Hajnalka Kovacs: “‘No Journey is Possible Outside of the Heart’”

Posted on September 12th, 2013 in Events

November 7th, 12:15 pm in Encina Hall West, Room 208 (616 Serra St., map)

Workshop Series: “Literary Cultures of Muslim South Asia”

Hajnalka Kovacs (Stanford University), “‘No Journey is Possible Outside of the Heart’: The Story of King Lavaṇa in Bedil’s Muhit-i A`zam

In this paper, I analyze Mirza `Abd al-Qadir Bedil’s poetic reworking of the story of King Lavaṇa against its original Hindu source as well as against the larger context of his mystico-philosophical poem, “Muhit-i A`zam.” In Muhit-i A`zam (“The Greatest Ocean,” 1667), composed in the form of a  saqinamah (or, a poem to the cupbearer), the Indo-Persian poet Bedil describes – through the symbolism of wine – the manifestation of the universe as a stage-by-stage unfolding (or ‘outpouring’) and the eventual return to the divine essence.  The longest of the illustrative stories and anecdotes Bedil uses in the poem is the story of King Lavaṇa, a tale that originates in the Hindu popular-religious text Yogavasishtha. Writing in an era when Persian translations of Hindu texts were readily available and  poets of Persian were increasingly turning to indigenous Indic literary and religious traditions for subject matter, Bedil’s choice for the story of King Lavaṇa is not as unusual as the way he appropriates it to the conventions of the saqinamah genre and to the conceptual framework of Ibn Arabi’s metaphysics that underlies the poem. While both in the Muhit-i A`zam and the Yogavasistha, the story of King Lavaṇa illustrates the ontological connection between the heart, imagination, and the phenomenal world, in the larger conceptual framework of the Muhit-i A`zam, it primarily serves to underscore the need for transforming the heart from its lowest state (i.e. the imagined separateness of the ‘self’) into the purest possible state  (i.e. the state of awareness of its essential unity with the single


Hajnalka Kovacs is 2012-13 Postdoctoral Fellow in Literary Cultures of Muslim South Asia at Stanford University. She is trained in Indian Studies and Iranian Studies at the Eotvos Lorand University (ELTE) in Budapest, Hungary. She received her M.A. in Urdu Literature from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, and her Ph.D. in South Asian Languages and Civilizations from the University of Chicago. Her dissertation explored on the Muhit-i A`zam, a long mystico-philosophical poem by the Indo-Persian poet `Abd al-Qadir Bedil (1644-1720). Her research interests include Sufi thought and literature, Persian and Urdu literature, Indo-Persian poetry and poetics, and literary theory.

Papers are available to Stanford affiliates upon request.

[Co-sponsored by the Center for South Asia and the Department of Comparative Literature.]

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