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Volume Four - Issue One

1 May 2011
Online ISSN 1756-4263 - Print ISSN 1756-4255


Reason and Rationality in Hindu Studies

Jessica Frazier

Bimal Matilal cites a particularly arch exchange between the brahmin-turned-Buddhist monk Nagasena and the Indo-Greek King Menander. Nāgasena explains the difference between the debates of kings, and those of authentic truth-seekers: When scholars debate, your majesty, there is summing up and unravelling of a theory, convincing and conceding, there is also defeat, and yet the scholars do not get angry at all. When the kings debate, your majesty, they state their thesis, and if anyone differs from them, they order him punished, saying 'Inflict punishment upon him!' (Bimal Krishna Matilal, 1999) The distinction that Nāgasena makes is, of course, intended to be provocative to the king who has asked the question. But it also demonstrates the difference between capricious rhetoric and earnest reasoning: the reasoner cares more for truth than for pride or prejudice. The articles in this issue of The Journal of Hindu Studies explore a number of India's long-standing traditions of good reasoning—the application of shared criteria and techniques for deriving valid new ideas. Such disciplines weave through the fabric of Indian culture with a pervasive influence that Plato might have envied. The systems of grammar and epistemology, theology and metaphysics, medicine, mathematics, jurisprudence, political philosophy, and even aesthetics, thrived for centuries, across regions and languages. The realisation that Hinduism developed in vigorous culture of formal philosophical debate, scientific inquiry, and sectarian competition has helped to focus scholarly attention on the lively, questioning character of Indian intellectual history. Traditions of reason in India Recently, some have seen the Indian subcontinent as the scene of what Jonardon Ganeri calls a 'Lost Age of Reason': an Indian 'Enlightenment' with its own methods and institutions, which seems to have been fatally interrupted by the first influences of colonialism. Thus the study of this area is not only looking at an aspect of Hindu culture that …


Interpreting Indian Rational Traditions

Jonardon Ganeri

This article argues that the contemporary intellectual engaging with India's philosophical traditions is situated within a tradition of inquiry into the form of truth-governed rational practices, but outside of a tradition of metaphysical and ethical speculation; that is, he or she is both participant and witness to the Indian rational traditions. The article suggests that the require-ment of objectivity in interpretation is that the situated interpreter achieves positional objectivity in his or her interpretations, and that immersed inter-pretation is positionally objective to the extent that the interpreter's situation is one of participation rather than observation.

Penance and Punishment: Marking the Body in Criminal Law and Social Ideology of Ancient India

Patrick Olivelle

This article deals with the twin systems of penance and punishment for offences against the moral and the penal codes found in the ancient Indian legal treatises, the Dharmaśāstras. The two systems parallel each other and often overlap and present one of the central legitimations of social structures. Both systems often mark the body of the sinner/criminal in ways that parallel the marking of the body by the rebirth process within the ideology of karmic retribution. Thus, the legal/moral codes and the religious/criminal justice systems are presented as anchored in the very working of cosmic law rather than as contingent and humanly created systems subject to historical changes.

From Craft to Art: The Aesthetic Ends of Technique in Sanskrit Texts of Classical Indian Dance

Mandakranta Bose

For performers of Indian classical dance, the necessity of mastering its technique is so pressing that it often inhibits attention to its underlying aesthetic principles. The textual accounts of dance technique originating with Bharata's Nāṭyaśāstra and mainly followed by his successors are so elaborately detailed that questions about the nature of the distinct type of beauty generated by dance tend to be overlooked, especially as aesthetic concepts relating particularly to dance are stated cryptically. Though this may appear confusing, it can actually benefit the dancer by allowing her flexibility in using her technical skill. But it also requires the dancer to undertake the critical study of aesthetic concepts as an essential part of her training.

