Religion in Translation and the Acculturation Patterns in South and Central Asia

Title: 1398 | Religion in Translation and the Acculturation Patterns in South and Central Asia
Area: South Asia
Stream: Translation
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Pegah Shahbaz, University of British Columbia - Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation (American Council of Learned Societies), Canada (organizer, presenter)
Satoshi Ogura, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, Japan (presenter, chair)
Noémie Verdon, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science - Kyoto University, Japan (presenter)
Jean Arzoumanov, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris 3, France (presenter)


South Asia has been the site of a wide-ranging exchange of religious, linguistic and cultural knowledge systems for over a millennium. Recent scholarship compares the magnitude of the translation movement of Indian knowledge from Sanskrit into Persian in the pre-modern and modern periods, to grand cross-cultural interactions in history such as the ones from Greek to Latin and Arabic, or from Sanskrit into Chinese and Tibetan. This panel seeks to examine the leading roles of Persian as a lingua franca and Arabic as the language of science for Muslims, and both languages as literary mediators among different Indian erudite traditions - some Sanskritic in derivation and some local and vernacular - within the cosmopolitan and multi-lingual South Asian context. The papers in this panel will focus on the articulation of translation and exchange between Sanskrit, Persian and Arabic under the influence of the religious systems that developed in these languages during the Ghaznavids (977-1186), the Muslim Sultanates in Delhi (1206-1526) and the Mughal empire (1526-1858) in South Asia, as well as during the realm of local Buddhist rulers in certain Persian-speaking areas in Central Asia after the Mongol invasion in the 13th and 14th centuries. The dynamics of knowledge transmission through diverse strategies of translation, and patterns of acculturation of religious elements will be explored in Perso-Arabic and Indo-Persian texts which reflect the concurrences and conflicts of Muslims, Hindus, and other South Asian religious groups such as Jains and Buddhists.

Panel Abstracts:
The Teachings of the Buddha in the Perso-Islamic Literary Culture
The life of Gautama Siddharta or Buddha is one of the most renowned narratives that has found its way into world literature, and has been translated to numerous languages including Persian and Arabic –mostly known but not always- as the languages of Islam in the Pre-modern South Asian context. This presentation aims to map out the translation, development and dissemination of this Buddhist narrative for the Muslim readership in the 14th century through a meticulous study of the extant corpus of Persian texts in comparison with their Sanskrit sources. In this regard, two literary and historical works in Persian will be analyzed: the first, the “Belawhar wa Buyūzasf” by Alī bin Muḥammad Niḍāam Tabrīzī, is an indirect translation from an earlier Arabic translation and involves adaptations to Muslim Sufi and orthodox religious norms. The second, the “Jāmi’ al-tawārīkh” (The Compendium of Chronicles) written by Rašīd al-Dīn Fażl Allāh Hamadānī is a direct translation from Indic sources such as the Buddhacarita d’Ashvagosha and the Lalitavistara Sūtra of the Mahāyāna tradition, and remains more loyal to the original texts in narration and development. Both works were produced in the 14th century and became popular afterwards among Muslim communities in Central and South Asia. To provide a more accurate understanding of the exchange between Buddhist Asceticism and Islamic Sufism, I will explain how this narrative was re-interpreted by translators, and perceived either as history or fiction according to religious standards of the Persian receiving culture.

