Sanskrit Narratives of a Muslim Pasts

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The Language of the history: Sanskrit Narratives of a Muslim Pasts is recent account by Prof. Audrey Truschke & published by Penguin Books. The book was released in January 2021. Author did a chronological literary review of Sanskrit accounts that were produced in span of almost six centuries. The research provides a deep insight about the political, Social, cultural & religious identities of Muslim rulers from the perspectives of Sanskrit authors of pre modern South Asia. The book started with the verse of Urdu poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz:
BoL ke Sach zinda hain Ab tak
Bol jo kuch kahna hai keh le
Speak, the truth is still alive
Speak, Say what you have to say

English translation by Yasmin Hosain

The book reviewed the accounts of Sanskrit from 12 th century to 18 th century, a timespan of around six centuries. However, the first chapter of the account articulated the literary history of Sanskrit accounts from 08 th century onward that explore the mentions of “Muslims” in the timespan where quite scanty resources were available. The author elaborated the diverse titles used for Muslims in these early accounts such Turushka & Tajika in early Sanskrit writings from 8 th century to start 11 th century. During this period, it was rare to find any spefic names, rulers or families but few Muslim names were found in Rashtrakuta grant. Even the word “Melechha” or “Paraskia” was broader in usage rather than specific for Muslims. The account discussed in details how shift happened from early accounts such as Jayankas Prathvirajvijaka to the late accounts that reflected an acceptance of Indo-Persian rule.  By the start of 11 th century we saw the shift in the Sanskrit accounts. The description became more specific as we saw the more influx of Muslims as invader, traders, & migrants. The research reviewed specific examples where the Muslim families related to trade found mentions in these archival accounts such as a Tayika family of Muslim traders were cited in detail in 11 th century copper plate of Kadamba rulers. Interestingly there has been paucity in literature written by local Brahmins on the raids of Mahmud of Ghazni. While reading the text one can find, the Hindu Muslim binary as we saw in modern days was not reflected in Sanskrit writing. At several instances, the detailed analysis & reviews of archival Sanskrit accounts presented by author didn’t reflect such terminologies. Another important perspectives that were brought by this book was Buddhist perspectives towards Muslims especially their accounts tried to draw a comparison between Muslims & Kshtariyas based on their understanding in 11th century. The Kalacakratantra ( Tantra of the wheel of the time), a 11th century Buddhist account in Sanskrit provided a detailed sociocultural description of the Islamic practices. As we moved to the next chapter, the account reviewed the changes & shift that happened in literary accounts after the invasion of Ghurids especially the narratives found in 12 th century account Prathavirajvijaya by Jayanka but still one cannot find this as the labels of Hindus & Muslims. Down the century with the establishment of Delhi Sultanate, the literary accounts of Sanskrit seem to be more accommodative to reflect their perspectives towards new ruling class.

To this already diverse universe, Indo-Muslim Kings added their own robust ruling cultures, complete with new languages, norms of comportment, battle strategies, legitimation needs, patronage practices, buildings campaigns & more.

Chapter 3, Indo Muslim Rulers, Expanding the world of Indian Kingship, The Language of History
by Audrey Truschke

By this time, we saw the inclusion of words borrowed from Persian & Arabic such as Hammira & Suratrana, the two Sanskrit counterparts of Amir & Sultan used for the rulers in Saracenic world. Even the coins of second Sultanate King, Iltutmish used the Sanskrit version, Suratana Srisamsadina. On the western coast of India that was more culturally vibrant due to maritime traders also witness syncretic fusion & communal harmony among traders. The literary accounts cited the donations by the Jain traders to build the mosques such as 15 th account Jagaducarita mentioned some details.

Crude figure of Rider bearing lance on caparisoned horse facing right. Devanagari legends: Sri / hamirah.
Star above horse. Rev: Arabic legends: Shams al-dunya wa’l din Iltutmish al-sultan.
Source: Wikiimages

Going to the down south, the only literary account by Gangadevi 14 th century account has been reviewed & discussed in detail by author.  The account Madhuravijaya cited the details of Khilji & Tughlaq incursions in South India. But here also she elaborated Sultanate of Madurai as foes & regional enemies with their alien physical description & language but less emphasis on religious identities. On the other hand, the reviews of 15 th North Indian epic, Hammira Mahakavya written by Nayachandra Suri. While describing Hammira conflicts with Khiljis, the book cited an interesting description of Muslims commanders in Chauhan’s army.  Most probably they were Muslim Mongols from ethnic background; the role of Mahimashahi (Muhammad Shah) has been elaborated in context with his loyalty towards the Hindu King & his war against Muslim sultans. In the consecutive centuries we saw more fusion of new Persian words with Sanskrit especially related to the religious practices of Islam such as Rasulamuhammadasamvata (Hijri Calendar), Makthateerthyatra (Pilgrimage of Hajj) & Muslaman Jamatha (Muslim Community).

Then the book described in detail about the famous Kashmiri accounts of Sanskrit i.e., Rajatarangnis (River of Kings). From 12 th century Kalhana to the 16 th century added version of Jonaraja, all the accounts were carefully researched by author to present the conclusive perspectives. One can find the fine blending of Shah Miri dynasty of Kashmir in these literary accounts as the legendary descendants of Shiva from his patriarch, Shah Kuru. The detailed interaction of the Jain scholars at the Mughal court in relation to the Sanskrit account has been articulated. In the broader Mughal rule, the account also reviewed the literary work that was produced in the courts of Provincial Rajputs & the rising Martha’s in 17 th century. Even the Maratha accounts that were more concentrated in narrating the historical conflicts against the imperial powers cited this as wars against dynastic rulers rather than Muslims in general.

In last a detailed chapter is devoted to the Sanskrit accounts of Mughal dynasty where one can find the reflection from 16 th century accounts authored by Padmasagra to early 18 th century narratives written by Lakshmipati.  Prof. Audrey concluded her work with a reflective epilogue & a rich appendix that includes selected translations. From 08 th century, Navsari plate to 18 th century Abdullacarita of Lakshmipati, these nine notes in Appendix will provide additional insight for the readers on the title. An extensively rich account & research by Prof. Audrey, the book gave an insight to the readers regarding the literary history of Sanskrit that spans around the millennium. As an evidence based piece, the work also refute the common stereotype created by Colonial writers that Muslims rulers destroyed Buddhism, massive number of temples, & Sanskrit literature.

The author of the book, Audrey Truschke is Associate Professor of South Asian History at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey. She also wrote two award-winning books: Culture of Encounters: Sanskrit at the Mughal Court and Aurangzeb. This is third title authored by Prof. Audrey.

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Rehan Asad is a medical doctor & currently working as an anatomy faculty. He has a penchant for writing people, food & culture stories.


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