Muslim Studies of Hinduism? A Reconsideration of Arabic and Persian Translations from Indian Languages

by Carl Ernst
Citation
Title:
Muslim Studies of Hinduism? A Reconsideration of Arabic and Persian Translations from Indian Languages
Author:
Carl Ernst
Year: 
2003
Publication: 
Iranian Studies
Volume: 
36
Issue: 
2
Start Page: 
End Page: 
Publisher: 
Language: 
English
URL: 
Select license: 
Select License
DOI: 
PMID: 
ISSN: 
Abstract:

Iranian Studies, volume 36, number 2, June 2003
Carl W. Ernst
Muslim Studies of Hinduism? A Reconsideration of Arabic and Persian
Translations from Indian Languages
WHAT HAVE BEEN THE HISTORICAL RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN THE ISLAMIC AND HINDU
religious traditions? Variations on this question inevitably come to mind in any attempt
to assess the significance of the past dozen centuries of South Asian civilization, during
which time significant Muslim populations have played important roles, interacting
with Indian religions and cultures from a variety of perspectives. Although frequently
this kind of question is posed in terms of assumptions about the immutable essences of
Islam and Hinduism, I would like to argue that this kind of approach is fundamentally
misleading, for several reasons. First, this approach is ahistorical in regarding religions
as unchanging, and it fails to account for the varied and complex encounters, relationships,
and interpretationsth at took place between many individualM uslims and Hindus.
Second, it assumes that there is a single clear concept of what a Hindu is, although this
notion is increasingly coming into question; considerable evidence has accumulated to
indicate that external concepts of religion, first from post-Mongol Islamicate culture,
and eventually from European Christianity in the colonial period, were brought to bear
on a multitude of Indian religious traditions to create a single concept of Hinduism.
Third, there is a significant difference between medieval Islamicate and modern European
approaches to Indian religion and culture. It is the thesis of this paper that,
although many Muslims over the centuries engaged in detailed study of particular
aspects of Indian culture, which may appear in a modern perspective as religious, there
was for the most part no compelling interest among Muslims in constructing a concept
of a single Indian religion, which would correspond to the modern concept of
Hinduism. While this thesis could be tested in many different contexts, the translations
from Sanskrit into Arabic and Persian offer a particularly promising ground for
examining Muslim approaches to Indian culture.
The cultural movement between the Indic and Islamicate civilizations has spanned
well over a millenium. The translation movement between the Indian and Islamic cultures
is still rarely studied, though as a cross-cultural event the movement from Sanskrit
into Arabic and Persian is comparable in magnitude and duration to the other great
enterprises of cross-cultural translation (Greek philosophy into Arabic and Latin, Buddhism
from Sanskrit into Chinese and Tibetan). The following sketch is offered to suggest
new lines of interpretationt, o clarify the significance of this translationm ovement.
The impetus for establishing this taxonomy is a larger study in which I analyze the
translations of a text on hatha yoga, The Pool of Nectar, into Arabic, Persian, Turkish,
Carl W. Ernst is Zachary Smith Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina-
Chapel Hill.
ISSN 0021-0862 print/ISSN 14754819 online/03/020173-23 C2003 The Society for Iranian Studies ^ Carfax Publishing
DOI 10. 1080/021086032000062938 i Taylor & Frarcis Group
174 Ernst
and Urdu.' I should emphasize that the classification outlined here is still tentative,
especially since the bulk of the Persian translations from Sanskrit still remain in unedited
manuscripts. In most cases, little progress has been made since the work of turn-ofthe-
century manuscript cataloguers.' This large field of research is therefore basically
unexplored, and it is to be hoped that this study will encourage more work along similar
lines.
As a first analytical approach to the subject, I suggest that among the translations
from Indian languages into Arabic into Persian, four main categories of texts stand out
as having special importance: 1) early Arabic and Persian translations on practical arts
and sciences; 2) Persian translations of epics from the time of Akbar, having primarily
political significance; 3) Persian translations of mostly metaphysical and mystical texts
from the time of Dara Shukuh; and 4) Persian translations of works on Hindu ritual and
law commissioned by British colonial officials. To this list one may also add original
Persian works on Indian religions by Hindus as well as recent Indological studies by
Iranian scholars. As this division suggests, attitudes toward Indian religion as reflected
in these translations tended to be defined by the particular political and intellectual
interests of the translators, rather than by any internally generated sense of the coherence
of Indian religious traditions. I would argue that it is only in the fourth phase, in
the British colonial period, that Persian and Arabic translations from Indian languages
were viewed as representing Hindu religion as it is understood today.
1.This study, entitled The Pool of Nectar: Muslim Interpreters of Yoga, is in preparation and
should go to press soon. My critical edition of the Arabic text, together with the principal Persian
translation, will be published separately.
2. For surveys, see HermannE the, "NeupersischeL itteratur,"d ) "Ubersetzungena us dem Sanskrit,"
in Wilh. Geiger and Ernst Kuhn, ed., Grundriss der iranischen Philologie (Strassburg,
1896-1904) 2: 352-55; A. B. M. Habibullah," MedievalI ndo-PersianL iteraturer elatingt o Hindu
Science and Philosophy, 1000-1800 A.D.," Indian Historical Quarterly 1 (1938): 167-81; M. A.
Rahim, "Akbar and Translation Works," Journal of the Asiatic Society of Pakistan 10 (1965):
101-19; N. S. Gorekar, "Persian Language and Sanskritic Lore," Indica 2 (1965): 107-19;
Muhammad Bashir Husayn, "Mughliyya dawr mein Sanskrit awr cArabi ke farsi tarajim," in
Maqbul Beg Badakhsani, ed., Thrfkh-i adabiyyat-i Musulmdndn-i Pakistan u Hind, vol. 4, part 2,
F&rst adab (1526-1707) (Lahore, 1971), 774-804; Muhammad Akram Shah, "Dastanefi," in
ibid., 866-73; N. S. Shukla, "Persian Translations of Sanskrit Works," Indological Studies 3
(1974): 175-91; FathullahM ujtabai," PersianT ranslationso f Hindu Religious Literature,"in Farhang
Mihr, ed., Yddndmah-Ai nkitfl Diiparin/Anquetil Duperron Bicentenary Memorial Volume
(Tehran, 1351/1973), 13-24, with Persian translationi n Persian section, "Tarjuma-ha-yfi arsi-yi
alar-i dini-yi Hinduvan," 76-106; idem, "Persian Hindu Writings: Their Scope and Relevance,"
in his Aspects of Hindu Muslim Cultural Relations (New Delhi, 1978), 60-91; Shriram Sharma, A
Descriptive Bibliography of Sanskrit Works in Persian, ed. Muhammad Ahmad (New Delhi,
1982). The most important catalogues include Hermann Eth6, Catalogue of Persian Manuscripts
in the India Office Library (Oxford, 1903; reprint London, 1980), and Charles Rieu, Catalogue of
the Persian Manuscripts in the British Museum 3 vols. (London, 1879-83; reprint, London,
1966). Many important items are also listed in D. N. Marshall, Mughals in India, a Bibliographical
Survey, vol. 1, Manuscripts (Bombay, 1967). I have not seen Muhammad Riza Jalali Na'ini,
Tarjuma-ha-yifarsra z kutub-is anskrU(tD elhi, 1973).
Muslim Studies of Hinduism? 175
Practical Arts and Sciences
The initial interest of the early Arabic translators from Sanskrit was primarily in scientific
works on mathematics, medicine, toxicology, astronomy, and alchemy; a number of
works of this kind were translated during the heyday of the Abbasid caliphate in the
ninth and tenth centuries, apparently by Indians residing in Baghdad, though few of
these survive.3 A well-known result of this scientific exchange was the transmission of
Indian numerals and the zero notation, later known in Europe as Arabic numbers. The
same practical emphasis was also characteristic of some of the early translations from
Sanskrit into Persian commissioned by the Turkish sultans of Delhi. As an example,
when Sultan Firuz ibn Tuqhluq besieged the hill fortress of Nagarkot (Kangra) in 1365,
his army plundered nearby temples and acquired a library of thirteen hundred Sanskrit
books. Out of this booty, only a single work, "a book on natural philosophy and auguries
and omens," was translated into Persian by a court poet, under the title DaliVil-i
F7riz ShiihT (The Demonstrations of King Firuz); from the description it seems that this
work contained elements of astronomy and divination. Although this particular treatise
seems not to have survived, a historian of the Mughal period who saw it commented
that it was a useful work, "containing various philosophical facts both of science and
practice."4 Bada3uni, who perused the same work in Lahore in 1591, found it "moderately
good, neither free from beauties nor defects," and he commented that a number of
works had been translated from Sanskrit during the time of Firuz, mostly on "profitless"
subjects such as music and dance.5 In all these instances there seems to be little interest
in the religions of India, at least in comparison with the practical sciences. The story of
Sultan Firuz indicates that, despite the possibility of access to a full range of Sanskrit
texts, the specific interests of potential patrons of translation remained quite limited in
terms of subject matter.6
This practical trend in Muslim attitudes toward Indian thought seems to have been
the rule, though there were some exceptions. Stories of Buddhist origin, particularly the
cycle later known in Europe as Barlaam and loasaphath, were related by Muslim
authors such as the tenth-century Brethren of Purity (Ikhwan al-safa'), who employed
3. See The Fihrist of al-Nadtm: A Tenth-Century Survey of Muslim Culture, ed. and trans.
Bayard Dodge, 2 vols. (New York, 1970), 2: 589-90 (Arabic translators from Sanskrit), 645
(astronomical and medical texts), 736 (occultism), 826-36 (fragmentary survey of Indian religions).
A list of all known titles and manuscripts of Indian texts translated into Arabic is found in
Fuat Sezgin, Geschichte des arabischen Schrifttums (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1969-), 3: 187-202
(medicine); 4: 118-19 (alchemy); 5: 191-202 (mathematics); 6: 116-21 (astronomy); 7: 89-97
(astrology).
4. NizamuddinA hmad, The Tabaqdt-i-Akbarlt, rans. B. De, Bibliotheca Indica, 300 (Calcutta,
191 1; reprint Calcutta, 1973), 1: 249.
