AAS Annual Meeting

South Asia Session 151

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Session 151: Image and Intertextuality: Cultural Legitimacy and Critique in Times of Transition

Organizer: Sujata S. Mody, North Carolina State University, USA

Discussant: Frederick M. Asher, University of Minnesota, USA

This panel examines the creative interplay of multiple modes of cultural expression in periods of intense social change in South Asian cultural history. Through close readings and discussion of “texts” from at least two different modes of cultural expression, at least one of which is a visual source, the papers in this panel explore how this particular form of intertextuality has functioned in times of transition as a means for legitimation and/or critique of structures of authority. A. Azfar Moin’s paper examines a set of paintings from the atelier of the Mughal emperor Jahangir alongside his memoir, the Jahangirnama; Robert Phillips’ paper reads the engravings of Mirza Qasim Ali Musavvir alongside the nineteenth century Urdu Ramayan of Jagganath Lal Khushtar; Sujata S. Mody’s paper examines early twentieth century poems in Hindi based on the artwork of Raja Ravi Varma and other artists of this era; and Sandria B. Freitag’s paper relates popular South Asian visual-culture artifacts of the twentieth century to the specific buildings and built environments they represent. Drawing on several disciplinary perspectives, ranging from art history, history, and literature to architecture and cultural studies, the papers in this panel consider the particular motivations behind the deliberate pairing and interaction of memoir or poem with painting, contemporary Urdu epic with engraving, as well as posters, photographs and other forms of “mass” visual media with buildings/built environments.

Talismanic Art and the Making of Mughal Kingship
Ahmed Azfar Moin, University of Texas, Austin, USA

This paper explores a set of famous paintings from the atelier of the Mughal emperor Jahangir (r. 1605-1627), the ruler of one of the richest and most powerful realms in the early modern world. Jahangir is known to have personally supervised these works of art, which in their concrete studies of nature, realistic portraiture, and complex symbolism innovated upon the classical Persian tradition in radical ways. The accepted explanation for this shift in Mughal artistic substance and style is Jahangir’s fascination with allegorical Catholic art brought to the Mughal court by Jesuit priests from Portugal. This paper offers a new interpretation for this development by arguing that what we see in these paintings is not allegory but in fact ritual action. These royal images are better understood as talismans in which the monarch is the source of both change and stability. They were in effect a record of the emperor’s saintly miracles. Jahangir had inherited an evolving institution of sacred kingship in which the Mughal ruler was not only the material lord but also the spiritual guide of his realm. Jahangir’s sacred art, accordingly, is the key to unlocking the inner workings of this new style of saintly sovereignty. This insight is especially significant given the deeply modest and profane image the emperor fashioned for himself in his memoir, the Jahangirnama (Book of Jahangir). However, when Jahangir’s art is “read” alongside his text, a unique and hitherto unseen perspective emerges on his contributions to the development of Mughal sacred kingship.

“All Were Delighted by This Sight”: The Ramayan of Khushtar in Word and Image
Robert L. Phillips, Princeton University, USA

The Ramayan of Jagganath Lal Khushtar written in 1852 and dedicated to Nawab Wajid Ali Shah of Lucknow became the most popular Urdu rendering of the story among contemporaneous Urdu readers. This work embodied an Indo-Persianate courtly ethos with a distinct Hindu devotional tenor. The rhetorical schema deployed by Khushtar developed a kind of patronal synkrisis between the Nawab, as the ruler, and the divine ideal king, Ram-Vishnu. In his descriptions of courtly ceremony and etiquette, Khushtar inscribed features of his contemporary political and cultural landscape within the narrative. The Ramayan-e Khushtar was published sixteen times by Nawal Kishor Press between the years 1860-1925. One of the earliest editions included several full-page engravings by Mirza Qasim Ali Musavvir, offering something of a visual proximation of the narrative to contemporary nineteenth century Lucknow and complimenting the literary proximations of the author. However, later editions of this work were printed with smaller, “generic” engravings, which are also found in other Urdu Ramayans published by the Press. This paper will analyze selected textual and visual elements of the Ramayan-e Khushtar across several editions, discussing how they converge with and also diverge from other prominent representations of the Ramayan narrative during the later colonial period. The paper will conclude with a consideration of the ways in which this text and other Urdu Ramayans were positioned within broader debates over cultural legitimation that were ongoing during this same period.

Visual Aspects of Early Twentieth Century Literary Production: Raja Ravi Varma and the Emergence of Modern Hindi Poetry
Sujata S. Mody, North Carolina State University, USA

In the early twentieth century, the Hindi journal ‘Sarasvati’ (1900-1982) gained prominence as a literary enterprise of cultural and national consequence. Literature, a broadly defined category that included fictional writing in poetry and prose, literary criticism, and philosophical, scientific, and historical writing, also comprised a visual component. The journal’s popularity was as much for its literary content, which inspired a new generation of readers and authors, as it was for its visual appeal. Indeed, the journal’s tag line did not proclaim its connection to literature, but rather, pronounced its integral connection to the visual. ‘Sarasvati’ was “an illustrated Hindi monthly journal.” In this paper I examine the modern Hindi poetry written and commissioned by editor Mahavir Prasad Dwivedi (1864-1938) based on the artwork of Raja Ravi Varma (1848-1906) and other contemporary artists. The interactive relationship between literature and art, deliberately cultivated by Dwivedi in this influential literary periodical, inspired new authors and artists alike, and suggests nationalist motivations more complex than the mere visual enhancement of a literary experience.

Popular Spatial Knowledge and Images of the Built Environment
Sandria B. Freitag, North Carolina State University, USA

One of the most fascinating new directions taken by research in history, art history, architecture and archeology explores the relationship of ordinary people to their built environments. This is emerging in several related but distinct ways, having to do with the processes for forming ‘spatial knowledge” and informing how people interact with their built environment based on these understandings. We can see this in the work, for instance, of Will Glover [architecture] on the relationship between “genealogical knowledge” and “modern” spatial understandings in the changing city of Lahore; or Alison MacKenzie Shah’s [history] reconstruction of Hyderabad’s Nawabbi period through the reading of its built environment as “texts”. In this paper I relate the popular visual-culture artifacts (textile labels, photographs, postcards, posters and calendar prints) consumed over the long twentieth century to the buildings and built environments they represent. This is a period of immense change. Taking but one aspect, the textile labels were first produced by European companies primarily to support the efforts by Manchester cloth producers to naturalize their products for the Indian market, while posters were produced in the nationalist and then independence periods by Indian entrepreneurs. Both the meanings associated with these images and their composition changes over that time period in several waves. The meanings associated with each set of interactions between consumers and image will be analyzed here for what they contribute to identity narratives constructed by those consumers, which clearly are adjusted to reflect the changing circumstances in which they are viewed and consumed.