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Kṛṣṇa the Magician: metapoesis and ambivalence in Faiḍī's Mahābhārat

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 February 2024

Justin N. Smolin*
The University of Chicago, Divinity School (History of Religions), Chicago, IL, USA


In this article, I discuss the vilification of Kṛṣṇa as a deceitful sorcerer in the Mughal poet-laureate Shaikh Abū'l Faiḍ bin Mubārak, or ‘Faiḍī's Mahābhārat and his correspondent apotheosis as the ‘essence of the True God' in the Shāriq al-maʿrifat, a treatise also ascribed to Faiḍī. As I argue, this inconsistency, or ambivalence, is a common and overlooked facet of the elite Islamicate engagement with religious diversity and difference in early modern Hindustan. In the case of the Mahābhārat, however, Faiḍī's portrayal of Kṛṣṇa as a deceitful illusionist reflects not only an Islamic discomfort with Vaishnavite theology, but Faiḍī's own performative insecurities as a Hindustani writer of Persian poetry and literary prose. Kṛṣṇa's so-called ‘magic’ lies in large part in his way with words: the verbal and social manipulation he uses to stoke the flames of conflict. The character thus becomes a kind of shadow or double of Faiḍī himself-a demiurgic author of the Mahābhārat upon which the poet can displace the classical Islamicate association of poetry with sorcery and deceit.

Copyright © The Author(s), 2024. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of The Royal Asiatic Society

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1 mī-farmūdand rūzī shakhṣ dar ḥuḍūr-i īshān yaʻnī Ḥājī Muḥammad Afḍal guft ki dar khwābī dīda-am ki ṣaḥrā'ī ast pur az ātish u Kishan darūn-i ātish ast u rām chandar dar kināra-yi ān ātish. shakhṣī dar taʻbīr-i ān khwāb guft ki kishan u rām chandar az kubarā[']ī-yi kuffār-and. dar ātish-i dozakh muʻadhdhab-and. Wali, Maulvi Abdul, ‘Hinduism according to the Muslim Sufis’, Journal and Proceedings of the Asiatic Society of Bengal N. S. 19 (1923), p. 248Google Scholar. I have principally relied on the Persian text provided in the above. Translation is my own, though I also consulted Maulvi Abdul Wali's translation.

2 faqīr guftam īn khwāb rā taʻbīre-yi dīgar ast. bar shakhṣe-yi muʻaiyan az gudhishtigān bī-ānki kufr-i u az sharʻ thābit shawad ḥukm ba-kufr jā'iz nīst. az aḥwāl-i īn har dū kitāb u sunnat sākit ast. Wali, ‘Hinduism according to the Muslim Sufis’, pp. 248–49.

3 Qur'ān 35:24.

4 dar īn ṣūrat muḥtamal ast ki īshān walī yā nabī bāshand. Wali, ‘Hinduism according to the Muslim Sufis’, p. 249.

5 rām chandar ki dar ibtidā'-yi khilqat-i jinn paidā shud dar ān waqt ʻumr-hā darāz u quwwat-hā bisyār būd. ahl-i zamāna rā ba-nisbat-i sulūkī tarbiyat mī-kard. u Kishan ākhirīn buzurgān-i īnhāst u dar ān waqt nisbat ba-sābiq ʻumr-hā kotāh u quwwat-hā ḍaʻīf gardīd. pas ahl-i zamāna-yi khud rā ba-nisbat-i jadhabī hidāyat mī-kard. katharat-i ghinā' u samāʻ ki az wī manqūl ast dalīl ast bar dhoq u shoq-i nisbat-i jadhba. Ibid., p. 249.

6 Kishan ki mustaghriq-i kaifīyat-hā-yi maḥabbat būd, darūn-i ātish ẓāhir gardīda. u rām chandar ki rāh-i sulūk dāsht, dar kināra-yi ān padidār shud. Ibid., p. 249.

7 Wali himself introduces this incident as part of a litany of evidence of Islamic tolerance. ‘To a Westerner,’ he writes, ‘everything eastern is barbarous. To a conqueror, anything that a vanquished foe may offer is hateful. But to this universal law, I am happy to note that there are honourable exceptions’—among them, Mirza Jān-i Jānān Maẓhar and Dārā Shukoh. Ibid., p. 237. For an example of the wider popular reception of this anecdote, see the following, which incorrectly attributes the incident to ‘Abdur Rahim Khan-e-Khanan’: Chishti, ‘The interpretation of a dream’, The Sufi Tavern (blog), 11 March 2018, (accessed 25 January 2024). The incident is also discussed in the following article, which provides a nuanced account of Jān-i Jānān Maẓhar's views on religious difference: Friedmann, Y., ‘Medieval Muslim views of Indian religions’, Journal of the American Oriental Society 95. 2 (1975), pp. 214–21Google Scholar.

8 There may be a better word. I do not mean that every participant in this engagement had ‘mixed feelings’ about Indic religion. While mixed feelings may certainly be ascribable to some—to the Sufi Sheikh and translator of the Bhagavadgīta, ʿAbd al-Rahman Chishtī, for instance—in the anecdote above, both Jān-i Jānān Maẓhar and his antagonist seem very sure of themselves and their positions. The point is a broader one: that both of these responses to the dream, and to Kṛṣṇa, were thinkable and arguable in the early modern South Asian context. Rather than the elite Islamic engagement with religious difference being definitively characterised by irenicism, tolerance, and theological inclusivism or, on the other hand, agonism, prejudice, and exclusivism, I see vacillation, a play of polarities, and contrasting attitudes.

9 wa az far u shukoh-i judishtar u sipah-sālārī wa fīroz-jangī-yi arjun wa nek-nithādī-yi nakul wa pāk-goharī-yi sahadew takrār karda, wa pedāst ki īnhā hama paiwand u khwesh u kher-khwāh u nek-andesh-i yikdīgar būdand, wa īn hama fitna u fasād u khuṣūmat u ʻinād ki darmiyān āmad wa kār ba-khūn-rezī u siteza-gārī kashīd, shuʻla- afroz-i īn ātish kishan shud, ki sar-daftar-i fasūn-sāzān u sar-ḥalqa-i shaʿbada-bāzān būd, chunānchi dar ḍimn-i ʿibārat u ṭai-yi ishārat raqam-padhīr khwāhad shud. Abū’l Faiḍ bin Mubārak ‘Faiḍī’, ‘Mahābahārat’ (Manuscript, n.d.), I.O. Islamic 761, British Library, folio 3a.

10 wa Kishan mī guft ki man awtār-i Nārāyin-am ki u rā bishnu ham mī gūyand, az basudew mutawallid shuda-am. J. Naini, N. S. Shukla, and M. Riza (eds.), Mahābhārat: buzurgtarīn manẓuma-yi kuhna-yi maujūd-i jahān ba-zabān-i Sanskrit, vol. 1 (Tihran, 1358), p. 60. I read scepticism into this quotation as it seems to be the only case in which the Mahābhārata's account of the divine ancestry and (partial or full) avatāra-status of its characters is, as Dipesh Chakrabarti puts it, ‘anthropologized’—i.e. converted into a belief or claim rather than asserted directly. The account of Karna's parentage from the Sun that precedes this is reported without any scare quotes.

11 I first misread this word as jādū-zan (magician). The suggestive similarity of jādawan (Yadava) and jādū-zan (magician) in Persian sparks another explanation for Faiḍī's mischief-making: pure free-floating wordplay and association, the prospect of poetic creativity for its own sake. While I do not think this is convincing as a total explanation for the vilification of Kṛṣṇa in the Mahābhārat retranslation, I have been encouraged by Professor Thibaut d'Hubert to take this line of inquiry seriously.

