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

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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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  • sudheer naik

    Culture of Encounters emphases the critical role of the sociology of empire in building the Mughal polity.

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Shoot The Rapist At The Sight

 And which type is contributing more dangerously to the society can easily be measured with our simple plus and minus equation

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This glaring aberration in the world of media is visible as clearly as stars in the darkness of the night.
India is plagued with a disease called Rape. Wikimedia Commons

Salil Gewali

  • India is plagued with a disease called Rape
  • There are no rigorous punishments for rape
  • Rapists openly commit crimes without anny fear

Why the clamour only for the rigorous punishment for rape and other sadistic crimes which have their roots in the mental-degeneration? Apart from the toughest punishment to the perpetrators, let’s go deeper to analyze what could be the possible  “causes”  that push men to commit rape. Why so much mental degeneration that certain individuals can stoop to the gutter being to their status, their position and social values? Well, how to address those issues is certainly a challenge. And that “challenge” certainly calls for a serious brain-storming and a serious self-assessment vise-a vise the environment in which we all are living.

Ranaghat Nun Rape Case
Rape culture in India garnered more spotlight following the Nirbhaya-gang rape, after which the issue has continue to remain a burning topic in the country. Pixabay

True, in the physical world we are highly convinced brag about that healthy environment is a must for our healthy living. Even kids know these days that we can’t breathe well if our surroundings are filled with high levels of  “toxicity”. We have well studied through our academic textbooks that people invite the environmental disaster if they keep on allowing excessive emission of CO2, CO, methane and other dangerous gases into the atmosphere. We have fully acknowledged that each tall and black chimney of the industries and the nozzles of the motor vehicles are here only to mar the beauty of this planet? What kind of damages the toxic gases are doing to our ecosystem are not at all tough job to analyze with modern appliances. Again, a lot amount of books have been published to create the awareness, to inform us about the scientifically tested measures to resolve the environmental concerns.

However, do we have the same amount of literature that pinpoint the “causes” which contribute to turning “males into perverts”? Who else is emitting the “toxic substances” that overpower the inborn sensitivity of the deviant? What are the properties of toxic filth that is polluting the mind-scape of the society? Now we have Donald Trump, the president of the USA, whom many prefer call him a pervert. At this rate, the number perverts are increasing and they have become dangerously ubiquitous. And, all those perverts have brought nightmares to the ill-fated females. We often stage candle march in protest against the rape, but remain blind to the glaring “causes”. Should we still fiddle about and be appreciative of the society that shameless covers itself with the vulgarity — the “toxicity” that might numb the sanity of males? Watch out, dear friends, those perverts have begun to see even “baby girls” as objects of lust!

Please note:  what our sages said:  “What you see that you think, what you think that you do and what you do that become !!!!”

Also Read: Eat Grapes To Ward Off Depression

Again, I would like to draw another similarity with what prompt big people to “rape”/violate the harmony of the Mother Earth. The case is very regularly brought out by the conscious citizens across the country. A senior journalist Patricia Mukhim of Meghalaya has pointedly driven home recently how the “greed for money” has corrupted many leaders who are trying hard to justify the senseless exploitation of the “body” of Mother Earth. Many big shots of big companies struggle to convince the politicians to tweak the laws to grant the permission to perpetually “rape” the country.

In my mind, both are infected with common syndromes! While the one type is interested in the body of the females, the other type has a fetish for the rocky body of the “Mother Earth”. And which type is contributing more dangerously to the society can easily be measured with our simple plus and minus equation.

The rape victims are not getting the justice they deserve.
The rape victims are not getting the justice they deserve.

Let’s assess the issues from another angle, given the advancement of medical science. Till some years back malaria, dengue, cholera, HIV, smallpox were life-taking diseases. But the medical science has pretty successfully eradicated or contained them all. The scientists have correctly identified the causes of those dangerous diseases and recommended the remedial measures. No doubt, that is a very productive achievement. However, why have the modern studies practically failed to “identify the causes”  of the pandemic rise of the horrendous instances of rapes and criminality associated with them? Is it not a strong slap in the face of the modern civilization considering we have not yet spelt out the causes and the characteristic symptoms the  “toxic emitters” who turn decent males into sadists? How long will we endure the depravity which has already strangulated the decency of the society? Should we still wait to work out the tough laws? Should we still hitch to explore for the “causes” and remedial measures? I guess the time is ripe that each morally conscious individual be allowed a shotgun to shoot the “perversion and depravity” of any kind at sight!

Salil Gewali is a well-known writer and author of ‘Great minds on India’. Twitter: @SGewali.