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Conference abstracts

  • [Jump to an abstract: Dan Arnold, Yigal Bronner, Allison Busch, Whitney Cox, Robert Goldman, Xi He, Sudipta Kaviraj, Rajeev Kinra, Ethan Kroll, Guy Leavitt, Lawrence McCrea, Parimal G. Patil, Ajay Rao, Ananya Vajpeyi, Blake Wentworth]

  • Is Mind or Language the Fundamental Locus of Intentionality?
    Thoughts on Framing a Buddhist-Mimamsaka Debate
    Dan Arnold
    Sheldon Pollock's justly influential works have evinced a recurrent concern with the status of Sastra — more particularly, with the extent to which characteristically Mimamsaka positions have informed a conception of sastra according to which contingent traditions of knowledge are "naturalized," becoming "in essence a practical discourse of power." In developing these ideas, Prof. Pollock has occasionally noted that the Buddhist tradition represented perhaps the most notable challenge to the Mimamsaka conceptions here in play, the Buddhists having developed "what may best be viewed as a desire to renaturalize the world." I would like to honor Prof. Pollock's achievements by suggesting some terms in which Buddhist-Mimamsaka debates can be broadly but usefully characterized — and in so doing, add some complexity to the various ways in which "naturalism" may here be a relevant category. I will argue, then, that the debate between Buddhists and Mimamsakas about the status of linguistic universals can be understood as a debate comparable to one that has preoccupied contemporary philosophers of mind; specifically, this debate can be taken to concern the question (posed by Roderick Chisholm as a way to clarify his disagreements from Wilfrid Sellars): "Can we explicate the intentional character of believing and of other psychological attitudes by reference to certain features of language; or must we explicate the intentional characteristics of language by reference to believing and to other psychological attitudes?" In arguing against the Mimamsakas (who clearly hold something like the former view), the Buddhists, elaborating something like the latter view, can be taken to have advanced an account that is in important ways analogous to contemporary attempts at "naturalizing" mental content. I will suggest that when the debate is framed this way, the Mimamsaka arguments against this "naturalized" account of thought — and for (what few contemporary interpreters are apt to accept) the irreducibility of language — are more cogent than is often supposed.
  • A Text with a Thesis
    The Ramayana from Appayya Dikshita�s Receptive End
    Yigal Bronner
    Sheldon Pollock�s contributions to the study of the Ramayana form a large corpus of scholarship, the importance of which seems to have been somewhat obscured by his more recent seminal writings. Pollock carefully studied the poem�s critical edition in order to probe the process by which the work has been conceived. He also explored the traditional reception and interpretation of Valmiki. As elsewhere in his work, serious philology and attention to the tradition converged, yielding a groundbreaking conclusion: Valmiki�s Ramayana is not a fusion of unrelated stories but a unified text, featuring the paradoxical identity of its man-god hero and reflecting the divine plan for eliminating Ravana. Following in the footsteps of Pollock, this paper examines Appayya Dikshita�s Ramayanatatparyasarasangrahastotra, one of the most explicit and coherent emic arguments for the unity of Valmiki�s text. I argue that Appayya refutes competing sectarian readings of the work precisely on the grounds that they violate the text�s unity, its underlying cosmic plan, and the hyphenated identity of its hero. I also show that Appayya supplies a surprising and plausible explanation to what modern readers identified as a major textual inconsistency in the Ramayana, lending further support to Pollock�s claims for the overall integrity of the poem.
  • Hindi literary beginnings
    Allison Busch
    The work of Sheldon Pollock has afforded valuable directives for how to theorize the emergence of new literatures. In this presentation on Hindi literary beginnings I map some of Pollock's literary-historical formulations onto the complex terrain of precolonial Hindi. Part of the Pollock legacy (a central argument of the edited volume Literary Cultures in History but perhaps argued out most forcefully in chapter eight of Language of the Gods in the World of Men) is that we stop taking the existence of literary languages for granted. In the words of Pollock, "There is no parthenogenesis in culture." People make choices about shifts in using literary language, and it is our task as scholars to try to historicize them.
    Inspired by Pollock's bold theorization of the origins of Sanskrit kavya as centrally linked to new political formations early in the first millennium, my paper sets out to apply his approaches to the development of what came to be called "Hindi literature." I examine a range of possible beginning points for Hindi literature (for there are several in this highly contested ground), in each case asking questions about the agents of transformation and some of the choices that were in play in the literary field. One finding is that the Hindi tradition, often held by nationalist historiographers to be some self-evident patrimony of Hindus, owes much of its early cultivation to Muslims, whether we look to the traces of Hindi couplets from the Ghaznavid court, the Sultanate rulers' patronage of Sufi texts in Eastern Hindi (Avadhi), or the rise to prominence of Brajbhasha, which in my formulation is not only a Vaishnava language (the received wisdom) but one cultivated, sometimes in dramatic fashion, by the Indo-Muslim courts of Mughal India.
