The Mughal Book of War: A Persian Translation of the Sanskrit Mahabharata

Truschke, Audrey Angeline

This article presents the first in-depth textual analysis of the Razmnamah (Book of War), the Persian translation of the Mahabharata sponsored by the Mughal emperor Akbar in the late sixteenth century. I argue that the Razmnamah was a central literary work in the Mughal court and of deep relevance to Akbar's imperial and political ambitions. I pursue my analysis of the Mughal Mahabharata in two sections, focusing first on the work's Sanskrit sources and then on the translation practices one finds evidenced in the Persian text. In the first section, I outline how the Mughal translators accessed Sanskrit materials and identify the Sanskrit texts that served as the basis for the Persian translation. This framework helps reconstruct the nature of the Mahabharata as the Mughals knew it and provides both the conceptual and literary tools needed to pursue comparative textual analysis. In the second section, I examine the text of the Razmnamah in comparison with its Sanskrit sources to highlight some of the Mughal translators' key strategies in reimagining the epic in Persian. This close reading traces several literary paradigms that offer insight into the crucial role the Razmnamah played in the production and reproduction of Mughal imperial culture. Taken as a whole, my analysis argues that the Razmnamah was a crucial component of the politico-cultural fashioning of Akbar's court, whereby the Mughals developed a new type of Indo-Persian imperial aesthetic.

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Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East

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Academic Units
Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies
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April 4, 2012