Who were the Tārkikas? The Place of Polemic in Śaṃkara's Bṛhadāraṇyakopaniṣadbhāṣya

Jacqueline G. Suthren Hirst

Like other Indian commentators, the great Advaitin Śaṃkara (eighth century CE) engages throughout his works with 'fictive opponents' and their ideas, considering their views, subjecting them to criticism and establishing his final position in response to them. Normally he does this with politeness if with vigour. However, in his commentary on the voluminous Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad, there is one set of opponents whom he treats rather differently, subjecting them to invective at every turn. It seems, at first sight, that they are the tārkikas (logicians). This gives us a puzzle. The most obvious reference of the term 'tārkika' is to members of the Nyāya school, which specialised in forms of argument and pramāṇa theory. Indeed, some translators and commentators assume that this is who Śaṃkara has in mind here. But this is not how he normally treats Naiyāyikas. In this article, I subject Śaṃkara's texts to close reading to try to discover who these elusive people might be, using clues from register theory to help develop my argument. I suggest a particular identification for them which helps us to understand the context in which Śaṃkara was teaching, a context in which rivalries between ritualist brahmins and growing devotional movements may well have affected the way he was trying to position his Advaitin tradition.

Dayānanda Sarasvatī as Irascible Ṛṣi: The Personal and Performed Authority of a Text

Timothy S. Dobe

Scholarly discussions of a Christianised (Nandy 1983), modernised (Radice 1998), Semiticised (Hansen 1999), Orientalised, or middle class (Fuller 2009) Hinduism have emphasised the wide-ranging changes in south Asian religion in the colonial period. While these analyses have moved beyond earlier binaries of reform and revival in some ways, they simultaneously echo common themes of Protestant historiography, especially in their stress on the effects of modern textuality on Hindu notions of scripture. This article examines the case of Dayānanda Sarasvatī, often called the 'Luther of India' because of his use of the Veda in the cause of 'reform'. In contrast, I argue that close reading of his Satyārtha Prakāśa reveals neglected dimensions of mythic, personal, and traditional authority that work performatively to authorise both him and his text. These dimensions are best captured in the image of Dayānanda as a 'Mahāṛṣi', precisely the title his followers gave him.

Book Reviews

Guy L. Beck

Singing Emptiness: Kumar Gandharva Performs the Poetry of Kabīr. By Linda Hess, with contributions by U. R. Ananthamurthy and Ashok Vajpeyi.

Singing Emptiness: Kumar Gandharva Performs the Poetry of Kabīr. By Linda Hess, with contributions by U. R. Ananthamurthy, and Ashok Vajpeyi. London/New York/Calcutta: Seagull Books, 2009. With CD. ISBN: 978-1-9054-2-284-5, pp. x, 156. Cloth w/CD $99.95. Paper w/CD $39.95.

When I gave a concert of 'Sacred Music of India: Bhakti Sangīt' at the 1998 American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting in Orlando, including the rendering of a Kabīr bhajan, Linda Hess approached me afterwards with boundless enthusiasm over her immanent prospect of studying the songs of Kabīr. Though she was already an established authority on Kabīr, her zeal to go beyond mere textual study was, at that time, exceptional. Since then, I am glad to discover that she has followed her ambition with this very extraordinary book, the result of passionate field work and analysis of the nirguṇ bhajans of Kabīr as sung by the musician Kumar Gandharva. From the time I attended his enchanting performance in Calcutta (1979), I wished that his musical legacy might catch the ear of Western academics. Kumar Gandharva, though famous primarily as a classical singer in the Hindustani tradition, now has many devoted followers in East and West due in no small part to his thoughtful rendering of nirguṇ bhajans as heard on audiotapes and CDs. Linda Hess has a remarkable writing style, and an engaging mastery of literary polish. She is able to communicate many of the hidden or elusive treasures related to listening and hearing poetry being sung with its nuance of metaphor …

Simon Brodbeck

Dharma. By Alf Hiltebeitel.

Dharma. By Alf Hiltebeitel. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-8248-3486-9 (paperback), 978-0-8248-3466-1 (hardback), pp. xii, 190. $48 (cloth), $17 (paper).