12 wa Kishan pisar-i wiṣṇu dew jādawan būd, wa az āb[o]khāk fareb o fasūn dar sarisht-i khud dāsht, daʻwa-hā-yi dūr az kār mīkard. Faiḍī, ‘Mahābahārat’, I.O. Islamic 761, folio 52a. Shortly before this, towards the beginning of the ‘Ādivaṃśāvatāraṇaparvan’, Vaiśampāyana provides a summary of the Mahābhārata story that similarly lays the blame squarely on Kṛṣṇa: ‘In the first instance,’ he tells Janamejaya, ‘a kind of dice-game occurred between the Pāṇḍavas and the Kauravas. The Pāṇḍavas were exiled in mountain and wilderness, wandering in the desert of disappointment and bewilderment; and afterwards, a great war arose between them, and enmity ensued, and the Pāṇḍavas killed all of the Kauravas. And Kṛṣṇa stirred up the dust of discord among both [parties], and sifted the soil of evil with [his] every breath.’ Ibid., folios 50b–51a.

13 As Wendy Doniger has pointed out to me, such a statement can be made of Kṛṣṇa at various points throughout the Mahābhārata—particularly in the context of the events of the sixteenth parvan. A similar objection was voiced by one of my anonymous reviewers per an earlier draft of this article. I address Kṛṣṇa's misdeeds in the Sanskrit Mahābhārata and their relation to Faiḍī's interventions explicitly later on. For now, however, I will point out that, though Kṛṣṇa's reputation as a trickster and a perpetuator of deceitful stratagems is well founded, none of the incidents that Faiḍī uses to substantiate Kṛṣṇa's deceit occurs in the Sanskrit composition, or in any other Indic text or tradition that I am aware of. As such, in my judgement, Faiḍī's portraiture of Kṛṣṇa, while it can certainly be related to tensions surrounding Kṛṣṇa extant in the Sanskrit source text, cannot be reduced to them, and demands a separate explanation—which I have taken it upon myself to offer. For a sensitive discussion of Kṛṣṇa that involves his conduct in the ‘Masaulaparvan’, see W. Doniger, The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology, Hermeneutics, Studies in the History of Religions 6 (Berkeley, 1976), pp. 260–71.

14 wa kishan ḥaqa-bāz shaʿbada-sāz, ki mizāj-i o ba-jādū-garī wa afsūn-ṭarāzī sirishta būd, dar ān hangāma mīgasht, u taḥrīk-i silsila-yi fitna u ashob mīkard. yik-martaba waqtī ki tīr hanūz ba-nishān narasīda būd, ba- Jarjodahan guft, ki īn brahmanān pāndawān-and, chūn īn panj barādar dar taghaiyur-i ṣūrat koshish-i tamām namūdand, u pai gum karda.’ hechkis bāwar na-kard. wa dar īn martaba ki ba-maqsūd kām-yāb shudand, u dar īn jang ham ghalaba namūdand, bāz guft ki al-bata īnhā hamān jamāʻat-i andak-i man gufta-am, hama rā bar dhimma himmat lāzam ast, ki ghairat ba-kār barand u bar bī-nāmūsī qarār nadahand, wa hamchūnīn īn ṭaraf ham sukhanān-i fitna angez gufta īn panj kis rā tez mīsakht u khud tamāshā mīkard. Faiḍī, ‘Mahābahārat’, I.O. Islamic 761, folio 162a.

15 khasī būd az fitna ātish-furoz / jahān-rā ba-afsūn-garī khāna-soz. Metre: u – – u – – u – – u –. Ibid., folio 162a.

16 ghāfil ki īn hama āwāragī taḥrīk-i fitna-yi īn shaʿbada-bāz ast ki darmiyān barādarān u khweshān ba-hazārān fareb u fasūn angīkhta. Ibid., folio 162b.

17 wa īn fasūn-sāz ba-īnhā chunīn taḥrīkāt kard, u ba-jurjodhan sukhanān rā ba-nairang-i dīgar rasānīd, u ātish-i kīna dar kānūn-i sīna-yi yikdīgar afrokhta sakht. Ibid., folio 163a.

18 Judishtar az sukhanān-i fareb-āmez-i ān fitna-gar az rūy-i kamāl-i sādah-lauḥī khwush-waqt shud. Ibid., folio 163a.

19 Naini et al., Mahābhārat, vol. 1, p. 192.

20 Faiḍī, ‘Mahābahārat’, I.O. Islamic 761, folio 167b. This incident is explored in the penultimate section of this article.

21 ammā maḥabbat u ʻadāwat az jānibain mī bāshad. dil-i tu nīz az gird-i kudūrat-i īshān ṣāf nīst u taʻīn-manīst ki ghubār-angez-i īn rāh kīst. Ibid., folios 167b–168a.

22 Jurjodhan guft, man khud mī tawānam khud rā az ānchi hastam bāz āward, amā pāndawān jamāʻat-i shadīd ‘l- ʻadāwat-and, u afsūn u nairang yād girifta, khiyāl-hā-yi maḥāl dar sar dārand. Ibid., folio 168a.

23 wa kishan fasūn-sāz ba-īshān ham-rāh raft u jahān jahān-i fareb u nairang bā khud ham-rāh burd. Ibid., folio 170b.

24 dar ānjā fareb-i dil-i ʻāmma rā / zi afsūn bar-angekht hangāma rā bajādū-ṭarāzī wa afsūn-garī / bar āward nairang-i dew ū parī. Metre: u – – u – – u – – u –. Ibid., folio 170b.

25 The Clay Sanskrit edition of the ‘Sabhāparvan’, for instance, includes a verse (42.6) in which Śiśupāla refers to the Pāṇḍavas’ belief that Kṛṣṇa ‘is the creator of human beings [jagataḥ kartā]’ and others in which their veneration of him is questioned and Kṛṣṇa's Puranic deeds are mocked. The Razmnāma translation, however, harps on this theme far more than the original does. Importantly, Śiśupāla's rejection of Kṛṣṇa is also related to the generalised inappropriateness of worshiping a human being—an idea I do not find in the Sanskrit composition. Wilmot, P., Mahābhārata Book Two: The Great Hall, (ed.) Onians, I. and Vasudeva, S., Clay Sanskrit Library (New York, 2006), p. 292Google Scholar.

26 wa īn chi ʻaql u dānish būda bāshad ki kasī ādamī az ādamīyān rā, khudā nām nihād? Naini et al., Mahābhārat, vol. 1, p. 239.

27 agar tu khudā mī būdī, chi lāzam būd ki bar sar-i jarāsandah az dīwār-i qalʻa bālā raftī? Naini et al., Mahābhārat, vol. 1, p. 240.

28 Audrey Truschke previously mentioned the Gītā's abridgment in the Razmnāma in her Culture of Encounters. A complete transcription and translation of the abridged Gītā section can be found in the dissertation of Roderic Vassie cited below. A. Truschke, Culture of Encounters: Sanskrit at the Mughal Court (New York, 2016), p. 116. R. Vassie, ‘Persian interpretations of the Bhagavadgītā in the Mughal period: with special reference to the Sufi version of ʿAbd Al-Rahmān Chishtī’ (unpublished PhD dissertation, University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), 1988).

29 u īn majmaʻ-i riyā['] rā ki ba-afsūn u nairang u siteza u jang farāham āmada, bar-ham zanīm. Faiḍī, ‘Mahābahārat’, I.O. Islamic 761, folio 216b.

30 wa andāza-i ʻaql u idrāk-i tu īnast ki īn gāwbān-i shakh-i nā-shakasta rā ki dil-fareb u fasūn sarishta ast, purastish mīkunī. Ibid., folio 217a.

31 The cradle, or mahd, of the second couplet is the sky or firmament, as employed in other lexicalised literary phrases such as mahd-i mīnā (‘the azure cradle’). The reference here, however, is to the sky at night or twilight, so dark that those lacking discrimination sleep easily, like children, with the help of enchantments (afsūn) and untruthful tales (afsāna)—such as, of course, the Puranic stories of Kṛṣṇa Śiśupāla here disdain. The language of collyrium black echoes not only the well-known general Persophone association of Hindūstān with blackness, but also vernacular poetry contemporary to Faiḍī's moment, including the following Braj composition of Sūr, which revels in the darkness of Kṛṣṇa's complexion. Many thanks to Jack Hawley for drawing my attention to this aspect of the composition. Hawley, J. S., Into Sūr's Ocean: Poetry, Context, and Commentary, vol. 83, Harvard Oriental Series (Cambridge, MA, 2016), p. 636Google Scholar.

