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The Role of Cultural Exchanges and Connections in the Making of Iran and the Persianate World, from Delhi to Samarqand and the Persian Gulf (16th c.-present)

Panel VI-16, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Friday, November 3 at 4:00 pm

Panel Description
The ‘mental mapping of Iran’ on a long-term scale, alongside memories of places and origins outside Iran has been the subject of research by scholars such as Bert Fragner (1999) or Mana Kia (2020). Likewise, concepts like that of the ‘Persianate world’, described by Nile Green (2019: 1) as ‘a region that stretched from China to the Balkans, and from Siberia to southern India’ where ‘Persian had become a language of governance or learning’, have received an increasing amount of attention in recent years In line with these approaches, the present panel aims at highlighting the role of cultural exchanges and connections in the concurrent development of rival political and socio-economic centres (Isfahan, Delhi, Samarqand, to name but a few) in the Persianate world from the 16th century onwards. Moreover, it vows to shed light on the crucial role played by Iranian margins, in this case the Caucasus and the Persian Gulf, in defining cultures connected to Iran and the ambivalent relationship between the identities of the centres and their peripheral regions. By studying the multidirectional movement of people, texts, ideas, and rituals, the panel’s four contributions thus endeavour to determine how the representations elaborated from the centres and margins of Iran and the Persianate world by Indo-Persian poets, Uzbek chroniclers, Baloch musicians, and European travellers, also played a role in processes of socio-economic, political, and cultural spatialisation in the region. To this end, the speakers will discuss the different strategies of appropriation, localisation, and translation employed to (re)invent traditions and (re)shape identities, in the context of competing claims to legitimacy put forth in the region. These inquiries will draw upon a corpus of sources varied in genre (travelogues, chronicles, epic poems, and ritual performances) and languages (Persian, Turkish, Balochi, German, and Italian) to arrive at a connected and dynamic perspective on the construction of a multipolar Iranian world and its Persianate cultural fabric.
  • In the early modern period, European scholars located ‘Persia’. This pattern of localisation took place in the beginnings of globalisation and was both due to the Safavid-Ottoman rivalry and economic opportunities in Asia. As a result of this attraction, journeys to Safavid Iran undertaken by European travellers increased from the beginning of the 17th century. Their return home was often correlated with the publication of a travelogue. Moreover, this literary genre aimed at increasing European knowledge of the ‘East’ while paradoxically circulating distorted representations. In this regard, Pietro Della Valle (1586-1652) and Adam Olearius (1599-1671) are typical of this period, considering their invaluable contribution to the diffusion of Persian scholarship in early modern Europe thanks to their command of the Persian language and their acquisition of manuscripts in Iran. Della Valle visited Iran from 1617 to 1623 and made a long stay in the Persian Gulf region where he visited the court of Imām-Qulī Khān Ūndīlazah, the famous Iranian general who had defeated the Portuguese in Qishm and Hormuz (1621-1622), whom he met. In this context, the Italian traveller also bought several Persian manuscripts that he took back to his homeland. Among those were two mathnavī poems: the Fat̤ḥ-Nāmah and the Jang-Nāmah-yi Kishm, both written around the year 1622 and composed outside the Safavid court at Isfahan, as works of local historiography. Adam Olearius stayed in the Safavid state from 1636 to 1639 and can be viewed as the perfect Danish counterpart to Della Valle except for the fact that he reached ‘Persia’ from the Caucasus. According to investigations by Giorgio Rota (1998), there, Olearius purchased an untitled ‘compendium of Safavid history’ (1501-1636) in manuscript form, from someone who was a native of Azerbaijan on the outer edge of Safavid Iran. In this paper, I will try demonstrate how those three manuscripts shaped and located Iranian history from the margins before subsequently shaping European scholarly circles outside Iran. To do so, I will compare the aforementioned Persian sources in a connected perspective with the well-known travelogues of Pietro Della Valle, Viaggi descritti in 54 lettere famigliari (1650-1658) and Adam Olearius, Beschreibung der muscowitischen und persischen Reise (1647).
