Cities, Courts, and Saints:
Muslim Cultures of South Asia
September 22, 2012
This conference brings together
the leading historians of South Asia and specialists of Indo-Muslim cultures. Its theme of “Cities, Courts, and Saints”
presents new research on the way Islam spread across and became part of the Indian subcontinent. Since the arrival of Islam
in South Asia, Muslim communities thrived in cities, giving them a unique shape with new forms of courtly and spiritual life.
A key aspect of Indo-Muslim culture was, and remains, the popularity of Sufi saints and their shrines. The papers presented
here focus on the entire range of Indo-Muslim history, from the medieval era to modern times, to shed new light on forms of
social etiquette, literature, music, and architecture.
Bengal, Gujarat, and the Deccan: New Indo-Muslim Courts of the 14th-15th
Dr. Richard M. Eaton, University of Arizona
Three Indo-Muslim courts—in Bengal, Gujarat, and the Deccan—achieved independence
from the Delhi Sultanate over the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. To express their autonomy from Delhi, these regional
states developed distinctive political ideologies and court cultures. However, in doing so, they were shaped by local and
regional social conditions as well as international styles and universal models. Thus we see the rise of innovative courtly
forms that drew upon Bengali, Gujarati, and Deccani norms and practices but melded them with the ideals of Timurid Samarqand,
Abbasid Baghdad, and Sasanian Ctesiphon. This paper will trace the history of these three post-Delhi Sultanate regimes and
compare the way they articulated their claims to legitimacy.
Professor Richard Eaton teaches at the University of Arizona
where his research interests focus on the social and cultural history of pre-modern India (1000-1800), and especially on the
range of historical interactions between Iran and India, and on Islam in South Asia. He has published books on the social
roles of Sufis (Muslim mystics) in pre-modern Bijapur, on the growth of Islam in Bengal, and on the social history of the
Deccan from 1300 to 1761. He is currently co-authoring a monograph to be titled Power, Memory,
and Architecture: Contested Sites in the 16th Century Deccan.
Mughal Letters and Mughal Lives: A Brahman Munshi
at Shah Jahan’s Court
Dr. Rajeev Kinra, Northwestern University
In this lecture, I will discuss the Persian letters of Chandar
Bhan Brahman (d. 1662-3), a celebrated munshi and littérateur at the court of Emperor Shah Jahan
(r. 1628-58). His letters are an excellent example of the genre of insha’, a highly polished style
of Persian writing which governed imperial correspondence and secretarial reports. This lecture will examine the importance
of these literary sources for understanding Mughal court culture. Through a reading of Chandar Bhan’s letters, I will
explore his life as a courtier, his friendships and professional relations at court, and his dealings with the Mughal Emperor.
In the process, I will shed new light on the notions of civility, social mobility, religious pluralism, and cultural cosmopolitanism
in seventeenth century South Asia, before the rise of European power.
Professor Rajeev Kinra teaches at Northwestern University.
He specializes in South Asian intellectual history, particularly early modern Indo-Persian literary and political culture
under the Mughal and British Empires (16th-19th centuries). His research draws on several linguistic traditions (especially
Persian, but also Hindi-Urdu and Sanskrit), using archival sources to investigate diverse modes of civility, tolerance, cosmopolitanism,
and modernity across the Indo-Persian and Indian Ocean worlds. He is currently working on a book project tentatively titled Writing
Self, Writing Empire: Chandar Bhan Brahman and the Cultural World of the Indo-Persian State Secretary.
Sufism and Kingship in the Mughal Empire: From Babur (d. 1530) to
Jahangir (d. 1627)
Dr. Azfar Moin, Southern Methodist University
In the sixteenth and early seventeenth
century, Mughal court culture borrowed heavily from the practices of Sufi saints. The most well-known example is that of muridi
or discipleship in which Mughal courtiers were enrolled as devotees of the emperor, who thus became both an earthly sovereign
and a spiritual guide. This lecture will examine the history of why and how this happened. It will begin with the Central
Asian and Iranian experience of the first two Mughal emperors, Babur and Humanyun, and end with the developments in India
under their successors, Akbar and Jahangir. In it, I shall discuss how this interaction between kings and saints influenced
Mughal literature and painting, which became imbued with the rituals and symbols of Sufism.