32 nihādand hosh u khirad dar sarisht / zi bahr-i shināsā-yi khūb u zisht nashāyad dar īn mahd-i kuḥlī niqāb / ba-afsūn u afsāna raftī ba-khwāb. Metre: u – – u – – u – – u –. Faiḍī, ‘Mahābahārat’, I.O. Islamic 761, folio 217a.

33 hama namūdīst bī-būd, u az ṭalismāt u nīranjāt ki kār-nāma-yi nārāstānast, maḥsūb az īn ʻaqīdhā-yi sust u iʻtiqādhā-yi bāṭil. Ibid., folio 217b.

34 bi-āyad ki khūn-i īn fasūn-sāz bar khāk bi-rezīm. Ibid., folio 219b.

35 naẓar-giyān hama ḥerān-i gharā'ib-i qudarat-i īzidī shudand. Ibid., folio 220a.

36 kasī chāra-yi kār-i gardūn na-kard / sar az chanbar-i charkh bīrūn na-kard khiradmand rā dāda girdān-sarī / shigarfī-yi īn gardish-i chanbarī. Metre: u – – u – – u – – u –. Ibid., folio 220a.

37 Ibid., folio 219b.

38 B. K. Matilal, ‘Kṛṣṇa: in defense of a devious divinity’, in Essays on the Mahābhārata, ed. Arvind Sharma, x, 489 vols., Brill's Indological Library: 1 (Leiden, 1991), pp. 401, 403, 405.

39 My attention was drawn to this quotation by one of the anonymous reviewers. Sukthankar, V. S., On the Meaning of the Mahabharata (Bombay, 1957), p. 96Google Scholar.

40 Hiltebeitel, A., ‘Krsna and the Mahābhārata (a bibliographical essay)’, Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute 60.1/4 (1979), pp. 65107Google Scholar. Inversion theory was spearheaded by the two Adolf Holtzmanns (the younger a nephew of the elder). In the more baroque version of the theory crafted by the younger Holtzmann, the Mahābhārata was originally Buddhist in orientation; Karṇa was imagined as the hero of the first Brahmanical revision of the tale, which preserved the Kauravas as the party of good but now elevated Karṇa's father, the Sun god, Sūrya (p. 69). The total reversal of polarities and of the side of good and evil was accomplished in another subsequent revision that glorified a ‘new’ god, Viṣṇu—no resemblance to the Vedic deity. Holtzmann spoke of a ‘monstrous identification’ through which Kṛṣṇa, ‘a deified tribal hero of a non-Brahmanical people with a taste for drunkenness and sensuality … [who originally gave] crafty and dishonorable advice to the more ignoble party’, gradually became identified with the cult of a recently minted ‘high’ god (p. 70).

41 Adluri, V. and Bagchee, J., ‘Paradigm lost: the application of the historical-critical method to the Bhagavad Gītā’, International Journal of Hindu Studies 20.2 (2016), pp. 199301Google Scholar.

42 It also seems relatively clear that there are traces of anxiety in Indic tradition regarding Kṛṣṇa's actions, which can be noted without hermeneutical violence to tradition or text. As Wendy Doniger writes of the story of Dvāraka's destruction: ‘[t]he multiplicity of explanations—the curse of the Brahmins and of Gandhārī, the repeated and desperate recourse to fate, and the final release that he grants them all as a favor—shows that the author felt the need to apologize for Kṛṣṇa's behavior, and to find someone else to blame.’ Doniger, Origins of Evil, p. 263.

43 For an example in public-facing literature, see the chapter on ‘Kṛṣṇa's guile’ in G. Das, The Difficulty of Being Good: On the Subtle Art of Dharma (New York, 2010), pp. 183–212. For a recent thorough-going scholarly analysis of various ethical dilemmas and metaphysical puzzles posed by the figure of Kṛṣṇa, see Hudson, E. T., Disorienting Dharma: Ethics and the Aesthetics of Suffering in the Mahābhārata, AAR Religions in Translation viii, 268 (Oxford, 2013), pp. 198205Google Scholar.

44 Above is my own translation, from transliteration in the following: Meiland, J., Mahābhārata Book Nine: Shalya, Volume Two, The Clay Sanskrit Library (New York, 2007), p. 346Google Scholar.

45 Here I defer to Meiland's translation. ibid., p. 353.

46 Ibid. Monier-Williams's definition reads: ‘the application or employment of illusion, employment of magical arts.’ M. Monier-Williams, ‘Māyāyoga’, in Monier-Williams Sanskrit-English Dictionary, 1899 (Oxford, 1899), p. 811.

47 Sadbhiś c’ anugataḥ panthāḥ sa sarvair anugamyate. My own translation. Ibid., p. 352. The Razmnāma, for its part, translates Duryodhana's litany of accusations underscoring Kṛṣṇa's deceit (daghā) but does not reproduce Kṛṣṇa's justification for these tactics by reference to divine duplicity. In response to the shower of petals and heavenly voices that follow Duryodhana's self-justificatory speech, the Persophone ‘Krishan’ blows a trumpet and proclaims that the Pāṇḍavas have fulfilled their warrior calling; they should now rule justly so that God will reward them. J. Naini, N. S. Shukla, and M. Riza (eds.), Mahābhārat: buzurgtarīn manẓuma-yi kuhna-yi maujūd-i jahān ba-zabān-i Sanskrit, vol. 2 (Tihran, 1358), p. 475.

48 Emphasis added. Translation above from the Fitzgerald volume. J. L. Fitzgerald, The Mahābhārata: Book 11. The Book of the Women: Book 12. The Book of Peace, Part One (Chicago, 2004), p. 70.

49 Emphasis added. ay krishan! īn hama farzandān-i man u dīgar rāja-hā az jānib-i mā wa az jānib-i judhishtar, dar īn zamīn uftāda- and, wa hech-kis az kisān-i tu dar īn maidān nī-[u]ftāda-and. tu khud ān qadr lashkar u khweshān dāshtī ki agar mīkhwāstī, mītawānistī ki īn lashkar rā manaʿ kunī ki bāham jang nakunand wa īn hama nāmdārān kushta na- shawand, wa man mīdānam ki īn hama mardum ki kushta shuda-and, hama rā tu bāʻith shuda-ī wa ba-kushtan dāda-ī? ḥālā az khudāwand mīkhwāham ki ānchi bar sar-i mā āmada ast bar sar-i tu ham hamīn bi-yāyīd. wa tu dunyā na-rawī tā hama farzandān wa khweshān-i khud rā dar naẓar-i khud kushta bi-bīnī. Naini et al., Mahābhārat, vol. 2, pp. 501–2.

50 icchatā upekṣito nāśaḥ kurunām madhusūdana / yasmāt tvayā mahābāho phalam tasmāt avāpnuhi.

51 parab yāzdaham astrī-parab ast. dar sharḥ girīstan-i zinān-i jānibain bar murda-hā-yi khud o dūʿā-yi bad kardan Gandhārī, mādar Jarjodahan-i Kishan rā o guftan-i u ki baʿd az chandīn musibat ba-badtarīn wajuh tu kushta shawī wa ghair dhalika. ‘Razmnāmah’ (Dhū al-Ḥijjah AH [1599 CE 1007]), BL Add. 5641, British Library, folio 27a. Image of the above is reproduced in Willis, M., Translation and State: The Mahābhārata at the Mughal Court, Beyond Boundaries (Berlin, 2022), p. 241Google Scholar.

52 Ṭ. M. Sabzawārī, ‘Untitled [extract from Rauḍat Ut-Ṭāhirīn]’ (AH [1759 AD 1173]), I.O. Islamic 753, British Library, folio 2a.

53 In the Sanskrit text as represented in modern editions, Yudhiṣṭhira later relates to Dhṛtarāṣṭra, in the midst of a discussion on the number of slain inhabitants, that ‘those truly courageous men who enthusiastically offered their bodies in the supreme war have gone to celestial worlds equal to that of the king of the Gods’—i.e. Indra. This is reminiscent of the quotation in Sabzawārī, though this statement does not reference Dhṛtarāṣṭra's sons in particular. Fitzgerald, The Mahābhārata, p. 72.

