Hindi Belt Authors

Muslims in Sanskrit texts

INSIGHTFUL BOOK: Audrey Trushke’s book titled “Culture of Encounters”  

While reading a recently published article of American historian Audrey Truschke on how her lecture entitled “Unpopular Stories: Narrating the Indo-Islamic Past and Navigating Present-Day Prejudices” was cancelled in Hyderabad due to pressure and threats of some alleged right-wing groups , I came to know that “Sanskrit narratives of Indo-Islamic rule” was one of the three components of her lecture. The theme reminded me of her book Culture of Encounters: Sanskrit at the Mughal Court as well as of another seminal work Representing the Other?: Sanskrit Sources and the Muslims (Eighth to Fourteenth Century) written by eminent historian Brajadulal Chattopadhyaya. Interestingly, Chattopadhyaya’s is the only book of Indian history that I have so far come across that has been dedicated to five legends of Hindustani classical music: Abdul Karim Khan, Alauddin Khan, Bundu Khan, Faiyaz Khan and Sawai Gandharva. It was first published nearly two decades ago and a second edition came out only last year.

Romila Thapar, the pre-eminent historian of early India, drew attention in her various lectures and articles to the schema of periodisation suggested by James Mill in the early nineteenth century that saw Indian society emerging out of three periods –Hindu, Muslim and British. While he divided the pre-British history on the basis of religion, he did not term the British period as Christian and set the colonial paradigm of viewing the period of Muslim’s arrival in India as one of permanent struggle between the native Hindus and the invader Muslims. Unfortunately, this colonial paradigm continues to be followed by the Hindu nationalists even till this day.

Seminal research

While acknowledging the pioneering work done by Thapar, who wrote in 1971 on the image of barbarian in early India, and by Aloka Parasher who wrote on a monograph on the category of people called Mlechchhas and about the way Indians looked at the outsiders up to 600 AD, Chattopadhyaya devotes his research to the period that falls between the eighth and the fourteenth centuries.

It is a noteworthy fact that the Sanskrit texts and inscriptions of these six centuries rarely referred to the Muslims in religious terms. Instead, ethnic or regional terms were generally employed to refer to them.

They included terms such as Turushka, Tajika, Mlechchha, Parasika, Yavana, Hammira, Gori, Turaka, Matanga and Garjanaka. Only in Veraval inscription of the time of Vaghela Arjunadeva, issued in the year 1264, one finds the term Musalmaana used to denote the Muslims.

Between fifteenth and seventeenth centuries too, Yavana, Shaka and Turushka were used but new words like Pathana, Mugil, Sultana and Patrishaha also made their appearance. Interestingly, Allavadina (Alauddin Khilji) was referred to as Dillishwar and Yavana and his soldiers were called Turushka. There are ample references in the Sanskrit texts of this period to the forging of political alliances between Yavana rulers and local or regional rulers who too were described not as Hindus but by their family names like Kakatiyas or Pandyas.

In fact, in the circa 1330 AD inscription of Vilasa (Pithapuram, East Godavari district) grant of Prolaya Nayaka, the Delhi Sultan – often Sultan was Sanskritised as Suratran – who brought calamity to the Andhradesha, was viewed as somebody who was carrying on the tradition of Parashurama in his role as the destroyer of the kshatriyas!

Brajadulal Chattopadhyaya’ book “Representing the Other?: Sanskrit Sources and the Muslims”

Brajadulal Chattopadhyaya’ book “Representing the Other?: Sanskrit Sources and the Muslims”  

A meticulous and erudite scholar, Chattopadhyaya after discussing a great many Sanskrit sources in detail arrives at the conclusion that they “do not project the image of the Muslims as an undifferentiated ‘other’.” It is also significant that they do not represent them as a religious group and choose to identify them on the basis of their ethnic or spatial origins. Indian society was not unfamiliar with ‘otherness’ as there were so many ‘others’ like the tribals and lower castes that were outside the pale of the Brahmanical order and whose moral world was incompatible with the caste-based varnashrama dharma. Therefore, if one believes the contemporary Sanskrit sources, the engagement between the Muslims and the indigenous people took place at various levels. “A situation of unmitigated hostility and conflict through centuries would not have produced the kind of evidence that we have cited,” writes Chattopadhyaya.

Push to Sanskrit

Audrey Truschke’s book, published in 2016, focuses on the “close relationship” of the Mughal imperial court with the “Sanskrit cultural world as well as the multicultural nature of Mughal power”.

It was Akbar who had made Persian the official language of the Mughal administration but it was during his reign that the ruling elite, along with promoting Persian, also encouraged Sanskrit and engaged with scholars and texts.

Truschke informs us that Jain and Brahman Sanskrit scholars were present at the Mughal court in sufficiently large numbers by the 1580s and the elite supported a “stunning range of Sanskrit textual production”.

These activities went on till the 1660s, thus affecting the intellectual worlds of both Persian and Sanskrit as a result of this close interaction.

Even Jahangir, who was not as open-minded as his father Akbar, met a Brahman ascetic Gossain Jadrup six times between 1617 to 1620 and described him in his memoirs as “well learned in the science of Vedanta, which is the science of Sufism.”

So, the Muslim ‘other’ is really not so much ‘other’.

The writer is a seasoned literary critic

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Printable version | Mar 5, 2021 1:07:31 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-authors/muslims-in-sanskrit-texts/article24763856.ece

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