Dr. Behl, South Asia Studies

Dr. Aditya ‘Adi’ Behl, associate professor of South Asia Studies, died in his sleep on August 22, 2009, as a result of a chronic medical condition, at the age of 43.

He earned a BA in 1988 at Bowdoin College. He then attended the University of Chicago, where he was awarded both his master’s in religious studies in 1989 and his PhD in 1995.

Dr. Behl taught Urdu and Hindi literature and the medieval cultural history of South Asia. He taught in the department of South and Southeast Asian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley until his arrival at the University of Pennsylvania in 2001 as a visiting professor of religious studies; he was appointed an associate professor in South Asia studies in 2002. Dr. Behl went on to chair that department from 2004 to 2007, seeing it through transitions with vision and leadership.

Dr. Behl’s scholarly interest was in the Indo-Muslim literature and culture of South Asia, particularly Sufi romances, but his competencies ranged across the history, religion, and literatures of the subcontinent and the fields of literary theory and religious studies. He published a translation, with Simon Weightman, of Madhumalati: An Indian Sufi Romance in 2000 (Oxford), and this year had completed a translation of the Mrgavati and large parts of a study on Sufi romances to be called “Hindavi Sufi Romances, Shadows of Paradise: An Indian Islamic Literary Tradition.” A few weeks ago, he wrote a major review essay on Sanskrit literature, “Sanskrit’s Hidden Gold” which was featured on the cover of the Times Literary Supplement.

“Beyond these major works and a number of influential scholarly articles, Dr. Behl was known for his love of Hindustani music, and his deep knowledge of Hindi and Urdu literature, which he often recited to the pleasure of his listeners,” according to Dr. Daud Ali, chair of South Asia Studies. “He was, without a doubt, one of the leading scholarly lights of his generation, widely known and deeply loved by his teachers, students and colleagues alike. At Penn, his service to both the school and the cause of South Asia was considerable, and he worked tirelessly to ensure that Penn remained among the top institutions in the field of South Asian Studies.”

Dr. Behl is survived by his parents, Col. and Mrs. Behl; his sister, Aradhna Behl; brother-in-law, Ashwani Nagpal and nephew, Anhad Nagpal. A memorial service at Penn will take place on Sunday, September 20. Details to come.