At its height in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Mughal Empire was one of the largest empires in Eurasia, with territory extending over most of the Indian subcontinent and much of present-day Afghanistan. As part of the Persianate world that spanned from the Bosphorus to the Bay of Bengal, Mughal rulers were legendary connoisseurs of the arts. Their patronage attracted poets, artists, and scholars from all parts of the eastern Islamic world. Persian was the language of the court, and poets from Safavid Iran played a significant role in the cultural life of the nobility. Mughal Arcadia explores the rise and decline of Persian court poetry in India and the invention of an enduring idea—found in poetry, prose, paintings, and architecture—of a literary paradise, a Persian garden located outside Iran, which was perfectly exemplified by the valley of Kashmir.
Poets and artists from Iran moved freely throughout the Mughal empire and encountered a variety of cultures and landscapes that inspired aesthetic experiments which continue to inspire the visual arts, poetry, films, and music in contemporary South Asia. Sunil Sharma takes readers on a dazzling literary journey over a vast geographic terrain and across two centuries, from the accession of the first emperor, Babur, to the throne of Hindustan to the reign of the sixth great Mughal, Aurangzeb, in order to illuminate the life of Persian poetry in India. Along the way, we are offered a rare glimpse into the social and cultural life of the Mughals.
Sunil Sharma’s Mughal Arcadia draws on Persian poetry produced in India to evoke a world that is now as lost and strange as Atlantis or Shangri-La. The Persian poets presented India as a land of wonders and riches, a pastoral paradise. As I read on, an impossible longing came over me—to visit seventeenth century Kashmir and see for myself what the poets described and the miniaturists painted: the spring festivals, harem processions, falcon hunts, well-watered gardens with their fruit trees, Sufis, nightingales, wild dogs, and cities devoted to love and poetry… This exploration of a hitherto largely neglected subject is based on remarkably wide reading and is a credit to scholarship.
It is the fragrance of pure Mughal sophistication which wafts through this erudite book. In elegant and eloquent detail, Sharma tells of the Mughal imperial family’s love for nature… Mughal Arcadia’s singularity is that, calling on [Sharma’s] ample scholarly knowledge of Indo-Persian poetry and culture, it offers an account of Mughal history for the non-specialist, including the Mughal love for tended and unspoiled bountiful nature.
A celebration and deeply learned account of Persian poetry in Mughal India, this book traces how the idea of Hindustan in the Iranian imagination encountered the actuality of the place and ultimately transformed the literary and aesthetic landscape of the subcontinent. Mughal Arcadia is attractively written, with enthusiasm and erudition, and will delight anyone interested in the magnificent Indo-Persian culture it commemorates.
Persian poets have historically referred to the valley of Kashmir as a ‘second paradise.’ Thanks to Sunil Sharma’s fascinating account of the Mughal court’s love of Persian poets and poetry and its openness to artistic multiculturalism, we understand the full breadth of that paradise.
Sharma…takes us on a whirlwind tour of a hefty slice of the nearly forgotten universe of Mughal Persian poetry. The book is a delight. One emerges from it impressed by the beauty and complexity of Mughal poetry and even more impressed by Sharma’s deft reading skills and ability to translate this tradition for 21st century readers.
- 280 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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