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Volume One - Issue One - Two

16 October 2008
Online ISSN 1756-4263 - Print ISSN 1756-4255

Introduction to the Journal of Hindu Studies

Gavin Flood

Every Italian schoolboy knows the famous opening verse of Dante's Inferno: ‘Nel mezzo del camin de nostra vita/ mi ritrovia per una selva oscura,/ che la diritta via smarrita’ which we might render ‘halfway through the journey of our life, I?found myself in a dark wood for I had gone away from the straight path’. As we move into the middle of the first decade of the twenty-first century, some of us feel that we have gone away from the straight path in the sense that the academic study of religions and the study of South Asian religions in particular, has become fragmented into area specialisms to such an extent that any discussion that cuts across disciplinary boundaries is rendered difficult if not impossible. while the development of specialisms is to be welcomed as a corrective measure to earlier overgeneralisations and vague pronouncements about ‘Hinduism’ that do not stand up to critical scrutiny, there is nevertheless a need for a forum …

Hermeneutics in Hindu Studies

Jessica Frazier

An intriguing array of metaphors have been used by scholars to evoke the many kinds of Hindu text. Spatial metaphors are common: Will Johnson likens the Mahabharata to a Himalayan mountain range that is laborious yet rewarding to explore, because ‘even the most tentative approach uncovers in the text many, if not all, of those key assumptions, tensions, and questions – mythological, theological, and soteriological – that converged … to form the great and variegated religious culture subsequently labelled “Hinduism” ’.1 Johnson indicates that a guide is required to find accessible routes through this landscape, approaching it freshly and intimately despite the barrier of its ‘talismanic significance’. Arshia Sattar likens Indian texts to a load that must be carried over ‘boundaries and borders’ by the labours of the translator, and her Ramaya?a is like a theatre structured for performance to both an internal and an external audience.2 John Stratton Hawley speaks of devotional poetry as a door into another space: ‘to hear the poem is to enter the world of Braj’3 and Barbara Stoler Miller likens the Gitagovinda to a Hindu temple with ‘a sensuous surface of verbal ornamentation … the rhythmic disposition of a basic ground-plan and the superimposition of repetitive shapes along a vertical axis, [moving] to a point of intense concentration’ in the womb-house of the deity.4 Other metaphors reflect the ambiguous ontological status of the text; what kind of object is it? R.K. Narayan spoke of the Mahabharata as a rainbow, the ephemeral, fascinating character of which is best retained when the scholar takes into account the traditional narrative of its divinely inspired composition.5 Jonardon Ganeri by contrast speaks of Indian philosophical discourses as concealed bombs or ‘Trojan texts’ destroying the presuppositions of the reader from within.6 Wendy Doniger has …

Abhinavagupta’s Philosophical Hermeneutics of Grammatical Persons

David Peter Lawrence

In Kashmiri, monistic and tantric Saiva traditions, the adept pursues the realisation of perfect I-hood (pur?aha?ta), consisting of identity with the God Siva, who possesses the Goddess Sakti as his consort and world-constituting power. In earlier publications, the author examined how Abhinavagupta (c. 950–1020), in his philosophical hermeneutics of these traditions, interpreted the Self's/Siva's universal agency with a theory (developing earlier Sanskrit grammar) of verb–noun syntax. This paper examines how Abhinavagupta reinforces and complements that theory with an interpretation of the semantic and dialogical aspects of the grammatical persons. In Abhinavagupta's scheme, the divinised and empowered tantric Self as the enunciator of discourse (English, ‘first person’) contemplatively absorbs within itself the discursive audience (‘second person’) and objects (‘third person’). The paper also compares features of Abhinavagupta's hermeneutics of the grammatical persons with contemporary linguistic and semiotic theories.

