Prashant Keshavmurthy is Assistant Professor of Persian Studies in the Institute of Islamic Studies, McGill University. His interests include Mughal-Safavid literary and visual culture and theories and practices of translation in Islamicate contexts.
Audio Slideshow: A 17th Century Persian Ghazal From India
The 17th Century poet Abdul Qadir Bedil is considered one of the greatest and most difficult poets of South Asia’s pre-colonial Persian literary tradition. Bedil (1642–1720) was born in Bihar and spent most of his adult life in Mughal Delhi where he was patronized by its ruling circles. Not long after his death his works became crucial to the formation of various regional literary identities and thus, in the course of the 19th century, to various national canons. The literary canons of 19th century Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan took shape through the sponsorship by newly confident kings of poetry imitating Bedil’s style and through a tradition of assemblies devoted to reciting and commenting on his poetry. In Qajar Iran, however, a court politically threatened by European interventions patronized a neoclassical return in poetry to what was considered a pristine simplicity of style exemplified by 11th and 12th century masters. As Bedil fell out of elite favour in Iran his popularity declined among India’s Persian-reading literati, too, as the Persianate literati of politically dispersed Mughal India lost their former confidence in matters relating to Persian and began to model the teaching and learning of Persian on Iranian methods. As a result, the only regions of the world today where Bedil continues to enjoy a popular readership are Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
While he wrote in almost every Persian poetic genre, Bedil was a distinguished master of the ghazal. The ghazal here transliterated and translated is an example of the long meters, compound phraseology and strange imagery he favoured. The images in the audo-slideshow are of buildings and places in Delhi that he would have seen.
The ghazal has been translated to English by Prashant Keshavmurthy, an assistant professor of Persian Studies at the McGill University. Keshavmurthy’s essay about Bedil will appear in Papercuts magazine’s upcoming Spring 2015 print issue. Pre-order your print copy now.
bas kih dāram ghunchah-yi shawq-i tu pinhān zīr-i pūst
tā marā dar ‘ālam-i sūrat muqayyad kardah’and
az tamāshā-yi dil-i sad pārah’am ghāfil mabāsh
‘āshiqān dar hasrat-i dīdār sāmān kardah’and
sham‘ rā kai pardah-yi fānūs hāyil mīshavad
dar jigar har qatrah-yi khūnam sharār-i dīgar ast
(English translation by Prashant Keshavmurthy)
Your ardor’s bud in me so presses
Ever since they fastened me
Take heed as you look
Lovers, longing for a vision, prepared:
When did a lamp’s shade
Every blood-drop in me: another leaping spark.