The Sufi who Loved Kṛṣṇa: A Discourse Analysis of the Tales of Jaban Haridās

Location: OCHS Library
Speaker: Prof. Tony K. Stewart
Date: June 9, 2022
Time: 2.00pm – 3.30pm

Counted among the immediate followers of Kṛṣṇa Caitanya in the early decades of the 16th century was a figure named Haridās Ṭhākur, more popularly known as Jaban Haridās. Jaban (from Sanskrit yavana) signifies a “foreigner,” in this case a Muslim Sufi. Scholars and devotees have puzzled how it was possible for Haridās to be one of Caitanya’s most intimate associates. A formal discourse analysis, employing a complex progression of semiotic squares, reveals some surprising truths about the ways in which the Sufism and Vaiṣṇavism of that period were compatible.

Prof. Tony K. Stewart currently holds the Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Chair in Humanities and serves as a Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Vanderbilt University. Within the Hindu traditions his research has focused on the creation of the Gaudiya Vaisnava movement of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the results of which can be found in his recent monograph titled The Final Word: the Caitanya Caritamrta and the Grammar of Religious Tradition (Oxford 2010). This work was preceded by and dependent on a translation of the key text, the encyclopaedic Caitanya Caritamrta of Krsnadasa Kaviraja, which he produced with the late Edward C. Dimock, Jr. (Harvard Oriental Series 1999). Followers of the Vaisnava traditions also recognize a figure named Satya Pir, which provided a segue into the Islamic literatures of Bengal, especially of the area now known as Bangladesh. Satya Pir, who is considered to be both an avatara of Krsna as well as a Sufi saint, represents a rapprochment of Muslims and Hindus in a plural Bengali society in the premodern period. In Fabulous Females and Peerless Pirs (Oxford 2004) Prof. Stewart translated eight tales out of several hundred, each focused on the ways women, aided by Satya Pir, keep the world ordered in the wake of male-generated chaos. That literature in turn pointed him to write Witness to Marvels: Sufism and Literary Imagination (California, 2019) which examines the ways the Islamic imaginaire has insinuated itself seamlessly into a Bengali consciousness through mythic heroes who extend their help and protection to anyone regardless of sectarian affiliation. The accompanying anthology of fully translated tales, tentatively titled The Needle at the Bottom of the Sea: Writing Bengal into the World of Islam should be released shortly.