This panel considers early modern literary productions that had essentially non-religious interests and priorities, examining texts from different knowledge systems to excavate the intellectual history of pre-colonial South Asia.
Untapped troves of historical chronicles, theoretical treatises, and reference works on the arts and sciences lie buried in archives of manuscripts and early printed books. While many of these early modern texts relate to theology or devotional poetry, a significant portion of these materials was grounded in non-religious knowledge systems, with essentially "secular" priorities and authorities. However, to date these intellectual productions have largely been neglected. Many are lost in the catalogues - relegated to "Miscellaneous" or other uninspiring categories - while others have been ignored because their subjects (such as falconry or puppetry) were considered superficial or irrelevant in Western scholarship, however significant they were in their original context. Taking inspiration from Narayana Rao and Subrahmanyam's excavation of nītiśāstra (2009), this panel will consider literary productions that took their cue from secular, rather than strictly religious, interests. Rather than tackling the notion of the "secular" as formulated in its modern Indian setting (i.e. as non-discriminatory between religions, etc.), this panel invites papers that examine early modern scholarship in the vernaculars, Persian, and Sanskrit, on the arts and sciences, including statecraft, folklore, genealogy, erotics, music, mathematics, lexicography, and medicine. Collectively, the papers will investigate the strengths and priorities of South Asian knowledge systems, prior to the advent of European colonialism. Following recent work which has demonstrated the pervasive connections between bhakti and rīti cultures, we also invite scholars of religious literature to present how their texts may have been informed by, or reflected upon, non-religious knowledge systems.