Vivek Gupta: Imagining Somnath: Mirabilia Indiae in Islamicate Cosmographies of South Asia

While the wonders of India or mirabilia indiae have been a source of interest for scholars focused on the premodern West, they have been largely neglected within the field of South Asian illustrated manuscripts. In premodern India, wonder was integrated into scholarly curricula as knowledge fertile for transcultural innovations. Its popularity in the medieval Islamicate world inspired many Indic literary and material forms of expression. Because India has served as the site and source of wonder, Gupta explores how this concept was reoriented in an Asian context ca. 1450 to 1600. The holy site of Somnath intrigued the makers of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Islamicate cosmographical encyclopaedias of South Asia. Dated to the mid-fifteenth century, the earliest known illustrated wonders-of-creation manuscript possibly made in the subcontinent passed through the Deccan cities of Bidar and Bijapur. Unlike contemporaneous Persian cosmographies, this manuscript’s map of the world has labels of specific sites such as Somnath, Patan, and Telangana. Through an exploration of roughly 50 illustrated cosmographical manuscripts this presentation examines topographical wonders such as Somnath. In so doing, it examines how these manuscripts situated specific Indian phenomena not only on the map of the world, but also in the entire universe.

 

Vivek Gupta is an art historian of the Islamic, South Asian, and Indian Ocean worlds. His doctoral thesis, Wonder Reoriented: Manuscripts and Experience in Islamicate Societies of South Asia (ca. 1450–1600), will be submitted in 2019–2020 at SOAS University of London, History of Art and Archaeology. His thesis offers the first full-length study of how the genre of the Islamicate cosmography transformed in South Asia through an analysis of roughly 50 illustrated manuscripts. From June 2019 onwards, hew holds a research placement at the British Library on illumination in Persian manuscripts. In September 2019, he co-organized the symposium, Connected Courts: Art of the South Asian Sultanates at the University of Oxford. His current research considers word and image, transculturation, Arabic in South Asia, and the relationship between contemporary and premodern practices. His research has been supported by the Smithsonian Institution, the Social Sciences Research Council, the Kamran Djam Fellowship for Iranian Studies, the Saraswati Dalmia Fellowship for Indian Art, and the Santander Mobility Award. His academic publications have appeared in Archives of Asian Art, caa.reviews, and the Encyclopedia of Indian Religions.


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