The Language of History, Audrey Truschke’s third book, starts with the earliest references to Islam and Muslims in Sanskrit, from the eighth century CE, but its focus is on a large body of Sanskrit writing from the late-twelfth to the early-eighteenth centuries – works composed by brahmin, Buddhist and Jain writers, including the Madhuraavijaya(Victory at Madurai), a late-fourteenth-century work by the queen Gangadevi. Truschke points out that these works are well known to scholars, and widely available, but Sanskrit writing from this period has been neglected as a historical source. Historians have been reluctant to look beyond the itihaasa-puraana corpus, discounting later poetry with its commentary and observations on the prosaic, temporal realm. Plus, these texts confound modern assumptions about the past. They rarely use a religious lens to view Islam or its followers, often using categories of ethnic, geographical and linguistic identification, along with a range of terms applied equally to non-Muslims: chaandaala, yavana, mlechchha, etc. The Muslim Other, Truschke asserts, was “most often depicted as not particularly Muslim and, often, as not particularly Other”.
The following excerpt is drawn from the chapter, “Rajput and Maratha Kingships in an Indo-Persian Political Order” of the book.
A Regional Prelude in Fifteenth-Century Gujarat
In 1407, the Tughluq-appointed governor of Gujarat, Zafar Khan, exploited the chaos that followed Timur’s 1398 sack of Delhi to declare independence from the Delhi Sultanate. Thus, under his new name of Muzaffar Shah (r. 1407–11), he established the Sultanate of Gujarat, also known as the Muzaffarid Sultanate and the Ahmadshahi Sultanate, and ruled from Ahmedabad. The Muzaffarid Sultanate expanded over the coming decades, negotiating through diplomacy and battle with Muslim and Hindu local rulers. In her book In Praise of Kings, Aparna Kapadia has examined Sanskrit and vernacular texts produced in fifteenth-century Gujarat for warrior elites who wanted to claim Kshatriya status. In terms of historical works that feature Indo-Muslim political figures, one Sanskrit text stands out: Gangadhara’s Maṇḍalīkacarita, written around 1460.1 The work narrates some of the martial and marital history of the Chudasama ruler Mandalik (r. 1451–72, sometimes called Ra Mandalik) who governed Saurashtra from Junagadh. Gangadhara treats Muslim political figures as unremarkable and shows almost no interest in religious distinctions, so much so that we cannot even discern all rulers’ religious identities in the text.
Gangadhara treats Muslim political figures as unremarkable and shows almost no interest in religious distinctions, so much so that we cannot even discern all rulers’ religious identities in the text.
Muslim political figures are an integral part of the Chudasamas’ story as told by Gangadhara. They appear sometimes as military foes but more prominently as key allies. Early in the text, Gangadhara outlines Mandalik’s lineage, a preoccupation among fifteenth-century rulers in western India.2 He includes brief mentions that some of Mandalik’s ancestors warred against numerous enemies, including Gohilas, Jhallas and otherwise unspecified yavanas.3 In the stories of the main characters, however, the text narrates that the Chudasama family fought on behalf of the yavanas, a switch that Gangadhara did not feel the need to explain. Mandalik even goes to some extraordinary lengths to do the Muzaffarid Sultanate’s bidding. Most notably, in the poem’s third chapter, an envoy of Muhammad Shah II (r. 1442–51) visits Junagadh and asks the Chudasamas to attack Duda, a Gohil chieftain who was causing chaos in Sultanate domains. Mandalik was married to Duda’s daughter, and their wedding is described in the prior chapter of the Maṇḍalīkacarita. Nonetheless, in service of the sultan, Mandalik kills his own father-in-law. Gangadhara frames the assassination as a good decision, using the voice of a Chudasama minister to make the argument, which convinces Prince Mandalik and his father, King Mahipala:
The yavana who conquered the world on the battlefield
with an army of elephants and thousands of horses wants your friendship.
King Mahipala—What more favourable development could there be?4
In other words, there is nothing better, politically speaking, than being the Sultan of Gujarat’s ally.
