Program and Abstracts for Workshop on Islamicate Culture in South Asia
Topic for 2001:  South Asian Islamic Aesthetics -- Music and Literary Production 
North Carolina Center for South Asia Studies
Venue: Toy Lounge, Dey Hall (4th floor)
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, April 13-15, 2001

Apr. 13, 2:00-5:00 pm
1.  Poetry, Power and Place

Paul Losensky (Indiana University)
"Building a Career:
Architecture in the Life and Poetry of Kalim Kashani"

        Of the hundreds of poets who migrated from Iran to India in search of patronage in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, few enjoyed the success and acclaim of Kalim Kashani (ca. 990-1061/ca. 1582-1651). His rise to the position of Shahjahan’s poet laureate took him to many of the centers of patronage in Mughal India and brought him into contact with a large circle of his fellow poets. Because of the length of his career and his well-deserved stature, Kalim provides a good focal point for studying the movement of literary talent to India and the position of Persian poetry in Mughal cultural life. One striking feature of Kalim’s progress as a professional poet is the important role played by another art form—architecture. His entree into the courts of both Shahnavaz Khan Shirazi and Shahjahan was closely tied to his patrons’ building projects, and an examination of Kalim’s divan shows how fully he participated in the vogue for architectural description that swept the Persian literary world during the Safavid-Mughal period. In this paper, I will first survey the place of architecture in Kalim’s life and works and discuss the unity of the arts in the Mughal courts. Through a close reading of one of Kalim’s commemorative poems, I will then analyze some of the strategies and techniques of architectural ekphrasis as means of inscribing imperial power on both the building and landscape.

Nargis Virani (Washington University at St. Louis)
"Pluralist or Garbled Poetics? : The Mulamma’at of Jalal-al-Din Rumi"

        Largely due to their own monoglottic dispositions, the small body of macaronic poetry within Islamic literatures has been designated as insignificant and therefore unworthy of study by the puritans representing each of the linguistic traditions.  This paper explores the various socio-political, cultural, literary, aesthetic, and religious reasons for ‘speaking in more than one tongue’ through the mulamma’at of one of the greatest mystical poets of all times, Jalal- al-Din Rumi (1207-1273).  Rumi composed close to one hundred ghazals, lyrical poems, by mixing Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Greek, the occasional Mongolian locution and even an amorous Armenian phrase.  Whilst an exploration of the variety of reasons that lead to such pluralist poetics is the overarching focus, the study reads Rumi’s mulamma’at as a dynamically imaginative and unique form of apophatic discourse.
        Furthermore, it suggests that the primary significance of Rumi’s mulamma’at is not simply its poetic ingenuity.  Rather, its contributions lies in opening up an entire mode of expression which might be termed “macaronic,” not in terms of mixed-language compositions, but also in terms of a plurality of approaches which defy authoritative religious, moral, linguistic, and literary categories.

Comment and Discussion: Shantanu Phukan
(University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill)

Apr. 14, 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
2.  Literary and Musical Genres in Local Context

F. Nalini Delvoye (École Pratique des Hautes Études
and Centre d'Études de l'Inde et de l'Asie du Sud, Paris)
"Dhrupad Songs in Braj Bhasha:
Catering to the Taste of Indo-Persian Rulers in Medieval India"

        The present-day discourse on the Dhrupad genre of Indian art-music traces its history back to ancient India, or to Vedic India even, in total contradiction with historical and musicological data that have been studied in India and abroad for the past few decades. If references to Dhrupad provided by medieval Sanskrit musicological treatises are rather scarce, from the sixteenth century onwards, Indo-Persian texts belonging to a variety of literary genres provide a wide range of accounts about it as an appraised literary and musical genre in performance, and about its poet-composers and singers. The huge number of lyrics in Braj Bhasha that are likely to have been created and sung in the Dhrupad genre, which are preserved in manuscript anthologies, confirms the importance of song-texts, originally composed in a particular musical mode by poet-composer-interpreters (vaggeyakara)  in a perfect aesthetic unity.
        Since most poet-composers were singers attached to royal courts, they had to cater to the taste of various patrons. The Indo-Persian patronage of Dhrupad has been documented by a number of authors who noticed the variety of its thematic range as well as its non-metric form and other features that were alien to classical norms of Persian poetry. Many Dhrupad songs, including the name of the Muslim ruler to whom they were addressed, are not of Islamic inspiration; rather, they are 'classical' in their content, following the Sanskrit kavya literary classification of 'heroines in love' (nayika) or 'heroes' (nayaka) close to the image of the ideal patron and connoisseur, or borrowing from Puranic imagery. That reveals that the Indo-Persian rulers who patronised Dhrupad singers had not only acquired a sufficient knowledge of the vernacular language in which songs were composed, but also were sensitive enough to their aesthetic appeal to encourage it for centuries.
        I will illustrate my presentation with a selection of Dhrupad songs - mostly collected from late seventeenth century manuscripts - addressed to some of the Sultans of Gujarat and to the Mughal emperors Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb. I will also refer to some lyrics composed by Ibrahim Adil Shah II of Bijapur (r. 1580-1627) , who was himself a poet-composer, a musician and a liberal patron fascinated by the Indian Navarasa or "Nine Sentiments" aesthetic theory.