    The essay also builds, more tangentially, on Pollock's studies in the arena of vernacularization. Pollock's model, based on close textual work on Kannada texts, has foregrounded courts rather than religious institutions when it comes to understanding the processes that attended vernacularization. The Hindi case in my view largely confirms this point. But other aspects of his theory may not map quite so neatly onto Hindi. Pollock holds that a local language acts primarily in response to a superposed, or cosmopolitan one. Hindi poets, however, were variously in dialogue with Sanskrit, Persian, and other vernacular literatures, perhaps suggesting the need for a less binary approach.
  • Saffron in the Rasam
    Whitney Cox
    Written in Tamilnadu around the turn of the thirteenth century, Saradatanaya's Bhavaprakasana (BhPr) is a lengthy verse essay on Sanskrit dramaturgy and poetics. Beginning with Ramaswami Sastri, the text's first and best editor, contemporary scholars (Sheldon Pollock among them) have noticed the degree to which the BhPr adopts its argument and phraseology from earlier texts, many of which were composed in the two great literary-theoretical milieux of early medieval India, Kashmir and Dhara. Focusing particularly on the BhPr's sixth chapter, comprising its major statement on the key topic of the communication of aestheticized emotion, I will show that the text is not simply a more or less successful compendium of earlier authorities, but a coherent rewriting of these precursors, one that advances its own understanding of its problem, and that was deeply invested in a peculiarly Southern understanding of poetic effect. Further, the text's titular emphasis on bhava ("emotional state") instead of rasa ("aestheticized emotion") can be speculatively compared to the vernacular poetics of the Tamil Tolkappiyam and its commentaries, the earliest of which are nearly contemporaneous with Saradatanaya. This paper thus seeks to extend some of the key themes of Sheldon Pollock's innovative body of scholarship: the circulatory spaces of South Asia's cosmopolitan literary cultures and the complex negotiations that occurred within the transition to vernacularity.
  • Expert Nation
    An Epic of Antiquity in the World of Modernity
    Robert Goldman
    Few areas of Indological research, indeed of any are of humanistic scholarship, have generated the kind of passionate response on the part of scholarly and lay audiences alike, as has the venerable field of Sanskrit Epic Studies in South Asia and throughout the South Asian Diaspora. The location of the ancient epics, the Mahabharata and, most especially, the Ramayana at the intersection of the deeply rooted and profoundly contested areas of religion, social order, politics and nationalism has given these poems a prominence in contemporary discourse that is hard to imagine in the case of other, similar works of antiquity such as the Homeric epics. More, perhaps, than at any other time in their long and complex history, the Sanskrit epics and their innumerable re-workings in every medium and language of the region serve as flash points for passionate and even frenzied debate among scholars in many fields and among members of a vast, diverse and unusually well informed worldwide community of people who take the works very seriously for many reasons.
    Because of this, scholars in this field, both in India and the west, have found that their work can be met with very highly wrought responses, both extravagantly positive and violently negative, such as one would not expect to encounter, for examples in such areas as vyakarana or navyanyaya.
    Taking as a point of departure Professor Pollock�s work on the Ramayana and Sanskrit in general the present paper will examine some of the aspects and implications of studying deeply culturally imbedded text in the milieu of a community in which virtually everyone is or believes him or herself to be an expert and an authority.
  • Retelling a Life of the Buddha
    The Narrative Aesthetics of the Lalitavistara
    Xi He
    Buddhist literary texts are typically read only in a reduced and documentary fashion in which expressive concerns are held to be marginal to the religion of Buddhism. Locating the Lalitavistara in the obscure history of early classical Sanskrit, this article aims to rethink the history of literature through a reflection on a genre of text that is usually left out of consideration, and postulate a stage of "early kavya," where expressive or aesthetic goals were clearly sought though many of the components of the classical tradition of Sanskrit literature-genres, tropes, narrative conventions-had yet to be invented.
