The Cultures of History in Early Modern India, by Kumkum

That's French for "the ancient system," as in the ancient system of feudal privileges and the exercise of autocratic power over the peasants. The ancien regime never goes away, like vampires and dinosaur bones they are always hidden in the earth, exercising a mysterious influence. It is not paranoia to believe that the elites scheme against the common man. Inform yourself about their schemes here.

The Cultures of History in Early Modern India, by Kumkum

Postby admin » Mon Mar 13, 2023 2:15 am

The Cultures of History in Early Modern India: Persianization and Mughal Culture in Bengal
by Kumkum Chatterjee
(c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021.





• Acknowledgements
• Note on Transliteration and Usage
• Introduction
• 1. Mapping Early Modern Bengal: Polity, Culture, and the Literary Universe
• 2. The Genealogical Tradition
• 3. Performance Narratives and the Mughal Factor
• 4. Prose Narratives of Kings: Between 'Old' and 'New'
• 5. Saving the Mughal Legacy: The Tarikhs of the Nawabi World
• 6. The English East India Company: Reflections on Mughal Traditions of Governance
• 7. Mughal Culture and Persianization in Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Bengal
• Conclusion and Afterthoughts
• Bibliography
• Index


For Kalyan
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Re: The Cultures of History in Early Modern India, by Kumkum

Postby admin » Mon Mar 13, 2023 2:16 am


This book represents many years of thinking and research about a topic which I continue to find fascinating. The genesis of it began many years ago when I read an article by Partha Chatterjee entitled ‘Itihaser Uttaradhikar’ which appeared in Baromas, April 1991.1 My views on the nature and function of history, particularly in early modern India are different in some respects from those of Partha da. But, then, it is easier to be critical when someone else has laid out a pioneering research trail.

I have incurred many intellectual, professional, and personal debts in the course of researching and writing this book. Above all, I thank my teachers, Professor Gautam Bhadra and Professor Rajat Kanta Ray for their affection and interest in my work and the examples they have set for me through their own erudition and scholarship. I hope I have tried at least to come as close as possible to the high standards they have set. Many other friends and mentors have supported me through the years. Among them, I would like in particular to mention Chris Bayly, Sugata Bose, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Michael Fisher, Stewart Gordon, David Ludden, Rochona Majumdar, and Anand Yang. I am fortunate that much of the time spent in working on this book coincided with a new wave of energy and interest in pre-modern South Asian history—particularly for the early modern period. I cannot adequately emphasize the intellectual debts I owe a large community of medievalists and early modernists of different persuasions, that is, historians, literary scholars, and art historians for providing stimulation, inspiration, provocation, and much food for thought. In conferences, workshops, and through personal interaction, they have been sounding boards for new ideas and critics of untenable ones. These fellow-travellers on the path of early modern South Asian history are too numerous to be named individually. But they know who they are. Many among them have given me valuable comments on drafts of chapters and articles, have invited me to participate in conference panels and workshops, and have patiently responded to research-related queries. In this regard, it would be remiss of me not to mention Cathy Asher, Allison Busch, Indrani Chatterjee, David Curley, Sumit Guha, Polly O'Hanlon, Francesca Orsini, Ramya Srinivasan, Raziuddin Aquil, Cynthia Talbot, and Indira Viswanathan. I have benefitted immensely from the work of Muzaffar Alam and Sanjay Subrahmanyam on various facets of early modern history and Mughal history in particular and am deeply appreciative of the interest they have shown in this book. I am very grateful to Sonia Nishat Amin for her assistance in helping me to access a manuscript of the Sanskrit Rajabali from the Dhaka University library. This manuscript helped my work reach a critical turning point during the early days of research. In Kolkata, Anupam Chattopadhaya and Srabasti Roy provided much-needed research assistance. Anupam, in particular, has become a dear friend of myself and my family. His resourcefulness, sincerity, and energy in tracking down hard-to-find materials, supplying me with xeroxes and microfilms, and cheerfully providing me with bibliographic information have been indispensable in this research project.

My home base at the Department of History, the Pennsylvania State University, provided me with a supportive and enabling intellectual atmosphere in which to carry out this work. I appreciate my colleagues' depth and breadth of intellectual interests and their readiness and enthusiasm in sharing them with me. The Committee on Early Modern Studies (CEMS) initiated at Penn State in 2002 created a stimulating interdisciplinary forum for the exchange of ideas about the early modern world. My personal involvement with it for a few years slowed down the completion of this book but it was more than made up for by the intellectual gains that came my way. Among my colleagues at Penn State, I owe a big thank you to Dan Beaver, Clem Hawes, Joan Landes, Dan Letwin, Sally McMurry, Minnie Sinha, and Nan Woodruff for their friendship and support and for their willingness to engage in matters of common historical and political interest. Nina Safran has patiently and graciously answered my queries about Islamic and Arabic terminology over the years. A fellowship from the Institute of Arts and Humanities (2003), Penn State University, and a RGSO grant from the College of Liberal Arts, Penn State University (2005), freed up time and attention (p.xi) to work on this book project. A senior fellowship from the American Institute of Indian Studies (2004) helped enormously in making possible several months of research in Kolkata and Bishnupur.

As a consequence of modern, global living, I have family and friends scattered over several continents. But their affection, empathy, and support expressed through all-too occasional visits and through e-mail, phone, and other medium from places as far afield as Berkeley, Chadds Ford, Fremont, Harrogate, Kolkata, and elsewhere are indispensable for me. My parents have shared long-distance in the emotional ups and downs of writing the book. I don't know how to thank them for their love and confidence in me and for creating a home environment in which a love for history and literature in particular were commonplace as were constant conversations about these. Kalyan has lived with this book almost as long as I have. He is the world's best listener and has usually been the first to hear about exciting breakthroughs in my research as well as about the occasional and inevitable disappointments. Kalyan's optimism and sense of balance give me the confidence to keep going. His sharp intellect, I hope, gives me the impetus to try to be a better historian. This book is dedicated to him with much love.



(1.) This article was reprinted in several other places and included in Partha Chatterjee, Itihaser Uttaradhikar, Kolkata, 2000. An English translation of this article appeared as ‘The Nation and Its Histories’, in Partha Chatterjee, The Nation and its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories, Princeton, 1993.
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Re: The Cultures of History in Early Modern India, by Kumkum

Postby admin » Mon Mar 13, 2023 2:16 am

Note on Transliteration and Usage

Diacritical marks have not been used on the assumption that readers familiar with Indian languages do not need them and others do not find them particularly useful.

I have used the conventional Sanskritized spellings for Bengali words rather than spellings based on their pronunciation on the assumption that most readers are much more familiar with the former.

For Persian words, I have consulted the Comprehensive Persian–English Dictionary by F. J. Steingass (London, 1957), and have used the standard transliterated forms found in contemporary scholarship.

In the bibliography and endnotes I have retained the transliteration and spellings used by the authors of works (in all languages) cited there.

The translation of Bengali passages into English, unless otherwise indicated, is mine.
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Re: The Cultures of History in Early Modern India, by Kumkum

Postby admin » Mon Mar 13, 2023 2:18 am


Who else but poets resembling prajapatis [in creative power]
and able to bring forth beautiful compositions,
can place the past times before the eyes of men?1

‘When the Imperial standards were for the first time borne aloft in the garden of perpetual spring’, wrote Abul Fazl in the Ain-i-Akbari, ‘a book called Rajatarangini written in the Sanskrit tongue containing an account of the princes of Kashmir during a period of some four thousand years was presented to His Majesty’.2 Abul Fazl was writing about the Mughal conquest of Kashmir in 1586 and about the emperor Akbar's entry there as its new ruler. The gift of the Rajatarangini to Akbar underscores the perceived importance of history as a necessary requisite for the effective exercise of political power. Kings needed to know about the past experiences of their subjects, about lines of prior rulers and acts of governance associated with the latter. These were valuable both as points of reference and as an archive of memory. As historical productions of premodern societies, not just in India, but from all over the world indicate, it was not just kings who were interested in the actions of their predecessors, subjects too considered their rulers and acts of royal policy to be pre-eminent topics of history.3 Narratives about kings and their actions do not, of course, exhaust the substantive topics covered by pre-modern history, but they comprise a common and conventional subject of historical discourse.

The core theme of this book involves an exploration of the cultures of history writing in early modern Bengal. The seventeenth, eighteenth, and the first decade or so of the nineteenth centuries provide the temporal framework for this study—a period which witnessed the (p.2) consolidation of the Mughal political and cultural order, its subsequent political decline and the transition to early colonial rule. A related theme which runs through the book is the connection between culture and the production of history and specifically, between a Persianized Mughal political culture and history writing. The linguistic-cultural region of Bengal serves as the reference point for the exploration of these themes. The debates and soul-searching among professional historians in contemporary times about the dilemmas of accepting or rejecting the notion of history as a modern and liberal practice based on universal and rational principles are well known. For the early modern period (and generally for all pre-modern periods), as practitioners and audiences of the art and craft of history understood quite clearly, the narrative modes through which history was presented were firmly grounded in the conventions and styles of the linguistic and literary registers in which they were articulated. The study, thus, of early modern Indian/Bengali historiography makes sense in the context of the polity, society, and culture in which they were produced.

Linked to the two themes mentioned above is the issue of the cultural environment in which history was produced and used. The Persianized political culture associated with the Mughal imperial state represented a cultural formation which transcended the South Asian subcontinent and was current in many parts of the Islamic world during the medieval and early modern periods. The focus of this study, on the nexus between history writing and culture, also brings us to an issue which is significant both historically as well as in today's context. This touches upon the question of the interaction and relationship among Islamic culture and diverse non-Islamic cultural traditions that the former encountered in various parts of the world. In the context of this book, this topic is discussed with particular reference to an Islamicate culture associated in the South Asian subcontinent with Mughal rule and a range of regional traditions rooted in Bengal.

Composing History

The commemoration of the past constitutes one of the basic and most ubiquitous of human endeavours from ancient times. As Michel de Certeau, among others, notes, all history is actually about the present.4 It is a dialogue of the present with the past. The past enabled its consumers to situate themselves vis-à-vis peoples, events, and things which had existed earlier and thereby, created antecedents for their (p.3) present identities, values, and preoccupations. History, therefore, in its most general sense, constitutes a form of remembrance and also a sense of rootedness because it provides pathways back to the origins whether of a lineage, a person, or a royal dynasty. Its very nature as the medium through which events and processes of past times, together with their outcomes, are remembered makes it eminently appropriate to be a repository of cautionary tales and morals. If the term culture is taken in its broadest sense to denote those practices and ideas which help to make sense of the world, then the connection between history and culture becomes obvious since history constitutes an important medium through which we can understand the present world better, particularly in the context of its past.

The rationale for a study of early modern/late pre-colonial historiography lies in the fact that an exploration of the nature, substantive content and function of history writing allows us to gain valuable insights into the cultural and intellectual parameters of such societies. Such an endeavour also opens up the cultural and literary idioms through which history was articulated. This is particularly significant in the case of South Asia where certain types of scholarship oriented to the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries have tended to characterize pre-colonial India as a sort of featureless terrain whose main function seems to have been to serve as a foil and contrast to the colonial period.5 There is no question of minimizing the significant transformations brought about by colonial rule to key areas of Indian society, culture, and economy. However, to view the period prior to colonialism as mainly a foil to what followed, is to ignore the richness, distinctiveness, and dynamism of the centuries prior to the onset of a colonial modernity. An emergent corpus of recent scholarship on early medieval, medieval, and early modern India has served to stimulate and re-energize the study of these eras by moving away from the convention of writing chronologically-structured dynastic histories or concentrating exclusively on the history of administrative institutions. This body of work also serves to underscore the importance of understanding the literary and cultural idioms of these societies.6 Yet, the predilection to use modern notions and concepts to characterize pre-modern eras may not yet have been laid completely to rest. Such characterizations, I suspect, lie at the heart of the many centuries-old view that pre-colonial India lacked the ability to write proper history which arrived on the subcontinent as a ‘cargo cult’7 associated with the modernizing effects of British rule. Much of pre-colonial—and, in the case of this book, (p.4) early modern—history writing is still defined in terms of this critique. Hence it is necessary to first engage in a discussion of such views before embarking on an effort to describe early modern historiography in India/ Bengal on its own terms.

The Critique of Pre-Modern Indian Historiography

British colonialist writers and commentators recognized that India possessed ancient traditions to write about the past. These, however, were loose, untidy, and irrational narratives which fell far short of qualifying for the status of proper history. The modern concept of history as a scientific and rational intellectual practice, which developed in academic institutions, is usually traced back to nineteenth century Europe and is regarded, above all, as a quest for ‘past reality’ based on rational, verifiable evidence which had to be judged by deploying a carefully cultivated objectivity.8

This understanding of history created a boundary between western professional history writing on the one hand and the multiple traditions of commemorating the past that it encountered around the world. From Latin America to Asia, Africa, and elsewhere, traditions about the past produced by these societies were deemed to be unworthy of being treated as history.9 India was placed among all those societies which had been incapable of generating their own cultures of proper history writing. Neither did European observers of the nineteenth century enjoy a monopoly in the exercise of remarking on this inadequacy of Indian society. Many centuries earlier, Al-Biruni had expressed similar opinions about the alleged inability of Indians to produce history.10

The establishment of British colonial rule over India made it necessary for the English East India Company's government to take an interest in the state of, or, in their view, the lack of appropriate historiographical cultures in India as part of a broader interest in the culture and intellectual traditions of its subjects. British writers such as James Mill, William Ward, Thomas Babington Macaulay, and others expressed disdain about the inability of Indians to write proper history11 and extended it to draw further deductions regarding the nature of Indians and Indian culture, that is, the lack of reason and scientific temperament among Indians generally, especially Hindus, the excessive influence of religion which inclined Indians to resort to religious myths, the despotic nature of the Indian state and the oppressive hierarchical nature of its society. In any case, the perceived lack of proper histories of India motivated British colonial officials, scholars, and commentators about India to launch a (p.5) programme of writing what they considered to be the first ‘scientific’, rational and, therefore, modern histories of the subcontinent.

These colonialist histories also became models or templates—mainly methodological—for the emergent class of Indian, colonial middle class literati. Disseminated, not exclusively, but primarily through the institutions of colonial education, the notion of history as a rational-positivist discipline exerted considerable influence on the middle class in India, particularly during the mid to later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. With the emergence of the first generation of professional Indian historians and scholars who were trained in modern, western-style universities which had developed in India during the nineteenth century, this methodology became the basic premise for the production of academic histories of India which could measure up to current standards that had been put in place for history writing. To this generation of professional Indian historians too, the older pre-modern materials which had circulated in India for centuries, that is, the Puranas, ancient and medieval chronicles, and genealogies of royal dynasties, and such others underscored the lack of a proper historical tradition in ancient and medieval India.12 By the yardstick of reason, objectivity, and factuality these fell into the category of ancient traditions, myths, and folklore. A similar trend is noticeable among middle class intelligentsia in almost all colonial and semi-colonial societies during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and also in regions such as Turkey or Japan.13

Discussions about history continued to revolve largely around its manifestation as one of the symptoms of colonial modernity, until a distinguished body of more recent scholarship alerted us to its potential as a powerful site for national and cultural self-expression during the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This corpus of writings demonstrated that under colonial conditions in India, the writing of history became a contested terrain between the colonial state and its associates on the one hand and its middle-class Indian subjects on the other. The works of Ranajit Guha, Partha Chatterjee, Sudipta Kaviraj, and Dipesh Chakrabarty transformed the topic of history writing in colonial India from an isolated, perhaps somewhat dry, topic of study to one whose vital possibilities for the articulation of a nationalist identity and imagination were revealed.14 Indeed, the construction of an Indian historical past—in keeping with the disciplinary parameters of history as an evidence-based, rational, and objective practice—by the nationalist Indian literati became at once the manifestation as well as the site of (p.6) India's nationhood. The discourse about the nature and character of Indian history, whether emanating from colonialist writers, professional Indian historians and scholars of the early twentieth century, or more recent post-modernist scholarship, converge on the issue of its ‘new-ness’ vis-à-vis the mass of history-like materials which had circulated in India as a poor surrogate for true history during the many centuries preceding the beginning of colonial rule. Thus, the two latter groups of scholars also accept, as colonialist observers did, that pre-nineteenth century India lacked a proper historical consciousness. It emerged in India as a result of conditions created by colonialism and it was methodologically derived from western, metropolitan concepts of formal disciplinary history as an evidencebased, rational, scientific knowledge-practice. Its potential for Indian nationalism lay in the use that was made of it by the nationalist bourgeoisie. The literature on nationalist Indian historiography also characterizes it as representative of a rupture with earlier indigenous traditions and modes of commemorating the past. In fact, the Indian cultural and intellectual environment in this respect is portrayed implicitly as a sort of blank slate on which colonialism introduced its own unmediated impact in terms of history writing.15 Consequently, the possibility of the interaction of earlier pre-modern modes of commemorating the past with the modern rational practice of history writing was effectively precluded for the most part.

Pre-Modern Indian Historiography

This study derives from a perceived need to interrogate the assumptions about the nature of pre-modern Indian historiography discussed above—in this case, with reference to Bengal during the seventeenth, eighteenth, and very early nineteenth centuries—and to show that the forms, style, and content of history writing during this period were closely linked to contingent cultural imperatives. Colonialist writers, and other scholars who have provided insights about the flowering of a nationalist historiography, have defined history in terms of its modern incarnation as an objective, rational, and academic discipline. In projecting this concept backwards, one is bound perhaps to come up with little that corresponds identically to the state of historiography during the early modern period. As Marshall Sahlins writes, ‘if the past is a foreign country, then it is another culture’.16 In the Indian case, this led to the characterization of premodern historiography as a practice that was characterized by its ‘lack’, that is, its inadequacy with respect to what it was expected to be. Rao-ShulmanSubrahmanyam (p.7) accurately point out that earlier modes of commemorating the past need to be understood on their own terms, in the context of their own milieus and literary-cultural and political environments.17 This is a more sensitive way of understanding these materials rather than divorcing them from their material and cultural environments and attempting then to measure them in terms of criteria that were anterior to them or external to them, or both. It is indeed true that the turn of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth saw the crystallization of a methodologically and institutionally different kind of history from the regimes of historiography that held sway earlier. It cannot be automatically assumed that pre-modern India did not possess a historical consciousness. By that token, almost all societies in premodern times lacked a clearly rational-positivist sense of history.

If history is seen, particularly for the pre-nineteenth century period—not in terms of the formal, academic definition of it that emerged in European universities in the later nineteenth century—but merely as a set of practices that were used to commemorate the past, then it leaves open the possibility of envisioning it in terms of multiple cultures that were rooted in the narrative styles and conventions unique to the cultural and political contexts in which they were composed. The scholarly literature and its critiques of pre-modern Indian historiography referred to above, posit a distinction exclusively between the premodern lack of history on the one hand and the hegemony of formal academic history on the other. However, what gets excluded from this critique is the recognition that even in contemporary times, there is a large sphere of history which cannot be restricted by the formal academic definition of it. This is a point to which I shall return at the very end of the book. An emergent body of scholarship on pre-modern Indian historiography has eroded some of the earlier generalizations about modes of history writing prior to the nineteenth century. I refer here to the works of Rao-Shulman-Subrahmanyam, Cynthia Talbot, Sumit Guha, Prachi Deshpande, Ramya Sreenivasan, and others.18

Indian epistemologies do not contain any term or concept which corresponds totally to the modern notion of history as a rational, objective knowledge-practice linked to certain specific methodological protocols. The terms that are closest to it from within the Indic tradition and possibly some of the most ancient are itihasa and Purana. Etymologically derived as iti ha asa or, ‘thus it was’, itihasa, from very ancient times, denoted a body of stories about past times and past events. The term ‘Purana’ generally meant ancient or old, but more (p.8) specifically, indicated literature which contained accounts of kings, sages, and such others of ancient times. Many other terms and concepts bearing nearsynonymous meanings in different vernacular Indian languages were also used to narrate accounts of past times. From around the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the Islamic tradition of tarikh writing—typically a tradition of chronologically recording the reigns of successive rulers—entered India and enjoyed a vigorous career in the Indian subcontinent for many centuries. A more detailed genealogy of the ranges of meanings associated with itihasa, Purana, tarikh and their evolution has been sketched out in Chapter 1 which discusses the most characteristic features of pre-modern historiography in general terms.

Itihasa in pre-modern India was not a specialized practice associated exclusively with formal institutions of higher learning. As Rao-Shulman-Subrahmanyam insightfully point out, it was not a shastra (a formal intellectual discipline), it was not associated with a fixed genre (prose/verse) or form (biography, chronicle, annal, and others), and it was not necessarily practised by specialists.19 It was manifest in a variety of languages, genres, and forms but not identifiable by a specialized methodology. As Romila Thapar observes, it was a practice which was ‘embedded’ in various kinds of narratives, thereby sometimes rendering it difficult for modern readers, accustomed to regarding history as a self-contained exclusive discipline, to identify it in materials which defied such characterization.20 The closeness of itihasa, in fact its virtual sameness with kavya or literature, further reinforces this difficulty for readers with modern sensibilities. The current tendency to distinguish between ‘literature’, understood most generally as fictional narrative, and ‘history’ as a rationalpositivist academic discipline seems inappropriate for pre-modern historiography. Even if one does not go so far as accepting Hayden White's virtual reduction of history to a form of rhetoric,21 many contemporary historians are probably not uncomfortable about recognizing a degree of literariness about the historians' craft. The late nineteenth and early twentieth century concept of history as scientific and uncompromisingly factual perhaps made it inevitable that ancient, medieval, and early modern modes of history writing, in their capacity as kavya (poetic literature) would be deemed unacceptable. Kavya was also expected to appeal to the emotions—the Sanskrit literary tradition is associated with a distinguished theory of poetic aesthetics (rasa). Here too lay a major distinction between the conceptualization of history as rational and objective science on the one hand and the close, virtual inseparability of pre-modern historiography with kavya.

Much of the commentary on the a-historical nature of Indian historiographical traditions prior to the nineteenth century seems to be based on the epic and Puranic literature, that is, narratives which, through repeated tellings over centuries, came to embody tradition (aitihya) itself. In these materials, time is indeed perceived to be cyclical and composed of giant chronological units which were different for the gods, human beings, and demons. The protagonists in these materials, similarly, were not restricted to the human species, but accommodated a variety of other beings. The plots of these narratives were characterized by layers of nested stories within them. The ‘original’ authors of these stories were perceived to be sages, themselves the subject of many stories and traditions. The powerful influence of epic-Puranic traditions on historiographic narratives in pre-modern India does not require reiteration here. However, this commentary overlooks the inherent diversity and heterogeneity of Indian historiographical cultures. These included biographical narratives about kings, sages, heads of lineages, continuous chronicles which recorded the reigns of successive generations of kings, and materials which recorded quotidian administrative practices, as well as the evolution of political and social institutions. Ancient and medieval historiography was not only couched in the form of the Puranas and the epics, but in a variety of forms. The terms used to describe these forms were also vast and varied and differed from one region to another; these forms themselves were neither timeless, nor unchanging, and could moreover perform different cultural and political functions over time.22 Even truly ancient materials, such as the Puranas, for example, which are regarded as embodying aitihya, have to be examined much more critically instead of accepting at face value their claims to be unchanging.

The Indo-Persian tarikh tradition which enjoyed a long and vigorous life within the Indian subcontinent and was a primary mode of commemorating the political/administrative acts of rulers together with their moral/ethical principles of governance has most often been treated as a category of narrative that is separate from the various others mentioned above. What lies behind this tendency is the proclivity to treat epics, Puranas, vamshavalis, charitras, and such others in Sanskrit and the various regional vernaculars as representative of Hindu or Indian historiographical traditions, while the tarikhs, associated historically with Muslim rulers in India, are treated separately as though they cannot be placed under the Indian label. Furthermore, scholars who have typically written about pre-modern historical cultures have explicitly and (p.10) implicitly adopted the position that there existed two separate cultural and intellectual traditions in India. As manifest in historiography, they were embodied by the Indian/Hindu forms on the one hand and by the Indo-Islamic tarikh form on the other and the possibilities of interaction between them have received little or no attention.

Pre-modern historiography is also contrasted vis-à-vis the perceived attributes of the modern, scientific-empirical practice of history. These points of contrast are many and range from the former's lack of proper methodology, lack of a clear demarcation between the factual and the fantastic, lack of connection to contingent material concerns, the notion of cyclical time, and the use of verse rather than the exclusive use of prose, and many others. The discussion in the subsequent chapters underscores the need to modify and adjust many of these notions. For now, it is enough to point out that pre-modern historiography was not oblivious of methodology and concepts of authority; evidence and the qualifications of the author were acknowledged to be important. However, these can be appreciated only through an understanding of pre-modern notions and conventions which were not identical to those current in the modern academy. Regarding the absence of a clear demarcation between the factual and the fantastic, Rao-Sulman-Subrahmanyam suggest that contemporary audiences were able to determine such matters by what they term the ‘texture’ of the narrative, that is, textual markers comprising syntax, lexical choices, metrical devices, and the like.23 The concept of texture has its critics.24 But, it is also true that a contemporary audience would be much more sensitive and attuned to distinguishing between factuality and the fantastic in narrative texts than us. More importantly, the uses and functions of pre-modern historiographical narratives varied according to genre and the immediate context. A matter of fact recording of dynastic succession would certainly not be read in the same manner as the telling of the exploits of a deity. The notion of cyclical time is upheld by critics of pre-modern history as yet another instance of the irrational and a factor that may have impeded the development of proper history in India.25 In certain types and forms of pre-modern narratives, time was indeed represented as looping around in giant spans. But such characterization misses the point that linear, diachronic time was often paired with a cyclical chronology and that each performed different functions. Hayden White associates pre-modern historical writing with the annal and chronicle forms, both of which, in his characterization, aspired to narrativity, but typically failed to achieve it. The full-blown historical narrative, by contrast, succeeded in achieving (p.11) a narrative closure and was characterized by ‘a well-marked beginning, middle and end phases’.26 In White's view, the annal and the chronicle fell short of being admitted to the realm of proper history but functioned as steps leading to the efflorescence of genuine history. This book shows that chronicles and texts which achieved narrative closure coexisted contemporaneously and, therefore, it is not valid to regard them as representing successive stages of historical consciousness. It is more useful to acknowledge their simultaneous existence, but to be aware that they may well have performed different historiographic functions.

The points discussed above provide detailed points of contrast between history in its modern sense vis-à-vis its pre-modern incarnation. But the broadest, and possibly one of the best-known distinctions, drawn between history and something which is not history, but resembles it, revolves around the attempts to distinguish between history and memory. Starting with Maurice Halbwachs in the 1920s to the more recent work of Idith Zertal and others,27 the history/ memory debate posits the distinction between the two in terms of naturalness versus artificiality. Memory is regarded as the spontaneous, natural act of remembrance by individuals and collective entities such as communities. Halbwachs, in fact, emphasized the socially and communally collective context of all memory, even individual memory. History, by contrast is characterized as artificial, even manipulative and associated with the powerful and the successful. The artificial, contrived nature of history is seen to lie in the methodological protocols which characterize its modern, professional practice. Following Halbwachs, Pierre Nora, and Yosef Yarushalmi, among others, have lamented the hegemony of history at the expense of collective memory. Nora actually portrayed history almost as a destructive and negative force that ‘besieges memory deforming it…penetrating and petrifying it’.28 The pre-modern narratives studied in this book cannot be characterized as invariably detached from the politics of power and to this extent they do not conform to definitions of memory in those terms. But, by the other criteria used by Nora, Yarushalmi et al., they might well fall under the rubric of memory since pre-modern narratives did not follow the methodological protocols of modern, disciplinary history.

However, the conceptualization of history and memory as so very sharply contrasted seems exaggerated. As Jacques Le Goff points out, memory is not necessarily innocent of the problematics of power and is equally subject to manipulation.29 Rather than viewing history as a sinister antithesis to memory, I find Le Goff's suggestion of a complementarity (p.12) between the two to be much more persuasive. ‘Memory’, according to Le Goff, ‘is the raw material of history. Whether mental, oral, or written, it is the living source from which historians draw…moreover the discipline of history nourishes memory’.30 Finally, the common tendency to think of history in the modern form as focussed on the subject of the nation-state, I believe, needs to be modified as does the lament for the loss or marginalization of ‘memory’ or any practice of remembering the past which does not fit the model of modern, academic history. I offer a brief discussion of some of these issues in the last chapter of the book.

Political Culture and History: The Mughal Empire and Persianization

The historiographic narratives explored in this book were composed in Bengal under Mughal rule during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The Mughal empire is the subject of a large body of scholarly literature. Most studies concentrate on and provide valuable insights into the administrative and military institutions associated with the government of the empire.31 Investigating the perceived weakening and decline of the empire in the eighteenth century has also been a topic of abiding interest for scholars.32 By contrast, there has been surprisingly little research on the cultural dimensions of the Mughal imperial polity.33 This polity was indeed long-lived, admittedly in a much weakened condition from the eighteenth century onwards. However, the image of the Mughals as the paramount source of political authority and sovereignty within the Indian subcontinent lingered on long after it had lost most of its territories and had been reduced to dire financial straits. The continuing perception of the Mughals as legitimate political overlords through the eighteenth and, at least, part of the nineteenth centuries, indicates a need for scholarly explorations of the cultural phenomena and practices associated with the empire. In the absence of such studies, it is harder to understand the remarkably long-lived hegemony in the Gramscian sense, enjoyed conceptually at least by the Mughal polity. The ‘hegemony’ referred to here was admittedly symbolic and a matter of perception during the eighteenth century and later. But who would argue that symbols and perceptions are unimportant? Thus, a study of the cultural dimensions of the Mughal polity can provide invaluable insights into the ability of the empire to function not only as an efficient military/administrative entity, but also in some sense, as a cultural exemplar.

Muzaffar Alam and Sanjay Subrahmanyam have emphasized the need for the development of this trajectory in studies of Mughal India.34 Some scholarly strides in this direction have occurred since then; other scholarly steps had already been taken in this direction at the time of Alam and Subrahmanyam's reminder about the need for more work along these lines. J.F. Richards' study of the development among Mughal bureaucrats of a tradition of loyal, devoted service to the empire represents a landmark in the study of the political culture of this imperial polity.35 Richard Eaton's exploration of the simultaneous expansion of the agrarian frontier, and the initial spread of Islam in eastern Bengal, during the period of Mughal rule indicates a significant break from the established paradigm of studying Mughal revenue-collection mechanisms.36 Ruby Lal's recent monograph is a sophisticated study of the processes by which the Mughal haram emerged, both as a concept and as a spatial, institutional entity.37 Also representative of research which is focused more directly on the cultural dimensions of the Mughal state are the researches of Muzaffar Alam and Sanjay Subrahmanyam on the significance of a Persianized culture both within Mughal India and beyond it.38

A feature which was closely associated with Mughal governance was the Persian language and associated with it, a Persianized political culture. Muzaffar Alam's study of the Mughal pursuit of Persian emphasizes the function of this language as a tool of administration, but perhaps, even more importantly, its ability to contribute to the creation of a political culture, ‘arching over diverse Indian religious and cultural identities, Persian in the existing circumstances promised to be the appropriate vehicle to communicate and sustain such an ideal’.39 Persian also served as a trans-regional, cosmopolitan language and associated culture which was followed not just by political elites within India during and prior to Mughal times, but also by their counterparts in a wider Islamic and Islamicate world. Deriving from its status as the language of high culture in large parts of the Islamic world, Persian had for long been used for the composition of histories. These narratives, called tarikhs, provided connected accounts of reigns of successive kings and their government. The authors and audiences of tarikhs were most often people who were closely connected with courtly society. In pre-Mughal as well as in Mughal times, the tarikh came to represent a pre-eminent type of historiographic narrative which was linked to the culture prevailing among courtly and political elites.40

This book studies the transmission of a Persianized, Mughal political culture among the aristocracy and gentry of Bengal. In particular it (p.14) seeks to trace the shadows cast by the Indo-Persian tarikh tradition on a variety of historiographic narratives that were produced here during that period. The Persian language and a Persianized political culture are understood to be important factors which linked together in particular the higher ranks of Mughal imperial officials in different parts of the empire. This study focuses in particular on how provincial aristocracy and gentry—many of whom had direct and indirect links with Mughal provincial government—appropriated aspects of this Persianized culture. One of the findings of this study is that although historiographic narratives current in Bengal during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were embedded within well-established literary forms and conventions (primarily Sanskritic and regional/vernacular), during this period, they exhibited significant shifts and changes in terms of content and idiom. Many of these ‘newer’ features, I argue, were inflected with elements drawn from a Persianized culture. The experience of Mughal rule, the necessity of understanding the subcontinental configuration of political power, and the perceived attractiveness of assimilating aspects of a Persianized political culture —these factors collectively explain the newer features manifest in certain types of historiographic texts current in the region. Persian tarikhs composed in eighteenth century Bengal also showed sensitivity to the immediate political and cultural contexts in which they were produced. The English language narratives composed by employees of the English East India Company were equally attuned during this period to a Persianized historiographical and cultural tradition. The ability of early modern historiographic texts to adjust to contingent political contexts and to mirror prevailing issues and anxieties, sometimes in new and different idioms and political vocabularies, is a powerful reminder that history writing in pre-modern and early-modern India was not necessarily an exercise in repeating formulaic, unchanging notions of the past. Instead, they functioned as political and cultural statements derived from their immediate environments.

