Sunday, March 29, 2015

Lecture (17): A Vernacular South Asia

Last semester I had the pleasure of teaching my first course on Islam in South Asia, which roughly covered the period from the rise of the Delhi Sultanate till the 18th century. We began somewhat theoretically--focusing what it meant to study Islam in a geographically and temporally specific way, the anxieties of calling Muslim devotionalism in the subcontinent South Asian Islam, and the politics of devising chronologic and spatial units--before diving into Sufism, the rise of sultanates, the contestation over authority, and finally concluding with examining the glacial processes of translation, vernacularization, and conversion. The course was a success but what became a recurrent theme over the course of the semester was both the students' great appreciation for, and my dependance on, the writings of Richard M. Eaton. I am sure I am not the first pedagogue who breathed a sigh of relief upon finding an essay by Eaton that miraculously combined not only theoretical sophistication with graceful prose, but also topical breadth. I must have assigned Eaton for at least five weeks of the twelve week course.

Works written in Persian language were frequently translated into vernacular languages like Urdu during the colonial period.

Ṣaulat-i Masʿūdī : tarjumah-yi Mirʼāt-i Masʿūdī

ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Chishtī (c. 1596-1682), translated by Muḥammad ʿAbdulghanī Shāh Qādirī

Published in Lucknow by Mat̤baʿ-i ʿAlavī in 1286/1869-70

It was the first time I read his brief but prescient article on Dakkani folk songs, composed purportedly by Sufis to be sung while grinding on the millstone. I say prescient because one of the most active fields in the study of early modern South Asia is undoubtably the rise of vernacular literary traditions, the subject of a recent conference at Stanford entitled Polyvocal Hindustan. It was fitting then, that the keynote was given by Eaton himself, generously made available here by the kind folks at the Center for South Asia at Stanford University. Without further ado, I present you Richard Eaton's discussion on "Vernacularism from Above and from Below." No doubt, I expect many papers in the near future to paraphrase Eaton's pithy directive that "respecting vernacularization then, we should be wary of any quest for a silver bullet, that is, a single pan-Indian pattern."

Richard M. Eaton. "Sufi Folk Literature and the Expansion of Indian Islam." History of Religions 14, no. 2 (1974): 117-127.

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