5. cAbdu-'l-Qddiri bn-i-Mul5k5hdha l-Bad5oni, Muntakhabu-'t-tawar&kthra, ns. George S. A.
Ranking, Biblioteca Indica, 97 (Calcutta), 1: 332.
6. On the basis of Jain records, Mahdi Husain has suggested that Jain scholars writing in Sanskrit
were the "philosophers"w ith whom Sultan Muhammadi bn Tughluq (d. 1351) associated. If
correct, this would still indicate a fairly specialized interest in a minority tradition that is not
today considered part of the "Hindu" fold. See Mahdi Husain, Tughluq Dynasty (Calcutta, 1963),
315-39.
176 Ernst
these stories particularly for moralizing purposes.7 The only early Muslim scholar to
show sustained interest in Indian religious and philosophical texts was the great scientist
and philosopher al-Biruni. He translated a number of Sanskrit works into Arabic (including
selections from Patainjali'sY ogasuitrasa nd the Bhagavad Grta)i n connection with
his encyclopedic treatise on India.8 Although the authors of Arabic books on sects and
heresies, such as al-Shahrastani( d. 1153), generally devoted a section or a few pages to
the religions of India, no other Arabic writer followed in al-Biruni's footsteps as a specialist
on Indian religion and philosophy.9 Wilhelm Halbfass has attempted an assessment
of al-Biruni's contribution, praising him for his fair and objective approach to
India:
A clear awareness of his own religious horizon as a particular context of
thought led him to perceive the "othemess" of the Indian religious philosophical
context and horizon with remarkable clarity . . . Unlike Megasthenes,
Biruni did not "translate"t he names of foreign deities; nor did he incorporate
them into his own pantheon, and of course he did not possess the amorphous
"openness"o f syncretism and the search for "common denominators."T hat is
why he could comprehend and appreciate the other, the foreign as such, thematizing
and explicating in an essentially new manner the problems of
intercultural understanding and the challenge of "objectivity" when shifting
from one tradition to another, from one context to another.'0
Halbfass's admiration for the scholarly achievement of al-Biruni is certainly justified,
but these remarks call for some qualification. First of all, as stated earlier, al-
Biruni's perception of the "otherness" of Indian thought was not just hermeneutical
clarity with regard to a pre-existing division; it was effectively the invention of the concept
of a unitary Hindu religion and philosophy. Furthermore, Halbfass's praise of al-
Biruni's bold proclamation of "otherness" obscures the fact that he had to engage in a
7. Ian Richard Netton, Muslim Neoplatonists: An Introduction to the Thought of the Brethren
of Purity (Ikhwan al-safaV) (London, 1982), 89-94.
8. Eduard Sachau, trans., Alberuni's India (London, 1888; reprint, Delhi, 1964); Hellmut Ritter,
ed., "Al-Biriini's Ubersetzung des Yoga-satra des Patafijali," Oriens 9 (1956): 165-200;
Bruce B. Lawrence, "The Use of Hindu Religious Texts in al-Birulni's India with Special Reference
to Patanjali's Yoga-Sutras," in The Scholar and the Saint: Studies in Commemoration of
Abu'l Rayhan al-B frinr and Jalal al-Din al-Ramr, ed. Peter J. Chelkowski (New York, 1975),
29-48; Shlomo Pines and Tuvia Gelblum, "Al-BirFini'sA rabic Version of Patanijali'sY ogasutra:
A Translation of his First Chapter and a Comparison with Related Sanskrit Texts," Bulletin of the
School of Oriental and African Studies (BSOAS) 29 (1966): 302-25; idem, "Al-Birtni's Arabic
Version of Pata-njali's Yogasutra: A Translation of the Second Chapter and a Comparison with
Related Texts," BSOAS 40 (1977): 522-49; idem, "Al-Bir-ini's Arabic Version of Pata-njali's
Yogasatra: A Translation of the Third Chapter and a Comparison with Related Texts," BSOAS 46
(1983): 258-304.
9. Bruce B. Lawrence, Shahrastdnr on the Indian Religions (The Hague, 1976); idem, "al-
Birfini and Islamic Mysticism," in Al-Birrni Commemorative Volume, ed. Hakim Mohammed
Said (Karachi, 1979), 372; idem, "Biruini,A bti Rayhan. viii. Indology," Encyclopaedia Iranica
(Elr) 4: 285-87.
10. Wilhelm Halbfass, India and Europe: An Essay in Understanding (Albany, 1988), 26-27.
Muslim Studies of Hinduism? 177
remarkablyc omplex interpretationo f his sources with many "Islamizing"t ouches. His
translation of Patainjali's Yogasutras was based on a combination of the original text
plus a commentary that is still not identified, all rephrased by al-Biruni into a questionand-
answer format. Like the translators of polytheistic Greek texts into Arabic, al-
Biruni rendered the Sanskrit "gods" (deva) with the Arabic terms for "angels"
(mala'ika) or "spiritual beings" (riiIhniyyat), surely a theological shift amounting to
"translation." He was, moreover, convinced on a deep level that Sanskrit texts were
saturated with recognizable philosophical doctrines of reincarnation and union with
God, which required comparative treatment: "For this reason their [the Indians'] talk,
when it is heard, has a flavour composed of the beliefs (caq&'id) of the ancient Greeks,
of the Christian sects, and of the Sufi leaders."" Consequently, al-Biruni made deliberate
and selective use of terms derived from Greek philosophy, heresiography, and
Sufism to render the Sanskrit technical terms of yoga. But al-Biruni's rationalistic
approach to Indian religions remained isolated and almost forgotten, while his Arabic
version of Patafnjalwi as describedb y at least one readera s incomprehensible.'2T here is
some superficial reference to al-Biruni's work on India and the Patanijalti ranslationi n
the Bayan al-adyan or The Explanation of Religions of Abu al-Macali, written in
Ghazna in 1092.13 It appears, however, that the principal readers of al-Biruni's work on
India were interested in it mainly from a historical and administrative point of view; the
world-historian and Mongol minister Rashid al-Din (d. 1318) drew extensively on al-
Biruni's geographical information, while the Mughal wazir Abu al-Fazl cAllami (d.
1602) apparently had al-Biruni's work in mind when he compiled a detailed but uncritical
survey of Indian thought in his Persian gazetteer of Akbar's Indian empire.'4 Today,
both al-Biruni's work on India and his translationo f Pata-njalei xist in unique manuscripts,
suggesting an extremely limited circulation. I would like to suggest that al-
Biruni's concept of a unified Indian religion, as a polar opposite to Islam, lay forgotten
until it was resurrected in an even more radical form by European scholarship a century
ago; the growth of the Muslim concept of Hindu religion took place largely without
reference to al-Biruni. Since Sachau's edition (1886) and translation (1888) of al-
Biruni's work on India were undertaken at the suggestion of the board of the Oriental
Translation Fund, and were entirely subsidized by Her Majesty's India Office, it is
tempting to locate this work's historical importance primarily within the larger political
11. Ritter, "Al-BirOni's Ubersetzung," 167; Pines and Gelblum, "Al-Birini's Arabic Version,"
309-10.
12. Pines and Gelblum, "Al-Birlini's Arabic Version," 302, n. 1, quoting the incomprehension
of Ibrahim ibn Muhammad al-Ghazanfar al-Tibrizi; Fathullah Mujtabai, "Al Biruni and India:
The First Attempt to Understand," in his Aspects of Hindu Muslim Cultural Relations, 51, n. 52,
cites reactions to the Pata-njalit ranslation by Persian authors Abu al-Macali in his Bayan aladyaJna,
nd Mir Findiriskii n his translationo f the Yoga viasista.
13. H. Masse, trans., "L'Expose des religions," Revue de l'Histoire des Religions 94 (1926):
17-75; A. Christensen, "Remarques critiques sur le Kitib bayani-l-adyan d'Abu'l-Ma'all,' Le
Monde Oriental 5-6 (1911-12): 205-16; Lawrence, Shahrastant, 89-90.
14. Halbfass,29-30 (Rashid al-Din), 32-33 (Abu al-Fazl); Abu'l-Fazl cAllami, The A'rn-i
Akbarr, trans. H.S. Jarrett, ed. Jadunath Sarkar (2nd ed., Calcutta, 1948; reprint New Delhi, 1978),
3: vii-ix, 141-358.
178 Ernst
concerns of colonial Orientalism.'5 Al-Biruni's rationalistic and reifying approach to
religion, which had practically no impact on medieval Islamic thought, is much more
palatable to the modern taste, and this explains his popularity today.
Historical and Political Texts
The second large category of translations from Sanskrit consists of the mostly epic texts
rendered into Persian during the time of Akbar. This phase of translation was dominated
by historical and political considerations. Most modern discussions of the Mughal
period, which speak confidently about translation of Sanskrit religious texts into Persian,
fail to notice any ambiguity in the phrase "religious text." Today, with a comfortably
solid notion of Hindu religious texts in place in the curriculum, we have no hesitation
in treatinge pic works like the Mahabharata and the Ramaiyainas religious. Nonetheless,
the prominent courtly and martial features of these texts furnish the occasion for
questioning the assumption that the Mughals viewed their contents as religious. As we
have seen, the early translations from Sanskrit into Arabic and Persian focused primarily
on practical arts and sciences. Patrons of Persian learning in the later Indo-Muslim
courts were also interested in translations on practical subjects, such as erotics, mathematics,
astronomy, medicine, farriery, and in particular music.'6 Rarely, we hear of pre-
Mughal translations of epic texts from Sanskrit into Persian. As early as the eleventh
century C.E., a partial Persian translation of an old recension of the Mahabharata was
achieved, and in the fourteenthc entury C.E.t he Bhagavata Purfrnaw as translated.'7T he
ruler of Kashmir, Zayn al-cAbidin (d. 1470), had the Mahiibharata translated into Persian,
along with the Sanskrit metrical history of Kashmir, Ruijataranginr;h e was,
moreover, a patron of Sanskrit literature, and he commissioned the Sanskrit historian
Srivara to translate Jami's romantic Persian epic on Joseph and Zulaykha into Sanskrit.'