The appropriation of a Persianized political culture by the elites of Mughal Bengal is related to an issue of considerable weight and significance, that is the reception of empire by its subjects, particularly in terms of its political culture. The issue is actually part of an even larger question regarding the cultural interactions and tensions between the imperial polity on the one hand and a range of regional, local, vernacular cultures in different parts of the empire on the other. Catherine Asher's description of what was effectively a double-sided movement between the two is more than valid.41 Asher demonstrates how Bengal's vernacular (p.15) architectural style became an element in Mughal architecture following the conquest of the region in the later sixteenth century; Shantanu Phukan studies the reception of the Hindi/Awadhi romance, the Padmavat by Mughal readers;42 Lizzie Collingham sketches out the processes by which the humble khichri, a staple of the peasant's diet, was integrated into the royal cuisine of the Mughals, albeit after it was made richer and more sophisticated.43 Scholars of music demonstrate how regional musical traditions were admitted into an evolving tradition of Hindustani classical music.44 The concern of the present study with the relationship between a Persianized Mughal culture and its resonance in the province of Bengal, is located within this broad topic. Although fully aware of its connection to this broader topic, in this book, I concentrate on a smaller, delimited aspect of it, that is, the appropriation by a segment of Bengal's society of aspects of a Mughal, Persianized political culture and its manifestation in historiographic narratives composed in this region during a selected period of time.

Existing historiography on the Mughals has not had much to say so far about how the empire and its culture were received and perceived by its subjects.45 This is particularly true for Bengal where the received picture tends to portray it for the most part as an oppressive, ‘foreign’ regime which was seriously alienated from its subjects. Bengal itself is regarded as a distant, peripheral part of the Mughal polity. The prevalence of Persian among the Bengali gentry has long been acknowledged by older traditions of scholarship on this subject.46 But this corpus of scholarship does not go far enough in assessing the extent and depth not just of the Persian language, but a Persianized political cultural phenomenon in this region. Persian is treated either as a new philological influence, or as a utilitarian medium for career advancement.47 The status of Persian as a medium of sophistication, refinement, and cosmopolitanism among the Bengali gentry and aristocracy of this period tends to be overlooked. Also, the Mughal phase in Bengal's history has not generated much scholarly attention in the last several decades.48 It is worthwhile, in the light of a newer wave of scholarship about Mughal India to explore the provincial manifestations of an imperial political culture.

Interactions between Islamicate and Indic Cultures

Persianization in the Mughal and pre-Mughal contexts also represented an element in a broader Islamicate culture that had enjoyed currency (p.16) in India for several centuries. The exploration of patterns of interaction among Bengali narrative genres and a Persianized tradition therefore indicates an effort to study the dynamics between Islamicate culture on the one hand and an Indic, vernacular, regional culture on the other, together with the manifest limitations of such an encounter. Scholars of South Asian Islam in recent years have shown a remarkable sensitivity towards the question of the interactions between Islamic cultural traditions and the many Indic, vernacular traditions in different parts of the subcontinent.49 Regarding historiography though, the tendency has still been to study the Indo-Persian tarikh tradition separately from the many regional, Indic, vernacular literary and historiographical traditions. The narrative materials studied in this book support the position that a Persianized culture and perhaps, more specifically, the Indo-Persian tarikh literature, may well explain the emergence of certain newer features in the former. This does not imply that such a process involved the virtual transplantation of features associated with tarikhs into Bengal's genealogical traditions or other types of narratives during the early modern period. Instead, as the substantive chapters of the book demonstrate, this process was associated with a deliberate and selective assimilation of particular idioms and vocabularies primarily from a Persianized political culture.

The Book and its Plan

This work is based on Bengali, Sanskrit, Persian, and English materials. The main corpus of primary sources though are drawn from Bengali materials composed around the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Materials from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries—local histories, family chronicles, and such others provide invaluable information and insights to reconstruct the environment in which Bengali aristocracy and gentry embraced a Persianized culture and allowed some of its features to be reflected in particular kinds of narrative and historiographic texts that they patronized, composed, and read. The issue regarding the type of sources used is significant—it speaks to the importance of writing Mughal history, based not on just Persian materials, but of combining these with materials in regional, vernacular languages. Persian sources must remain predominant for reconstructing many important aspects of Mughal history—administrative history certainly, but also cultural history. But to view the empire and its culture through the prism of vernacular literature (p. 17) yields a picture which is different in many important respects. It allows us to track the imprints left by the empire and its political culture on regional traditions and cultures.

This study of early modern historiographical narratives produced and used in early modern Bengal does not pretend to be comprehensive. I have selected and studied materials that are indicative of certain genres and traditions that were used widely in this region for many centuries. This is true of the genealogies explored in Chapter 2 and the performance narratives, particularly its Mangalkavya genre studied in Chapter 3. Some other materials were in a sense unique to the exact time and context in which they were produced: the accounts studied in Chapters 4, 5, and 6 for instance, are illustrative of it. The texts discussed in Chapter 4 are Bengali narratives composed in circumstances that cannot be envisioned in the absence of a colonial state in Bengal during the later eighteenth century. However, they also need to be positioned vis-à-vis a longer tradition of ‘accounts of kings’ that transcend the immediate moment of their production. The narratives discussed in Chapter 5 are also ‘accounts of kings’. These belong to a long tradition of Persian and Indo-Persian accounts regarding rulers and their modes of governance. The timing, substance, and the context of their composition were also unique to the situation produced in Bengal in the late eighteenth century by the decline of the Mughal polity and the concomittant rise of an English East India Company's state. The English language narratives studied in Chapter 6 were composed by officials of the English East India Company, impelled by the dilemmas generated by the sudden transition of the Company to the status of ruler during the later eighteenth century. Chapters 2 through 6 explore the content and function of these different types of narratives as well as their material contexts. An effort has also been made to tease out and examine what, if any, newer textual features are evident in these narratives— whether in terms of substance, idiom, or political imagination. Chapter 1 sketches out the political, cultural, and literary environment of Mughal and very early colonial Bengal. Chapter 7 discusses the phenomenon of Persianization both as an aspect of Mughal political culture within India as well as a broader trans-Indian, Islamicate cultural phenomenon. The extent of Persianization in Mughal Bengal, as well as its limits, are also addressed here. The last chapter serves both as a conclusion and as a place for afterthoughts—it engages too with the notion that the coming of colonialism and modernity to India erased older modes of commemorating the past and left the field clear for the dominance of objective, rational academic history written by specialists.

Finally, a brief note about the use of the term ‘history’ in this book. This book is centred around the writing of history in early modern India. However, as the discussion above has hopefully made clear, history in its seventeenth and eighteenth century senses was different from what it came to denote from the later nineteenth century onwards—particularly in terms of the specialized, professional definition of it. I use the term ‘history’ in this book primarily to denote narratives about the past. The particular context of its usage indicates whether I refer to it as an early modern practice or as a modern, professional practice of a rational-positivist character. Trying to avoid using the term ‘history’ for the early modern period would have meant a recourse to using phrases such as ‘narratives of the past’ all the time—a practice that seemed somewhat clumsy. In the same vein, I use the term historiography to indicate works of history. Here too, the specific context determines whether such usage refers to histories of the early modern Indian/Bengali type, or the rational-empirical, professional histories of the later nineteenth and twentieth centuries.



(1.) Kalhana's Rajatarangini, M.A. Stein (ed. and tr.), Delhi, 1987, vol. 1, p. 2.

(2.) Ain-i-Akbari of Abul Fazl Allami, H.S. Jarrett (tr.), with further annotations by Sir J.N. Sarkar, Calcutta, 1949, vol. 2, p. 375.

(3.) See Chapter 4 for a discussion on this point.

(4.) Michel de Certeau, The Writing of History, New York, 1988.

(5.) Similar critiques have been voiced earlier by Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Penumbral Visions: Making Polities in Early Modern South Asia, New Delhi, 2001, pp. 255–6; Sheldon Pollock, ‘Forms of Knowledge in Early Modern South Asia: Introduction’, in Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, vol. 24, no. 2, 2004, pp. 19–21.

(6.) Representative works include, Velcheru Narayana Rao, David Shulman, Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Symbols of Substance: Court and State in Nayaka Period Tamil Nadu, New Delhi, 1992; Brajdulal Chattopadhyaya, The Making of Early Medieval India, New Delhi, 1994; Cynthia Talbot, Pre-Colonial India in Practice: Society, Region and Identity in Medieval Andhra, New Delhi, 2001; Ronald Inden, Jonathan Walters, Daud Ali, Querying the Medieval: Texts and the History of Practices in South Asia, New York, 2000; Daud Ali, Courtly Culture and Political Life in Early Medieval India, Cambridge, 2004; Sheldon Pollock (ed.), Literary Cultures in History: Reconstructions from South Asia, Berkeley, 2003; Sheldon Pollock, The Language of the Gods in the World of Men: Sanskrit, Culture and Power in Premodern India, Berkeley, 2006, and others.

(7.) Ranajit Guha, History at the Limit of World History, New York, 2002.

(8.) Bonnie G. Smith, The Gender of History: Men, Women and Historical Practice, Cambridge, Mass., 2000, p. 119; Georg G. Iggers and James M. Powell, Ranke and the Shaping of the Historical Discipline, Syracuse, N.Y., 1990; Donald R. Kelley, Fortunes of History: Historical Inquiry from Herder to Huizinga, New Haven, 2003; Julia Robin Solomon, Objectivity in the Making: Francis Bacon and the Politics of Inquiry, Baltimore, 1998.

(9.) See for example, James Mill, History of British India with Notes by H.H. Wilson and Introduction by J.K. Galbraith, New York, 1968, vol. 2, p. 107.

(10.) Qeyamuddin Ahmed (ed.), India by Al-Biruni, New Delhi, 1995, p. 193.

(11.) William Ward, A View of the History, Literature and Mythology of the Hindoos, part 1, New York/London, 1970 (rpt.), p. clxxiii; Thomas Babington Macaulay, Selected Writings, John Clive and Thomas Pinney (eds) and with an Introduction, Chicago, 1972, pp. 242–3.

(12.) See for example, Ramesh Chandra Majumdar and Kalyan Kumar Bandyopadhyaya, ‘Introduction’, Bharate Itihasa Rachana Pranali, Calcutta, 1979, no pp.

(13.) Bernard Lewis and P.M. Holt, Historians of the Middle East, London, 1962; David C. Gordon, Self-Determination and History in the Third World, Princeton, 1971; Margaret Mehl, History and the State in Nineteenth Century Japan, New York, 1998; Patricia Pelley, Postcolonial Vietnam: New Histories of the National Past, Durham, 2002.

(14.) Ranajit Guha, An Indian Historiography of India: A Nineteenth Century Agenda and its Implications, Calcutta, 1988; Ranajit Guha, History at the Limit of World History, New York, 2002; Sudipta Kaviraj, ‘The Imaginary Institution of India’, in Partha Chatterjee and Gyanendra Pandey (eds), Subaltern Studies VII: Writings on South Asian History and Society, New Delhi, 1992, pp. 1–39; Partha Chatterjee, The Nation and its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories, Princeton, 1993, pp. 76–94, 95–115; Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference, Princeton, 2000, pp. 27–46, 97– 113.

(15.) See for example R. Guha, History at the Limit of World History; P. Chatterjee, The Nation and its Fragments, pp. 76–115.

(16.) Marshall Sahlins, Apologies to Thucydides: Understanding History as Culture and Vice Versa, Chicago, 2004, p. 2.

(17.) Velcheru Narayana Rao, David Shulman, Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Textures of Time: Writing History in South India 1600–1800, New Delhi, 2001, pp. 1–23.

(18.) Cynthia Talbot, ‘The Story of Prataprudra: Hindu Historiography’, in David Gilmartin and Bruce B. Lawrence (eds), Beyond Turk and Hindu: Rethinking Religious Identities in Islamicate South Asia, Gainesville, 2000, pp. 282–99; RaoShulman-Subrahmanyam, Textures of Time; Sumit Guha, ‘Speaking Historically: The Changing Voices of Historical Narration in Western India, 1400–1900’, American Historical Review, vol. 109, no. 4, October 2004, pp. 1084–1103; Prachi Deshpande, Creative Pasts: Historical Memory and Identity in Western India, 1700–1960, New York, 2007; Ramya Sreenivasan, The Many Lives of a Rajput Queen: Heroic Pasts in India C. 1500–1900, Seattle, 2007.

(19.) Rao-Shulman-Subrahmanyam, Textures of Time, pp. 1–23.

(20.) Romila Thapar, ‘Society and Historical Consciousness: the Itihasa-Purana Tradition’, in Romila Thapar and Sabyasachi Bhattacharya (eds), Situating History: Essays in Honour of Sarvepalli Gopal, New Delhi, 1986, pp. 353–83.

(21.) Hayden White, Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth Century Western Europe, Baltimore, 1993.

(22.) S. Guha, ‘Speaking Historically’.

(23.) Rao-Shulman-Subrahmanyam, Textures of Time, pp. 5, 6, 19, 253–55, 260.

(24.) S. Guha, ‘Speaking Historically’.

(25.) Diane Owen Hughes, ‘Introduction’, in Diane Owen Hughes and Thomas R. Trautmann (eds), Time, Histories and Ethnologies, Ann Arbor, 1995, p. 1; Johannes Fabian, Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes its Object, Cambridge, Mass., 1985.

(26.) Hayden White, ‘The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Reality’, in Hayden White, The Content of the Form, pp. 1–25.

(27.) Maurice Halbwachs, The Collective Memory, New York: Harper and Row, 1980; Idith Zertal, ‘From the Peoples' Hall to the Wailing Wall: A Study of Memory, Fear and War’, Representations, vol. 69, Winter 2000, pp. 96–126. The literature on history and memory is large and it is not possible to provide a comprehensive reference of all works. I cite below works to which I have directly referred in the text, or those I found particularly relevant.

(28.) Pierre Nora, ‘Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Memoire’, Representations, vol. 26, Spring 1989, pp. 7–25; Yosef Hayim Yarushalmi, Zakhor: Jewish Memory and Jewish History, Seattle, 1982, and others.

(29.) Jacques Le Goff, History and Memory, Steven Randall and Elizabeth Claman (tr.), New York, 1992; see also, Yasmin Saikia, Fragmented Memories: Struggling to be Tai-Ahom in India, Durham, 2004, pp. 14–15; Prachi Deshpande, Creative Pasts, pp. 3–4.

(30.) Le Goff, History and Memory, p. xi.

(31.) Some of the classics of this literature include, Sir J.N. Sarkar, Mughal Administration, Calcutta, 1920; Irfan Habib, The Agrarian System of Mughal India (1556–1707), Bombay, 1963; Athar Ali, The Mughal Nobility under Aurangzeb, Bombay, 1966; N.A. Siddiqui, Land Revenue Administration under the Mughals:1700–1750, Bombay, 1970; S. Nurul Hasan, Thoughts on Agrarian Relations in Mughal India, New Delhi, 1973; Satish Chandra, Parties and Politics at the Mughal Court 1707–1740, New Delhi, 2002 (rpt).

(32.) Sir J.N. Sarkar, Fall of the Mughal Empire, 4 vols, Bombay, 1964–72 (rpt); M. Athar Ali, ‘The Passing of Empire: the Mughal Case’, Modern Asian Studies, vol. 9, no. 3, 1975, pp. 385–96; Karen Leonard, ‘The Great Firm Theory of the Decline of the Mughal Empire’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, vol. 21, no. 2, April 1979, pp. 161–7; C.A. Bayly, Rulers, Townsmen and Bazars: North Indian Society in the Age of British Expansion, 1770–1870, Cambridge, 1982; Muzaffar Alam, The Crisis of Empire in Mughal North India: Awadh and the Punjab 1707–1748, New Delhi, 1986.

(33.) Muzaffar Alam and Sanjay Subrahmanyam, The Mughal State 1526–1750, New Delhi, 1998, pp. 1–71.

(34.) Ibid.

(35.) J.F. Richards, ‘The Formulation of Imperial Authority under Akbar and Jahangir’, in Alam and Subrahmanyam (eds), The Mughal State: 1526–1750, pp. 126–67; ‘Norms of Comportment among Imperial Mughal Officials’, in Barbara Daly Metcalf (ed.), Moral Conduct and Authority: The Place of Adab in South Asian Islam, Berkeley, 1984, pp. 255–89.

(36.) Richard M. Eaton, The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier 1204–1760, New Delhi, 1994.

(37.) Ruby Lal, Domesticity and Power in the Early Mughal World, Cambridge, 2005.

(38.) Muzaffar Alam, The Languages of Political Islam: India 1200–1800, Chicago, 2004; ‘The Culture and Politics of Persian in Precolonial Hindustan’, in Sheldon Pollock (ed.), Literary Cultures in History: Reconstructions from South Asia, pp. 131–98; Sanjay Subrahmanyam, ‘Iranians Abroad: Intra-Asian Elite Migration and Early Modern State Formation’, Journal of Asian Studies, vol. 51, no. 2, 1992, pp. 340–62; and ‘Persianization and “Mercantilism” in Bay of Bengal History, 1400–1700’, in Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Explorations in Connected History: From the Tagus to the Ganges, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 45–79.

(39.) Muzaffar Alam, The Languages of Political Islam, p. 134.

(40.) Chapter 1 contains more discussion of the Indo-Persian tarikh genre.

(41.) Catherine B. Asher, ‘The Architecture of Raja Man Singh: A Study of SubImperial Patronage’, in Barbara S. Miller (ed.), The Powers of Art: Patronage in Indian Culture, New Delhi, 1992, pp. 191–6.

(42.) Shantanu Phukan, ‘Through A Persian Prism: Hindi and Padmavat in the Mughal Imagination’, unpublished PhD Dissertation, University of Chicago, 2000.

(43.) Lizzie Collingham, Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors, New York, 2006, pp. 22, 25, 33.

(44.) Francoise ‘Nalini’ Delvoye, ‘The Thematic Range of Dhrupad Songs Attributed to Tansen’, in Alan W. Entwistle and Francoise Malleson (eds), Studies in South Asian Devotional Literature: Research Papers, 1988–1991, New Delhi, 1994, pp. 406–27; Madhu Trivedi, ‘Hindustani Music and Dance: An Examination of Some Texts in the Indo-Persian Tradition’, in Muzaffar Alam, Francoise ‘Nalini’ Delvoye and Marc Gaborieau (eds), The Making of Indo-Persian Culture, New Delhi, 2000, pp. 281–306.

(45.) Articles on rebellions by the lower orders against the Mughal regime, such as those studied by Gautam Bhadra, ‘Two Frontier Uprisings in Mughal India’, in Alam and Subrahmanyam (eds), The Mughal State, pp. 474–90, provide a sense of subaltern perceptions of the Mughal state. Richards, ‘Norms of Comportment among Imperial Mughal Officials’, pp. 255–89 and ‘The Formulation of Imperial Authority under Akbar and Jehangir’, pp. 126–67, provide insights into the perceptions of empire by mansabdars.

(46.) K.K. Datta, Studies in the History of the Bengal Subah, Calcutta, 1936; Ali Vardi Khan and his Times, Calcutta, 1939; Mohammed Enamul Huq, Muslim Bengali Literature, Karachi, 1957; Abdul Karim, Murshid Quli Khan and his Times, Dacca, 1963; Sir J.N. Sarkar, History of Bengal, Muslim Period 1200– 1757, Patna, 1973 (rpt); Sukumar Sen, Bangla Sahityer Itihasa, vols 1 and 2, 1405 BS, Calcutta, (rpt); Sukhamoy Mukhopadhyaya, Banglar Itihaser Du'sho Bachar: Svadhin Sultander Amal, Calcutta, 1980.

(47.) Such views are exemplified for example in Sarkar, History of Bengal and Suniti Kumar Chatterji, Origin and Development of the Bengali Language, Calcutta, 2002 (rpt).

(48.) Aniruddha Ray, Adventurers, Landowners and Rebels: Bengal c. 1575–1715, New Delhi, 1998 is an exception.

(49.) Richard M. Eaton, Islam and the Bengal Frontier, in Richard M. Eaton (ed.), India's Islamic Traditions 711–1750, New Delhi, 2003; and David Gilmartin and Bruce B. Lawrence (eds), Beyond Turk and Hindu: Rethinking Religious Identities in Islamicate South Asia, Gainesville, 2000, are representative examples.
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Re: The Cultures of History in Early Modern India, by Kumkum

Postby admin » Mon Mar 13, 2023 2:42 am

Part 1 of 2

1. Mapping Early Modern Bengal

The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were politically eventful for Bengal. These centuries witnessed the consolidation of a Mughal provincial regime and, deriving from it, a Mughal successor state in the region. They also witnessed the demise of the latter and the emergence of the English East India Company as first the de facto, and then the sovereign ruler by the middle to later decades of the eighteenth century.

The Mughal state in Bengal (including its lineal descendant, the Nawabi state which, except for a short phase from 1760–4, had been rendered ineffective for all practical purposes since 1757) replaced a series of Muslim dynasties (Turkish, Afghan, and others) that had ruled there since the thirteenth century.1 The pre-Mughal Bengal sultanate introduced into this region certain cultural traditions and practices—including the Persian language—which later came to be associated more strongly with a Mughal imperial ethos. With the formal incorporation of Bengal into the Mughal empire in the later sixteenth century, Mughal cultural influences joined the many indigenous cultural traditions current in this area. The mid-eighteenth century revolution, which enshrined the English East India Company as the ruler of Bengal, also essentially represented the culmination of a long process in the expansion of the Company's political power and economic clout in Bengal. Each of these successive states was associated with certain cultural and intellectual traditions, which did not however terminate neatly with the eclipse of the political regimes with which they were implicated.2 Thus, in eighteenth century Bengal, multiple intellectual and literary traditions were prevalent.

The first section in this chapter discusses the history and nature of the polity in Bengal in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Section two reconstructs the main features of the social and cultural configuration of medieval and early modern Bengal. Since different historiographic traditions were intimately connected with stylistic and other conventions associated with different literary cultures, it is imperative to establish a clear picture of the literary-linguistic map of early modern Bengal as a necessary prelude to discussing distinct styles and genres of narratives that have a historiographical content. The third and final section is thus devoted to an exploration of the principal literary cultures of early modern Bengal. In the literary traditions current in Bengal, certain terms were particularly associated with the writing of history. These terms were itihasa/Purana, related to the Sanskritic-Bengali literary tradition, and tarikh, related to the Indo-Persian or Indo-Islamic tradition. The final section also includes a discussion of the intellectual genealogies of these terms and the substantive concepts associated with them.

The Bengal Polity

In March 1575, the Mughal army defeated Daud Khan Kararni, the Afghan ruler of Bengal, in the Battle of Tukaroi. This victory marked Bengal's formal incorporation into the Mughal empire. However, Mughal control over Bengal in the 1570s was tenuous and uneven at best, and it took decades of campaigning by the imperial forces in Bengal as well as in adjoining Bihar and Orissa to secure any kind of effective authority over the newly acquired province.3

Under the sultanate state which preceded the Mughal regime in Bengal, certain areas had been under the control of local chieftains known as bhuiyans or rajas, who enjoyed considerable autonomy over their estates.4 The turbulent times intervening between the Afghan phase of the Bengal sultanate and the onset of Mughal rule provided existing territorial barons as well as aspiring ones with even more opportunities for local aggrandizement. This presaged a phenomenon that was to plague the Mughals in Bengal for decades—the presence of a range of largely autonomous landed magnates who were reluctant to forfeit the local latitude they had come to enjoy for a more centralized form of administration. Consequently, the Mughals were confronted with insurgencies led by local barons in different parts of Bengal. Notable among them were Raja Pratapaditya of Jessore and Musa Khan of Bhati. Musa Khan, in particular, was associated with a group of chieftains who had joined in common resistance to Mughal power and were collectively known as the barabhuiyans (the twelve bhuiyans) of eastern Bengal.

The Mughal position in Bengal began to improve substantially from the early seventeenth century onward, owing primarily to a three-pronged policy that was implemented fairly effectively. This policy involved, first, playing off local chieftains against each other with promises of imperial favour and, second, showing a degree of clemency to former rebels. The combined result was that many of the local barons who had been opposed to the Mughals now rendered valuable services to it. The third prong of this policy was associated with the efforts of the Mughal army to subdue still-rebellious local barons in eastern Bengal. The early seventeenth century also saw the submission of many frontier chiefs who ruled principalities such as Bishnupur, Pachet, and Hijli, and the expansion of imperial power into the northeast, upto Kamrup and Assam.

The dawn of more settled conditions was complemented by the development of the institutions of Mughal provincial government. According to some historians, the Mughal state in Bengal, even in the post-sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, was perennially ‘under administered’ and the territorial aristocracy continued to enjoy considerable latitude in local level affairs.5 It is undeniable, though, that the implantation of these institutions in the region helped, in the long run, to normalize Mughal presence among ordinary people, and inaugurated the development and transmission of an imperial political culture. However, Mughal rule in Bengal underwent an important modification in the late seventeenth century at the hands of Murshid Quli Khan, who held the office of diwan of the province.

Murshid Quli Khan (1700–27) inaugurated the birth of a state encompassing Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa, which, though lineally connected to the Mughal imperial state was yet a virtually autonomous one. This polity preserved Mughal governmental institutions, enshrined Mughal political ideology as its guiding principle, and sought to derive legitimacy as a fragment of the empire.6 Philip Calkins first drew attention to a nexus of alliances that the nawabs had successfully maintained with pre-eminent segments of Bengal's society: the military aristocracy, landholders and bankers, and wealthy merchants.7 While the Calkins thesis is largely accurate in identifying certain important sociopolitical sources of support for the government of the nawabs, I contend that the nexus of alliances was actually broader than that posited by Calkins. This point has been elaborated upon in Chapter 3. The pre-Plassey conspiracy, which literally opened the doors for the decline of the Murshidabad niabat, indicated the breakdown of the alliances that the Murshidabad rulers had maintained more or less successfully until now.8 With the exception of the crisis generated by the pre-Plassey conspiracy, by far the most serious problem faced by this successor state was a series of recurrent attacks on Bengal launched by the Maratha Bargis from Nagpur between 1742 and 1751.9 These invasions were related to the complexities created in the subcontinent by the weakening of Mughal central authority and the rise and expansion of regional polities in various regions of it. The repeated raids by the Bargis caused immense destruction and havoc in Bengal and untold miseries to people, especially in the western parts of the region.

Much of the energies of the Murshidabad nawabs were expended in creating a viable state with a strong financial base, in maintaining a delicate balance between being autonomous and yet simultaneously being subject to Mughal paramountcy and of coping with an increasingly aggressive and powerful English Company within its dominions. But, the nawabs of Murshidabad also appear to have been aware of the need to create an appropriate cultural environment for their kingdom, derived primarily from Mughal political culture. This culture, with its Islamicate character, was also strongly coloured by a Persianized ethos. The nawabs of Murshidabad welcomed and honoured Muslim holy men and scholars, made visits to tombs of pirs, and showed an appreciation for Persian poets and writers, and the patronage of artists by them stimulated the development of the Murshidabad kalam, or a Murshidabad-based style of painting during the eighteenth century.10

The story of seventeenth and especially eighteenth century Bengal remains incomplete without the discussion of an almost parallel process, also initiated many centuries ago, which culminated in the emergence of the English East India Company's state in 1772. The English East India Company joined various other groups of European traders who established themselves commercially in Bengal during the course of the later sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. By the early eighteenth century, the English Company had an expanding and wellestablished trade in Bengal. The most important gains for the English Company in Bengal, both commercially and politically, were associated with the acquisition of a territorial enclave at Calcutta (1690s) and also with the vitally important political concession secured from the Mughal (p.28) emperor Farrukhsiyar in 1717. The ability to create a territorial base at Calcutta, in the long run, turned out to be a very big advantage for the Company.11 In other words, even while the subah of Bengal was gradually making the implicit transition to the somewhat anomalous position of being an autonomous polity that had never severed its link to the Mughal empire, the nucleus of the English East India Company state was already forming within it.

Of the various issues demanding the attention of the Company's state in Bengal, one of the most pressing and pertinent issue related to revenue realization was the issue of the treatment of the landed aristocracy of Bengal. The rajas and zamindars of this region are particularly relevant to this book since many types of historiographic narratives studied in Chapters 2–6 were associated with them. Thus, it is necessary for us to take a look at the Bengal zamindars, not just as anti-Mughal rebels or as reluctant revenue payers, but in terms of their cultural functions as well.

Rajas, Zamindars, and the Experience of Mughal Rule

The Mughal operations aimed against rebellious magnates created a scenario in which some ancient principalities—such as Bishnupur and Birbhum—survived by submitting to the Mughals and were allowed considerable internal autonomy. Rebel chieftains were destroyed, but many new zamindaris were created with the blessings of the Mughals. The beneficiaries of these new zamindari grants usually acquired further rights, more responsible offices, and expanded the territories under their jurisdiction considerably. The role of the Mughals in creating and destroying zamindaris has been studied extensively by scholars such as Ratnalekha Ray, Shireen Akhtar, J.R. McLane, and others and hence does not merit repetition here.12 Chapters 2 and 3 contain many specific examples of zamindaris created by the Mughals in Bengal as a way of rewarding those who aided their civil and military endeavours in the region.

The shake up of the zamindari system of Bengal continued into the next century. Murshid Quli Khan's revenue innovations aimed at enhancing the subah's revenue income in Bengal are well known. The effects of these on local magnates were significant. It meant, first, having to encounter a much stricter and tougher policy of revenue collection, accompanied often by direct personal torture and humiliation for the defaulting raja. Secondly, the regional zamindari structure was considerably affected. Murshid Quli Khan is supposed to have favoured (p.29) the growth of a few, especially large zamindaris (Burdwan and Rajshahi for instance), and dealt severely with others. He also encouraged the emergence of zamindaris under trusted officials. He and his successors, particularly Ali Vardi Khan, retained most features of his revenue policy. But, in the interest of making alliances with selected segments of the population, the Bengal nawabs, following Murshid Quli Khan, made their own jagir grants to favoured individuals all over their kingdom.13

The Permanent Settlement introduced by the East India Company's government in 1793 represented yet another turning point for Bengal's zamindars. This legislation converted a class of Mughal revenue collectors into absolute proprietors of land with (initially at least) unfettered powers to deal with their tenant cultivators in any way they pleased. This measure reduced peasant cultivators to the status of tenants without any customary rights to the lands they cultivated. This significant expansion in zamindari power was offset by a sharp increase in the amount of revenue payable by them to the Company's government; failure to discharge this obligation timely and in full meant the confiscation and auction of either entire zamindari estates or parts thereof. The results of the Permanent Settlement have been the topic of lively debate among historians for decades.14 For our purposes, we need to note that the first few decades of the Permanent Settlement caused considerable hardship for many Bengal zamindars. Inability to meet the extremely high demands imposed by the early colonial state resulted in the loss and/or sale of many zamindari estates even during the late eighteenth and the early nineteenth centuries.15 However, the literary and historiographic traditions espoused by them continued for the most part to be shaped by the traditions that had shaped the environment in which these aristocrats and their courtiers and dependents had lived over the last several centuries.

The role of zamindars in Mughal and nawabi Bengal are supposed to have related more to the polity than the economy.16 However, the works referred to for this study contain strong testimonies to the functions of rajas and zamindars in forest clearance, agricultural expansion, creation of settlements, and rural markets—both in eastern and western Bengal—through the sixteenth, seventeenth, and at least, the pre-colonial part of the eighteenth century. There are resonances of this in popular Bengali literature of the same period as well as in biographies of landed aristocrats.17 Of greater relevance here is the role of zamindars in creating centres of scholarship, culture, and urbanity on their estates. This was important, for urbanity was also associated with (p.30) prosperity and civility and with the presence of people who were more refined, cultured, and sophisticated than ordinary peasant-prajas.

