Modern South Asian Studies seminar HT21 Wk 7: The Play of the Guru: Braj Historical Poetry in Early Modern Punjab

Conveners: Imre Bangha, Polly O'Hanlon, and Kate Sullivan de Estrada

Speaker: Julie Vig (University of Toronto)


How can Sikh cultural production in the premodern and early modern period be placed within and understood through wider cultural and literary movements and forces such as the world of Brajbhasha traditions? To address this broad question, this talk examines an important relationship between the Sikh cultural world and the Braj literary world by examining the case of gurbilās literature. Gurbilās literature—or “the play or pastimes of the Guru”—refers to a collection of historical poems in Braj produced in early modern Punjab about the Sikh Gurus. I focus on three narratives from gurbilās texts portraying an important battle widely narrated in Sikh history: the battle of Bhangani (dated to 1688). My goal is twofold: On the one hand, I wish to reflect on the nature of the intertextual dynamics that characterize the relationship between these texts and on what these dynamics can tell us about the historical circumstances in which these texts were produced. On the other hand, I wish to explore how these three narratives, and more broadly gurbilās literature, interact along multiple poles with the wider world of Braj literary traditions.


Speaker Bio:


Julie Vig is an assistant professor in the Department for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto. Her research focuses on premodern Sikh and Punjabi cultural production and how it relates to wider cultural worlds and networks of premodern North India (c.1500-1850). Her particular focus is on gurbilās literature and its interactions with Brajbhasha literature. She also has secondary research interests in the reception of early modern Sikh texts in the colonial period and women, gender, and sexuality within the Sikh tradition.

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