‘Icon and Mother’: An Inquiry into India’s National Song

Julius J. Lipner

The Republic of India, which is constitutionally a ‘secular’ state, has a National Song and a National Anthem. Each has its official and other uses. The verses that became the National Song have been dogged by religious and political controversy, sometimes turning to violence, from pre-Independence days. These verses first appeared as part of a larger hymn in Anandamath, a?Bengali religio–political novel by the famous novelist, Bankim Chatterji, first published serially in 1881–2, and then as a book from 1882. The hymn is entitled ‘Vande Mataram’, viz. ‘I revere the Mother’, and glorifies the ‘motherland’ of a?band of ascetic warriors, called ‘santans’ or ‘Children’, who live in the heart of?a dense forest somewhere in Bengal and emerge periodically to make war against foreign (Muslim and British) rule. As the hymn clearly indicates, the santans are children not only of the motherland but also of the Goddess, who is identified with the motherland. However, the National Song, which comprises only the first two verses of the hymn, makes no mention of the Goddess. This has not prevented various Indian voices through the decades from objecting strenuously to the religious, ‘idolatrous’, and ‘xenophobic’ resonances of a National Song that allegedly belies the secular status of the state. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the title of the hymn/National Song, viz. Vande Mataram, played a significant role, as watchword and rallying-cry, in India's largely (Hindu) freedom movement, as also in communal strife between Hindus and Muslims from the first decades of the twentieth century. Using a recent resurgence of the controversy as a starting point, this article discusses the content of the hymn in its original setting, reviews the history of and reasons for the ongoing controversy about the National Song, and offers a suggestion as to how fundamental religio–political objections to it may be resolved.

Rsis Imagined Across Difference: Some Possibilities for the Study of Conceptual Metaphor in Early India

Laurie L. Patton

What do metaphor, simile, and analogy look like before the explicit tradition of Sanskrit poetics? How such formulations might be understood in the midst of the multiple contexts of early India, and how they might be relevant to a larger field of hermeneutics? The study of metaphor has been a staple of the broader pursuit of hermeneutics for some time now (see Dilthey and Jameson 1972; Ricoeur 1974, 1975; Calinescu 1979; Johnson Sheehan 1999, just to name a few works dealing with this topic). If Gadamer (1975: p. 430) is right that a fusion of horizons between text and interpreter is one of the primary acts of interpretation, then metaphors can be viewed as vehicles for that fusion, as well as verbal constructions that move between different points of view within the text that keep both similarity and difference in play.1 Thus, the roles of metaphor in early Indian texts, and the related topics of simile, analogy, and semantic extension, are highly relevant to larger issues in cross-cultural interpretation as well as to critical studies in Hinduism. This piece will be a general call for further study of such comparative constructions in the light of new theories of metaphor that have emerged in recent decades. Early Indian environments provide great possibilities for doing the work that metaphor, simile, and analogy do best – that is, reaching across difference. While my hope is that these thoughts will spark some new possibilities in many areas, I will use a specific case study from the Buddhacarita as my example – it being a virtuosic text of early kāvya which moves across the difference of Brahmanical and Buddhist realms, but is unadorned by the philosophical notions of later Sanskrit aesthetics.

Theologising the Inaugural Verse: Slesa Reading in Ramayana Commentary

Ajay K. Rao

In full-length commentaries from the early second millennium, intellectuals from the Śrīvaiṣṇava community of South India recast the Rāmāyaṇa within the frame of a shared metaphysics oriented towards the paramount overlordship of the god Viṣṇu. By employing innovative strategies and incorporating the performative modes of temple oratory, these intellectuals sought to transform the paradigmatic exemplar of Sanskrit literary culture into a soteriological work within the conceptual categories of Sanskrit aesthetics. This paper examines the procedures and purposes of this hermeneutic project as evident in the sixteenth-century commentary of Govindarāja.

