Date of Award

Winter 2011

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

South Asia Regional Studies

First Advisor

Jamal J. Elias, Class of 1965 Term Professor, Religious Studies

Second Advisor

Rachel Fell McDermott, Professor, Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Cultures, Barnard College, Columbia University

Third Advisor

Christian Lee Novetzke, Associate Professor, South Asia Program, The Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington


The present dissertation is a study of the Nabīvaṃśa, “The Prophet’s Lineage,” the first biography of the Prophet Muḥammad to be composed in Bangla, in the first half of the seventeenth century. A literary milestone in the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural history of Islam, it marks a significant contribution to Bangla’s rich literary corpus, and became a canonical work for the late-medieval Islamic Bangla literary tradition. This hitherto little-studied text is used to examine the nature of Islamic expansion on Bengal’s eastern frontier, addressing issues of religious competition, identity formation, and conversion. These were central concerns of the author, Saiyad Sultān (fl. 1615–1646), who was an important Sufi pīr. By situating the Nabīvaṃśa, on the one hand, in the literary traditions of medieval Islam—historiographies, tales of the prophets, biographies and ascension narratives of the Prophet Muḥammad—and in local Bangla epic, purāṇic, and hagiographical traditions, on the other, the dissertation studies the processes of translation by which local cultural figures and Bangla literary forms are used to legitimate and root the Arabian Prophet of Islam in Bengal. In examining the life of a text across the subject-author-text-community continuum over a time-span of nearly four hundred years, the dissertation traces the Nabīvaṃśa’s trajectory from its manuscript circulation in southeast Bengal into the print era, investigating the author’s legacy and the text’s meaning in various publics of memory.

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