Department of Asian Studies
Department of Asian Studies

Reflections from Padmini’s Palace: Gender, Language, and Desire in Early Modern Hindi

Wed, January 31, 2018 | Meyerson Conference Room, WCH 4.118

4:00 PM - 5:00 PM

22Princess_Padmavati_ca._1765_Bibliothèque_nationale_de_France,_Paris
22Princess_Padmavati_ca._1765_Bibliothèque_nationale_de_France,_Paris

Peter Knapczyk

Visiting Teaching Assistant Professor, Hindi-Urdu

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The ongoing controversy over the film Padmavati is a keen example of how early modern Hindi literature has been seized upon in present-day India to make claims about history and identity in service to communal and political conflicts. A campaign of violence seeking to ban the film has gained worldwide attention and delayed the film’s release indefinitely. Padmavati portrays the adventures of a Sinhalese queen and Rajput prince, a romance whose popularity spread widely during the early modern period, becoming the basis for multiple tellings, such as Jaysi’s sixteenth-century Awadhi premakhyan. Current efforts to silence Padmavati are ironic given the popularity of her voice over the centuries, resonating intertextually with literary tropes that shaped the portrayal of women characters in early modern Hindi.

This talk uses the Padmavati controversy as a touchstone to consider the intertext of women’s voices in early modern Hindi-Urdu literature. From the Awadhi premakhyan, to Krishna bhakti poetry and the Shi’i marsiyah, poets throughout this period—despite being predominantly male—frequently chose to speak in the voices of female characters, especially in the modes of longing and lament. Rather than an unwonted threat to honor and identity, the woman’s voice was a complex, multivalent trope for literary expression and innovation, a tool adopted across regions, languages, and devotional orientations. This talk is informed by a project to recover the literary histories of Hindi and Urdu from modern linguistic nationalisms, and to reconstruct the dialogs that shaped aesthetics and genre conventions for Hindi and Urdu before the divide.

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