Connections with the Sanskrit cultural world played a crucial role in the evolution of Mughal power and also significantly altered dynamics within Indian literary and religious communities, says a new book.
In “Culture of Encounters: Sanskrit at the Mughal Court”, religious historian Audrey Truschke documents the interesting exchange between the Persian-speaking Islamic elite of the Mughal Empire and traditional Sanskrit scholars, which engendered a dynamic idea of Mughal rule essential to the empire’s survival.
This history begins with the invitation of Brahman and Jain intellectuals to King Akbar’s court in the 1560s, then details the numerous Mughal-backed texts they and their Mughal interlocutors produced under emperors Akbar, Jahangir (1605–1627), and Shah Jahan (1628–1658).
Many works, including Sanskrit epics and historical texts, were translated into Persian, elevating the political position of Brahmans and Jains and cultivating a voracious appetite for Indian writings throughout the Mughal world.
“For the Mughals, Sanskrit texts and ideas offered a way to be rulers of India,” the author, an assistant professor of South Asian history at Rutgers University, Newark, says.
She says this was not an exclusionary opportunity, and the Mughals also cultivated ruling identities within the Persianate realm, the Islamicate world, and so forth.
“But the Mughals saw unique possibilities in the Sanskrit tradition to know India in historical, mythic, and empirical senses, as indeed had many kings before them,” she writes in the book, published by Penguin Books imprint Allen Lane.
The author also describes in the book how the Mughals treated the Mahabharata as a crucial component of their multifaceted project to make the Sanskrit tradition a living part of Indo-Persian culture.
“Culture of Encounters” tries to recast the Mughal Empire as a polyglot polity that collaborated with its Indian subjects to envision its sovereignty.
The work also reframes the development of Brahman and Jain communities under Mughal rule, which coalesced around carefully selected, politically salient memories of imperial interaction.
Truschke says for the Jain and Brahman elites, encounters with the central court enabled them to participate in Mughal rule, to define themselves in politically salient ways, and to bring new ideas into the Sanskrit literary tradition.