This panel engages in a reappraisal of the Bazgasht-i adabi (Literary Return movement). Through exploring and challenging the boundaries and dimensions (literary, temporal, geographic, political, and aesthetic) of the so-called Bazgasht-i adabi, the papers challenge widely-held assumptions about the dynamics of Persianate poetic culture in the 18th and 19th centuries, including the following: that the Bazgasht was a grassroots movement of Iranian poets motivated by their staunch opposition to an "Indian Style"; that women did not play a part in refashioning the contours of Persian poetic expression in this period; and that it was only Iran that witnessed a conscious reevaluation of poetic aesthetics in this period, and that poets writing in Persian in Afghanistan and South Asia were both oblivious to, and divorced from, this reevaluation.
The so-called Bazgasht-i adabi (Literary Return movement) is believed by many to have begun in post-Safavid 18th-century Isfahan, and to have come to fruition in the context of early Qajar Tehran. To date, this neo-classical literary movement has been presented by most scholars of Persian literature as: a) an exclusively Iranian phenomenon (one that consciously saw itself in opposition to the wayward “Indian” style it sought to replace); and b) as a movement among male poets in which women played no significant (or insignificant) part. This paper challenges both these tropes in the established narrative on the geographical and gender scope of the Bazgasht-i adabi through a close reading of the divans of two women poets who wrote in Persian in the 18th and 19th centuries. One of these literary figures, the Afghan poet ‘A’isha Durrani (d.1819), was active in Kabul at the same time the grassroots poetic movement that had taken shaped in the literary societies (sing. anjuman) of Isfahan was being co-opted by the Qajars for their cultural project. The other, the Kurdish poet Mastura Kurdistani (d.1848), composed poetry of a neoclassical character and of considerable sophistication in a provincial environment, while her male counterparts at the courts of Fath-‘Ali Shah and Muhammad Shah vied with one another to demonstrate their prowess in imitating the poets of the pre-Timurid Iranian world.