54 az nibard u kārzāre ki az īshān ba-ẓuhūr rasīda. Ṭ. M. Sabzawārī, ‘Untitled [extract from Rauḍat Ut-Ṭāhirīn]’, folio 86b; Ṭ. M. Sabzawārī, ‘Rauḍat Ut-Ṭāhirīn’, folio 425b.

55 dar firdaus-i barīn dar barābar- indar ki farmān-farmā-yi ʿālam-i bālast, ba-khurramī wa shādmānī bar kursīhā- yi zar-nigār nishasta-and. Sabzawārī, ‘Untitled’, folio 86b. Sabzawārī, ‘Rauḍat Ut-Ṭāhirīn’, folio 425b.

56 īn kār sitāba-est ki az fikar u andīsha-hā-yi shumā ba-ẓuhūr rasīda wa bāwujūd-i īn ḥāl ba-naṣīḥat u andarz-i man āmada-īd. khwāsta-am ki az farzandān u aulād nīz athare wa nishāne bar ṣafḥa ghabrā' na-manad. Sabzawārī, ‘Untitled’, folios 86b–87a; Sabzawārī, ‘Rauḍat Ut-Ṭāhirīn’, folio 425b.

57 For a salient discussion of moral quandaries in the Mahābhārata and other texts with respect to Kṛṣna and his role in the destruction of the Kauravas and the Yadus, see Doniger, Origins of Evil, pp. 258–71.

58 wa jamāʻat-i dewān ki pīsh az ān bar dast dewtahā kushta shuda būdand, arwāḥ-i khabītha-yi īshān dar farzandān-i chatriyān dar mī āmad[and], wa ān dewān ba-ṣūrat-i ādmiyān bar āmdand. wa chūn buzurg shudand wa rāja gashtand, wa bunyād-i ẓulm u fasād kardand, wa kamar ba-khūn-i nā-ḥaq bastand, wa ba-kārī-yi nā- shāyista ʿalam shudand, nazdīk būd ki dunyā az bīdād-garī-hā-yi īshān khirāb shawad. pas dunya ba-ṣūrat-i gāwe bar āmad, pīsh-i brahmhā raft, wa ba-yakī az dewta-hā iltijā' burd ki az āmadan-i u ba-ʿarḍ-i bramhā rasānad. Faiḍī, ‘Mahābahārat’, I.O. Islamic 761, folio 57b.

59 jahān az sitam chūn nagardad tabāh / ki bāshad dar u dew u bādshāh dar īn pahn maidān-i ṣulh u nabard / kam az dew nabuwad sitamkār-i mard. Metre: u – – u – – u – – u –. Ibid., folio 58a.

60 ʿālam-i suflī az ẓulm u jaur-i dewān rū ba-kharābī nihāda wa ahl-i ʿālam az zindagānī ba-tang āmdand u nazdīkast ki halāk shawand. Ibid., folio 58a.

61 bishan ham īn maʿnī rā qabūl kard. Ibid., folio 58a.

62 pas har yak az dewtah-hā dar khāna-i yake az ādmīyān mutawallid shudand wa dewān rā kushtan giriftand. Ibid., folio 58a.

63 wa Kishan pisar-i wiṣṇu dew jādawan būd, wa az āb[o]khāk fareb o fasūn dar sarisht-i khud dāsht, daʻwa-hā-yi dūr az kār mīkard. Ibid., folio 52a. Also quoted in the initial body section of this article.

64 This is Faiḍī's characteristic way of discussing parentage that occurs by way of the Sun through the text.

65 wa Karan naẓar karda-yi haḍarat naiyir-i aʻẓam būd, wa az kuntī ki dukhtar-i rāja-i shahr-i kūnwāla [???] ki kunt[i]-bahoj[a] nām dāsht, mutawallid shud. waqtī-ki saʿādat-i wilādat daryāft, zirihe az ṭalā dar badan u dū goshwārah-yi zarīn dar gosh dāsht. Faiḍī, ‘Mahābahārat’, I.O. Islamic 761, folio 56a.

66 Although I have shied away from making the case in this article, it would be possible to deem the Persian adaptation of the Mahābhārata story a kind of Akbari ‘inversion theory’ in the rough. Just as the younger Holtzmann posited an earlier epic that centred on Karṇa and his father, the Sun god Sūrya, so Karṇa's birth from the Sun is treated in reverential terms in both the Razmnāma and in Faiḍī's Mahābhārat. As Audrey Truschke has argued, Karṇa seems to be implicitly identified with Akbar—himself a Sun king. In both Faiḍī's Mahābhārat and the Kṛṣṇa-sceptical recension of Abū’l Faḍl's dībācha, which I address in the following section, there are, moreover, cautious and partial attempts to soften the Kauravas’ villainy. I am not sure, however, that much can ultimately be made of these resonances. Both the Mughal translators and the German Indologists seem to follow certain genuine points of fissure and ambiguity in the plot of the Mahābhārata: from there, however, each makes of the riddle of Kṛṣṇa what they will. Truschke, A., ‘Translating the solar cosmology of sacred kingship’, The Medieval History Journal 19.1 (2016), pp. 139–40Google Scholar.

67 sar-i waraq-i nekū-kārān-i afrād-i ādam. There is a possible pun here, given that sar-i warq means ‘title page’ and afrād can, according to Steingass, mean ‘sheet of paper’. Naini et al. Mahābhārat, vol. 1, xxxii.

68 az tahauwur u mardāngī rāja kans rā kushta, sulṭanat rā ba-ugrasen[a] pidar-i u dād wa khud ba-maʿnī-yi ḥakūmat-i ṣūrī mī-pardakht wa chūn auḍāʻ-i mardum-i ān zamāna rā az perāya-yi ʿaql u sarmāya-yi himmat khālī yāft, ba-dastyārī-yi fiṭrat, bal maḥḍ-i faṭānat, daʻwa-yi khalāṣa-yi āfirīnish-i afrīdagār namūda wa jamaʿe-yi kathīr az kamāl-i fiṭrat u dānāyī taṣdīq bar aqwāl-i u namūda bar-kārhā-yi u dil nihādand wa pairawī-yi u ikhtiyār namūdand. Translation my own. I follow here the reproduction of the Persian text in the Naini and Shukla edition. I have also consulted Hajnalka Kovacs's recent translation of the same. Naini et al., Mahābhārat, vol. 1, xxxii; H. Kovacs, ‘The preface to the Razmnāma’, in Translation and State, (ed.) Willis, p. 110.

69 Above is taken from Kovacs's recent and brilliant translation. Ibid., p. 70.

70 For a helpful discussion of ṣūrat and maʿnī in the Mughal context, see Franke, H., ‘Emperors of S̩ ūrat and Maʿnī: Jahangir and Shah Janah as temporal and spiritual rulers’, Muqarnas 31 (2014), pp. 123–49Google Scholar.

71 yaʿnī az ṭā'ifa ki dīn wa āyīn nadāshta bāshad. Naini et al., Mahābhārat, vol. 1, xxxii–iii.

72 Naini et al., Mahābhārat, vol. 1, xxxiii.

73 Audrey Truschke, the scholar of this generation who first broke ground on the study of these translations, cites various manuscripts in her seminal Culture of Encounters. In various journal articles, however, including at least ‘Translating the solar cosmology’, pp. 136–41; ‘A Padshah like Manu: political advice for Akbar in the Persian Mahābhārata’, Philological Encounters 5.ii (2020), pp. 112–33; and ‘The Mughal book of war: a Persian translation of the Sanskrit Mahabharata’, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 31.2 (2011), pp. 506–20, Truschke cites the Naini and Shukla printed edition as representative of the text.

74 The manuscript in question is BL Add. 5641–5642. My attention was drawn to this passage by the recent volume edited by Michael Willis, which provided a reproduction and translation of the preface from this manuscript in conjunction with the printed Iranian edition. Evidence for the manuscript belonging to the Mughal library from 1599 to 1609 CE is provided in the citations below. BL Add. 5641–5642 contains the royal seal and the names of various of Akbar's librarians. R. B. Koshtely et al., ‘Translation and state’, in Translation and State, (ed.) Willis, p. 33; J. Seyller, ‘Notations in British Library Razmnāma Add. 5642’, in Translation and State, (ed.) Willis, pp. 179–80.

