An historical overview of how the West has interpreted and misinterpreted. Indian culture through the ages.
Lectures on Literature
Traditional interpretation of Vedic poetry
Western perceptions of Indian culture
Hindu saints and poets: Perspectives and examples (seven lectures)
This course will focus on the history of Hinduism as it encompasses the religious experience of its holy men and women. Very often, besides being "saints" in the Hindu sense, they were gifted philosophers and/or poets. After the historical and methodological introduction, subsequent lectures will illustrate the contributions of these thinkers and creative writers to the history of Hindu literature. Finally, from the nineteenth century onward modern history-of-religions and literary-critical approaches will be more emphasized to help our understanding of saintly phenomena which are very much alive in contemporary Hinduism.
The Hindu imagination and imaginary Hinduisms
Kavya, (literature as an art form) and bhakti
The Apirami Antati and Mataracamman Antati: Hindu and Christian theological hymns in a Tamil style
A poet and a philosopher: Two women in the Sri Vaishnava tradition
Professor Vasudha Narayanan (University of Florida, USA and Tamal Krishna Visiting Fellow, President of the American Academy of Religion )
Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky and Sanskrit
Women poets of Hinduism
Poetry by women can be traced back in South Asia to the 6th century BCE, when Buddhist nuns recorded their joy at finding freedom from the drudgery of everyday life and at achieving not merely social but spiritual liberation in religion. Centuries later, from the 9th century onward, a more durable and powerful tradition of poetry appeared in songs by the women poets of devotional Hinduism, which afforded space to people on the margin, such as, women, lower castes and outcastes, and sparked a cultural awakening that retains its vitality even today. Women, powerless and silent in many domains of community life, found strength in their sense of the divine and their own voice in poetry and songs. Against this historical background this lecture will introduce the poetry of Antal, a 9th century Vaisnava a poet, of Akka Mahadevi of the Virasaiva sect from the 12th century, of Lalla, a 14 century Saiva poet, and songs by the 16th century Vaisnava princess Mirabai. Understanding the intensity of their approaches to the idea of the divine will aid us in appreciating how these works have affected the people of India and continued as a living tradition of women's spiritual quest.
Playing around with Sakuntala: Translating Sanskrit drama for performance
This lecture considers possible strategies for translating the conventions and aesthetic of Sanskrit drama for a modern English-peaking audience. It takes the form of a case study of Dr. Johnson's own translation of The Recognition of Sakuntala for Oxford World's Classics, and reflects on some unintended consequences.
Beyond the classical: Tagore and modern dance in Bengal
This seminar will address Rabindranath Tagore's contribution to dance performance and the evolution of the Bengali dance-drama genre in Bengal in the early 20th century in relation to the religious, cultural and political milieu of that time. Dr Purkayastha has pursued research on dance and currently teaches on the Dance Programme, School of Arts, Roehampton University, London.
The Subhasita as a social artifact
Subhasitas are Sanskrit sayings that generally make a moral point. This lecture will examine the role of ‘eloquent speech’ in the formation of social and political relationships in medieval India, showing the role of subhasita in the formation of ethics.
Krishna-Chaitanya Bhakti and Rabindranath’s Religion of Man: Their resonance and dissonance
When we think of Rabindranath Tagore in relation to the Krishna-Caitanya religio-literary tradition of Bengal, his youthful Bhanusimher Padaboli immediately come to mind, as they should as the most explicit treatments of a Vaishnava theme in all of his immense literary corpus. But we may also ask what other indications there may be of resonances and dissonances vis-à-vis the Vaishnava tradition elsewhere in his prose and poetry, especially as he grew older. This lecture first reviews his family’s Vaishnava affinities, especially among the women, and the countervailing critical attitudes and policies of the Brahmo Samaj of which he was for some time secretary. It then attempts to assess in what ways and to what degree underlying characteristics of Bengali Vaishnava piety and aesthetics may be reflected or rejected, implicitly if not explicitly in the works of the mature Rabindranath.
Yeats and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: The Poet as Orientalist
Yeats once wrote ‘I know nothing but the novels of Balzac and the aphorisms of Patanjali’. In setting a worldly French novelist against a Indian mystical philosopher, Yeats is not merely recasting the dialogue of self and soul that has governed so much of his poetry; he is signaling that one side of the debate has staked out its position in India, and that the terms of the discussion have changed. Though he had found poetic inspiration in India earlier in his career, Yeats’s final and most productive foray into Indic traditions would challenge his conceptions of self, God and destiny. In pursuit of Indic wisdom as he conceived it, Yeats left a trail of questions and assertions in letters and essays. These texts, especially those that touch on the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali, reveal not only what the poet most sought to learn from Indic philosophy, but also where, how and why he failed to grasp it. This seminar will explore these issues.