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Three Aspects of the Absolute (India, Rajasthan, Jodhpur, 1823 | Mehrangarh Museum Trust RJS 2399)

Steadfast Imagining Session 3: Crossings: Hinduism, Islam, and Bidel's Practical Comparative Religion

Hinduism, Islam, and Bidel's Practical Comparative Religion

Session 3 of the multidisciplinary workshop series on Steadfast Imagining: Lyric Meditation, Islamic Philosophy, and Comparative Religion in the Works of Bidel of Delhi (d. 1720)

Friday, November 20, 2020
1:00 PM - 2:30 PM (Pacific Time)

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Register to attend here.

This is Session 3 of the multidisciplinary workshop, Steadfast Imagining: Lyric Meditation, Islamic Philosophy, and Comparative Religion in the Works of Bidel of Delhi (d.1720) organized and led by Prof. Domenico Ingenito (UCLA, Near Eastern Languages and Cultures) and Dr. Jane Mikkelson (University of Virginia) in cooperation with scholars working in Persian Studies, Islamic Studies, South Asian, Near Eastern, and Central Asian Studies, English, Anthropology, and Comparative Literature. All sessions will be held in English, and all reading materials (both primary and secondary sources) will be circulated and presented in English translation.

Throughout his works, Bidel encounters, absorbs, appropriates, and transforms non-Islamic Indic ideas in significant ways. This session addresses the role of comparative religion in Bidel’s thought.  

Featuring presentations by:

Jane Mikkelson (University of Virginia)

In the 1660s, Bidel engaged in a friendly debate with a Hindu friend about imagination, time, and experience in Islam and Hinduism. By transcribing this debate in his autobiography, The Four Elements (Chahār ʿonṣor), Bidel acquaints readers with his critical concept of “crossings”—a method of practical comparative religion that draws on the resources of the imagination and lyric poetry. 

Hajnalka Kovacs (Harvard)

Hajnalka Kovacs will discuss Bedil’s retelling in two of his masnavis (Muḥīt-i aʿẓam and ʿIrfān) of two tales from the Yogavāsiṣṭha: the story of King Lavaṇa and that of Gādhi brahmin. While both tales of “illusion and alternative realities” capture the ultimate unreality of phenomenal existence, within the conceptual frameworks of the two poems the two serve different purposes. In the context of the Neoplatonic cosmogonical narrative of emanatory descent and spiritual ascent that underlies the Muḥīt-i aʿẓam, Bedil deploys the story of King Lavaṇa to underscore the idea of the dual potential of the heart arising from its intermediary status between the multiplicity of phenomena and the one Reality. In his ʿIrfān, he sets out to illustrate the power of spiritual aspiration with the story of Gādhi brahmin’s quest for the knowledge of reality, but then with a twist, juxtaposes it with an Islamic tale of similar nature to showcase the relativity of time and to assert the possibility of the Miʿrāj.

Prashant Keshavmurthy (McGill) 

Prashant Keshavmurthy will present his translation of and commentary on one of Bidel's ghazals whose radīf or end-refrain āmadī ("you came") allows Bidel, complemented by his choice of a meter rare in Persian, to put into question distinct aspects of the advent of alterity: the strangeness of poetic inspiration, the difficulty of embodiment as written word, utterance and sense-perceptible body; and the outwardly indifferent and yet world-transforming powers of the imagination. The Brahman figures here, as he often does in Bidel's ghazals, as a metonym for the world of embodiment and thus as the normal state of affairs in which alterity finds itself. 

For more information about the workshop as a whole, including the complete schedule of meetings, please see the announcement here.


The workshop is sponsored and organized by UCLA Program on Central Asia (in collaboration with Iranian Studies), and co-sponsored by the Center for India and South Asia, the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, and the Center for Near Eastern Studies.

For questions about the event, please contact caw@international.ucla.edu

Sponsor(s): Program on Central Asia, Center for India and South Asia, Center for Near Eastern Studies, Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Iranian Studies