Poet and lover of secrets, Hasna Jasimuddin Moudud, has journeyed the Silk Road in search of mysterious connections across centuries and borders. She is the author of “Mystic Poetry of Bangladesh” and “Where Women Rule: South Asia.” She is currently an SAI Research Affiliate, a former Senior Fellow at the Harvard University Asia Center and a former Visiting Fellow at the Harvard University Ash Center.
In an interview with SAI, Hasna shares the inspiration behind her quest to traverse the Silk Road in an attempt to uncover the lost links between Mongolia and India via Bangladesh.
Hasna will give a seminar on her poetic journey titled “The Silk Road to South Asia: From Mongolia to Bangladesh” on Tuesday, March 27th at 4pm.
How did you first become interested in studying the Silk Road and Buddhism?
The Silk Road is a road from the past that connected people through trade — both in open material and secret spiritual goods. In translating 1,000-year-old Buddhist mystic poems, I discovered how the poems traveled from Bangladesh, Nepal, and Bhutan to Tibet and Mongolia through the Silk Road. The poems are lost now but preserved far away. Art, books, and secret tantric teachings traveled the Silk Road through secret passages in the Himalayas.
My interest in poetry grew through my father who was a great poet. We lived near the Kamlapur Buddhist monastery. After my long-awaited visit to Tibet, I learned how people from far away revered Atisha. However, besides the Buddhist priests, people in his birth country, Bangladesh, did not know about Atisha. I see myself as his daughter — and I am devoted to introducing Atisha Dionakara Srigana to his people in Bangladesh.
What are some of the questions that led to your trip to Mongolia?
I always felt that India had a very close connection with Mongolia, despite being so far away — deserts and mountains could not keep India and Mongolia apart. I wanted to find these connections by traveling to Mongolia. Last year, I attended the World Poetry Congress in Mongolia and found some answers.
My proposal that the Silk Road came through Bangladesh, connecting Mongolia with Bangladesh — intrigues people, for it is a secret history.
There is something poetic about your physical journey to discover the lost connections between Mongolia, India, and Bangladesh. I noticed that you also have published on poetry. Could you describe the role of poetry in the way that you conduct your research?
I sometimes call myself a writer and a poet, who loves nature. My research is about restoring and conserving the world’s lost and natural heritage.
It is exciting to imagine how these Silk Road riders rode off, some to make money and others not, with a great sense of necessity — an urge to be a part of a race into the unknown — an urge shared with animals. It is a call of nature, just as the mountain and the sea often call me. Poetry opens roads to unusual places.
What has been the most surprising part of your research?
Sometimes information comes as a revelation and I do not have to research; it appears — like a piece of a poem.
Additionally, as a masters student of old English literature, translation, and manuscript reading, I have a self-acquired specialization on handling old manuscripts, bringing in new meanings and focusing on the world of their period.
What is a common misconception about the Silk Road?
That it exploits cultures and brings deadly diseases like the plague, or that the Silk Road belongs to one country.
Who are some of the people that you have met on your travels in Mongolia?
I encountered writers and poets, Buddhist priests, homemakers, and every-day Mongolians. People, who do not speak my language, but share the mysteries of the desert. I met a young man who is a founder of his school belonging to the Kadamba sect of Buddhism — he said that he would pray for me.
What is the research that you have been conducting while at Harvard?
When I first started working on the Silk Road — or Roads — it was not so well known. During the last five to six years, suddenly everyone is talking about the Silk Road, even Barack Obama. It now has many names, with political and economic connotations that offer many theories and interpretations.
However, the Silk Road is the Silk Road. My interest was to bring the Silk Road to Bangladesh.
At Harvard, I spent my time in the libraries and museums, discovering a different library each week. The seminars and lectures have enlightened me. My research is about bringing peace in the world, nothing less. Since the Silk Road is not always about a single country, I see ways in which the Silk Road can continue to build connections between cultures.