Brahman Sanskrit intellectuals enjoyed a century of relations with the Mughal elite. Nonetheless, such cross-cultural connections feature only sporadically in Persian chronicles, and Brahmans rarely elaborated on their imperial links in Sanskrit texts. In this essay I analyze a major exception to the Brahmanical silence on their Mughal connections, the Kavīndracandrodaya (“Moonrise of Kavīndra”). More than seventy Brahmans penned the poetry and prose of this Sanskrit work that celebrates Kavīndrācārya’s successful attempt to persuade Emperor Shah Jahan to rescind taxes on Hindu pilgrims to Benares and Prayag (Allahabad). I argue that the Kavīndracandrodaya constituted an act of selective remembrance in the Sanskrit tradition of cross-cultural encounters in Mughal India. This enshrined memory was, however, hardly a uniform vision. The work’s many authors demonstrate the limits and points of contestation among early moderns regarding how to formulate social and historical commentaries in Sanskrit on imperial relations.
In the late sixteenth century, the Mughal Emperor Akbar sponsored the translation of more than one dozen Sanskrit texts into Persian, chief among them the Mahābhārata. The epic was retitled the Razmnāma (Book of War) in Persian and rapidly became a seminal work of Mughal imperial culture. Within the Razmnāma, the Mughal translators devoted particular attention to sections on political advice. They rendered book twelve (out of eighteen books), the Śānti Parvan (Book of Peace), into Persian at disproportionate length to the rest of the text and singled out parts of this section to adorn with quotations of Persian poetry. Book twelve also underwent significant transformations in terms of its content as Mughal thinkers reframed the Mahābhārata’s views on ethics and sovereignty in light of their own imperial interests. I analyze this section of the Razmnāma in comparison to the original Sanskrit epic and argue that the Mughal translators reformulated parts of the Mahābhārata’s political advice in both style and substance in order to speak directly to Emperor Akbar. The type of advice that emerged offers substantial insight into the political values that Mughal elites sought to cultivate through translating a Sanskrit work on kingship.
This article presses on some of the key insights from Mack’s seminal essay on Christianity vis-à-vis scholarship on a different religion, namely Hinduism. I suggest some extensions of Mack’s argument to the academic study of Hindu traditions, such as identifying the harms posed by the soft inclusion of Christian theology within the discipline of Religious Studies. I argue that this is a structural problem in the modern academy that sidelines scholars of non-Christian, especially non-Abrahamic, religions and creates a model for uncritical influence from ideological and political sources. Following on Mack’s analysis of the pressures of Christian theology, I identify specific non-academic threats to critical studies of Hinduism, namely the political commitments of Hindu nationalists and the embrace of orientalist ideas by scholars and practitioners. I argue it is imperative to counter both harmful trends, while recognizing significant challenges to doing so. I also draw on insights from scholarship on Hinduism to point to strategies potentially beneficial to scholars of Christianity keen to pursue Mack’s ideas, such as a milder interest in questions of origins that embraces multiplicity. I conclude that scholars of Hinduism are ready to tell our stories – based on critical analyses of a diverse and complicated religious tradition – but whether our academic peers in Religious Studies are ready to hear and incorporate our insights is another matter.