On the cover, along with the names of the book, author, and book series ('Dimensions of Asian Spirituality'), are two pictures, on a matt grey-green background. In the upper picture is Yama Dharmarāja, lord of the passage through death, enthroned in his hall of audience. There is a gruesome attendant on one side, and a turbanned fellow seated on the other, reading aloud from an open book, and apparently presenting a handsome couple, in the foreground, to Yama. The lower picture is a strip of swirling blue, the postmortem River Vaitaraṇī, with people in it, and water-monsters. One woman has been grabbed by the ear. A woman in the centre is holding the tail of a cow, which seems to be paddling along happily, with a man's head in front of it. Perhaps the man is leading the cow. Perhaps he is the tail-woman's husband. Perhaps they are the couple in the upper picture. This is serious stuff. The series statement, printed opposite the …

David Buchta

Extreme Poetry: The South Asian Movement of Simultaneous Narration. By Yigal Bronner.

Extreme Poetry: The South Asian Movement of Simultaneous Narration. By Yigal Bronner. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010. ISBN: 978-0-231-15160-3, pp. xvi, 356. $50 (cloth).

Yigal Bronner's book fills a great lacuna in the study of South Asian literature and literary theory. Śleṣa, the 'embrace' of two sets of meaning or often of two sets of signifiers by one and the same sequence of sounds, is commonplace within the Sanskrit literary corpus. Still, in the history of scholarship on Sanskrit literature, śleṣa has been either ignored or deplored as emblematic of Sanskrit literature's decadence, particularly in the later period. The importance of śleṣa has been downplayed in part by claiming that it is a natural result of certain linguistic features of the Sanskrit language, such as the alteration of juxtaposed units of sound (sandhi). Bronner challenges this 'absurd notion' (p. 127) and demonstrates how the development of śleṣa depended rather on 'a historically traceable use and even modification of the language by its agents' (p. 14). Bronner traces this history from the pioneering work of Subandhu in the sixth-century CE, through a primary surge from 1000 to 1250, and concluding …

Daniel Gold

The Origins of Yoga and Tantra: Indic Religions to the Thirteenth Century. By Geoffrey Samuel.

The Origins of Yoga and Tantra: Indic Religions to the Thirteenth Century. By Geoffrey Samuel. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008. ISBN: 978-0521695343, pp. 432. £58.00 (cloth) £23.99 (paper).

As many of us experience, it is not always easy to talk or write about tantra—especially to a wide scholarly audience. Tantra is notoriously difficult to define, has much ritual detail, and can get philosophically very complicated. The reported practices of the physical and subtle bodies, moreover, can seem scandalous and sometimes difficult to believe. One of the great strengths of Samuel's new book, I think, is simply that it is able to engage a broad academic readership. In doing so, it might irk some specialists with its finessing, however adeptly, of issues of definition, its avoidance of philosophical discussion, and its parsimony with ritual detail. In return, however, Samuel offers his readers something not often found in scholarship on yoga and tantra: some serious sustained attention to their social contexts. This makes for a historical narrative of tradition that feels substantial, with contours most of us can grasp. Focusing on religious practice, Samuel offers his readers glimpses of intriguing mysteries while …

Amanda Huffer

Bollywood Weddings: Dating, Engagement, and Marriage in Hindu America. By Kavita Ramdya.

Bollywood Weddings: Dating, Engagement, and Marriage in Hindu America. By Kavita Ramdya. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2010. ISBN: 978-0-7391-3854-0, pp. ix, 98. $55.00 (cloth).

Kavita Ramdya, a recent doctoral graduate and an independent scholar, was inspired to write Bollywood Weddings when faced with her 'Indian American' (Hindu) friends' surprised reactions to her own non-traditional Hindu–Muslim–American wedding. She explains, 'my peers almost exclusively desired a wedding that would adhere to age-old Hindu tradition followed by a western-style reception' (p. x). The categories that her peers invoked, a romanticised ideal of traditional Hindu religiosity and 'mainstream America' should be points of inquiry into the analysis of the ways in which second-generation Indian–American Hindus construct their ethnic identities through the use of cultural and ethnic stereotypes. Unfortunately, Ramdya appropriates them as analytical categories contrasting 'traditional India' and 'prototypical mainstream middle-class America', to which she adds a third category, 'Bollywood', as a mediating lens. Structurally, the author provides ethnographic data from the marriage processes of 20 couples, the majority being 'well-educated upper-class Indian [Hindu] Americans' (p. 17) living in Manhattan to develop her conclusions about second-generation Indian–American Hindus writ …

Arkotong Longkumer

Kings of the Forest: The Cultural Resilience of Himalayan Hunter-gatherers. By Jana Fortier.

