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Volume Two - Issue Two

2 November 2009
Online ISSN 1756-4263 - Print ISSN 1756-4255


Why Did Hariścandra Matter in Early Medieval India? Truth, Fact, and Folk Narrative in the Sanskrit Purāṇas

Adheesh Sathaye

Approaching purāṇic textual production as a premodern cultural practice, this essay examines the tellings of the Hariścandra legend in the Sanskrit purāṇas. An enormously popular narrative in South Asian vernacular literatures, this story describes how king Hariścandra suffered in the Vārāṇasī cremation grounds at the whims of the irascible Brahman Viśvāmitra, producing an unavoidable critique of Brahman social dominance. I argue that the Mārkaṇḍeya and Devībhāgavata Purāṇas create literary fixtures of this story within an otherwise fluid narrative tradition, reimagining Viśvāmitra's villainy as dharmic behaviour. Furthermore, these texts theorise the liberatory power of Hariścandra's satya ('individual truth') utilising distinctly sectarian (Vaiṣṇava and Śākta) theological and soteriological frameworks. Underlying this interplay of text and context, we find a purāṇic 'factive' discourse that relied upon the perceived truth of popular legends in order to speak authoritatively about the past, and at the same time to naturalise Vaiṣṇava and Śākta religious thought within the 'present' of early medieval India.

Modern Hinduism and the Middle Class: Beyond Revival in the Historiography of Colonial India1

Jason D. Fuller

In nineteenth- and early twentieth-century India, a celebrated group of religious savants undertook the task of recreating Hinduism within the context of a colonial modernity that they helped to shape. One of the most important, yet under-discussed, aspects of this new Hinduism is that most of these reformers and revivalists were members of a common social group – the emerging Indian middle class. Building on recent work on middle-class Hinduism I call for further efforts to refocus the historiography of colonial India on the consideration of the class location of the leaders who produced modern Hinduism. I suggest that one of modern Hinduism's most significant features in its historical development was the way in which it demonstrated a pronounced shift in religious authority away from the traditional centres of influence towards the colonial middle class. This article invites a new way of interpreting the history of modern Hinduism that goes beyond the Marxist paradigm for analysing the relation of religion and class. Further, the shared class context reveals underlying concerns about revitalisation and empowerment that united the opposed camps of the reformers and revivalists alike.

Rewriting the Sacred Geography of Advaita Swami Chinmayānanda and the Śaṅkara-Dig-Vijaya

Reid Locklin and and Julia Lauwers

In the short treatise Śaṅkara the Missionary, the modern Vedāntin Swami Chinmayānanda famously appealed to the medieval hagiographies of Ādi Śaṅkarācārya as inspiration for his work as founder of the international Chinmaya Mission. Through their creative retelling of this sacred life-story, Chinmayānanda and his collaborators invoked the image of the eighth-century sage to authorise their 20th-century movement. More than this, they charted what Thomas Tweed has recently described as a 'translocative' identity from and for the Advaita tradition, effectively rationalising its emergence as a global religion while also re-rooting it firmly in the land and culture of India. According to this vision, the universal message of Advaita, addressed to all persons in all times, nevertheless comes to full expression in a dynamic, ongoing historical movement with its unique fulcrum and privileged disclosure in Śaṅkara's victory tour.

Kill and be Killed: The Bhagavadgītā and Anugītā in the Mahābhārata

Herman Tieken

When after the great battle in the Mahābhārata Arjuna asks Kṛṣṇa to tell him again what he told him in the so-called Bhagavadgītā before that same battle, Kṛṣṇa comes up with what has become known as the Anugītā, or the 'Later Gitā' (MBh. 14.16–50). On closer consideration, this Anugītā, which teaches liberation through yoga consisting of knowledge (jñāna) or meditation (dhyāna), contains a message which is the very opposite of the karmayoga, or disinterested action, of the Bhagavadgītā. In the article, an attempt is made to answer the question as to how a text which teaches the abandonment of action could be passed for a repetition of a text which insists on the necessity to act. In this connection, it will be argued that the two texts have comparable functions in the story of the Mahābhārata, or what the Bhagavadgītā is for the following battle, the Anugītā is for the subsequent attempts of the Pāṇḍavas to get rid of guilt they have incurred in this battle.