Buddhism in Modern Andhra: Literary Representations from Telugu

Velcheru Narayana Rao

This essay explores the hermeneutics of modern Buddhism in colonial and post-colonial Andhra, the Telugu speaking area of India. Using four literary works in Telugu: Buddhacaritramu by Chellapilla Venkata Sastri and Divakarla Tirupati Sastri (known as the Twin Poets), Saundaranandamu by Pingali and Katuri, a play Tiṣyarakṣita by Buccibabu, and a short poem entitled ‘A Jataka Tale’ by Viswanatha Satyanarayana, the essay attempts to interpret each of the works in view of the social, political, and cultural background in which they were written. Each writer is introduced with brief information about his life and works, and each of the works is analysed for its literary ideology and impact. None of the writers were Buddhists and their works did not lead to a revival of Buddhism as a religion either. The essay argues that two of the above works, Buddhacaritramu and Saundaranandamu, written under the influence of Edwin Arnold and Mahatma Gandhi, create a modern version of Buddhism that blends into a modern Hinduism. The essay also describes how the Nehruvian ideology of Indian nationalism incorporates both religions as integral parts of India's great culture. The play by Buccibabu and ‘A Jataka Tale’ by Viswanatha Satyanarayana attempt a critique of Buddhism from a modernist and Brahminic point of view respectively, but they have not made a serious difference to the general nationalist approval of Buddhism.

Philosophical Hermeneutics within a Darsana (PhilosophicalSchool)

T. S. Rukmani

This paper deals with two topics: (1) ‘rebirth theories’ in Indian philosophy and (2) the problem of reconciling the ultimate nature of ‘prakṛti’ in Sāṅkhya-Yoga with the sole ultimate reality of ‘ātman/Brahman’ in the Upaniṣads. An attempt has been made to demonstrate the hermeneutical devices used to legitimise later understandings with older texts by various commentators. Relevant original texts in Sanskrit and commentarial literature on them have been used for this purpose.

Two Whiffs of Air: A Critical Essay

Frits Staal

When John Chamberlain and other missionaries arrived in India in 1803, the first steps were taken toward the creation of a new religion in due course called Hinduism. This new religion was a form of Vaishnavism, projected into a Vedic past and accepted by Indian nationalists as well as Sanskrit scholars such as R.G. Bhandarkar and M. Monier Williams.  Hermeneutics started with Aristotle's Peri Hermeneias and addressed logicians, philosophers, and students of language after which it lost its precise meaning. Louis Renou, the foremost Sanskritist of the twentieth century, revived its use to characterise a theory of metarule, a rule about rules, which flourished among ritualists and grammarians beginning with the Ritual Sūtras of the Late Vedic Period.

Book Reviews

Dermot Killingley

The Bhagavadgītā: Doctrines and Contexts. By Angelika Malinar.

The Bhagavadgītā: Doctrines and Contexts. By Angelika Malinar Cambridge University Press, 2007. ISBN: 978-0-521-88364-1, pp. xii, 296 £50.00.

This important study is a revised and expanded version of the author's Rājavidyā. Das königliche Wissen um Herrschaft und Verzicht. Studien zur Bhagavadgītā (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1996). The central chapter, which is well over half the book, is in effect a commentary on the Gītā, discussing the contribution of each verse to the argument, and also discussing some linguistic and literary points where appropriate. This commentary alone would have made a worthwhile book, but its value is enhanced by the two chapters which precede it and the two which follow it. The first chapter is a survey of the modern academic interpretation of the text, from Wilkins' translation in 1785 to the late 20th century. The survey is in some ways selective, and does not cover all the secondary sources which are listed in the seventeen-page bibliography and are referred to elsewhere in the book; but it relates the interpretations to their intellectual context, particularly in Germany. The second chapter relates Arjuna's dilemma, which is the starting-point of the poem and a point which frequently recurs in it, to its context in …

Brian Black

Dharma, Disorder and the Political in Ancient India: The Āpaddharmaparvan of the Mahābhārata. By Adam Bowles.

Dharma, Disorder and the Political in Ancient India: The Āpaddharmaparvan of the Mahābhārata.By Adam Bowles Leiden: Brill, 2007.ISBN: 978-90-04-15815-3, pp. xvi, 432. €115.00.