8 But the remarkably high number of translations of the epics commissioned by
the Mughal emperors suggest that they have a special importance connected with the
political posture of that dynasty. In this connection it should be recalled that collections
15. Sachau, trans., Alberuni's India, Preface, 1.
16. See, for instance, works on erotics and farriery translated from Sanskrit to Persian and
dedicated to CAbd Allah Qutbshah of Golconda (d. 1672) and Muzaffar Shah II of Gujarat (d.
1526), listed by Marshall, 227, no. 792; 548, no. 621A. On Indian music see the numerous
translations listed by EthWn, os. 2008-33, and in particularH usaini, Indo-Persian Literature,
227-47, for a detailed description of the Lahjat-i Sikandar Shaht. For further examples of
translations on practical subjects see also C. A. Storey, Persian Literature 2: 4-5, 17, 26
(mathematics); 38, 93 (astronomy); 231, 253-54, 266 (medicine); 394-96 (farriery); 412-22
(music); 439 no. 13 (alchemy).
17. On the early Mahabharata version see J. T. Reinaud, Fragments arabes et persans inidits
relatifs a l'Inde, anterieurement au XIe siecle (Paris, 1845; reprint Amsterdam, 1976), 17-29. The
Bhagavata Purana translation is described by J. Aumer, Die persischen Handschriften der K.
Hof- und Staatsbibliotheki n Miunchen(M unich, 1866), cited by EthWn, o. 1952, col. 1091.
18. Syeda Bilqis Fatema Husaini, A Critical Study of Indo-Persian Literature during Sayyid
and Lodi Period, 1414-1526 A.D. (Delhi, 1988), 15, 85; Richard Schmidt, Das Kathakautukam
des (7rivara verglichen mit Dschami's Jusuf und Zuleikha (Kiel, 1893); idem, Srivara's
Kathakautukam, die geschichte von Joseph in Persisch-Indischem Gewande, Sanskrit und
Deutsch (Kiel, 1898).
Muslim Studies of Hinduism? 179
of Sanskrit narrative literature, principally the Panicatantra and the Hitopadesa, had
been translated into middle Persian during the Sasanian period; when stories from this
tradition were later put into Arabic by Ibn al-Muqaffac (d. 759) under the title Kalila wa
Dimna, they were valued in Arabic literature primarily for their political significance."9
The political context for the Mughal interest in Sanskrit lies in the imperial
program devised by Akbar and followed in varying degrees by his successors. Although
earlier writers on the Mughals have treated this interest primarily as an indication of
liberal personal religious inclinations on the part of Akbar, this romantic conception
should yield to a more realistic analysis of policy aspects.0 It is highly anachronistic to
read an Enlightenment virtue of "tolerance" into the religious politics of the Mughal era.
The original precedent for Akbar's policies of patronage of multiple religions is
probably best sought in the Mongol era, when the prudent insurance policy of the
"pagan" Mongols gave generous treatment to Buddhists, Christians, Taoists, and
Muslims. Akbar's family conceived of their regime as a continuation of the neo-Mongol
empire of Timur (Tamerlane); like Timur, Akbar was furnished with a genealogy that
included Chingiz Khan, but in his case it was extended to include the Mongol sungoddess
Alanquwa. The symbolism of world domination inherent in the Mongol
political tradition was given an ingenious philosophical and mystical twist in the
writings of Akbar's minister Abu al-Fazl, who interpreted Akbar's role in terms of the
Neoplatonic metaphysics of Ishraqi Illuminationism and the Sufi doctrine of the Perfect
Man. This metaphysical apparatus was invoked not merely for its own philosophical
consistency, but essentially to undergird the authority of Akbar in an eclectic fashion.2'
While coinage with Sanskrit formulas and patronage of different religious institutions
(including "Hindu" ones) was a feature of most Indo-Muslim regimes, what distinguished
the Mughals under Akbar was their attempt to refocus all religious enthusiasm
of whatever backgroundo nto the person of the emperor.22A kbar's sponsorshipo f
the translation of Sanskrit works was part of the overall literary phase of his reign,
which included the regular reading aloud of works from the canon of Persian court literature,
history, and Sufism. He assigned to the task a number of courtiers who were
scholars of Persian but presumably ignorant of Sanskrit; they were assisted, however,
by Sanskrit pandits, so that, from a literary point of view, the translation process
probably involved a considerable amount of oral explication in vernacular Hindi prior to
the composition of the Persian "translation."S ome translators,l ike Bada'uni, assisted in
this project much against their own inclinations. The extent of the sustained translation
enterprise can be judged from the numerous manuscript copies, some lavishly illus-
19. WalterH ardingM aurer," Paricatantra,E"n cyclopediao f Religion 9: 161-64.
20. See most recently John F. Richards, The Mughal Empire, vol. I.5 of The New Cambridge
History of India (Cambridge, 1993), 36-40, 44- 47.
21. See the stimulating essay of Peter Hardy, "Abul Fazl's Portrait of the Perfect Padshah: A
Political Philosophy for Mughal India-or a Personal Puff for a Pal?" in Christian W. Troll, ed.,
Islam in India, Studies and Commentaries, vol. 2, Religion and Religious Education, (New Delhi,
1985), 114-37.
22. For coinage with Sanskrit and patronage of non-Muslim religious institutions, see my
Eternal Garden: Mysticism, History, and Politics at a South Asian Sufi Center, (Albany, 1992),
47-53. On Akbar as the center of all religions, see Harbans Mukhia, Historians and
Historiography During the Reign of Akbar (New Delhi, 1976), 70.
180 Ernst
trated, and the repeated revisions and new translations (in both poetry and prose) of
particularly valued texts.23 In political terms, the inclusion and translation of Sanskrit
works was designed to reduce intellectual provincialism and linguistic divisiveness
within the empire.24S anskrita nd Hindi romances, such as the story of Nala and Damayanti,
seem to have been integrated into a literary continuum along with Near Eastern
fables like the story of Majnun and Layla or the tales of Amir Hamza. Abu al-Fazl
appears to regard the epic Mahdbhdrata and Ramayana primarily as histories of ancient
India with biographical and philosophical overtones. This even holds true of Puranic
extensions of the epic, such as the Harivamsa, which Abu al-Fazl describes only as a
biography of Krishna. Akbar himself entitled the Persian translation of the
Mah4ibh&rataas the Razmnamah or The Book of War, underlining its character as a
martial epic.
Abu al-Fazl's complicated vision of the purpose of the Mahabharata translation is
worth examining in detail. On the one hand, he observes that the epic does contain
remarkable philosophical and cosmological perspectives of great complexity. Abu al-
Fazl notes that at least thirteen different Indian schools of thought are mentioned in the
text.25O n the other hand, he points out that a quartero f its 100,000 verses are devoted
to the martial epic of the war between the Kauravas and the Pandavas, making it a vade
mecum for the conduct of war and battle, and much of the remainder is "advice, sermons,
stories, and explanations of past romance and battle (bazm o razm)."'26 In one
long passage in his introduction to the Persian translation of the Mahabharata, Abu al-
Fazl recounts a series of justifications for the translation project, all couched as an
expansion of his encomium to his patron Akbar, who is eulogized in the most hyperbolic
of terms. Abu al-Fazl outlines five major objectives: reducing sectarian fighting
among both Muslims and Hindus; eroding the authority of all religious specialists over
the masses; deflating Hindu bigotry towards Muslims by revealing questionable Hindu
doctrines; curing Muslim provincialism by exposing Muslims to cosmologies much
vaster than official sacred history; and providing access to a major history of the past
for the edification and guidance of rulers (the traditional ethical justification for
history). This passage is translated here in full:
(1) Inasmuch as the fine method of physicians of the body in physical remedies
is always such (as the body), the pleasing disposition of the physicians of the
soul will be according to a higher method. So why should this not be the noble
nature of the chief healer of chronic illnesses of the soul (i.e., Akbar)? When
with his perfect comprehension he found that the squabbling of sects of the
Muslim community (millat-i Muhammadi) and the quarreling of the Hindus
increased, and their refutation of each other grew beyond bounds, his subtle
23. John Seyller, Workshop and Patron in Mughal India: The Freer Ramayana and other
Illustrated Manuscripts of CAbd al-Rahim (Zurich, 1999).
24. Khaliq Ahmad Nizami, Akbar & Religion (Delhi, 1989), 180-81.
25. Abu al-Fazl, in Muhammad Riza Jalali Na3ini and Narayan Shankar Shukla, eds.,
Mah,ibhdrat, buzurgtarrn manzama-i kuhnah-i mawjad-i jahan, Persian trans. from Sanskrit by
Mir Ghiyas al-Din cAli Qazwini Naqib Khan et al., Hindshinasi, 15-18, 4 vols. (Tehran,
1358-59/1979-81), 1: xx.
26. Ibid., 1: xl-xli.
Muslim Studies of Hinduism? 181
mind resolved that the famous books of each group should be translated into
diverse tongues. Thus both factions, by the blessing of the holy words of the
revered perfect one of the age (again, Akbar), holding back from excessive
fault-finding and perversity, should become seekers of God. Having become
aware of each other's virtues and vices, they should make laudable efforts to
rectify their own states.
(2) Likewise, in every group there are some who account themselves religious
authorities, on the basis of extreme, frivolous, and ignorant theories that have
been advanced. They have made representations that are far from the royal
road of firm wisdom, with frauds and deceptions that are memorable for the
masses. These unfortunate deceivers, whether from ignorance or irreligiousness,
confirm themselves in a different style in accordance with their selfish
and lustful goals, having concealed the books of the ancients, the advice of the
righteous, the sayings of the wise, and the weighty deeds of predecessors.
Whenever the books of both factions are translated with a clear expression,
understandable to the masses yet pleasing to the elite, the tabula rasa of the
masses attains reality, and is rescued from the idiocies of fools pretending to be
wise, thus reaching the goal of reality.
Therefore the sublime decree went forth concerning the book of the
Mahabharata, written by masters of genius, containing most of the principles
and applications of the beliefs of the Brahmins of India, than which there is no
book more famous, greater, or more detailed among this group. The wise of
both factions and the linguists of both groups, by way of friendship and agreement,
should sit down in one place, and should translate it into a popular
expression, with the knowledge of judicious experts and just officials.
