From Manuscript to Print

Islamic Bangla Literature and the Politics of the Archive


  • Ayesha A Irani University of Massachusetts



Arakan, Chittagong, Islamic Bangla literature, Islamic Bangla manuscripts, literary historiography, nationalism, print culture, Southeast Bengal


This article takes the Nabivamsa—the first major work of Islamic doctrine to be written in Bangla, in the seventeenth century—as the basis for larger observations about Islamic Bangla literature and its transition from manuscript into print. The article charts three moments in the four centuries of the Nabivamsa’s textual life, reflecting on why such well-loved early modern religious texts fell into obscurity in the print era. The first phase from 1666 to 1777 marks the emergence and efflorescence of this literature, produced by Muslim intellectuals in the Cattagrama (Chittagong)-Arakan region. The second period, from 1777 onwards, is marked by the emergence of print as well as dobhasi Bangla in colonial Bengal. The third phase of this survey pertains to the constitution of a literary public sphere in Bengal linked to the momentum generated by print. This period saw the formulation of the Bangla literary canon through the efforts of publishers, literary critics, anthologists, translators, editors, historiographers and manuscript collectors. All of these were sustained through print’s cultural marketplace and the public discourses it engendered. The essay examines the ways in which Islamic Bangla literature’s value was articulated by the politics of archive-building and literary historiography central to the nationalist project.

Author Biography

Ayesha A Irani, University of Massachusetts

Ayesha A. Irani is Assistant Professor of Asian Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. She is a specialist in early modern Bangla and Indo-Islamic literatures, with particular interest in Islam and translation. She has recently completed a monograph on the Nabīvaṃśa, and authored articles on subjects such as Islamic cosmogony, middle Bangla translations of Persian literature and pīr-culture in Bangladesh. Her new project involves recovering the many faces of the Bengali fakir, from their own writings and from early modern and colonial sources.


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How to Cite

Irani, A. A. (2019). From Manuscript to Print: Islamic Bangla Literature and the Politics of the Archive. Religions of South Asia, 12(3), 351–381.