Cultures of Comparative Philology in the Early Modern Indo-Persian World

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This article surveys the deep history of the discipline of comparative philology in the Indo-Persian world, and attempts to situate it within larger debates about global forms of intellectual modernity. From its early beginnings in the production of literary lexicons designed to help poets in different regional centers of the Persianate world understand each other’s works, comparative philology in South, Central, and West Asia developed into a key scholarly discipline in which a whole host of concerns relating to Indo-Persian intellectual life was negotiated: literary canon formation, the arbitration of good taste, the maintenance of cosmopolitan literary intelligibility in an increasingly vernacular world, and even the nature of language itself. These developments took place over many centuries, in a vast array of works, spread out over a vast region that stretched from Anatolia to India. But in their increasingly sophisticated scholarship, as well as their increasing cognizance of their own scholarly disciplinarity, we find several distinctly “modernizing” tendencies among many of the Indo-Persian philologists discussed here, long before the supposed “invention” of the discipline by western scholars like the British colonial judge and orientalist, Sir William Jones (1746-1794).

Cultures of Comparative Philology in the Early Modern Indo-Persian World

in Philological Encounters

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    SchwabOriental Renaissance40-1.

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    RajRelocating Modern Science95-6.

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    FranklinOrientalist Jones354-5.

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    See Muzaffar Alam“The Pursuit of Persian: Language in Mughal Politics,” Modern Asian Studies 32 no. 2 (1998): 336-42; idem “The Culture and Politics of Persian in Precolonial Hindustan” in Literary Cultures in History: Reconstructions from South Asia ed. Sheldon Pollock (Berkeley: University of California Press 2003) 182-5; see also Tavakoli-Targhi Refashioning Iran “The Homeless Texts of Persianate Modernity” and “Orientalism’s Genesis Amnesia.”

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    JonesGrammar of the Persian Languageii-iii.

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    JonesGrammar of the Persian Languagexii. A good number of Jones’s contemporaries shared this “blame the munshī” tendency. Francis Balfour for instance complained vehemently of the “arbitrary and various” nature of late Mughal writing practices in the preface to his 1781 edition of Inshā-yi Harkaran (Calcutta: Printed at Calcutta by Charles Wilkins 1781) an influential early seventeenth-century model letter collection by Harkaran Das Kambuh and one of the very first Persian texts to be published in British Calcutta. Balfour went on to lay special blame for any errors in the text specifically at the feet of the late Mughal munshī who according to the Englishman though nominally “employed to remove these intricacies and to correct these errors” was—paradoxically enough—“[too] poorly instructed in the principles of grammar [to be] sufficiently qualified for the [very] task he undertakes.” Despite these hurdles Balfour triumphantly assured his readers—along with none other than William Hastings to whom the volume was dedicated—that he had nevertheless managed to produce a “corrected” version of Harkaran’s letters in which “every intricacy of the Manuscript is removed by exhibiting it printed in the Taleek character” (Balfour Inshā-yi Harkaran 1-7). William Davy for his part expressly warned against the danger of trusting the “native Munchees” whose “knavery avarice and extortion” made it imperative that the British begin mastering Persian themselves (“Letter to Joseph White” 31-2). And yet another of Jones’s contemporaries George Hadley—whose Introductory Grammatical Remarks on the Persian Language (1776) was so overshadowed by Jones’s own Grammar that it does not appear even to have gotten a second printing until Scolar Press published an archival facsimile reprint in 1972—made a habit of blaming his poor sales on his munshīs deftly begging his readers’ indulgence for an “arrangement . . . [that] was not so correct as it would have been had the Mounchee been expert or had my own knowledge of the Persian character been sufficient to have corrected him” (15). There were however notable exceptions to this trend such as Francis Gladwin in his textbook The Persian Moonshee (Calcutta: Chronicle Press 1795) and Iʿtisam al-Din’s own translator James Alexander who had the uncommon courtesy to acknowledge in his preface to the English-Hindustani edition of Shigurf Namah i Velaët that: “I should be guilty of injustice were I not to acknowledge the great assistance I derived in the completion of the above from my Moonshee Shumsher Khan who was formerly in the employ of that distinguished linguist diplomat and soldier Sir John Malcolm. Simply to state the fact of his having been in the service of that officer is sufficient to mark him out as an able scholar without any further encomium of mine.” (ix-x)

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    Sheldon Pollock“Sanskrit Literary Culture from the Inside Out,” in Literary Cultures in History: Reconstructions from South Asiaed. Sheldon Pollock (Berkeley: University of California Press 2003).

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    Muhammad Dabir SiyaqiFarhanghā-yi Fārsī wa Farhang-gūnahʾhā (Tihrān: Isparak1989).