Kings of the Forest: The Cultural Resilience of Himalayan Hunter-gatherers. By Jana Fortier. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-8248-3356-5, pp. vii, 215. $24.00 (paper).

This is a rare and important ethnography of the Rautes of Nepal. Jana Fortier focuses on around 150 nomadic Rautes, a hunter-gatherer or foraging society, who call themselves 'kings of the forest'. Because of their nomadic lifestyle they travel throughout western Nepal by migrating from river valleys to the high altitude Himalayan ranges. They subsist on langur and macaque monkeys, wild yams, and sometimes rice traded from local farmers. Although this book is primarily about the Raute, Fortier also makes comparisons with their cultural and linguistic neighbours of Nepal/India such as the Rajis ('little king') and Banrajis ('little kings of the forest'), and situates the Rautes within the larger cultural and political dimensions in relation to the dominant Hindu farmers, and the larger nation-state of Nepal. The central thesis of this book revolves around 'the challenges involved in maintaining cultural resilience from the nomadic Rautes' point of view and [trying] to illuminate the choices that promote that resiliency' (p. 4). In particular, it highlights how the Rautes have managed to evade …

Patrick Mc Allister

Against a Hindu God: Buddhist Philosophy of Religion in India. By Parimal G. Patil.

Against a Hindu God: Buddhist Philosophy of Religion in India. By Parimal G. Patil. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-231-14222-9, pp. xi, 406. $50 (cloth).

The book's primary aim is to capture and interpret the arguments appearing in the Īśvarasādhanadūṣaṇa, 'The Refutation of Arguments for Establishing Īśvara' (p. 11, fn. 18), a text by the 11th-century Indian Buddhist thinker Ratnakīrti, in which he presents and refutes arguments of the Nyāya school of thought for the 'existence of a God-like being called "Īśvara" ' (p. 3). The secondary aim is to provide an example of a transdisciplinary study '[…] that in part undermines the traditional disciplinary boundaries between the study of religion, philosophy, and South Asian studies' (p. 5; cf. pp. 5–24). The bulk of the book falls into two parts. The first, 'Epistemology', centres on the Īśvara-proof proper, and its discussion by Ratnakīrti. As is typical of Ratnakīrti's writings, the proof and the discussion proceed along strictly logical lines. In order to show that this is not merely a formal device, Patil gives an in-depth introduction to Nyāya epistemology ('Nyāya' because the Buddhist Ratnakīrti presents the inference on its terms in this section), its resources of logical reasoning, and an exposition of how these background theories apply to the Īśvara-inference. On this basis, the reader is in a position to fully appreciate the intricacies of Ratnakīrti's attacks on the Īśvara-inference, which Patil guides us through in the third chapter. The book's second part, 'Language, Mind, and …

Himanshu Prabha Ray

Temples of the Indus: Studies in the Hindu Architecture of Ancient Pakistan. By Michael W. Meister.

Temples of the Indus: Studies in the Hindu Architecture of Ancient Pakistan. By Michael W. Meister. Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2010. ISBN: 978-90-04-18617-0, pp. xv, 85, figures 149. €93.00/US $132.00.

The book under review presents the results of a joint inter-disciplinary University of Pennsylvania and Peshawar University research project carried out over a decade (from 1991 to 2001), which included both art historical and archaeological components. The project involved documentation and study of early medieval temples located in the Khisor range of hills on the west bank of the river Indus and those on the escarpments, and plateau of the Salt Range between the Indus and the Jhelum rivers. Two seasons of excavations were undertaken in the fort at north Kafirkot above the Indus on the west bank, and further fieldwork was done in the Salt Range from 1996 to 1998. Michael W. Meister has put together the present volume based on data generated on temples, while the report on the archaeological excavations is being compiled by Abdur Rehman of Peshawar University.