(3) Likewise, the irreligious partisans and credulous leaders of India have a
belief in their own religion that goes beyond all measure, and whether from
lack of discrimination or ingrained injustice, they consider the embellishments
of their beliefs to be free from error, taking the path of blind imitation. Having
made certain representations to the artless masses, they are prevented from
realizing their goals and become rooted in false beliefs. They regard the group
of those who are connected to the religion of Muhammad (din-i Ahmadi) as
utterly foolish, and they refute this group ceaselessly, although they are
unaware of its noble goals and special sciences.
Therefore, the subtle intellect (of Akbar) desired that the book of the
Mah,ibhdrata, which contains the jewels of the goals of this group, should be
translated with a clear expression, so that deniers should restrain their denial
and refrain from intemperance, and so that the artless believers, having become
somewhat embarrassed by their beliefs, should become seekers of God.
(4) Likewise, the common people among the Muslims, who have not read well
the pages of scriptures and religious books, and who have not opened the
admonition-seeing eye to the diverse histories of the age belonging to the Chinese,
the Indians, etc., and who have not even read the words of the great ones
of their own religion, such as Imam Jacfar Sadiq, Ibn cArabi, and others,
believe that the beginning of humanity was some seven thousand years ago.
They consider the scientific realities and intellectual subtleties that are famous
and well-known among the peoples of the world as the products of the thinking
182 Ernst
of the men of the past seven thousand years. Therefore the beneficent mind (of
Akbar) decided that this book, which contains the explanation of the antiquity
of the universe and its beings, and is even totally occupied with the eternity of
the world and its inhabitants, should be translated into a quickly understood
language, so that this group favored by divine mercy should become somewhat
informed and retreat from this distasteful belief (in the recent creation of the
world). It will become clear that these subtle sciences and subtle understandings
have no obvious end, and these precious jewels of wisdom have no beginning.
(5) Likewise, the minds of most people, especially the great kings, love to listen
to histories, for the wisdom that is contained in the divine makes the science
of history attractive to their hearts, for it supplies admonition for the wise.
Taking counsel from the past and counting it as bounty for the present time,
they may expend their precious hours in that which is pleasing to God. Therefore
kings are most in need of listing to the tales of their predecessors. Thus the
wisdom-nourishing mind (of Akbar) had complete oversight on the translation
of this book, which contains illustrious examples of this science. For this reason
a group was gathered together of wise men who know languages, distinguished
for broad wisdom and wide reading, far from partisanship and contentiousness
and close to justice and equity, and they translated the aforementioned
book with deliberation and penetration, with clear expressions and
familiar terms. Different groups of people love to take copies to different corners
of the world.27
Abu al-Fazl was interested in the philosophical and religious content of the epic,
from the perspective of an enlightened intellectual whose cosmopolitan vision had
moved him out of a strictly defined Islamic theological perspective. But I think it is fair
to say that this intellectual project was thoroughly subordinated to the political aim of
making Akbar's authority supreme over all possible rivals in India, including all religious
authorities. The translation of the Sanskrit epics was not an academic enterprise
comparable to the modem study of religion; it was instead part of an imperial effort to
bring both Indic and Persianate culture into the service of Akbar.
The historiographical continuity between Sanskrit and Persian literary traditions
can be glimpsed further in the case of Tahir Muhammad Sabzawari, an official in the
employ of Akbar, who in 1011/1602-3 made abridged prose translations of the
Bhagavata Purana, the Mahiabhiirataa, nd its appendix the Harivamsa.28F our years
later, when he wrote a world history in Persian called Rawzat al-tahirin or The Garden
of the Pure, one of the five sections contained Indian historical traditions culled from
the Mahdbh4rata and other Sanskrit epics.29 The only translated text that Abu al-Fazl
specifically refers to as scriptural or religious is an incomplete version of the Atharva
27. Abu al-Fazl, Mahabhazrat, 1: xviii-xx. In translating the third sentence of this passage, I
have emended the printed text to read juhuid-i hunaid ("the quarreling of the Hindus") instead of
juhid u hunad. Also, in the first sentence of the second paragraph under point (3), I read raCs
instead of ragh? (meaning ra c wa 5amtn, i.e., jewels).
28. Eth6, Catalogue of Persian Manuscripts, no. 1955.
29. Marshall, Mughals in India, no. 1768.
Muslim Studies of Hinduism? 183
Veda, "which, according to the Hindus, is one of the four divine books."30 No copy of
this survives, however. Another popular Sanskrit text, the Singhizsan Battfsr or Thirty-
Two Tales of the Throne, concerned the fortunes of the ancient Indian king Vikramaditya;
one of the Persian translations of this work presented to Akbar was entitled
Shahnaimaho r The Book of Kings, the very same as the title of Firdawsi's epic on Persian
kingship.3' The evidence suggests that one of Akbar's purposes was the absorption
of Indian traditions of kingship into a form that he could take advantage of. One of the
likely political fruits of the translation project was the rumor, noticed by the European
traveller Oranus, that Akbar was the tenth incarnation of Vishnu.32 Another piece of
symbolic fallout was the custom of weighing the emperor in gold, which, as Abu al-Fazl
noted, was a custom that Indian tradition associated with both beatitude and universal
monarchy.33P erhaps most importantly, Akbar's project succeeded in permitting the
interweaving of two historical narratives. Many Persian world histories and histories of
Mughal India continued to portray a single line of political authority drawn exclusively
through Muslim rulers, back through the sultans of Delhi to their Central Asian and
Iranian predecessors. But a significant number of Indo-Persian dynastic histories would
place the later Mughals in a series of "the kings of India" beginning with Yudhishthira
and the heroes of the Mahabhhrata.4 In the same vein, Firishta (d. ca. 1633) prefaces
his famous history of Indo-Muslim dynasties with an account of Indian epic history
drawn from the Mahabhhrata that is completely interwoven with the heroic cycles of
the Persian Book of Kings.35 Eventually, as a result of this process, the Ranas of
Udaipur and the Sisodia Rajputs, noble Hindu houses in Mughal service, adopted
genealogies traced to Persian kings.36
Metaphysical and Mystical Texts
After the political phase of translation we can distinguish a third group of Persian
translations from the Sanskrit, in this case focusing on works that may be called metaphysical
or mystical. This type of translation typically mediated Vedantic philosophical
and mystical texts through a loose oral commentary provided by Indian pandits; this
was rephrased in the Sufi technical vocabulary, presenting the texts as a kind of gnosis
(Persian macrifat), and frequently amplifying their contents by the insertion of Persian
mystical verses. Many Sanskrit works were translated by members of the circle of
30. Abu al-Fazl, The A'Tn-i Akbarr, 3: 110-12. This translation, entitled Atharban in Persian,
was entrusted to Bada'uni, but he abandoned it after failing to find a competent pandit.
31. Marshall, Mughals in India, no. 384.
32. J. Talboys, ed., Early Travels in India (16th & 17th Centuries) (Calcutta, 1864; reprint
Delhi, 1974), 78.
33. Abu al-Fazl, The A'rn-i Akbarr, 3: 307. For the practice of weighing the emperor, see
Mubarak Ali, The Court of the Great Mughuls, Based On Persian Sources (Lahore, 1986), 51-53.
34. Storey, Persian Literarture, 1: 133 ff. (general histories), 1: 442 ff. (histories of India).
35. Mahomed Kasim Ferishta, History of the Rise of the Mahomedan Power in India, Till the
Year A.D. 1612, trans. J. Briggs, 4 vols. (London, 1829; reprint ed., Lahore, 1977),1: xlv-lxiii.
36. James Tod, Annals and Antiquities of Rajast'han, or The Central and Western Rajpoots of
India, 2 vols. (London, 1829-32; reprint, London, 1914), 1: 192.
184 Ernst
Akbar's great-grandson Dara Shukuh (d. 1659). Banwali Das, also known as Wali Ram
(d. 1667-68), an accomplished poet and historian in Dara Shukuh's service, produced a
Persian translation of Prabhodacandrodaya, a Vedantic theological allegory in dramatic
form composed by Krishna Das for the eleventh-century Chandella king Kirtivarman.
This translation was entitled Gulzar-i hal yii tulac-i qamar-i macrifat, meaning The
Rose-garden of Ecstasy, or the Rising of the Moon of Gnosis; Banwali Das regarded the
text as a veritable "bouquet of reality and gnosis." In describing the genesis of the original
text, Banwali Das related it to classical Indian metaphysical works, calling the latter
"books of Sufism and unity (tasawwuf wa tawhWd)a"nId "texts of Sufism."" It is also
likely that Banwali Das had a hand in a translation of the shorter version of the Yoga
Viasistha, a treatise on Vedantic metaphysics that employs narrative to explore the
nature of illusion and reality; this was commissioned by Dara Shukuh because of his
dissatisfaction with earlier versions.38 Another scholar in the service of Dara Shukuh,
Chandarbhan Barahman (d. 1657-8), translated a Vedantic work of Sankara, the Atmaviiiasa,
under the title Naizuk khayailat or Subtle Imaginings.39 Both of these Hindu
munshrs (or scribes) were intensively involved in the Persianate culture of the Mughal
court, and both wrote Persian poetry in the Sufi mystical style; Banwali Das even took
instruction from Dara Shukuh's Sufi master Mulla Shah, and in his translation work
from Sanskrit he was forced to rely on the oral Hindi commentary of a well-known pandit.
There were other contemporary students of Indian mysticism outside the circle of
Dara Shukuh, such as 'Abd al-Rahman Chishti (d. 1683), who produced a Sufi interpretation
of the Bhagavad GUtd in a text called Mir'at al-haqiViq or The Mirror of
Realities.'0
In addition to translations, one may include in the metaphysical category several
original Persian treatises by Muslim authors from different historical periods, who
explored questions raised by Vedantic texts and related them to Islamicate philosophical
and mystical themes. An early example of this kind of text is Fayzi's Shdriq al-macrifat
or The Illuminator of Gnosis, which dealt with topics taken from the Yoga Vasistha and
the Bhagavata Puraina; as the title suggests, this study was carried out in terms of categories
derived from the Ishraqio r Illuminationistp hilosophy of Suhrawardi.4A' nother
37. Gulzar-i hal ya tulac-i qamar-i macrifat/Prabodhachandrodaya, Persian trans. from
Sanskrit by Banwali Das, ed. Tara Chand and Amir Hasan cAbidi (Aligarh, 1967), 6-7.