  • The Second Mahabharata
    Sudipta Kaviraj
    The paper will explore several issues regarding the re-reading of the Mahabharata as a santa rasa text. The first section of the paper will state what a straightforward reading of the Mahabharata narrative as a virarasa text implies — which it will term the 'first Mahabharata' — in two senses. Probably, that was the original 'commonsensical' reading of the epic by its narrative community. It will then consider the suggestion that the intervention of Buddhist thought challenged not merely the social structures of Brahminical society, but also its social and aesthetic ideals. It will then go into a brief exposition of the insertion of the santa into rasa theory, and the insistence by the dhvanikaras that the epics should be seen as santarasa texts. The last part of the paper will explore the implications of this intervention — for the traditions of philosophical aesthetics, epic narratives, and the Mahabharata's continuing capacity to 'speak' to a modern aesthetic sensibility. Some other implications of this argument — for instance, how we should think about 'the meaning of a text' cannot be explored in the conference version. But if this is included in the final publication, I would like to explore these issues more fully.
  • Poetic Justice (daad-i sukhan)
    Philology and the Battle for Cultural Authority in Early Modern Indo-Persian Literary Culture
    Rajeev Kinra
    When the seventeenth-century Iranian scholar Muhammad Sururi of Kashan set about to compile a second, revised edition of his lexicon the Majma' al-Fars (ca. 1630), and wanted to consult the most authoritative dictionary of the Persian language then available, he looked to the Mughal lexicographer Mir Jamal al-Din Husain Inju's Farhang-i Jahangiri (ca. 1608). In fact, Sururi bestowed unqualified praise on Inju's Farhang, which had itself been painstakingly researched and compiled in India over the course of nearly three decades. But Sururi's brand of cosmopolitan collegiality seems to have fallen victim to key shifts in sensibility over the ensuing century. On the one hand, Persophone literati across South, Central, and Western Asia continued to promulgate a transregional and radical poetics of the new, of "speaking the fresh" (taza-gu'i). But on the other, the Mughal-Safavid rivalry intensified; Hindavi (i.e. "Urdu") challenged and rapidly replaced Persian as the literary lingua franca in eighteenth-century north India; and, of course, Asia's contacts with the wider world grew increasingly dynamic, affecting literary culture not only at the level of the poets' worldviews, but also by remapping their circuits of mobility and creating new mercantile patronage networks outside the courtly sphere. In the midst of all this, Indo-Persian philology continued to develop into a sophisticated discipline — one that became increasingly and explicitly wielded as an ideological weapon, to underwrite claims of Indian or Iranian cultural authority. Inspired by Sheldon Pollock's groundbreaking work on similar themes in Sanskrit literary culture and history, this paper will highlight a few key texts and "new intellectuals" who figured in this trajectory, and try to situate them at the contentious nexus of philology, poetics, and cultural politics in early modern South Asia.
  • How can two opposing views on inheritance law be equally correct?
    17th c. Sanskrit discourse on the logic behind the Dayabhaga and the Mitakshara
    Ethan Kroll
    The late 11th and early 12th centuries witnessed the composition of Vijnanesvara's Mitakshara (The Breviloquent) and Jimutavahana's Dayabhaga (The Partition of Inheritance), the two most influential Sanskrit works on inheritance law in the history of dharma..stra (moral science). Although both the Mitakshara and the Dayabhaga considered the same body of smriti and sruti literature, they exhibited widely differing conclusions. Subsequent centuries saw each work become the subject of numerous commentaries, and these commentaries, together with their respective root texts, became the foundation for two mutually opposed schools of legal thought. In the 17th c., scholars of navya-nyaya (new logic) inquired whether they might demonstrate conclusively that both schools actually adhered to identical logical principles, and that their distinct philosophies were merely different, but equally valid, interpretations. This paper will focus on the anonymous Svatvarahasya, and, to a lesser extent, on the works Jayarama Nyayapancanana and Gokulanatha Upadhyaya, in an effort to show how the proponents of navya-nyaya sought to transform legal theory using logic.
  • On the Making of the Moral Ideal-Typical
    Situating the 'Social Aesthetic' in Medieval Kashmiri History
    Guy Leavitt
    This paper considers the development of aucitya, "propriety," in poetic theory in medieval Kashmir, especially as propounded by the literary critic, Kshemendra. When viewed in the light of its rich social and literary context, it can both complement and complicate our narratives of literary cultural change. On one hand, the development of "propriety" provides perhaps the clearest example we possess of a transformation in literary theory in response to the increasingly troubled socio-political sphere of medieval Kashmir. On the other, it undermines a few of the implicit dichotomies which underpin our understanding of a similar transformation-the spiritual revaluation of rasa-and in so doing helps us to refine our understanding of one of the seminal shifts in literary theory in premodern South Asia.
