Skip to main content
“Love’s Crown of Thorns”: Ballads and Public Memory in Eastern Bengal
Association for Asian Studies (2014)
  • David Curley, Western Washington University
This panel explores the narrative poetry of early modern South Asia made famous most recently by Kumkum Chatterjee’s analysis of mangalkavya. Before she died in 2012, Chatterjee had taken two distinct positions on these poetic narratives – one, that they were Mughal-period artifacts as well as historical records of the Mughalisation of Bengal and second, that the stories within were allegories of the encounter between Mughal and local ruling regimes.

Four historians explore divergent implications of Chatterjee’s analyses of such poetic texts. Ishita Banerjee-Dube interrogates the applicability of the term ‘vernacular’ for a canon that combined Sanskrit, Persian and regional languages but spoke about particular geographies. Indrani Chatterjee focuses directly on the geographies of fortified shrines in an eighteenth-century poem to wonder about the fully developed cosmopolitan imaginary stretching between the Himalayan world (of modern Nepal) and the coastline (of modern Odisha) marked there. Projit Mukharji analyzes episodes of parental cannibalism in two poetic narratives which resist being read as historical description: only an allegorical reading, he suggests, can yield a modicum of history in these narratives. David Curley trains his gaze on a ballad collected in the nineteenth century. By using records of a conflict found in the English Company’s official archives, he suggests that the ballad could be read as a record of the historical refashioning of social bonds and cleavages resulting from marriages between governing men and non-elite women in the 1760s.
Publication Date
March 28, 2014
Paper presented for the panel, ‘Vernacular poets, cosmopolitan pasts’.
Citation Information
David Curley. "“Love’s Crown of Thorns”: Ballads and Public Memory in Eastern Bengal" Association for Asian Studies (2014)
Available at: