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In 1318 the Persian poet Amīr Khusraw (1253-1325) of Delhi completed the most formally accomplished and thematically diverse of his works, The Nine Skies, in 4,487 end-rhymed couplets. Its nine chapters replicate the nine concentric spheres of the Ptolemaic cosmos, moving from outermost to innermost sky.
In implicit and unprecedented imitation of Sanskrit poetry in cantos (mahākāvya) Khusraw composed each chapter in a distinct meter and addressed diverse courtly themes: Muslim triumph over idolatrous Hindus, praise of Brahmins and Sanskrit, India’s paradisiac status, disputes between the Sultan’s bow and arrow and densely punning battle descriptions. But he submitted such thematic diversity to the Arabo-Persian panegyric’s unifying logic of praise for the royal addressee. By thus epicizing a living king, his patron Sultan Mubārak Shāh Khalajī, he replicated Sanskrit models like Bilhana’s eleventh century Vikramânkadevacharita. However, he did so for purposes wholly in line with the medieval Islamic theological problematic of free will versus fatalism.
Prashant Keshavmurthy will lead us through the poem’s ingenious structure with passages from his forthcoming complete translation of it into English blank verse, recitations from the original, and reflections on its consummation of Khusraw’s career-long tension between rhetoric as truth-speaking and rhetoric as persuasion.
Prashant Keshavmurthy is Associate Professor of Persian-Iranian Studies in the Institute of Islamic Studies, McGill University. He is the author of Persian Authorship and Canonicity in Late Mughal Delhi: Building an Ark (Routledge, 2016) and co-translator of Sohrab Sepehri, The Eight Books: A Complete English Translation (Brill, 2022). He has completed a full translation into English blank verse of Amir Khusraw’s mixed genre poem from 1318, The Nine Skies, and is writing a monograph on craving and craft in the quintet of the great twelfth century poet Niẓāmī of Ganja.