38. Storey, Persian Literature, 1: 450-52. See Jag bashist/Yogavasistha, Persian trans. from
Sanskrit by Banwali Das, ed. Tara Chand and Amir Hasan 'Abidi (Aligarh: Aligarh Muslim
University, 1967). See also Swami Venkatesananda, trans., The Concise Yoga Vasistha (Albany,
1984); Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty, Dreams, Illusion and Other Realities (Chicago, 1984); and
my review of the latter in Journal of Asian and African Studies 20 (1985): 252-54.
39. Storey, Persian Literature, 1: 570-72; this work was printed at Lahore in 1901. See also
Sharif Husain Qasemi, "tandra Bhan Barahman," EIr, 4: 755-56. Another unidentified work on
Hinduism by Chandarbani,n question and answer form, is found in Berlin. See Wilhelm Pertsch,
Die Handschriften-Verzeichnisse der Koniglichen Bibliothek zu Berlin, IV, Persischen
Handschriften (Berlin, 1888), no. 1081/2.
40. Roderic Vassie, "'Abd al-Rahman Chishti & the Bhagavadgita: 'Unity of Religion' Theory
in Practice," in The Legacy of Mediaeval Persian Sufism, ed. Leonard Lewisohn (London, 1992),
367-78.
41. Ethe, Catalogue of Persian Manuscripts, no. 1975.
Muslim Studies of Hinduism? 185
transitional text was an early version of the Yoga Viasistha translated by Nizam al-Din
Panipati at the request of Prince Salim (later Jahangir) in 1597. This translation, which
Dara Shukuh considered unreliable, was conceived as part of the encyclopedic collection
of edifying literature initiated by Akbar, and this particular work was regarded by
Salim as falling into the same category with Sufi writings. Prince Salim remarked:
When expert Arabic linguists, specialists in the different sciences, connoisseurs
of the arts of poetry and prose, historians, and Indian pundits entered the noble
presence in the style of his imperial majesty, . . . the Ma.navi of Mawlana
Rumi, the Zafarnamah [a history of Tamerlane], the memoirs of Babur, other
written histories, and collections of stories were read out in turn. Stories containing
morals and advice were conveyed to the august hearing. In these days,
it is commanded that the book Yogavasistha, which contains Sufism (tasawwuf)
and provides commentary on realities, diverse morals, and remarkable
advice, and which is one of the famous books of the Brahmins of India, should
be translated from the Sanskrit language to Persian.42
The translator, however, felt that the Brahmins were closer to the ancient philosophers
(i.e., the Greeks), and in any case he proclaimed his intention to gloss over any
contradictions, which must be purely verbal.
Dara Shukuh himself supervised the Persian translation of fifty of the most important
Indian scriptures, the Upanishads, under the title Sirr-i Akbar or The Greatest Mystery.
43 He is also credited with a translation of the Bhagavad Gitt entitled Ab-i zindagr
or The Water of Life, and a version of the Vedas.4 Another Sanskrit work translated for
Dara is the Astavakragtuz, a dialogue on liberation.5 What is most distinctive about
Dara Shukuh's approach to Indian texts is that he treats them as scripture, in the same
category as the Psalms of David, the Gospel, and the Qur'an.' Sufis such as Mirza
Mazhar Jan-i Janan (d. 1781) also made this theological concession, but typically with
the stipulation that such ancient scriptures had been abrogated by the most recent reve-
42. Jag bashisht, xxx.
43. Erhard Bobel-Gross, Sirr-i akbar, Die Persische Upanishad Ubersetzung des
Mogulprinzen Darli Shikuhs (Marburg, 1962); a Hindi translation from the Persian is available
under the title Sirre akabara, ed. Salama Mahaphuza (New Delhi, 1988).
44. The ascription of this Gtta version to Dara Shukuh is described as doubtful by Storey,
Persian Literature, 1: 996, n. 1. On the Veda translation, see the description of an autograph MS,
Brij Mohan Birla Research Centre, Ujjain (connected with Vikram University, UjJain), cited in
Motilal Banarsidass Newsletter (August 1983), 9.
45. Pertsch, Die Handschriften-Verzeichnisse, no. 1077/3. Another copy is described by Nazir
Ahmad, "Notes on Important Arabic and Persian MSS, found in Various Libraries in India-II,"
Joumal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 14 (1918): cxcvix-ccclvi, esp. ccxxix, no. 24, dated 1676.
46. Mir Findariski (d. 1640), who produced a translation of the Yogavasistha, showed a similar
attitude in these verses: "These words are just like water to the world, pure and enlightening like
the Qur'an. / When you have passed through the Qur'an and Prophetic sayings, no one [else] has
this way of speaking" (Jag bashisht, p. xxxi).
186 Ernst
lation, the Qur'an.47D ara Shukuh viewed the Upanishads as hermeneuticallyc ontinuous
with the Qur'an, providing an extended exposition of the divine unity that was only
briefly indicated in the Arabic scripture. Among Dara Shukuh's original contributions
was a comparative study in Persian of the vocabulary of Hindu and Islamic esotericism,
entitled Majmac al-bahrayn or The Meeting-place of the Two Oceans.48I t is interesting
to note that this Persian work has been translatedi nto Arabic, Urdu, and Sanskrit.49T he
MajmaC al-bahrayn has been unfortunately subjected to superficial interpretations
deriving from the inadequate edition and English translation of the text made by
Mahfuz-ul-Haq in 1929; luckily this has been superseded by a superior critical edition
published by the Iranian scholar Jalali Na&ini in 1956, which was revised again in
1987.50 Just to give one example of the problems in the first edition, Mahfuz-ul-Haq
translated the title as The Mingling of the Two Oceans, intending it as a heavy-handed
metaphor for the literal syncretism, or mixing together, of two religions (Hinduism and
Islam) conceived as oceans. He evidently was unaware, or considered it unimportant,
that the phrase "the meeting-place of the two oceans" is Qur'anic (18:60). In the Qur'an
this phrase refers to the place where Moses found the water of eternal life and the mysterious
servant of God usually identified as Khizr.5" The allusion to the contrast
between the legalistic prophet Moses and the esoteric gnostic Khizr forms the basis for
Dara Shukuh's description of the importance of this text.
Dara Shukuh states that after having immersed himself in the truths of Sufi doctrine,
he desired to comprehend the doctrines of the Indian monotheists (muwahhidun)
and realizers of truth( muhaqqiqun)". Since [this book] is the meeting place of the realities
and gnostic truthso f two groups that know God (haqq-shinazs)i,t is known as The
Meeting-place of the Two Oceans.... I have written this investigation in accordance
with my own mystical unveiling and experience (kashf wa zawq), for the sake of my
own family, and I have nothing to do with the common people of either community."52
This focus on esoteric truth, and the caustic disregard for external religion that was so
characteristic of Dara Shukuh, is described in a distorted fashion by Mahfuz-ul-Haq as
47. Yohanan Friedmann, "Medieval Muslim Views of Indian Religions," Journal of the
American Oriental Society 95 (1975): 214-2 1.
48. See the studies of Jean Filliozat, "Sur les Contreparties indiennes du soufisme," Journal
Asiatique 268 (1980): 259-73, and Daryush Shayegan, Les Relations de l'Hindouisme et du
Soufisme d'apres le Majmac al-Bahrayn de Ddra Shokuh, (Paris, 1979); idem, "Muhammad Dara
Shukuh, Bunyanguzar-i Cirfan-i tatbiq-i," !ran Ntmah 1 (1990).
49. The Arabic version of MajmaC al-bahrayn by Muhammad Salih ibn Ahmad al-Misri,
completed before 1771, is found in the Buhar collection (National Library, Calcutta), MS 133
Arabic. The Urdu translation by Gokul Prasad, entitled Nur-i Cayn or Light of the Eye, was
lithographeda t Lucknow in 1872. For the Sanskritv ersion, see Roma ChaudhuriA, Critical Study
of Dird Shikuh's Samudra-sangama, 2 vols. (Calcutta, 1954).
SQ Majmac_ul-bahraino r The Mingling of the Two Oceans, ed. M. Mahfuz-ul-Haq,( Calcutta,
1929); Muntakhabat-i iiasjr-i Muhammad ibn ShdhjahAn Qadir Ddrd Shukuh, ed. Muhammad
Riza Jalali Na'ini (Tehran, 1335/1956); MajmaC al-bahrayn, ed. Muhammad Riza Jalali Na'ini
(Tehran, 1366/1987-8).
51. A. J. Wensinck, "al-Khadir,"S horterE ncyclopaediao f Islam, 232b.
52 MajmaCa l-bahrayn, ed. Jalali Na'ini, 2; cf. Mahfuz-ul-Haqe, d. Majmac-ul-bahrain,3 8.
Muslim Studies of Hinduism? 187
"an attempt to reconcile Hinduism and Islam."53T his simplistic terminology suggests
again that Hinduism and Islam are monolithic and unchanging hostile essences that
need to be pacified. Dara Shukuh's interest was in a particular kind of mystical and
esoteric knowledge that was shared, in his view, by a small elite within both
communities; this he had observed in conversations with Sufis and with accomplished
Indian mystics such as Baba Lacl Das. The Hindu and Muslim masses, however, were
utterly ignorant of this gnosis. Dara Shukuh implicitly accepted the politicized
terminology that equated the Hindu with unbelief or infidelity (kufr), even as he
questioned, from a Sufi perspective, the opposition between infidelity and Islam!4 His
focus on esoteric doctrine from a Sufi perspective made his approach to Indian religion
highly selective.
