“Brave and vivid.”—New York Review of Books These enchanting stories from early modern Bengal reveal how Hindu and Muslim traditions converged on timeless themes of human morality, social culture, and survival.
The Bengali stories in this collection are first and foremost tales of survival. Each story in Needle at the Bottom of the Sea underscores the need for people to work together—not just to overcome the challenges of living in the Sundarban swamps of Bengal, but also to ease hostilities born of social differences in religion, caste, and economic class.
Translated by award-winning scholar of early modern Bengali literature Tony K. Stewart, Needle at the Bottom of the Sea brims with fantasy and excitement. Sufi protagonists travel through a world of wonder where tigers talk and men magically grow into giants, a Hindu princess falls in love with a Muslim holy man, and goddesses rub shoulders with kings and merchants. Across religion, class, and gender, what binds these fabulous stories together is the characters’ pursuit of living honorably and morally in a difficult, corrupt world.
About the Author
Tony K. Stewart is Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Chair in Humanities, Emeritus, at Vanderbilt University and a specialist in the early modern literatures of the Bengali-speaking world. His most recent work is Witness to Marvels: Sufism and Literary Imagination, winner of the 2021 Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy Book Prize from the Association for Asian Studies.
"Brave and vivid . . . [Stewart's translation] helps the anglophone reader enter this world in which karma supplies the ultimate explanation of the often bizarre adventures of the human spirit so richly explored in these stories." — Wendy Doniger
“Needle at the Bottom of the Sea allows access to local stories of quotidian struggles of common people and their belief system. The kathas in this anthology are useful for locating the time and space in South Asian history that led to the incorporation of Islamic cultural strands into the socio-literary corpus of Bengali. The translation of these tales entailed meticulous research. . . . Overall, this is a work of great scholarship, which will interest literary historians as well as avid readers having interest in traditional South Asian romances.” — Asian Review of Books