Banaras, Urdu, Poetry, Poets

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Susan Snow Wadley


Banaras, India, Urdu, Poetry, Muslims, Ghazal

Subject Categories

Social and Cultural Anthropology | South and Southeast Asian Languages and Societies


This dissertation is a richly textured description of the lives of Muslims who reside in the Hindu pilgrimage town of Banaras, India, as encountered in and through their life histories and poetry. The first two chapters, Banaras and Urdu, focus on the physical and linguistic environments in which my consultants reside, since Muslims in Banaras share a dialectical relationship with both the city and the language in which they reside and which reside in them. That my consultants lived in the storied city of Banaras is important, for Banaras is a city with strong Hindu associations, but there is a long and complex history of Muslim residents as well.

The history and current status of Urdu in India is described in detail. As a language which is now strongly associated only with the Muslim community in South Asia, the author suggests that Muslims in North India share a metonymic relationship with Urdu--such that the treatment of Urdu reflects the treatment of Muslims.

The last chapters focus on poetry and the poetic presentation of Muslim life experience in Banaras. The institutions of poetry ustad (master) and poetry shagird (apprentice) are explored as the site where a poet learns to understand adab (propriety, cultured-ness), enact it in culture as tahzib (respectable society), and perform it as takalluf (respect).

The most popular of the poetic forms used by poets in Banaras is the ghazal. The classical aesthetic tradition of this poetry, the condensationary character of the universe of tropes associated with it, and the ambiguous idea of the beloved allow for a poetics which may be used as a powerful tool of critique, a way to speak truth to power and to call together and create alternative communities based on common constructions of history and articulations of memory.

The site where all these ideas come together is the role of the poet in Urdu-speaking North India. The poet mines the traces of Indo-Muslim history, utilizing the potentialities of the Urdu language and the ghazal universe, and constructs a coherent history--and thus an Indo-Muslim present--with meaning.


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