  • The incorporation of North India in the Persian cosmopolis during the sultanate period (13th-16th century), and the rise of the Mughal dynasty during the 16th century, led many authors to compose tales in Persian (qiṣṣah, dāstān or ḥikāyat, often masthnavī in form) inspired by Indian themes and romances. A number of scholars, such as the Late Syed Amir Husain Abidi (1921-2011), dedicated themselves to the edition and study of these poetic compositions. More recently, several researchers, such as Simon Digby, Sunil Sharma or Francesca Orsini, attempted to locate more precisely the social and historical context of these works. Indeed, the composers of these tales stem from various social backgrounds. Some are Iranian émigrés from Khurāsān or Fārs, while others are Indian Muslims (khānzādah) or even Hindus. In this paper, I would like to focus on these multiple identities in the literary context of ‘Indian’ Persian mathnavī. My intention is to understand how authors chose to present themselves in their own compositions, and how in order to achieve this goal, they forged distinct ‘pen-identities’. The time frame of my analysis is the 17th century and, more precisely, the reigns of the Mughal emperors Jahāngīr, Shāh Jahān and ‘Ālamgīr. Indeed, during the 17th century, a number of Indian tales have been translated or adapted into Persian both in verse and in prose. Persian literature, at that stage, already had a solid canon, located in several spaces: Central Asia (Khurāsān) and Iran itself (Fārs, ‘Ajam). India (Hindūstān), although associated with some important poets of that canon (Amīr Khusraw for example) remained a marginal space, situated, at best, at the frontier of the Persian speaking world. Using Amir Hasan Abidi’s editions (see, for example, the Rat Padam of ‘Abd ush-Shakūr Bazmī or the ‘Ismatnāma of Ḥamīd Kalānaurī) as well as some unedited manuscripts (notably, some copies of the Mihr-u Māh of ‘Āqil Khān ‘Rāzī’), I argue that South Asian translators/adaptors (mutarjim) acted as literary go-betweens who, following the established conventions of Persian poetry, asserted, to a Persian-speaking connoisseur audience, the literary relevance of Indian subjects. Their pen-identities, whether they were émigrés, Indian Muslims or Hindus, played a key role in that regard. I argue, notably, that they often chose to embrace their geographical ‘otherness’ only to develop an ‘Indian’ (Hindī) poetic imagery in which spatial opposition between Iran and South Asia (Īrān-u-Hind) allowed them to assert their ‘newness’ and modernity (tāzagī).
  • Despite being one of the major political forces of the 16th century Muslim world, the Central Asian Abu’l-Khayrids (r. 1500-99) have been comparatively less studied than their Mughal, Ottoman, and Safavid contemporaries. As noted by Yuri Bregel (2011), ‘no monographic studies of the Abu’l-Khayrids were produced either in Soviet or post-Soviet time’, although certain periods of the dynasty’s political history have received opportune attention (see for example Dickson 1958). An aspect of particular interest in Abu’l-Khayrid history resides in the way this ‘steppe-based dynasty (…) on the fringes of Islamic civilization’ strived to appropriate the extensive cultural heritage of the Timurids in order ‘to achieve full legitimacy to rule within the Islamic sphere’ (Subtelny 1983: 132-33). Associated with similar processes among rival Muslim rulers, this renders the study of Abu’l-Khayrid cultural history a particularly worthwhile undertaking, to which this communication vows to present a modest contribution. This contribution consists in the study of Eastern Turkish translations of two Persian historiographical classics, Rashīd al-Dīn Fażlallāh’s Tārīkh-i mubarak-i Ghāzānī (c. 1302-4) and Sharaf al-Dīn ‘Alī Yazdī’s Ẓafarnāmah (c. ca. 1419-25), realised at the court of Kūchkūnjī Khān (r. 1512-30) in Samarqand. Both preserved in unicum manuscripts respectively kept in Tashkent and Istanbul, the translations were composed by Muḥammad ‘Alī b. Darwīsh Yār ‘Alī, a man also known as the copyist of manuscripts of Mīrkhwānd’s Rawżat al-ṣafā and Khwāndamīr’s Ḥabīb al-siyar (Binbaş 2012: 394-95). In this communication, I will introduce the texts of both translations, studied in comparison with their Persian originals, with a view to examining both the translation processes and the motivations for Kūchkūnjī’s patronage. I will articulate my presentation around the following research questions: Why were these two books specifically chosen? What does this choice tell us of the early Abu’l-Khayrids’ intellectual world and self-image in the Turco-Persianate sphere? Finally, how can these translations be related to general trends in early 16th-century Abu’l-Khayrid cultural history?
  • The Baloch constitute a heterogeneous cultural group spread out over a vast territory on both sides of the border between Iran and Pakistan. Balochistan is both at the margin of the Iranian sphere and at the periphery of the two main states that define it. This land is home to an important musical heritage. These traditions, mainly upheld by the poorest sections of Balochi society, are chiefly transmitted between members of the same social sphere. The most important figures in this transmission are the ustād, the masters of Balochi music. Outside the social group of these prestigious musicians other Baloch will find it difficult to access their musical knowledge. This also holds for the diaspora of Balochi communities living in the Sultanate of Oman, most of which originate from Iran, and who have settled chiefly in Muscat. Here, they have maintained their language and traditions including music and rituals. However, traditional ustād, are not found in Oman. Some of the wealthier families thus invite these musicians from Iran or Pakistan for occasions such as weddings, private gatherings, healing rituals and popular music recordings. Omani Baloch musicians are nonetheless numerous, but many of them have turned to more modern music, where it is not uncommon to find synthesizers and electric guitars alongside traditional musical instruments. Still, a significant number of musicians continue to be interested in traditional musical repertoires. This includes a healing ritual called damāl that is common in Muscat. A damāl is performed by night and music plays an important role. A somewhat similar healing ritual (usually called gwātī) is found in Balochistan. The gwātī has been studied partly while very little is known about the damāl in Oman, or about the relation between them. My talk will present the musical repertoire of a group of musicians with whom I have been in contact since my first fieldwork (2017) in Muscat and which performs during damāl sessions. The different songs played in the course of the ritual as well as certain specificities of the ritual performance raise the question of the strategies used by the musicians to emancipate themselves from the traditional musical elite. In this presentation, I will argue that considering the Baloch perspective from Oman allows us to approach the question of margins in the light of their internal dynamics.