In the seventeenth century, Srihari and Janakiballabh (titled rajas Bikramaditya and Basanta Roy), respectively the father and uncle of Raja Pratapaditya, had undertaken the clearing of forests, as well as the building of roads and bridges to establish a territorial base for their family at Jessore. These rajas sent emissaries to places as far afield as Dhaka and Halishahar to encourage people from high caste and high jati backgrounds such as Brahmans and Kayasthas (especially Bangaja Kayasthas to which Raja Pratapaditya's family belonged) to settle in their territories. The families which responded to this invitation came to form a circle of distinguished literati around the raja of Jessore, who in turn supported them materially, often through grants of rent-free land. The presence of this community made it possible for the raja to establish schools of different kinds (pathshalas, choubaris), within his estate; the literati whom he had imported served as teachers.18 In the eighteenth century, Raja Krishnachandra Roy of Nadia was celebrated for his initiatives in this regard. Many places, renowned as centres of intellectual activity in eighteenth century Bengal, such as Burdwan, Navadvipa, Halishahar, Shantipur, Tribeni, Bikrampur, and Faridpur were situated within and sometimes in the proximity of zamindars' residences.19

Scholarly assessments of Bengal's experience with Mughal rule are not uniform. However, Sir J.N. Sarkar was probably one of the very few to offer almost a eulogy about its positive effects. Sarkar believed that from the time of Jehangir, Bengal enjoyed relative peace internally—almost a ‘pax Mughalia’. Also, Mughal encouragement to European traders opened the doors to unsurpassed economic prosperity for Bengal. Integration within the Mughal empire ended what Sarkar terms Bengal's ‘isolation’, both economically and culturally, and, in fact, fostered a ‘cultural renaissance’.20 Other scholars have been much less positive about the blessings brought to Bengal via the Mughal connection. Most evaluations of Mughal administration of this region focus on two issues: the intrepid antiMughal stance of Bengal's zamindars, who were adamantly opposed to the prospect of losing their regional autonomy to a distant power, and secondly, the exploitative and alien character of this regime. Tapan Raychaudhuri described Mughal rule in Bengal as akin to a ‘foreign conquest’; he also emphasized the economic and financial exploitation of Bengal by the empire.21 The image of Bengali zamindars as representatives of some kind of regional patriotism developed during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as a function of the compulsions of modern anti-colonial nationalism which looked to the past to find inspiring examples of native heroes who would not bow their heads to ‘foreign’ rulers. ‘Popular’ or romantic history in Bengal, particularly from this period, effectively enshrined the image of the Barabhuiyans and Raja Pratapaditya of Jessore as undefeated crusaders.22 The Mughals also resorted to physical torture and coercion of zamindars who rebelled or were unable (or unwilling) to pay the stipulated sum of revenue. Even Sarkar—the unvarnished eulogist of Mughal governance over Bengal—admits that the benefits that allegedly accrued to Bengal due to Mughal rule were less the result of deliberate imperial policy and more a by-product of ‘conquest and the administration which they imposed on the conquered land made the triumph of the new forces possible and easy’.23

Such representations of Mughal presence in Bengal have by and large produced either a near-total silence or an inadequate acknowledgement of the cultural dimensions of the imperial connection with this region. Commentaries on Bengal's own cultural life during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries are not particularly positive either. Its literary life, particularly, was perceived as either having no connection with the Mughal presence, or as being influenced in a negative way by the Mughal/Muslim presence. Literary historians and other scholars generally portray the bulk of literary productions of this period as imitative, formulaic and lacking the vigour, quality and freshness of earlier centuries.24 These remarks were meant mainly for the large volume of Mangalkavyas and other types of panchali literature that continued to be composed during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and beyond. Tapan Raychaudhuri refers to the abundance of this literature as ‘a sickening fertility… [which had] little striking to offer.’25 Dinesh Chandra Sen decried the growing popularity of love stories, especially erotic literature such as the Bidyasundar, in this period. He saw in it signs of a growing literary taste that was inclined towards degeneracy and sensuality, and suggested that the opulent, ostentatious luxury of the royal courts may have been responsible for this decline in Bengali literary and cultural tastes and sensibilities during this period.26 Implicit in such criticism is the suggestion that it was Muslim (rather than specifically Mughal) courtly life and its depraved cultural mores which had corrupted Bengali literary culture of the later seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries.27

There is also a tendency in literary scholarship to sometimes see the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as a sort of dark prelude to (p.32) the dawn of a new, modern sensibility, thanks to the presence of a colonial regime.28 Given such representations of Mughal rule as well as Bengal's cultural poverty (which was partly the result of Mughal indifference and lack of interest in regional vernacular culture) in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Mughal political culture and its interaction with various types of cultural traditions current in Bengal have received little to no attention. This book attempts to redress this picture by exploring the currency of a Persianized Mughal culture among specific segments of Bengal's population and its embodiment in narratives with a historiographic content. It is necessary to try to modify the picture of total alienation and enmity between Bengal's territorial magnates and the Mughal regime as well. The Baharistan-i-Ghaibi describes in graphic detail the violence and terror almost deliberately perpetrated on Bengal as a way of impressing upon the people the might of the Mughal empire and intimidating them into compliance.29 There is other evidence as well to support a view of the Mughal regime in Bengal as cruel, brutal and violent. During one of the many campaigns undertaken against the Jessore zamindari of Raja Pratapaditya, Murad, the brother of Mirza Nathan, brought back as captives four thousand women who had been stripped of their clothes.30 The ballads of eastern Bengal record the common practice of officials seizing the women of peasant families.31 A Sanskrit genealogy of the rajas of Nadia, entitled the Kshitishvamsavalicharitam, documents the sufferings of several of these rajas at the hands of the Mughal subahdars.32 The atrocities to which the Bengal zamindars were subjected by the nawabs of Murshidabad exceeded these punishments.33 It is thus not difficult to see how the image of the Mughal regime as one that was extremely cruel and alienated from Bengal's zamindars had come to be constructed.

The dimension that is usually overlooked is that while many Bengal zamindars were rebels against the Mughals, many others accepted Mughal authority from the outset and reaped handsome benefits for doing so. The latter also became valuable allies in the Mughal campaigns both within Bengal and in the Mughal military drive towards the northeast. The clemency shown to defeated zamindars during the early seventeenth century also helped to win many of them over to the Mughal cause.34 Even in the case of the best-known of the anti-Mughal rebels, such as Raja Pratapaditya of Jessore, it is hard to detect a story of uniform opposition to imperial authority. As the Baharistan shows, there were ceremonial gift exchanges between Raja Pratapaditya (p.33) and the Mughal subahdar Islam Khan. Apparently, both Pratapaditya and his son Sangramaditya were interested in being inducted into the Mughal imperial service.35 Pratapaditya's entente with the Mughals was short-lived; nevertheless, it is important to note that, even for him, the relationship with imperial authority was not one of uniform opposition. The Baharistan also provides significant testimony to the fact that there were Mughal subahdars who were strongly opposed to the humiliation of rebel zamindars.36

The most convincing evidence perhaps of the positive relationship among many Bengal zamindars and the Mughal state in this region comes from traditions preserved within these zamindari families by poets and genealogists who were the protégées of these zamindars. These relationships were often not uniformly cordial over the centuries. But the territorial aristocracy valued their relationship with the Mughals, the paramount political authority in seventeenth and eighteenth century India, and commemorated it with pride in their familial genealogies and eulogic literature produced at their courts.37 Family accounts of the rajas of Shushang, Pakur, as well as Lakshmikanta Majumdar, who became zamindar of a large area which included the villages of Sutanuti, Gobindapur, and Kalikata, emphasize their indebtedness to Raja Man Singh for the acquisition of their estates. These accounts also record how some of the rajas in question were escorted up to Delhi by Man Singh to be rewarded and feted by the Mughal emperor.38 It is difficult to test the ‘factuality’ of these claims. If true, then Raja Man Singh seems to have literally led a procession of rajas from Bengal up to Delhi. What is of greater significance is the fact that family chronicles of these rajas chose to represent their relationship with their Mughal overlords in such terms. Yet, the romantic reconstructions of many medieval and early modern Bengal zamindars during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as anti-Mughal (sometimes, anti-Muslim) warriors succeeded in erasing from popular history as well as, to some extent, from professional historiography, this aspect of Bengal's relationship to the Mughal imperial formation.

Vernacular literature is also a valuable resource for tracing at least the broad outlines of popular perception regarding Mughal rule in Bengal, not just among the territorial aristocracy, but also among more ordinary people. The Mughals were certainly a distant presence for most ordinary people in Bengal during the period of time studied here. However, by the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Mughal administrative units and the terminology associated with it— sarkar, pargana, jagir, (p.34) and others—had become part of the vocabulary used by fairly ordinary people to identify themselves in terms of a spatial and political hierarchy. In the Chandikabijoy of Dwija Kamalalochana, composed in the late seventeenth century, the poet described his place of residence as ‘the jagir of the son of the lord of Delhi’.39 Krishnaram Das, author of the Kalikamangal, also written in the late seventeenth century, indicated his personal location in terms of the Mughal political/administrative hierarchy. This began at the top with the emperor Aurangzeb and then passed through Shaista Khan, subahdar of Bengal, the Sabarna Chowdhurys, zamindars of the immediate area where the poet lived, and then on to the family of Krishnaram Das who were ordinary householders in a village near Calcutta.40

As distant overlords, the Mughal emperors were often perceived by village level poets, and presumably their audiences, to be standing above and apart from instances of oppression and coercion exerted by more immediate levels of political authority. However, the Mughals were invoked as distant, but revered overlords and often endowed with divine attributes. In his Mangalchandir Geet composed probably in the 1640s, Madhabacharya referred to Akbar as ‘Ekbar badshah, Arjuna avatara’.41 The poet Krishnaram Das compared Emperor Aurangzeb to ‘Ram raja’, the ideal king of India's epic tradition.42 The poet Jadabram Nath or Jadunath referred to the divinities Buddha and Kalki merging together and ruling from the throne of Delhi as a yavana (Muslim) padshah in his Dharmamangal.43 The more important point, however, is that ordinary Bengalis, in terms of prosaic administrative reality, as well as in terms of imagination, had come to accept and normalize Mughal rule as a part of their lives. This picture is substantially different from the received impression of the Mughals as an alien, ‘foreign’ regime, interested only in exploitation and oppression and unconnected in any other ways from the mainstream life of the region.

The tendency to associate the Mughals with divinity or incarnations of divinity also leads one to consider the significance and relevance of a Mughal imperial cult which had developed among the service-elites and regional aristocrats of the empire. Originating in the reign of Akbar and gaining strength through the reigns of successive Mughal padshahs, there had crystallized, particularly among mansabdars as well as among middle level officials, an ideology of dedicated service to the empire. In time, this ideology spread among other groups as well and, by the seventeenth century, even artists were referring to themselves as servants of the empire.44 The most important components of this ideology (p.35) involved a sense of honour in serving the empire and the emperor, and also a strong sense of attachment to the person of the emperor which may have transcended mere loyalty to a political superior. Instead one finds a spirit of what Richards describes as ‘imperial discipleship’, imbued also with a kind of mystical reverence, resembling almost the adoration of a deity.45 This imperial cult drew sustenance from a range of rituals and practices which cumulatively sustained this imperial cult in various corners of the empire. As Mirza Nathan's account indicates, officers of the Mughal army who were stationed in Bengal practised such rituals, as did Bengal's rajas and zamindars. Portraits of emperors and representations of the Timurid genealogical tree were revered by imperial officials and sometimes displayed on their persons (placed in turbans, for example) as obvious symbols of their personal devotion to the imperial family.46 The same spirit of reverential adoration was manifest in public rituals enacted by mansabdars on the receipt of written orders from the emperor.47

The Cultural Environment

Certain overarching religious and cultural traditions shaped Bengal's life during the early modern period. According to Kunal Chakrabarty, by the early medieval period, Brahminism had emerged in Bengal as the predominant religious and cultural tradition. Challenges to Brahminism were indeed well known both within Bengal and beyond, and the formal articulation of Brahminical ideology may not have been well understood by large sections of ordinary people. But, as Chakrabarty points out, the deference paid to it over the ages shows its extraordinary dominance as ideology.48 It is necessary to keep in mind that even in the early medieval period, Brahminism cannot be regarded as a homogeneous social and religious tradition. Clustered within Brahminism were a variety of sects such as the Shaivas, Shaktas, and Vaishnavas, and many others. What bound them together was a common respect for the infallibility of the Vedas and acknowledgement of them as ‘notional authority’ and the acceptance of a social order based on varnashrama principles. In addition, Brahminism's position as the dominant cultural tradition of Bengal had been attained through a protracted and intense struggle with the forces of Tantra and Buddhism that were deemed to be both external and inimical to it.49

Bengal's Brahmanism also had to deal with the challenge of non-Brahminical folk religious beliefs and practices, which are not easily (p.36) subsumed under terms such as ‘Tantra’ or ‘Buddhism’. But, it is useful to keep in mind that the boundaries between Buddhism, Tantra, or even Brahminism for that matter, and the so-called folk religious cultures were permeable and porous.50 The advent of Islam in Bengal may have served as a wake-up call to Brahminism to reach out and initiate strategies of accommodation with a range of religious practices and ideas prevalent among people, described as the antyaja (‘subaltern,’ marginal) population of the less Brahminized parts of Bengal. The religious cultures current among the antyaja people revolved around the worship of deities such as Dharma Thakur, Manasa the snake goddess, Chandi (that is, prior to her undergoing a process of Brahminization and emerging as the consort of Shiva), and others. The motivations of Brahminism in initiating strategies of compromise with these traditions included a concern to preserve and strengthen the social base of Brahminism and also the concern of non-elite rural Brahmin priests to secure a steady clientele among the antyaja people of forested regions, for example. As Kunal Chakrabarty, Jawhar Sircar, and others have pointed out, the phenomenon described here found expression in the emergence of the vernacular Mangalkavya tradition which embodied the ‘overt and covert persuasion of the Brahmanical composers…to win over the antyaja-caste mass base of Dharma and other popular cults’.51 Bengali Vaishnavism also reflected the need to establish connections with those segments of the population that were either positioned on the fringes of Brahminical society or deemed to be outside it.

Islam's advent in this region is most commonly associated with a conquering military force represented by the armies of Turkish military adventurers like Bakhtiyar Khilji. The overall depiction of Islam, especially in its political manifestation, is that of a series of alien, violent, and oppressive regimes which adhered to a religious culture that stood completely apart from other religious cultures current in the region. Yet, the sympathy and interest in Bengali vernacular culture exhibited by the sultans of Bengal, particularly since the midfifteenth century, has earned them a more positive depiction. As noted above, it is the Mughals whose representation is a little more negative, since in their case the perceived absence of any interest in regional vernacular culture compounded their image as ‘foreign’ and—thanks to the popular myth of the barabhuiyans—also cruel and violent.

Overall, however, there is a tendency to assume that Muslim political regimes (the distinctions among the sultans, the Mughals, and the (p.37) Murshidabad nawabs are sometimes blurred, particularly by literary historians) had an interest, perhaps even an agenda, in destroying Hindu temples, oppressing Hindus (the most common form was perceived to be through destroying the varna/jati status of Hindus by deliberately ‘polluting’ them; some aspects of such allegations have been discussed in Chapter 2), as well as proselytizing. Such charges have sometimes been made without any specific examples to support them.52 Individual cases of over-zealous officials committing such acts are not unknown. But it is not feasible to support a blanket assertion that the Bengal sultans, the Mughals, and the Murshidabad nawabs adopted deliberate and coherent policies of converting Hindu subjects and destroying Hindu temples.

Detached from its connection to political power, the presence and activities of Sufi communities in Bengal have merited a fair amount of scholarly attention— particularly, the interaction between Sufi sects on the one hand and varieties of indigenous spiritual mysticism on the other.53 In Bengal, Islam's greatest ‘success’ occurred in the eastern part of the region, where in time there emerged a predominantly Muslim population. Eaton's beautifully sophisticated study of this phenomenon unites a nuanced, historicized understanding of religious, political, and agrarian processes underlying it. In eastern Bengal, ‘Islam was introduced as a civilization-building ideology associated both with settling and populating the land and with constituting a transcendent reality consonant with that process.’54 Yet, as Eaton, Stewart, and others rightly remind us, it would be inaccurate to think that the Islamization of eastern Bengal produced an instantaneous change in religious/cosmological beliefs. Islamic institutions during this period proved sufficiently flexible to accommodate the non-Brahminized religious culture of medieval and early modern Bengal. On the other hand, religious traditions already present in eastern Bengal accommodated the amalgam of rituals, rites, and beliefs associated with village mosques and shrines then proliferating in their midst.55

The cultural environment shaped formal systems of education prevalent in early modern Bengal. There were separate systems of ‘Hindu’ and ‘Muslim’ education, but also a sphere of education associated with career opportunities which both the Hindu and Muslim upper classes embraced equally during the period studied here. This type of education was associated with acquiring literacy—in some cases, high degrees of proficiency—in the Persian language. Local elites provided financial and other types of infrastructural support, including grants (p.38) of land, for the creation of schools.56 Even into the early decades of the nineteenth century, schools where Persian was taught drew students from both Hindu and Muslim families. Some of the most common pedagogical materials used in these schools included Saadi's Pandnama, as well as the Gulistan and Bustan by the same author.57 The curriculum of study heavily emphasized the study of the arts of correspondence, and epistolary models included the correspondence of Abul Fazl, the Ruqaat-i-Alamgiri consisting of the correspondence of the emperor Aurangzeb, as well as other insha collections.58

Most narratives texts referred to in this book were composed in the pre-print, manuscript era. Studies of the culture of manuscripts or, for that matter, studies of early print culture remain relatively neglected for South Asia.59 A rich literature on this subject for European societies, for instance, reminds us of the valuable insights on cultural and intellectual history that can be gained through substantive studies of both manuscript and early print cultures.60 What we do know about the world of books for the early modern era suggests that book ownership and the culture of reading and listening encompassed a much wider cross-section of society than one would initially suppose.61 Thus, the enjoyment of at least certain kinds of literature was distributed among a wider segment of society and was not restricted to affluent families and the aristocracy. The vast majority of Bengali literary texts produced in the period prior to AD 1800, were verse narratives which were primarily intended for recitation and singing rather than for silent reading. The practice of texts being orally disseminated was widespread and cut across social distinctions. Panchali-type literature and genealogical literature were performed in venues associated with the uppermost classes of society;62 the households of the nawabs of Murshidabad included storytellers who regaled the royal family with stories.63 This practice was equally common among more ordinary families. Poor and working-class people also engaged in similar reading, listening, and singing practices as far as performance-narratives were concerned.64 Women figured importantly, as audiences, and sometimes as readers and performers, of such domestic reading, recitation, and singing sessions.65

The performative nature of many varieties of narratives discussed in this book helps us to see clearly that most of these texts possessed a popular communityoriented character. I use the term ‘popular’ here not to denote a cultural sphere which was completely bounded and separated from that of more elite, sophisticated culture, but rather to indicate a domain that was associated with the vast majority of ordinary people and (p.39) yet did not maintain a totally separate and distinct existence from the latter. Many of the narrative types studied here did not belong exclusively to the sphere of formal education and intellectual endeavours.66 These types of texts were read at home, beyond the confines of educational institutions. This point reinforces the view of RaoShulman-Subrahmanyam that ‘history’ in pre-modern/early modern India was not regarded as a formal shastra or intellectual discipline. It is true that the authors of genealogies, the Bengali Ramayanas and Mahabharatas, and panchalis of various kinds were usually people who had received some formal education. For them, Sanskritic-Brahmanical education comprised a sort of intellectual reservoir from which they could, at times, draw upon to elucidate and embellish the stories they told. The Persian tarikhs studied in Chapter 5 possessed a long tradition of being associated with genteel, educated and, particularly, courtly society. Tarikh texts may not have been commonly studied formally at Persian schools, but they were not completely unknown either. William Adam referred to the use in some schools of materials such as the Shahnameh of Firdausi.67

Historiographic narrative texts were anchored within certain linguistic-literary traditions. The following section discusses the principal literary cultures current in seventeenth and eighteenth century Bengal. It also explores the concepts of history associated with these cultures and the terminologies used to denote them.
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Re: The Cultures of History in Early Modern India, by Kumkum

Postby admin » Mon Mar 13, 2023 4:25 am

Part 2 of 2


The Literary Universe

The Bengali Literary Tradition

The Bengali language, during the early and later medieval periods, as well as the early modern age, was used primarily as the medium of everyday speech, to some extent for letter-writing, and composition of works with a religious dimension. The prose form of Bengali was used for quotidian and documentary purposes; creative Bengali literature, until the very end of the eighteenth century, was almost always in verse.68 Circumstances related to the beginnings of a Bengali prose literature are discussed in Chapter 4. The popular nature of this vernacular ensured that literary works composed with the aim of maximum diffusion and transmission would be cast in this language. A large number of Bengali literary creations during the twelfth to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were derived from the Sanskritic literary tradition, and the latter were frequently used as templates for (p.40) vernacular expression. Yet, despite the obvious and deliberate effort to forge links with Puranic, epic, and other Sanskritic traditions, it would be incorrect to regard this corpus as merely imitative or derivative. They reflected regional sensibilities and experiences and can be seen at best as vernacular articulations of a pan-Indian Sanskritic tradition.69 A major branch of Bengali literature prior to the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was comprised of literature that grew up around the charismatic figure of Sri Chaitanya and the Gaudiya Vaishnava movement he initiated in the early sixteenth century.70 This large corpus of Vaishnava literature is regarded as a significant development in Bengali literature.71 Narratives such as Brindaban Das's Chaitanyabhagabat and the Chaitanyacharitamrita of Krishnadas Kaviraj occupy places of special eminence within it. Bengali Vaishnavism is also associated with Vaishnava padavalis, that is, poems and songs celebrating the lila of Krishna and Radha, as well as other Vaishnava themes.72 A rich tradition of what scholars of Bengali literature have described (not unproblematically though) as ‘Bengali Muslim literature’ also existed since the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The subject matter and themes of many of these works derived inspiration from the lives of the Prophet Muhammad, various Muslim pirs and holy men, and even love stories about various mortals that travelled from the Islamic heartlands in the Middle East to India.73 Yet, it is critically important not to lose sight of the fact that the evolving Bengali literary tradition during the early and late medieval periods functioned in a milieu in which first Sanskrit, and later Sanskrit and Persian, were present as trans-regional, cosmopolitan linguistic and cultural registers. Most histories of Bengali literature provide token acknowledgement of the presence and influence of Sanskrit; Persian and Hindustani influences receive very marginal attention, partly as a consequence of the politics of culture and identity as they played out among the Bengali literati of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.74 The following section discusses the origin, antecedents, and careers of both these trans-regional cosmopolitan languages in Bengal. The Sanskrit Language and Literary Tradition

The earliest Sanskrit expressive literature in Bengal—mostly prashastis in praise of kings—dates back to the Gupta period. The courts of the Pala and Sena kings were associated with the production of well-known works such as the Ramacharita of Sandhyakar Nandy, the Pavanaduta of Dhoyi, and above all, the celebrated Gita Govinda (p.41) of Jaydeva. Nevertheless, the body of Sanskrit expressive literature or kavya produced in Bengal was not particularly large. This was counterbalanced by the great prestige and influence enjoyed by Sanskrit and the literature associated with it.75 The great cultural and literary significance of Sanskrit lay in the fact that it existed as an overarching model over the literary universe of Bengal. In terms of subject matter and theme, grammatical elements such as alamkara and chhanda (meter), in poetic conventions of description and allusion, and in the terms that designated formal and generic typologies, it functioned as a giant reservoir from which poets and authors felt authorized to borrow. The reasons they drew upon the Sanskrit literary tradition are not hard to fathom—over thousands of years of its existence, the ‘Sanskrit cosmopolis’ had become firmly constituted as the prestige economy of the subcontinent and, at times, outside it as well.76 Its prestige derived from its antiquity, its association with religious ritual and liturgical uses, and with a political culture associated with monarchical courts throughout India.77 However, literary production in Bengali—even when modelled on some conventions of Sanskrit literature—was never a simple emulation of it. As with cultural and literary borrowings in other times and places, the whole process of appropriation contained within it elements of selection, modification, rejection, and normalization. Bengali literary productions were ultimately marked by their own regional sensibilities. Sanskrit, however, had a much more vigorous career in Bengal as the language of choice for intellectual and scholarly productions, related in particular to certain specific shastras.78 From about the ninth and tenth centuries a large amount of Sanskrit scholarly literature (original as well as commentarial) was composed in Bengal, ranging from grammatical works, medical works, writings on Dharma-Shastra (Smriti) and so on.79 The upsurge in cultural and literary creativity stimulated by the Gaudiya Vaishnava movement of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was complemented by the emergence of a body of sophisticated intellectual discourse that included, among other works, Rupa Goswamin's Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu, which embodied the endeavour at developing a new religious aesthetic.80 The Persian Language and Literary Tradition

The Persian language and literature in Bengal are linked, as is this language and its associated literature, to the subcontinent as a whole, (p.42) with developments in political history—that is, the establishment of Muslim regimes starting with the inception of the Delhi sultanate in the twelfth century. Although the prevalence and use of Persian in regions such as Sind, Multan, and Punjab are known for the period prior to the twelfth century, it was really the Turkish conquest of parts of northern India and the emergence of the Delhi Sultanate which made possible a stronger career for Persian language as a ‘prestige language’. Persian thus acquired varying degrees of association with regional/ provincial sultanates which had sprung up in various parts of India since the twelfth and thirteenth centuries onward.81 The following discussion sketches out the career of Persian in the Deccan and Bengal prior to the Mughal period. With the dismantling of the Delhi sultanate, its Indian territory was divided into many regional sultanates which vied with each other culturally as well as politically. This period, in fact, has been characterized as an age that witnessed the apogee of Persian culture in India.82 Many of these sultanates, notably the Deccan-based Bahmani sultanate, established direct contact with Iran and encouraged the arrival of Iranian soldiers, statesmen, and merchants to places like the Deccan and Gujarat. Later, the kingdom of Golconda carried on the tradition of maintaining close contact with Iran and a Persianate culture. Educated and talented Iranians were encouraged to emigrate to Golconda and many were given high political offices there. An excellent example of this is provided by Mir Muhammad Sayyid Ardistani, later known in the Mughal imperial service as Mir Jumla.83 In the sixteenth century, many of the rulers of the Deccan sultanates became Shiis as a result of the growing influence of and their alliance with the Safavid dynasty in Iran. This further strengthened the connection between parts of India and Iran and its Persianate culture. The competition among these regional sultanates resulted in ‘a great diversification of Indo-Persian culture compared to its rather monolithic expression under the sultans of Delhi and later under the great Mughals’.84 The Genealogy of Persian in Sultanate Bengal

The development of Persian in Bengal is also associated with the introduction of Islamic rule in Bengal. Court rituals and ceremonies, particularly from the midfourteenth century began to be articulated in Perso-Islamic terms.85 Thus, a Persian cultural ethos was certainly identifiable in the Bengal sultanate's courtly circles. The association of a Persianized culture with the political culture of royalty caused what (p.43) Subrahmanyam describes as a ‘creeping shadow of Persianization’86 from the edges of the Islamicate world of South Asia to reach the court of Roshang in the Arakan region, for instance, particularly during the fifteenth century.87 The kings of Roshang, who were themselves Buddhists, cultivated an Islamicate political culture in which Persian elements were clearly noticeable. Persian was used as a court language and a language of official business in late fourteenth and early fifteenth century Bengal. However, this status of Persian was shared with certain other languages as well. The role of the pre-Mughal sultans of Bengal in encouraging and patronizing literary productions in the local vernacular, Bengali, is well known. Such literary productions were mostly of the performative type (panchali) involving renditions of the epics or the Puranas into Bengali.88 High officials of the Bengal sultans also used their own durbars to support and promote Bengali literature. The results of such patronage are evident in the composition of several Bengali Mahabharatas associated with authors such as Kabindra Prameshwar.89 The patronization of expressive literature in Bengali by the sultans and their officials was motivated partly by their own interest in and enjoyment of such works, and partly to provide entertainment and enjoyment to their subjects who constituted audience for such works. Arabic was also deployed for some very specific purposes—it was used on Hussain Shahi coins as well as on inscriptions and sometimes in bilingual Arabic/Persian inscriptions.90 Thus, although not the sole official language, Persian shared that position partly with Arabic. However, there are no examples of non-documentary, creative literature in Persian from the period of the Bengal sultanate. Tarafdar explains this in terms of what he describes as Bengal's political isolation from northern India. The core heartland of the Delhi sultanate was where there was considerable prevalence of Persian, for political and governmental purposes, and also for the production of creative literature in various genres.91 This could indeed be a part of the explanation for the non-existence of expressive Persian literary works in sultanate Bengal—but there might also have existed an element of active choice in the deliberate deployment of specific languages for specific purposes. Despite its relatively restricted use in the work of governance, however, a Persianate literary culture did strike roots in sultanate Bengal. The strongest instance perhaps of the high respect accorded to Persian literature by the Bengal sultans lies in the contact initiated by sultan Ghiyasuddin of the Ilyas Shahi dynasty with the legendary poet Hafiz of Iran.92 The Roshang court, in the seventeenth century in particular, (p.44) witnessed an efflorescence of vernacular Persianized literature—that is, poems in Bengali based on well-known Persian literary works. The work of Sayyid Alaol (1607–80), best known among the Roshang poets and regarded as the pre-eminent Muslim Bengali poet of the seventeenth century, contained strong manifestations of it. He rendered into Bengali several Persian literary pieces. Alaol himself was extremely familiar with the works of Nizami and rendered the latter's Haft Paikar and the Sikandarnamah into Bengali.93 Alaol, as well as other Bengali writers who produced literary compositions based on themes or stories from Persian literature, were, however, not engaging in an exercise of literal translation. At the hands of these writers, a strongly indigenous Bengali ambience was created for the basic themes drawn from Persian literary culture. Bengal, and kingdoms such as Roshang, perceived Persian as a sophisticated literary culture that came to them from northern India. As Chapter 7 further illustrates, both during the medieval and early modern periods, Persian as well as some other northern India oriented literary cultures were regarded by Bengal's elites as being synonymous with the sophistication and high culture associated with royal courts. A cluster of Awadhi romances (premakhyanas) produced between the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries, namely the Chandayan of Maulana Daud, the Mrigavati and the Padmavat of Malik Muhammad Jaysi, and the Madhumalati of Mir Sayyid Manjhan Rajgiri94 produced resonances in the literary productions associated with the court of Roshang.95 The poet Alaol's very first poetic work was in fact the Lor-Chandrani, inspired by Maulana Daud's Awadhi romance; Alaol later composed the Padmavati, derived from Jaysi's narrative of the same name.96 Subsequently, many other Padmavatis were written by Muslim Bengali writers. Thus, alongside a Persian literary culture, an essentially north Indian Hindi-Awadhi culture also played a role in shaping courtly compositions in Bengali in the sixteenth century. In pre-Mughal Bengal, non-Muslim elites had also begun to appropriate aspects of Islamicate/Persianized culture. Considerable segments of Bengali Hindu gentry and aristocracy formed part of the sultanate's administration. This factor became one of the most potent channels through which Islamization and Persianization in matters of dress, certain social practices, and literary tastes became evident among them.97 Most scholars whose work has touched upon sultanate Bengal, such as Sir J.N. Sarkar, M.R. Tarafdar, Mohammed Enamul Huq, and Richard Eaton have emphasized the limited extent and nature of (p. 45) Persianization in pre-Mughal Bengal.98 It is indeed difficult to claim that it was a dominant cultural strand among the political elite of the sultanate as Subrahmanyam seems to suggest.99 But, it was probably of greater significance and depth in the cultural history of the Bengal sultanate than commonly supposed. This section has traced the main features of the three literary cultures—Bengali, Sanskrit, and Persian—which held sway in Bengal in the period preceding Mughal rule. In the following section, I trace the genealogies of the principal terms and concepts, embedded in these literary traditions, which most closely approximate to what we would understand as ‘history’.

