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TAPSA: Witchcraft, Spells and Bewilderment: Literary Adaptation and Magic in ʿĀqil Khān Rāzī’s Mihr-u Māh

November 14, 2023-5pm

Foster 103

Victor Baptiste

PhD Student, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris

The life and work of ʿĀqil Khān Rāzī (1026?-1108 AH, 1617?-1696 AD) have received little attention outside of Urdu research and literary critique. His literary achievements were, however, highly praised during the reign of Aurangzēb ʿĀlamgīr and the eighteenth century. Among his works, we find two Persian adaptations of Awadhī romances (pemakathā): Madhumālatī (1545 AD), translated under the title Mihr-u Māh (1654/55 AD) and Padmāvat (1540 AD), translated under the title Shamʿ-u Parvāna (1658/59 AD). Both masnavīs are literary rewritings that persianize (tafrīs) the Awadhī compositions by adapting the poetic imagery, the style and the narrative frame to the canons of classical Persian poetry. Indeed, ʿĀqil Khān scrupulously followed the literary conventions of the genre of tales or qissa (as laid, for example, by ʿAbd al-Nabī Fakhr al-Zamānī) and of the narrative masnavī (as exemplified by the works of Nizāmī, Amīr Khusrau or Jāmī). I argue that this poetic operation of ‘trans-codification’ of the Indian literary loci (mazāmīn) in the classical Persian poetic context is not, however, completely disconnected from the poetics and the imagery of the original text: ‘Āqil Khān keeps, in his adaptations, much more that the mere narrative structure of the pemakathās. Such is the case for the imagery of magic in Mihr-u Māh, one of the backbones of the poetics of the text. In this masnavī, magic (jādū, siḥr, fasūngarī), successively shown in a positive and a negative light, has its depiction rooted in a close –yet creative, reading of Madhumālatī. I argue, thus, that Persian literary adaptations of Hindavī romances are also testimonies of Mughal-era reading and interpretative practices of South Asian vernacular poetry.