Accepted Paper:

Negotiating the secular and the religious in the periphery: Courtly imaginaries in the gurbilās literature  


Julie Vig (University of British Columbia)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines how the notion of court or darbar is articulated in a mid-to-late eighteenth century Braj-Punjabi text with the goal of providing a case study on how courtly life at the periphery of imperial contexts was articulated in relation to the “religious” and the “secular”.

Paper long abstract:

Based on recent scholarship engaging with the idea of court in late Mughal and sub-imperial contexts, this paper examines how the notion of court or darbar is articulated in the context of Kuir Singh's Gurbilās Pātshāhī Das, a mid-to-late eighteenth century text written in Braj-Punjabi that relates life stories of Guru Gobind Singh in the form of historical poetry. The implications of the concept of court — whose political function has been predominantly emphasized in scholarship about Sikh courts — can be interpreted in different ways and do not translate the more textured concept of darbar which is best rendered by notions such as "gathering" and "audience" rather than "court" alone (Murphy, 2012). The concept of darbar can imply the presence of a formal institution held in power by a sovereign figure, as is suggested by "court," or another kind of social formation, such as Fenech argues, "a group of disciples surrounding a charismatic religious figure." (Fenech, 2013). In relation to Guru Gobind Singh's court, for instance, both senses may apply. The status of the "court" in the Sikh context therefore is still open to debate. The goal of this paper is, on the one hand, to present a case study of how the notion of court or darbar is articulated in a regional context. On the other hand, it illustrates how the complexity of the idea of court or darbar in Sikh contexts allows us to interrogate further the relationship between the categories of secular and religious in early modern India.

Panel P24
Secular knowledge systems in early modern literary cultures