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    ʿAbd al-Shakur Ahsan“Lug̲h̲at-Nigārī,” in Fārsī Adab: Part 1 (1000-1526) ed. Muhammad Baqir and Wahid Mirza vol. 3 of Tārīkh-i Adabiyāt-i Musalmānān-i Pāk wa Hind ed. Sayyid Fayyaz Mahmud (Lahore: Punjab University Press1971) 386-401; idem “Lug̲h̲at-Nigārī” in Fārsī Adab: Part 2 (1526-1707) ed. Maqbul Beg Badakhshani vol. 4 of Tārīkh-i Adabiyāt-i Musalmānān-i Pāk wa Hind ed. Sayyid Fayyaz Mahmud (Lahore: Punjab University Press 1971) 838-55; Sayyid Muhammad ʿAbdullah “Lug̲h̲āt Zabān-dānī wa Zabān-āmūzī Sharḥen Farhang [aur] Qawāʿid” in Fārsī Adab: Part 3 (1707-1971) ed. Sayyid Fayyaz Mahmud and Sayyid Wazir al-Hasan ʿAbidi with the assistance of ʿAbd al-Ghani vol. 5 of Tārīkh-i Adabiyāt-i Musalmānān-i Pāk wa Hind ed. Sayyid Fayyaz Mahmud (Lahore: Punjab University Press 1972) 382-401.

  • 30

    BaevskiiEarly Persian Lexicography30-1; see also Siyaqi Farhanghā-yi Fārsī 7-9; and for the specific references in Farhang-i Jahāngīrī and Majmaʿ al-Furs respectively see Jamal al-Din Husain Inju Farhang-i Jahāngīrī 2nd edition 3 vols. ed. Rahim ʿAfifi (Mashad: Mashhad University Press 1980) 1: 5; Muhammad Qasim Sururi Farhang-i Majmaʿ al-Furs 3 vols. ed. Muhammad Dabir Siyaqi (Tehran: ʿAlī Akbar ʿIlmī 1960-63) 1: 2.

  • 31

    Annemarie SchimmelAnvari’s Divan: A Pocket Book for Akbar (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art1983) 69n. For further details on Qatran’s dictionary see Baevskii Early Persian Lexicography 31-43; Siyaqi Farhanghā-yi Fārsī 14-6. For his poetic career see de Blois Persian Literature 186-9; Jan Rypka “History of Persian Literature up to the Beginning of the 20th Century” in Rypka et al. History of Iranian Literature ed. Karl Jahn (Dordrecht: D. Reidel 1968) 194.

  • 32

    SiyaqiFarhanghā-yi Fārsī14.

  • 33

    For details see John ConsidineDictionaries in Early Modern Europe: Lexicography and the Making of Heritage (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press2008) 19-55.

  • 37

    Sheldon Pollock“Towards a Political Philology: D D Kosambi and Sanskrit,” Economic & Political WeeklyJuly 26 2008: 53-4; “Future Philology?” 954-6.

  • 38

    Yigal Bronner and David Shulman“ ‘A Cloud Turned Goose’: Sanskrit in the Vernacular Millennium.” Indian Economic and Social History Review 43 no. 1 (2006): 9.

  • 41

    CawdreyFirst English Dictionary37.

  • 42

    On Munjik see for instance de BloisPersian Literature170-1. On Daqiqi see ibid. 94-6; Arthur John Arberry Classical Persian Literature (Richmond Surrey: Curzon Press 1994) 41-3; E. G. Browne A Literary History of Persia 4 vols. (Bethesda: Iranbooks 1997) 1: 459-62.

  • 43

    Olivier RoyThe New Central Asia: The Creation of Nations (New York: New York University Press2000) 76. Roy adds a few remarks that give a powerful sense of the nomenclatural difficulties we face in trying to disentangle premodern linguistic sensibilities from the modern nationalist knots they’ve been tied in: “Since it is obviously not possible to deny that the two languages [Persian and Tajik] are related it was proposed [by Soviet scholars] that the two had diverged in the sixteenth century which made it possible to appropriate classical Persian literature from Rudaki to Sa⁠ʾadi [sic] under the rubric of ‘Farsi-Tajik’. It was claimed that all the Persian-speaking writers born between Tus and Dushanbe in Greater Khorasan were specifically Tajik. Rudaki . . . thus became the founder of Tajik literature. The problem was that he was also the founder of Persian literature as a whole. As a result of this operation all the Persian-speakers of Central Asia past or present thus found themselves defined as members of a ‘Tajik ethnic group’.”

  • 45

    ‘Ali ibn Ahmad Asadi TusiLug̲h̲at-i Furs (Tehran: Kitābkhāna-yi Ṭuhūrī1957). See also Baevskii Early Persian Lexicography 52-5; Siyaqi Farhanghā-yi Fārsī 16-28; Storey Persian Literature vol. 3 pt. 1 3-4.

  • 46

    For details see Djalal Khaleghi-Motlagh“Asadī Ṭūsī (d. 1072-73), Poet, Linguist and Copyist, from Ṭūs in Khorasan,” Encyclopædia Iranica (online) orig. pub. December 15 1987 last updated August 16 2011 (accessed May 28 2014. http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/asadi-tus. ).

