Website design :: Mrityunjay Tripathi

Header image: Gita Govinda (after Nainsukh), c. 1775

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This project, housed at Ambedkar University Delhi, studies the beginnings of certain north Indian literatures that we know today as medieval Hindi and Urdu poetry. The last millennium saw a subtle but sure tectonic movement in the linguistic environments of South Asia whose traces can still be seen in the poetry of that period. Poetry is a medium of traces and disruptions and our history is enriched by a vast corpus of such poems which tell us about the dying of some structures of feeling and expression, and the birth of new ones, sometimes in the body of the same poem.  

Modern literary history separates this corpus into its pre-designated language groups (Avadhi, Braj, Dakani, Rekhta, Hindavi). It tells us that medieval poetry can be designated as devotional, erotic, or panegyric. But all these descriptions appear to be after the fact: the fact of a slow geological movement of languages which didn’t care much for cultural propriety or datable origins. This project gives a name for this tectonic movement where the two plates of the Indic and the Islamic collide and lead to a diversity of fault lines and contours in the body of the poem. This is the poetry of the Indo-Islamic millennium.

The project team includes researchers from Hindi and Urdu literary history whose conviction it is that when a truly synchronous history of Hindi and Urdu is written, our literary giants such as Mir Taqi Mir, Tulsidas, Kabir and Malik Muhammad Jayasi would appear strangely unfamiliar in the fractured light of the Indo-Islamic past. Perhaps even less monumental and therefore more readable. The main goal of this project is to re-begin the act of reading these monumental figures from our poetic traditions who, in our current millennium, have become names to evoke and invoke, and seldom poems to be read.

A millennium is a long time. It can be spanned in literature only by reading the concentration of time and feeling in particular poets from particular periods in which the always underway geological movement causes a tear, or an eruption even, and makes itself known. In this project we conceive the millennium to be the short duration of a few centuries: from the heyday of the Mughal empire to its dispersal in the late eighteenth century.

The poets we have chosen from this short duration of three centuries will be introduced to modern readers and students through some of their exemplary poems. The aim is to present the body of the poem through its variants and through a textual apparatus that highlights not just its meaning but sounds and structures of feeling. We hope to achieve this by reviving the tradition of commentary (tika in Hindi and sharh in Urdu), adapted to our times, to let our own voices come close to the voices of the poems. The magic of these poems is that they still make meaning for us. The project aims to understand and report on what those meanings are today.

Poetry in the 

Indo-Islamic Millennium