The Maṇḍalīkacarita offers precious little in terms of rhetoric against Muslim rulers, and where it does criticize a political enemy, the work is vague about his religious identity. Most notably, Mandalik fights a ruler named Sangan (saṅgaṇa) twice in the work. Gangadhara does not tell us much about Sangan, identifying him as a king (nṛpa) and ‘ruler of the far ocean’ (parasaritpatipa).5 By digging into colonial-era gazetteers, we can reasonably guess that Sangan belonged to the Vadhel clan that operated along the Saurashtra coast.6 What we cannot tell for sure is his religion. Gangadhara praises Mandalik, shortly after he defeats the coastal chief Sangan for the second time, as Kalki, Vishnu’s final incarnation, born to destroy the mlecchas (mlecchānhantuṃ . . . jātaḥ kalkiḥ).7 The term ‘mleccha’ often meant Muslim in fifteenth-century Sanskrit, but not always, and so this small hint is far from conclusive. Maybe Sangan was Muslim, as at least one modern scholar has suggested.8 But the bigger point given my concerns here is that Gangadhara does not give his readers enough information to decisively discern Sangan’s religion. This inattention suggests that the poet considered the religious identity of Mandalik’s major opponent as relatively inconsequential to his historical narrative.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, too, Sanskrit thinkers often worked for Muslim, Persian-speaking political elites and wrote praise poems for them, in addition to producing historical works about them.
Gangadhara’s literary production and that of his contemporaries in western India further buttress the argument that fifteenth-century, Gujarat-based Sanskrit intellectuals often cared little, or not at all, about Muslim religious identity. In another work, Gangadhara reports that he stayed for six months at the court of Sultan Muhammad Shah II, where he silenced all the court favourites (sabhākovidān mūkīkṛtya).9 It seems that Jonaraja, whom we met in Chapter 4, was not the only Sanskrit intellectual working for an Indo-Persian patron in the 1450s. So far as we know, Gangadhara wrote nothing for Muhammad Shah II. But another author, Udayaraja, wrote the Sanskrit eulogy Rājavinoda (King’s Play, 1462–67) for Sultan Mahmud Begada (r. 1459–1511) about how the sultan was an ideal Kshatriya warrior.10 In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, too, Sanskrit thinkers often worked for Muslim, Persian-speaking political elites and wrote praise poems for them, in addition to producing historical works about them.
Historical energy found other creative outlets in fifteenth-century Gujarat, in Sanskrit and vernaculars. For instance, in 1455, Padmanabha, a Brahmin, crafted the Kānhaḍade Prabandha (Kanhadade’s Narrative), a Gujarati account of Alauddin Khalji’s successful circa 1310 assault on Jalor.11 Like Nayachandra (see Chapter 3), Padmanabha narrated Khalji-related events that occurred more than a century before his own time, although Padmanabha wrote under the umbrella of Indo-Persian power since his patron, Akheraj, had accepted the sovereignty of the Muzaffarid Sultanate.12 Around 400 kilometres south, at around the same time, Gangadhara wrote the Gaṅgadāsapratāpavilāsa (Play on Gangadasa’s Brilliance), a Sanskrit drama about Gangadasa of Champaner’s 1449 victory over Sultan Muhammad II.13 Historical interest had long spilled over into Sanskrit plays, dating back to Somadeva’s circa 1150s Lalitavigraharāja (see Chapter 2) and Jayasimhasuri’s circa 1230 Hammīramadamardana (see Chapter 3). But the terms of engagement had changed by the mid-fifteenth century. In these earlier two dramas, Muslims were not always portrayed negatively, but they generally spoke Prakrit, a sign of exclusion from the Sanskrit-inscribed world of Indian sovereignty as imagined in theatre (in Chapter 2, I note the amir’s ambassador in Somadeva’s play as an exception). In the Gaṅgadāsapratāpavilāsa, Muhammad II of Ahmedabad speaks Sanskrit as a proper Indian ruler should in the Sanskrit imagination.
Like Gangadhara, slightly later Rajput- and Maratha-sponsored poets also integrated Muslim political figures into traditional models of Indian sovereignty. In fact, by the late sixteenth century, such inclusion had become normal, even standard. Accordingly, below, I focus on an aspect of Rajput and Maratha Sanskrit histories that proved far more varied, namely, how to define Kshatriya kingship in a political world dominated by Indo-Persian kingdoms.