  • Standards and Practices
    Following, Making, and Breaking the Rules of Sastra
    Lawrence McCrea
    In a series of papers in the 1980s and 1990s, Sheldon Pollock pioneered a new approach to understanding the nature of social, aesthetic, and moral rules in the Sanskrit logosphere and their relation to the practices they are meant to govern. Central to this understanding is the notion of the "transcendant shastra" — the idea, whose roots Pollock finds in the hermeneutic tradition of Mimamsa, that all rules governing human conduct are based upon eternal and uncreated textual bodies of knowledge (shastras), and that, therefore, theory is always understood to precede practice. My paper will examine the way this idea plays out specifically in the realm of poetic theory (Alamkarashastra), a realm of thought which is atypical in that its object of analysis is understood to have a specific and known historical origin — the composition of the Ramayana by the "first poet" Valmiki. Alamkarashastra never adopted any single foundational sutra or root text which could be seen as reflecting or embodying a timeless body of poetic theory and, partly as a consequence, its practitioners have tended to more openly acknowledge the possibility and the actuality of change over time in both the theory and the practice of poetry. But, in a climate where the overwhelmingly predominant model of systematic knowledge is that of timeless and transhistorical theory, how is such change conceptualized? How does the generally acknowledged historicity of both poetry and Alamkarashastra affect the understanding of the relationship between theory and practice in the realm of poetry?
  • The End of the Ends of Man?
    The Fourth Purushartha in the Twilight of Pre-modernity and the Dawn of Modernity
    Parimal G. Patil
    In this paper, I attempt to engage Sheldon Pollock's recent work, by exploring one of the very few intellectual spaces that Pollock chooses not to examine in detail, but nevertheless makes arguments about, namely, "the religious." More specifically, my paper is a preliminary attempt at working towards an intellectual history of the fourth "end of man" (purushartha) in the 17th and 18th centuries. By examining the Mokshavada section of Gangesha's Tattvacintamani, and the numerous "commentaries" on it, I hope to argue for the importance of the fourth end of man for our understanding Sanskrit intellectual history and philosophy, and suggest that it provides an interesting site for thinking about the changes that took place from the 14th-18th centuries. My preliminary conclusion is that to fully appreciate Pollock's insights about the ends of man, 17th century intellectuals, and the death of Sanskrit, we need a history of Vedanta in the 17th and especially 18th centuries.
  • Sectarian Political Imagination
    Srivaisnavas and the Royal Rama Cult at Vijayanagara
    Ajay Rao
    As my contribution to the Festchrift, I propose a critical engagement with Sheldon Pollock's "Ramayana and Political Imagination in India" (1993). While there are a number of strident criticisms of this controversial essay (Lutgendorf 1994, Chattopadhyaya 1998), I believe a reappraisal is in order. I wish to recuperate what was new and valuable in Pollock's Ramayana piece, as well as to identify how it has influenced my own work even as I continue to explore this problem in the light of a distinct but related set of data. "Ramayana and Political Imagination in India" dramatically directed scholarly attention to the historical lateness of the worship of Rama, which had previously been noted in scattered comments by H. Bakkar, R. Champakalakshmi, and R. Nagaswamy. Pollock brought together for the first time a wide variety of evidence: Rama in temple cult, liturgy, inscriptions, and historiographic narratives. In addition, several of the key themes of Pollock's broader oeuvre are located in this early essay. A central concern in Pollock's work has been to question the pervasive emphasis in the social sciences on the colonial encounter. Pollock here raises several questions. Did colonialism in fact construct communalism? Or do communal relations have a history? Were there in fact proto-communal forms of identification as evident in the Prthivirajavijaya and epigraphic narratives of othering? "Ramayana and Political Imagination in India" also offers one of the first detailed arguments for what Pollock later termed, "actionable history," i.e. historical scholarship with a political imperative, an engagement with the past oriented towards the problems of the present. Pollock has recently provocatively developed this approach in his book, The Language of the Gods in the World of Men.
    This essay has impacted me not just because Sheldon Pollock was my teacher, but also because of its direct relevance for my own research. I focus on the central site for the rise of Rama worship, the Vijayanagara Empire in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Partly because I work with material demonstrating the perspective of the religious agents rather than of kingship, my research has taken me in a somewhat different direction. The significant role played by Srivaisnavas in inaugurating a royal Rama cult at Vijayanagara bears a direct relationship with theological treatments of the epic narrative within the Srivaisnava community dating back to at least the tenth century. This fact in itself may have far-reaching implications for any causal account for the origins and development of Rama worship.
