Seminar on Text and Textuality in Early Modern India

Amitava Chakraborty's picture
March 2, 2020 to March 3, 2020

Call for Papers

National Seminar on

Text and Textuality in Early Modern India

2-3 March 2020

Abstracts are invited for a two days Seminar on Text and Textuality in Early Modern India, scheduled to be held on 2-3 March, 2020.

The Seminar aims to explore the texts and their textuality in Indian languages in early modern era.

The etymological connection of ‘Text’ with weaving is a much celebrated phenomenon in the post-structuralist terrain of thoughts which does not ignore the structure. Like a structuralist, a post-structuralist does give equal importance to structure but, by simply adding texture along with it, s/he extends the domain of text beyond the verbal.

Choosing a proper interchangeable word for Text in modern Indian languages is still a field of contestation for translators. While in some languages scholars prefer ‘Pathh’ (in Bengali, Assamese or Telugu), in few others they vote for ‘Pathhya’ (in Odia), and most of the remaining choose to borrow the word unchanged. A selected few have identified the Sanskrit word ‘Grantha’ as synonymous to ‘text’, remembering its etymological verbal root (dhatu) Granth. In Sanskrit the root verb Granth means to weave, which generates nouns like granthana and verb like granthan in Middle Indo Aryan languages. Verbs like Gatha or Ghathna in New Indo Aryan vocabulary can also be explored in the same trajectory.

The Seminar will explore this idea of text through its structure and texture while contextualizing it. This Seminar also delimits its area only within the domain of verbal texts composed in Indian languages in early modern era. 

Historiographers have made this useful conceptual distinction between early modern and the colonial modern in South Asia. It has been argued by various scholars that the notion of early modern is not essentially a period with specific date marker pointing a beginning and an end. Scholars like Partha Chatterjee (History in the Vernacular, 2008) suggest that though the characteristics of thoughts and practices that have been identified as belonging to the period in the subcontinent could appear in the Indian (or rather South Asian) historical evidence ‘at any time from the fifteenth century to the present (assuming that the historical trajectory of postcolonial modernity is still incomplete)’. But Chatterjee also pointed out the necessity to distinguish elements of the early modern from the recognizable components of the colonial modern which might be dated from roughly the 1830’s achieving its fully developed form during the British Raj in the second half of the nineteenth century; the period Indian economy acquires the form of a characteristically colonial economy. But Chatterjee draws our attention to the fact that even if we accept this conceptual distinction between early modern and colonial modern, that would still leave the earlier period of British rule, from middle of eighteenth century to the 1820s or so, open to reinterpretation. 

The early modern period in India, between the fifteenth and late eighteenth centuries, was witness to a ‘new, specific historical awareness’. This claim is attributed to collective authors Vecheru Narayan Rao, David Shulman and Sanjay Subrahmanyam who published a path-breaking book titled Textures of Time (2001). They made the provocative contention that in these centuries, one sees ‘history’ being written in a variety of literary genres, quite distinct from the standard European notion of history-writing. The authors call this ‘texture’. This is the transactional relationship between the narrator and the audience by which the audience is able to distinguish between fiction and a historical work through the use of certain markers. It promotes a greater interest in factualization, chronology and an analysis of cause and effect. Apart from this, scholars have also raised the question of vernacularization to ask how Persian came to be the language of political will or what was the relationship between Sanskrit and new literary vernacular languages, which was becoming prominent during that time. It also problematizes the existing categories and forces us to think it in a new way. By studying texts in their material form, we may also ask about the flourishing vernacular manuscript cultures in India. Indeed, India is home to a huge corpus of manuscripts in palm-leaf, paper, birch bark, bamboo etc. These linked practices of production and the choice of using certain materials also became a condition for a new public life. This is apparent in the rise of vernacular literatures that are being collected and written as new social classes congealed and popularized them.

The concept of ‘early modern’ intervenes in an older debate about the ‘medieval’ being synonymous with ‘Muslim rule’. The historiographical challenge the early modern poses is to incorporate India into a global, comparative history that is interconnected in terms of political and cultural transformations. It revises a colonial narrative that India (and China) lived in a stagnant, timeless past. Anticipating the epistemological changes of modernity, it asks the scholar to rethink how changes in a modern regime drew on and recast the past.

Keeping these positions in context the Seminar seeks to explore the textual traditions of early modern India.

Abstracts are invited on any of the following themes or on other relevant themes:

Theorising Text in Early Modern India

Intertextuality in Early Modern India

Readings in Early Modern Indian Texts

Theorizing the Act of Reading in Early Modern India

Manuscript and Literary Cultures in Early Modern IndiaEditing as Creating New Text-cultures

Abstracts should be within 600 words and should be sent to by 20 February 2020. The decision regarding the abstract will be communicated by 25 February 2020.

Contact Info: 

Dr. Amitava Chakraborty, Deputy Coordinator, UGC-DRS Phase-III, Department of Modern Indian Languages and Literary Studies, University of Delhi, Delhi-110007