The didactic sections of the Mahābhārata have long been explained away as late interpolations, clumsily added to the text with no literary merit of their own. Indeed, the great Mahābhārata scholar, E. Washburn Hopkins, considered the didactic corpora to be ‘fungus’ with little or no relevance to the core epic narrative. In Dharma, Disorder and the Political in Ancient India: The Āpaddharmaparvan of the Mahābhārata, Adam Bowles not only demonstrates that the Āpaddharmaparvan is integral in terms of the ideological concerns of the text, but he also argues for its artistic integrity – that it is a unified textual unit that was composed and included within the Mahābhārata with a conscious awareness of the larger narrative strategies of the text as a whole. Chapter One provides a survey of Mahābhārata scholarship, with particular attention to views put forth about the didactic sections. The story of Mahābhārata scholarship from the nineteenth century to the present has been visited numerous times before, but Bowles' rendition is useful …

Christopher Key Chapple

The Khecarīvidyā of Ādhinātha: A Critical Edition and Annotated Translation of an Early Text of Haṭhayoga. By James Mallinson.

The Khecarīvidyā of Ādhinātha: A Critical Edition and Annotated Translation of an Early Text of Haṭhayoga. By James Mallinson. London and New York: Routledge, 2007. ISBN: 978-0-415-39115-3, pp. vii, 299. £75.00.

This remarkable book is the second volume of the Routledge Studies in Tantric Traditions, edited by Gavin Flood. Beautifully produced by the author, who was responsible for the typesetting, it combines an easy-to-read typeface (Garamond) with an elegant font for the Devanāgarī script. Due to the highly technical nature of the material, this winning combination of authorial attention to detail with a highly elevated sense of aesthetics, results in not merely a book but a work of art. The preface and introductory material for this book tell an intriguing tale of how the author decided upon this topic, gathered his research materials, and interviewed practitioners. Khecarīmudrā entails inverting one's tongue to massage the upper palate. Advanced practitioners slowly wear away the flesh that constricts the tongue and eventually manipulate the tongue for ‘the insertion of the tongue into the abode of Brahmā and the raising of Kuṇḍalinī in order to flood the body with amṛta and defeat death by temporarily or permanently leaving the body’ (p.␣3). This practice, although odd, is widely known …

W. J. Johnson

Gender and Narrative in the Mahābhārata. Edited by Simon Brodbeck and Brian Black.

Gender and Narrative in the Mahābhārata. Edited by Simon Brodbeck, and Brian Black. London: Routledge, 2007. ISBN: 0-415-41540-8 (hbk), pp. xix, 326. £95.00.

This book, consisting of an Introduction by the editors, and eleven further essays by a mixture of leading and emerging Mahābhārata scholars, is the product of a conference held in 2005 as part of the Epic Constructions: gender, myth and society in the Mahābhārata research project, based at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London. As the editors (Brodbeck and Black) explain in their wide-ranging and very useful introduction, the volume is deliberately positioned to link the traditional philological approach to the epic (a corollary of a predominantly historical and analytic method) with the more recent perspectives of gender and literary theory, which treat the text first and foremost as a consciously organised literary construct. As its title suggests, it focuses in particular on ‘the themes of gender and of textual …

Kiyokazu Okita

Mīmāṃsā and Vedānta: Interaction and Continuity. Papers of the 12th World Sanskrit Conference Held in Helsinki, Finland, 13–18 July, 2003, vol. 10.3.

Mīmāṃsā and Vedānta: Interaction and Continuity. Papers of the 12th World Sanskrit Conference Held in Helsinki, Finland, 13–18 July, 2003, vol. 10.3. Edited by Johannes Bronkhorst. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 2007. ISBN: 81-208-3174-8 (hbk), pp. xii, 253. Rs. 600.