75 wa kishan ki sar-daftar-i muzauwirān-i ʿālam u sarwar-i muḥīlān afrād-i ādam būd, wa mujmale az aḥwāl-i wakhāmat-māl-i u ānast ki pisar-i pasdew jādawan būd. maulid-ash mathurah ast. az tars-i rāja kahans, ra'is-i jāwadān ki ḥukm-i kushtan-i u karda būd chi akhtar-shināsān bī-saʻādatī-hāʾe īn rā dar nāmchi-yi ṭāliʿ-yi u dīda khabar ba-rāja-yi madhkūr karda būdand. dar khāna-yi nand[a] nām ki shiʻār [shīr]-firoshī wa gāw-dārī dāshta, [mukhtafī] dāshta būdand yāzdah sāl dar khāna-i madhkūr mutawārī būd. ākhiru 'l-amr, ba-makr wa gurbuzat wa ṭilismāt wa shuʿbadat rāja-yi khud rā ki kans-i madhkūr bāshad kushta ism-i salṭanat rā bi-ūgrasen[a] pidar-i u dād wa khud ba-maʿnī-yi ḥakūmat-i ṣūrī mī pardakht. The above (with some emendations in brackets) is from BL Add. 5641, folio 25b. I have accessed this manuscript through the reproduction in Michael Willis's edited volume, cited below. I have also again consulted Kovacs translation of the above, which she, however, relegates to a footnote on the page also cited below. The correction of Nanda's profession from the selling of camels (shutur) to milk (shīr) follows Kovacs's. Willis, Translation and State, p. 245; Kovacs, ‘Preface to the Razmnāma’, p. 111.

76 wa chūn auẓāʻ-i mardum-i ān zamāna rā az perāya-yi himmat khālī yāft, ba-dastyārī-yi nairanjāt, bal maḥḍ tazwīrāt, daʻwa-yi ulūhīyat kard. wa jamʿ-i kathīr, chi az bī-ʿaqlī wa bahā'imī, wa chi az ḥirṣ wa la'īmī, wa chi az kam-fiṭratī wa bīdilī, taṣdīq-i daʿwā-yi [bāṭil]-i u namūda bar bāzī-garī-hā-yi u firīfta shudand. wa bī ān-ki ba-ʿaql- i khud mashwarat numāyand yā ba-badīhiyyāt-i khud multafat shawand, pai-rawī-yi ān rā ikhtiyār namūd[and]. gumrāh-i ṣūrat wa maʿnī shuda kharābī-yi dīn u dunyā naṣīb-i shān shud. The above (with some emendations in brackets) is from BL Add. 5641, folio 25b. Willis, Translation and State, p. 245.

77 Hajnalka Kovacs, in her translation of the preface drawing on the Naini and Shukla printed text and BL Add. 5641–5642 manuscript, translates the anti-Kṛṣṇa passage, but chooses to relegate it to a footnote. ‘It is possible,’ she writes, ‘that either the commissioner of the manuscript or the copyist was averse to Kṛṣṇa and his worship.’ Kovacs, ‘Preface to the Razmnāma’, p. 110, footnote 184.

78 I have inspected three other manuscripts of the preface thus far, all from the British Library: I.O. Islamic 979, I.O. Islamic 2517, and I.O. Islamic 1641. All contain the anti-Kṛṣṇa version of this passage. Of these, I.O. Islamic 979 is the oldest, dating to 1687 CE; I.O. Islamic 2517 is dated to 1774 CE; and I.O. Islamic 1641 contains various dates across its multiple volumes, all from the 1770s CE. The copy owned by Sir Charles Wilkins, I.O. 2517, includes a marginal comment on the relevant page, which reads simply ‘account of Krishna’.

79 The single exception, discussed in the earlier section, occurs during the confrontation with Śiśupāla, who draws upon broader Puranic tales of Kṛṣṇa to directly assail him as a pretender to divinity.

80 The Shāriq al-maʿrifat's striking claim, in its opening section, that Vyasa was connected to Plato through the latter's teacher, the enigmatic ‘Tumtum the Indian’, directly echoes the tenth couplet in the preface of Faiḍī's Mahābhārat: ‘And that Plato, whatever he had learned / Tumtum the Indian was his teacher.’ Such evidence suggests that, at the very least, whoever wrote the Shāriq al-maʿrifat was familiar with Faiḍī's text. wa ān falāṭūn kih ānchi yādash būd / ṭumṭum-ī hindī ūstādash būd. In an article on the Shāriq al-maʿrifat, Carl Ernst provisionally accepted it as a work by Faiḍī. Ernst, C. W., ‘Fayzi's illuminationist interpretation of Vedanta: the Shariq al-Ma'rifa’, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 30 (2010), p. 358Google Scholar. Faiḍī, ‘Mahābahārat’, I.O. Islamic 761, folio 1a. Majmuʿa-i Rasaʾil (Lucknow, 1294 AH/1877), p. 3.

81 As Ernst notes, the practice of appending ‘flash [lamʿa]’ to the sections of works has a long series of precedents in Sufic literature, dating back to Abū Naṣr as-Sarrāj (d. 988 AH)'s seminal Book of Flashes. Ernst, ‘Fayzi's illuminationist interpretation of Vedanta’, p. 351.

82 lamʻa-yi auwal: dar waṣf-i buzurgī-yi Krishan Dew u istiʻmāl-i ʻamal-i jog ānki krishan dew ʻain-i dhāt-i ḥaq būdand. taʻrīf u tauṣīf u marḥamat u karamat-i īshān kasī chigūna adā tawānad kard ki qahr u ghaḍab-i īshān muntij-i marātib-i ʻulwī ba-durja-yi aqṣa ast chunānki Sisupāl rāja-i chanderī ki ba-ghāyat ṣāḥib-i quwwat u qudrat u shaukat u ḥashamat būd u akthar rājhā-yi ru-yi zamīn muṭāwaʻat-i u mīkardand. az ghāyat-i ḥamāqat u jahālat, chūn qadar-i ḥamīda-yi athar-i ān waḥīd al-dahr na-mī-dānist, hamīsha dar bad-gū'ī-yi Krishan Dew, dūr az neko'ī mānda khud rā dar badī mī afgand; mādām ān-rozī ki dar majlasī hama rājhā-yi ru-yi zamīn ḥāḍir āmdand u Krishan Dew ham ānjā tashrīf burdand, ba-ḥuḍūr-i hama ānhā, ba-bad-guftan-i khud rā bad-gū sākht. Majmuʿa-i Rasaʾil, pp. 4–5.

83 istidʻā'-yi qahr az qāhir-i mutlaq. Ibid., p. 5.

84 Ibid., p. 5. A curious detail, absent from the Sanskrit Mahābhārata, the origins of which I have not been able to discover.

85 tan-ash rā az bār-i sar-ash khilāṣ dādand. Ibid., p. 5.

86 bāwajūdī ki u liyāqat-i siyāsat-i ʻuqūbat-hā-yi ʻaẓīm dāsht ki kān-i ʻiṣyān būda, chūn az dast-i sharīf ba-pā-yi mamāt rasīd, gohar-i nijāt ki az har chār nijāt aḥsan ast ki ānrā hindawī sājūj khwanand yaʻnī paiwastan-i nūr ba- munauwar daryāft u ba-ʻiyān dar nūr-i pāk-i Krishan Dew maḥw gasht. Ibid., p. 5. Faiḍī's explanation of the theology of the above is mostly conventional—including his association of Śiśupāla's fate with sāyujya in particular. His gloss of sāyujya-mukti, the most impersonal form of union, as the most beneficent is curious but better explained in the opinion of this author by a tendency toward literary hyperbole than, as Ernst argues in his short piece, by a preference for more intellective Vedantic intellectual currents and more impersonal forms of union over devotional forms.

87 There are precedents for the creation of proxy selves or doubles in Persian poetic literature. One of the anonymous reviewers for this article suggested that a suitable comparand to Faiḍī might be found in Nizāmī Ganjavī's detectible identifications with his characters in some of the works of his quintet, or Khamsa: with Majnūn, in Lailī u Majnūn, and with Simnār and Shidā in Haft Paikar. As Faiḍī attempted to compose an answer to Ganjavī's Khamsa, the comparison is apropos; a thorough treatment of Faiḍī's oeuvre alongside Nizāmī Ganjavī, however, is beyond the scope of this article.

