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The Ghurid Architecture of South Asia and Historiography at the Ends of the Islamic World

 This book project treats the Ghurid foundations in northern India and Pakistan, bringing them together for the first time in monograph form.  The Ghurids, originally the Shansabani clan from Ghur (north-central Afghanistan), established the first Islamic government with enduring ambitions east of the Indus, thus beginning a succession of Islamic states in the region lasting through the mid-18th century.  The architectural significance of Ghurid buildings is unquestionable, as they set the course for South Asian Islamic architecture for centuries to come.  Furthermore, investigation of Ghurid architecture provides a basis for discerning the development of the scholarly discourses on medieval Islamic architecture in South Asia, and on South Asian Islam in general.

    Despite the importance of Ghurid buildings as the first monuments of an Islamic rulership in South Asia, scholars have given them relatively little attention.  The mid-19th- through early 20th-century studies of the complexes, as well as those of recent years, have concentrated on the Delhi and Ajmer foundations (Hillenbrand 1988), and Muzaffargarh, Kabirwala and Lal Mara Sharif in Pakistan, passing over the smaller buildings of Rajasthan (India) in virtual silence. These works have analyzed the buildings’ Persian epigraphs as legitimizations of Ghurid dynastic control, underscoring the antagonism between Indic religions and Islam symbolized in the “spolia” of the Delhi and Ajmer complexes.  The buildings and their patrons have also been co-opted into nationalist political discourses, as witnessed by Pakistan’s intermediate-range Hataf V-VII “Ghauri” ballistic missiles. Over the last century, repetitions and modifications of theories revolving around political violence and architectural destruction have rendered the buildings obsolete in their own analyses.

    This book will analyze the surviving Ghurid complexes in India and Pakistan as primary sources.  Scholarly works on the re-use of Roman and Byzantine fragments in later European architecture will serve as methodological precedents.  By means of similar, meticulous stylistic comparisons and material analyses of the buildings, we can perceive indices not only of how they were constructed, but also of the relationships between the builders and their new Ghurid patrons.  Moreover, such analyses can elucidate these complexes’ receptions by the patrons and craftspeople who brought them into being, and the communities who lived and worshiped in their shadows.

    Ultimately, the book will examine the broader context of Islamization, laying the basis for distinguishing between this historical process in northern India and in other global regions, until now subsumed without differentiation into the general discourse on "Islamic history."  The work will demonstrate that there were several moments and processes of Islamization, rather than one paradigm encompassing all the regionally specific negotiations between Islam and indigenous cultural traditions.  My emphasis on the architectural history of early Islam in South Asia will serve as the case study of the principal historiographical trends.  The comparative analysis of methodologies and conclusions in Iberian Islamic studies will shed light on the biases inhering in scholarship on Iberia and South Asia, and more widely the continued imbalances of power imbued in scholarly frameworks on a global scale.

Collaborative Projects

1. The History and Historiography of Reuse in South Asia

This work on South Asia (modern Pakistan and India) will be Volume LIX (2009) of the esteemed journal Archives of Asian Art. It will treat the historical phenomenon of reuse, wherein pre-existing architectural, sculptural, and iconographic components gave rise to, or were integrated within, newly built spaces and visual systems. The collection of essays will explore the many historical causes, contexts and receptions of various types of reuse, which range from the physical to the conceptual and are amply evidenced in the remains of South Asia’s past. Eight scholars will make original contributions to the endeavor:

Dr. Alka Patel, “The Historiography of Reuse in South Asia”;

 

Dr. Alka Patel, “Expanding the Ghurid Architectural Corpus East of the Indus: the Jagesvara Temple of Sadadi, Rajasthan”;

 

Dr. Tamara I. Sears, “Transformation and Reuse of Hindu Monastic Sites in the 13th and 14th Centuries;

Ms. Katherine Kasdorf, "Translating Sacred Space in Bijapur: the Mosques of Karim al-Din and Khwaja Jahan";

 

Dr. Molly Emma Aitken, “Parataxis and the Practice of Reuse, from Mughal Margins to Mir Kalan Khan.”

    Architectural, sculptural and iconographic reuse is by no means unique to South Asia or to the centuries covered in this volume. The phenomenon has been documented in other artistic traditions throughout their histories.  The motivations for reuse, the processes by which old fragments and ideas were incorporated into new contexts, and the results of such practices have been extensively studied in scholarship on the late Roman empire and its immediate cultural diaspora (4th-5th centuries), the Byzantine and Islamic worlds (6th-11th centuries), and early medieval Europe (12th-14th centuries).  South Asia is unique, however, in that despite its own rich and varied history of using old fragments and concepts to create new built spaces and iconographies, little concentrated scholarly effort has been dedicated to the phenomenon.  To date, only few and disparate studies have treated instances of reuse in South Asia.  Existing works seem to ensue from a priori assumptions regarding the meanings and receptions of this long practiced and eminently pragmatic human activity.  The present volume aims to remedy these significant material and methodological lacunae in the scholarship on South Asia’s art and architectural history.