The Genealogy of a Concept—I: Ithasa/Purana

In most South Asian languages including Bengali, the term for history is itihasa. An effort to trace the genealogy of the term indicates that it was in use from very early times in ancient India. The Vedic and Puranic literature shows frequent references to it, often in conjunction with the term ‘purana’, meaning ancient or old, which was used in the Rigveda as an adjective.100 Its earliest use as a noun to denote ancient lore or a story occurs in the Atharvaveda and in the Brahmanas. By the beginning of the Christian era, a large cluster of narratives specifically called Puranas had come into existence. These texts, which occupied a position of central importance in ancient Indian religious tradition, were also considered to embody ancient Indian historical traditions.101 Defining the Puranas is a difficult task. The features that are supposed to distinguish them from other texts turn out to be paradoxical as well as contested. First, the very number of texts that qualify as Puranas is open to disagreement and the rough consensus (if it is a consensus at all) is that there were eighteen original Puranas or Mahapuranas. The substance of the Puranic texts is similarly controversial. The Puranas are supposed to be recognizable on account of their five features (panchalakshana) which were supposed to include accounts of the creation of the universe, the cosmic cycles, genealogies of sages and kings, exploits of the gods, and accounts of royal dynasties. But, in fact, many of the Mahapuranas contained materials which could not be contained within the panchalakshana definition—for example, the glorification of sectarian deities, new myths and legends, a discussion of social and ritual norms, etc. In any case, the Puranas or Mahapuranas refer to a corpus of Sanskrit texts which contained some or all of the traits listed above as part of the panchalakshana feature.102 A striking (p.46) feature of the Puranic tradition lay in the fact that the Puranas did not represent a static tradition, but an essentially dynamic one marked by the continuous revision of its substantive materials primarily through additions, replacements, and modifications. Such processes by which the Puranas were constantly recast often occurred at different time periods and presumably in response to contingent contemporary needs. This ceaseless remaking and recasting of the Puranas also underscores the need for the Puranas to keep abreast of changing times and social conditions so that their importance as sources of religious, ritual, and social authority might not be rendered irrelevant. It was probably inherent in the very nature of the Puranic process that the everpresent need to adjust to changing times would generate the birth of a related set of texts—the Upapuranas, which Doniger describes as the ‘poor cousins of the already poor Mahapuranas’ (‘already poor’ in relation to the authority and status assigned in Brahmanical culture to the Vedas for instance).103 These Upapuranas consciously located themselves in the Puranic genre, and the principal characteristic feature of these texts was that their affiliations to specific regions were far stronger than in the case of the Mahapuranas. Secondly, they were even less concerned about adhering to the panchalakshana standard than the Mahapuranas. Most Upapuranas were written in areas peripheral to the core Brahmanical sphere of influence and, thus, Bengal became a venue where many Sanskrit Upapauranas were produced most likely between the eleventh and twelfth centuries.104 The Upapuranas or portions of Purana texts composed in Bengal included the Brahmabaibarta Purana, the Brihannaradiya Purana, the Devi Purana, Kalki Purana, and some others. The circulation and use of these Puranas in Bengal is attested to by the fact that quite a few manuscript copies of these works in the Bengali script have been found, and some of these manuscripts can be dated to the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.105 The ubiquity and popularity of the itihasa-Purana tradition in Bengal is further confirmed by a vigorous tradition of commentaries on these works which were produced in this region. Accounts and stories embodied in the itihasa-Purana tradition, moreover, became an entrenched part of the lives of ordinary people in Bengal and were manifest in the use of Puranic allusions in proverbs, idioms of everyday speech, and in commonly held normative ideals.106 The Mangalkavya narratives, which are discussed in Chapter 3, can be located in a range of vernacular Puranas that had descended lineally from the Sanskrit Upapuranas. Thus, the Puranic genre, in all its variations, (p.47) constituted a very important source from which various literary and narrative traditions in different South Asian languages drew sustenance for many centuries. It symbolized a mediating link between ‘high’ Brahmanical traditions, embodied most typically perhaps by the Vedas on the one hand and masses of popular, regional, and local customs and traditions on the other.107 The term itihasa derives etymologically from ‘iti ha asa’ or ‘thus really it was.’ Both itihasa and Purana denoted types of narrative. The challenge in trying to track the genealogy of these terms lies in the fact that they were so often used together in Vedic and Puranic literature and, yet, one can detect tendencies to try to articulate distinctions among them as well as efforts to subsume one of these terms under the other. As Anand Swarup Gupta's analysis of these terms reveals, there were differences of opinion about the exact meaning and distinctions between itihasa and Purana even among ancient Indian commentators on Vedic texts. There are also indications that the term Purana subsumed within itself both its own meaning (ancient or old) as well as the meaning of itihasa (‘thus really it was’). What is most important and relevant for our purposes here is that there was also an amalgamation of both these terms to refer to bodies of stories or knowledge about the past. A famous passage from the Vayu Purana seems to suggest that Purana and itihasa were in fact used synonymously in this sense: That twice born (Brahmana), who knows the four Vedas with the Angas (supplementary sciences) and the Upanishads, should not be (regarded) as proficient unless he thoroughly knows the Puranas. He should reinforce the Vedas with the itihasa and the Purana. The Vedas (is) afraid of him who is deficient in traditional (thinking).108 This usage of itihasa and Purana is reinforced by the use of these terms in the Brahma Purana.109 Thus, it is perhaps not untenable to hold that by the age of the Mahapuranas, both Purana and itihasa were being used to denote an established tradition of knowledge or stories associated with former times. The term akhyana (stories) was also treated in the older stratum of ancient Indian literature as slightly distinct from Purana. Yet, over time, all three terms— itihasa, Purana, and akhyana—came to be used interchangeably.110 It is widely agreed that the Mahabharata was considered a work of itihasa; yet, it was (p. 48) also considered to be a dharmashastra as well as a Purana and an akhyana, whereas in his commentary on the Mahabharata, Nilakantha expounded that Puranam puravrittam (the Puranas are stories about ancient times).111

Mapping Early Modern Bengal Itihasa and Kavya

Itihasa, Purana, and akhyana were all forms of narrative literature or sahitya, the essential elements of which consisted of shabda (word), artha (meaning), and the inseparable unity between the two. Even within the sahitya tradition, itihasa, akhyana, and such others. were more particularly associated with kavya, which held a special pride of place in the Sanskrit literary tradition and was described as ‘shabdarthau sahitam kavyam’.112 Formal discussions about the constituent elements of kavya and its definition were prevalent in South Asia for almost nine hundred years. The consensus is that kavya, as Pollock puts it, was essentially a ‘verbal icon that was distinguished from all other types of narrative by the fact that the raison d’être of its type of expression is expression itself'.113 Thus, itihasa, Purana, akhyana, and such others in the ancient Indian tradition were regarded as forms of narrative literature (to use modern terminology) rather than a distinct discipline that was devoted primarily to the evaluation of rational evidence as the basis of its accounts. Such criteria, as we know, came to be seen as the pre-eminent defining features of history writing from about the later nineteenth century. In ancient India, beginning particularly from the AD seventh century, there began a trend of the production of ‘historical kavyas’ (Pollock's term) which underwent an ever-intensifying development in the following millennium. These narratives were most often composed in the context of royal courts and were, usually, the direct result of royal patronage. Mainly charitas or biographies of kings, these kavyas recounted the exploits and achievements of the royal personalities who featured as the principal subjects.114 Kings and their exploits, as we know, were one of the commonest topics of history-writing in practically all ancient and medieval societies.115 But, the pre-eminent literariness of these kavyas prompted literary scholars of the Sanskrit tradition ranging from A.B. Keith, S.K. De to Sheldon Pollock to agree that while these narratives possessed historical themes, they did not constitute history.116 Indeed, if one is looking for history or itihasa as an autonomous, rational, evidence-dependent shastra in premodern India, then that search is likely to be futile. Kalhana's Rajatarangini is frequently seen as (p.49) one of the exceptional examples of ‘proper’ historical writing in ancient India.117 Yet, Kalhana saw himself and described himself as a poet, as did Sandhyakara Nandy, author of the Ramacharitam.118 To move closer to the period that is the focus of this book, we find that the terms which most closely approximated ‘history’ in Bengali language narratives were terms such as itihasa, Purana, akhyana, katha, itibritta, and many others. Works such as the Shabda-Kalpa-Druma compiled at the initiative of Raja Radhakanta Deb in the nineteenth century and the Bishwakosha associated with Nagendranath Basu provide definitions of terms such as akhyana, itihasa, and katha, which suggest that they were regarded as being near-synonymous in meaning.119 Thus, by the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, these terms were used in Bengali narratives to refer to stories or accounts of the past, which could be, and very often were, factual, or invented. The terms itihasa and Purana in particular were known and understood as representing ancient models replete with their own conventions regarding subject matter, inter-textual reference, and other parameters. I do not mean to suggest that canonical texts like the Puranas and the Ramayana and Mahabharata created certain normative conventions for writing about the past, which were then adhered to exactly, century after century, until such formulaic repetitiveness was abruptly halted by the impact of colonial rule and the introduction to India of the modern notion of history as a scientific, rational, and positivist discipline. If anything, arguing against such a notion is one of the aims of this work. I suggest instead that in medieval and early modern Bengal, the ancient conventions of itihasa were adhered to, sometimes in terms of subject matter, sometimes in terms of organization, and sometimes primarily in terms of terminology such as itihasa, akhyana, Purana, to signal that such works should be seen, at a certain level, as belonging to some well-known and respected ancient genres. However, as the subsequent chapters demonstrate, significant new features attuned to current conditions and concerns were often incorporated into texts which were titled or described as Purana or itihasa and intended, at a certain level, to be seen as such. But then, this tendency to incorporate new, different, and contingent issues was, as seen earlier, a feature of the Puranic corpus itself. Thus, the models or norms for writing about the past did not stifle the articulation of contemporary concerns and issues. Instead they provided templates endowed with legitimacy, authority, and sanctity on account of their long use and acceptance. (p.50) The Genealogy of a Concept—II: Tarikh

The Indo-Persian tradition of chronicle writing, or the tarikh tradition, formed a component in the intellectual and political culture described here as Persianization. This tradition had its roots in classic traditions of Arab historiography and then, subsequently, Persian historiography.120 In its earliest stages, the terms ‘(ilm) al-ahbar’ and ‘tarih’ came closest to the concept of history in the Islamic world in that the former term initially denoted information about remarkable events (and thus became associated with the deeds and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad and ancient Muslim authorities) without necessarily meaning an organically connected series of events, whereas the latter term meant both date and era as well as works containing information about dates and eras. Subsequently, the term ‘tarih’ or ‘tarikh’ began to be used for annalistic or connected narratives about past events. The ninth and tenth centuries seem to have marked an important stage in this evolving tradition. First, the impact of philosophical and moral studies imbued the writing of tarikh with an ethical and moral rationale in place of the religious and theological rationale it had possessed earlier. Secondly, the authors of such narratives were no longer religious authorities but courtiers, government officials, and bureaucrats who drew upon official documents, personal contacts, court gossip, and other materials to compose their works. Gibb termed this the ‘secularization’ of history in the Islamic world.121 Often, the authors of such works, ‘would use past history merely as a background for the present’.122 Thirdly, many such tarikhs revolved around what has been described as ‘the ruler scheme of…presentation’—that is, the connected account of the reigns of various rulers of the past or contemporary time when the work was being composed.123 This feature was derived presumably from Greco-Byzantine as well as pre-Islamic Persian nationalist traditions. The focus on the reigns of individual rulers as the structuring device of tarikh narratives was accompanied by copious details regarding the administration and governance of the rulers being discussed. Underlying this preoccupation with administrative details lay a more important interest in ethical and moral principles upon which systems of governance were ideally supposed to be based. The attention to the ethical actions of prominent individuals (such as rulers or their important officials, eminent religious personalities, and others) also established a biographical element into the Islamic historical tradition. In fact, ‘history…became almost synonymous with biography’.124 Finally, from about the twelfth century AD, (p. 51) Arabic and Persian historiography began to diverge more widely. The Mongol conquests precipitated the process by which Arabic was supplanted by Persian in the zone of Perso-Turkish culture. This culture was introduced into India through Turkish military conquests and thus Indo-Islamic historiography came to be imbued with many of the features which had come to characterize the Persian tarikh or historiography tradition. During the period of the Delhi sultanate, the production of works such as the Tarikh-i-Mubarak Shahi by Yahya bin Ahmad Sirhindi (written between 1428 and 1434) and the Tarikh-i-Muhammadi by Muhammad Bihamad Khani (completed in 1438–9), to name only two out of a large body of literature, attests to the currency of this tradition within the Indian subcontinent.125 Rao-ShulmanSubrahmanyam rightly point out that there was a significant maturing of this tradition within the Indian subcontinent during the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, both in terms of density and substance.126 A considerable number of such works was produced by the Mughal nobility associated with the adminsitrative-bureaucratic circles of the empire. Mughal royalty also featured as authors of such works.127 Among this large body of Persian tarikhs, the pride of place in terms of its uniqueness goes, of course, to Shaikh Abul Fazal's Akbarnama, composed in the later sixteenth century.128 Other landmark Persian tarikhs of the Mughal empire included Abdul Qadir Badauni's Muntakhab-ut-Tawarikh, Nizamuddin Bakshi's Tabaqat-i-Akbari, the Padshahnama of Abdul Hamid Lahori, Muhammad Kazim's Alamgirnama and the Ma‘asir-i-Alamgiri, and many others.129 The impetus for tarikh production also led to the composition of Persian narratives that provided successive accounts of regional dynasties and rulers. The Gulshan-i-Ibrahimi (better known as the Tarikh-i-Firishta) of Muhammad Qasim Hindu Shah, composed in the Deccan in the early seventeenth century, is one of the best-known of such regional accounts. There are many other regional narratives of this type for the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. By the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the tarikh tradition had been in use in the South Asian subcontinent for many centuries.130 This intellectual tradition, too, had undergone shifts and changes in response to different historical situations and contexts within India, as well as to different regional contexts within the subcontinent. As Ali Anooshahr points out, from the late sixteenth century, for example, a number of extremely important tarikhs were written in which the history of (p.52) Muslim kingship within the Indian subcontinent was the primary focus, rather than accounts of pre-Islamic or Islamic Iran. Anooshahr characterizes this as a ‘ground-breaking innovation in subject matter’.131 The older tendency of writing universal histories which concentrated mostly on Islamic polities and societies outside India did not cease, but the innovation in framing the subject of tarikhs composed in India was significant. In some of the Persian tarikhs discussed in Chapter 5 of this book, the authors gave central importance to Bengal under the rule of Muslim kings and relatively less weight to Bengal's connection to the Mughal empire.132 Other Bengal tarikhs—such as the Siyar-ul-Mutakhirin of Ghulam Hussain Khan Tabatabai—were more strongly conscious of the political relationship between the Delhi-based Mughal empire and Bengal.133 Other characteristic features of the mature tarikh tradition were to be seen in the use of the Persian language, a preoccupation with the mechanisms and institutions of political power as manifest through actions, policies, and calculations of rulers, nobles, and other governmental functionaries. Indeed, these narratives concentrated on recording the actions of grandees and ministers, thrones and imperial powers. Thus, the career of a ruler would detail his governmental policies and chart his relations with various other functionaries at different levels of the political system and the diverse factors such as trust, loyalty, and protection which anchored them. Similarly, the career of a nobleman would be traced through a series of official appointments and duties in the light of his relation with the king and service to the kingdom. Allusions and points of references were frequently taken from incidents in Islamic history and tradition associated with regions outside India. Significantly, the feature of inter-textuality, or references to earlier works which are regarded as authoritative, points to the fact that authors who wrote such works considered themselves as part of a Persian historiographical tradition. Tarikhs also very typically assigned central importance to sequential successions of rulers. In fact, the very organization of tarikhs attests to this. As seen above, this intense preoccupation with government derived from a deep concern with notions of ethical governance. Connected to this was the even deeper and more fundamental premise of such scholarship, that the events narrated in these works were actually a manifestation of divine will. This was one among many features singled out for criticism by twentieth century scholars who argued that the centrality given to divine will disqualified such works from being taken seriously as history.134 (p.53) Chapter 5 of this book discusses a cluster of Persian tarikhs that were composed in Bengal during the later eighteenth century. These tarikhs embodied many of the characteristics discussed here. Tarikhs, whether from the wider Islamic world or within the Indian subcontinent, were treated as a branch of scholarship which formed an essential part of ‘polite education’. It was part of the intellectual and cultural repertoire of a refined and sophisticated person, which explains its currency among political elites and in courtly circles.


(1.) Sir Jadunath Sarkar, History of Bengal: Muslim Period 1200–1757, Patna, 1973, (rpt). (2.) I do not intend to suggest that culture in general is inherently linked to and dependent on political authority, but rather to focus on cases where political culture can and does affect certain literary, intellectual, and historiographic traditions. (3.) Sarkar, History of Bengal, pp. 1–14, 187–215. (4.) M.R. Tarafdar, Hussain Shahi Bengal, 1494–1538 AD A Socio-Economic Study, Dhaka, 1965, pp. 90–122. (5.) Ratnalekha Ray, Change in Bengal Agrarian Society, New Delhi, 1979, pp. 17–21. (6.) Abdul Karim, Murshid Quli Khan and his Times, Dacca, 1963; Sarkar, History of Bengal. (7.) P.B. Calkins, ‘Formation of a Regionally Oriented Ruling Group in Bengal’, Journal of Asian Studies, vol. 29, no. 4, August 1970, pp. 799–806.

(8.) Kumkum Chatterjee, Merchants, Politics, and Society in Early Modern India: Bihar: 1733–1820, Leiden, 1996, pp. 101–27. (9.) Sarkar, History of Bengal, pp. 455–67. (10.) Ghulam Hussain Khan Tabatabai, Seir Mutaqherin, 4 vols, Nota Manus (tr.), Delhi, 1990; Ghulam Hussain Salim Zaidpuri, Riyazus Salatin, Maulavi Abdus Salam (tr.), Delhi, 1904; F.A. Gladwin, A Narrative of Transactions in Bengal: A Translation of Salimullah Munshi's Tarikh-i-Bangala, Calcutta, 1906; Mildred Archer, Patna Painting, London, 1947; Ratnabali Chatterjee, From the Karkhana to the Studio: A Study in the Changing Social Roles of Patron and Artist in Bengal, New Delhi, 1990. (11.) There is a large literature on the growth of the English East India Company's commerce and political power in Bengal. Some representative examples are Sarkar, History of Bengal; Sukumar Bhattacharya, The East India Company and the Economy of Bengal from 1704–1740, Calcutta, 1969; P.J. Marshall, Bengal: The British Bridgehead: Eastern India, 1740–1828, Cambridge, 1983; Chatterjee, Merchants, Politics, and Society. (12.) Ray, Change in Bengal Agrarian Society; Shireen Akhtar, The Role of Zamindars in Bengal, 1707–1772, Dhaka, 1982; J.R. McLane, Land and Local Kingship in Eighteenth Century Bengal, Cambridge, 1993. (13.) Sarkar, History of Bengal; Karim, Murshid Quli Khan and His Times; K.K. Datta, Ali Vardi Khan and his Times, Calcutta, 1963 (1939). (14.) See, for example, Daniel and Alice Thorner, Land and Labour in India, Bombay and New York, 1960; N.K. Sinha, The Economic History of Bengal From Plassey to the Permanent Settlement, 3 vols, Calcutta, 1956–70; Ray, Change in Bengal Agrarian Society. (15.) Sinha, Economic History of Bengal; Ray, Change in Bengal Agrarian Society. (16.) Ray, Change in Bengal Agrarian Society. (17.) S. Sen (ed.), Kabikankan Birachita Chandimangal, Calcutta, 1993; Mahimaniranjan Chakrabarti, Birbhum Rajvamsa, Calcutta, 1909, p. 62. (18.) Ramram Basu, Raja Pratapaditya Charitra, Searampore, 1801, pp. 17–18, 44–6. (19.) Shamita Sinha, Pandits in a Changing Environment, Calcutta, 1993. (20.) Sarkar, History of Bengal, pp. 216–28.

(21.) Tapan Raychaudhuri, Bengal under Akbar and Jehangir: A Socio-Economic Study, Delhi, 1969, p. 86. (22.) Some aspects of this phenomenon are described in Aniruddha Ray, Adventurers, Landowners and Rebels: Bengal c. 1575–1715, New Delhi, 1998, pp. 195–245. (23.) Sarkar, History of Bengal, p. 216. (24.) See Dinesh Chandra Sen, Banga Bhasha O Sahitya, vol. 2, Asit Kumar Bandyopadhyaya (ed.), Calcutta, rpt, 2002, pp. 555–707; Ashutosh Bhattacharya, Bangla Mangalkabyer Itihasa, Calcutta, 2002 (rpt), pp. 804–6; Dushan Zbavitel, History of Bengali Literature, Wiesbaden, 1976, pp. 165–6. (25.) Raychaudhuri, Bengal under Akbar and Jehangir, p. 87. (26.) D.C. Sen, Banga Bhasha O Sahitya, vol. 2: pp. 555–707; also Bhattacharya, Mangalkabyer Itihasa, pp. 811–22. (27.) Literary scholarship in particular often does not distinguish clearly between Muslim rule and Mughal rule. (28.) The strongest articulation of this view occurs in Sarkar, History of Bengal, pp. 497–8. (29.) Mirza Nathan, Bahristan-i-Ghaibi, (tr. M.I. Borah), Gauhati, 1936, vol. 1, bk. 1: p. 2. (30.) Ibid., 1: pp. 130–1. (31.) Raychaudhuri, Bengal under Akbar and Jehangir, p. 84. (32.) W. Pertsch (ed. and tr.), ‘Kshitishvamsavalicharitam: A Chronicle of the Family of Raja Krishnachandra of Navadvipa, Bengal’, in Mohit Roy (ed.), Kshitishvamsavalicharit, Calcutta, 1986, pp. 250–60. (33.) Gladwin, A Narrative of Transactions in Bengal, p. 61. (34.) Sarkar, History of Bengal, p. 300. (35.) Nathan, Bahristan-i-Ghaibi, 1, bk. 1: pp. 14, 27. For the significance of giftgiving rituals, see Stewart Gordon (ed.), Robes of Honour: Khil’at in Pre-Colonial and Colonial India, New Delhi, 2003. (36.) Nathan, Bharistan-i-Gaibi, vol. 1, bk. 1, p. 32. (37.) Pertsch, Kshitish; Brajendranath Bandyopadhayaya and Sajanti Kanta Das (eds), ‘Annadamangal’, in Bharatchandra Grantahbali, 1369 BS, Calcutta, pp. 10– 350.

(38.) Jnanendranath Kumar, Vamsa Parichay, vol. 24, 1350 BS, Calcutta, pp. 3–5; A.K. Roy, Lakshmikanta: A Chapter in the Social History of Bengal, Benaras, 1928, pp. 25–8; Bimanbehari Majumdar (ed.), Gaurimangala by Raja Prithvichandra of Pakur, Calcutta, 1971, p. xix. (39.) Sukumar Sen, Bangla Sahityer Itihasa, vol. 2, 1405 BS, Calcutta, pp. 274–5. ‘The son of the lord of Delhi’ mentioned here was probably Shah Shuja, subahdar of Bengal from 1635–60, with some interruptions. (40.) Satyanarayan Bhattacharya (ed.), Kobi Krishnaram Daser Granthabali, Calcutta, 1958, pp. 7–9. (41.) Cited in S. Sen, Bangla Sahityer Itihasa, 2, pp. 858–9. (42.) Bhattacharya (ed.), Kobi Krishnaram Daser Granthabali, p. 9. (43.) Cited in S. Sen, Bangla Sahityer Itihasa, 2, p. 149. (44.) J.F. Richards, ‘The Formulation of Imperial Authority under Akbar and Jehangir’, in The Mughal State, Muzaffar Alam and Sanjay Subrahmanyam (eds), New Delhi, 1998, pp. 126–67; J.F. Richards, ‘Norms of Comportment among Imperial Mughal Officials’, in Moral Conduct and Authority: The Place of Adab in South Asian Islam, Barbara Daly Metcalf (ed.), Berkeley, 1984, pp. 255–89. (45.) Richards, ‘Formulation of Imperial Authority’, p. 150. (46.) Nathan, Bahristan-i-Ghaibi, vol. 1, bk. 1, pp. 17, 74. (47.) Ibid., 1, p. 11. (48.) Kunal Chakrabarty, Religious Process: The Puranas and the Making of a Regional Tradition, New Delhi, 2001. (49.) For a more detailed discussion of this point, see Chakrabarty, Religious Process; K. Chatterjee, ‘Communities, Kings and Chronicles: The Kulagranthas of Bengal’, Studies in History, vol. 21, no. 2, 2005, pp. 174–213. (50.) Haraprasad Shastri, ‘Buddhism in Bengal since the Muhammadan Conquest’, Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, vol. 44, no. 1, 1895, pp. 55– 64. (51.) Jawhar Sircar, The Construction of the Hindu Identity in Medieval Western Bengal. The Role of Popular Cults, Institute of Development Studies, Occasional Paper No. 8, Kolkata, 2005, p. 38. (52.) R.C. Majumdar, History of Medieval Bengal, Calcutta, 1973, pp. 188–217, 246–59; Sukhamoy Mukhopadhyaya, Banglar Itihaser Du'Sho Bachar: Swadhin Sultander Amal (1338–1538), Calcutta, 1980, pp. 51, 82–91.

(53.) Mohammed Enamul Huq, Muslim Bengali Literature, Karachi, 1957; Asim Roy, The Muslim Syncretist Tradition in Bengal, Princeton, 1983; Richard M. Eaton, The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier: 1204–1760, New Delhi, 1994. (54.) Eaton, Islam and the Bengal Frontier, p. 226. (55.) Eaton, Islam and the Bengal Frontier, p. 302; Tony Stewart, ‘In Search of Equivalence: Conceiving the Muslim-Hindu Encounter through Translation Theory’, in Richard M. Eaton (ed.), India's Islamic Tradition, 711–1750, New Delhi, 2003, pp. 363–92. (56.) William Adam, Reports on the State of Education in Bengal (1835 and 1838) including some Account of the State of Education in Bihar and a Consideration of the Means Adapted to the Improvement and Extension of Public Instruction in Both Provinces, Anandanath Basu (ed.), Calcutta, 1941, pp. 59, 141. (57.) Ibid., pp. 21, 149–51. (58.) Ibid., pp. 277–9, 279–81, 284, 287. (59.) Notable exceptions include Stuart Blackburn, Print, Folklore and Nationalism in Colonial South India, New Delhi, 2003; Abhijit Gupta and Swapan Chakravarti (eds), Print Areas: Book History in India, New Delhi, 2004; Anindita Ghosh, Power in Print: Popular Publishing and the Politics of Language and Culture in a Colonial Society, New Delhi, 2006. (60.) The literature on this subject is extensive. Some notable examples include Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change, 2 vols, Cambridge, 1979; Robert Darnton, The Literary Underground of the Old Regime, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1982; Roger Chartier (tr. Lydia G. Cochrane), The Cultural Uses of Print in Early Modern France, Princeton, 1987. (61.) Juthika Basu Bhaumik, Bangla Punthir Puhpika, Calcutta, 1999. (62.) Dinesh Chandra Sen, Gharer Katha O Juga Sahitya, Calcutta, 1969 (rpt), pp. 76–7; Rabindranath Thakur, ‘Jibansmriti’, pp. 6, 38, and ‘Chelebela’, p. 101 in Rabindra Rachanabali, vol. 11, 1989, Calcutta. (63.) Ghulam Hussain Tabatabai, Seir, vol. 2: pp. 157–8. (64.) Anonymous, ‘Popular Literature of Bengal’, Calcutta Review, vol. 13, January–June, 1850, pp. 257–84. (65.) D.C. Sen, Gharer Katha O Juga Sahitya, pp. 76–7. (66.) Adam, Report, p. 141.

(67.) Ibid., pp. 284, 287. (68.) D.C. Sen, Banga Bhasha O Sahitya, vol. 1, pp. 16–33; S. Sen, Bangla Sahityer Itihasa, vol. 1, pp. 19–37; Gholam Murshed, Kalantare Bangla Gadya, 1399 BS, Calcutta, pp. 13–42. (69.) See D.C. Sen, Banga Bhasha O Sahitya; S. Sen, Bangla Sahityer Itihasa. (70.) S. Sen, Bangla Sahityer Itihasa, vol. 2, pp. 47–90, 311–36; Susil Kumar De, Early History of the Vaishnava Faith and Movement in Bengal from Sanskrit and Bengali Sources, Calcutta, 1986; Ramakanta Chakrabarti, Bange Baishnab Dharma, Calcutta, 1996; Abantikumar Sanyal and Ashoke Bhattacharya (eds), Chaitanyadeb. Itihasa O Abadan, Calcutta, n.d. (71.) Sudipta Kaviraj, ‘The Two Histories of Literary Culture in Bengal’, in Sheldon Pollock (ed.), Literary Cultures in History: Reconstructions from South Asia, Berkeley, 2003, pp. 518–28. (72.) Sukumar Sen (comp.), Vaishnava Padavali, New Delhi, 1957. (73.) Abdul Karim, Punthi Parichiti, in Ahmad Sharif (ed.), Dhaka, 1958; Mohammed Enamul Huq, Muslim Bengali Literature; Sukumar Sen, Islami Bangla Sahitya, 1400 BS, Calcutta. (74.) On this point, see Murshed, Kalantare Bangla Gadya, pp. 180–98. (75.) S. Sen, Bangla Sahityer Itihasa, vol. 1, pp. 19–37; Sushil Kumar De, Bengal's Contribution to Sanskrit Literature and Studies in Bengal Vaishnavism, Calcutta, 1960, pp. 76–9. (76.) Sheldon Pollock, ‘The Sanskrit Cosmopolis, AD 300–1300. Transculturation, Vernacularization and the Question of Ideology’ in J.E.M. Houben (ed.), Ideology and Status of Sanskrit: Contributions to the History of the Sanskrit Language, Leiden, 1996, pp. 197–248. (77.) Sheldon Pollock, ‘Sanskrit Literary Culture from the Inside Out’, in Sheldon Pollock (ed.), Literary Cultures in History: Reconstructions from South Asia, Berkeley, 2003, pp. 39–130. (78.) De, Bengal's Contribution to Sanskrit Literature, p. 22. (79.) Tarafdar, Hussain Shahi Bengal, pp. 268–72. (80.) De, Bengal's Contribution to Sanskrit Literature, p. 122. (81.) Muzaffar Alam, ‘The Culture and Politics of Persian in Pre-Colonial Hindustan’, in Sheldon Pollock (ed.), Literary Cultures in History, pp. 131–98.

(82.) Muzaffar Alam, Francoise ‘Nalini’ Delvoye, and Marc Gaborieau (eds) The Making of Indo-Persian Culture. Indian and French Studies, New Delhi, 2000, p. 25. (83.) Jagadish Narayan Sarkar, The Life of Mir Jumla, the General of Aurangzeb, New Delhi, 1979; Sanjay Subrahmanyam, ‘Persianization and Mercantilism in Bay of Bengal History, 1400–1700’, in Explorations in Connected History: From the Tagus to the Ganges, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 45–79. (84.) Alam, Delvoye, and Gaborieau, The Making of Indo-Persian Culture, p. 25. (85.) Eaton, Islam and the Bengal Frontier, p. 47; Ma Huan (tr. J.V.G. Mills), YingYai Sheng-lan: ‘The Overall Survey of the Ocean's Shores’, Cambridge, 1970. (86.) Subrahmanyam, ‘Persianization and Mercantilism’, p. 57. (87.) Huq, Muslim Bengali Literature, pp. 142–5. (88.) S. Sen, Bangla Sahityer Itihasa, vol. 1, pp. 98–9. (89.) Ibid., vol. 1, pp. 108–10. (90.) Tarafdar, Hussain Shahi Bengal, pp. 264–6. (91.) Ibid., p. 266. (92.) Sukhamoy Mukhopadhyaya, Bangalir Itihaser Du Sho Bachar, pp. 88–9. (93.) Abdul Karim, Abdul Karim Sahitya Bisharad Rachanabali: Prathama Khanda, Abul Ahsan Chowdhury (ed.), vol. 1, Dhaka, 1997, pp. 179–319. (94.) S. Sen, Bangla Sahityer Itihasa, 1, pp. 89–91; S. Sen, Islami Bangla Sahitya, pp. 22–43; M.R. Tarafdar, Bangla Romantic Kabyer Hindi-Awadhi Patabhumi, Dhaka, 1971; Mir Sayyid Manjhan Shattari Rajgiri (tr. Aditya Behl, et al.), Madhumalati: An Indian Sufi Romance, Oxford, 2000; Shantanu Phukan, ‘Through a Persian Prism: Hindi and Padmavat in the Mughal Imagination’, unpublished PhD dissertation, University of Chicago, 2000. (95.) S. Sen, Bangla Sahityer Itihasa, vol. 1, pp. 89–91. (96.) Karim, Abdul Karim Granthabali, pp. 179–319. (97.) Sukhamoy Mukhopadhyaya and Sumangal Rana (eds), Jayananda Birachita Chaitanyamangal, Shantiniketan, 1994, p. 135. (98.) Sarkar, History of Bengal, pp. 223–4; Tarafdar, Hussain Shahi Bengal, pp. 264–6; Eaton, Islam and the Bengal Frontier, pp. 159–93. (99.) Subrahmanyam, ‘Persianization and Mercantilism’, pp. 53–7.