88 chūn īn ṭālib-i ʻirfān-i ḥaq rā ba-ḥasb-i irādatī ki markūz fī 'l ḍamīr dārad ba-nikāt-i arjmand-i muḥaqqaqān-i har millat, az rūy-i ṣulḥ-i kull, maddi-naẓar bar maʻrifat-i niẓām-i juz u kull dāshta, mashghala-yi kul būd ki ba-ʻilm 'l-yaqīn taskīn-padhīrāʾī shawad, fī 'l-jumla bayān-kalām-i rāḥat-injām-i ḥaq-asās-i ḥaqīqat-shinās-i maʻrifat-[i?] [bī-?]qiyās-i waḥdat mumās-i maḥram-i asrār-i khāṣ al-khāṣ-i sawāmī biyās. Majmuʿa-i Rasaʾil, p. 3.

89 maqālāt sitūda, āyāt farmūda-yi īshān ki sawāmī biyās dar silk-i naẓam-i sulūk munsalik sakhta tarjuma-yi ān dar fārsī maḥḍ ba-wāsiṭa-yi ān darj yāft ki hama kis rā ba-zabān-i sanskrit dastī nīst, bārī zabān dānāyān-i fars ki rā'ij 'l-waqt ast maḥrūm na-mānda u bahra-war shawand. Ibid., p. 6.

90 lamʻa-yi duwāzdahum: ʿābid maʿbūd-i ḥaqīqī-yi allāh ba-kamāl mīrasad u har giz nāqiṣ namīmānad u bi'l-jazam ba-āfrīdgār-i bar-ḥaq ki raḥīm u karīm al-mukramīn arḥam al-raḥmīn bakhshanda-yi gunāhgārān-i aʿẓam ast wāṣil mīshawad u qaṭʿ-an ḍā'iʻ na-gardad. Ibid., p. 41.

91 bādshāhī būd ʿālī-shān dukhtarī dāsht bi-ghāyat ṣāḥab-i jamāl. Ibid., p. 42.

92 u muʿtaqid-i ṣūrat u shakal-i dānā-yi bahtar-i bāṭin krishan ast. Ibid.

93 agar tu ba-ʿibādat-i ān maʿbūd chunān ijtihad numaī ki bandagī khwushnūdī kunī, pas ba-muqtaḍā-yi ān ki har kis ba-ʿādat-i tamām rāḍī sākhta ārzū-yi chīzī bīsh-i insān mīkunad al-batta ba-kām-i khud mīrasad tu ham ba- murād khwesh rasī. Ibid.

94 ammā dar īn shahar shakhṣī-yi rāst ast ki bar anwā-yiʿṭilismāt u afsūn dastgāh dārad u ṭilismī mīdānad ki har ki ba-ān ṭilism jāyī raftan [khwāhad], tawānad tā ānjā rasīd. az ū ān tilism rā biyāmozam u ba-shakal u labās-i karishan dew malbus shuda khud rā ba-ū rasānam tā kāmyāb shawīm. hamchunān kard u ba-kām-i khud kāmrān gardīd. Ibid.

95 az ānjā ki karishan dew ʻaib-posh u khaṭā-bakhsh and, khud mussalaḥ dar ānjā ḥāḍar shudand u āfarīn bar iʿtiqād-i ān ḥamīda kardand. Ibid., p. 43.

96 ay khufta-[e] ki dūst nigahbān-i jān-i tust? / tu mast ghāfil-ī krishan pāsbān-i tust. Metre: – – u – u – u u – – u – u –. Ibid., p. 44.

97 Ṭ. M. Sabzavārī, ‘Rauḍat Ut-Ṭāhirīn’, folio 384b.

98 Ṭ. M. Sabzavārī, ‘Rauḍat Ut-Ṭāhirīn’ (n.d.), 9017/256, Kitāb-khāna-yi majlis-i shūra-yi millī, folio 366a.

99 Ṭ. M. Sabzavārī, ‘Untitled [extract from Rauḍat Ut-Ṭāhirīn]’ (AH 1173), I.O. Islamic 753, British Library, folio 3a.

100 Ernst's translation of ‘Krishan Dev.’. Ernst, ‘Fayzi's illuminationist interpretation of Vedanta’, p. 359.

101 N. Khān, ‘Haribans’ (Shahjahanabad, 12 December 1723), I.O. Islamic 1777, British Library, folio 36a.

102 Ernst, ‘Fayzi's illuminationist interpretation of Vedanta’, p. 358.

103 My observations in this section are tentative and anecdotal. While references to differences among manuscripts occur in the writings of Audrey Truschke, a complete and systematic account of discrepancies in the manuscript record of the Akbari translation movement remains to be written.

104 Faiḍī, ‘Mahābahārat’ (Manuscript, n.d.), I.O. Islamic 761, British Library, folio 56a.

105 Abū’l Faiḍ bin Mubārak ‘Faiḍī’, ‘Mahābahārat’ (Manuscript, 1850), Persian Manuscript +94, Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, folio 38b.

106 Ibid., folio 102a.

107 Faiḍī, ‘Mahābahārat’, I.O. Islamic 761, folio 162a.

108 Faiḍī, ‘Mahābahārat’, Persian Manuscript +94, folio 4b.

109 Faiḍī, ‘Mahābahārat’, I.O. Islamic 761, folio 3a.

110 wa īn hama fitna u fasād u khuṣūmat u ʻinād ki darmiyān āmad wa kār ba-khūn-rezī u siteza-gārī kashīd, sabab sharī kishan ba-ʿamal āmad, ki tā yaʿnī kunanda-i jamʿ-i umūr-i nek u bad ust. Faiḍī, ‘Mahābahārat’ (Manuscript, n.d.), Persian Manuscript +188, Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, folio 3a.

111 wa īn hama fitna u fasād u khuṣūmat u ʻinād ki darmiyān āmad wa kār ba-khūn-rezī u siteza-gārī kashīd, shuʻla- afroz-i īn ātish kishan shud, ki sar-daftar-i fasūn-sāzān u sar-ḥalqa-i shaʿbada-bāzān būd. Faiḍī, ‘Mahābahārat’, I.O. Islamic 761, folio 3a.

112 T. d'Hubert, In the Shade of the Golden Palace: Ālāol and Middle Bengali Poetics in Arakan, South Asia Research (New York, 2018), pp. 213–18.

113 I have elsewhere written on how Abū’l Faḍl's preface directs the reader to the Rājadharma section of the ‘Śāntiparvan’, where one finds a series of mirrorings in the way of the stories of Vena and Pṛthu, similar in many respects to the dueling portraitures of Kṛṣṇa. My attention was drawn to this by Audrey Truschke, although my analysis of the salient features of that text departs from hers in several respects. Truschke, ‘Padshah like Manu’, pp. 6–7.

114 M. Smith, Jesus the Magician (New York, 1993).

115 Subḥāna'llāh! kujā pāya-yi man hindūstānī bā-īn-hama kaj maj zabānī u kujā īn pahlawānī u pahlawī-dānī? hamānā ki siḥr-i jādūgarān-i hind tawānad būd ki ba-ʻamal-i sīmyā, ashkāl u ashbāḥ-i mauhūma rā ki dar khārij wujūd na-dārand, maujūd-numā sakhta, ba-naẓar mī dar ārand. Abū’l Faiḍ bin Mubārak ‘Faiḍī’, in Dīwān-i Faiḍī (954–1004): Buzurgtarīn Shāʻir-i Sadah-'i Dahum-i Sarzamīn-i Hind, (ed.) E. D. Arshad (Intishārāt-i Furūghī, 1983), Chāp-i 1, b–j.

