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The Persianization of Itihasa: Performance Narratives and Mughal Political Culture in Eighteenth-Century Bengal

Abstract

This paper explores the nature and understandings of history, or itihasa/Purana, in eighteenth-century India using two Mangalkabya narratives. These materials belong to a large genre of performance narratives, usually devoted to eulogizing various deities, that were produced in Bengal for several centuries. The paper illustrates how a “traditional” genre such as the Mangalkabya was effectively used to articulate contingent political and cultural preoccupations. The narratives studied here show that the historical experiences and contexts mirrored in them were derived from Mughal rule over Bengal and large parts of India during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The paper seeks to historicize and contextualize the shifts noticeable in these narratives and to engage with the notion that premodern, precolonial India lacked a sense of history molded by contemporary material and cultural imperatives.

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