Anglo-Persian Texts
The last major category of Persian translations from Sanskrit and other Indian languages
consists of an extensive series of works commissioned by British colonial officials in
India, but it may also be expanded to include other Persian translations utilized by
Europeans for the study of Hindu law, religion and cosmology. This phase may be
known for convenience as Anglo-Persian literature. Here at last we have a series of texts
that deal tentatively with "Hindu" or (as it was then known) "Gentoo" religion, from the
perspective of religion as understood in Christian Europe. Warren Hastings commissioned
a Persian translation of a Sanskrit compendium on Hindu law for the use of East
India Company officials, and in 1776 Nathaniel Halhed (d. 1830) produced an English
version of this under the title A Code of Gentoo Laws, one of the first translations of a
Hindu text available in Europe." A Persian paraphrase of the laws of Manu was prepared
for Sir William Jones, and the manuscript contains English and Devanagan marginalia
as well as a piece of doggerel Persian verse by Jones using the pen-name
"Yunus."5H6 astings commissioned in 1784 the composition of a Sanskritt ext on chro-
53. Mahfuz-ul-Haq, ed., Majmac-ul-bahrain, Introduction, 27; the phrase is repeated by Storey,
Persian Literature, 1: 994.
54. In the opening lines of MajmaC al-bahrayn, (1), Dara Shukuh quotes a version of a famous
verse by the poet Sana&i (d. 1131), "Infidelity and religion (kufr wa din) are both following in
your path, crying, 'He alone, he has no partner!"' This verse is a quotation from the beginning of
the Sanaci's classic Sufi epic Hadiqat al-haqtqat. In its original context, it is an illustration of the
Sufi concept of mystical infidelity as non-duality (see my Words of Ecstasy in Sufism [Albany,
1985], 63-96). In Dara Shukuh's version, however, the verse reads, "Infidelity and islam," giving
it a political character implying Hindu and Islamic communities or doctrines. In this he followed
the same wording (and implications) as Abu al-Fazl, who is said to have engraved this verse on a
temple used by Indian "monotheists" (muwahhidun) in Kashmir (Abu'l-Fazl A'Tn, 1: liv-lvi).
Ironically, this verse as quoted here by Dara Shukuh was seized upon by Awrangzib as evidence
of his brother's apostasy from Islam, despite its classical origins in the Sufi tradition (see Anees
Jahan Syed, Aurangzeb in Muntakhab-al lubab [Bombay, 1977], 77).
55. Rosanne Rocher, Orientalism, Poetry, and the Millennium: The Checkered Life of
Nathaniel Brassey Halhed, 1751-1830 (Delhi, 1983), 48-72.
56. Pertsch, Die Handschriften-Verzeichnisse, no. 1082. Since this curious Persian verse by
Jones (in the meter of the Shahnamah) may not have been noticed by his biographers, it may be
worth translating, as follows: "Act thus with goodness and justice, Yunus, with compassion for
188 Ernst
nology and cosmology, Puranartha Prakiisa, from which a Persian translation was prepared
in 1786 by Zurawar Singh, also on the instructions of Hastings; this in turn was
put into English by Halhed.57 Another untitled work on cosmogony, mythology, and
history compiled from Sanskrit sources was commissioned by Hastings and composed
by one Karparam, of whom Halhed writes that he was "a Moonshy [i.e, munshi or
scribe] in the Persian Translator's office at Calcutta. He was well versed in Hindoo
learning, and his knowledge of the Persian and Arabic, added to Sanscrit and Bengalee,
gave advantage over most of the Pandeets.5"8 Sir John Murrayi n 1796 commissioned
an unknown author to compose a Persian work entitled Zakhirat al-fuJad or The Treasury
of the Heart as a work on Hindu religious duties based on "the gastra, the purana,
the pandits, and the Veda reciters (bJd-khwdndn)." While this contained information
from both scriptural and oral sources on festivals, cosmogony, and castes, it also provided
a guide to the tilak marks worn by various religious groups on the forehead, with
illustrations.59
Regional and sectarian emphases accompanied the encyclopedic tendency in the
study of Hinduism through Persian. Some Persian translations were produced for Jonathan
Duncan by Anandaghana "Khwush," who rendered several puranic texts on sacred
Hindu places of pilgrimage. His lengthy Bahr al-najiat or The Sea of Salvation (completed
1794) was taken from the Kds'?-khandsae ction of the Skandap urana, describing
the mythic features of Benares, and his Persian Gayd mahdtmya (1791) concerned the
virtues and rituals of Gaya in Bihar.i' The transitional role of Anandaghana is reflected
by a collection of Persian Sufi poems that he completed at the same time (1794) on the
model of Rumi's MasnavTe, xtolling among other things the virtues of Benares and the
thought of Dara Shukuh.6"A number of works on Burmese Buddhism were translated
into Persian after 1779 from the Mugh language at the instance of Sir John Murray and
others; these included Jataka stories as well as works on law, cosmology, and medicine.
62 Some Sanskrit Jain works in Devanagari script, accompanied by commentaries
in Persian, were prepared for the French adventurer General Claude Martin in 1796.
Andrew Sterling between 1812 and 1821 commissioned an accountant at the Jagannath
temple to write Persian translations of Orissi writings about the temple and on local
creatures and fear of God, / so that after your death, all humanity, in Indian and China, will bless
you. / Your companions will lament over your bier, the Musulman wailing with lacerated breast, /
the Brahman reciting the Veda over it, and the Sufi scattering wine over it."
57. Eth6, Catalogue of Persian Mansucripts, no. 2003; Rieu, 1: 63-64 (the Sanskrit text is Or.
1124, the Persian trans. is Add. 5655, and the English version is Add. 5657, fols. 163-194). A
similar work composed by Kanchari Singh in 1782 is found in Pertsch, Die Handschriften-
Verzeichnisse, no. 1083).
58. Rieu, 1: 63 (Add. 5654).
59. Pertsch, Die Handschriften-Verzeichnisse, no. 1076; cf. Rieu, Catalogue of Persian
Manuscripts, 2: 792b/ii. On Murray (d. 1822), who commissioned a number of Persian treatises,
see Storey, Persian Literature, 1: 1 145, n. 1; ibid., 2: 375 (works on agriculture).
60. Eth, Catalogue of Persian Manuscripts, nos. 1959, 1962.
61. EthWC, atalogue of Persian Manuscripts,n os. 1725, 2905.
62. Pertsch, Die Handschriften-Verzeichnisse, 1089 (Jataka), 1090-91 (law), 1093 (cosmology),
1094-95 (medicine).
Muslim Studies of Hinduism? 189
history.63W orks of a proto-anthropologicalc ast were also produced, prefiguring the
later census categories. Among these was Riyaz al-maz/ihib or The Garden of Religions,
which was composed by a Brahmin named Mathuranatha t the request of John Glyn in
1812 and dedicated to the Governor-General of India, Lord Moira; this was a description
of Hindu castes and sects, as well as religious orders and non-Vedic groups such as
Jains and Sikhs, and it was found very useful by the early Indologist H. H. Wilson.f' A
similar work on castes and mendicant orders was compiled by Col. John Skinner in
1825 from Sanskrit sources that he had translated to Persian. This curious manuscript,
entitled Tashrilh al-aqwiim or The Description of Peoples, contained over one hundred
illustrations by native artists.65
In addition to the commissioned works, a number of manuscripts of Persian translations
of Sanskrit texts such as the Mahaibhazratba ear the marginal comments of the
English officials who owned them. Among such works in the India Office Library, there
are quite a few bearing the comments of Richard Johnson, who acquired several of
these copies in 1778, and there are even a couple of manuscripts annotated by Sir
Charles Wilkins (d. 1826), England's first notable Sanskritist after Sir William Jones.
Halhed's collection of a dozen annotated Persian translations of Sanskrit texts, some
accompanied by his own English summaries and translations, forms the core of the
British Library's collection of this branch of literature.
This body of translations commissioned by the British is sufficiently large to be
indicative of a separate trend and approach to the study of Indian religion, for the special
purpose of familiarizing British colonial administrators with the religion of their
Hindu subjects. This had a practical purpose beyond the concerns of pure historical
scholarship. Witness the project that Sir William Jones took up for the East India Company:
the compilation of a digest of Hindu law from Sanskrit texts, for the express purpose
of serving as a reliable legal source for personal law in the British-run court system.
Not only the Persian translations from the Sanskrit commissioned by the British,
but also previous Mughal-era translations (whether belonging to the political or metaphysical
categories described above), were all subsumed into a single vision of the
religion of the Hindus, from the perspective of the British administratorsw ho used Persian
as the language of governance in India. It is often forgotten that Persian, the language
of administration and government revenue records in the Mughal empire, continued
to be the medium of government in the British East India Company until the 1 830s,
and in some regions as late as the 1860s. It should not be surprising, then, that figures
such as Hastings regarded Persian translations as a perfectly adequate basis for establishing
their knowledge of Hindu religion; they evidently considered it to be a medium
63. Pertsch,D ie Handschriften-Verzeichnissen, o. 1078/3-4.
64. Rieu, Catalogue of Persian Manuscripts, 1: 64 (Add. 24,035); Sayyid CAbd Allah,
Adabiyyat-i fiarsr meni Hindii'uii ka hissa, (Delhi, 1942), 215, no. 5. This Urdu study is now
available in a Persian translation by Muhammad Aslam Khan, Adabtyit-i farsT dar miydn-i
Hindavdn (Tehran, 1371/1992).
65. Rieu, Catalogue of Persian Manuscripts, 1: 65-67 (Add. 27,255); Nora M. Titley, Miniatures
from Persian Manuscripts: A Catalogue and Subject Index of Paintings from Persia, India
and Turkey in the British Library and the British Museum (London, 1977), no. 372. See further on
Skinner and Company art Mildred Archer and Toby Falk, India Revealed: The Art and
Adventures of James and William Fraser 1801-35 (London, 1989), index, s.n. Skinner.
190 Ernst
transparente nough for their purposes. Nonetheless, the interest of the British administrators
in discovering the textual basis for personal law for Hindus eventually led them
to take extraordinarys teps to set up a dyadic opposition between Hinduisma nd Islam.'