(100.) Anand Swarup Gupta, ‘Purana, Itihasa, Akhyana’, Purana, vol. 6, no. 2, 1964, p. 454. (101.) F.E. Pargiter, Ancient Indian Historical Tradition, London, 1922; H.C. Raychaudhuri, Political History of Ancient India from the Accession of Parikshit to the Extinction of the Gupta Dynasty, Calcutta, 1953 (rpt). (102.) Ludo Rocher, Puranas, Wiesbaden: Hassarowitz, 1986; R.C. Hazra, Studies in the Upapuranas, vols 1 and 2, Calcutta, 1963, (1958). (103.) Wendy Doniger, Purana Perennis: Reciprocity and Transformation in Hindu and Jaina Texts, Albany, 1993, p. ix. (104.) Hazra, Studies in the Upapuranas, vol. 1, p. 214, and vol. 2. (105.) Chintaharan Chakrabarty, ‘Purana Tradition in Bengal’, Purana, vol. 7, no. 1, 1965, p. 150–7. (106.) Ibid., pp. 152–4. (107.) K. Chakrabarty, Religious Process, p. 55. (108.) Cited in Thomas B. Coburn, Devi Mahatmya: The Crystallization of the Goddess Tradition, Columbia, MO, 1985, p. 27. (109.) Renate Schonen and Peter Shriner (eds and trs), Brahmapurana, Wiesbaden, 1989, ch. 42: 38cd–42ab. (110.) Gupta, ‘Purana, Itihasa. Akhyana’, pp. 456–9; V.S. Pathak, Ancient Historians of India: A Study in Historical Biographies, New York, 1963, pp. 1–18. (111.) Gupta, ‘Purana, Itihasa, Akhyana’, p. 461. (112.) Sushil Kumar De, History of Sanskrit Literature, Calcutta, 1947; Edwin Gerow, Indian Poetics, Wiesbaden, 1977, p. 236. (113.) Sheldon Pollock, ‘Sanskrit Literary Culture from the Inside Out’, in Sheldon Pollock (ed.), Literary Cultures in History. Reconstructions from South Asia, p. 51. See also, Gerow, Indian Poetics, p. 219 and De, History of Sanskrit Literature, p. 41. (114.) Pathak, Ancient Historians of India; Chandra Prabha, Historical Mahakavyas in Sanskrit (Eleventh to Fifteenth Century AD), New Delhi, 1976. (115.) Chronological accounts of kings and dynasties also featured as staples of ‘modern’ history-writing in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and beyond. The conscious and professed methodology followed here was of course different from either the ‘historical kavya’ or other forms of historiography of ancient and medieval times. (116.) A.B. Keith, History of Sanskrit Literature, Oxford, 1966, pp. 144–53; De, History of Sanskrit Literature, pp. 345–9; Sheldon Pollock, ‘Sanskrit Literary Culture from the Inside Out’, pp. 41–53. (117.) A.L. Basham, ‘The Kashmir Chronicle’, in Historians of India, Pakistan, and Ceylon, C.H. Philips (ed.), London, 1961, p. 58. (118.) Sandhyakara Nandy, Ramacharitam, Radhagobinda Basak (ed. and tr.), Calcutta, 1969, p. 99. (119.) Raja Radhakanta Deb, Shabda-Kalpa-Druma, Calcutta, 1931, pt. 1; Nagendranath Basu, Bishwakosha, 1317 BS, Calcutta, vol. 2, pt. 2. (120.) Hamilton A.R. Gibb, ‘Tarikh’, in S.J. Shaw and W.K. Polk (eds), Studies in the Civilization of Islam, Boston, 1962, pp. 108–37. (121.) Ibid. (122.) Franz Rosenthal, A History of Muslim Historiography, Leiden, 1968, p. 72. (123.) Ibid., p. 87. (124.) Ibid., p. 101. (125.) Peter Hardy, ‘Some Studies in Pre-Mughal Muslim Historiography’, in C.H. Philips (ed.), Historians of India, Pakistan, and Ceylon, London, 1961, pp. 115– 27; also Peter Hardy, Historians of Medieval India: Studies in Indo-Muslim Historiography, London, 1966. (126.) Velcheru Narayana Rao, David Shulman, and Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Textures of Time: Writing History in South India 1600–1800, New Delhi, 2001, p. 223. (127.) The Baburnamah, the Humayunnamah of Gulbadan Begum, and the memoirs of emperor Jehangir (that is, The Tuzuk-i-Jehangiri) are appropriate examples. (128.) Rao-Shulman-Subrahmanyam, Textures of Time, p. 223. (129.) Abdur Rashid, ‘Treatment of History in Mughal Official and Biographical Works’, in C.H. Philips (ed.), Historians of India, Pakistan, and Ceylon, pp. 139– 51. (130.) Hardy, Historians of Medieval India; Mohibbul Hasan (ed.), Historians of Medieval India, Meerut, 1968

(131.) Ali Anooshahr, ‘Mughal Historians and the Memory of the Islamic Conquest of India’, Indian Economic and Social History Review, vol. 43, no. 3, 2006, p. 278. (132.) For example, Ghulam Hussain Salim Zaidpuri (tr. Maulavi Abdus Salam), Ryazu-s-Salatin, Delhi, 1975 (rpt). (133.) Ghulam Hussain Tabatabai, Seir. (134.) Hardy, Historians of Medieval India, p. 111.
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Re: The Cultures of History in Early Modern India, by Kumkum

Postby admin » Mon Mar 13, 2023 4:27 am

Part 1 of 2

2. The Genealogical Tradition

Abstract and Keywords

Genealogies are used to record the pasts of families, clans, and dynasties. This chapter discusses one of the most common and enduring forms in which the pasts of families and lineages were commemorated in Bengal, the kulagranthas, kulapanjikas, or kulajis. These genealogical materials possess a remarkable history, given that they were composed and used uninterruptedly for hundreds of years — stretching probably from the ninth and tenth centuries ad until about the mid-to late nineteenth century. The chapter discusses the origin and development of kulagrantha literature, the challenge of assigning precise dates to them, and their substance. It explores the cultural and ideological functions of the kulagranthas as well as their adjustments to contingent social and political realities. Finally, it discusses whether kulagranthas constituted a form of collective historical awareness regarding developments in the past which had shaped the social lives of jati and kula-based communities in Bengal.

Keywords: genealogies, Bengal, kulagranthas, history, families, lineage, kulapanjikas, kulajis, jati, communities

Genealogies constitute one of the commonest materials used to record the pasts of families, clans, and dynasties. This chapter discusses one of the most common and enduring forms in which the pasts of families and lineages were commemorated in Bengal. These genealogical materials from Bengal were known as kulagranthas, kulapanjikas, or kulajis. They possess a remarkable history, given that they were composed and used uninterruptedly for hundreds of years—stretching probably from the ninth and tenth centuries AD until about the mid to later nineteenth century.1 This chapter discusses the origin and development of kulagrantha literature, the challenge of assigning precise dates to them, and their substance. Secondly, it explores the cultural and ideological functions of the kulagranthas as well as their adjustments to contingent social and political realities. Finally, this chapter discusses whether kulagranthas constituted a form of collective historical awareness regarding developments in the past which had shaped the social lives of jati and kula-based communities in Bengal.

Origin and Development of Kulagranthas

In its most general sense, the term ‘kula’ meant family or clan (extended family); the terms grantha (book) and panji/panjika (chronicle) indicated that these materials were essentially genealogies of kulas or lineages which recorded the generational descent of the patrilineal Hindu family or clan over many centuries. In recording such descent, the kulagranthas claimed to commemorate the story of the developments (p.63) which were believed to have shaped the social and normative structure of Hindu Brahminical society in Bengal over hundreds of years. The term kula, although generally denoting the clan or lineage, also signified, in this case, a distinct and somewhat unique meaning. Kula status denoted an elite position within the varna/jati configuration. A person possessing this status was described as a kulina—literally, one who belonged to a high status kula. This elite status, which was essential to become a kulina, was believed to be derived from spiritual and ritual purity which was manifest in the practices, deportment and inner qualities of those who were acknowledged as kulinas.2 The status of being a kulina and the entire Bengali institution of ‘kulinism’ needs to be understood in the context of the varna/jati hierarchies which have been a characteristic feature of South Asian society for many centuries. It takes its place among the vast variety and form of regional variations and configurations of the ‘universal’ South Asian fourfold varna hierarchy. The kulagranthas embodied the foundational narrative of how the institution of kulinism came to be rooted in Bengal. Secondly, these materials charted developments within the institution of kulinism over many centuries, focusing in particular on periodic shifts in hierarchies among kulina lineages and laid down the norms of social interaction among kulina families. The principal modalities of social interaction related to inter-marriage and inter-dining, but also included other forms of social and especially physical interaction. The narrative of the kulagranthas assigned central importance to a series of kings who were believed to have ruled different parts of Bengal roughly between the seventh and eight centuries AD and the twelfth century. These kingly personalities were represented as key figures in initiating and then shaping the most typical features of Bengal's kulinism. The first of such monarchs was king Adisura commonly believed to have initiated the process of social purification in Bengal by inviting five ritually and spiritually pure Brahmins (that is, purer than the Bengali Brahmins of the time, who were believed to have suffered a reduction in their spiritual and ritual prowess on account of exposure to undesirable influences such as Buddhism) from Kanauj in northern India to migrate and settle in Bengal. The descendants of these Kanaujiya Brahmins were designated a higher social status than Brahmin groups who were already settled in the region. This was also true of the descendants of the five Kayasthas who, according to many of the genealogies, had accompanied the five (p.64) original Kanaujiya Brahmins to Bengal. They were considered to be higher in rank than Kayastha families who were residents of Bengal prior to what most kulajis characterized as the defining event of Brahminical society in Bengal—the importation of ritually purer sagnika Brahmins from Madhyadesha, which was the heartland of Aryavarta and the seed-bed of a more pristine Brahminical culture. The other two monarchical figures who dominate the stories told by the kulajis were the kings Ballala Sena and Lakshmana Sena of the Sena dynasty.3 Ballala Sena is generally credited with introducing the system of kulinism, that is, of formally designating some lineages of Brahmins as well as Kayasthas who had descended from the Kanaujiya immigrants as being of higher social status than others on account of their purer, superior virtues and practices. To be designated a kulina thus meant a siginificant elevation in social status and rank vis-à-vis other lineages within the same jati. Ballala Sena's efforts at social ranking also extended, according to some kulajis, to the Baidya jati whose genealogies, however, do not associate them with the migration from Kanauj. The institution of kulinism was further modified and regulated by Ballala Sena's son and successor Lakshmana Sena4. Over time, the kulajis began to articulate an almost formulaic litany of nine specific virtues which were deemed essential for the attainment of kulina status. These virtues included correct behaviour, modesty, scholarship, the act of installing/establishing deities for the purpose of worship, dedication/commitment, meditation, charity, and undertaking of pilgrimage.5 Several kings prior to the Sena rulers—usually represented as the descendants of Adisura—had also initiated reforms and new rankings among Brahmin lineages in particular. The kulaji chronicles, however, assign the greatest weight to the jati/kula reforms authorized by Adisura, Ballala Sena, and Lakshmana Sena as being the most significant ones. Periodic evaluations and determinations of jati/kula rankings among the three dominant jatis of Bengal, that is, the Brahmins, Kayasthas, and Baidyas, continued to be undertaken by post-Sena potentates in Bengal—with varying degrees of power and authority, and social and political jurisdictions over many centuries—probably right into the nineteenth century. As depicted by the kulaji literature the institution of kulinism, with its associated modifications and shifts, continued to exert a fair amount of influence over the politics and reality of social status in Bengal even into the middle of the nineteenth century and beyond it as well.6 (p.65) A view, not unanimously but widely articulated in the kulaji literature, was that the strengthening and formalization of the institution of kulinism by Ballala Sena and Lakshmana Sena in the twelfth century ushered in the practice of compilation and maintenance of genealogies of the kulina lineages associated primarily with the Brahmin, Kayastha, and Baidya jatis. These genealogies tracked not merely male generational succession within each kulina family, but paid special attention to recording the family's history of social interaction— particularly its marriage practices. Kulagranthas commonly associate Ballala Sena with having introduced (or at any rate tightened) the injunction regarding ‘correct’ marriage practices among kulina lineages. He apparently decreed that kulina Brahmins should only inter-marry with other kulina Brahmin lineages. Kulina Brahmins could marry the daughters of non-kulina Brahmins (known as Shrotriya Brahmins)—but the reverse was not to be permitted. The violation of this decree would result in the loss of kula status and thereby a decline in social status and material affluence, and even in total expulsion from kula society. This feature soon became the predominant, defining feature of kulinism in Bengal and during the post-Sena period, many jatis which had initially opposed and resisted the introduction or reification of kulinism by Ballala Sena, introduced it among themselves. The most common explanation for this is that the passage of paramount political power in Bengal into the hands of Muslim kings since the twelfth century meant that there was no longer an autonomous Hindu kingship (or, at least not one comparable to the Sena monarchy) which could grant material honours and entitlements to those deemed qualified to be kulinas. Kulinism within Brahmin, Kayastha, and Baidya jatis now came to be focused more strongly on regulating social and communal interaction since these types of purely social interaction now remained one of the few remaining spheres in which Hindu Brahminical jatis could act autonomously. The regulation of marriage practices came to represent the most typical attribute of high-status jatis and lineages in Bengal and these groups in effect constituted samajas or communities which were held together by intricate kinship networks resulting from marriage within the group. Many samajas were based on geographical contiguity and thus larger units like the Brahmins or Kayasthas came to be divided into smaller local communities such as Rarhi Brahmins (that is, Brahmins settled in the Rarh region or in lower Bengal), Barendra Brahmins (that is, Brahmins settled in northern Bengal or Barendrabhumi), and (p.66) Bangaja Kayasthas (Kayasthas settled in Banga which, for a long time, denoted the eastern part of Bengal in particular). The birth of the chronicles known as kulagranthas is closely linked to the formalization of the institution of kulinism or kula bidhi, or kula maryada by Ballala Sena and Lakshmana Sena. Initially, the Sena monarchs formulated and authorized the norms of social and personal behaviour which were meant to define kulina status. These rulers supposedly appointed learned men, well versed in kula-tattva, that is, the principles of kulinism and the histories of kulina families, to hold the office of kulacharya. They also discharged the important task of creating and maintaining elaborate genealogical accounts of various kulina lineages with a view to building a fund of social and communal memory about the social behaviour (mainly inter-marriage) of these lineages. Thus was born the practice of composing kulajis or kulapanjis. The kulacharyas, also known as ghatakas, functioned as the chroniclers and archivists of different kulina communities and occupied leadership positions within them. In their hands, the compilation of genealogical materials was said to have become so systematic, that it came to be regarded as a discipline or shastra.7 Since the very maintenance of kulinism involved the evaluation of status and rank, the genealogies produced, maintained and updated by the kulacharyas and ghatakas played a central role in this continuous process by creating an archive of memory. The task of authorizing and supporting these periodic evaluations was continued by Hindu kings and zamindars in Bengal during the post-Sena period. Some of these potentates held high official and bureaucratic positions under the Muslim rulers of Bengal. These chieftains continued to appoint and support kulacharyas and to authorize the determinations of jati/kula-based hierarchies among Brahmins, Kayasthas, and Baidyas through assemblies called samikaranas or ekjais.8 This scenario in Bengal can be traced from the eclipse of the Sena monarchy into the nineteenth century.

Language, Format, and Function of the Kulagranthas Bengal's kulagranthas as a genre were characterized by the fact that they were simultaneously textual and oral. For many centuries, kulacharyas had followed the practice of textualizing these materials, but one of the commonest forms of disseminating them was through oral performance (recitation/singing) at public occasions like weddings. Among certain jati-based communities, genealogies which were specifically intended to (p.67) be performed publicly were known as dak, dak-gatha, dhakur, dhakuri, and many others.9 This oral dimension of the kulajis clearly ensured that their messages were widely disseminated and not restricted by a limited literacy. The languages used in the kulajis were Sanskrit and Bengali.10 Written kulaji texts used both languages—almost with equal frequency; the oral ones were most commonly in Bengali. The use of Bengali in these chronicles points to the actual need felt by those who produced and consumed these materials to ensure the widest possible transmission of the message articulated by these genealogies. The use of Sanskrit underlines the equally important need to give these materials the aura of antiquity, sanctity, formality, and legitimacy—almost a shastric character in fact.11 The simultaneous occurrence of Sanskrit and Bengali passages in the same kulaji—both in written as well as oral texts— further reinforces the balancing act enacted by kulagranthas in terms of upholding an ancient, shastric image together with deploying a language used colloquially in order to broaden the sphere of their reception and impact. Almost invariably, the form used in the kulapanjikas was sloka. Conditions of Production and Dating of Kulagranthas

The conditions in which these materials were produced and disseminated create a formidable challenge in terms of ascertaining their precise dates. These genealogies had been composed, used, and circulated in conditions prevailing in a pre-print culture.12 Over the centuries, scribes made unintentional mistakes when copying and re-copying kulaji texts, and the oral dimension of kulagranthas meant that performance-related considerations caused frequent changes to be introduced in the text. Perhaps more than such textual instabilities, it was the lack—or the weak existence—of what Foucault calls the ‘author function’,13 together with what I call the ‘porousness’ of texts, which combined to produce serious difficulties in the way of ascertaining the date/ chronologies of the kulapanjis. Kulacharyas sometimes used older chronicles (especially those that were well-known and respected) but inserted new materials into them without always mentioning that this had been done. This was inevitable perhaps because of the perceived need to manipulate genealogies to suit existing social/cultural concerns while claiming the authority of wellestablished works whose credibility and legitimacy were less likely to be questioned. Yet, it was impossible to ascertain the number of times when a possibly ur-text (that is, if there ever was an ur-version) (p.68) was modified, enhanced with new terminology, or new substantive passages, and the like over several centuries through which it was referred to and used. The ‘author function’ described by Foucault was hard to identify in the case of kulajis (or for that matter in a vast range of other narratives known as panchali sahitya— including the Mangalkavyas, Ramayanas, Mahabharatas—which were produced in Bengal over several centuries including the period covered by the kulajis) whose generic integrity predominated over attributions and claims of individual authorship. The feature of ‘porousness’, that is, the practice of segments of particular works migrating into other texts without explicit acknowledgement that such a phenomenon was actually occurring, also contributed to the challenges associated with dating the kulagranthas.14 Such random interpenetration of materials from one text into another took place quite unrestrictedly since the modern notion (associated with the advent of print culture) of copyright, that is, the author's prerogative to exclusive ownership and proprietorship of his/her composition and the associated notion that no other author/compiler could make free use of it (without permission and/or acknowledgement), was practically unknown. These conditions made it next to impossible to determine the dates and chronological sequence of the kulajis with any degree of certainty. I choose the methodological solution of reconstructing the forces of cultural politics in Bengal's history, and using them as a backdrop against which to map out the ideological trajectories and messages embodied by kulashastra. The Substantive Dimension of the Kulajis

Very often kulajis provided basic ‘trees’ or barebone records of patrilineal descent within specific families.15 But there were also genealogies which embedded the basic account of biological succession within a broader, comprehensive narrative regarding the status of a specific lineage as well as the social and political forces which shaped and moulded the hierarchies within various jatis. Romila Thapar terms this the ‘narrative tradition.’16 The discussion here concentrates primarily on the genealogies of the Brahmin, Kayastha, and Baidya jatis of Bengal. These jatis dominated Bengali society for many centuries, both materially as well as in terms of status. These elite jatis (as noted by earlier scholars like R.C. Majumdar17) also produced many more kulagranthas and their chronicles often stretch back to the earliest stages in the grand account (p.69) of the evolution of Bengal's Brahminical society. Almost all kulagranthas of Bengali Brahmins, Kayasthas, and Baidyas either accepted, rejected, or modified the story about the settlement of five ‘pure’ Brahmins and possibly five Kayasthas from Kanauj. Many of the older kulajis, particularly of Rarhi Brahmins, recorded adjustments of ranks, grades, and hierarchies created by a series of rulers who are identified as the successors of king Adisura. But these pale in comparison to the weight and significance attributed by these chronicles to Ballala Sena's project of social engineering. Ballala Sena reportedly introduced the practice of kula bidhi among Kayasthas and Baidyas too. Many from these jatis, however, protested against this new practice and rejected it initially (the nature and significance of such dissent is elaborated below). Later however, some among the groups who had flouted Ballala Sena's kula bidhi also eventually created their own versions of it. The substantive core of the kulagranthas, apart from these two defining stories, was concerned solely with recording the process of constant adjustments and evaluations of jati/kulabased status.18 Three elements combined to make such periodic adjustments possible, that is, the potentate or raja, the kulacharyas/ghatakas, and the jatibased samaja or goshthi.19 Since marriage practices had assumed the most important function in the determination of jati/kula-based rankings, the practice of periodic evaluations was intended to police and regulate marriage practices and also social behaviour to some extent. The criteria deployed by the triumvirate of raja-kulacharyasamaja/goshthi in this endeavour shifted with time since the contingent historical context clearly played a role in determining the principles which were selected to evaluate social behaviour and interaction. But the basic concerns, as represented by the kulajis, seem to have been as follows: preventing contact with people and groups deemed to be impure, that is, jatis/kulas of lower rank and status, and specific groups deemed to stand beyond the pale of the varnashrama configuration; condemning marriage practices and social interaction with specific lineages and/or jatis deemed to have violated the norms of social interaction mandated for them; condemning and regulating generally unacceptable, anti-social behaviour such as committing a murder. In the ‘early’ period of kulaji production (the Sena period and the pre-Sena period) total ‘outsiders’, or those who could not be ranked within the varna/jati/kula hierarchies, included such dreaded, despised, and feared groups like the Buddhists; in the post-Sena centuries, ‘yavanas’ or ‘mlechchas’ identified mostly with Muslims, filled that position. (p.70) Remarkably, women are virtually absent in the kulagrantha corpus. In accounts of marriage transactions, the identity of the bride's father or the patrilineal clan are specifically mentioned. The bride herself remained forever nameless. Women therefore, seemed to be invisible. Yet, paradoxically enough, the kulajis themselves testify to the fact that despite the strongly patriarchal ideology articulated by these materials, women played critically important roles in this system of status and rank which was dependent on the performance of the right kind of social conduct and interaction. High status Brahmins and Kayasthas, for example, were permitted to take brides from families lower in rank than themselves; but the reverse would spell social disaster for a family and its related clan group.20 Thus, despite their ostensible invisibility in the kulapanjis, women, or rather the status of the families they married into, had a very real impact on the prestige and rank of their natal families. Moreover, by the fifteenth century or so, one set of influential rulings or reforms that were authorized by Debibar Ghatak for kulina Rarhiya families quite openly tied the determination of kula status and rank to the physical and behavioural purity of women who were to be partners in marriage to men of Rarhiya kulin lineages. The lack of physical and behavioural impurity was seen to derive from factors such as the possession of physical deformities, being orphaned, raped, being older in age than the bridegroom, and other such factors. The behaviour of men was also a determining factor, at least theoretically, in the ever-shifting equations of behaviour and rank.21 The kulagranthas also collectively articulated certain key ideological concerns of Brahminism.

Ideological Function of the Kulagranthas The central ideological concern of the kulagranthas, and indeed the principal reason for the emergence of kulashastra, was the upholding of a Brahminical social and cultural order and the defence of this order vis-à-vis the forces that threatened to undermine it.22 Two other sets of texts which shared the same ideological concerns were the Bengal Puranas or Upa-Puranas as they are known and the smriti texts of Bengal which were mostly authored during the medieval period.23 The Upa-puranas of Bengal and the smriti literature in fact serve as critically important complements to the kulapanjis and help us to understand them better. In seeking to defend the boundaries and validity of Brahmanism, the kulajis identified the deviant ‘other’ with which it (p.71) needed to wage its ideological battles. It is with regard to this that the kulagranthas exhibited a fascinating ability to articulate their core, long-term cultural concerns on the one hand, and on the other to adjust their discourse to fit the contingent anxieties of the times when they were composed or recast. Thus kulajis, or segments of kulajis, which described the origin of kulinism at the court of Ballala Sena identified Buddhists and Tantrics as the dangerous subversive ‘others’. The articulation of the emergence of kulinism as a necessary bulwark against the enemies of Brahminism such as Buddhists and Tantrics makes it likely that these accounts reflect the anxieties of the twelfth century and the period immediately preceding it. Post-twelfth century Brahminical concerns were reflected in the kulajis' worries about increasing physical and social contact with Muslims who were being identified as the source of the gravest threat. Yet, through this process, certain key features which characterized the kulajis and, in fact, had come to be associated with the very tradition embodied by the Bengal kulagranthas were preserved carefully. Kulajis thus continued to provide accounts of marriage practices of various lineages; to give foundational importance to the story of the importation of Brahmins and Kayasthas from Kanauj; and to regard both Ballala Sena and Lakshmana Sena as the principal architects of the system of kulinism in Bengal.24 It was critically important thus, for a corpus of materials such as these genealogies, to preserve the tradition it constituted. The kulagranthas certainly provide us with an invaluable glimpse of the discourses through which these materials sought to identify what they perceived to be the dangerous forces ranged against Brahminism; they also shed light on the politics of culture, status, and ideology in Bengal during the medieval and early modern periods. The following sections discuss first the depiction in the kulagranthas of the ideological concerns during the reign of Ballala Sena, and second the ideological concerns of the period following the twelfth century.
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Re: The Cultures of History in Early Modern India, by Kumkum

Postby admin » Mon Mar 13, 2023 4:28 am

Part 2 of 2

Ballala Sena's ‘kula bidhi’ and Cultural/Ideological Forces in Bengal Between the Eighth and Twelfth Centuries

The competition and conflict among various religious and cultural traditions in Bengal—Brahminism, Buddhism, and Tantra—during the period prior to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries has been referred to in Chapter 1. Many of the older kulagranthas, particularly of various Kayastha communities, Barendra Brahmins, and the Baidyas, shed interesting light on the tangled contests among different (p.72) shades of ideology at the court of the Sena rulers and suggest that the introduction of Ballali maryada, as kulinism was sometimes called, may have been intimately associated with a broader project of social engineering attempted by the king partly in response to the pressures generated by the politics of ideology and culture of the time.25 The chronicles of several Kayastha lineages state that Ballala Sena, although a champion of Brahminism, was also attracted to Tantrism, both ‘Buddhist Tantrism’ and ‘Hindu Tantrism’.26 But apparently, the anti-Buddhist pressure exerted on him by the Shaiva and Shakta Brahmins, who were reportedly close to the king, compelled Ballala Sena to oppress and persecute the Buddhists.27 Buddhists who came to accept the supremacy of Brahmins, particularly those among the latter who were being promoted by the king were apparently given the status of Shudras from whose hands it was permissible to accept water for drinking (jalacharaniya Shudra). Other Buddhists who resisted the pressure to acknowledge the social predominance of Brahmins were cast out of mainstream society at the order of the king.28 Ballala Sena was also supposedly involved in acrimonious relations with the Suvarnavanika jati of his kingdom. The Suvarnavanikas apparently resisted the king's efforts to extort money from them and their unwillingness made them the objects of royal displeasure. Ballala Sena declared that their jati rank should be reduced and placed at the level of the lowest possible Shudra jatis from whom drinking water could not be accepted (anacharaniya Shudra).29 Nagendranath Basu is skeptical about this story,30 but it is significant that many centuries later, many from the Suvarnavanika jati were drawn into the fold of the Gaudiya Vaishnava movement by Nityananda, a close associate of Sri Chaitanya known for espousing the more socially egalitarian principles of the early Gaudiya Vaishnava movement, that is, disregard for varna/jati hierarchies and the social hegemony of Brahmins.31 Secondly, the testimony of Anandabhatta's Ballalacharitam, a sixteenth century work, illustrates at least a historical memory of animosity nurtured by groups of Suvarnavanikas in Bengal towards Ballala Sena.32 Thus, the introduction of Ballala Sena's kula bidhi might need to be contextualized against a wider impulse towards social engineering along the lines of varna/jati hierarchies which were perceived to comprise the core of a dharmic Brahminical social order. Ballala Sena thus used the criterion of faith in the foundational elements of Brahmanism, to push downwards the jati status of both the Buddhists and Suvarnavanikas. Interestingly enough the latter use the same criterion to tarnish the king's reputation for posterity by (p.73) posing questions regarding his conformity to Brahmanism. Both the disgruntled and marginalized Buddhists and the Suvarnavanikas are reputed to have been the source from which unsavoury rumours about Ballala Sena were generated.33 Anandabhatta's Ballalacharitam, believed to represent the Suvarnavanika point of view, alleged that Ballala Sena indulged in secret Tantric rites including sexual orgies with low-caste women and prostitutes. Furthermore, the king was reportedly infatuated with a young woman who was either from the Dom jati, or the daughter of a leather worker—in either case, from the lowest possible background in terms of varna/jati rankings—and worse still, he may even have married her.34 The king was thus personally guilty of transgressing the norms of social conduct through a sexual and marital relationship which was completely prohibited by varna/jati rules. What is significant in this episode of hostility between the king and the Buddhists and Suvarnavanikas is that all parties took a stand in which the overarching normative principle was Brahminism and any deviation from it was to be censured and condemned. Thus, in the discourse of the kulagranthas, rhetoric about the preservation of the Brahminical order became the idiom through which the politics of culture, ideology, and status were played out. Many other high-status groups within Brahminical society—such as some Barendra Brahmins and the Barendra and Uttar Rarhiya Kayastha communities —also rejected and challenged the institution of kulinism introduced by Ballala Sena. According to their kulajis, the institution of Ballali maryada was a violation of customary rankings among various jatis as well as of the pattern of social relations (including marriage practices) prevailing among them; it also transferred too much power into the hands of the king who could misuse it to settle personal vendettas and petty sectarian rivalries.35 There are sufficient indications in the kulajis that many Brahmin communities in Bengal too had become influenced by Tantra. According to his opponents, Ballala Sena had apparently introduced his kula bidhi in an attempt to bestow kula status on those of his Brahmin and Kayastha allies who too had accepted certain Tantric practices and beliefs or, at any rate, refrained from openly attacking him for straying from the dharmic path by succumbing to the attractions of Tantra. Thus, according to the genealogies of those lineages who defied the Ballali maryada, kulinism was a ploy to elevate those Brahmins and Kayasthas who had strayed from the right path of uncorrupted Brahminism and to camouflage (p.74) it in terms of a newly enunciated set of mandatory practices called kulachara which were nothing but Tantric practices recycled into the highest levels of varna society as new and strict requirements.36 Here too, what is interesting is that the king was condemned because he had apparently failed to stay on the path of undiluted, pristine Brahminism. In other words, critiques of kulinism were also cast in the kulajis as the discourse of Brahminism or rather the need to protect and preserve it from polluting and dangerous influences. The Ideological Concerns of the Post-Twelfth Century

The previous section serves as a backdrop which illustrates the cultural and ideological politics which underlay the emergence of Ballala Sena's kula bidhi. In this section I focus on the ways in which kulajis mirrored the cultural and ideological environment of Bengal since the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. In this period, the Muslims or yavanas were perceived to be the most potent threat to the Brahminical social order though not the only ones. The discourse of the kulagranthas rarely—if ever—distinguished between the reigns of the preMughal sultans and the Mughals (including the nawabs of Murshidabad) over Bengal. Hence, it is not possible to separate the treatment of Muslims in Mughal Bengal from an earlier period. To do so would also be to violate the sensibility of the kulagrantha tradition to which it was irrelevant whether a Muslim ruler or nobleman was associated with the Bengal sultanate or the Mughal regime. This
section, however, demonstrates with great clarity how a long-lived textual/oral tradition such as the kulajis articulated the professional as well as cultural interactions among people of high-status kulas and jatis on the one hand and Muslim elites on the other. The period of Sultanate rule (thirteenth–sixteenth centuries) as well as the subsequent period of Mughal rule in Bengal, witnessed the association with it of Hindu Bengali landed gentry and aristocracy. Literate, upper class and usually upper-caste Hindus, such as Brahmins, and Baidyas and Kayasthas in particular, did remarkably well through their involvement in bureaucratic positions in the government.37 The deepening professional interaction between high-status lineages and those perceived as representing the forces of Islam also created a degree of cultural interaction between these two groups—a scenario that was regarded as gravely dangerous by Brahminical authorities. This phenomenon is supposed to have grown stronger particularly since the time of Raja Ganesh (AD 1410–18) and the latter's son Sultan (p.75) Jalaluddin (AD 1418–31).38 There is no evidence that subsequent sultans of Bengal, or later the Mughal regime and the government of the nawabs of Murshidabad, had reversed this trend. Scholars like R.C. Majumdar and M.R. Tarafdar agree that there was a new urgency in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries to rewrite older kulagranthas and compose new ones. Both agree that the impetus behind this probably lay in the dangers perceived to be posed to Brahminical society by Islam.39 But, there were other forces also that were regarded as potentially threatening by Brahminical authorities. These ‘newer’ threats included Gaudiya Vaishnavism, particularly its perceived socially radical agenda as well as the intellectual discipline of navya nyaya which had become associated with particular centres of scholarship and learning in Bengal. Thus, there may indeed have been potent reasons for Brahminism to try to raise its ramparts and lock its doors, at least in principle, during this period. Many of these concerns harboured by Brahminism in medieval Bengal came to be manifested in the Navya Smriti literature of the period and in the kulagranthas of many high-status Brahminical jatis which were composed and/or redacted during the thirteenth to sixteenth centuries and possibly beyond. The codification of the Bengal smritis during the medieval period, and particularly the work of Smarta Raghunandan, should be seen as Bengal Brahminism's anxiety to regulate the boundary between varnashramabased social organization and conduct on the one hand and subversive forces such as Gaudiya Vaishnaviam, navya nyaya and, of course, Islam, on the other. Contemporary texts bear out the intesity of such fears. Brindabandas's Chaitanya Bhagavata, reported, for example, the fears generated among the orthodox Brahmins of Nabadvipa by those who had begun to adhere to the teachings of Sri Chaitanya, especially Brahmins who had become attracted to the message of the early Gaudiya Vaishnava movement in Bengal. In Brindabandas's words:

These [Vaishnava] Brahmins will destroy the kingdom/famines will occur because of them [i.e. their sinful activities] Upon hearing this, the pashandis [i.e. heretics—this term was once reserved for Buddhists] almost died in fear/They [the Vaisnavas] drink alchohol under cover of the darkness of the night They all know the Madhumati Siddhi [associated with Tantra]/They recite mantras at night and then bring in five women [Panchakanya] (p.76) Various other objects [i.e. associated with Tantric rituals] are also brought to them/[these include] things that are to be eaten, fragrances of various kinds, garlands and different kinds of clothes After eating [those foods] they engage in sexual activities with them [i.e. the Panchakanya]40 As this passage indicates, the old fear of Buddhists and Tantrics had not been completely eliminated. Anxieties about religious and cultural movements which derived from Brahminism tended to be couched in the vocabulary that had been used to demonize and marginalize them in the earlier kulajis (pre-Sena and Sena period) and in the Bengal Puranas and Upa-Puranas. Sri Chaitanya himself was described as wicked (dushta) and degenerate (nashtamite baro) in the kulaji chronicle attributed to Nulo Panchanan.41 In fact, to kulacharyas like Nulo Panchanan, the newer cultural and intellectual influences current in Bengal during that time, that is, Sri Chaitanya and his Gaudiya Vaishnava movement as well as navya nyaya associated with Raghunath Shiromoni, were ‘thorns’ (kanta) in the task of maintaining a dharmic social order grounded in varnashrama principles. In verses attributed to Nulo Panchanan, he mourned the fact that in these times, a [social] crisis became apparent in the Rarh and Banga regions (that is, southern and eastern Bengal) and the reputation of the great lineages in these areas became dim in terms of their moral/dharmic luster.42 Islam, however, was regarded as a more serious threat. Not only was it castigated as a dangerous and different religious tradition with a new set of cultural practices, it was also seen as a political force with the ability to influence and attract those affiliated to Brahminism with possibilities of material advancement. Not surprisingly thus, the Brahminical authorities continued to vilify Muslims too in terms not significantly different from the ones that had been deployed earlier to condemn Buddhists and Tantrics. One of the most important mechanisms available to Brahminism was to continuously police its internal and external margins through periodic reforms known as samikaranas and ekjais. In the case of Islam, it was not enough to depict it as a source of danger and subversion to the varna-based social order; something more concrete needed to be done to contain the potential havoc it could wreak on Brahminical society. In the discourse of the kulagranthas, this was manifest in two separate sets of reform initiatives (p.77) which were launched during the medieval period to protect the jati/kula-based social order. One set of reforms was initiated by the famous Barendra Brahmin kulaguru, Udayanacharya Bhaduri who lived during the early fifteenth century. The second set of reforms was associated with Debibar Ghatak, one of the most well-known Rarhiya Brahmin kulacharyas during the later fifteenth century. The Reforms of Udayanacharya Bhaduri

