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Volume Two Issue One

1 May 2009
Online ISSN 1756-4263 - Print ISSN 1756-4255

Introduction: History and Historiography in Hinduism

Jessica Frazier

The factual, or apparently factual, has a seductive power writes Sheldon Pollock, sympathising with those historians who have hoped to tear away the veils of modern Western scholarly bias or indigenous gloss, and open a window onto the ҴruthҠof India's past.1 But like other historiographers of India in recent decades he knows all too well that Ҩistorical data do not tell their own storyҮ2 Rather, they appear in the culture's vast archive, largely still uncharted, of sources that shape the past according to different genres of retelling. Each article in this volume brings to light hitherto hidden aspects of India's religious history, but also reveals new methods of bringing that history to scholarly attention. From a historiographical perspective, each also suggests an alternative narrative of Hindu history, like cartographers who show us ever fresh elevations of the landscape. Relocating Indian history Both historians of Hindu cultures, and those who have sought to reveal Hinduism's own historical self-understanding, have had to wake from the reductive and sometimes smug slumber of early schemas of the past, to a modern realisation of complexity that has sometimes seemed ңontradictory, conflictual, and distressingҮ3 Early quests for an indigenous Hindu conception of history had tended to subscribe too readily to a particular narrative of Vedic historiography according to which Sanskrit was used as am?ta, an elixir of immortality conferring participation in a timeless primeval realm on all it touched.4 Renou used a Eucharistic metaphor to express this idea of the Veda's power ֠it is Ҭa chair m뮥Ҭ the very flesh of the Hindu tradition, and was seen to elevate facts or artefacts by association into the same trans-historical sacrament.5 On this model, mere historical phenomena were part of the illusion of time, maya, or base matter, prak?ti, far from the..


An Alternative Historiography for Hinduism

Wendy Doniger

My approach to Hindu historiography1 is alternative in several senses of the word. It highlights a narrative alternative to the one constituted by the most famous texts in Sanskrit and represented in most surveys in English. It tells a story that incorporates the narratives of and about alternative people ֠people who, from the standpoint of most high-caste Hindu males, are alternative in the sense of otherness, people of other religions, cultures, castes, species (animals), or gender (women). Part of my agenda in writing an alternative history is to show how much the groups that conventional wisdom says were oppressed and silenced and played no part in the development of the tradition ֠women, Pariahs ֠did actually contribute to Hinduism.

Dark Matter in Vārtāland: On the Enterprise of History in Early Puṣṭimārga Discourse

Frederick M. Smith

This paper is an attempt to access the historiography of a premodern Indian religious sect, the Puṣṭimārga or the Path of Grace, the sect of Kṛṣṇa devotion founded by Vallabhācārya (1479–1531?) in the early sixteenth century. I␣explore here the manner in which Vallabhācārya and some of his most noted successors deployed, under the influence of the Pūrvamīmāṃsā, by then thoroughly systematized, the Vedas as texts, and 'the Veda' as an object of knowledge. To demonstrate this, I␣shall provide two examples. The first is from a commentary by Viṭṭhalnāthjī, ?Vallabhācārya's son, who is accorded equal status in the Puṣṭimārga with his father, on a verse of the Ṛgveda. The second is from a Brajbhāṣā text of the Vallabha ?sampradāya called Śrīnāthjī kī Prākaṭya Vārtā (ŚPV), that was written approximately two centuries after Vallabha's passing. One important facet of this systematizing is the effect of what I shall call 'dark matter', the unseen historical forces that played (and continue to play) an important role in the construction of Vedic knowledge in general as well as in the ?Puṣṭimārga. Scholars and paṇḍitas, as well as religious leaders and reformers in classical and modern India (and, I hasten to add, the West) engage, practically unavoidably, in essentialist or reductionist approaches that disguise dark matter (and, as physicists now inform us, dark energy). As a historiographical exercise, I shall try to shed light on at least some of the unseen matter and energy that constitute great swaths of the universe of late medieval Indian bhakti discourse in order to illustrate their effects on the discourse and epistemological constructions of the Vallabha sampradāya.

Narratives of Penance and Purification in Western India, c. 1650–1850

Rosalind O'Hanlon

Ritual purification constituted an important dimension of the lives of a broad range of Brahman and 'clean caste' Hindus in early modern western India. The purification of individuals was overseen by an array of local community institutions and pandit assemblies located in the shrine towns of western India. These processes shed light on contemporary understandings of individual moral responsibility as well as the critical role of local opinion in rehabilitating offenders. The expanding use of paper records in this period contributed to the ease with which information about individuals and their conduct could be communicated at these local levels. From the 1720s, these local community institutions came under increasing pressure from the centralising ambitions of the Maratha peshwa governments in Pune. Missionary pressures under the early colonial state further transformed the setting in which judgements about purification and community rehabilitation were made, prefiguring later nineteenth century developments in Hindu political thought.