Until the formation of a solid European tradition of Sanskrit scholarship, the earlier
Orientalists continued to rely on these Persian translations as the best available guides
to Hindu philosophy and religion. The Upanishads were initially introduced to
Europeans through several versions of Dara Shukuh's Persian translation: first, the
partial English translation of Halhed in 1782; next, Anquetil Duperron's Latin version
in 1801, which had a significant impact on European thinkers such as Schopenhauer;
and then a German translation from Duperron's Latin, completed by Franz Mischel in
1882.67 European scholars drew upon Abu al-Fazl's account of Indian philosophy for
some of their earliest descriptions of this subjectP' The Sanskrit collection of stories
about King Vikramaditya, Singh4isan Battist, was also made known initially through a
French version of a Mughal-era Persian translation in 1817.69 As late as 1831, a partial
English version of the Mahaibhdrataw as made available via the Persian translation
sponsored by Akbar.70
This period when Persian was the primary mode of access to Hindu religious
thought has been largely forgotten in European scholarship. The next generation of Sanskritists
after Sir William Jones, particularly British officials such as Sir Charles Wilkins
and H. H. Wilson, were usually still familiar with Persian because of their administrative
involvement. Increasingly, however, Sanskrit became a subject unto itself,
achieving a high level of academic prestige, particularly in the German universities. As
scholars began to have full and independent access to Sanskrit literature, they soon cast
aside the earlier interpretationsg ained via the medium of Persian. I would suggest that
the mode of scholarship that came to dominate the European study of Sanskrit, especially
outside of British circles, self-consciously tried to stand apart from the naive
practicality of Halhed and Hastings. Following the model of the Greek and Latin classics,
Sanskrit became a classical study; applying the methods of textual criticism developed
by Renaissance scholars, Sanskritists began to look for the original textual archetypes,
the Ur-text uncorrupted by medieval intrusions. The Persian translations were
seen as inaccurate, biased, and faulty guides, an embarrassment to the serious study of
true Hinduism. They are now mentioned only as curiosities, or passed over in silence.
They are no longer relevant to the modem study of classical Hinduism, which has been
66. Rosane Rocher, "British Orientalism in the Eighteenth Century: The Dialectics of
Knowledge and Government," in Carol A. Breckenridge, and Peter van der Veer, ed., Orientalism
and the Postcolonial Predicament: Perspectives on South Asia (Philadelphia, 1993), 215-49.
67. On Duperron's translation, entitled Oupnek'at, id est secretum tegendum, see Annemarie
Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam (Chapel Hill, NC, 1975, 361; Bikrama Jit Hasrat, Dara
Shikuh, Life and Works 2nd ed., (New Delhi, 1982), 255-58.
68. J. G. Schweighaeuser, "Sur les sects philosophiques de l'Inde," Archives literaires de
l'Europe 16 (1807), 193-206.
69. M. Lescallier, trans.,V ikramacaritra:L e Trone enchante62 vols. (New York: J. Desnoues,
1817).
70. David Price, The last days of Krishna and the sons of Pandu from the concluding section of
the Mahdbhizrata translated from the Persian version made by Naqib Khan, in the time of the
Emperor Akbar, published together with miscellaneous translation (London, 1831).
Muslim Studies of Hinduism? 191
defined precisely as the original Indian religion as distinct from the foreign influence of
Islam. We can see this attitude at work already in Sir William Jones: "My experience
justifies me in pronouncing that the Mughals have no idea of accurate translation, and
give that name to a mixture of gloss and text with a flimsy paraphraseo f both; that they
are wholly unable, yet always pretend, to write Sanskrit words in Arabic letters; ...
from the just severity of this censure I except neither Abul Fazl nor his brother Faizi."7'
This classicist approach unfortunately has the side effect of relegating to insignificance
the participation of Hindus in Persianate and Islamicate culture, together with any effect
that this may have had in the development and reinterpretation of Hindu religious
thought.72W hile the period of British sponsorshipo f Persian translationsf rom Sanskrit
was brief, perhaps three quarters of a century, it represents a decisive step in the transition
toward the eventual establishment of Islam and Hinduism as separate fields of
study.
There are a number of other literary phenomena besides the translations from Sanskrit
that challenge the standard notion of fixed boundaries between Hinduism and
Islam. Little work has been done, for instance, to study the direct patronage of Sanskrit
literature by Muslim rulers.73 While most Sanskrit works dedicated to sultans were belletristic
court poetry, some Hindu and Jain officials in the employ of Muslim rulers
wrote Sanskritr eligious and legal treatises in which they mention their sovereigns.74A
few Sanskrit works can be found that attempt to construct a relationship between Islam
and ancient Hindu scriptures. As an example, a short Sanskrit text called the Alla
[Allaih] Upanishad was apparently composed by one of Akbar's courtiers, in order to
identify the Muslim deity with the gods of the Vedas, assisted by a combination of the
Muslim call to prayer and tantric seed syllables. As late as the nineteenth century, many
pandits considered this text a reliable, if obscure, formulation of Vedanta (the curious
political context of this work is indicated by its substitution of "Muhammad Akbar,"
i.e., the emperor Akbar, for the Prophet Muhammad). Indian scholars trained in the
classical style of Orientalist scholarship apparently succeeded in eliminating this work
from the canon of Hindu scripture. R. Mitra in 1871 trenchantly dismissed this work as
71. Sir William Jones, Works (London, 1794), 1: 422, quoted by Habibullah, "Medieval Indo-
Persian Literature,"1 67.
72. The detailed study of European Indology by Raymond Schwab, The Oriental Renaissance:
Europe's Rediscovery of India and the East, 1680-1880, trans. Gene Patterson-Black and Victor
Reinking (New York, 1984), does not address the significance of the Persian translations at all,
but stresses in a classicist manner the importance of access to original Sanskrit texts.
73. M. M. Patkar, "Mughal Patronage of Sanskrit Learning," Poona Orientalist 3 (1938):
164-75; C. H. Chakravarty," Muhammadansa s Patronso f SanskritL earning,"S ahitya Parishad
Patrika 44/1; S. Sulaiman Nadwi, "Literary Progress of the Hindus under Muslim Rule," Islamic
Culture 12 (1938): 424-33, 13 (1939): 401-26; D. C. Bhattacharyya, "Sanskrit Scholar of
Akbar's Time," Indian Historical Quarterly 13 (1937): 31-36; Jatindra Bimal Chaudhuri, Muslim
Patronage to Sanskritic Leaming, part 1 (Calcutta, 1942; reprint Delhi, 1981); S. A. I. Tirmizi,
"Sanskrit Chronicler of the Reign of Mahmud Begarah," in Some Aspects of Medieval Gujarat
(Delhi, 1968), 45-54.
74. Upendra Nath Day, Medieval Malwa, A Political and Cultural History, 1401-1562 (Delhi,
1965), 367-70, 422-28, 437-39; M. R. Ranbaore, "Hindu Law in Medieval Deccan," in H. K.
Sherwani and P. M. Joshi, eds., History of Medieval Deccan (1295-1724) 2 vols. (Hyderabad,
1973-4), 2:529; V. W. Paranjpe Shastri, "Language and Literature-Sanskrit," in ibid., 2: 128-29.
192 Ernst
"apocryphal," "the gross religious imposition" of a "Muhammadan forger" who was
betrayedb y incorrectS anskritg rammara nd stylistic inconsistencies.75I would suggest,
to the contrary, that such "apocryphal" works could provide an important source for
understanding the way that Hindus understood Islamic theology and ritual in certain
political contexts. Another important area for contact between Hindu and Muslim culture
is the participation of Muslim authors in indigenous Indian literary genres in modem
Indian languages. This often resulted in the use of Hindu themes and structures in
surprising ways, as in Padmavati, an Eastern Hindi (Awadhi) adaptation of Rajput epic
as mystical yogic allegory, written by a Sufi author, Muhammad Ja'isi; here the unexpected
shift is that the Turks are the villains of the piece.76 Since this category of
literary creation covers a large number of unedited texts in a variety of Indian
languages, I will only allude to it here in passing as an important topic for research.7 I
am ignoring for the purposes of this discussion the extensive participation by Hindu
authors in secular Persian literature, in which they played important roles in the
composition of court histories, literary anthologies, and poetry. A sociological study of
the effects of Persianate culture on the Kayasths and other groups who served Mughal
and other Indo-Muslim bureaucracies would be of considerable interest. Another
important topic crying out for treatment is the description of Indian religions by
Zoroastrian authors in the Dasatiri literature, especially the important seventeenthcentury
survey of religions called Dabistan-i mazahib.78
Of particular significance for the study of religion is a series of original Persian
writings on Indian religion written by Hindus, including doctrinal summaries of "classical"
Hindu teachings as well as biographies of figures of the medieval bhakti movements.
The eighteenth century seems to have been a particularly rich time for the production
of these Hindu Persian works.79A s an example one may consider Makhzana l-
Cifia-n or The Treasury of Gnosis by Rup Narayan, written in 1717 in Lahore as a guide
to the holy places of Braj.80A survey of Hindu creeds, festivals, rituals, and ascetic
practices, Haft tamashOoi r The Seven Displays, was writteni n 1813 by a Hindu convert
to Islam known by the pen-name Qatil, at the request of a learned Shi'i scholar of
75. Baibu Rajendralala Mitra, "The Alla Upanishad, a spurious chapter of the Atherva Veda--
text, translation, and notes," Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 40 (1871): 170-76.
76. Shantanu Phukan, "Through a Persian Prism: Hindi and Padmavat in the Mughal
Imagination,"P h.D. dissertation,U niversity of Chicago, 1999.
77. For a brief survey, see Ronald Stuart McGregor, Hindi Literature from its Beginnings to
the Nineteenth Century,A History of Indian LiteratureV IIIV6( Wiesbaden, 1984), 23-24, 26-28,
63-73, 150-54; S. M. Pandey, "Kutuban'sM iragavatt: its content and interpretation,"in R. S.
McGregor ed., Devotional literature in South Asia: Current research, 1985-1988, (Cambridge,
1992), 179-89.
78. See most recently M. Athar Ali, "Pursuing an Elusive Seeker of Universal Truth-the
Identity and Environment of the Author of the Dabistan-i Mazahib," JRAS, Series 3, 9 (1999):
365-73.
79. There is considerable informationo n this topic in CAbdA llah, Adabiyyait-fia rsi. See also
Ahmad Munzavi, Fihrist-i mushtarak-i nuskha-hia-yi kha.tt-yi farsi-yi Paikistan (Islamabad:,
1363/1405/1985), 4: 2135-2200, for a comprehensive list of titles and manuscripts of Persian
works on Hinduism, both translations and original works.
