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A Frenchman Sensing Seventeenth Century Mughal India

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Title: A Frenchman Sensing Seventeenth Century Mughal India
Authors: Gangoo, Talia
Issue Date: 2013
Publisher: University of Hawaii at Manoa Center for South Asian Studies
Citation: Gabgoo, Talia, "A Frenchman Sensing Seventeenth Century Mughal India." Paper presented at the Center for South Asian Studies 30th Annual Symposium, "Sensing South Asia," Honolulu, April 17-19, 2013.
Abstract: In Travels in the Mogul Empire, A.D. 1656-1668, François Bernier recounts his experiences traversing northern India as a physician in the court of Emperor Aurungzeb. While documenting his encounters with material objects and people including sovereigns, villagers, and fakirs, Bernier reveals the sensuous dimension of imperial, quotidian, and ascetic life in Delhi, Agra, and Kashmir. This paper highlights many of Bernier's colorful descriptions of sensory events such as touch (e.g., feeling the “delicate texture and softness” of shawls made from wild goat hair), taste (e.g., savoring sweet mangoes and loathing confections “full of dust and flies”), hearing (e.g., reveling in the “solemn, grand, and melodious” sounds of karnas), sight (e.g., sneaking glimpses of the “almost inaccessible” maidens of Roshanara Begum’s retinue), and smell (e.g., detecting the scent of a woman’s garment “impregnated with scented oil, mixed with sandalwood powder and saffron” as she immolated herself on a pyre). For Bernier, his ephemeral, multi-sensory experiences yield a type of knowledge which he then tries to communicate with words. The sensation of pain, however, is nearly incommunicable as is the case when he suffers from a violent bout of heat rash under the sweltering sun of Punjab such that the “pen itself drops” from his blistered hand. In addition to this discussion of Bernier’s personal sensory experiences, attention is also given to his depictions of the incongruity between the sensory experience of the royals whose leisure and hedonism is evidenced through their sumptuous feasts and opulent abodes and the yogis, who through strict exercise, desire to transcend all sensory modalities to the point where “their external senses lose their functions.”
Rights: Gangoo, Talia
Appears in Collections:2013 South Asia Spring Symposium Presentations

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