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From Manuscript to Print: Islamic Bangla Literature and the Politics of the Archive

Issue: Vol 12 No. 3 (2018)

Journal: Religions of South Asia

Subject Areas: Religious Studies Buddhist Studies Islamic Studies

DOI: 10.1558/rosa.38259


This article takes the Nabīvaṃśa—the first major work of Islamic doctrine to be written in Bangla, in the seventeenth century—as the basis for larger observations about Islamic Bangla literature and its transition from manuscript into print. The article charts three moments in the four centuries of the Nabīvaṃśa’s textual life, reflecting on why such well-loved early modern religious texts fell into obscurity in the print era. The first phase from 1666 to 1777 marks the emergence and efflorescence of this literature, produced by Muslim intellectuals in the Caṭṭagrāma (Chittagong)-Arakan region. The second period, from 1777 onwards, is marked by the emergence of print as well as dobhāṣī Bangla in colonial Bengal. The third phase of this survey pertains to the constitution of a literary public sphere in Bengal linked to the momentum generated by print. This period saw the formulation of the Bangla literary canon through the efforts of publishers, literary critics, anthologists, translators, editors, historiographers and manuscript collectors. All of these were sustained through print’s cultural marketplace and the public discourses it engendered. The essay examines the ways in which Islamic Bangla literature’s value was articulated by the politics of archive-building and literary historiography central to the nationalist project.

Author: Ayesha A. Irani

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