80. Rieu, Catalogue of Persian Manuscripts, 1: 62 (Egerton 1027), copied in 1766.
Muslim Studies of Hinduism? 193
Lucknow.8' One of the last notable examples of original theological reflection by a
Hindu in this medium was Raja Ram Mohan Roy (d. 1833), in his Tuhfat almuwahhidu4onr
The Gift of the Monotheists, written in Persian with an Arabic preface.82
While some of these texts were written as straightforward expositions of Hindu doctrines
or rituals, others engaged more directly with Islamic religious thought, and in the
nineteenth century they even began to take on the form of apologias for Hinduism
against the stereotyped criticisms found in Muslim polemical literature. To this category
belong two Persian works composed by Andarman around 1866, Tuhfat al-islrm or The
Gift of Islam, and Padash-i islaim or The Revenge of Islam, both written in defense of
Hindu religion.83 Also worthy of interest is Madinat al-tahqrq or The City of Demonstration,
written by Karparam in Samvat 1932/1875 as a refutation of a Persian work
that attacked Hinduism.84O ne even finds a work called Tahqiq al-tandsukh or The
Demonstration of Reincarnation by Anantram son of Karparam (possibly identical with
the Karparam just mentioned), composed in 1875 clearly as a defense of that doctrine
commonly associated with Hinduism.85 One suspects that these works emerged from
the climate of religious disputation that resulted from the attacks of Christian
missionaries upon Islam, Hinduism, and Sikhism. The fact that they were written in
Persian at such a late date may be explained by the continued administrative use of
Persian in the Punjab through the 1860s. Even the least self-conscious of these
productions necessarily engaged in a complex cross-cultural hermeneutic, by the very
choice of the Persian words used to render technical terms from the vocabulary of
Hindu religious texts. This neglected field of literature would seem to be especially
promising for the study of the concrete relationships that individual Hindu authors
worked out to position themselves in relation to the dominant Indo-Muslim court
culture.
Finally, it should not be forgotten that the tradition of Persian Sanskritic learning
established by Akbar and Dara Shukuh still continues today among a small circle of
Iranian scholars. Daryush Shayagan, in addition to his French study of Dara Shukuh,
has also written a large survey in Persian on The Religions and Philosophical Schools of
India.86 The prolific Muhammad Riza Jalali Na'ini has in collaboration with Indian
scholars produced an impressive series of text editions of Persian translations from San-
81. Rieu, Catalogue of Persian Manuscripts, 1: 64 (Or. 476), copied 1850.
82. Abid Ullah Ghazi, "Raja Rammohun Roy (1772-1833): encounter with Islam and
Christianity, the articulation of Hindu self-consciousness," Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard
University, 1975, 95-98.
83. CAbd Allah, Adabiyat-ifairst, 216, no. 10, both found in the Lahore Public Library.
84. CAbd Allah, Adabiydt-i forsr, 216, no. 11, where the offensive treatise is identified as
Tuhfat al-Hind. This seems unlikely, since that work is primarily an account of Indian arts and
culture that is not in any way critical; see Mirza Khan ibn Fakhr al-Din Muhammad, Tuhfat al-
Hind, ed. Nur al-Hasan Ansari (Tehran, 1354/1975). Perhaps what is meant is the similarly
entitled Hujjat al-Hind of cAli Mihrabi, which consists of a polemical dialogue between two birds
on the merits of Hindu mythology and Islam. The dating of the text by the Indian Vikrama or
Samvat era, rather than the Islamic calendar, is a telling index of the polemical character of this
work.
85. CAbd Allah, Adabcyit-ifarsr, 216, no. 12, found in Punjab University Library, Lahore.
86. Daryush Shayagan, Adyan wa maktab-ha-yifalsafi-yi Hind, 2 vols. (Tehran, 1967).
194 Ernst
skrit, including works by Dara Shukuh as well as a critical edition of the Mahiibharata
translation sponsored by Akbar.87 He has in addition authored an original Persian
translation of the Rig-veda, a study of the Sikh religion, an analysis of Hindu mysticism,
a comparative study of language and religion among the ancient Aryans, a reconsideration
of the treatment of Indian religions in Shahrastani's Arabic theological survey, and
an edition of Dara Shukuh's Persian translationo f the Bhagavad Gita.88T o this should
be added two Sanskrit-Persianle xicons, co-authoredb y Jalali Na'ini and Indians cholar
N. S. Shukla.89F athullahM ujtabaiw rote a Harvardd issertationo n the Persian translation
of the Yoga Vasistha by Mir Findiriski?0 Outside the circle of scholarly Iranian
Indologists, the prominent Iranian philosopher Jalal al-Din Ashtiyani has engaged with
Indian religions in a series of critical volumes on comparative religion based largely on
European scholarship.9 Nur al-Din Chahardihi, an indefatigable researcher on the topic
of Islamic esotericism, has also turned his attention to Indian traditions. In addition to
writing his own study of yoga (which he practices), he has also reprinted a treatise on
yoga and divination called MuhUt-mi acrifat (The Ocean of Gnosis) of Satidasa son of
Ram Bha'i "'Arif," written in 1753-4 and published in Lucknow in 1860. This work,
containing sixteen chapters on metaphysics, yoga, and divination, is based on the Hindi
(Bhak'ha) work Svarodaya of Charana Dasa, pupil of Sukhadevaji, and the translation
contains a considerable amount of sophisticatedP ersian verse.92M odern Persian translations
of literary works by Kalidasa and Tagore have also been published in Iran and
Afghanistan.3 In Iran, it seems, there remains a keen interest in Indian religion and
87. Besides the previously mentioned editions of Dara Shukuh's Majmac al-bahrayn and the
Mahdbhdrata, see Dara Shukuh, trans., Upanishdd (Sirr-i akbar), ed. Tara Chand and Muammad
Riza Jalali Na&ini2, vols. (Tehran, 1963; reprintT ehran, 1368/1989).
88. MuhammadR iza' Jalali Na'ini, GuzFdah-si arad-hi-yi rig vedai( Tehran, 1348/1969); idem,
Tarrqa-i Guru Nanak va paydiyt-yi dyin-i Sik (Tehran, 1349/1970); idem, Adab-i tarkqat va
khudizyabT dar Cirfan-i hinda (Tehran, 1347/1968); idem, Khwishdvandi-yi zaban va mazhab-i
qadim-i du qawm-i aryai-yiI ran wa Hind (Benares, 1971); Shahrastani,A rra-yHi ind (bakhshta z
kitab al-milal wal-nihal, new ed. Mustafa Khaliqdad cAbbasi, ed. Muhammad Riza' Jalali Na'ini,
(Tehran, 1349/1970); Dara Shukuh, trans., Bhagavad Grtia, ed. Muhammad Riza' Jalali Na'ini
(n.p., 1957).
89. Muhammad Riza' Jalali Na'ini and N. S. Shukla, Lughait-i stinskrtt mazkur dar kitab ma
lil-Hind-i CAlIIamBat rint (Tehran, 1353/1975); idem, Farhang-ifa-rstp rakash (farhang-i sanskrit
bi-fa-rsi) (n.p., 1354/1976); idem, Farhang-i Sanskrft-Fdrsi (Tehran, 1996). Cf. also Chittenjoor
Kunhan Raja, Persian-Sanskrit grammar, (New Delhi, 1953), and Muhammad cAli Hasani Daci
al-Islami, Khwudiamuz-zia biin-i Sanskrit[ Teach YourselfS anskrit]2 nd edition, (Tehran,1 982).
90. Fathullah Mujtabai, "Muntakhab-i Jug-basasht or, Selections from the Yoga-vasistha,"
Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University, 1976.
91. Muhandis Jalal al-Din Ashtiyani, Idial-i bashar; tajziya wa tahlil-i afkar-i Cifan-i biid-sm
wa jaynFsm, mag,ahib-i hindu, (The Ideals of Humanity: Analysis of the Mystical Thought of the
Indian Religions of Buddhism and Jainism,) (Tehran, 1377/1999).
92. Carandas Sukhadevji, Svarodaya, Persian trans. from Hindi by Satidasa son of Ram Bha'i
';CArif,'"M uhrt-im acrifat (Lucknow, 1860); reprinte d. Nur al-Din ChahardihiA, srar-i panhanT-yi
maktab-i yag (Hidden Secrets of Yoga Teaching) (Tehran, 1369/1991).
93. Kalidasa, Sakuntala, Persian trans. by Hadi Hasan, Shakuntala ya khattm-i mafqud
(Tehran, 1956), also trans. CAli Asghar Hikmat (Delhi, 1957); RabrindranathT agore, Gitanjali,
Persian trans. by Ravan Farhadi, Surad-i nayayish (Kabul, 1975).
Muslim Studies of Hinduism? 195
thought, partially prompted by a sense of the proximity of ancient Indian and Iranian
cultures, but which may be expected to continue and resurface in the future.
To sum up, then, the translations from Sanskrit into Arabic and Persian fall into
four classes: practical arts and sciences, political works (based on epics), metaphysical
and mystical treatises, and works on Hindu religion and law commissioned by the British.
The first three categories, which characterize the translations done for Muslim
patrons, have little to do with the modem concept of religion. It is only when the lens of
the modem European notion of religion is applied that one can view premodern Muslims
as having had a clear notion of Hinduism. What are the implications of this conclusion?
I would suggest that this points to the need further to complicate our picture of
Hindu-Muslim interaction, not to derive it from predetermined concepts of the essential
characteristics of a religion. If we wish to take account of historical change within
religious traditions, and to understand the diversity within the traditions that, for convenience,
we treat as unitary, then it is important to pay close attention to the historical
and political concerns that inform any individual act of inter-religiousi nterpretationT. o
understanda multi-centuryp rocess of inter-civilizationali nterpretations, uch as the Arabic
and Persian translations from Sanskrit, it is necessary to take seriously the hermeneutical
structuresa nd categories that guided the efforts of those interpreters.A bove all,
it is important to try, as much as possible, to avoid reading anachronistic concepts into
premodern materials. Only then can we fully appreciate the rich density and texture of
the complex religious patterns that are woven into the life of South Asian culture.

Comments
  • Recommend Us