Fresh words for a fresh world: TĀza-gŪ’Ī and the poetics of newness in early modern indo-persian poetry

Rajeev Kinra*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


This article examines a crucial phase of Indo-Persian literary modernity, beginning in the late sixteenth century CE, when poets and other literati across South, Central, and West Asia began articulating an unprecedented break with their cultural past through calls for ‘speaking the fresh’ (tāza-gū’ī). In later, nineteenth- and twentieth-century scholarship, this period of literary ingenuity has been almost universally decried as decadent and unworthy of serious study, an indictment that has, over the years, become specifically and explicitly coded in terms of India’s allegedly debilitating effect on Persian language and literature. Thus in scholarly parlance this era is regularly (and pejoratively) referred to as that of the ‘Indian Style’ (sabk-i hindī), despite the fact that the early modern poets themselves never used such metageographical terminology, and despite the tāza-gū’īmovement’s incontrovertibly transregional reach and cosmopolitan tenor. To interrogate this conceptual slippage, this article historicizes some key factors in the twentieth-century formulation of the notion of sabk-i hindī, and then contrasts them with evidence from a case study of the celebrated Mughal munshīand litterateur, Chandar Bhān Brahman (d. 1672–3), whose sense of literary possibility and the interconnectedness of the early modern world are clearly at odds with the nationalist frames of later Iranian (and even Indian) thinkers. After using Chandar Bhān’s example as a barometer for calling into question much of the modernist discourse about Safavid-Mughal literary and political culture, I offer a brief précis of some suggestive comparative possibilities that could open up if we were to abandon the anachronistic sabk-i hindīmodel and return our attention to the poetics of ingenuity and ‘freshness’ (tāzagī) that were of central concern to the early modern Indo-Persian literati themselves.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)125-149
Number of pages25
JournalSikh Formations: Religion, Culture, Theory
Issue number2
StatePublished - Dec 1 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Religious studies


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