Udayancharaya Bhaduri was reputed to have carried out reforms among Barendra Brahmins with the support and patronage of Raja Ganesha, or Sri Ganesha Datta Khan as he is referred to in the kulagranthas. Another famous kulacharya who collaborated in the launching of these reforms was Kulluk Bhatta.43 The basic premise of these reforms was derived from the concern generated by the inevitable physical and social proximity and contact that came to exist between highly placed Barendra Brahmins and Muslims associated with the ruling circle. In the purity/pollution paradigm that underlay the vocabulary of the kulajis, the discomfort at such goings on found expression in charges that Barendra Brahmins were being physically ‘touched’, insulted, and harassed by Muslims. Udayanacharya Bhaduri's reforms were aimed at combating and countering such developments. This was accomplished by first creating categories of nonnormative or polluting behaviour evident among the Barendra Brahmins. Secondly, an effort was made to devise solutions (vyavasthas) to such problematic behaviour. The instances of wrong conduct were divided into two categories known as aaghat (literally, ‘injury’ or ‘hurt’) and abasad (literally, ‘devoid of energy’ or, ‘lack of lustre’).44 The terminology itself is interesting. They seem to suggest, conceptually, at least, that instances of anti-normative behaviour resulted in the diminution of the Brahmins' ethical energy or lustre or, even worse, caused an injury—almost a bump or a dent—in the dharmic strength of that Brahmin. In the case of the aaghat, the transgressive behaviour was noticed and recorded, and presumably, the individual who had committed the transgression as well as his family and those who came into contact with them, were supposed to bear the taint and censure embodied by the aaghat. In the case of the abasads, however, the kula authorities came up with solutions or vyavasthas for the removal of the abasad. The largest numbers of aaghats listed in these reforms involved occasions of contact between Barendra Brahamans and Muslims. These included the Bharataghat which had been generated when a certain (p.78) Bharatacharya had been ‘harassed’ by a Muslim soldier, and the Kafur Khani aaghat which resulted from a certain Purandaracharya being again ‘harassed’ by a soldier of Kafur Khan. The efficacy of the taint or injury lay in the manner in which it spread to others who came into contact with the transgressor either through marriage connections or through social interaction.45 The other category of transgressive behaviour called abasad, were sixty-eight in number and the overwhelming majority of these were focused on cases of improper contact with Muslims.46 A typical example would include among others, the Almas Khani abasad which owed its origin to an incident in which a certain Sidhu Karial was (yet again) ‘harassed’ by Almas Khan's soldier.47 The principal distinction between the aaghat and the abasad lay in the fact that there were no formal provisions in these reforms for the removal of the former, while kulacharyas devised solutions (vyavastha, nishkriti) in the case of the latter to relieve the transgressor of the burden of having to bear the taint for a long time, or even permanently.48 Both categories of transgressions— particularly the abasads which could be expiated—indicates that the norms of social conduct laid down by kulagurus could not be enforced. The reasons for this state of affairs have been addressed below. The Reforms of Debibar Ghatak

The reforms of Bandyaghotiya Debibar Mishra or Debibar Ghatak were known as mel bandhan and should be regarded as a response to the crisis which was deemed to have befallen the elite jati of kulina Rarhiya Brahmins. As in the case of Udayanacharya Bhaduri's reforms for the Barendra Brahmin community, here too, an important component in this crisis was believed to lie in a situation in which highly placed, respected kulina Rarhiya Brahmins, were engaged in close professional, social, and cultural interactions with upper class Muslims— particularly those associated with the ruling class of the Bengal sultanate. Kulajis described the social/cultural interaction among high-status Hindu jatis and Muslims as a huge moral and social crisis—practically a ‘revolution’ (viplava). In the discourse of the kulagranthas, a glaring example of this was the fact that Muslims, according to them, had started showing up at high-status Hindu homes when ceremonies such as marriages were in progress with the deliberate aim of causing a scandal.49 Debibar's mel bandhan represented a response to this situation (as also to other threatening forces). In these reforms, Debibar (like Udayancharya before him), identified the various kinds of doshas or violations which (p.79) had been committed by kulina Rarhiya Brahmins. The doshas ranged from the murder of a Brahmin to marriages between kulinas and non-kulinas.50 An important dosha listed in the mel karikas was ‘yavana dosha’, that is, a taint produced through contact or interaction with Muslims.51 The Magh and Firinghee doshas resulted from contact with Europeans, specifically, the Portuguese and those associated with them.52

The next big step in Debibar's reform involved the division of kulina Rarhiya Brahmins into units called mels which derived from a specific dosha or violation committed by a prominent member of the lineage. Debibar Ghatak is said to have created thirty-six such mel divisions. Practically every mel was perceived to be contaminated to a greater/lesser degree by the yavana dosha.53 Rarhiya kulina families deemed to have committed doshas were not directly expelled from the Rarhiya kulina Brahmin community. Theoretically, the mel bandhan scheme created a new configuration of ‘polluted’ families whose taint was thereby recognized and contained by the kulagurus. A new pattern of marriage practices arose which were to be conducted, as authorized by kulacharyas, within the circle of ‘contaminated’ lineages.54 On the one hand, Debibar Ghatak's mel scheme was represented as an example of the strictness of kulina society and the toughness and vigilance of its kulacharyas who did not apparently hesitate to hang labels connected with specific doshas or offences on to the reputations of well-known kulina lineages. But, as some post-Debibar kulacharyas (for example, Nulo Panchanan) and some modern scholars (for example, Nagendranath Basu, M.R. Tarafdar) agree, mel bandhan actually represented a strategic compromise and, simultaenously, a way of preserving Rarhiya kulina Brahmin society from complete extinction.55 It was an indirect way of recognizing that the rules supposed to govern marriage practices had become so very restrictive that they could not actually be followed.56 In large measure, the un-enforceability of kula rules was due to the socio-political reality of medieval Bengal. This point is further discussed below. Nulo Panchanan who probably lived a century or so after Debibar, voiced the doubts and dissatisfaction of those who considered the mel bandhan scheme a step that paved the way for the doom and degeneration of Rarhiya kulina Brahmin society. ‘Debibar’, wrote Nulo Panchanan, ‘planted a poison tree (bisha briksha) which (should have) been exterminated’.57 The ‘poison’ in Debibar's reform, according to Nulo Panchanan inhered in the fact that it allowed ignorant, non-virtuous people to continue holding the rank of kulina because of considerations of heredity. (p.80) The foregoing section showed that some of the principal preoccupations of kulashastra, from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries into the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and beyond, was to devise solutions to the problem of socio-cultural contact between high-status Brahminical jatis on the one hand and Muslim ruling circles on the other. Yet, while Udayancharya Bhaduri and Debibar Ghatak were attempting to police the boundaries of Brahminism, the same centuries witnessed the incorporation into these genealogical materials of statements proclaiming the close association of many kulinas belonging to highstatus lineages with a variety of Muslim regimes in Bengal. What makes these statements particularly significant is that these were not oblique, implicit suggestions, but direct statements which proudly declared the receipt of high office, material rewards, and honours from various pre-Mughal sultans of Bengal, the Mughal provincial administration of Bengal as well as the government of the Murshidabad nawabs over the region. Banikanta Ray, an important member of the Barendra Kayastha community as well as his brothers Rambhadra and Ramanath held high office in the administration of Sultan Alauddin Hussain Shah.58 A kulaji, identified by Nagendranath Basu as the kulagrantha of Jadunandan Das commemorated their high office as follows: ‘Rambhadra [and] Ramanath Majumdar [were employed] in Bengal's kanungo serista.… [Their brother]…Banikanta Roy [was] roy-royan of Bengal.…’59 Rajyadhar Ray of the Barendra Kayastha community held the office of wakil in the Bengal administration at the court of the Mughal emperor. A kulaji text, also supposed to be a version of Jadunandan's Dhakur grantha said, ‘Roy Rajyadhar, [he] received great honours from the [Mughal] badshah…[he was] the Bengal ukil [wakil] at the [court of] the badshah…’.60 Some of these lineages continued to serve and hold high office despite dynastic and regime changes in Bengal. A good example is furnished by the case of Devidas Khan, of the Barendra Kayastha community who served Daud Khan Karrani, the last Afghan sultan of Bengal, and was also associated with the subsequent Mughal administration.61 The Sanskrit Kshitishvamsavalicharitam, records how Bishwanath, an ancestor of the rajas of Nadia, secured recognition as ‘raja’ from the ‘mlechcha’ conqueror of Delhi called Mahmud of Ghazni. According to this genealogy, ‘Bishwantha, having [successfully] pleased the yavana king, secured Kankdi and various other territories which had not been part of his ancestral estate and ruled as a particularly reputable (prasiddha-pratapa) raja for thirty one (p.81) years’.62 These examples represent a mere fraction of the countless that are depicted in the kulagranthas. These cases suggest a paradox between the concerns of kulagurus like Udayancharya and Debibar on the one hand and the actual socio-political realities of medieval and early modern Bengal on the other, whereby the path to material power lay through association with Muslim ruling regimes. And such material power, as will be seen below, was critical to the attainment of prestige, high status, and leadership within the jati-based community. It is true that the references in the kulajis to cases of individuals belonging to high-status lineages holding office in the administration of Muslim rulers seldom strayed beyond this paradigm to explicitly mention instances of close personal and social contact with Muslims. The only unusual, atypical and yet, extremely significant example of this relates to the Barendra Brahmin zamindars of Bhaduria and Ektakia in northern Bengal. The genealogies of these zamindars took pride in their service to various Bengal sultans and Mughal emperors and also made direct references to the marriages of several men of these lineages to Muslim noblewomen.63 The kulagranthas also indicate quite clearly that the material clout acquired by various high-status Brahminical lineages through service to Muslim rulers translated directly into leadership positions for them within their jati/kula-based samajas or communities.64 Gopikanta Roy was an important person among Barendra Kayasthas because he was believed to be a descendant of Bhrigu Nandy who was hailed by the kulajis as one of the leaders of this community at the time of Ballala Sena. The kulajigranthas also indicate quite clearly that Gopikanta Roy's power and status rose higher after he was appointed to the office of qanungo by Raja Man Singh. Gopikanta Roy then took a number of steps which clearly illustrate that political and professional elevation bore a close relationship to influence and sway within the jati/kula-based samaja. Gopikanta Roy was apparently married into a family which did not belong to the Barendra Kayastha community and thus broke the current marriage ‘laws’ in his samaja. Gopikanta is also supposed to have taken the unusual step of insisting that his father-in-law should be accepted into the Barendra Kayastha community and regarded as belonging to the Chaki lineage which enjoyed great respect within that samaja. Gopikanta's power and status was able to secure the end he had in mind.65 There are other instances of this phenomenon. Lakshmikanta Majumdar and Maharaja Krishnachandra Roy were powerful chieftains who belonged to the Rarhiya Brahmin community (p.82) and held dominant positions within it in their own localities during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries respectively. Both supported certain marriage practices for their own families which would normally not pass muster among Rarhiya Brahmins of the time. But both Lakshmikanta and Maharaja Krishnachandra Roy were able to push through such practices on account of their status as eminently powerful chieftains of their time.66 Actually both the great ‘reform’ programmes, initiated by Udayanacharya Bhaduri and Debibar Ghatak, referred to above contained within them the implicit recognition of the great material power of rajas and zamindars who were also, in most cases important personages within their own jati/kula-based communities. This is revealed specifically by the provision for the expiation of taints incurred theoretically through improper social interaction in the reforms of Udayancharya Bhaduri. These features actually appear more comprehensible when located in the wider context of the milieu ushered in by the reign of Raja Ganesha. The accession of this king and his son is believed to have witnessed a great ascendancy of high-status Hindus—particularly Kayasthas, but also Barendra Brahmins—in terms of their association with important bureaucratic offices. In the discourse of the kulajis, the downside to this situation was constituted by the fact that many of these highly placed Barendra Brahmins and Kayasthas began to assume customs and manners associated with Muslim elites and there occurred a degree of perhaps inevitable social/physical proximity and contact among them. Yet, the provision for the expiation of taints suggests that the norms of social conduct laid down by the kulagurus could not actually be enforced. As Nagendranath Basu rightly points out, many among the Barendra Brahmin community had acquired so much wealth and power that the kulacharyas (who were ultimately dependent on influential persons within the community) could not actually expel them forever on account of transgressive behaviour. The only recourse for leaders like Udayanacharya Bhaduri was to acknowledge and record the types of transgressions in the kulajis which functioned as the archives of the community's social behaviour. The provision for the expiation of the abasads in particular might suggest that these transgressions had been committed by especially powerful people and, in practical terms, it was not in the interest of the jati/kula-based community or the kulaguru to associate them with this taint forever. In the specific cases of the Mathurkopa abasad and the Darpanarayani (p.83) abasad, people belonging to eminent families pleaded with those who commanded great respect within the community—such as kulinas and kulacharyas for the removal of the problem.67 The provision of specific steps which could free the transgressor from the taint, served to relieve individuals and the lineage which had strayed from the norms within the group, and also underscored the power, importance, and relevance of the kualcharyas. A similar feature was inherent in the mel bandhan initiative associated with Debibar Ghatak for Rarhiya Brahmins. Debibar's mel scheme recognized instances of transgressive behaviour but it neither expelled such transgressors from the community, nor demoted them from kulina status. This was especially true of powerful individuals and lineages. The discussion above raises the question of how the conceptual and theoretical paradigms within which the kulashastra of medieval Bengal was situated, handled this nexus between material status and jati/kula-based status. According to the theoretical underpinnings of Brahmanism, status usually brought with it material entitlements and rewards, but this was not what actually defined status. The stark dichotomy of material power and spiritual status postulated by Louis Dumont as the hallmark of the caste system68 has been disputed by others,69 and the examples given above support the position of those who opposed Dumont. The genealogies of practically all high-status jatis in Bengal bear testimony to the fact that material success gained through means not approved by the norms of jati/kula conduct were nevertheless proudly recorded and commemorated for posterity. In these chronicles, the fundamental principles of Brahminism were neither openly flouted nor scorned (in fact, quite the reverse). In effect, the two kinds of power (material power and status-based power) existed in tandem and reaffirmed one another. The kulagranthas quite clearly reveal that the maintenance of Brahminical principles and particularly their application to social issues was enabled by collaboration among three important entities, that is, the king, the kulacharya, and the community or the samaja. The king, however, functioned as the linchpin that made possible the functioning of a jati/kula-based order whose concerns were articulated in the kulajis. An analysis of the relations among these three entities sheds valuable light on the links that connected the community or the samaja to the political and normative authority of the raja. However, a digression into it is somewhat beyond the scope of this chapter.70

The Authority, Legitimacy, and Historicity of the Kulagranathas The kulagranthas discussed in this chapter embodied a long-lived genre of chronicle literature—often without clearly assigned authors and dates. Yet, they were sung, recited, compiled, and recast over centuries. The hierarchies of jatis and kulas maintained in them could and did produce very real consequences in the lives of families and clans over an extended period of time. From where did these materials draw their legitimacy and authority? The authority and legitimacy of the kulagrantha tradition came from its antiquity and its repeated tellings and re-tellings over the centuries. Through the continuous repetition of these materials, they themselves became synonymous with a regional Brahminical tradition. The authority of the kulagranthas derived equally from the fact that they were associated with the leaders of the jati/kula-based samaja, that is, the rajas who were also often samajapatis (leader of the samaja in social matters), and particularly the kulacharyas who composed and preserved the kulagranthas. Authority and legitimacy thus were rooted in the status and prestige of those who buttressed the samaja. As noted above, the kulajis were sung or recited at public occasions. The collective, communal nature of its dissemination at public occasions such as weddings could also imply the assent of the audience who gathered to listen to it. The chronicle form of the kulagranthas also possessed significant implications for temporal conceptions and assumptions. At their most explicit and transparent level, these chronicles, while recording the creation of dense webs of marriage relationships within a jati, also commemorated biological descent within the lineage. As Gabrielle Spiegel argues, the annal or chronicle form performed critically important functions in pre-modern societies in terms of creating and reinforcing a sense of continuity and linear temporality.71 Genealogies also asserted the temporal durability of their subjects, whether a family or a ruling dynasty, and allowed perceived relationships between historical figures and events of the past and present to be viewed as one continuous stream of happening. Most importantly perhaps, chronicles provided a ‘perceptual grid’72 within which to arrange, organize, and present the past. As seen here, this perceptual grid took the form of discrete biographies of kings or heads of kulina lineages linked together through generational change which was manifest through descent and succession. Genealogies, furthermore, connected the past and the (p.85) present by grounding it in biology and since they suggested that the human process of filiation and procreation were metaphors for historical change, they also served to secularize the notion of time.73 Above all, the kulagranthas functioned as a collective archive of social memory and communal history. These materials strengthened and perpetuated a collective sense of jati-based Brahminical identity as well as a communal sense of its origin and development over time. Medieval Bengali literature is replete with examples of the prevalence and ubiquitousness of such jati-based collective identities. Writing at the very end of the eighteenth century, when the relevance of the world depicted in the kulagranthas was probably already much weaker than before, the polyglot Ramram Basu, the munshi of various Englishmen and the author of Maharaja Pratapaditya Charitra introduced himself as a Bangaja Kayastha and a sva-jati (same jati) of the subject of his biography.74 As the discussion in this chapter establishes, these genealogies created a narrative about the origin and evolution of Brahminical society in Bengal through the detailed records of marriage practices and social interactions of high-status jatis and kulas. This chronicle literature made strategic and necessary acknowledgements of professional and socio-cultural interactions between high profile kulina lineages and various Muslim ruling powers who governed Bengal from the twelfth century onwards. However, its basic concern about enforcing norms of behaviour within the Brahminical samaja remained undisturbed. By identifying the various ‘others’ of Brahminism, the kulajis also sought to form a sense of Brahminical social identity and community which was located in opposition to the deviant ‘others’. Thus they produced a reservoir of collective social memory regarding the origin and growth of Bengal's Brahminical samaja. As Fentress and Wickham remark, ‘how does one make individual memory “social”?…essentially by talking about it. The sorts of memories one shares with others are those which are relevant to them, in the context of a social group of a particular kind’.75 The claim of Bengal's genealogical tradition to be regarded as social memory or history is borne out by the fact that the fundamental reason for their creation and preservation lay in the recognized need to transmit them as widely as possible. At least in the period before the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, these chronicles were not materials whose primary utility lay in being stored carefully in personal libraries—they were primarily intended for dissemination. The use of rhyming verse and fairly rustic, unsophisticated type of vernacular underscores the perceived urgency to spread the message contained in (p.86) the kulajis as widely as possible. I make no claim for the historicity of the kulajis in the late nineteenth century, rational-positivist sense of it. But I do believe that the kulajis came very close to what itihasa was expected to accomplish, that is, give people a sense of the past for the purpose of edification, entertainment, and instruction.


(1.) The genealogies/kulajis used in this chapter include some Sanskrit materials, for example, the manuscript entitled, ‘Rajabali’ (Dhaka University Library, mss. no. K577A) and W. Pertsch (ed. and tr.) Kshitishvamsavalicharitam. A Chronicle of the Family of Raja Krishnachandra of Navadvipa in Mohit Roy (ed.), Kshitishvamsavalicharit, Calcutta, 1986; also Bengali kulajis which were edited and translated during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, for example, Kedarnath Datta, Datta Vamshavali, 1282 BS, Calcutta; Mahimachandra Guha-Tahkurta, Kayastha Kulachandrika, Barisal, 1912. I have also used kulajis excerpted/reproduced in Nagendranath Basu's Banger Jatiya Itihasa, many vols, 1318–40 BS, Calcutta; Lalmohan Bidyanidhi, Sambandha Nirnaya, 5 vols, 1355 BS, Calcutta and Umeshchandra Gupta, Jati Tattva Baridhi, 2 vols, Calcutta, 1905 and 1912, respectively. (2.) Nagendranath Basu, Banger Jatiya Itihasa: Brahminkanda, 1318 BS, Calcutta; Ronald B. Inden, Marriage and Rank in Bengali Culture, Berkeley, 1976. (3.) Nagendranath Basu, Brahminkanda, Rajanyakanda, 1321 BS, Calcutta; Barendra Brahmin Bibaran, 1334 BS, Calcutta; Barendra Kayastha Bibaran, 1334 BS, Calcutta; Uttar Rarhiya Kayastha Kanda, 1335 BS, Calcutta; Dakshin Rarhiya Kayastha Kanda, 1340 BS, Calcutta; Gupta, Jati Tattva Baridhi, 2 vols. (4.) Ibid. (5.) ‘acaharo, vinayo vidya pratishtha tirtha darshanam/britti, tapo, danam navadha kula-lakshanam’, quoted from Bachaspati Mishra's Kularama in Basu, Brahminkanda, p. 134. (6.) See note 3 above. (7.) Basu, Brahminkanda, Rajanyakanda. (8.) Ibid. Brahminkanda, Rajanyakanda and Dakshin Rarhiya Kayastha Kanda. (9.) Basu, Barendra Kayastha Bibaran, preface, and pp. 2, 5, and 43–4, Uttar Rarhiya Kayastha Kanda. (10.) The use of Sanskrit in kulajis is attested to by genealogies such as the ‘Rajabali’ manuscript no. K577A of the Dhaka University Library, W. Pertsch (ed.), Kshitishvamsavalicharitam. A Chronicle of the Family of Raja Krishnachandra of Navadvipa, in Mohit Roy (ed.) Kshitishvamsavalicharit, 1986, Calcutta. The use of Bengali is attested to by many kulajis published in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries for example, the bulk of kulajis excerpted in the many vols of Basu's Banger Jatiya Itihasa and in the 2 vols of Gupta's Jati Tattva Baridhi. (11.) For discussions of the culturally prestigious character of Sanskrit, see Sheldon Pollock, ‘The Sanskrit Cosmopolis, AD 300–1300: Transculturation, Vernacularization, and the Question of Ideology’, in J.E.M. Houben (ed.), Ideology and Status of Sanskrit. Contributions to the History of the Sanskrit Language, Leiden, 1996, pp. 197–248 and ‘Sanskrit Literary Culture from theInside Out’, pp. 39–130 in Sheldon Pollock (ed.), Literary Cultures in History: Reconstructions From South Asia, Berkeley, 2003. (12.) For a general idea of conditions prevailing in a manuscript culture, see M.T. Clanchy, From Memory to Written Records, England: 1066–1307, 1979, Cambridge, Mass., 1979. (13.) Michel Foucault, Language, Counter-Memory and Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews, in D.F. Bouchard (ed.), Ithaca, 1977, pp. 113–38. (14.) R.C. Majumdar, ‘Samskrita Rajabali Grantha’, in Sahitya Parishat Patrika, vol. 4, 1346 BS, Calcutta, pp. 233–9. (15.) Romila Thapar, ‘Genealogy as a Source of Social History’, in Romila Thapar, Ancient Indian Social History: Some Interpretations, Delhi, 1979, pp. 326–60. (16.) Ibid. (17.) R.C. Majumdar, Bangiya Kulashastra, Calcutta, 1979. (18.) See note 3 above. (19.) For a discussion of the relationship among these entities, see K. Chatterjee, ‘Communities, Kings and Chronicles: The Kulagranthas of Bengal’, Studies in History, vol. 21, no. 2, 2005, pp. 173–213. (20.) Basu, Brahminkanda. (21.) Ibid. (22.) Kunal Chakrabarty, Religious Process. The Puranas and the Making of a Regional Tradition, New Delhi, 2001. (23.) R.C. Hazra, Studies in the Upapuranas 2 vols, Calcutta, 1958, 1963, Sureshchandra Bandyopadhyaya, Smriti Shastre Bangali, 1961, Calcutta. (24.) W. Pertsch, Kshitishvamsavalicharitam. (25.) Basu, Barendra Brahmin Bibaran, pp. 24–8, Rajanyakanda, pp. 324–30, Uttar Rarhiya Kayastha Kanda, pp. 35–43, Barendra Kayastha Bibaran, pp. 87– 93. (26.) Basu, Barendra Brahmin Bibaran, pp. 25–6, 28. (27.) Basu, Rajanyakanda, pp. 325–6. (28.) Ibid. (29.) Ibid., p. 326.

(30.) Ibid. (31.) Ramakanta Chakrabarti, Bange Baishnab Dharma. (32.) Anandabhatta, Ballalacharita, in Haraprasad Shastri (ed. and tr.), Calcutta, 1904. (33.) Basu, Rajanyakanda, pp. 325–6; Barendra Kayastha Bibaran, pp. 88–93. (34.) Basu, Barendra Kayastha Bibaran, pp. 88–93; Rajanyakanda, pp. 325–6. (35.) Basu, Uttar Rarhiya Kayastha Kanda, pp. 31–5; Barendra Kayastha Bibaran, pp. 88–93, Rajanyakanda, pp. 325–8; Barendra Brahmin Bibaran, pp. 25–8. (36.) Basu, Barendra Kayastha Bibaran. (37.) This process has been discussed in greater details for both the sultanate and Mughal periods in chapters 1 and 7. (38.) Sir Jadunath Sarkar (ed.), History of Bengal. Muslim Period 1200–1757, Patna, 1973 (rpt); Richard M. Eaton, The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier 1204–1760, Delhi, 1994. (39.) R.C. Majumdar, Bangiya Kulashastra; M.R. Tarafdar, ‘Kulaji Sahityer Aitihasikata’, in Itihasa o Aitihasika, Dhaka, 1989. (40.) Sukhamoy Mukhopadhyaya and Sumangal Rana (eds), Jayananda Birachita Chaitanyamangala, p. 135. (41.) Cited by Basu, Brahminkanda, footnote 4, pp. 187–8. (42.) Ibid. (43.) Basu, Barendra Brahmin Bibaran, p. 48. (44.) Ibid., pp. 58–95. (45.) Ibid., pp. 58–65. (46.) Ibid., pp. 68–9. (47.) Ibid., pp. 70–5. (48.) Ibid., p. 69. (49.) Ibid. (50.) Ibid., p. 189. (51.) See also Tarafdar, ‘Kulaji Sahityer Aitihasikata’, pp. 121–2.

(52.) Tapan Raychaudhuri, Bengal under Akbar and Jehangir, p. 114. (53.) Basu, Brahminkanda, p. 186. (54.) Ibid., pp. 186–95. (55.) Ibid., pp. 217–19; Tarafdar, ‘Kulaji Sahityer Aitihasikata’, p. 122. (56.) Basu, Brahminkanda, pp. 187–8, 195–6, 201–14. (57.) Ibid., p. 227 (58.) Basu, Barendra Kayastha Bibaran, pp. 119–120. (59.) Ibid., p. 121. (60.) Ibid., p. 153, footnote 9. (61.) Ibid., pp. 160–4. (62.) Pertsch, Kshitish, p. 243. (63.) Durgachandra Sanyal, Banger Samajika Itihasa, 1317 BS, Calcutta. (64.) The kulajis often used honorific titles—such as nawab—of Muslim kings or their nobles and did not always refer to them by name, thus making it difficult to identify them. (65.) N. Basu, Barendra Kayastha Bibaran, p. 148 (66.) N. Basu, Brahminkanda, pp. 247, 276–7; A.K. Roy, Lakshmikanta: A Chapter in the Social History of Bengal, pp. 28–9. (67.) Basu, Barendra Brahmin Bibaran, pp. 79, 90–95. (68.) Louis Dumont, Homo Hierarchicus: The Caste System and its Implications, (trs), M. Sainsbury et al., Chicago, 1980. (69.) For example, Nicholas Dirks, The Hollow Crown: Ethnohistory of an Indian Kingdom, Cambridge, 1987. (70.) For a discussion of the relationship among the raja, samaja, and kulacharya and its significance for an understanding of the society and culture of medieval and early modern Bengal, see K. Chatterjee, ‘Communities, Kings and Chronicles: the Kulagranthas of Bengal’, pp. 174–213. For a discussion of the nature of community, see Partha Chatterjee, The Nation and its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories, Princeton, 1993, pp. 220–39.

(71.) Gabrielle Spiegel, ‘Genealogy, Form and Function in Medieval Historiography’, in The Past as Text, Baltimore, 1997, pp. 99–109. (72.) Ibid. (73.) Ibid.; also, Spiegel, Romancing the Past. The Rise of Vernacular Prose Historiography in Thirteenth Century France, Berkeley, 1993. (74.) Ramram Basu, Raja Pratapaditya Charitra, Searampore, 1801. (75.) J. Fentress and C. Wickham (eds), Social Memory, 1992, Oxford, pp. ix–x.
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Re: The Cultures of History in Early Modern India, by Kumkum

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Part 1 of 2

3. Performance Narratives and the Mughal Factor

Abstract and Keywords

Like most pre-modern societies, Bengal produced a large literature that was mostly performative. These narratives, written in rhyming verse, had a textual dimension but they were written for performance and were mostly enjoyed as such. This chapter examines these performance narratives, particularly the Mangalkavya genre. It discusses the genealogy, performance-dimension, social context, and the functions of Mangalkavyas. It then focuses on two Mangalkavyas which were produced around the middle of the eighteenth century. One of these was the Maharashtapurana, composed by Gangaram in 1751–2. The other is the Annadamangala of ‘Roygunakar’ Bharatchandra Roy, often considered to represent the highest pinnacle of achievement to be reached by Bengali literature in the early modern period.

Keywords: pre-modern societies, Mangalkavya, performance narratives, Bengal, genealogy, Maharashtapurana, Annadamangala, Bengali literature

Like most pre-modern societies, Bengal too produced a large literature that was mostly performative. These narratives, written in rhyming verse, had a textual dimension but they were written for performance and were most commonly enjoyed as such. The most general term used to describe these verse narratives is panchali sahitya. Sukumar Sen defines ‘panchali’ as ‘stories (akhyayika) that were meant to be sung or narrated’.1 By Sen's definition, many branches of Bengali literature of the medieval period—such as the Ramayanas and Mahabharatas, the many compositions focused on stories about Krishna as well as the Mangalkavyas—would all fit under the overarching rubric of panchali sahitya.2 According to Sen, Mangalkavyas were panchalis that centred on the story of a particular deity and often had terms like mangala (auspicious), and sometimes terms like vijaya (victory), associated with them. These panchali narratives, according to Sen, were probably initially associated with rituals designed to ensure the well-being of the home and the family. Therefore, there existed a connection between Mangalkavyas and other types of panchalis and vratas or rituals usually associated with women and performed for the purpose of securing domestic bliss and happiness.3 Ashutosh Bhattacharya posits a set of much sharper distinctions between vratas and Mangalkavyas. According to him the most important distinction lay in the fact that a vrata was a kind of religious ritual which had to be necessarily accompanied by the recitation of a narrative— called vratakatha—which detailed the exploits of the particular deity being honoured. The Mangalkavyas, by contrast, were often performed at religious ceremonies but they were not an essential part of it.4 I (p.91) prefer to use Sen's description of panchalis as a broader category of performative literature based on stories which incorporated within them the Mangalkavyas, the Ramayana, the narratives about the exploits of Krishna, as well as narratives about the miraculous exploits of Muslim pirs and ghazis, often called Ghazimangala. A strong reason for accepting Sen's definition derives from the fact that medieval composers often used terms like ‘mangala’, ‘vratageet’, ‘panchali’, and the like interchangeably and synonymously for each other.5 As regards the religious significance of the Mangalkavyas, it may indeed be true, that these narratives, in the strictest and narrowest sense, did not comprise essential aspects of religious rituals. However, they ended up being revered and respected almost like religious artefacts. Their association with the exploits of gods and goddesses caused the texts of these kavyas to be regarded with such reverence and awe that they were practically worshipped together with deities in a household or even in public shrines.6

Genealogy and other Features of the Mangalkavyas The Mangalkavyas can be located within a range of vernacular Puranas (like the South Indian Sthalapuranas) which had descended lineally from the Sanskrit Upa-puranas. Like the Puranas, the Mangalkavyas too aimed at glorifying particular deities. The Puranas, as we have seen in Chapter 1, were supposed to be recognizable by their panchalakshana. Some of these features crept into the Mangalkavyas too.7 However, it would be inaccurate to regard the Mangalkavyas as vernacular replicas of the Puranas. The Puranic inspiration and antecedents of the Mangalkavyas are undoubted; but these narratives also represent creative, vernacular mediations of the Puranic tradition. The Mangalkavyas combined their focus on the worship of certain deities with a strong emphasis on the many human characters who peopled their stories. It is with respect to this feature that they differed from the classic Puranas.