Various Ways to Liberation: A Comparative Study of the Mughal Persian Translations of the Yogavāsiṣṭha
The Yogavāsiṣṭha is a Sanskrit philosophical work narrating about the means to accomplish liberation in life (jīvanmukta) through dialogues between the prince Rama, the main role of the Sanskrit epic Rāmāyaṇa, and the sage Vasiṣṭha, interpolated with many anecdotes. Its oldest recension the Moksopāya (Ways to Liberation) was composed by an anonymous author in Srinagar in around 950 CE; the text was later Vedantized and transmitted into two versions: the extended Yogavāsiṣṭha, and shortened Laghu-Yogavāsiṣṭha. Some Mughal emperors and princes were favorable to the philosophy of jīvanmukta, and Prince Salīm (future fourth emperor Jahāngīr, d. 1627), the third emperor Akbar (d. 1605), and the fifth emperor Shāh Jahān’s eldest prince Dārā Shukoh (d. 1659) respectively had the Laghu-Yogavāsiṣṭha translated into Persian. These three translations trace the original Sanskrit verses in the source text in different ways. The style of Salīm’s version translated by Niẓām al-Dīn Pānīpatī is analytical on the concepts of Sanskrit philosophy, while Dārā’s version by Ḥabībullāh focuses rather on narratives in the interpolated anecdotes.Of the above-mentioned three translations, the Akbar version translated by Farmulī has still remained unedited, and few studies have examined the features of style and translation strategies of this version in comparison to Salīm’s and Dārā’s versions. I prepare an edition of the Akbar version based on two extant manuscripts. In this presentation, I analyze this version’s commonality and originality compared with the other two versions in translation strategies and interpretations of Sanskrit philosophical terms found in the original Laghu-Yogavāsiṣṭha.

Al- Bīrūnī and His Understanding of Indian Religions
At the beginning of the 11th century CE, the Perso-Muslim scholar al-Bīrūnī translated two works connected to the Indian schools of thought : Sāṅkhya and Yoga. He entitled these two works the Kitāb Sānk and the Kitāb Pātanğal in Arabic. The former is available to us only in form of scattered quotations in al-Bīrūnī’s Indica, i.e., the Taḥqīq mā li-l-Hind. However, it is possible to connect it with the Sanskrit Sāṅkhyakārikā and with some of its extant commentaries, such as the Sāṅkhyavṛtti. The Kitāb Pātanğal, of which a complete manuscript was found in 1922 and edited in 1956, appears to be chiefly based on the Pātañjalayogaśāstra. In the Kitāb Sānk, the Kitāb Pātanğal, and the Taḥqīq mā lil- Hind, al-Bīrūnī deals with aspects of Indian religion and applies diverse translational strategies, adapting the content and commenting upon it for the Muslim readership when discussing Indian religious notions. His methods of interpretation affected the form and the structure of the texts as well as the contents and the concepts. Among other elements, al-Bīrūnī’s cultural background influenced him in his Arabic rendering of technical Indian concepts. The objective of this study is to discuss some of al-Bīrūnī’s choices of interpretation, and his comments in light of his own intellectual history. The focus lies on the transmission of topics related to Indian religions from Sanskrit into Arabic and on his own perception as a Muslim translator. To this end, passages drawn from the Kitāb Pātanğal and the Taḥqīq mā li-l-Hind will be presented and discussed.

Persian as a Hindu Interreligious Translation Medium in 18th Century North India: Jain Philosophy Through the Eyes of a Persian-speaking Brahmin
In late eighteenth-century Lucknow, Claude Martin, a wealthy French officer of the East India Company, ordered copies of a great number of Indic manuscripts. He then commissioned Dilārām, a Brahmin, to translate into Persian two classical texts of the Digambara jaina philosophical tradition that had come into his possession. Heir of the Brahmanical culture, open to the Islamic and Jain cultures and employed by a European, Dilārām functions as a go-between with an inquisitive mind in a cosmopolitan city inhabited by different cultures. Through his effort to appropriate complex doctrinal texts from a heterodox tradition, Dilārām creates unexpected and original intersections between religious traditions. He is an exceptional testimony of how a Persianized Hindu could comprehend Jainism. Dilārām tries to elucidate the subtleties of Jaina philosophy through an analytical framework suffused with Vedānta, a non-dualist Hindu philosophy, and expressed in an Islamic and Sufi lexicon. This attempt at making intelligible the foreign and even strange elements of Jaina philosophy reveals the conditions under which three radically different cultures could meet through the medium of Persian. It also illustrates the transformations undergone by the significations of a text in translation. Through the example of Dilārām, this presentation tries to demonstrate the translator’s confrontation with Jainism, and the circulation of texts and knowledge beyond the watertight religious milieu. It shows that re-appropriating unfamiliar knowledge was an essential characteristic of translation in an intrinsically multifaceted India

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