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	The Powers of Polyglossia ; The Underground <em>Mogor</em>

The Powers of Polyglossia ; The Underground Mogor

Actualité de la recherche sur l'Asie du Sud - Séminaire du CEIAS

19 mai 2015 | 13h30 - 16h30

[Salle 640, 190 avenue de France 75013 Paris]


Davesh SONEJI (McGill University, Montreal, Canada)

The Powers of Polyglossia: The Memory of Marathi Kīrtan in Tamil Bhajana Practices

Marathi Vārkarī and Rāmdāsī kīrtan was brought to Tamil-speaking South India during the earliest phases of the establishment of Marāṭhā power in Thanjavur at the end of the seventeenth century. These practices survived largely through institutions known as Rāmdāsī maṭhas in Thanjavur city and nearby Mannargudi, patronized by the Thanjavur Marāṭhā court itself. In this presentation, I consider the process by which Marathi kīrtan was “indigenized” by the Tamil smārta Brahmin community in Thanjavur by focusing on the development of a uniquely cosmopolitan practice that today is known as bhajana saṃpradāya. The codification of this multilingual, hybrid musical practice was no doubt a mirroring of the Thanjavur court’s own culture of literary polyglossia, and indeed Sadguru Svāmi of Marudanallur (1777–1817), a founding figure of the Tamil smārta Brahmin bhajana tradition, is popularly believed to have initiated King Serfojī II into this practice. This paper focuses on how Tamil Brahmin music traditions mediate the presence and meaning of Vārkarī and Rāmdāsī kīrtan in modern South India. The songs of Nāmdev, Chokhāmeḷa, Tukārām, Janābāī, Samarth Rāmdās, and others are brought into a world of not only uniquely “South Indian” rāgas and singing-styles, but also into the distinct ritual and mnemonic culture of Tamil Brahmins that includes life-cycle events, temple-style domestic pūjā, purity laws, and contemporary identity politics. Today, the memory of Marathi kīrtan is put to the service of the public identity of segments of the Tamil Brahmin community, largely through one of the community’s most cherished expressive forms, namely “classical Karṇāṭak” music, fully inflected with all its nationalist socio-historical resonances. I argue that the making of modern Karṇāṭak music and the caste-based aesthetic it engenders cannot be disassociated from its Marathi kīrtan and bhajana roots. I propose a complex genealogy for Karṇāṭak music that foregrounds the co-opting of Marathi musical and literary traditions and takes seriously the powers of courtly polyglossia in the world of Brahmin music.


Jorge FLORES (European University Institute, Florence)

The underground Mogor: European « poor » texts on Mughal India

Studies about the European visions of the Mughal empire during its “golden age” have fundamentally concentrated on two main topics, anchored in two different sets of texts. The first focus has been on the Jesuit missions to the court of the “Great Mughal” and their writings. The second line of research has concentrated on the commercial race to reach the Mughal empire at a time when European trading companies came to the fore. To research the latter subject, covering the last twenty years of Akbar’s rule and above all pertinent to the reign of Jahangir, one usually explores a group of 17th-century texts penned by authors coming from Protestant Europe. English observers established their hegemony in this field and there can be no denying that Sir Thomas Roe’s embassy to Jahangir’s court in 1615-19 (and resulting sources) played a decisive role in formatting the Western knowledge about the Mughal Empire. European flashy texts on the Mughals continued to be produced, published and circulated throughout the 17th century, the apex of such phenomenon being François Bernier’s account of the Mughal War of Succession of 1656-1658 and subsequent rise of Emperor Aurangzeb. Side by side with such rich European imagery of Mughal India, somewhat “poorer” authors were writing “alternative” texts which seem to have circulated through unflashy circuits and were far from achieving Bernier’s fame. Numerous Portuguese materials in manuscript form fall into this category, but one should not essentialize this category, as many non-Portuguese texts can also be considered here, from the “Relatione dell’Imperio Indico del Gran Mogul” penned by one of the celebrated Vechietti brothers in 1623 to the anonymous “Partenza del Re Gran Mogor della Citta d’Agra per la Citta di Laor”, written by a native of Piemonte in 1638 and richly describing the moving of Shahjahan’s court to the latter city. Other pieces, such as “hybrid texts” – Mughal materials disguised as European and often housed in the so-called European archive –, should also be studied along these lines.


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