"Challenging and expanding the national canon: the case of Usman’s Citravali (1613) and its afterlife in India’s multilingual contexts"

01 October 2022 → 30 September 2025
Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO)
Research disciplines
  • Humanities
    • Indian languages
    • Early modern literature
    • Other Asian literatures
    • Literary studies not elsewhere classified
    • Literary history
Multilingualism Indian literature Canonization Asia 16th Century 17th Century 18th Century 19th Century Hindi Oriental languages Language and text analysis Canonisation Literary canon Storytelling Sufism Religion Literary studies
Project description

The Indian Sufi romances (premakhyans), written in the Avadhi language by poets with Muslim origins, are mystical narratives that have circulated across South Asia, defying literary genres and linguistic barriers. Their circulation has entailed the creation of multiple versions adapted to various literary, linguistic and cultural domains of premodern India, challenging the nationalist process of the canon's homogenization. For this reason, these texts offer insights into the composite literary history of India, witnessing the participation of Sufi poets in practices of dialogue and accommodation in Indian society. However, these sources are understudied by the scholarship on Indian literature, which often fails to acknowledge their relevance for current debates on language and identity politics in India. This project contributes to filling this gap by shading light on a particular text of this tradition, Usman's Citravali (1613), and its historical reproduction across different cultural, literary, and linguistic networks. Through a close reading of the text (1613), I will show how the narrative is embedded in cosmopolitan and religious competitive practices of the premodern non-Western world. Moreover, by conducting a comparative analysis of the Citravali (1613) and what I argue to be its later version in the Urdu language, I will investigate how the story's Sufi notions and semantics have been reformulated in another form and language of 19th century Muslim North India.