Skip to main content

Of Sanskrit Kavyas and Punjabi Qisse


Two young scholars examine literary genres ...














FARINA MIR
& SHONALEEKA KAUL


The Social Space of Language
Vernacular Culture in British Colonial Punjab
by Farina Mir

&
Imagining the Urban
Sanskrit and the City in Early India

by Shonaleeka Kaul

When you think of India’s ancient cities, you think of khaki archaeologists digging crumbling structures out of ancient mud. Urban spheres, from this perspective, often look as dull as the dust from which they emerge.

But the early Indian city wasn’t like that at all, says Shonaleeka Kaul; it was certainly not only brick-and-mortar, nor merely an agglomeration of built-up space. In Sanskrit literature these cities were alive, vibrant, teeming with variety. Kaul examines Sanskrit kāvyas over about a thousand years to see what India’s early historic cities were like as living, lived-in, entities. She looks at ideologies, attitudes, institutions, and practices in ancient urban areas, showing the ways in which they often cohered into a worldview, a mentalité.

This is also a book about Sanskrit literature. Scholars have long argued for a nuanced use of literary texts to achieve a more rounded understanding of ancient history, and Kaul achieves exactly that. She takes forward the idea of a Sanskrit ‘literary culture’, arguing that genres influence methods of historical representation. Her book gives us a fresh view of the early city, showing distinctive urban ways of thought and behaviour which relate in complex ways to tradition, morality, and authority. In advocating Sanskrit kāvyas as an important historical source, it addresses not just ancient India specialists but also scholars of literary history: the kāvyas rework history, says Kaul, providing us with ‘transhistoricity’ rather than ‘ahistoricity’.

By asking new questions about early Indian cities and ancient Indian texts, this book asks to be read by every scholar of history, urbanism, cityscapes, literary history, Sanskrit writings, and South Asian antiquity.

SHONALEEKA KAUL teaches in the Department of History, University of Delhi. She was at Jawaharlal Nehru University for her PhD. As part of visiting faculty, she has also taught at Yale.

Hardback / 290pp / Rs 595 / ISBN 81-7824-278-8 / South Asia rights / August 2010

Copublished by Seagull New York



FARINA MIR
The Social Space of Language
Vernacular Culture in British Colonial Punjab
(South Asia Across the Disciplines Series)

This rich cultural history set in Punjab examines a little-studied body of popular literature to illustrate both the durability of a vernacular literary tradition and the limits of colonial dominance in British India.

Farina Mir asks how qisse, a vibrant genre of epics and romances, flourished in colonial Punjab despite British efforts to marginalize the Punjabi language. She explores topics including Punjabi linguistic practices, print and performance, and the symbolic content of qisse.

She finds that although the British denied Punjabi language and literature almost all forms of state patronage, the resilience of this popular genre came from its old but dynamic corpus of stories, their representations of place, and the moral sensibility that suffused them.

This multidisciplinary study reframes inquiry into cultural formations in late-colonial north India away from a focus on religious communal identities and nationalist politics and towards a widespread, ecumenical, and place-centred poetics of belonging in the region.

FARINA MIR is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Michigan.

Hardback / 294PP / RS 695 / ISBN 81-7824-307-5 / South Asia rights / October 2010
Copublished by the University of California Press, Berkeley


“Mir's archival work covers and foregrounds the breadth of the story-telling or qissa tradition, great and little, high and low, Sufi, Sikh and Hindu, showing its wide dissemination. Mir’s findings are of immense significance, given the turbulent history of the region in post-independence India and the political turmoil today, particularly on the Pakistani side of the border. Punjabi seldom finds this kind of focus in cultural history.”—Vasudha Dalmia, University of California, Berkeley

“Farina Mir has given us an outstanding work of literary and cultural history. She skilfully unravels the many versions of the famous folk-tale about Heer and Ranjha to illuminate gender, class and community relations in Punjab. This book will compel historians to rethink the links between language, religion and power and to reconsider the contingencies of union and partition in late colonial India.”—Sugata Bose, Harvard

“Mir makes creative use of archival and folkloric material to tell the history of a composite, modern, and gendered Punjabi self in colonial India that was sadly lost in the welter of partition politics and violence. The story of the legendary lovers Heer and Ranjha haunts her narrative like an artistic lament about a lost Punjabi self without in any way compromising the academic quality of her research and the rigour of her exposition. A very significant contribution to South Asian history.”—Dipesh Chakrabarty, The University of Chicago

“This is a pioneering study. Mir draws upon largely unfamiliar material and suggests new approaches to religio-cultural questions of great importance to South Asianists across a wide disciplinary spectrum.”—Christopher Shackle, SOAS, University of London

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

THE GREAT AGRARIAN CONQUEST by NEELADRI BHATTACHARYA

BUY THE PAPERBACK       FROM THE REVIEWS   Review in SOCIAL HISTORY, USA by Benjamin Siegel The Great Agrarian Conquest represents a massive intervention into the contemporary historiography of South Asia, elaborating upon some conventional wisdom but upending a great deal more of it. Readers might well place this book in conversation with works like Ranajit Guha ’ s A Rule of Property for Bengal (1963) and Bernard Cohn ’ s Colonialism and Its Forms of Knowledge (1997), to which The Great Agrarian Conquest owes some preliminary inspiration. Yet what Bhattacharya o ff ers is a wholly original account of the transformation to agrarian colonialism . . .   Few volumes in South Asian history have been more awaited than this monograph, Neeladri Bhattacharya ’ s fi rst. One of the most celebrated mentors and researchers at New Delhi ’ s Jawaharlal Nehru University, Bhattacharya retired in 2017 after a decades-long career. His formal scholarly output, limited to sev

PARTHA CHATTERJEE: THE TRUTHS AND LIES OF NATIONALISM as narrated by Charvak

"While the Covid-19 pandemic was still raging in the autumn of 2020, I found, one evening, placed outside the door of my home in Kolkata, a sealed packet. Apparently, it had been left there sometime during the day. It did not come by post or any of the courier services that usually deliver mail because, if it had, someone would have rung the bell and I was home all day. In fact, the parcel did not bear any seal or inscription except my name and address written in English script in a confident cursive style rarely seen these days. My curiosity was aroused because the package did not look like a piece of junk mail. The thought that it might contain something more sinister did strike my mind – after all, the times were not exactly normal. But something in the look of the packet persuaded me that it should be examined. After dutifully spraying the packet with a disinfectant, I unwrapped it and found, within cardboard covers and neatly tied in red string, what looked like a manuscript

THE BOOK OF INDIAN ESSAYS

Indians have been writing prose for 200 years, and yet when we think of literary prose we think of the novel. The “essay”   brings only the school essay to mind. Those of us who read and write English in India might find it hard to name an essay even by someone like R.K. Narayan as easily as we would one of his novels, say Swami and Friends or The Guide . Our inability to recall essays is largely due to the strange paradox that while the form itself remains invisible, it is everywhere present. The paradox becomes even more strange when we realise that some of our finest writers of English prose  did not write novels at all, they wrote essays. The anthology is an attempt at making what has always been present also permanently visible. Arvind Krishna Mehrotra   • A collection of the finest essays written in English by Indians over the past two hundred years. • The Book of Indian Essays is a wide-ranging historical anthology of the Indian essay in English – the f