Buddhist and Manichaean Textual Iconographies in Early Persian Poetry

A lecture by Stefano Pellò, University of Venice

Thursday, November 04, 2010
4:00 PM - 5:30 PM
10383 Bunche Hall
Los Angeles, CA 90095

UCLA Program on Central Asia
Religions of the Silk Road  Lecture Series

Buddhist and Manichaean textual iconographies in early Persian poetry

Stefano Pellò (Università di Venezia "Ca' Foscari", Italy)

The origins and early developments of Persian literary culture (9th-11th c.) in Khorasan and Transoxiana are closely tied to the coeval cultural, linguistic and religious environment of Central Asia and the Indo-Iranian "frontier." Many textual items related to the polycentric and polyphonic world of the Silk Road are, as a matter of fact, among the fundamental semiotic structures which will form the core of the subsequent conventional vocabulary of the so-called classical and post-classical Persian poetical literature. Notwithstanding the huge amount of studies dealing with the imagery of Persian poetry, the actual features of this process of textualization and its complex relations with the religious-historical, visual-archaeological and linguistic domains have seldom been the object of close analysis. More specifically, with the exceptions of an introductory study by Asadoullah Souren Melikian-Chirvani and some scattered remarks about the literary figure of "Mani the painter," the inclusion of Buddhist and Manichaean (but also Christian Nestorian and proto-Hindu) cultural objects in the nascent Persian textual cosmopolis still awaits detailed philological excavations and a viable understanding. In this talk, based on the close analysis of several literary specimens and some figurative material, we will try to show ways and methods to recover and intepret the various textual iconographies and "archaeological  remains" related to the religious world of pre- and proto-Islamic Central Asia in the oldest Persian sources,  for instance, the lexicon and the tropes related to Buddhist monks and temples, Manichaean books and pictorial practices, and in general, to the idea of the pre-Islamic ritual and visual culture of Central Asia.

Stefano Pellò is an assistant professor of Persian literature at the University of Venice, having completed a doctorate on the role and the representation of "Hindu" identities in and around Indo-Persian poetic circles in late 17th and 18th century North India. His research interests are centered on the stylistic and socio-linguistic issues related to the spread and the use of Persian literary culture in Southern and Central Asia; the translation and re-writing of the texts of the Sanskritic tradition into Persian; and the cosmopolitan aspects of the iconography of painting in the Persian and Persianate poetic environment. His publications include "A paper temple: Mani's Arzhang in and around Persian Lexicography" (2010); the first complete Italian translation of the Divan of Hafez of Shiraz, Canzoniere (2005); and a monograph on the reception of Persian poetics in Nawabi Lucknow, La teoria della qafiya nel Mizan al-Afkar di Muhammad Sa'd Allah Muradabadi (2003).

Religions of the Silk Road: Transformation and Transmission in the Heart of Asia, is a lecture series co-sponsored by the UCLA Central Asia Initiative and the Center for the Study of Religion

Before the rise of the maritime empires of Europe, the ancient trade routes of Central Asia served as one the world’s most vital thoroughfares of religious traffic. From the goddesses of prehistoric Eurasia through the Iranian religions of Zoroaster and Mani, to the Buddhism transferred from India and the Judaism, Christianity and eventually Islam carried in from the Mediterranean west, almost all of the major religions of Asia were imported into the oasis towns that lined the route between Persia and China. Yet if the monks, books and relics who moved along the ‘silk road’ point to a history of religious transmission both into and through Central Asia, important questions remain about what happened to these religious forms in their long periods in transit. Placing the question of transformation alongside that of transmission, the current series of talks excavates the neglected history of Central Asia’s own contributions to the religions of the old world.


Sponsor(s): Asia Pacific Center