  • Caste, Power and State in the Early Maratha Polity
    The Role of Sanskrit Texts
    Ananya Vajpeyi
    This paper seeks to describe the role of Sanskrit texts in the establishment of Maratha rule in Deccan India in the late 17th century, via the royal consecration of Shivaji in Maharashtra in 1674 CE.
    The Sanskrit texts marshaled for the purpose of transforming the Maratha chieftain Shivaji into a kshatriya king, and thus instituting the Bhosale lineage as a ruling dynasty, belonged to a number of genres: abhishekaprayoga (consecration manual), rajaprasasti (royal eulogy) and rajadharmagrantha (codification of regal conduct and political norms). These stood in some conflict, if not in outright opposition, to yet another genre of text that was produced in the same locations (principally Banaras), at around the same time (throughout the 17th century), and by some of the same authors — for our purposes, mainly Gagabhatta. This other, oppositional genre of text is that of the dharmanibandha (legal digest), detailing sudradharma (the dharma of the sudra.
    According to the stipulations of sudradharma, a man like Shivaji ought never to have become a king at all. However, Gagabhatta was simultaneously a scholarly authority on sudradharma and a writer of a text on this subject, and Shivaji's personal pundit, who performed the rituals of his rebirth as a kshatriya as well as his consecration as a king. I have rendered this two-faced role of Sanskrit texts in the phrase: "Politics of Complicity, Poetics of Contempt."
    My critical analysis of the texts of sudradharma, as well as my historicization of these texts with and against other contemporary Sanskrit texts of different genres, unfolds within the context of the founding moment of the early Maratha polity. In looking at Gagabhatta's political career in Maharashtra, in service of Shivaji, I am able to direct our attention to the worldly deployment of the Sanskrit knowledge being produced in Banaras in the 17th century, a site whose intellectual history has begun to be written by Sheldon Pollock and his associates in recent years. In a sense, while Pollock is interested in the conditions of the production of this knowledge, its invention (often troped as renewal), critique and circulation among scholarly practitioners in Banaras and related locations of higher learning, I am examining, through the historical life of Shivaji, its dissemination and effects, as it were, in the wider sphere of pre-colonial South Asia, outside the institutions of the academy, in the world of politics.
    I am attempting to explore not just what this knowledge is, but also what this knowledge does, a question that I know to be of the utmost salience thanks to other work that Pollock has done, for example his careful historicist reading of epigraphy, eulogies, epic, and other, more overtly political and werklich genres of Sanskrit text that have played an important part in creating and sustaining notions of imperial power, cosmopolitanism and righteous conduct for self and society peculiar to South Asian pre-modernity. I would argue that the normative nature of the texts of the dharmasastra, including the sudradharmanibandha texts, lies not only in their claim of their own stature and authority as the texts of dharma, but also in the fact that they must be taken into account, whether through agreement or through disagreement, in moments of profound political crisis, like the consecration of Shivaji, at even so late a juncture as the last quarter of the 17th century.
  • Native land and the Tamil tongue
    Glimmers of Collective Identity in Early Tamil Literature
    Blake Wentworth
    From the politician M. G. Ramachandran's catchphrase "en rattattin rattam" (o blood of my blood") to the invariable slogan of Tamilnadu's current chief minister, Mu. Karananidhi, "en uyirinum melana anpu utanpirappukkale" ("o my siblings, whom I love more than my life itself"), contemporary Tamil political oratory remains incomplete without the acknowledgement of the kinship speakers have with their audience. Its source is Tamil itself, an identity that in being presented as inherent, consanguine and encompassing, transcends any simple equation with language. This notion of Tamil as a basic marker of distinction, moreover, is routinely portrayed as extending back to the earliest texts in the language, imbuing the medium of their message with sweeping powers of classification.
    Sheldon Pollock has eloquently argued that understanding indigenous discourses of power remains a matter of prime concern for Indology, and that this entails two aligned ventures: closely analyzing the discourses themselves, and paying as much attention to power envisaged as power wielded. With this aim in mind, I would like to explore the role of the term "Tamil" in its early literary history, seeking to determine its status as an embracing term of collective identity. What was its referent and extension, and was it developed in opposition to counterparts? In laying out these broad contours, we may also ask whether they reveal corroborative evidence for the regnant view of early Tamil literary history, or puzzling inconsistencies.
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Last updated 18 February 2008.