Monday, 29 May 2017

Aditya Malik gives a working paper on 'Hammira: Inception of a History'

The paper has two parts each representing truncated, though I hope interconnected, versions of longer chapters and themes that I plan to explore in a book I am writing for De Gruyter. In the first part of the paper I discuss the historical and literary context(s) of the Hammira-Mahakvya and its main protagonist, Hammira, with a view to showing that contrary to Indian nationalist historiographies of the second half of the 20th century, the texts under consideration do not represent a conflict between Hindus and Muslims but rather rivalries and friendships between scattered ethnicities and clans competing for political control in northern India between the 11th-16th centuries. Moreover, I aim to show that the social category of the Rajput (‘prince’, ‘warrior’ etc.) that crystallizes in the 15th-16th centuries transcends both ethnic and religious compartmentalization by signifying attributes, qualities and ethical values that once internalized by an individual could be expressed through heroic action regardless of caste or religious affiliation (i.e., by both Hindus and Muslims). The second part is more conceptual in nature springing from the fact that the Hammira-Mahakavya originates in a dream presented to the author of the text by the dead hero whose life and deeds lie at the center of the ‘great poem’ (Sanskrit: mahakavya). The question that arises here is whether history with its fundamental concern with empirical evidence, facts and what is considered ‘real’ can originate in the subjective, inner world of dreams or what is considered ‘unreal/imaginary’. Is the ‘unreal’ or imaginative fabric
equally or more important here than the ‘real’, empirical structure? While history concerns itself with the past, it is also obvious that not all statements about the past are considered to be history. It is only when the past is presented to us – ‘constructed’ one could say – in a particular manner that it becomes ‘history.’ Not every statement or perspective of the past therefore qualifies as history. But how exactly does history get constructed, particularly in the Indian/South Asian context? What does it mean to think about the past? Where is this thinking about the past located? Moreover, what does thinking and, in particular, imagination mean in the Indic context? Can history begin in a dream?

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