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In 1704 the Indo-Persian Sufi and poet Mirzā ʿAbdul Qādir ʿBīdil’ completed an autobiography entitled The Four Elements (Chahār ʿunṣur). Into the fourth “Element” of this text he set an account of a portrait of himself painted around 1677 by Anūp Chhatr, a painter famous for his portraits in the imperial Mughal ateliers of the time. Initially refusing his painter-acquaintance permission to paint him, Bīdil finally yields and is astonished at how the resulting portrait duplicates him like a mirror. After marveling at it for a decade, he falls ill. His friends visit him in his sickbed and one of them, leafing through his anthology of texts, comes upon the painting. He exclaims at how faded it is. Bīdil himself can barely make it out on the page. When he recovers his health, he opens the anthology to examine the faded portrait and is astonished and shocked, as his friends are, to see that it has recovered its brilliant colors. He tears the painting up.

This essay reads this ekphrastic account of self-transformation as an autobiographical and iconoclastic interpretation, playing on philosophical, literary and painterly traditions of visuality, in particular Ibn ʿArabi’s (d. 1240, Andalusia) theory of the imagination. Among the questions that will be pursued are: what understandings of self and self-transformation did Bīdil renew by this interpretation? How is this episode a focusing of concerns that pervade all of The Four Elements? What kind of reader and reading practices did this autobiography assume? And, finally, does an understanding of Bīdil’s iconoclastic self-transformation—turning on this episode—prepare us to better understand his works in other genres?

In: Philological Encounters


Can we read ʿAbd al-Qādir Bedil’s (1644–1720) oeuvre in ways that socialize it against his own pervasive Sufi posture of ascetic distance from everyday social exchanges? What kind of selfhood comes into view if we do so? Of all the genres Bedil wrote in, his correspondence best allows us such a socialization. This essay explores Bedil’s epistolary voice in terms of a tension between the trans-mundane ghazal metaphors he uses in his letters and the mundane specificities of each epistolary situation. It puts this voice into relation with prior models of Persian epistolography (inshā), with Arabic-Persian literary theories of wonder in Bedil’s milieu and with models of Sufi wit, reflecting on what his appropriations of these genres allowed him in each case. It concludes by reflecting on how Bedil’s voice might be understood in the wider contexts of non-European practices of civility and the order of mimesis it assumes.

In: Journal of South Asian Intellectual History


How have religious communities imagined the scriptures of other communities? In answering this question, this article aims to nuance our understanding of pre-colonial and self-consciously Islamic translations into Persian of Indic language texts understood to be Hindu by considering Masīḥ’s early 17th-century Mas̱navī-i Rām va Sītā, a Persian translation of Vālmīki’s Sanskrit epic, the Rāmāyaṇa (circa 2nd century bce). It opens by remarking on a shift in the study of the relations between poetics and politics in Persian translations of Indic texts. Then, attempting to refine our understanding of this relation, it takes issue with prior studies of this poem before answering the following questions these studies fail to pose: how does the prophetological metaphysics of the prefatory chapters relate to the poetics of emotion in the main body of the tale? And what does this relation let us infer of Masīḥ’s theological conception of translation?

In: Numen
In: Journal of South Asian Intellectual History