Colliding Cultures: Masculinity and Homoeroticism in Mughal and Early Colonial South Asia

  • Walter Penrose


The period between 1550 and 1800 witnessed the beginning of a collision of cultures in South Asia perhaps greater than the Himalayas themselves.1 The process of Islamic conquest of Hindu lands had begun centuries before, and in the early sixteenth century the Portuguese established a ‘maritime empire’ in the Indian Ocean that ignited a long, confrontational process of European colonization.2 In 1526, the Mongol dynast Babur defeated the Sultan of Delhi and established the Mughal Empire.3 By the death of the Sultan Aurangzeb in 1707, Mughal rule reached its zenith after the conquest of southern India, but not without intense Hindu/Muslim struggle.4 Early Mughal rulers, unlike Aurangzeb and later British colonials, largely tolerated the Hindu culture they encountered in South Asia, particularly with regard to gender variance and eroticism. Homoerotic poetry and artwork appear to have flourished in the Mughal period; even prescriptive Sanskrit sexual literature was translated into Persian for the subcontinent’s new rulers’ erudition and enjoyment. Mughal invaders have been called ‘hedonistic’ by James Saslow — their artwork, poetry, and even translated sex manuals celebrated human sexuality.5


Gender Variance Early Sixteenth Century Masculine Pronoun Female Homoeroticism Persian Translation 
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© Walter Penrose 2006

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  • Walter Penrose

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