PresenterMazumder Dipanjan - Vanderbilt University, History, Nashville, United States
Panel01 – Bengali Muslim Societies and Literatures, c.1600-1947
Islamic law lived unexpected vernacular lives in early modern Bengal. In these fluid geographies far away from philosophers and intellectuals of the Mughal imperial court, non-eminent people with limited understanding of sharia made law their own by developing a regional vernacular of legal and literary practice. My paper argues that popular performative vernacular texts emerging out of social institutions like shrines, temples, and landed lineages had multiple lives. In addition to their didactic and hagiographical functions, they also acted as documentary artefacts of legal knowledge and as declarative texts making narrative claims of inheritable rights of property. I offer a case study of a hagiography that also acted as a property document. Published in 1927, the Sekasubhodaya has been traditionally read as a mangalkavya in praise of the Sufi Jalal al-Din Tabrizi (d.1244-45). However, a certain local tradition, as the editor dismissively notes memorialised the text as the title deeds to the tax-free waqf grant that supported the shrine of the Sufi. Nevertheless, on close reading, the anecdote and the text offer valuable hints to understand popular engagements with Islamic law and authority in early modern Bengal. Moreover, the text also opens a hitherto unexplored world of vernacular imaginations of sovereignty. In doing so, my paper has stakes in the theoretical problem of understanding the relations between Islamic law and Bengali Muslim imaginaries and jurispractices.