Conquest and resistance in context : a historiographical reading of Sanskrit and Persian battle narratives

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2007-05

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Bednar, Michael Boris, 1969-

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Abstract

In a 1963 article, “Epic and Counter-Epic in Medieval India,” Aziz Ahmad argued that two different languages, cultures, and historical attitudes developed in mutual ignorance of each other: Muslims wrote “epics of conquest” while Hindus wrote “epics of resistance.” This dissertation examines four texts identified by Aziz Ahmad: Amir Khusrau’s Khaza’in al-Futuh and Deval Rani wa Khizr Khan (epics of conquest) as well as Nayacandra Suri’s Hammira Mahakavya and Padmanabha’s Kanhadade Prabandh (epics of resistance) written during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Aziz Ahmad’s model is based on reactions; the texts show interactions. All of the texts responded to conquest by search for authority in a reconstituted post– conquest world. Amir Khusrau reacted to the Mongols’ thirteenth–century conquest of Persia and its implications for the Muslim community. Instead of facing westwards toward Mecca and the ‘Abbasid caliphate, Muslims turned inward to the Sufi and the sultan. Yet the ultimate search for authority occurred between neither the Sufi nor the sultan, but within the Muslim community as it forged an Indo–Muslim identity distinct from its Persianate predecessor. ‘Ala’ al-Din Khalji’s fourteenth–century conquest of Western Hindustan (Gujarat, Rajasthan) expedited a similar search for authority among Hindus. Delhi Sultanate conquest led to a search for authority that resulted in the formation of a Rajput social identity. This Rajput identity simultanesouly incorporated the ethos of the traditional ksatriya warrior and challenged the ksatriya’s birthright as warrior. Rather than a warrior class, the Rajputs became a warrior society actively promoted in the Hammira Mahakavya and Kanhadade Prabandh. A close reading of these four texts not only refutes Ahmad’s assertion that Persian, Sanskrit, and vernacular texts developed in ignorance of each other, it demonstrates an active exchange between these three distinct literary traditions. Amir Khusrau introduced Indic literary imagery into the Duval Rani wa Khizr Khan, which in turn aided in the establishment of an Indo–Persian literature. The Hammira Mahakavya and Kanhadade Prabandh utilized Muslims as carriers of Rajput identity. In crossing these literary boundaries, these authors and texts reveal a single social, cultural, and historical attitude that existed in a literary and cultural symbiosis.

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