Friday, 21 April 2017

Book Review - Culture Of Encounters: Sanskrut At The Mughal Court

THE BACKGROUND
We are witness to, in the current socio-political mileu, increasing critical examination of especially The Mughal Period, which is being examined, at times without any basis in fact, threadbare on Social Media and the population at large. Therefore, the current book under review represents a timely intervention as well as a much-needed fresh look at the history of that period from a literary and cultural perspective. This is critical, since the Political, Military history is well established; the Economic History and the Cultural History is what needs further research and clarity

Akbar-watches-Tansen-take-lessons-from-Bhakti-music-composer-Swami-Haridas
Image Courtesy : Google Search


Whereas the British Period is examined in great detail by Dr Shashi Tharoor, Jaswant Singh, NS Sarila and many other contemporary writers in the past 4-5 years, The Mughal Period shows a lamentable lack of authoritative research at least in the popular realm. What is more disturbing is that there is evidence and research of the Socio-Cultural Realm of the British Empire and its searing horrifying damage to the Socio-Cultural fabric of India – Maria Misra and Pavan Verma come to mind here – the same is marked by its total absence with reference to the Mughal Times, at least from what I gather in India.


THE BOOK
This is where the current tome – Culture Of Encounters : Sanskrut In The Mughal Court by Audrey Tuschke fills a major gap, by analyzing the literary aspect of Mughal activities in India, thereby telling a story totally unknown, even to an avid amateur history researcher like self, a person read and learned in and with several dozen top history books in the past 8 years. The content comes as a complete surprise and shock, and a welcome reminder to an amateur like me to continue reading, keep up to date with latest research and not get a bloated head, to be frank!




Audrey Truschke


The book delves deep into The Socio-Cultural realm of the Mughal Court during Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb’s time, giving us a surprise every few pages that causes us to recalibrate our thoughts and our knowledge. The book contains proof and evidence which you can check for yourself; more of this in the bibliography. The book is a unique and fresh look at a period of history that we clearly do not understand fully, one that needs scholarly examination. The one regret that I have is that this was thought of, researched and written outside India by a person not an Indian!  Why cant such telling research be conducted in our universities; and if it is being conducted – why isn’t it being made popularly available?


This is an examination of the socio-cultural multiculturality of the Mughal Court, and the focus of successive Mughal Emperors to engage with Sanskrut {and increasingly Hindustani – precursor of Modern Hindi, which was standardized & Sanskrutised into the tongue we now speak}. This covers translations as well as deep engagements with Sanskrut texts – a myriad of Sanskrut texts, right from the most Famous, like The Mahabharat & The Ramayan to the comparatively lesser known works like Nal-Damayanti and many others folklores and books.


It looks in depth at the Brahman and Jain influence at The Mughal Court, the Sanskrut translations and texts written for the court, translations of Sanskrut works into Farsi {Persian}, examination of Indian History basis Sanskrut works, re-examination / alteration / rejection / questioning / acceptance of both Sanskrut literature & {Sanaatani} practices as well as  questioning {in one case} prevalent Islamicate Practices, literature on The Mughal Empire in Sanskrut, and incorporation of Sanskrut in the Persian world. The book closes on a deep but potent note – asking as to how did Sanskrut become extinct, a question that naturally arises from the text, given that it was a living, thriving and robust tongue right till the early 1700s, and given that texts were produced in it right till the late 1700s, and early 1800s.


THE ANALYSIS
This is an in-depth and solid research; I traced the bibliopgraphy repeatedly while reading the book, and the sources seem impeccable. I made the effort  of downloading one of the translations of the Ain-i-Akbari, and read a few pages of the 3rd Volume, which pertains to Sanskrut textual history, from The National Digital Library. This text – The Ain-I-Akbari is extensively referred in the current book. From that experience, I can state this is, in addition to a ground-breaking research, a great resource book for further reading, with a plethora of great resources of ancient documents to choose from.






The book takes pain to look at the extensive Multi-Culturalism of The Mughal Court, and the extensive interaction and erudite, surprisingly open and well-informed debates between Islamic and Brahman/Jain scholars at The Mughal Court. The extent of Mughal support for Sanskrut, and later Hindustani, literary activities comes as a total shock. Did this extend to the Cultural sphere? That is a tantalizing thought – I just hope someone does some research on that.






The best part is the even, fair and balanced tonality of the research. I could not detect any western bias, which is pretty much a first {or rather, second – Will Durant being the only other Westerner I respect in this regard}; the book is transparent and very, very logical throughout. It maintains a fine line between Multiculturalism and secularism, which is welcome. That said, this research work does clarify to a very large extent some of the fog around The Mughals, and provides strong irrefutable evidence of their Muticulturalism, as well as tantalizing evidence that The Mughals after and starting from Akbar regarded themselves as Indian, which is a welcome thought.


What this seminal research does bring out is the difference between the Colonial approach – that of an alien power, and the Mughal approach. While, as painfully portrayed in Pavan Verma’s classic {or indeed in the classic books - What India Should Know & Operation Red Lotus, which showed up the shoddy way Indian history was written by The West} , the colonial period saw a subjugation of all things Indian. By complete contrast, The Mughal Interaction was on a different scale, very open to local sensibilities, accepting of divergent views. This method managed to keep both traditions alive and healthy; they {The Mughals} managed to keep their culture, their world views intact; while we Sanaatanis managed to keep our language, culture and literature intact.


It created what I can best call a Win-Win situation, leading to the right conditions. This hypothesis can only be established by a further examination of the Cultural Realm of The Mughal Era, but there is strong evidence in support of this in the Economic and now Literary sphere. In a telling contrast, while 300 years of Mughal Rule did not impact our language or culture too much, 150 – 190 years of colonial rule redefined or rather suppressed the Local Linguistic, cultural, literary and social landscape. So much so, that it has taken 6 decades for the local arts, culture, vernacular languages and economic landscape to rise to something resembling what it was in Pre-Colonial times!



All in all, rated 5 stars; one of the finest books in the History Genre I have read!

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