be reached at @ImMeghaacharya. 

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Delhi University Students Win the Enactus World Cup 2017

India wins the Enactus World Cup 2017

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India wins Enactus World Cup 2017. Twitter.

New Delhi, Sep 30: After an extremely tough competition between different students across the world in the Enactus World Cup 2017, Team India, represented by Shaheed Sukhdev College of Business Studies (SSCBS), Delhi University emerged as the winner. The winning projects were project UDAAN and Mission RAAHAT.

Supporting the Government of India’s Digital India and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan mission, RAAHAT strives to effectively eliminate open defecation and provide safe sanitation in the urban slums; whereas, UDAAN aims at narrowing the digital divide between rural and urban India by setting up computer centres.

The Delhi University college team was led by the college’s faculty advisor, Anuja Mathur and student president of SSCBS Student President Aditya Sharma. The winning projects included 34 more members. The Enactus India and Enactus SSCBS were presented the Ford Better World Award of USD 50,000.

Also Read: Three Indian Women on Fortune’s Most Powerful Business Women

President and Global CEO, Enactus, Rachael A. Jarosh congratulated the Indian for winning the world cup and called the projects- RAAHAT and UDAAN, inspirational success stories of Enactus students, who are sowing businesses. She said that the projects address the real world challenges efficiently and innovatively. Enactus India President Farhan Pettiwala said that the two projects created by Delhi University students contribute to the country’s betterment, as they support the Government’s civil and social agenda.

Enactus is an international nonprofit organisation, with 72,000 students from 1,700 universities in 36 countries, which held its annual global event in London from September 26 to 28. A selected group of 3,500 students, business, government leaders and academicians across the globe were present at the event. Participants for the final competition round are qualified from over 72,000 university students. Each team has about 17 minutes to present their projects of entrepreneurial action.

Enactus works to nurture the entrepreneurial skills of students, and to address fundamental, social and economic challenges by developing innovative and experiential learning opportunities for students.

-by Megha Acharya of NewsGram. Megha can be reached at @ImMeghaacharya.