*Translation by Aditya Behl*
Introductory note by Aditya Behl:
Little is known about Qutban, the author of the Hindavi Sufi romance Mirigavati, except what he tells us in the prologue to the text. He wrote this romance in 1503, and dedicated it to Husain Shah of the Sharqi dynasty of Jaunpur, his patron. Qutban's spiritual preceptor was a Suhravardi Sufi named Shaikh Burhan who cannot be placed with any precision. The poetic tradition of the Hindavi Sufi romances or "love-stories" (prema-kahani) in which Qutban wrote can be traced back to Da'ud's Candayan, written in 1379. In this romance, Da'ud develops a narrative logic for the play of desire between humans, God, and the world in the form of an erotic relationship between a man and two women. Although the Candayan was based on the Ahir folk-epic of Lorik and Canda, Qutban seems to have composed his tale of the love between the beautiful Mirigavati, Rupmini, and the Prince of Candragiri afresh.
At the beginning of the romance, the Prince is out hunting in a forest. He sees far off in the distance the glimmering shade of a seven-coloured doe, and decides to follow it. The doe lures him on, but then disappears into a magic lake in the forest. Although the Prince jumps into the lake to find her, she disappears completely and he is left lamenting. He climbs out and sits weeping inconsolably by the lake, where his companions find him. He will not return to court with them, and sits by the lake meditating on the vision he has seen. His father builds a splendid red-and-gold palace for him by the lakeside, a palace embellished with gilding, carving, and murals with scenes from the epics and story literature. When his nurse comes to comfort the Prince, he describes what he has seen by the lakeside. His response is the poetic set-piece of the sarapa or nakh-shikh-varnana, a head-to-foot description of Mirigavati, the heroine of the romance. Among Sufi reading communities, these passages were interpreted as ultimately referring to the beauty and kindness of Allah (jamal) or his might and majesty (jalal). The poet repeatedly stresses the inability of words to signify what the Prince has seen, so that his concrete poetic description serves as an analogy for a spiritual or supernatural vision.
The following selection is taken from my forthcoming complete annotated
translation of the romance. For the text, I have used the critical edition
of D. F. Plukker (Amsterdam: Universiteit van Amsterdam Academisch Proefschrift,
1981), but I have also consulted the earlier editions of Parameshvarilal
Gupta (Varanasi: Visvavidyalaya Prakasan, 1967) and Mataprasad Gupta
(Agra: Pramanik Prakasan, 1968). For a detailed account of Qutban's Mirigavati,
see my "The Magic Doe: Desire and Narrative in a Hindavi Sufi Romance,
Circa 1503," in Richard M. Eaton, ed., Indian Islamic Traditions, 711-1750
(Delhi: Oxford University Press, Series: Themes in Indian History, 2003).