2. Building New Identities in the Diaspora: The Banking and Mercantile Communities of Hyderabad, India ca. 1730-1940.

This collaborative project is undertaken with Professor Karen Leonard (Department of Anthropology, University of California-Irvine). It will focus on diasporic merchant and banker families residing in the Nizam’s princely State of Hyderabad (ca. 1750-1948) in the Deccan, whose “homelands” were in Gujarat, Rajasthan, and north India.

 

    Since the early centuries CE through modern times, artisanal, trade and financial networks have linked the western Indian coasts of Gujarat and the fertile plains of north India with the Deccan and beyond.  Founded in 1591 in the Deccan plateau, the city of Hyderabad was poised to command the central and southern subcontinent, thereby attracting the attention of the Mughal emperors and eventually the British Crown.  Retaining its independence from both empires, however, Hyderabad State ceased to exist only in 1948, when it was incorporated into the independent Republic of India.  As a great Indian metropolis of the mid-18th and 19th centuries, Hyderabad was one of the last outposts of Indo-Muslim culture, embodying architectural, mercantile and financial features that were giving way to foreign aesthetics and business interests in other cities.

 

    From the 18th century onward, Hyderabad State was seen as a successor state to the Mughal empire, and its Nizam was wholly dependent on the capital of immigrant bankers and moneylenders settled in his capital city of Hyderabad.  These mercantile groups included a few Afghani and Bohra Muslims, some Goswamis (Hindu ascetics) from northern India, and many Hindus, Jains, and Parsis (Zoroastrians) from Gujarat and Rajasthan in western India.  Members of some of these groups settled in Hyderabad as early as the 17th century, while others arrived later.  These financiers assumed major political roles, some as revenue contractors and members of the nobility.

 

    During fieldwork and research in India between June 2007 and May 2009, we will document the religious and domestic buildings (many for the first time) these families patronized and in which they resided.  The networks of these prosperous financial communities of the subcontinent have been relatively little studied, particularly in their historical contexts and with respect to changes in patterns of urban settlement, architectural and artisanal traditions, and the creation  and use of domestic and public spaces.  Our study will bring these socio-historically significant buildings to the attention of scholars of architectural history in general and of South Asia in particular.  The study will also analyze the architectural and concomitant social practices originating in the families’ “homelands” in north India, sometimes discernible as early as the thirteenth century, and trace their early modern transformations in the new geographical and cultural context of the Deccan during the 18th through early 20th centuries. Our combined expertise in architectural and social history will elucidate the historical extent of transregional networks throughout India, and the mobility and adaptability of architectural and social practices.

3. Conference: Indo-Muslim Cultures in Transition (Convened with Dr. Karen Leonard)
31 October-2 November 2008
The University of California, Irvine

Conference Report


    This interdisciplinary conference highlights the social, economic, literary, and artistic/architectural transitions taking place in Indo-Muslim cultural centers during the 18th and 19th centuries. This post-Mughal period of consolidation of colonial power in South Asia has traditionally been considered a time of decline in centers of Indo-Muslim or Indo-Persian culture such as Hyderabad and Lucknow, as historical patterns of patronage were displaced by the formation of new social and economic elites. Rather than considering these later developments to be pallid reflections of the high Mughal period (late 16th-17th centuries), our collective project treats them as creative and ongoing transformations. The inheritors of Indo-Muslim cultures actively interpreted and negotiated with the new forces of colonialism and modernity, thus producing ongoing transformations of older cultural forms. The junior and senior scholars participating in the event concentrate on 18th- and 19th-century literature, history, art and architectural traditions and other cultural productions both at Indo-Persian cultural centers and in their hinterlands. Panels on Indo-Persian authors and their oeuvres will emphasize the central place Indo-Muslim Hyderabad, Delhi, and Lucknow held in the Persianate world of the 18th and 19th centuries. Other panels will treat the cultural and economic connections such centers maintained with other localeson pan-Indic and global scales. These connections continue to the present day, so we will include diasporic cultural formations and other Indo-Muslim legacies; at least one panel will focus on Indo-Muslim influences in contemporary art, literature, and film.