Epistles from the Seat of Worldly Power: The Persian Letters of a Punjabi Brahman in the Mughal King's Court

Sunday, January 8, 2012: 9:10 AM
Belmont Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Rajeev Kumar Kinra, Northwestern University
As the late John Richards himself lamented, the vast extant corpus of early modern Indo-Persian administrative, epistolary, and stylized prose, or insha’, is one of the most neglected archives in all of South Asian historiography.  After briefly surveying some of the reasons modern scholars have been so unkind to Mughal insha’, this paper will try to recuperate some sense of its cultural historical value through an examination of the Persian letters of Chandar Bhan Brahman (d. 1662-3), the celebrated munshi and litterateur at the court of Emperor Shah Jahan (r. 1628-58).  Chandar Bhan’s “epistolary self,” I argue, sheds considerable light on numerous topics of interest both to early modern and to postcolonial scholarship, particularly with respect to notions of civility, justice, social mobility, religious pluralism, and cultural cosmopolitanism in early modern India on the eve of the European colonial conquest.
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