Fate Hangs on a Particle: The Hermeneutics of Bhagavadgītā 9:32–3

Katherine K. Young

There were many debates in the Hindu tradition over whether women, low castes, and outcastes could attain liberation in this life or whether they had to await another birth or more. This article explores one of the most important proof texts for the former view: Bhagavadgītā 9:32–3 and pays particular attention to the interpretation of the indeclinable three-letter word api in deciding the destiny of these groups. After determining the literal meaning of these verses in the Gītā, the article focuses on the hermeneutics of three commentators – Bhāskara, Abhinavagupta, and Rāmānuja – to show how they worked hard to provide interpretations that would be acceptable in Mīmāṃsā, Tantra, and Bhakti circles, respectively.

Book Reviews

Martin Ganeri

Beyond Compare: St Francis de Sales and Śrī Vedānta Deśika on Loving Surrender to God. Edited by Francis X. Clooney S.J.

Beyond Compare: St Francis de Sales and Śrī Vedānta Deśika on Loving Surrender to God. Edited by X Francis, . S.J Clooney. Georgetown University Press, 2008. £20.75 Paperback.

The American Jesuit Francis Clooney is without a doubt one of the most important and inspiring advocates of comparative theology, in which the intellectual reflection found in different religious is brought together for the sake of an enriched theology for any participating tradition. For his part, Clooney has concentrated on Hindu texts and traditions, reading them and reflecting on them as a Catholic theologian and priest, drawing them into a conversation with Christian texts and traditions. Over a period of nearly twenty years, Clooney has considered a range of topics, such as Advaita Vedānta, the South Indian Vaiṣṇava Ālvārs, and the Goddess traditions, set alongside Thomism, Bernard of Clairvaux, and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and other aspects of the Christian tradition. Clooney's work is always excellent and this is for two main reasons. First, he is both an accomplished Indologist as well as a sophisticated Christian theologian. Clooney is at ease with both Sanskrit and Tamil and so is able to enter deeply into these two streams of Hindu tradition, especially when combined in South Indian Śrī Vaiṣṇavism. Second, he has always eschewed making grand and abstract comparisons between religions and instead concentrates on the comparison of individual texts and textual traditions. As a result, Clooney's work is always a gradual process of what he describes as collectio (reading together), where time is …

Mikel Burley

Kapila: Founder of Sāṃkhya and Avatāra of Viṣṇu (with a Translation of Kapilāsurisaṃvāda). By Knut A. Jacobsen.

Kapila: Founder of Sāṃkhya and Avatāra of Viṣṇu (with a Translation of Kapilāsurisaṃvāda). By Knut A. Jacobsen New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 2008. ISBN: 978-81-215-1194-0, pp. xii + 250 (text) + 24 (photographs). US $16.95.

This book brings together a wealth of information that lies scattered across a wide textual, historical, and geographical terrain, and focuses this material into a fascinating study of the myths, doctrines, pilgrimage sites, and religious sects associated with the name of Kapila in Hindu traditions. Jacobsen has been researching this topic for over a decade, and his previous works include a book on the concept of prakṛti in Hindu religion and philosophy. Of the present work's eight chapters, four draw upon previously published material by the author, and there is some overlap and repetition between these chapters. But this is not to the book's disadvantage; rather, it assists the reader to ingest the main points that the author wishes to get across. As the book's title indicates, its primary focus and unifying theme is Kapila, who is known both as the founder of the philosophical system called Sāṃkhya and as an avatāra (incarnation or 'descent') of the god Viṣṇu. Jacobsen's main thesis …

David Gordon White

Recipes for Immortality: Medicine, Religion, and Community in South India. By Richard S. Weiss.

Recipes for Immortality: Medicine, Religion, and Community in South India. By Richard S Weiss. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. ISBN-13:978-0-19-533523-1; ISBN-10: 0-19-533523-6, pp. ix, 260. $74.00.

Richard Weiss has written a fine analysis of the multi-leveled discourse of modern-day practitioners of traditional medicine in Tamil Nadu, albeit at the expense of providing an adequate account of their practice. Traditional Siddhar medicine, so called for the legendary Tamil Siddhars ('perfected beings') who were its founders, combines the prophylactic and therapeutic use of mainly indigenous plants and minerals with mercurials in much the same way as ayurvedic physicians throughout India have done for some two thousand years. And there lies the rub for the practitioners extensively interviewed and quoted by Weiss, because for them Siddhar medicine in its ancient and present forms is proof positive of the primacy and superiority of all things Tamil over and against the later, corrupted, and inferior medical system of north Indian Brahmins (ayurveda) in particular, but also the Muslim unani system and western biomedicine. Here, the exceptionalist claims made by Tamil vaidyas track closely with those of other actors in the contested arena of South Asian identity politics, most notably the Hindu nationalists. Like the …