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From Outside the Persianate Centre: Vernacular Views on “Ālamgīr” Introduction

  • ANNE MURPHY (a1) and HEIDI PAUWELS (a2)
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In an unprecedented show of efficiency, workers of the New Delhi Municipal Corporation worked overnight on September 3, 2015 to change signposts of Aurangzeb Road to A. B. J. Abdul Kalam Road. This renaming had been decided on roughly a week earlier, prompted by a proposal from Members of Parliament from the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party). The move proved popular, but was followed by a degree of soul-searching in the Indian press about whether Aurangzeb's image as a villain is justified. Discussion of the figure of Aurangzeb in South Asian history has not abated since then, with scholars intervening in the debate. The popular reaction to such interventions has been equally contentious, with vituperative web-based responses too numerous to cite.

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1 “Aurangzeb Road is now Abdul Kalam Road” in The Hindu 4 September 2015. http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/aurangzeb-road-is-now-abdul-kalam-road/article7613198.ece <Accessed 15 April 2016>; “Delhi's Aurangzeb Road to be renamed as Abdul Kalam Road, report says” in The Times of India 28 August 2015 http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/Delhis-Aurangzeb-Road-to-be-renamed-as-Abdul-Kalam-Road-report-says/articleshow/48711593.cms <Accessed 15 April 2016>; Aditi Vatsa “Simply put: The procedure of renaming roads, and reasons for seeking change“ in The Indian Express 7 September 2015. http://indianexpress.com/article/explained/simply-put-the-procedure-of-renaming-roads-and-reasons-for-seeking-change/ <Accessed 15 April 2016>

2 Manimugdha S Sharma “Aurangzeb to Kalam: A road to history revisited”in The Times of India 30 August 2015. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Aurangzeb-to-Kalam-A-road-to-history-revisited/articleshow/48735388.cms <Accessed 15 April 2016>; Shoaib Daniyal “Was Aurangzeb the most evil ruler India has ever had?” 2 September 2015 on Scroll.in http://scroll.in/article/752358/was-aurangzeb-the-most-evil-ruler-india-has-ever-had <Accessed 15 April 2016> As of this date, the page had been accessed 133.8 K times.

3 Audrey Truschke has been particularly active in this discussion. Rajeev Mani “Aurangzeb gave temples grants, land: Historian” in The Times of India 15 September 2015 http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Aurangzeb-gave-temples-grants-land-Historian/articleshow/48940506.cms <Accessed 15 April 2016>; Anuradha Raman “‘Aurangzeb is a severely misunderstood figure’ Interview with Audrey Truschke” in The Hindu 14 September 2015 http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/interview/scholar-audrey-truschke-aurangzeb-is-a-severely-misunderstood-figure/article7648723.ece <Accessed 16 April 2016>; Audrey Truschke “What We Can Learn From India's Medieval Past” on The Wire 20 September 2015 http://thewire.in/2015/09/20/what-we-can-learn-from-indias-medieval-past-11106/ <Accessed 16 April 2016>. See also Truschke's Aurangzeb: The Life and the Legacy of India's Most Controversial King (Stanford, 2017).

4 See discussion of scholarship along these lines: Kinra, Rajeev, Writing Self, Writing Empire: Chandar Bhan Brahman and the Cultural World of the Indo-Persian State Secretary (Berkeley, 2015), pp.1920.

5 Kinra, Rajeev, “Infantilizing Bābā Dārā: The Cultural Memory of Dārā Shekuh and the Mughal Public Sphere” in Journal of Persianate Studies, 2 (2009), pp. 165193, see p. 167.

6 Faruqui, Munis D., The Princes of the Mughal Empire, 1504–1714 (Cambridge, 2012).

7 Kinra, “Infantilizing Bābā Dārā,” p. 190.

8 Faruqui, Princes of the Mughal Empire, p. 164.

9 Kinra, Rajeev, “Handling Diversity with Absolute Civility: The Global Historical Legacy of Mughal Sulh-i-kull” in Medieval History Journal, 16, 2 (2013), pp. 251295, p. 253. See also his book-length study Writing Self, Writing Empire.

10 Truschke, Audrey Culture of Encounters: Sanskrit at the Mughal Court (New York, 2016), p. 2; the term ‘multicultural’ is one Truschke broadly employs, but she discusses the particular valences of the use of term for the Mughal context on pp. 230 ff.

11 Kinra, “Handling Diversity with Absolute Civility”, p. 287. Truschke attributes waning interest in Sanskrit intellectual production in the Mughal court not to Aurangzeb's cultural and religious interests, but rather to the increasing presence of Hindavi and other vernaculars and the strong association of his rival, Dara Shikoh, with Sanskrit cultural production. See Truschke Culture of Encounters, pp. 234 ff.

12 Brown, Katherine Butler, “Did Aurangzeb Ban Music? Questions for the Historiography of His Reign” in Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 41, No. 1 (Jan., 2007), pp. 77120; see p. 116.

13 Munis Faruqui “Awrangzīb” in the Encyclopedia of Islam 64-76, p. 67 first quote, p. 71 for second.

14 For a survey of the Persian sources, see Alvi, Sajida S., “The Historians of Awangzeb: A Comparative Study of Three Primary Sources” in Essays on Islamic Civilization Presented to Niyazi Berkes, Little, D. P., (ed.), (Leiden, 1976), pp. 5773.

15 Truschke, Culture of Encounters, 17.

16 Busch, AllisonHidden in Plain View: Brajbhasha Poets at the Mughal Court” in Modern Asian Studies, 44, 2 (March 2010), pp. 267-309; see p. 305. The recent work of Busch and Cynthia Talbot, both of whom are represented in this volume, has contributed much to a greater appreciation of vernacular sources on the Mughal court.

17 An event proudly depicted in the Padshahnama produced for Shah Jahan in 1736 and preserved in the Royal Library at Windsor.

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