This book is the result of a panel at the 12th World Sanskrit Conference in Helsinki. The six articles in the book focus on significant developments and interactions between two important schools of Indian philosophy, Mīmāṃsā and Vedānta. These two schools are closely related to each other as, for example, evidenced by their other popularly held names – Pūrva-mīmāṃsā and Uttara-mīmāṃsā, respectively – yet differ significantly in their epistemological, ontological, and soteriological concerns. What is the possible historical relationship between these two influential schools? Johannes Bronkhorst, in an essay that comprises more than a third of the entire book, argues that the Mīmāṃsakas did not entertain the concept of liberation (mokṣa) until Kumārila, and that, on the other hand, the Vedāntins did not express their conformity to the Vedas until Śaṅkara. Mīmāṃsā and Vedānta were therefore originally two …

Nicholas Sutton

The Tantric Body: The Secret Tradition of Hindu Religion. By Gavin Flood.

The Tantric Body: The Secret Tradition of Hindu Religion. By Gavin Flood. London: I.B. Taurus, 2006. ISBN: 9781845110123, pp. 240. £16.99.

It is now widely acknowledged that the understanding of Hindu doctrine and practice presented in Western academic circles has shown a marked distortion in favour of Vedāntic interpretations of the tradition and that the Tantric elements have been shown insufficient attention. It must be recognised that what is usually referred to as ‘Hinduism’ is in fact a subtle blend of both Vedāntic and Tantric elements, which interact with one another in innumerable ways so as to produce a manifestation of religion that is vastly complex and rather difficult to properly comprehend. The neglect of the Tantric strand is one of the main factors that has led to there being a somewhat distorted or inadequate version of Hinduism being taught in our schools, colleges, and universities. For this reason any serious academic contribution to the field of Tantric studies must be very welcome and The Tantric Body does indeed make an invaluable contribution to our understanding of the Hindu tradition as a whole. Perhaps the most important point that this book makes is that it demonstrates very clearly that Tantra is not an obscure sub-branch of Hindu Studies or Indology that can safely be left to a few experts in this field, but is in fact central to orthodox and mainstream Hindu practice; it is rather the Vedāntic traditions that exist on the fringe. The book, however, should not be regarded as an ‘Introduction to Tantra’ and …

Rashi Rohatgi

The Strides of Vishnu: A Historical Introduction to Hinduism. By Ariel Glucklich.

The Strides of Vishnu: A Historical Introduction to Hinduism. By Ariel Glucklich. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. ISBN: 0-195-31405-0 (hbk), pp. 256. $29.95.

In The Strides of Vishnu: A Historical Introduction to Hinduism, Ariel Glucklich argues that material and intellectual thought have been intertwined for most of Hinduism's history. He builds his argument not through a systematic layout of the facts, but rather weaves an assortment of examples of this conjunction into a narrative. He invites the reader – assumed to be a student of religions newly encountering Hinduism – to follow the thought process that led him to make the claim about the myriad layers within Hindu thought and to structure the book in this way. Tracing the development of Hindu thought is the book's primary objective, and Glucklich makes a compelling case for tracing it historically and not just as a set of philosophical arguments. He cites his own interactions with Hinduism, as a student coming from a Judeo-Christian culture and seeing a religion in which no story was according to …


DAVID PETER LAWRENCE received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in the history of religions. He has previously taught at universities in Hong Kong and Canada, and is now Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religion at the University of North Dakota. He specializes in monistic Kashmiri Śaivism and related areas of Hindu and Buddhist philosophy and religion, and is more broadly concerned with the use of comparative philosophy as a mode of cross-cultural dialogue. His publications include the books Rediscovering God with␣Transcendental Argument: A Contemporary Interpretation of Monistic Kashmiri Śaiva Philosophy (SUNY Press, 1999); and The Teachings of the Odd-Eyed One: A Study and Translation of the Virūpākṣapañcāśikā with the Commentary of Vidyācakravartin (SUNY Press, 2008). JULIUS LIPNER, who was born and brought up in India, is Professor of Hinduism and the Comparative Study of Religion in the University of Cambridge, where he has taught for over three decades. He has published numerous articles in his fields of study, and has also authored and edited a number of books, including The Face of Truth: A Study of Meaning and Metaphysics in the Vedantic …