Farina Mir (Columbia University)
"Representations of Piety and Community
in Late-nineteenth-century Punjabi Qisse"

        The Punjabi qissa (story; pl.: qisse) tradition derives from Arabic and Persian traditions of story-telling that came to South Asia with migrants from the Arabian peninsula and contemporary Iran and Afghanistan.  In both content and form, Punjabi qisse reflect this Islamic and/or Persian heritage.  In some cases, the relation between these story-telling traditions is as fundamental as the translation of an Arabic or Persian narrative such as Yusuf-Zuleikha or Shirin-Farhad to Punjabi.  In others, the only relation may be a Punjabi poet's subtle use of literary conventions grounded in Perso-Arabic qissa norms.  Whether or not Punjabi
qisse share content or form with their Arabic and Persian counterparts, however, to understand the Punjabi qissa tradition as a "Muslim" genre, as many literary scholars do, is to ignore the multiple ways in which the tradition is grounded in a religiously diverse local cultural context.  By drawing on representations of piety in late-nineteenth-century texts of the qissa Hir-Ranjha, this paper argues that Punjabi qisse are best understood as a literary tradition that reflect local beliefs and practices.  In particular, it will examine practices of saint veneration as the foundation of a shared "spiritual community" (one in which Punjabis participated irrespective of religious affiliation).  Representations of piety in Hir-Ranjha texts thus transcend associations to broadly defined religious communities and instead reflect shared notions of spiritual belief and community at the local level.

Christopher Lee (Iowa State University)
"Traditional, Progressive, Modern and Timely:
Four discourses of and about Urdu poetry in Varanasi, India."

        According to the typologies of many local poets in Varanasi, there are three major genres of Urdu poetry currently being performed by male Muslim poets: rivaayati (what I shall call 'traditional'), taraqqi pasand ('progressive'), and jadiid ('modern').  Often a fourth, derisively called vaqti ('timely') is added.  While none of these categories are wholly exclusive, they are the terms used by poets to describe one another's style of poetry, and by extension, one another.  As such, these categories are extremely important in describing often opposed and competing local constructions of Muslim identity and history, as well as the proper use, motivations, and intentions of poetry and poetic performance.
        Focusing on these categories, this paper will explore the meanings and construction of 'traditional,' 'progressive,' 'modern' and 'timely' through the poetry and life histories of four Banarsi Muslim poets, each of whom situates himself, and/or is situated by others, in one of these categories. Following the focus of other papers in the workshop, this paper will offer some insights regarding competing local articulations of Muslim identity and history, as well as ask larger questions regarding the relationship of individual poet to larger poetic genre and tradition, and local vs. pan-South Asian constructions and understandings of Urdu poetic genres and their performance.

Comment and Discussion: Frances Pritchett (Columbia University)

Apr. 14, 2:15-5:15 p.m.
3. Modern literary responses to saint cults

Farooq Hamid (University of Pennsylvania)
"Hagiography Continuing and Continued:
The Case of a Medieval Chishti Sufi, Farid ad-Din Ganj-i Shakar (d. 664/1265)"

