Reading the Texture of History and Memory in Early-Nineteenth-Century Punjab
- Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East
- Duke University Press
- Volume 29, Number 3, 2009
- pp. 515-527
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This article examines two early-nineteenth-century Punjabi histories to demonstrate how these texts reflect ruptures in the recording and reordering of Sikh historical memories in the decades prior to colonization. An awareness of the East India Company’s interest in the records of the recent Sikh past is reflected in the works of Ratan Singh Bhangu, the author of the hagiographic work Gur Panth Prakash, and Ram Sukh Rao, the court historian of the Sikh kingdom of Kapurthala. The works on these Punjabi authors reveal anxieties about how the recent past would be recorded and understood not only by the colonial state but also by the larger Punjabi-speaking Sikh community. A close contextual reading of both texts reveals the complex impact of colonial rule on local modes of historical narration. Each author crafted competing discourses about the nature of Sikh sovereignty for the new audiences of Sikh courts and the Khalsa warrior community. Reading these two texts together destabilizes our understanding of these two important and widely used sources of Sikh history and raises methodological concerns about how such precolonial sources should be read. In particular, analyzing the expressive and literary forms of such narratives to understand the ways in which they simultaneously created and engaged new audiences in vernacular languages such as Punjabi, mobilizing such groups through the forging of new political and cultural identities, is extremely important.