The Shrine in Early Hinduism:The Changing Sacred Landscape

Himanshu Prabha Ray

Archaeological data forms the primary source material for this paper on the early Hindu temple in South Asia. The paper traces the study of the temple from its 'discovery' in the nineteenth century to the present and interrogates the traditional links often suggested between the temple as an agent of political legitimisation and the emergence of the State in the first millennium AD in ancient India. The paper uses the term 'Hindu' to articulate a pan-Indian cultural identity of the local population of the subcontinent long before the European discovery of the term in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and suggests that cultural practices, rituals and imagery as evident from a study of religious architecture formed the substratum of this self-perception and distinctiveness.

The Solidarities of Caste: The Metaphysical Basis of the 'Organic' Community

Ankur Barua

This is a study of the different meanings of 'caste' according to Radhakrishnan, Gandhi, and Ambedkar. In the course of this study, I also show that these differences ultimately emerge from their diverging metaphysical conceptions: while Radhakrishnan and Gandhi understood human life as a project that can be fulfilled over several life-times, Ambedkar rejected the karmic theory of transmigration and placed a greater emphasis on this-worldly socio-economic reconstruction. By distinguishing between what I call 'mythic caste' (the varṇic system based on the Puruṣa-Sukta of the Ṛg Veda) and 'empirical caste' (or jāti), I show that while Radhakrishnan and Gandhi argued that the latter was a degeneration from the former which had to be upheld, Ambedkar rejected this move as merely an attempt to maintain caste under a different name. I try to locate these debates in the context of the socio-historical transformations and electoral politics of late colonial India.

Book Reviews

Shashiprabha Kumar

Pāścātyatattvaśāstretihāsaḥ By P. Sri Ramachandrudu.

Pāścātyatattvaśāstretihāsaḥ. By P. Sri Ramachandrudu. Hyderabad: Nandanam. xxxii, 528. Rs. 250.

When in most universities Sanskrit is taught as a language of the past, it is easy to␣forget that for many Sanskritists the language is still very much alive, and that␣books continue to be written in this classical language of South Asia. ?Pāścātyatattvaśāstretihāsaḥ by Dr. P. Sri Ramachandrudu is one such work, and a unique one at that, in over five hundred pages, Ramachandrudu wrote a comprehensive history of Western philosophy, in Sanskrit prose. For over two centuries Western scholars have studied, interpreted, and commented upon Indian philosophy in various European languages, and by doing so have made Indian philosophy accessible to Western audiences. This dialogue between Eastern and Western thought has, however, long been a conversation where only those Sanskritists schooled in Western academic thought were able to join in, while the ?paṇḍitas and traditional scholars …

Abhishek Ghosh

Krishna: A Sourcebook. Edited by Edwin F. Bryant.

Krishna: A Sourcebook. Edited by Edwin F. Bryant. . Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. ISBN-13: 978-0-19-514892-3 (pbk), xiv, 575. $35.00.

Kṛṣṇa is an important Hindu deity who features prominently throughout the Indian subcontinent's literature, fine arts, drama, architecture, and theology for almost two millennia. Although his character does not fully blossom in terms of the plot of the epic Mahābhārata, he became more and more prominent during the composition of the later Purāṇas and has permeated several diverse devotional and intellectual traditions. Over the past few decades, western scholars studying South Asia have explored various aspects of Kṛṣṇa and the tradition that developed around him, and Edwin Bryant's Krishna: A Sourcebook is a valuable contribution to this growing body of scholarship that naturally complements his earlier translation of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa's tenth book (Kṛṣṇa: The Beautiful Legend of God). As a 'sourcebook', this volume provides translations of the most important and foundational primary sources on Kṛṣṇa, along with individual introductions by some of the leading scholars in the field. The selected texts span the epic Mahābhārata, the Purāṇas, Vedāntic writings, aesthetics, ritual texts, and poetry, written in Sanskrit and in a wide range of Indian vernaculars. This book is divided into four parts – 'Classical Source Material', 'Regional Literary Expressions', 'Philosophy and Theology', and 'Hagiography …

David Buchta

An Ornament for Jewels: Love Poems for the Lord of Gods by Vedāntadeśika By Steven P. Hopkins.

An Ornament for Jewels: Love Poems for the Lord of Gods by Vedāntadeśika. By Steven P. Hopkins. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. ISBN-13: 978-0-19-532639-0 (hbk). xviii, 181. $85.

This latest book from Steven Hopkins functions as a supplement to his earlier Singing the Body of God: The Hymns of Vedāntadeśika in Their South Indian Tradition (New␣York: Oxford University Press; 2002). The book offers translations of five poems by the 12th–13th century Śrī-Vaiṣṇava ācārya, Vedāntadeśika or Veṅkaṭeśa, praising Viṣṇu in the form of the Devanāyaka icon in Tiruvahīndrapuram. Thus, it complements recent work by Francis Clooney and others on Vedāntadeśika's ?discursive theological writings. The book additionally presents a translation of ?Tirumaṅkaiyāvār's praises of Devanāyaka excerpted from the Periyatirumoi. These translations are each accompanied by an Afterword highlighting the important themes brought out in the poems. The book also offers a brief (24 page) ?introduction which sets the frame for the poems. Although the introduction is, for the most part, reviewing analytic frameworks laid out in his earlier work, Hopkins …