        Modern definitions of hagiography, such as those of Hippolyte Delehaye, insist on the "lisable"-to borrow a term from Derrida-character of the life of a saint ignoring other equally significant social inputs into the construction of the saint's hagiography. The purpose of the present exercise is to propose a modified definition of "hagiography" different from the existing ones that solely and particularly deal with Christian martyr saints while keeping in mind the historical context of the lives of Sufi saints and their historical and modern inputs and uses. This modified definition of "hagiography" for Sufis takes into account not only the written sources of what Delehaye terms as the "vita" but one that further includes the malfuzat (oral discourses of the Sufi shaykh meant for didactic purposes) and inputs from assorted aspects of material culture, such as; the musical tradition of sama' and zikr, the iconic tradition, dress, food, socialization practices of the Sufis, the effects of modernity and colonialism on the social relations between the Sufis and their environment and politics. Collectively all of these areas of study mentioned here form what may be designated as the "Social Text" (an amplification of the Bakhtinian notion of "verbal text"). The arena of the construction and propagation of "Muslim space and identity" in the South Asian context is far broader than merely literary texts.
         According to this construction of the term "hagiography" to be eventually applied to the personae of both historical and contemporary Sufis, the hagiographical texts are unfinished projects progressively acquiring and accruing material from the above mentioned sources as the construction of the "life/vita/tazkira" of a Sufi is a process that begins during the life of that Sufi and continues so long as the belief in the "vilayat" (sanctity) and baraka (spiritual power) of the historic Sufi-be it through malfuzat, both spurious and genuine, tazkiras or popular opinion-persists even though geographic and linguistic space may separate his followers and later Sufis from the historic Sufi personality.  With this goal in mind the present essay shall attempt to outline the various inputs into and aspects of the continued and continuing formation of the hagiography of Chishti Sufi, Farid al-Din Mas'ud Ganj-i Shakar (d. 664/1265) of India who is commonly known as Baba Farid. In the period between the establishment of Ganj-i Shakar's shrine by his spiritual descendants after his death in 13th century CE and the modern period, the tradition of performing sama' (ritual musical concert) has been a central feature of this shrine complex. It is this pivotal area in the construction of hagiographies, the sama' performing tradition, that I will concentrate on. With contemporary musical and poetic samples collected from the sama'  ceremony held at the annual urs at Ganj-i Shakar's shrine I hope to demonstrate the ongoing process of the formation and transformations in the hagiography of this Sufi saint.

Kelly Pemberton (University of California at Berkeley)
"Shattering the Mirror: Urdu Literature, Reformist Discourses,
and the Shaping of Muslim Consciousness in the Sufi Milieu"

        This paper investigates the production, dissemination, and use of reformist discourses in the popular Urdu literature that emerged in late nineteenth-century North India.  It focuses upon a selection of demotic texts sold in the markets attached to Sufi shrines, texts which sought to address what their authors characterized as a sort of "misguided Islam" that predominated among South Asia's Muslims.  I consider the production, use, and dissemination of the texts examined in light of three issues.  First, I assess the production of these works in light of their relationship to prominent Persian and Arabic literary forms - such as the adab works -- that preceded them.  Second, I show how the texts in my survey reflect ideological and practical shifts among reform-minded Sufis and their followers towards pan-Islamic aspects of the faith (such as the symbols of the Prophet and the Shari`ah), and away from some of the more controversial aspects of Sufi shrine culture.   Third, by comparing and contrasting reformist messages within a single genre, "etiquette literature", I argue that assessing the ways in which hegemonic discourse reproduces the very contradictions it tries to eliminate is key to understanding its continued viability in the shrine setting today.

Comment and Discussion: Regula Qureshi (University of Alberta)

Apr. 14, 8 p.m.
A Concert of Hindustani light classical music by Jyoti Swaroop Pande, featuring performance of marsiya and soz pieces.

Apr. 15, 9:00 a.m.-Noon
4. Muharram performance in practice

Amy Bard (Harvard University)
"'He Made Me Able to Light Up the Gathering':
Zahidah Baji and the Mediation of  Music and Text in Shi‘i Majlis-e ‘aza"

        This paper problematizes the relationship of the individual performer to the various “traditions” in which she is embedded, while highlighting the creativity and the economics of women’s performances of Shii Muslim Muharram poetry. My paper focuses on one performer, Baji Zahidah of Lahore, Pakistan, and her repetoire of Muharram genres, which have “classical,” “folk,” “household devotional,” and even “pop” elements. A member of a Panjabi-speaking family that includes television actors and singers, Zahidah inevitably contends with the stigma that attaches to women performers, in spite of her popularity among respectable Shi‘i Muslim women as a poetry-reciter in religious rituals. Even as she negotiates choices between pious religious performance and financial compensation, between artistic pride or professionalism and devotional humility, and between secular and religious performance contexts, Zahidah’s distinctive renderings of Panjabi and Urdu genres are a marvel of individual creativity, of linguistic flexibility, and of musicality in a context that permits no reference to “music,” “tune,” or “singing.” What, I ask, does it mean for an artist to occupy multiple worlds? What happens to a “local” ritual setting as it is affected by international trade in music, literature, “spirituality,” and even, in some sense, in “identity” itself? What accounts for the appeal of an artist who occupies multiple musical or social categories?
 
 

Workshop Wrap-up and Discussion:
Carl Ernst (UNC - Chapel Hill), David Gilmartin (NCSU), Tony Stewart (NCSU)