Purnima Dhavan (History) presents this lecture hosted by the Classics, Medieval, and Early Modern Studies graduate research cluster. The Mughal Empire (1526-1858) created one of the largest empires and bureaucracies in the Early Modern World, yet it remains an understudied case for understanding a diverse, multi-lingual, multi-confessional, and multi-ethnic administration. By examining the literary production of the poets, scholars, and bureaucrats at the core of the Empire’s administrative and expressive outreach, Dhavan demonstrates how a diverse set of literati came to use literary self-fashioning as the means for social mobility.
Tracking prominent figures in Mughal literary salons, memoirs, and prosopographies, Dhavan examines how these worked as sites for the creation of communal and individual identity, in a way contrary to the expectations of the scholarship on public sphere theories, by creating modes of discourse highly sensitive to notions of ethical conduct, governance, and reciprocity and propelling the careers of literati as public servants. These efforts, however, were also rife with contradictions, some of which shed light on the fissures that eventually erupted in the last days of Mughal power.