The remarkable longevity of the Mangalkavyas as a genre is attested to by the fact that they were composed continuously from the fifteenth till the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Mangalkavyas written in honour of the deities Manasa (the snake goddess), Chandi (the patron deity of forests and animals, later metamorphosed into the Brahminical Durga, the consort of Shiva) were all composed through this period. Another large cluster of Mangalkavyas centred on the worship of Dharma Thakur emerged in the Rarh region of Bengal during the (p.92) seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Mangalkavyas about Shiva had also been composed in different parts of Bengal during the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, while lower Bengal became the stage for the production of Mangalkavyas celebrating hitherto lesser-known deities such as Dakshin Roy (the tiger god), the pir Bada Khan Ghazi (also a protector from tiger attacks), Shashthi (the protector of small children), Shitala (the goddess who protected against small pox), and others.8 Specific Mangalkavyas, such as Mukunda Chakrabarty's Chandimangala and Bharatchandra Roy's Annadamangala acquired the status of literary landmarks in the history of Bengali literature. Mangalkavya narratives can be located in the need perceived by the region's Brahminism to establish connections with the multiple forms of worship and practice prevalent among the region's humble and lowly people who had not been fully Brahminized.9 Thus, at one level, the Mangalkavya tradition reflects the gradual Brahminization of many folk deities around whom these kavyas were produced. The goddess Chandi of the Kalketu story of the sixteenth century Chandimangala of Mukunda Chakrabarty for instance, is closer to the autochthonous Chandi of Bengal, that is, she is associated with forests and wild animals, and is depicted as a single woman. These attributes of Chandi are hardly visible in the Annadamangala of Bharatchandra Roy written in the middle of the eighteenth century. Ashutosh Bhattacharya points out that the earliest Mangalkavyas do not contain many traces of Sanskritic influence, whereas some of the seventeenth and eighteenth century Mangalkavyas had moved away some what from folk-literary traditions and become more sophisticated and refined.10 This comment is true to a certain extent, and some later Mangalkavyas—such as the Annadamangala for instance—do embody greater refinement. However, I prefer to think that the Mangalkavya tradition in its entirety never really moved away totally from its more proletarian cultural orientation. This is attested to by several Dharmamangala texts of the eighteenth century as well as by narratives about the tiger god Dakshin Roy composed by the poet Krishnaram Das for example.11 Actually, what was remarkable about the Mangalkavya tradition was its ability to function in elite as well as more proletarian milieus.

The Performance-Dimension of the Mangalkavyas The Mangalkavyas consisted of stories which were set to music and sung and, perhaps in some cases, narrated to an audience. These kavyas also (p.93) probably represent a later written form of an earlier oral tradition which had circulated among ordinary people in Bengal. However, despite the emergence of a written textual tradition around the Mangalkavyas from about the later fifteenth century, the oral and performative nature of this literature was neither weakened nor eroded until well into the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.12 In fact, the performative dimension of the Mangalkavyas explains its remarkable durability, malleability, and its potential as a site where urgent and new social and political concerns could be legitimized. The stories that comprised Mangalkavyas were generally sung to audiences—often over several days and nights—by troupes of singers and musicians and a variety of melodies (ragas) were used for the purpose. The rhyming verses found almost universally in the Mangalkavyas were probably used because they were more appealing to an audience.13 Occasionally, painted scrolls or pats were used during such performances.14 It is impossible to document when exactly the Mangalkavyas began to be textualized. The earliest extant texts that have been found so far cannot be dated earlier than the later fifteenth century. Indeed, the Mangalkavyas comprise an excellent example (to borrow a phrase from Goody) of the interface between written and oral traditions.15 Thus, Mangalkavya writers occasionally described their compositions as prabandhas (essay/composition) and sometimes as geet (song). Furthermore, the need to categorize them as either oral/folk or written/elite is rendered irrelevant by the fact that they simultaneously fit both pairs of conditions. Mangalkavya texts have often been found in libraries of aristocratic, affluent, literate, and genteel families. This suggests that these texts were not just performed, but were also read—albeit by a smaller number of people. They were also found in the possession of singers (gayens) who performed these stories, sometimes in shrines and ritual centres associated with the particular deity whose glory was celebrated by a specific kavya. These Mangalkavya texts have been typically discovered in the same area or close to the area where the poem was originally composed.16 This suggests that the reputation and circulation of these works was usually restricted to a relatively small radius around the place where it was written—not an unusual feature in an age when printing was unknown and transportation fairly rudimentary.17 Those which attained extraordinary fame, such as ‘Kabikankan’, Mukunda Chakrabarty's rendition of the Chandimangala, or Bharatchandra Roy's Annadamangala, were of course known more widely throughout many (p.94) other regions of Bengal. The orality of these works made them extremely potent and valuable as a means of communication in a pre-print society. The Mangalkavyas could be ‘consumed’ by a larger audience and were not restricted by considerations of literacy. Despite the point made above about the relatively limited regional circulation of most Mangalkavyas, there were cases where the dissemination process was amazingly fast. An excellent illustration of this point is provided by a narrative called the Madanmohanbandana,18 which was produced in the kingdom of Bishnupur probably just before 1751. This narrative, which was known to have been sung by Vaishnava singers, told the story of how Lord Madanmohan (that is, Krishna) had rescued the kingdom of Bishnupur from being plundered by the Maratha Bargis whose depredations ravaged Bengal for several years during the 1740s. It is remarkable that Gangaram, the author of the Maharashtapurana, referred to this incident in his work which was composed within a short time after the Madanmohanbandana. Groups of Vaishnava singers could have facilitated the speedy dissemination of the story and thus, within a few months perhaps of the miraculous incident described in the Madanmohanbandana, Gangaram came to hear of it and reported it in his own verse-narrative.

The Social Context of the Mangalkavyas The social backgrounds of those who composed, patronized, read, and listened to Mangalkavyas indicates the versatility of this narrative genre in terms of its ability to appeal to both ordinary people as well as to the elites. The writing of Mangalkavyas was associated with social groups which were literate or had fairly high levels of education. Thus Brahmins, Kayasthas, and Baidyas figured heavily among composers of Mangalkavyas. Many of the Brahmin poets, in particular, described a curriculum of Brahminical instruction involving the study of vyakaran, abhidhan, nyaya, and alamkara shastra, and the like.19 By contrast, authors from non-Brahmin, but literate genteel backgrounds—mostly Baidyas and Kayasthas (for example, Narasimha Basu, author of a Dharmamangala narrative)—described a course of education involving the study of Bengali, Persian, Nagri, and Oriya as befitting a group from which professional scribes and bureaucrats were recruited by various ruling regimes in Bengal.20 There are also examples of Mangalkavya authors who belonged to relatively low status social and ritual groups which were typically not associated with literacy and education, for (p.95) example, Tanti (weaver), Kaibarata, Jogi, Shundi, and others.21 Writers of Mangalkavyas sometimes doubled up as singers of these stories—and this included artiste-writers of high social and ritual status, particularly if they were in economically straitened circumstances.22 But there were also persons who were associated with Mangalkavyas purely in the capacity of singers.23 Mangalkavya performances—as proven by their durability over many centuries— were extremely popular among ordinary people as well as (depending on the venue of the performance) high-status elites. Despite a noticeable trend towards Brahminization/Sanskritization, many of the deities about whom these narratives were written were still popular among ordinary people. The priests or sebayets of sacred spots associated with Dharma Thakur were not invariably Brahmins, but also included people of much lower castes such as Shundis and Doms. It has been suggested that the cult which developed around the snake goddess Manasa sank lower and lower down the social scale over the centuries, until it was associated with the most marginal groups of people. Deities whose worship crystallized around the later eighteenth century such as Dakhsin Roy, Bada Khan Ghazi, Kalu Roy (the crocodile god), and others were very obviously associated with poor marginalized people who inhabited the forested and swampy areas of lower deltaic Bengal. The poet Krishnaram Das, author of a Roymangala, referred to the tiger god Dakhsin Roy being worshipped by moulyas (collectors of honey) and malangis (salt manufacturers).24 Mangalkavya performances were also, however, staged in the courts and mansions of aristocrats. The Annadamangalkavya was first staged, for instance, at the court of Maharaja Krishnachandra Roy of Nadia.25 Here the audience included kinsmen, friends, and associates of the raja who were, like Krishnachandra, upper-caste, upperclass Hindus of elite status.26 But it is more than likely that some ordinary subjects of the raja were also present in the audience during this performance of the Annadamangala. Apart from the fact that these performances were enjoyed as entertainment, the popularity of many of the cults around which the Mangalkavyas were written made it politically expedient and culturally desirable for locally powerful people to be seen as patrons of such productions. Such support which established a connection between local elites and certain locally or regionally popular deities reinforced the social and cultural bases of the political and material power of these elites. Mangalkavyas also served as useful vehicles for (p.96) glorifying and extolling the lineage histories of local notables.27 The widespread popularity of the Mangalkavya genre is manifest in the fact that other types of literature— for example, biographies of Vaishnava leaders such as the Chaitanyamangala of Jayananda—came to have the suffix ‘mangala’ attached to them. By the eighteenth century, the label ‘mangala’ was being used even for travel narratives. Bijoyram Sen Bisharad's Tirthamangala is a case in point.28 It was customary for the authors of Mangalkavyas to map out, at the outset of their compositions, the parameters of their own world as perceived by them. Poets thus invoked the names of their ancestors, parents, siblings, spouses, children, and friends in an attempt to ‘situate’ their personal selves within a web of family, lineage, and village-based relationships. In most pre-modern Bengali literature, structures of political and social authority seem to almost naturally intermesh with the lines delineating a village or region. Thus, names of locallanded magnates, names of their officials, and others appear frequently, almost as signifiers, in this landscape. It is not easy to determine whether local elites were being referred to as part of poetic convention or whether references to them suggest that direct support was provided by these local lords to poets, writers, and Mangalkavya performers living within their jurisdiction. Both scenarios are actually plausible.29 References by Mangalkavya authors to their families, acquaintances, and patrons served another important purpose: they functioned as strategies for establishing the personal credibility and respectability of the author and, implicitly, the reasons why the narrative should be accepted by the audience.

The Functions of Mangalkavyas An exploration of the terms used in Mangalkavyas to denote these works, allows us to focus on their perceived and potential functions. The term ‘mangala’ which recurred in the titles of these works referred to the happiness or prosperity which was believed to accrue to those who heard, composed, performed, or supported them. A range of other terminology was also deployed to describe them. One set of such terms, that is, geet, gatha, panchali, and kirtan, referred to the oral and performative aspect of these literary productions. All these terms generally denoted material which was sung or recited—panchali and kirtan more specifically denoted the connection of these materials with the act of describing the actions of gods, goddesses, and other (p.97) superhumanor semi-divine beings. Another set of terms used frequently to describe the Mangalkavyas, that is, itihasa, purana, katha, and vrata, point to the content and, more pointedly perhaps, to the function of these materials. These terms were sometimes used synonymously for each other. Such usage is noticeable, for example, in the Dharmamangala composed by Jadunath or Jadabram Nath in the last decade of the seventeenth century, in the Dharmapurana or Anadimangala composed by Kabiratna, and in the Dharmamangala of Dwija Ramchandra who completed his work around 1732–3. Kabiratna used the terms ‘panchali’, ‘itihasa’, and ‘purana’ interchangeably for one another.30 Bharatchandra Roy, at the termination of the second part (that is, the Bidya-Sundar episode) of his magnum opus, the Annadamangala, described it both as a ‘katha’ as well as a work of ‘itihasa’.31 The interchangeability of these terms seems to indicate that to the various groups of people involved in composing, listening, and patronizing these works, the strict semantic distinctions among the deployed terms mattered very little. Secondly, the fact that the Mangalkavyas did not attempt to define and elucidate the meanings of these words for their audiences and readers also suggests that in Bengal, by the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, these terms enjoyed a fair amount of currency and that, in general, people understood what they meant. Can the Mangalkavyas then be regarded as history? The principal reason for the composition of the Mangalkavyas was extolling the power and greatness of various deities. They were not intended primarily to be factual accounts of past events. However, as attested to by practically all existing scholarship about the Mangalkavyas, these narratives, in addition to functioning as mahatmyas of specific deities, also mirror various important processes—political, economic, cultural, and social—which were current during the time periods when specific Mangalkavya narratives were composed. One of the early Dharmamangalas provides a glimpse of how some worshippers of Dharma Thakur may have rationalized the Turkish invasion of Bengal.32 In Sukumar Sen's view, the Mangal Chandir Geet, composed by Dwija Madhab (Madhabacharya) might reflect the terror produced in Bengal by the violence that accompanied the military efforts of the Mughal state to establish its political and military control over the region.33 Mukunda Chakrabarty's graphic description of forest clearance34 could well mirror such a process occurring in the western Rarh region of Bengal which continued to be a forested area, well beyond the time of this poet. (p.98) Sometimes, autobiographical and other allusions and references in them serve as pointers towards other contemporary phenomena.35 However, ‘embedded’ (in the sense in which Romila Thapar uses this term) in certain Mangalkavyas are segments—such as the ones discussed in subsequent sections of this chapter—which provide a narration of sequential events together with a clear-sighted recognition of the causal factors underlying them. These were accompanied by a broad interpretive framework which most often conveyed the explicit and implicit point of view held by the author of the narrative. Such episodes in the Mangalkavyas sometimes also functioned as clear acts of remembrance in which the past was deliberately used to invoke some statements or points about the present. It is mostly in such portions of the Mangalkavyas that their historical elements are most apparent. The Mangalkavyas thus represented a many-faceted tradition. Their performative aspect associated them with the value and function of entertainment; at the same time they held the attention and interest of society by presenting tales of heroes and gods. They also purported to be memories of bygone times. In the ‘instruction and advice mode’, the Mangalkavyas presented models of ideal behaviour via mortal heroes and heroines. The following section demonstrates how the popularity and malleability of the Mangalkavyas allowed them to be used as sites on which historically contingent concerns and priorities of the eighteenth century could be negotiated.

Three Mangalkavyas: the Annadamangala, the Maharashtapurana, and the Gaurimangala This section focuses on two Mangalkavyas which were produced around the middle of the eighteenth century. One of these was the Maharashtapurana,36 composed by Gangaram in 1751–2. The other is the Annadamangala of ‘Roygunakar’ Bharatchandra Roy,37 often considered to represent the highest pinnacle of achievement to be reached by Bengali literature in the early modern period. It was completed in 1752. The Annadamangala was also phenomenally popular. With the advent of print culture in early nineteenth century Bengal, the Annadamangala was among the foremost texts to be printed and reprinted several times by the bat-tala press.38 The Gaurimangala, composed by Raja Prithvichandra of Pakur in 1806, is used here primarily for comparative purposes. (p.99) The Annadamangala and the Maharashtapurana were composed during the reign of the Nawab Ali Vardi Khan (1740–56) of Bengal. At the time these two narratives were composed, the destructive Bargi invasions had just ended and the financial strains produced by them compelled Nawab Ali Vardi Khan to cease remittance of the annual tribute—a practical manifestation of Bengal's connection to the Mughal empire—to his overlord in Delhi. The Gaurimangala, which serves as a point of contrast to the other two, was composed a few decades later. Yet, a virtual sea change had occurred in the political landscape of Bengal during this period. By the time this narrative was composed, the rule of the Murshidabad nawabs had been replaced by the English East India Company's State. Raja Prithvichandra, the zamindar-poet who authored the Gaurimangala, as a member of the region's landed aristocracy probably had to face the effects of the transition to a new and different ruling power by the early years of the nineteenth century. All three narratives fit under the rubric of Chandimangalkavyas; all three were verse narratives; all three demonstrate the ability of old literary genres to retain their generic, formulaic features; in fact, the Annadamangala and the Maharashtapurana underscore their ability to adjust to contingent conditions and to reflect them.

Poets and Patrons Bharatchandra Roy (titled ‘Roygunakar’) is well-known as the court poet of Maharaja Krishnachandra Roy of Nadia, one of the most powerful zamindars of eighteenth century Bengal. This narrative had been composed at the command of Bharatchandra's patron, Maharaja Krishnachandra. Bharatchandra himself was the son of a wealthy, landed family whose estates had been located in the pargana of Bhursut in western Bengal. The seizure of his family's estates by the more powerful and expansionist zamindari of Burdwan plunged Bharatchandra and his family into considerable material deprivation and difficulties. Bharatchandra suffered considerable vicissitudes of fortune following this event. His life was characterized by many adventures and dramatic twists and turns, but he managed nevertheless to acquire a distinguished education befitting the son of an aristocratic family. Bharatchandra's poetic output was in many languages: Bengali, Sanskrit, and Brajbhasha. He had also been trained in the Persian language. His adult life and material circumstances eventually reached a degree of stability with the acquisition of the patronage of the raja of Nadia.39 (p.100) Bharatchandra Roy's location in the court of Maharaja Krishnachandra Roy of Nadia is significant since it shaped the content and character of his poetic magnum opus, the Annadamangalkavya, in many ways. The rajas of Nadia had attained the status of an important landed family in western Bengal since at least the sixteenth century. According to the genealogy of this family, this Rarhiya Brahmin lineage traced back its origins in formulaic manner to King Adisura and his importation into Bengal of five ritually purer Brahmins from Kanauj in northern India.40 But, as David Curley points out, intertwined with this account of the family's origin was the parallel account of the family's acquisition of superior revenue collecting rights from the rulers of Delhi.41 A few generations later, Bhabananda Majumdar of this family secured the office of qanungo from the Mughal subahdar at Dhaka as well as the title of ‘Majumdar’. Thanks to a farman from the emperor Jehangir (1605–27), his control over his existing landholdings was confirmed and he was granted revenue rights over fourteen other parganas. This process, initiated by Bhabananda Majumdar, continued through the seventeenth century and this family expanded its estates periodically through farmans from various Mughal emperors. Raja Rudra, the great grandson of Bhabananda Majumdar, was moreover honoured with the title of ‘maharaja’ by emperor Aurangzeb (1658–1707). Maharaja Krishnachandra Roy of Nadia was the grandson of Raja Rudra and ascended the throne of Nadia in 1728.42 The political accession of the Nadia rajas thus coincided with the consolidation of Mughal rule over Bengal and a stricter administration than the relatively easier situation that had prevailed earlier, particularly as far as the landed aristocracy was concerned. Many of the Nadia rajas had to face imprisonment at Dhaka. Raghuram, the father of Maharaja Krishnachandra was also said to have been held prisoner at Dhaka by Murshid Quli Khan for defaulting in the payment of revenue; Krishnachandra himself had to suffer the indignity of imprisonment at the hands of Nawab Ali Vardi Khan in 1740 for being unable to meet the payments demanded of him by the latter.43 Thus, relations between these rajas and the nawabs of Murshidabad were periodically strained. This issue shaped some of the positions adopted in the poem Annadamangala by its author Bharatchandra Roy. This family of landed aristocrats in Bengal had also acquired the reputation of being one of the foremost champions of Brahminism. This image of the Nadia rajas was certainly at its peak in the eighteenth century during the rule of Maharaja Krishnachandra, but its evolution (p.101) can be traced back to the seventeenth century and to the time of Krishnachandra's ancestors. In his role as the champion of Bengal's Brahminism, Krishnachandra was especially known for initiating, or popularizing, the worship of the goddess in many forms.44 The Annadamangala, a eulogy to the goddess Durga or Annada, was thus a direct expression of the goddess-devotion which Maharaja Krishnachandra Roy expressed so publicly during his lifetime. In contrast to the personal life of Bharatchandra, not much definitive information is available about the poet Gangaram who authored the Maharashtapurana. What we have are a few interesting and provocative but disputed suggestions regarding the identity and background of this author.45 According to the most plausible hypothesis, Gangaram Dev of Dharishwar village in Mymensingh belonged to a fairly well-established family. He was employed as an official by a family of wealthy Muslim zamindars; he rose to become the naib of their administrative establishment in a place called Dhaldia and acquired the title of Chowdhury. In his later life, Gangaram composed a few original works called Shuk Sambad, Labkush Charitra, and the Maharashtapurana.46

The author of the Gaurimangala, Raja Prithvichandra of Pakur or the Ambar raj, as it was also known, was the zamindar of an estate which had been in the possession of his family for many centuries. This Brahmin family's genealogical traditions identified the founder of the family's fortunes in Bengal as a certain Sulakshan Tewary who had acquired a jagir in Pakur and some nearby places from the Mughal emperor. Sulakshan Tewary's grandson, Prithvipal was rewarded and honoured by the Mughal emperor for the assistance he had provided to Raja Man Singh during the latter's tenure in Bengal. Prithvichandra Shahi became raja of the Pakur/Ambar raj in 1791 and held it until his death in 1835. He was a highly educated man, proficient in Bengali, Sanskrit, and Urdu. Deeply religious, he was well-read in the Brahamnical shastras such as the Puranas, and the great epics.47

The Thematic and the Generic in the Annadamangal and the Maharashtapurana Bharatchandra named his verse narrative Annadamangala, thereby signalling his intention to situate his composition in the tradition of Mangalkavya narratives which had enjoyed a long and popular career in Bengal. He also stated that his patron, Maharaja Krishnachnadra Roy had asked him to model his composition on the earlier, well-known (p.102) Chandimangalkavya of Kabikankan Mukunda Chakrabarty. Besides, Bharatchandra drew upon the already existing Mangalkavya tradition and made pointed intertextual references to characters and events mentioned in the Manasamangala and Chandimangala kavyas. Most importantly, the Annadamangalkavya exhibits many generic and thematic features, which by the eighteenth century had become almost formulaic for Mangalkavya narratives.48 The Annadamangala extolled the powers of the goddess Annada; it was also a eulogistic lineage-history of the rajas of Nadia. In particular, this narrative functioned as a strategy of remembering the processes—divine as well as secular—that had made possible the effective founding of this family's prosperity and prestige by Bhabananda Majumdar in the seventeenth century. The first segment of the Annadamangalkavya (in true Mangalkavya style) focused on the actions and reactions of various gods and goddesses culminating in Bhabananda Majumdar, actually a son of Kubera, the god of wealth, being born on earth as a mortal in order to atone for a minor sin he had committed in heaven.49 The second part of the Annadamangala turns to an account of the exploits of Raja Man Singh in Bengal. The lengthy romance of Bidya and Sundar (which became the most popular segment of the poem) forms part of the story of Man Singh's activities in Bengal. Stripped off the Bidya-Sundar romance, this part of the Annadamangala focuses purely on political developments of the seventeenth century as they affected Bhabananda Majumdar.50 The final segment of the kavya recounted the circumstances of Bhabananda's journey to the Mughal court in Delhi and his subsequent triumph there.51 Bharatchandra's narrative has two principal aims: first, he shows how the goddess Annapurna possessed the power to reward and protect those who worshipped her and conversely meted out terrible retribution on those who resisted worshipping her. Secondly, this section of the kavya provides a historical grounding for the story of Annada's victory and the linked story of Bhabananda's material success through a description of actual political developments in seventeenth century Bengal. These developments, also tied the Mughal military-political system with the fortunes of Bhabananda Majumdar, the mortal hero of the poem. In recounting the careers and achievements of Maharaja Krishnachandra Roy's ancestors— particularly, the misfortunes that befell Kashinath Roy and the subsquent restoration of the family's prestige and affluence by Bhabananda—it is not unlikely that Bharatchandra, the author, had consulted the already existing Sanskrit genealogy of this family entitled (p.103) the Kshitishvamsavalicharitam which had probably been composed in the 1720s on the occasion of the raja's coronation. Doubts have been voiced as to whether the Maharashtapurana of Gangaram should be regarded as a ‘proper’ Mangalkavya. Dimock and Gupta characterized it as a ‘text of pure secular history.’52 Rao-Shulman-Subrahmanyam point to the fact that in this narrative, human actions are depicted as largely autonomous and less tied to divine manipulation.53 Undoubtedly, this text displays significant departures from what had come to be seen as the typical formula of Mangalkavya narratives. Actually, for that matter the Annadamangala also embodies significant departures from the typical characteristics of Mangalkavyas. These aspects of both texts have been further discussed below. To return to the point at hand, I locate the Maharashtapurana within the Mangalkavya tradition because in my view this text also gave singular importance to several features which link it quite firmly to this generic tradition. The Bargi invasions of Bengal constitute the backbone of the Maharashtapurana. However, its underpinnings, in the classic formulaic model of the Mangalkavyas were comprised of an account about the power of the goddess Durga and her ability to punish evil doers and reward those who acted in virtue. Gangaram set the groundwork for his tale by first explaining that the Bargi raids which had convulsed mid-eighteenth century Bengal were actually the result of a divine command. The gods used the Maratha Bargis as tools to punish the people of Bengal as well as the nawab of Bengal for their sins. Secondly, he represented it as revenge taken by the Bargis for the non-payment of revenue by the Bengal nawabs to the Mughal emperor.54 Rao-Shulman-Subrahmanyam point out that this story ‘has no heroes’.55 Indeed, in the course of the narrative, the Bargis change from being the objects of divine command to a cruel, ruthless people who had transgressed the norms of ethical behaviour. In fact, one of the most remarkable features of the Maharashtapurana is its vivid description of the horrors perpetrated by the Maratha Bargis in Bengal, that is, the plunder and sack of temples, the rape and assault of women, and such other acts.56 Just as the Bargis are transformed in the course of the poem from the chosen people of the Gods to common marauders, so the nawab of Bengal is also transformed in the course of the poem. In the latter case, the change, however, is in a positive direction since the nawab metamorphoses from a figure whom the gods decide to punish, to a figure who appears virtuous and restrained in comparison to the Bargis. The nawab of Bengal was able to annihilate Bhaskar, the (p.104) leader of the Bargis, and free his kingdom from the Maratha scourge only after the goddess decided to withdraw her blessing and protection from the Bargis and transfer it instead to the nawab. In the words of Gangaram: When she saw the dire straits of the people Parvati was very angry Pasupati [Siva] ordered that the sinners [Bargis] should be killed. [These] evil-minded ones had killed Brahmanas and Vaishnavis Shankari [the goddess] was also angry and said: ‘I cannot countenance such injury to Brahmanas and Vaishnavas… Hear O Bhairavis, be hostile to Bhaskara; be gracious toward the Nawab’.57 Indeed, there are no stable heroic characters here. God and evil thus did not reside permanently in any individual or group of individuals. The actions of people determined whether they were good or evil and made them worthy or unworthy of divine protection and blessings. The success or failure of human endeavour was still ultimately rooted in divine pleasure or displeasure. It would indeed be difficult to accommodate a work such as the Marashtapurana within the concept of secular, modern history which emerged in Bengal in the nineteenth century.58 One other compelling reason for choosing to locate the Maharashtapurana within the Mangalkavya tradition derives from the fact that its author chose to name it ‘purana’, thus indicating his desire to place it within a vast tradition of other narrative texts in Bengal which were also titled as various ‘puranas’, sometimes in conjunction with other labels. This point has been explored above; it affirms the influence of the Puranic tradition over Bengali literary productions together with a certain legitimacy, status and popularity with which authors wished to associate their compositions. Thus, in my reading, both the Annadamangala and the Maharashtapurana can be placed within Bengal's Mangalkavya tradition. In both works, generic Puranic features associated with the tradition are in evidence; and the gods play major roles in both kavyas. The Annadamangala and the Maharashtapurana are not obscure or unknown works. Gangaram's literary production is most often viewed by historians in particular as a contemporary mirror of Bargi depredations in Bengal.59 The Annadamangala is hailed as one of the best-known and popular Mangalkavyas to be ever produced and enjoyed immense popularity.60 It is also regarded as a typical specimen (p.105) of eighteenth century Bengali literature which is characterized, quite often by literary scholars, as imitative of earlier traditions, formulaic, and sometimes also decadent.61 What has gone unnoticed is that behind the façade of ‘tradition’ that these texts were very careful to maintain, both the Annadamangala and the Maharashtapurana embodied significant deviations from the established models of Mangalkavyas. Both Bharatchandra and Gangaram sought to position their compositions within the framework of the Mangalkavya tradition and yet, very importantly, these works consciously and deliberately deployed a tried and well-liked genre to stage concerns and issues that were neither timeless, nor entirely universal, but immediately related to the political anxieties of eighteenth century Bengal. The expression of contingent material and political concerns was hardly new or unique within the Mangalkavya tradition. To provide one extremely well-known example: in his well-known composition, dated usually to the sixteenth century, Mukunda Chakrabarty discussed the crisis caused in his village by the depredations and oppressions of a certain dihidar named Mahmud Sharif.62 The gravity of the crisis as perceived by Kabikankan is evident from the fact that it compelled him to uproot himself and his family and flee his ancestral village. In comparison to Mukunda Chakrabarty's Chandimangalkavya, the two eighteenth century narratives discussed here, articulated their contingent political, material concerns in a mode and style associated with a Persanized Mughal political culture. Thus, it is not merely the incorporation of local concerns that is siginificant, but rather their encapsulation in terms of a political and administrative culture which had come to be associated with the Mughal empire generally and with Bengal's experience of Mughal rule more specifically. The following section discusses the ‘Persianized’ features noticeable in the Annadamangala and the Maharashtapurana which represented significant deviations from the formulaic model of the Mangalkavyas.
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Re: The Cultures of History in Early Modern India, by Kumkum

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Part 2 of 2

Transgressing the Genre

Two themes bind both the Annadamangala and the Maharashtapurana: first, the obviously Puranic and secondly the temporal. The political/territorial imagination of both Bharatchandra and Gangaram were bounded by the South Asian subcontinent. In the portrayal of both, this territorial/political unit which provided an important context for their stories, was headed by the Mughal emperor at Delhi, while (p.106) below him there prevailed regional powers such as the Marathas and the nawabs of Bengal. Bharatchandra sketched out yet another layer of political power below the regional hegemony of the Bengal nawabs, that is, the zamindars among whom specific references are made to the Raja of Burdwan, Maharaja Pratapaditya of Jessore and, of course his own patron, the Raja of Nadia.63 Descriptions of rulers and the relations among them as well as between rulers and subjects is a common theme in Mangalkavya literature. The Dharmamangalkavyas refer to relationships among several rulers such as Gaureshwar, Lausen, and others.64 The Chandimangala describes the process by which Kalketu, the poor hunter, became transformed into a king and proceeded to lay the foundations of his kingdom.65 These are merely two examples out of many which can be presented. However, the important point is that neither of these examples reveals a clear-sighted knowledge and awareness of the subcontinental configuration of political power in the eighteenth century in which the Mughals were positioned at the top of the political hierarchy. The Annadamangala and the Maharashtapurana thus embedded their temporal themes not just in any ‘local’ concerns, but quite plainly in terms of a Mughal political culture. Both texts also gave central importance to issues of loyalty, dependence, and trust which ultimately underpinned relations between political overlords and their subordinates. These were certainly encased in the universal issues of sin and virtue which ultimately constitute central motifs in both texts. However, what stands out is that these preoccupations find expression via idioms associated with Mughal political and administrative culture of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In Maharashtapurana, the basic circumstances which set into motion all the others was comprised of the allegedly sinful activities of the people of Bengal. In Gangaram's depiction, this induced the gods to dispatch the Bargis there to punish the sinners. At the same time, he provided a beautifully nuanced, material/political explanation of why the Bargi raids occurred. The Maratha leader, identified in the poem as Shahu Raja, wrote a letter to the Mughal emperor complaining that he had not received chauth (revenue/tribute) from Bengal. The Mughal emperor agreed that this was a serious breach of political duty, but he felt that, in addition, the nawab of Bengal had committed a more serious political offence: the latter had exhibited total disregard for political loyalty by murdering his master and assuming political power over the region (a reference to the coup staged by Nawab Ali Vardi (p.107) Khan in 1740 against Sarfaraz Khan). The Mughal emperor felt that the nawab ought to be chastised for transgressing the norms of political duty and conduct: he ordered the Bargis to invade Bengal. Interestingly enough, Gangaram does not paint the nawab of Bengal as an outright villain. Instead, he shows that from the nawab's perspective, it was not he, but the Bargis and the Mughal emperor who were in the wrong. According to the nawab, the tribute from Bengal had never been paid directly to the Marathas, but went instead to the Mughal emperor. Therefore, the Marathas were violating established custom by coming to Bengal as invaders for the ostensible purpose of exacting this tribute. Secondly, the nawab admitted that the Bengal tribute had not been dispatched to Delhi but, in his view he saw no reason to dispatch it when the Mughal emperor had not yet confirmed his accession to the throne by issuing a sanad to that effect. Having sketched out different perspectives on the same issue, Gangaram creates yet another complexity by posing the question of whether the Mughal emperor was under any political obligation to recognize someone who had usurped the throne through an act of political disloyalty.66 Thus, in the Maharashtapurana, different sets of temporal/political perspectives nestle within each other. Ultimately, though, these temporal/political questions are not unconnected to the universal notions of sin and virtue as seen in the ultimate triumph of the nawab. In the Annadamangala, the temporal/political concerns of the poet found maximum articulation in the second section of the poem, in the episode involving Raja Man Singh, Raja Pratapaditya of Jessore, and Bhabananda Majumdar. Here, Bharatchandra provided a fascinating depiction of the interplay of relations among the different levels of the political system—a depiction influenced in all likelihood by relations prevailing among himself, his patron and various powerful potentates at different levels of the political system. He acknowledged that the nawabs of Murshidabad were the rulers of Bengal, but then seemed to ignore them until the very end of the narrative. He pointed out that one of the wrongful acts committed by Raja Pratapaditya of Jessore was to withhold revenue payment to the Mughal emperor67—the payment of revenue symbolizing, among other things, the act of submission to a political overlord. Yet, nowhere in the narrative did he state that it was important for the zamindars to offer loyalty to the Bengal nawabs. This almost deliberate effort to downplay the importance of the Bengal nawabs was linked to two separate sets of circumstances. As noted above, relations between the Bengal nawabs and the rajas of Nadia were not (p. 108) always cordial.68 It is likely that Bharatchandra's strategy of ignoring the nawabs was in part a response to his patron's cool relations with Murshidabad. Secondly, it is not impossible that Bharatchandra held the nawabs at least indirectly responsible for the loss of his patrimonial estate to the powerful and expansionist zamindari of Burdwan. There is no evidence—either in this narrative, or elsewhere—to suggest that the nawab had tried to curb the strongarm tactics of the Burdwan zamindars. The loss of these family estates inaugurated the beginning of a very difficult period for Bharatchandra personally. It entailed leaving home and the beginning of a quest for powerful patrons from whom he hoped to secure financial help in order to support himself and his family. The tensions prevailing between the Roy family of Bhursut (Bharatchandra's family) and the Burdwan zamindars once resulted in the poet being imprisoned by powerful officials of the Burdwan raj. Bharatchandra managed to escape and reached Orissa, then under the control of the Marathas. He lived for a while in Cuttack at the court of Shivabhatta, a highly placed Maratha official. Shivabhatta allegedly treated Bharatchandra with kindness and helped him to travel to Puri and live there for some time.69 It is perhaps not irrelevant that in the Annadamangala Bharatchandra depicted the Bargis as a people chosen by Shiva through whom Bengal was to be punished for the sinful actions of its nawab who had plundered the abode of Shiva, that is, the city of Bhubaneshwar. In the end though, Bharatchandra too described—sadly and regretfully—the destruction and suffering caused in Bengal by the Bargi incursions.