- The Maṇḍalīkacarita has been edited from five manuscripts and printed by H.D. Velankar in two journal articles: ‘Maṇḍalika Mahākāvya of Gaṅgādhara Kavi’ (chapters 1–5) and ‘Śrīgaṅgādharakavikṛtaṃ Śrīmaṇḍalīkamahākāvyam’ (chapters 6–10); I cite the text using the title Maṇḍalīkacarita. For estimates of the text’s composition date, see Velankar, ‘Maṇḍalīka, The Last Great King’, 37 and Sandesara and Bhojak, introduction to Gaṅgadāsapratāpavilāsanāṭakam, ii. Gangadhara’s authorship is mentioned in Maṇḍalīkacarita 2. For secondary scholarship, see Kapadia, In Praise of Kings, 76–102 and Velankar, ‘Maṇḍalīka, The Last Great King’, 36–61.
- Teuscher, ‘Kingship and Genealogy’, 72–77.
- In sequential verses, Khangara conquers the Gohilas and Jhallas (Maṇḍalīkacarita 68) and yavanabhūpatīn (1.69). Other early mentions of yavanas include that Khangara’s son Jayasimha routed a yāvanarāja (1.77); Meliga gave protection to a Jhalla chief named Krishna who had fled from a yavanendra (1.87) and fought a Sultan Ahmed (ahammadasuratrāṇa, 1.88).
- Maṇḍalīkacarita 3.38. On this passage, also see Kapadia, In Praise of Kings, 91–92; Sheikh, ‘Alliance, Genealogy and Political Power’, 40–41.
- Maṇḍalīkacarita 3.11; others have translated this as ‘Western ocean’ (Kapadia, In Praise of Kings, 92; Sheikh, Forging a Region, 117; Velankar, ‘Maṇḍalīka, The Last Great King’, 43).
- Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency (Kathiawar), 590–92. I decline to call Sangan a pirate owing to the various assumptions attached to that label; on the history of piracy in India as conceptualized through the colonial lens, see Subramanian, Sovereign and the Pirate, especially 3–24.
- Maṇḍalīkacarita 10.4. This verse has attracted the attention of several scholars, who have generally cited it with the assumption that ‘mleccha’ means ‘Muslim’ and, quite problematically, outside its literary context as some sort of meta-commentary on Mandalik killing all Muslims (Granoff, ‘Mountains of Eternity’, 42–43; Sheikh, Forging a Region, 116). This reading makes little sense in the context of the Maṇḍalīkacarita, and it is a reminder of the need to read texts holistically.
- Sheikh, Forging a Region, 117; Cf. Hodivala, Studies in Indo-Muslim History, 661–62.
- Gaṅgadāsapratāpavilāsanāṭakam, 18 (Gangadhara names a ‘Gujarat sultan’, gūrjarasuratrāṇa; I surmise the identity from context and the play’s 1449 composition date); also noted in Kapadia, In Praise of Kings, 1.
- Kapadia, In Praise of Kings, 103–28; Obrock, ‘Muslim Mahākāvyas’, 61–64.
- On the Kānhaḍade Prabandha’s date, see Bhatnagar, introduction to Padmanābha’s Kānhaḍade Prabandha, vii. For discussions of the work, see, e.g., Raeside, ‘Gujarati Bardic Poem’, 137–53; Sreenivasan, ‘Medieval Rajput Histories of Jalor’, 87–108.
- Sheikh, Forging a Region, 136; Sreenivasan, ‘Medieval Rajput Histories of Jalor’, 88.
- The only known surviving manuscript of the Gaṅgadāsapratāpavilāsa is undated, but it centres around a 1449 conflict and was likely composed shortly thereafter (Sandesara and Bhojak, introduction to Gaṅgadāsapratāpavilāsanāṭakam, i–ii; Kapadia, In Praise of Kings, 83). The play is sometimes wrongly described as about Gangadasa’s defeat (e.g., Granoff, ‘Mountains of Eternity’, 42). In the drama, Gangadasa defeats Sultan Muhammad II with the assistance of another Muslim ruler based in Mandu (Gaṅgadāsapratāpavilāsanāṭakam, act 8; also noted in Sandesara and Bhojak, introduction to Gaṅgadāsapratāpavilāsanāṭakam, x and Leclère, ‘Ambivalent Representations’, 194–95).