South Asia

Organized Panel Session

2 - Inter-Canonical Connections in the Urdu Marsiyah

Saturday, July 7
10:20 AM - 11:50 AM
Location: Casuarina, Lower Ground Floor

Although intellectual historians of Asia have sought to disentangle traditional systems of knowledge from the colonial project, the field of Urdu studies has rarely examined the role of this legacy in the formation of its own literary canon. Yet the period of Urdu’s canon formation was heavily influenced by the intellectual colonialization of South Asia, giving rise to literary histories that evaluated Urdu literature in terms of Euro-centric ideals. These histories treated Urdu and other local languages in isolation, ignoring their inter-connections and obscuring the circulation of literary elements among them, tendencies which persist in scholarship today. 


This paper reconsiders the canonical boundaries of Urdu and Hindi by exploring inter-canonical connections across literary cultures during the early modern period. A touchstone for this paper will be the Urdu marsiyah, a genre which is now synonymous with the classical poets Mir Anis (d. 1874) and Mirza Dabir (d. 1875), but which was once situated on the margins of the canons of Urdu and Hindi. By examining how this genre moved from the margins to the center, I highlight the process of inclusion and exclusion in these canons, a process, I argue, that has implications for scholarship today. I show how early marsiyah poets drew widely from contemporary literary cultures such as Awadhi and Braj, incorporating elements of form, language, and poetics, along with narrative details, as they crafted compositions that would appeal to multilingual listeners, following the aesthetic of hindustaniyyat.

Peter Knapczyk

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, United States

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