University of Virginia, College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Shankar Nair, "Hindu-Muslim Cosmopolitan Cultures in Early Modern South Asia"

Project Summary: My current research project explores the fashioning of a cosmopolitan Persian Indian intellectual culture in early modern South Asia at the hands of the Mughal Empire (r. 1526-1857). Specifically, this project focuses upon the particular phenomenon of "translation," both of texts and of broader religio-cultural worlds. The Mughal court devoted considerable resources toward patronizing the translation of numerous Hindu Sanskrit texts into the Persian language, including the text that is the focus of my inquiry, the Sanskrit Yoga-Vasistha. These translations were typically accomplished by teams of Hindu and Muslim court-scholars working in tandem; I analyze these translations, accordingly, as the collaborative effort of Hindu and Muslim scholars to draw upon the vast resources provided by their respective religio-cultural-intellectual traditions in order to forge a new, cosmopolitan inter-religious lexicon in the Persian language. How did these translators find a vocabulary with which to express Hindu, Sanskrit theological ideas – including Hindu notions of God, conceptions of salvation and the afterlife, etc. – in a Persian Islamic idiom? How did these two communities of scholars – one Muslim and the other Hindu – find a shared, common language with which to communicate and to render one another’s religious beliefs mutually comprehensible, such that they could collaboratively craft a new literary and scholarly lexicon – “Hinduism expressed in Islamic terms” – that any educated Persian-reader (Muslim, Hindu, or otherwise) would be able to read and comprehend? These translations thus document, in effect, a kind of early modern Hindu-Muslim “dialogue”: I aim to reconstruct the intellectual and cultural processes by which this dialogue was crafted.

Map of Afghanistan during the Safavid and Moghul Empires