The Man Singh–Bhabananda–Mughal emperor (identified here as Jehangir) episode in the second part of the Annadamangala represents the climax of the poem both for its Puranic as well as temporal themes. Raja Man Singh was sent to Bengal to vanquish the recalcitrant Raja Pratapaditya of Jessore70—he was unable to achieve success until he became a worshipper of the goddess. But, the goddess was not content with merely converting one of the most powerful mansabdars in the Mughal empire to her cult—the poet shows the goddess pitting her strength against that of the Mughal emperor at the imperial court in Delhi. The Annadamangala depicts the goddess and her dreaded forces wreaking havoc on the city of Delhi and its citizens. Until, terrified and humbled by the might of the goddess, the Mughal padshah agreed to worship her and acknowledge her greatness. In Bharatchandra's words, ‘The padshah said, “If I worship at her [the Devi's] feet, I might gain refuge there.”’71 (p.109) The success of the goddess in compelling the Mughal emperor to acknowledge her greatness is shown through a most extraordinary passage in the poem which describes the ritual worship of the goddess being celebrated with great pomp and ceremony at the Mughal court in Delhi. The emperor also ordered all citizens of Delhi to worship the goddess in their homes. This development was intended to demonstrate beyond any doubt that despite the political power and prestige of the emperor as political overlord of the subcontinent, the goddess's divine power was far superior.72 This section of the Annadamangala also marked the climax of the temporal theme of the work. In Bharatchandra's portrayal, Man Singh interceded with the Mughal emperor and secured for Bhabananda an imperial farman, confirming his enjoyment of zamindari rights over his estates in Bengal. The latter also received a number of honorific gifts from the emperor as reward for his collaboration with the Mughal forces which had been sent to Bengal to destroy Raja Pratapaditya. It is unusual in Mangalkavyas of earlier periods to depict their mortal heroes being rewarded or elevated to high office by a more powerful human figure. Here Bharatchandra revealed his understanding of the political hierarchy of eighteenth century India—the confirmation of the zamindari title by the Mughal emperor together with symbols of rank that accompanied it would enhance and reinforce the legitimacy and status of the Nadia rajas within Bengal. This incident in the poem also demonstrates the sanctity attached to the farman, a written document embodying the Mughal emperor's grant of the zamindari right to Bhabananda. Bharatchandra painted a memorable scene in which the farman itself was given a ceremonial welcome by the friends and family of Bhabananda Majumdar upon his return to his estate.73 As seen in Chapter 1, the proliferation of such ceremonials and rituals around imperial orders, letters, and documents indicated the flowering of a kind of imperial cult among Mughal officials, which emphasized loyalty and devotion to the person of the emperor as well as a tradition of devoted service to the polity. In this case Bhabananda was a participant in the rituals associated with this Mughal imperial cult. To my knowledge, the older Mangalkavyas did not usually show this kind of awareness of the Mughal empire, the Mughal padshah, or Mughal administrative documents such as the farman, in quite the same manner. Finally, the grant of the farman by Emperor Jehangir to Bhabananda, provided the poet with an opportunity to express his aristocratic patron's (and possibly his own) animosity towards his immediate political superior, the Murshidabad nawab. (p.110) The features noted above in both these works were integrated into a broader interpretive perspective which was grounded in sequences of events. These events in turn, were linked to causal explanations and both narratives fitted into an overarching worldview which situated itself deliberately in a Puranic format. Within this format, however, the actual hard political realities and contingencies of eighteenth century Bengal—whether from the perspective of a raja's sabha, or, from that of the nawab and those around him—needed to be made comprehensible, lodged in a format and communicated in a mode which was acceptable and comprehensible to ordinary people. The latter were, after all, the ultimate constituents from whom both the Raja of Nadia and the Nawab of Murshidabad sought the legitimacy they urgently needed. The itihasa tradition and, more particularly, the Puranic tradition, were characterized by an impulse to constantly change and recast themselves in order to keep abreast of current times. From this angle, the shifts and new features which appeared in the Annadamangala and the Maharashtapurana conformed to the inherent characteristic of the itihasa/Purana tradition. I argue that the idiom in which the vernacular itihasa tradition, represented by the Mangalkavyas, sought to make space for the political issues of the time was influenced by a Persianized political culture associated with the Mughal empire. The Persianized element in these Mangalkavyas particularly resembled features of the Indo-Persian tarikh tradition.

Historicizing Transgression The departures from the usual generic/Puranic features exhibited by these two texts can be related to the historical context of early modern Bengal. As seen in Chapter I, the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries had been unusually turbulent periods in the history of Bengal. The career of the short-lived Murshidabad niabat was also marked by many sharp ups and downs. The effects of these two eventful centuries had been particularly noticeable on Bengal's territorial aristocracy in particular. The departures from the established generic features of the Mangalkavya tradition in the Annadamangala can be located in the nexus of relations prevailing among the zamindars of Nadia, the nawabs of Murshidabad and the Mughal emperor at Delhi. As the Kshitishvamsavalicharitam indicates, the Mughals were represented as distant but beneficent (p.111) overlords from whom they periodically received titles and rewards. The Murshidabad nawabs, their more immediate political overlords, are depicted in a more ambivalent manner. The repeated instances, when these rajas suffered physical harassment, imprisonment, and public humiliation at the hands of the nawab's government, are explicitly mentioned both in the Kshitishvamsavalicharitam and the Annadamangala. As the former text also demonstrates, the relationship of the Nadia zamindars was never totally ruptured on account of the repeated episodes of imprisonment. But it was nevertheless a prickly and sensitive relationship. The indignities suffered by the rajas were a serious affront to the prestige and standing of this family who possessed one of the larger zamindaris in western Bengal. More importantly, it hurt their image as the leaders of Brahminical society in Bengal. In this context, the Annadamangalkavya composed at the behest of Maharaja Krishnachandra by his court poet, himself the son of a recently dispossessed landed family, can perhaps be seen as a narrative which sought to function as a response to the political and cultural crises affecting the raja. It attempted to reinforce the raja's status and place in the fast-paced political changes affecting Bengal as well as in the web of complex alliances and loyalties which had come to characterize the political configuration of contemporary India. This project was most urgent vis-à-vis the Nadia raja's immediate constituency (the courtiers, protégées, kinsmen, and the bulk of his subjects) who formed the expected audience of a Mangalkavya performance. The Annadamangala also sought to accomplish this task by highlighting the fact that the rajas of Nadia held territorial authority by virtue of an authorization from the Mughal emperor. The legitimacy and sanctity of their position was strengthened by the fact that they were the chosen favourites of the goddess Annada—a condition which also established unquestionably their roles as the upholders of virtue and dharma. This endeavour also attempted to preserve untarnished the claim of the Nadia rajas to be the leaders of Brahminical society (and particularly of kulina Brahmin society/samaja) in Bengal—a claim that was intimately intertwined with their self-image. The Annadamangala, thus reinforced the dharmic connection of the zamindars of Nadia to the goddess Annada; politically, it sought to de-emphasize the authority of the Murshidabad nawabs and to portray these zamindars as recepients of imperial favour from the Mughal emperor himself. (p.112) The non-generic features in the Maharashtapurana, in my view, allow us to locate it within the network of connections that had emerged in Mughal and nawabi Bengal between the literate gentry and aristocracy of the region and the figures entrusted with its government. The role of the literate gentry in particular is of special significance here. As Chapter 1 indicated, the Muslim regimes in Bengal had for centuries followed the practice of employing literate, upper class, and often upper-caste Hindus to important official posts. This practice continued and probably expanded during the Mughal and nawabi periods. As posited by the Calkins thesis three regional groups, that is, the large landholders, wealthy merchants and the military aristocracy, constituted the vital support base of the rule of the Murshidabad nawabs. What the Calkins model fails to acknowledge is the practice of the Murshidabad government of reaching out to a large range of middle-level, literate gentry families as well. Such families were employed in large numbers at all levels of the nawabi adminsitration and many benefitted handsomely from their association with it. Through competent and meritorious service some rose to the highest ranks of the bureaucracy and could become part of the ruling circle around the nawab. Gangaram, the author of the Maharashtapurana, seems to belong to just such a literate gentry background. There is no direct evidence to suggest that he had composed this poetic work at the behest of the nawab; or, that his intention in authoring it was to ‘whitewash’ the nawab and the nawabi government. But, on the other hand, it is indeed likely that persons of his social/professional background had developed a stake in the continuation of the nawabi government for purposes of career advancement and the support of scholarly and poetic endeavours.74 Another factor which also helps us to contextualize the non-generic features in the Maharashtapurana relates to the extremely serious consequences faced by the nawab's government as a function particularly of the Maratha invasions. This regime had come to power only about half a century or so ago and while its links to some segments of the population have been noted, it probably did not enjoy the traditions of deep-rooted loyalty and attachment based on long association with the region and its people at large. The other pressures faced by them such as dynastic coups, the need to adopt a tough and ruthless financial policy, strained their credibility and image. The devastation caused to Bengal by the Bargi raids is referred to by all scholarly works on Bengal. But, the full extent to which these invasions affected the credibility (p.113) and political legitimacy of the Bengal nawabs has perhaps not yet been fully appreciated. The Maratha invasions devastated Bengal economically and materially through the disruption of trade and production and the plunder and sack of towns like Murshidabad, Hugli, and Katwa.75 It did not totally destroy but it seriously strained the coalition believed to have been forged by the nawabs with certain important segments of the population.76 The flight of a large number of people to the English enclave at Calcutta reinforced doubts about the nawab's ability to defend his realm and protect his subjects.77 But much worse, Ali Vardi's financial extortions on merchants and shroffs during this time and the pillage and plunder indulged in by his own undisciplined troops, often blurred the distinction as far as ordinary people were concerned, between his side and the external invaders. There were damaging rumours that ‘the Morattoes are an army legally empowered to make a thorough change in the government rather than an army of robbers…’.78

Given the immediate environment against which the Maharashtapurana was composed, it is perhaps not untenable to suggest that this narrative might embody the effort of a segment of Bengali gentry to rationalize, through the language and idiom of the well-known and well-liked genre of the Mangalkavya, the position and powers of the nawabs of Bengal in the political geography of eighteenth century India, and also perhaps to position the nawab as an ethical ruler who had been especially singled out by the goddess for her blessing. As seen above, the Bargi invasions shook the moral and material underpinnings of this regime to an extent which is not entirely appreciated and cast doubts on Ali Vardi's legitimacy as a ruler. Thus ruling circles around the nawab—which may have included gentry elements like Gangaram—felt the urgent need to assure the subjects about the continuing political and moral legitimacy of Nawab Ali Vardi Khan's reign. The Maharashtapurana may thus have functioned as a vehicle for this endeavour. Another factor which helps us to historicize and contextualize the departures from textual tradition, noticed in the Annadamangala and the Maharashtapurana, is the transmission and strengthening of a Persianized/ Mughal political culture in Bengal79 and more particularly perhaps, the IndoPersian tarikh tradition, which comprised an important component of it. The two mid-eighteenth century Mangalkavyas discussed so far included a fair number of Persian words. This is particularly apparent in the segment of the Annadamangala where Bharatchandra depicts a spirited argument between Bhabananda Majumdar, the zamindar of (p.114) Nadia and the Mughal padshah at the imperial court at Delhi.80 This fits in with the view of Suniti Kumar Chatterji (discussed more fully in the next chapter) that exposure to Mughal rule had produced an influx of Persian words into the Bengali language from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.81 However, the point to be underscored is that the Annadamangala and the Maharashtapurana show that the non-generic features in them transcended the presence of Persian vocabulary. In fact, the manner in which both these narratives presented the political story of struggles between the nawab and the Bargis on the one hand, and between the Raja of Nadia and the Mughals primarily on the other, it is possible to identify the imprint of tarikh literature. Both the Annadamangala and the Maharashtapurana reveal features of what had become almost ‘classic’ or generic features of the Mangalkavya tradition. Both these narratives also reveal a political imagination in which the Mughal factor is strongly enshrined. The political struggles depicted in both kavyas are framed by the Mughal political system. In this system, the political actors were connected to each other by complex and diverse ties of loyalty, obligation, protection, and authority; a strain or rupture in any of these linkages produced a crisis which is cast in these texts both as a crisis of dharma as well as a crisis of political normativity. The phenomemon of political ascendancy—shown here through the rising fortunes of Bhabananda Majumdar—is also depicted in terms of the logic of Mughal political and administrative culture. Bhabananda's advancement up the rungs of the subcontinental political system was dependent upon his performance of loyal service to the Mughal polity and each increment in his rank, prestige, and landholding had to be duly authorized and ratified by the imperial centre at Delhi. These and other issues—for example, the ethical and political consequences of disloyalty to overlords, the gravity of failing to discharge tribute obligations, the importance of rewarding political loyalty— which are showcased in the Annadamangala and the Maharashtapurana, also find recurrent representation in the tradition of tarikh literature which developed in and around political circles in Mughal India. These characteristic features of the tarikh tradition have been discussed in Chapter 1. This is not to suggest that the presence of these features in the Annadamangala and the Maharashtapurana represent the straight transplantation of an Arabic/ Persian historiographical tradition into Bengali narratives. It is more accurate to characterize it as a creative, but selective appropriation of certain defining traits from the tarikh corpus. (p.115) The tendency of Persian tarikhs to incorporate intertextual allusions to events and incidents from Persia's history for instance, does not find accommodation here—instead these two narratives incorporate Puranic allusions in the true tradition of Mangalkavyas. However, these texts quite demonstrably embodied certain idioms, a certain ‘language’ for talking about and explaining the complexities of political power and political relationships which are reminiscent of the tarikh tradition and which, I argue, had been appropriated from the tarikh tradition. The tarikh tradition was a formal, written tradition—in no way associated with performance; the Mangalkavyas were just that. Thus the influence of Persianization on Mangalkavyas also signifies the migration of certain features associated solely with a written tradition into a performance-oriented medium. The percolation of the idiom of tarikh literature into an essentially performative genre like the Mangalkavyas marks a truly remarkable phennomenon. It points to the potency of a Mughal/Persianized culture—of which the tarikh tradition constitutes an important manifestation— among segments of Bengal's aristocracy and gentry. This potency caused elements of the tarikh tradition to be mirrored in performance narratives either commissioned by the elites or composed by them. Conversely, but not unrelated to the former statement, is the proposition that the realities of political power and its configurations in Bengal and the rest of the subcontinent during the eighteenth century, were deemed important and urgent for all those who were role players in it. A popular performance-oriented medium like the Mangalkavya thus came to be deployed as the vernacular channel through which tangled webs of political alliances and tensions, and their no-less important repercussions on status, prestige, and legitimacy, could be explained to the constituency on whose loyalty, respect, and support the political power of the Raja of Nadia or the nawab of Murshidabad ultimately rested. A comparison of the Annadamangala and the Maharashtapurana with a nearcontemporary Mangalkavya, that is, the Gaurimangala written at the turn of the nineteenth century, serves both to validate the central issue of this chapter as well to indicate its limits.

The Gaurimangala: A Point of Contrast The author of the Gaurimangala situated his work against a pre-existing tradition of Bengali panchali literature which included many earlier Mangalkavyas (including Bharatchandra's Annadamangala), (p.116) Krittibasa's Ramayana and Kashiramdasa's Mahabharata.82 Most of the Gaurimangala is devoted to recounting Puranic stories about various deities. Juxtaposed against this is a fascinating, allegorical account about the loss of a kingdom named Abanti by a king, its usurpation by an evil conqueror and its eventual recovery from the clutches of the usurper. Predictably, this account about the loss and recovery of a kingdom is strongly underpinned by issues of dharma and adharma, that is, virtue and sin. Thus the Gaurimangala too incorporates a story centred on the political/dharmic struggle over a kingdom, like the Maharashtapurana and the Annadamangala. Yet, very significantly, the idiom that encapsulates this episode in the Gaurimangala is exclusively Puranic. There are neither explicit nor implicit suggestions of a Mughal context for the story of the loss and recovery of a kingdom and the eventual destruction of a sinful usurping ruler. In the Gaurimangala the sinfulness of the evil conqueror called Madrasena is manifest in acts such as the slaughter of cows, the consumption of beef, the disregard of varna/jati distinctions, the advocacy of widow remarriage and disregard for the Vedas and the Shastras.83 Madrasena was finally overthrown by Prince Jimutavahana, the son of the good king who had originally lost the kingdom to the villain of the story, through the blessings of the goddess Gauri or Abhaya. The real significance of Jimutavahana's success in defeating and destroying Madrasena is first a testimony to the power of the goddess who could, through her powers, enable a mortal protegee to prevail over all odds. Secondly, it meant the re-establishment of a dharmic order once again in the kingdom of Abanti. The moral order in Jimutavahana's kingdom was based on shastric texts and respect for the views of Brahmin scholars. In this obviously allegorical episode, the name of the kingdom in question and the names of all the characters involved in the struggle over it are either Puranic names, or names taken from Sanskrit literature. The language of the entire narrative, including the part dealing with the episode of the loss and recovery of the kingdom of Abanti, is singularly free of Persian vocabulary. Raja Prithvichandra was supposedly well-educated in Persian; but in this literary work, his knowledge of or familiarity with Persian is not in evidence at all. Despite many similarities with the Annadamangala and the Maharashtapurana, the Gaurimangala did not possess either an (p.117) awareness of a Mughal, subcontinental polity which was multilayered or use an idiom reminiscent of a Mughal Persianized political culture in fleshing out the story of the loss and retrieval of the kingdom of Abanti. It is in this absence of a clearly Mughal political context that this particular episode of the Gaurimangala differs so markedly from both the Annadamangala and the Maharashtapurana despite the fact that all three of them deal with issues regarding material struggles over kingdoms and kingly power. By the time of the composition of the Gaurimangala, the overlordship of the Mughal emperor or the immediate suzerainty of the Mughal nawabs had ceased to be relevant for many of Bengal's landed aristocracy. Bengal was now under the sovereign rule of the East India Company. The very next chapter shows that even after the demise of the Mughal-nawabi order in Bengal, certain historiographic narratives, particularly about kings, were still being cast in a Persianate mode. However, while Mughal cultural/historiographical influences may have lingered on in certain types of Bengali narratives, the Gaurimangala indicates that the Mughal factor may not have been perceived to be relevant or germane in others. The aristocratic author of this narrative did not cast the story in the context of a paramount Mughal authority. Thus, in a way, the Gaurimangala reinforces the central point of the chapter that contingent concerns often shaped historiographic narratives in early modern Bengal. Here, to Raja Prithvichandra, the Mughal-nawabi order was probably no longer part of a contemporary political landscape. Secondly, the Gaurimangala also helps to indicate the limits of a Persianate culture in Mughal-nawabi Bengal. Not only during the early nineteenth century, but also during the latter part of the eighteenth, very many panchali-type narratives were composed which were oblivious of the Mughal context, or chose not to reflect them. The purpose in indicating Persianized features in the historiographical segments of the Annadamangala and the Maharashtapurana is not to posit that Persianization had become a sweeping force vis-à-vis Bengali literary productions of the early modern period. The limits of Persianization in Mughal Bengal, both in the context of historiographical narratives as well as other kinds of literary compositions, have been discussed in Chapter 7. This chapter identified important features deriving from Mughal political culture, which had became evident in some Mangalkavya texts during the eighteenth century. Notes:

(1.) Sukumar Sen, Bangla Sahityer Itihasa, vol. 1, 1405 BS, Calcutta, p. 103.

(2.) Ibid., vol. 2, pp. 103–19. (3.) Ibid., vol. 1, pp. 103–4; Sukumar Sen (ed.), Kabikankan Birachita Chandimangala, Calcutta, pp. 16–18. (4.) Ashutosh Bhattacharya, Bangla Mangalkabyer Itihasa, Calcutta, 2000 (rpt), pp. 110–11, 115–16. (5.) Excerpts from Bengali literature which prove this point can be found, for example, in S. Sen, Bangla Sahityer Itihasa, vol. 1, pp. 104, 108, 114. (6.) Ibid., vol. 2, pp. 128–9; for a useful discussion of the multifaceted nature and function of the Mangalkavyas, see David L. Curley, Poetry and History: Bengali Mangal-kabya and Social Change in Pre-Colonial Bengal, New Delhi, 2008. (7.) Bhattacharya, Mangalkabyer Itihasa, pp. 177. (8.) S. Sen, Bangla Sahityer Itihasa, vols 1 and 2; A. Bhattacharya, Mangalkabyer Itihasa. (9.) S. Sen, Bangla Sahityer Itihasa, vol. 1, pp. 79–80; R.C. Hazra, Studies in the Upapuranas, 2 vols, Calcutta, 1958 and 1963; Kunal Chakrabarty, Religious Process: The Puranas and the Making of a Regional Tradition, New Delhi, 2001; K. Chatterjee, ‘Communities, Kings and Chronicles: The Kulagranthas of Bengal’, Studies in History, vol. 21, no. 2, pp. 173–213. (10.) Bhattacharya, Mangalkabyer Itihasa, pp. 431–58; also, Sudhibhushan Bhattacharya (ed.), Dwija Madhab Rachita Mangalchandir Geet, 1952, Calcutta, see Preface, no pp. (11.) Satyanarayan Bhattacharya (ed.), Kobi Krishnaram Daser Granthabali, Calcutta, 1958. (12.) A large secondary literature exists on oral and performance literature in South Asia. Representative examples include, Stuart Blackburn, Singing of Birth and Death. Texts in Performance, Philadelphia, 1988; Philip Lutgendorf, The Life of a Text. Performing the Ramcharitmanas of Tulsidas, Berkeley, 1991; Kirin Narayan, Storytellers, Saints and Scoundrels. Folk Narrative in Hindu Religious Teaching, Philadelphia, 1989, and others. (13.) Bhattacharya, Mangalkabyer Itihasa, pp. 90–1. (14.) S. Sen, Bangla Sahityer Itihasa, vol. 2, p. 246. (15.) Jack Goody, The Interface Between the Written and the Oral, Cambridge, 1987.

(16.) Achintya Kumar Biswas (ed.), Bipradas Pipilaier Manasamangala, Calcutta, 2002, pp. 1–12. (17.) I have relied on individual Mangalkavya texts, for example, Mukunda Chakrabarty's Chandimangala as given in S. Sen, Kabikankan Birachita Chandimangala, as well as detailed discussions in S. Sen, Bangla Sahityer Itihasa, vols 1 and 2 to arrive at conclusions regarding general features of performances, ownership of Mangalkavya texts, their find-spots, and other such features. (18.) Edward C. Dimock Jr and Pratul Chandra Gupta (eds, annotators and trs), Maharashtapurana: An Eighteenth Century Bengali Historical Text, Calcutta, 1985 (rpt), Appendix, 1, pp. 63–6. (19.) S. Sen, Panchanan Mandal, Sunanda Sen (eds), Rupram Chakrabarti, Dharmamangala, Calcutta, 1956. (20.) See Mss. nos 3223 and 3224, Manuscript Library, Calcutta University. I was unable to locate the first part of Narasimha Basu's work in Calcutta University's manuscript collection and have therefore relied on excerpts in Sen, Bangla Sahityer Itihasa, vol. 2, pp. 155–8. (21.) Ibid., vols 1 and 2; A. Bhattacharya, Mangalkabyer Itihasa. (22.) Sen, Bangla Sahityer Itihasa, vol. 2, p. 241. (23.) Sen, Kabikankan Chandi, pp. 42, 158; Brojendranath Bandyopadhyaya and Sajanikanta Das (eds), Bharatchandra Granthabali, 1369 BS, Calcutta, p. 34. (24.) S. Bhattacharya, Kobi Krishnaram Daser Granthabali, Calcutta, 1958, p. 165. (25.) Bandyopadhyaya and Das, Bharatchandra Granthabali, pp. 12–14. (26.) Ibid. (27.) Ibid., p. 297. (28.) Nagendranath Basu (ed.), Tirthamangal of Bijoyram Sen ‘Bisharad’, Calcutta, 1916. (29.) S. Sen, Kabikankan Chandi, pp. 3–4. (30.) Sen, Bangla Sahityer Itihasa, vol. 2, pp. 149, 153–4. (31.) Bandyopadhyaya and Das, Bharatchandra Granthabali, ‘Annadamangal’, pp. 39–350; this reference, p. 290. (32.) S. Sen, Bangla Sahityer Itihasa, vol. 1, pp. 115–17.

(33.) S. Sen (ed.), Kabikankan Chandi, p. 28. (34.) Ibid., pp. 66–9. (35.) Mukunda Chakrabarty's famous autobiographical account or the references made by the poet Bharatchandra Roy to his life and the circumstances of his family in his Annadamangalkabya are illustrative of this. See S. Sen (ed.), Kabikankan Chandi; also Bandyopadhyaya and Das, ‘Annadamangal’. (36.) All references to the contents of this verse-narrative are based on the text of the work reproduced in Dimock and Gupta (eds and trans), Maharashtapurana. (37.) All references to the contents of this verse-narrative are based on the text reproduced in Bandyopadhyaya and Das (eds), ‘Annadamangal’, pp. 39–350. (38.) Bandyopadhyaya and Das, Bharatchandra Granthabali, pp. 17–18. (39.) Ibid., pp. 23–34. (40.) Kshitishvamsavalicharitam. A Chronicle of the Family of Raja Krishnachandra of Navadvipa, W. Pertsch (ed. and trans.) in Mohit Roy (ed.), Kshitishvamshavalicharit, Calcutta, 1986, p. 242. (41.) David L. Curley, ‘Maharaja Krishnachandra, Hindusim and Kingship in the Contact Zone of Bengal’, in Richard D. Barnett (ed.), Rethinking Early Modern India, New Delhi, 2002, pp. 85–117. (42.) Pertsch, Kshitish pp. 250–8; also Aloke Kumar Chakrabarty, Maharaja Krishnachanda O Tatkalin Bangasamaj, Calcutta, 1989, pp. 1–12. (43.) Ibid. (44.) Chakrabarty, Maharaja Krishnachandra, pp. 146–74. (45.) Byomkesh Mustafi, ‘Kabi Gangaram O Maharashtrapurana’, Sahitya Parishad Patrika, vol. 13, no. 4, 1313 BS, Calcutta, pp. 193–236; Kedarnath Majumdar, ‘Kabi Gangaram O Maharashtrapurana’, Sahitya Parishad Patrika, vol. 14, no. 4, 1315 BS, Calcutta, pp. 248–53. (46.) Majumdar, Kedarnath, ‘Kabi Gangaram O Maharashtrapurana’. (47.) K.K. Datta, ‘A Brief History of the Pakur Raj’, in Bimanbehari Majumdar (ed.), Gaurimangala by Raja Prithvichandra of Pakur, pp. xvii–xxvii. (48.) For a discussion of general criteria of and the reason why the Annadamangala should be regarded as a Mangalkavya, see Clinton B. Seely and Frederika V. Miller, ‘Secular and Sacred Legitimation in Bharatchandra Roy's Annadamangal’, Archiv Orientalni, vol. 68, 2000, pp. 327–58. (49.) Bandyopadhyaya and Das, ‘Annadamangal’, pp. 39–160. (50.) Ibid., pp. 161–290. (51.) Ibid., pp. 291–389. (52.) Dimock and Gupta (eds), Maharashtapurana, p. xx. (53.) Velcheru Narayan Rao, David Shulman, Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Textures of Time: Writing History in South India, 1600–1800, New Delhi, 2001, pp. 238–39. (54.) Maharashtapurana, pp. 15–18. (55.) Rao-Shulman-Subrahmanyam, Textures of Time, p. 238. (56.) Maharashtapurana, pp. 23–9. (57.) Ibid., p. 52. (58.) Existing scholarship (for example, Ranajit Guha, An Indian Historiography of India: A Nineteenth Century Agenda and its Implications, 1988, Calcutta; and Partha Chatterjee, The Nation and its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories, Princeton, 1993) demonstrates the importance assigned by ‘modern’ Indian/Bengali historiography of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to distinguishing itself from earlier modes of recounting the past by attempting to eliminate supernatural, fantastic stories as casual factors. For a view which posits the continuing existence of the fantastic and the ‘mythic’ side by side with the ‘modern’, rational historiography, see, Chapter 7. (59.) Sir Jadunath Sarkar (ed.), History of Bengal: Muslim Period 1200–1757, Patna, 1973, p. 457. (60.) For example, Bandyopadhyaya and Das, Bharatchandra Granthabali, pp. 17–18; A. Bhattacharya, Mangalkabyer Itihasa, pp. 833–51; Dushan Zbavitel, History of Bengali Literature, Weisbaden, 1976, pp. 199–200 and others. (61.) A very strongly worded description in these terms is to be found for instance in Dinesh Chandra Sen, Banga Bhasha O Sahitya, 2 vols, (ed.), Asit Kumar Bandyopadhyaya, Calcutta, 2002 (rpt), this reference: 2, pp. 559–64, 589–99. (62.) S. Sen, Kabikankan Chandi, p. 3. (63.) Dimock and Gupta, Maharashtapurana, pp. 15–40, Bandyopadhyaya and Das, ‘Annadamangal’, pp. 291–389.

(64.) Rupram, Chakrabarty, Dharmamangala, in Sen, Mandal, Sen (eds). (65.) S. Sen, Kabikankan Chandi, pp. 66–83. (66.) Maharashtapurana, pp. 17–22. (67.) Bandyopadhyaya and Das, ‘Annadamangal’, pp. 10 and 161. (68.) W. Pertsch, Kshitish. (69.) Bandyopadhyaya and Das (eds), Bharatchandra Granthabali, pp. 23–34. (70.) According to Mirza Nathan (author of the seventeenth century work, the Bahristan-i-Ghaibi, 2 vols (ed. and trans.) M.I. Borah (1936 Gauhati), who had personally participated in the Mughal campaign against Pratapaditya in 1612, the commmander of the Mughal forces was Islam Khan, then Mughal subahdar of Bengal and not Raja Man Singh as represented by the Annadamangala. See also, Sarkar, History of Bengal, pp. 247–72 for a discussion of this point. Ramram Basu's Pratapaditya Charitra, Searampore, 1801, also depicts Man Singh as the vanquisher of Pratapaditya. (71.) Bandyopadhyaya and Das, ‘Annadamangal’, p. 320. (72.) Ibid., pp. 303–21. (73.) Ibid., pp. 298, 329. (74.) N.N. Ghose, Memoirs of Maharaja Nubkissen Bahadur, 1901, Calcutta; Ramcharan Chakrabarty (ed.), Baneshwar Bidyalankar, Chitra Champu, Benaras, 1940; Kalimaya Ghatak, Charitashtaka, Calcutta, 1930; Ramendrasundar Tribedi, ‘Ekkhani Prachin Dalil’, Sahitya Parishat Patrika, vol. 6, no. 4, 1306 BS, pp. 297– 300. (75.) The Annadamangal and the Maharashtrapuran contain graphic descriptions of the horrors perpetrated by the Bargis as do other eighteenth century narratives produced in Bengal, such as the Madanmohanbandana and Baneshwar Bidyalankar's Chitrachampu. (76.) Bengal Public Consultations (BPC): P/1/15, 3 May, 1742, 6 May, 1742. (77.) Ibid., 3 June 1742. (78.) BPC, 18 May 1742; 5 August 1742. (79.) The genealogy, nature, and contours of a Persanized political culture associated with the Mughal empire is discussed in much greater details in Chapter 7. (80.) Bandyopadhyaya and Das, ‘Annadamangal’, pp. 305–11.

(81.) Suniti Kumar Chatterji, The Origin and Development of the Bengali Language, New Delhi, 2002 (rpt). This point is discussed further in Chapter 4. (82.) Majumdar (ed.), Gaurimangala, pp. 511–12. (83.) Ibid., pp. 387, 424–7.
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