  • 47

    SiyaqiFarhanghā-yi Fārsī8-9 15.

  • 48

    ConsidineDictionaries in Early Modern Europe29-31.

  • 53

    Quoted as translated in BaevskiiEarly Persian Lexicography56.

  • 54

    For details see BaevskiiEarly Persian Lexicography57-61; Siyaqi Farhanghā-yi Fārsī 44-6; Storey Persian Literature vol. 3 pt. 1 9-11.

  • 56

    Pollock“Towards a Political Philology” 52; “Future Philology?” 934.

  • 57

    Quoted in BaevskiiEarly Persian Lexicography59.

  • 59

    See for instance Christine van RuymbekeScience and Poetry in Medieval Persia: The Botany of Nizami’s Khamsa (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press2007).

  • 60

    BaevskiiEarly Persian Lexicography61-7; Siyaqi Farhanghā-yi Fārsī 47-9.

  • 61

    Quoted in SiyaqiFarhanghā-yi Fārsī47.

  • 62

    On which see BaevskiiEarly Persian Lexicography71-7; Siyaqi Farhanghā-yi Fārsī 32-6; Storey Persian Literature vol. 3 pt. 1 4-5.

  • 64

    Momin Mohiuddin“Sabk-i Hindi (The Indian Style of Persian Prose), with Special Reference to Inshā’,” Indo-Iranica 13 no. 2 (1960): 24.

  • 65

    Quoted in BaevskiiEarly Persian Lexicography73. See also Ahsan “Lug̲h̲at-Nigārī” in Fārsī Adab: Part 1 (1000-1526) 388-9.

  • 71

    Quoted in BaevskiiEarly Persian Lexicography84. Furughi’s Dānishnāma remains unpublished and according to Baevskii there is only one extant manuscript currently housed in the Republic Manuscript Collection in Baku Azerbaijan but which dates from 1409 ce (i.e. just four years after the work’s compilation). For details see Baevskii Early Persian Lexicography 84-7. If nothing else this is yet another powerful indication that even if dictionaries from this early phase of Indo-Persian philology were superseded in popularity by later works like Farhang-i Jahāngīrī and Burhān-i Qāt̤iʿ—and thus often saw citations of their work and circulations of their manuscripts trail off beginning in the early modern period—they nevertheless had an appreciative audience in their own times even in distant lands.

  • 73

    Ahsan“Lug̲h̲at-Nigārī,” in Fārsī Adab: Part 1 (1000-1526) 390-91; Baevskii Early Persian Lexicography 87-94; Storey Persian Literature vol. 3 pt. 1 11-12.

  • 74

    For examples see BaevskiiEarly Persian Lexicography89-94.

  • 75

    BaevskiiEarly Persian Lexicography91.

  • 77

    Badr al-Din IbrahimFarhang-i Zafān-Gūyā5; Baevskii Early Persian Lexicography 98.

  • 78

    Quoted in BaevskiiEarly Persian Lexicography105; see also Ethé Catalogue of the Persian Manuscripts 1351-2 (#2512) 1608-9 (#2967); Ahsan “Lug̲h̲at-Nigārī” in Fārsī Adab: Part 1 (1000-1526) 390; Storey Persian Literature vol. 3 pt. 1 94-6.

  • 79

    BaevskiiEarly Persian Lexicography108-9; Ethé Catalogue of the Persian Manuscripts 1605 (#2960).

  • 80

    For details see Ahsan“Lug̲h̲at-Nigārī,” in Fārsī Adab: Part 1 (1000-1526) 392; Storey Persian Literature vol. 3 pt. 1 13; Baevskii Early Persian Lexicography 109-10.

  • 82

    BaevskiiEarly Persian Lexicography110-11.

  • 83

    FaruqiSharafnāma-yi Manerī8.

  • 84

    FaruqiSharafnāma-yi Manerī10-19.

  • 87

    Alam“Culture and Politics of Persian” 174.

  • 89

    InjuFarhang-i Jahāngīrī1: 2-3.

  • 90

    InjuFarhang-i Jahāngīrī1: 3.

  • 91

    InjuFarhang-i Jahāngīrī1: 5-7.

  • 92

    InjuFarhang-i Jahāngīrī1: 7-9.

  • 93

    InjuFarhang-i Jahāngīrī1: 9-10.

  • 94

    John F. Richards“Early Modern India and World History,” Journal of World History 8 no. 2 (1997): 205. On the transregional mobility of Indo-Persian intellectuals during this period see also Alam and Subrahmanyam Indo-Persian Travels in the Age of Discoveries.

  • 96

    Blochmann“Contributions to Persian Lexicography” 12.

  • 97

    InjuFarhang-i Jahāngīrī1: 13-22.

  • 100

    SururiMajmaʿ al-Furs1: 1-2.

  • 101

    SururiMajmaʿ al-Furs1: 2-6.

  • 102

    SururiMajmaʿ al-Furs1: 7.

  • 103

    Alam“Culture and Politics of Persian” 174.

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