116 J. Zubrzycki, Empire of Enchantment: The Story of Indian Magic (Oxford, 2018), pp. 3–6.

117 Ibid., p. 10.

118 Ibid.

119 ammā baʻd, īn dharra[-yi?] chandīst az reg-i biyābān-i khayāl ki sarāb-i jahān-i maʻnīst. chūn bādiya- paimāyān-i tishna-lab u ābila-pāyān-i wādī-yi ṭalab nā-gahān-ash az dūr bīnand, tamauwuj-i daryā angāshta, tawajjuh numāyand, u chūn ān lamaʻān rā ba-naẓar-i imʻān dar ārand, bar-afrokhta u pā sokhta bar gardand. Faiḍī, Dīwān-i Faiḍī (954–1004), i.

120 garam-rawān-i shāhrāh-i dil. Ibid., i.

121 musāfirān-i bar u baḥr-i alfāẓ u maʻānī. Ibid.

122 M. A. S. Abdel Haleem (trans.), The Qur'an: English Translation with Parallel Arabic Text (Oxford, 2010), p. 377.

123 Faiḍī, ‘Mahābahārat’, I.O. Islamic 761, folio 2a.

124 kuhan-nāma-ī bā-ṣad afsūn-garī / zi hindī bar-am dar zabān-i darī. Ibid., folio 186a.

125 ba-jā-yi ki kilkam sukhan naqsh bast / nihādand jādū-garān pusht-i dast. Metre: u – – u – – u – – u –. Ibid., folio 186b.

126 According to Steingass, shāʻir can mean ‘one who finds out; one who knows’. F. J. Steingass , ‘Shāʻir’, in A Comprehensive Persian-English Dictionary, Including the Arabic Words and Phrases to Be Met with in Persian Literature (London, 1892), (accessed 25 January 2024).

127 A. K. Dihlawī, Dībācha-Yi Dīwān-i Ghurrat al-Kamāl: Muḥtawī-i Maṭālib-i Zabān-Shināsī Wa Shiʿr- Shināsī-Yi Fārsī Wa Sharḥ-i Aḥwāl Wa Muʻarrifī-i Baʻḍī Az Athār-i Fārsī-Yi Khud-Ash, (ed.) S. ʿAlī Ḥaidar Nayyar (Patnah, 1975), pp. 17–20.

128 Ibid., p. 18.

129 pas dar īn ṣūrat shiʻr bālā-tar az ḥikmat bāshad, u ḥikmat dar tah-i shiʻr dākhal būd, u shāʻir rā ḥakīm tawān khwānd u ḥakīm rā shāʻir na-tawān niwisht. Ibid., p. 19.

130 u siḥr rā az bayān mī farmayad na bayān rā az siḥr. pas shāʻir rā sāḥir tawān guft u sāḥir rā shāʻir na-tawān shumurd. Ibid.

131 bi-yā u siḥr-i mubīn bīn chi khwāhi az shuʻarā / pas az ʻazīmat-i dīwān-i nā-mu'aththir-i shān. Ibid.

132 agar ba-qol-i payam-bar taṣarrufī kardam / na az dū ḥāl birūnast ān banā u bayān agar ṣawāb, yikī az kamāl-i ṭabʻ ast īn / u gar khaṭāst, yikī az durogh-i shiʻr ast ān. Ibid.

133 J. Derrida, Dissemination, (trans.) B. Johnson (Chicago, 1981), p. 103.

134 Emphases added. īn waqā'iʻ rā tamām Kishan fitna-sāz ba-Jorjodhan niwisht u sar u sāman-i īshān rā ba-chandīn sukhanān sakhta maʻlūm-i u sakht. Jorjodhan rā bar dil girān āmad, u bahīkam pitāma u bidura [u] drona-chāraj u dīgar dūstān az shunīdan-i khabar-i salāmat u iʻzāz-i īshān khwush-ḥāl shudand. u ba-sabab-i fitna-garī u ḥīla-pardāzī Kishan, ki az ibtidā-yi ḥāl tā īn zamān wuqūʻ yāft, dil-i Jorjodhan u īn barādar az yikdīgar ba-sukhanān ramīda būd, ki ba-sharḥ-i rāst u ʻadāwat-i jānī u niqār-i pinhānī, ba-sukhanān istiḥkām yāfta būd, ki ba-dafātar gunjad. Faiḍī, ‘Mahābahārat’, I.O. Islamic 761, folio 167b.

135 Badīʻ al-Zamān al-Hamadhānī and W. J. Prendergast, The Maqámát of Badíʻ Al-Zamán al-Hamadhán (London, 1915), p. 32.

136 Christoph, B. J., The Feather of Simurgh: The ‘Licit Magic’ of the Arts in Medieval Islam (New York, 1988), pp. 6465Google Scholar.

137 My attention was drawn to this passage by the mention in the aforementioned monograph: Bürgel, J. C., The Feather of Simurgh (New York, 1988), p. 58Google Scholar.

138 shaʿbada-yi tāza bar-angekhtam / haikale az qālib-i nū rekhtam ṣubḥ rūy-i chand adab āmokhta / parda zi siḥr-i saḥarī dokhta. Metre: – u u – – u u – – u –. N. Ganjavī, Makhzan Al-Asrār. Bā Taṣḥīḥ Wa Hawāshī-yi Ḥasan Wahīd Dastgirdī, Chāp Sawam ([Tehran] Elmi, 1964), p. 35. My interpretation of these verses follows Dastgirdi's footnote.

139 Faiḍī, Dīwān-i Faiḍī (954–1004), b.

140 Quoted in Sharma, S., Mughal Arcadia: Persian Literature in an Indian Court (Cambridge, MA, 2017), p. 21Google Scholar.

141 alā-yi niyūshanda-yi dāstān / ki dārī sar-i gufta-yi bāstān ba-mezān-i dānish sukhan-sanj bāsh / guzīnanda-yi naqd-i īn ganj bāsh may-i bazm-i maʻnī hama ṣāf nīst / nadānī dar-ū durdī-yi lāf nīst ba-baḥr-i sukhan khwesh rā gharq kun / wa lekin khazaf az guhur farq kun. Metre: u – – u – – u – – u –. Faiḍī, ‘Mahābahārat’, I.O. Islamic 761, folio 18a.

142 Truschke, Culture of Encounters, p. 141.

143 shāʿirī ṣināʿatest ki shāʿir ba-dān ṣināʿat ittisāq-i muqammāt-i mūhimma kunad wa iltiʾām-i qiyāsāt-i muntajja bar ān wajh ki maʿnī-i khurd rā buzurg gardānad wa maʿnī-yi buzurg rā khurd, wa nekū rā dar khilʿat-i zisht bāz numāyad wa zisht rā dar ṣūrat-i nekū jilwa kunad, wa ba-īhām quwwat-hā-yi ghaḍabān u shahwānī rā bar angezad tā ba-dān īhām tibāʿ rā inqibāḍī u inbisāṭī būd wa umūr-i ʿuẓẓām rā dar niẓām-i ʿālam sabab shawad. Translation above is my own. I have also consulted the translation cited below. Aḥmad bin ʿUmr bin ʿAlī Niẓāmī Samarqandī, Chahār Maqāla, (eds.) M. Qazwīnī and M. Muʿīn (Leiden, 1327), p. 62; N. Arūz̤ ī, Revised Translation  of the Chahár Maqála ('Four Discourses’) of Nizámí-i-ʾArúdí of Samarqand, Followed by an Abridged Translation of Mírzá Muhammad's Notes to the Persian Text, (trans.) M. Qazvīnī (London, 1921), p. 27.

144 J. Landau, ‘Naṣīr Al-Dīn Ṭūsī and poetic imagination in the Arabic and Persian philosophical tradition’, in Metaphor and Imagery in Persian Poetry, vol. 6, Iran Studies, (ed.) A. A. Seyed-Gohrab (Boston, 2012), pp. 15–66.

