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UBC Theses and Dissertations

From pre-colonial to colonial forms of engagement with Punjabi pasts : a study of some vār texts Nazar, Hamad Abdullah


In Nādir Shāh dī vār, which was first compiled in 1916 and narrates the historical battle between Nadir Shah of Persia and Mughal King Muhammad Shah, the time operates in a cyclically destructive form through figures like Delhi and Kal. Interconnectedly, this time/ past occupies an all-powerful, all agential role of a divine in the text. This time/past/divine is frequently invoked and praised as the ultimate cause during the narration of the battle. These powerful, divine oriented roles of the time/past have been shared by some other well-known vār texts as well; these include vār texts written by Gurus and Bhai Gurdas, Čaṭẖeyā dī vār and Sikẖā dī vār, all of which were well known in the print and cultural milieus of late nineteenth century Punjab. Such cyclical, divine oriented renditions of the pasts shared by these pre-colonial texts were, however, gradually marginalized by colonial discipline of history writing. Under such colonial works as SM Latif’s History of the Panjab (1889), the past was no longer a source of invoking and praising a destructive, powerful, cyclical time/ divine. Instead, it was recounted in a linearized, human-oriented form. Such a changed relationship with the past, when moving from vār texts to the colonial discipline of history, is not without its social consequences. The imposition of the discipline of history is deeply entwined with our colonial-modern and religio-communal identities that we are inhabiting today. With the marginalization of such pre-colonial forms as vār texts, the past has become a sign of anachronism, on the one hand, which has to be shed off in order to enter the modernity, and a battleground for asserting Hindu, Muslim and/or Sikh communal identities, on the other. These vār texts are few surviving examples of precolonial forms which are no longer widely available for us today, but which can help us critically analyze our contemporary, colonized, modern, religious identities.

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