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Shifting Semantics in Early Modern North Indian Poetry

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Chapter Summary

The chapter explores how cultural products and practices in early modern North India cross boundaries between communities and defy being fixed to a single social, cultural, or geographical location. The analysis of fluid cultural practices and practitioners aptly illustrate the "circulation of culture" that characterizes this environment. It describes another aspect of this phenomenon, as it focuses on the shifts in the semantic program of literary texts in early modern North Indian vernaculars. The chapter proposes a reading that does not frame these changes as a "corruption" introduced by the transmission of the text, but rather as the effect of a mechanism that enables texts to be ported to various cultural contexts without losing their evocative power. Through an analysis of a sample of poems attributed to the North Indian poet Kabir, the chapter analyzes how these texts accumulated various overlapping meanings as they traveled in a hybrid cultural environment.

Keywords: cultural practices; North Indian poet Kabir; North Indian vernaculars



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