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Afghanistan, Pashto and the Creation of a Literary Language

Afghan Studies Lecture by C. Ryan Perkins, University of Oxford

Thursday, April 10, 2014
2:00 PM - 3:30 PM
10383 Bunche Hall

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The UCLA Program on Central Asia presents an Afghan Studies Lecture

At the turn of the 17th and 18th century the son of Khushal Khan Khattak (1613-1689), Abdul Qadir Khan (b. 1652) completed his translation from Persian into Pashto of Jami’s beloved masnavi, Yusuf va Zulaikha (YZ).  During the surrounding decades at least two of Qadir Khan’s brothers, as well as a number of other unrelated poets, reworked a dozen Persianate romances in Pashto and renarrated indigenous oral ones.  It was a period of great literary productivity, not only in Pashto, but in other regional languages as well.  This talk makes use of manuscript copies of YZ produced in the courtly contexts of Kashmir and Shahjahanabad in the early-eighteenth to mid-nineteenth century in order to understand the creation of Pashto as a literary language and the reasons for such an endeavor.  Rather than understanding the larger process of the vernacularization of Persian as tied to a weakening of the imperial center and its language, the case of Pashto can more accurately be understood as part of the Persianization of the vernaculars.  This talk explores these areas of enquiry and places them within the context of larger social changes taking place within the region.   It suggests that the creation of a high literary tradition served the needs of an elite tribal class of Pashtuns seeking to shore up their political gains, consolidate social networks and ward off political and cultural challenges from without.


C. Ryan Perkins is a Postdoctoral Fellow in Indian History and Culture at the University of Oxford.  He specializes in the literary history of Islamic South Asia, with a focus on the social, cultural and literary history of the regions from north India and the Deccan to contemporary Pakistan and Afghanistan.

*Note: Image is taken from John Rylands Library (Manchester, U.K.)


Sponsor(s): Program on Central Asia