Professor Azfar Moin teaches
the history of South Asia at Southern Methodist University. His research focuses on Indo-Persian cultural history, especially
the Mughal empire and its historical relationship with Safavid Iran and Timurid Central Asia. He is the author of a number
of articles and translations from Persian into English. His book The Millennial Sovereign: Sacred Kingship and Sainthood in Islam is being published by Columbia University
Press. In it, he shows how the charismatic pull of sainthood (wilayat)—rather than the draw of religious law
(sharia) or holy war (jihad)—inspired a new style of Muslim kingship in sixteenth century India and
Begum of Bhopal: A Muslim “Queen” Holds Court in Colonial India
Dr. Barbara D. Metcalf, University of Michigan,
Ann Arbor (emerita)
Sikandar Begum ruled the princely state of Bhopal from 1844 until 1868. Of Afghan heritage, she was a phenomenal administrator,
a shrewd politician, and something of a bon vivant. A French travel writer, Louis Rousselet, who spent several months at the
Bhopal court, called her a remarkable reine. The Begum’s lively court is well documented not only by colonial
records but also by pictures taken by a military photographer, visitors’ accounts, and the drawings of a Belgian artist
who sketched the courtly ceremonies over which Sikandar Begum presided. This paper hopes to convey something of this remarkable
ruler and her courtly setting in remote Bhopal.
Barbara D. Metcalf was President of the American Historical Association
in 2010. She is Professor of History Emerita, University of California, Davis, and from 2003 to 2009 was Alice Freeman Palmer
Professor of History at the University of Michigan. She is a specialist in the history of South Asia, especially the colonial
period, and the history of the Muslim societies of India and Pakistan. She is the author of a number of books, including Islamic
Revival in British India: Deoband, 1860–1900 (Princeton University Press, 1982) and, most recently, Husain
Ahmad Madani: The Jihad for Islam and India's Freedom (Oneworld, 2009), and editor of Islam in South
Asia in Practice (Princeton University Press, 2009).
From One Empire to Another: The City of Delhi,
Dr. Thomas Metcalf, University of California, Berkeley (emeritus)
The city of Delhi experienced
significant transformations during the period of Mughal decline in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In this era, first
the local notables and then the British residents of the city increasingly displaced the emperor as the center of political
and cultural life and patronage. This paper will assess how these shifts affected the culture of the court, broadly conceived.
It will focus on such transformative moments as the 1739 invasion of the Persian ruler Nadir Shah and the British conquest
of 1803. I will examine how, despite all the turmoil of the first century of British imperialism in India, the city and its
cultural pre-eminence survived until the mutiny of 1857.
Thomas R. Metcalf is the Emeritus Sarah Kailath Professor of India Studies and Professor of History at the
University of California, Berkeley. He is a historian of South Asia, especially colonial India, and of British imperialism.
His most recent research project examined India's position as an imperial 'center' from which ideas, personnel,
and institutions flowed out to the entire Indian Ocean region in the later 19th century. This culminated in the book Imperial
Connections: India in the Indian Ocean Arena, 1860-1920. Some of his other works of history include A Concise History of Modern India
(with Barbara Metcalf), Forging the Raj: Essays on British India in the Heyday of Empire, and Ideologies of
The Social History of Song Collections: Awadh, Delhi, and Hyderabad (circa 1800)
Schofield, King’s College, London
The turn of the nineteenth century was a critical moment of political transition in South Asia,
away from Muslim courts towards British political dominance. Few have noticed, however, that at this historical moment there
was an upsurge in the production of manuscript collections of lighter courtly songs, predominantly khayal, tappa,
ghazal and tarana. While many of these song collections were produced for Muslim elite patrons in courts
such as Awadh, Delhi and Hyderabad, a significant number were also written for or purchased by European collectors—including
women—residing in these cities. In this paper, I will examine the social and historical implications of this changing
state of patronage in the Indian musical field.
Professor Katherine Schofield is a cultural historian and
ethnomusicologist whose work focuses on South Asia. Her research interests lie in the areas of South Asian music, the history
of Mughal India (1526-1858), music and Islam, and music and empire. Katherine also has emerging interests in female vocalists;
Muslim devotional sound-art; and musical transitions to European colonialism in the Indian Ocean region. She is also writing
a book on the cultural history of music, musicians and their patrons in Mughal North India, entitled The
Place of Pleasure: Hindustani Music in Mughal Society, 1593-1707.