145 The interest of the Mughals in the occult sciences—most prominently, Lettrism and astrology—took place in the context of what Matthew Melvin-Koushki has called an ‘occultist arms race … for messianic and sacral forms of political legitimacy’ beginning in the fifteenth century. Occultism was central to the post-Mongol Islamicate political projects of Tīmūr and Shāh Ismāʿīl, who each sought ‘saint-philosopher-kingship and universal cosmic imperialism’. Safavid and Timurid precedents, in turn, as Azfar Moin has detailed, formed the backdrop for Akbar's own ‘millennial science’. M. Melvin-Koushki, ‘Early modern Islamicate empire: new forms of religiopolitical legitimacy’, in The Wiley Blackwell History of Islam, (eds.) A. Salvatore et al. (Hoboken, NJ, 2018), pp. 360, 354; A. Azfar Moin, The Millennial Sovereign: Sacred Kingship & Sainthood in Islam, South Asia Across the Disciplines (New York, 2012). A. A. Moin, 'Millennial sovereignty, total religion, and total politics', History and Theory 56.1 (2017), pp. 89–97.

146 For this broader definition see e.g. the entry for ṣihr-i halāl in the following sixteenth-century Persian dictionary: A. F. Sarhindī, Madār Al-Afāḍil, (ed.) B. Muhammad, vol. 2, 4 vols, Intishārāt-i Dānishgāh-i Panjāb Bi-Sarmāyah-'i Iʻānah-'i Aʻlā-Haḍrat-i Humāyūn Shāhanshāh-i Īrān (Lāhaur, 1337), p. 443.

147 Analogies between a Lettrist understanding of creation as a process of pronunciation and an idea of Akbar as Perfect Man ala divine word form a major substrate in Abū’l Faḍl's hagiographical portraiture. While speech in the Āʾīn-i Akbarī is a ‘talisman’ of divine light composed of an outer form (ṣūrat) and an inner meaning (maʿnī), Akbar is, according to the Akbarnāma, a combination of ‘the elemental indwelling [tarakkub-i ʻunṣurī] and the material body, i.e., the precious coinage and the sublime pearl’: divine light manifested in the body of a man, just as it manifests in a collection of letters or sounds. Akbar's nature gives him a special relationship with writing. ‘The imperial order,’ Abū’l Faḍl declares, ‘is a charm for oratory, and a talisman which illumines knowledge [farmāyish-i shāhinshāhī afsūn-i sukhan-sarā’ī u ṭilism-i dānish-afrozī ast].’ Abul-Fazl-i-ʾAllāmī, The Āīn-i-Akbarī, vol. I, (ed.) H. Blochmann (Calcutta, 1872), p. 111; Abu'l-Fazl, The History of Akbar, vol. 1, Murty Classical Library of India, (trans.) W. M. Thackston (Cambridge, MA, 2015), pp. 2–3; Abul-Fazl-i-ʾAllāmī, The Āīn-i-Akbarī, (ed.) H. Blochmann, vol. II (Calcutta, 1877), p. 253. Unless otherwise indicated, all translations from the Āʾīn-i Akbarī are my own.

148 As Azfar Moin and Alan Strathern have discussed, sacred kingship involves a certain liminality or strangeness, whereby the human leader is ‘pushed part way into the sphere of the divine in order to intercede on our behalf’. A. Moin and A. Strathern, ‘Sacred kingship in world history: between immanence and transcendence’, in Sacred Kingship in World History: Between Immanence and Transcendence (New York, 2022), p. 14.

149 The quotations above are taken from my translation of the passage in question, which reads in full as the following: ‘Should house and precinct experience the absence of the dread and the hope of a leader, and not become integrated into a political order, [then], without the awe of the receiver of God's splendor, how would the uproar of [this] hornet's nest of a world ever come to rest? In what way would there be protection of the Life and Property and Nomos [nāmūs] and Religion of the people? If some world-deniers, by virtue of [their] violation of custom, take up this task, still, without the aid of lofty princes, good management would not take hold. And additionally, in that burning desert [ātishīn dasht], the magician and the sorcerer and the sleight-of-hander have entry. Whirlwinds of uproar arose from this ocean of orderlessness, and would continue to arise.’ har gāh khāna u maḥalla bī-bīm-i peshwā’ī dīda dar muntaẓam na-gardad, bī-saṭwat-i ān padhīranda-yi far-i īzidī shorish-i zanbūr-khāna-yi dunyī chigūna farū nashīnad? nigāh-bānī-yi māl u jān u nāmūs u dīn-i jahāniyān chi-sān shawad? agar-chi barkhī tajarrad-guzīnān ba-dast-āwez-i khāriq-i ʿādat īn ʿazīmat dar sar giriftand, lekin bī- yāwarī-yi salāṭīn-i wālā, ḥusn-i intiẓām na-girift. wa nīz dar ān ātishīn dasht, ṭilism-kār u nairanjī u shaʿbada-bāz rāh dārad. wa ṭūfān-hā-yi shorish az īn daryā-i bī-tamīzī bar-khāst u bar-khezad. In a 2009 article, Irfan Habib attributes ‘a theory of social contract’ to Abū’l Faḍl on the basis of the above paragraph, interpreting the reference to ‘world-deniers’ (as I have translated above) to refer to Islamic prophets. Habib, I., ‘Two Indian theorists of the state: Barani and Abū’l Faḍl’, in Mind over Matter: Essays on Mentalities in Medieval India, (eds.) Jha, D. N. and Vanina, E. (New Delhi, 2009), pp. 33, 37Google Scholar.

150 The idea that occult arts in general, and magic in particular, have deceptive uses is not simply scriptural, metaphorical, rhetorical, or conservative. It is attested to even by texts that glorify the occult sciences, such as the Ghāyat al-hakīm or the Rasā’il Ikhwān al-Ṣafā’. Burnett, C., ‘The three divisions of Arabic magic’, in Islamicate Occult Sciences in Theory and Practice, (eds.) Saif, L. et al. (Leiden, 2021), p. 52Google Scholar; L. Saif, ‘A study of the Ikhwān Al-Ṣafāʾ's epistle on magic, the longer version (52b)’, in Islamicate Occult Sciences, (eds.) Saif et al., p. 189.

151 While I have not emphasised this point in this article, in the Akbari translation movement as I have observed it, magic was often used to apprehend religious difference—and in particular elements of Indic religion, ritual, and/or literary achievement. Thus. for Faiḍī, the Mahābhārata became an ‘ancient tome, with a hundred incantations [kuhan-nāma-yi bā ṣad afsūngarī]’, Vyāsa a ‘poet of magical utterance [shāʻir-i jādū-bayān]’, and the chants of the Brahmins engaged in Janamejaya's snake sacrifice ‘charm[s]’ or ‘incantations [afsūn]’. It is only in the mouths of the unfortunate snakes themselves, however, that the brahmin priests abetting Janamejaya's holocaust were termed ‘magicians [jādu-fanān]’. ‘Faiḍī’, ‘Mahābahārat’, I.O. Islamic 761, folios 186a, 2a, 46a, 36a.

152 Of his own art, for instance, Abū’l Faḍl writes: ‘And whosoever recognizes this talisman of understanding, and knowledge-seeking charm, and this pen of imagination [khayāl], and licit magic [jādū-yi ḥalāl], recognizes at least so much: that my preoccupation is to bring awareness of these two far-reaching [dūr u nazdīk] noble pillars of Imperium [shāhanshāhī], and to set down a select basis for a foundation for everlasting dominion.’ har ki īn ṭilism-i hoshmandī u afsūn-i khirad-pizhūhī dar yābad u īn raqm-i khayāl u jādū-yi ḥalāl bar-shināsad, īn- qadr dānad ki marā andīsha ān ast ki az īn dū pāya-yi wālā-yi shāhinshāhī-yi dūr u nazdīk rā āgāh gardānad, wa asās-i daulat-i jāwīd rā guzīn-bunyādī nihad. Abul-Fazl-i-ʾAllāmī, The Āīn-i-Akbarī, vol. II, p. 250.

153 Benjamin, W., The Arcades Project, (trans.) Eiland, H. and McLaughlin, K. (Cambridge, 1999), p. 475Google Scholar.

154 I here perform bricolage, mixing and matching Benjamin's concept with Hugh Urban's gloss on the latter. Of Tantra, Urban wrote that ‘[i]t is a dialectical category—similar to what Walter Benjamin has called a dialectical image—born out of the mirroring and mimesis that goes on between Western and Indian minds’. H. Urban , Tantra: Sex, Secrecy, Politics and Power in the Study of Religion, p. 3.

155 Benjamin, Arcades Project, p. 475.