Justin Smolin, PhD Candidate in History of Religions, The University of Chicago
In this talk, “Krishna the Magician,” Smolin discusses the vilification of Krishna as a deceitful sorcerer in the Mughal poet laureate Abū al-Fayḍ “Faiḍī” ‘s rendering of the Mahābhārata, and his correspondent apotheosis as the “essence of the True God” in the Shāriq al-maʿrifat, a treatise also ascribed to Faiḍī. As Smolin argues, such inconsistency, or ambivalence, is a common and overlooked facet of the elite, Islamicate engagement with religious diversity and difference in early modern Hindustan. In the case of the Mahābhārata, however, Faiḍī’s portrayal of Krishna’s as a deceitful illusionist is reflective not only of an Islamicate discomfort with the text’s sometimes Vaishnavite theology, but Faiḍī’s own performative insecurities as a Hindustani writer of Persian poetry and literary prose. Krishna’s so-called “magic” lies in large part in his way with words, the verbal and social manipulation which he uses to stoke the flames of conflict. The character thus becomes a kind of shadow or double of Faiḍī himself, a demiurgic author of the Mahābhārata upon which the poet can displace the classical Islamicate association of poetry with sorcery and deceit.