Historical sources on the rise of Islam in Bengal tell us that the Sena ruler, Lakṣmaṇasena (r. 1179–1204), was defeated in the thirteenth century by Muhammad Bakhtiyār Khiljī. The Sena kingdom, with its capital at Lakṣmaṇāvatī, earlier known as Gauṛa, was thereafter incorporated into the Delhi Sultanate, until the heyday of the Sultāns of Bengal. This paper is about the Sekaśubhodayā (“The Auspicious Appearance of the Seka”), a Sanskrit text, composed no earlier than the sixteenth century, that provides an account of the rise of Islam in Bengal. In this presentation I ask three broad questions. How was this Sanskrit text connected to the shrine in which it was found? What religious and cultural work did this hagiography once perform? And what are the textual strategies that it harnessed to perform this cultural work?
AYESHA IRANI is Associate Professor of Asian Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She is a scholar of Islam in South Asia, with a particular interest in the early modern Islamic Bangla literature of Bengal and Arakan. Her recent monograph, The Muhammad Avatāra: Salvation History, Translation, and the Making of Bengali Islam, examines the role of vernacular translation in the Islamization of Bengal, through a close reading of the seventeenth-century Nabīvaṃśa (“The Prophet’s Lineage”), the first major work to translate Islamic doctrine for Bengalis into their mother-tongue.