Mughal Persian Poetry and Persianate Cultures

Episode 442

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In this episode, Professor Sunil Sharma shares his research on the cast of poets who wrote Persian poetry in India, and the poetic idea of Mughal India as a paradise, or an “Arcadia.” (He also shares some excerpts of this lovely poetry with us!) We discuss how specific regions, like Kashmir, became a hot new topic in Persian poetry, and explore the kinds of competitions that emerged between poets from different places across a broader “Persianate” world. The courtly environments in which these poets found patronage were multilingual and multiracial environments — where someone could enjoy poetry in Persian, Braj Bhasha, Hindavi and Chaghatai Turkish — but in this time, Persian poetry was what got you a job. By studying both poetry and painting, he reflects on the racial differences mentioned by poets, especially the initial difference between those born in India and those who had migrated from Iran and were “native speakers” of Persian. Finally, we discuss different meanings of the term “Indo-Persian,” in the study of the centuries that Persian was used as a language of governance, literature and science in India.

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Contributor Bios

Sunil Sharma is Professor of Persianate and Comparative Literature in the Department of World Languages and Literatures at Boston University. His teaching and research interests are in Persian(ate) literatures, visual culture, and travel writing.
Shireen Hamza is a doctoral candidate in the History of Science department at Harvard University. Her research focuses on the history of medical exchange in the medieval Indian Ocean world. She is also the managing editor of the Journal of Middle East Women's Studies.
Naveena Naqvi is Assistant Professor of Persianate Islamic cultures of South Asia at University of British Columbia, Vancouver. Her research interests include the Persianate world (ca. 13th-19th centuries), with a focus on non-courtly writers in regional contexts during early colonial rule.


Episode No. 442
Release Date: 16 December 2019
Recording Location: Boston, MA
Audio editing by Chris Gratien and Shireen Hamza
Music: Chad Crouch; Sergey Cheremisinov; Komiku; Soft and Furious; kara güneş

Works of Sunil Sharma

“Celebrating Writing and Books in Safavid and Mughal Court Poetry.” In Écrit et culture en Asie centrale et dans le monde turco-iranien, XIVe–XIXe siècles (Writing and Culture in Central Asia and the Turko-Iranian World, 14th–19th centuries), edited by Francis Richard and Maria Szuppe. Paris: Association pour l’Avancement des Etudes Iraniennes, 2009. 231-50.

“From ‘Aesha to Nur Jahan: The Shaping of a Classical Persian Poetic Canon of Women.” Journal of Persianate Studies 2, no. 2 (2009): 147–164.

“‘If There Is a Paradise on Earth, It is Here’: Urban Ethnography in Indo-Persian Poetic and Historical Texts.” In Forms of Knowledge in Early Modern Asia: Explorations in the Intellectual History of India and Tibet, 1500–1800, edited by Sheldon Pollock. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011. 240-56.

Mughal Arcadia: Persian Poetry in an Indian Court. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017.

“Novelty, Tradition and Mughal Politics in Nau’i’s Suz u Gudaz.” In The Necklace of the Pleiades: Studies in Persian Literature Presented to Heshmat Moayyad on his 80th Birthday, edited by Franklin Lewis and Sunil Sharma. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 2007. 251-65.

“The Production of Mughal Shahnamas: Imperial, Sub-Imperial, and Provincial Manuscripts.” In Ferdowsi’s Shahnama: Millennial Perspectives, edited by Olga M. Davidson and Marianna Shreve Simpson. Boston: Ilex, 2013. 86-107.

“Reading the Acts and Lives of Performers in Mughal Persian Texts.” In Tellings and Texts: Music, Literature and Performance in North India, edited by Francesca Orsini and Katherine Butler Schofield. Cambridge, UK: Open Book Publishers, 2015. 283-302.


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