The Body as Paintbrush: The Idiom of Classical Indian Dance
University of British Columbia
Viṣṇudharmottara Purāṇa urges the prospective painter to learn the art of dancing because, it says, both painting and dancing are arts that imitate. The injunction is puzzling on several counts: first, what in common do painting and dancing imitate? Secondly, what similarity can there be between representation by lines, colour and texture, and representation by movement? Lastly, what can a painter learn by learning how to dance? If representing the body is the artist’s aim, why would it not be enough to look at the body, observe it and record its minutest movements? The answer that this paper will offer is that the act of painting aims not merely at reproducing the body as an artefact but at creating a signifier of the intangible attributes of the living subject, including emotional values. Since the most palpable manifestation of life is motion, the artist must implicate motion in representations of the body. Thus, a painting is conceived as a motionless signifier potent with motion. Simply put, art remakes the human body as the icon of motion. Within this aesthetic framework, then, representations of the body require the artist to know at firsthand how the human body projects through motion human sensations, thoughts and feelings. Dance being pre-eminently an art of the body, it gives the artist that essential knowledge. This explains why the body in classical Indian painting, as also in sculpture, appears in dance postures. Seen in this light, dancing of the representational variety simultaneously creates graphic images of the body and charges it with meaning, investing it a metaphoric function.
Was the Thirteenth Year Over?
This paper focuses on the Sanskrit Mahābhārata. It investigates whether or not the Pāṇḍavas succeeded in maintaining their disguises right to the end of their thirteenth year in exile, as stipulated at the second dicing match. The discussion centres on the recognition of Arjuna Pāṇḍava by the Kaurava soldiers at Virāṭaparvan 36, and the narrative implications of that recognition.
The perspectives of Duryodhana, Yudhiṣṭhira Pāṇḍava, Bhīṣma, and Vaiśaṃpāyana are presented and examined. Duryodhana says that Arjuna was recognised before the thirteenth year was over. Yudhiṣṭhira by implication would agree, since the Pāṇḍavas keep their disguises for several days after the incident. But Yudhiṣṭhira does not know about the incident. Bhīṣma, when asked to rule on the issue in the wake of the recognition, says that the thirteenth year was already over. Whether or not Vaiśaṃpāyana supports Bhīṣma’s view is a matter of interpretation. This paper hypothesises that Duryodhana is correct, and shows how this plays out within the narrative.
Exploring Eclecticism in Svāminārāyaṇa Scripture
SOAS, University of London
Founded by Sahajānanda Svāmī (1781-1830) in Western India, present-day Gujarat, the Svāminārāyaṇa Sampradāya is now a growing dynamic transnational Hindu community. In this paper I look at how it utilised a text during its nascent stages to legitimise itself within its early contexts. Before Sahajānanda Svāmī passed away he ‘composed’ the Śikṣāpatrī, a short letter of injunctions on dharma. The Śikṣāpatrī exists in two recensions – one retired version of 145 verses, which remains little-known amidst Svāminārāyaṇa followers and academic circles, and another 212-verse recension, which Svāminārāyaṇa followers accept as a revelatory scripture. On the outset, it would appear that the earlier recension was simply a first draft retired in light of the composition of the later recension. But my research reveals some key issues about this theory. Not only does an original handwritten copy of the text not survive, despite the extensive efforts gone to preserve original relics of Sahajānanda Svāmī, but the redaction indicates a ‘reuse of concepts’, as if the later recension was composed in order to make various connections and affiliations to its various authoritative contexts. That is, it appears strongly eclectic by its multiple conceptual reuses of localised, relatable and popular symbols. This is problematic as these symbols are not superficial or expendable; they specify theological concepts that (to this day) situate the Svāminārāyaṇa Sampradāya as an outgrowth of sampradāyas and systems dedicated to Kṛṣṇa and kṛṣṇa-bhakti, as well as Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta. When compared with other Svāminārāyaṇa texts, for example the Vacanāmṛta, which records the intricate workings of Svāminārāyaṇa-specific metaphysics and praxis as narrated by Sahajānanda Svāmī himself, the new concepts introduced in the revised Śikṣāpatrī appear contradictory. In the Vacanāmṛta, Sahajānanda Svāmī distinguishes his Vedānta from that of Rāmānuja and identifies himself as the iṣṭadeva, whereas in the Śikṣāpatrī he presents a position in line with Rāmānuja’s school of Vedānta and calls himself a devotee of Kṛṣṇa.
In this paper I demonstrate that the eclectic tendencies introduced into the redaction have played a pivotal role in showing a commitment to the early sampradāya’s various contextual audiences, specifically its scholastic publics, the Puṣṭimārg Sampradāya and the British. Through ‘eclecticising’ the Śikṣāpatrī, I trace how the early sampradāya navigated its various early contexts in its bigger project of legitimisation. I analyse three trends of the redaction, including how it aligns itself to Rāmānuja’s Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta, how it propounds that Kṛṣna is the iṣṭadeva and how it references specific dharmaśāstric principles. Under each trend I consider how the redacted verses disagree with what the author mentions in the Vacanāmṛta, but at the same time acknowledge, sometimes inadvertently, the key concerns and ideologies of the sampradāya’s contextual audiences. I conclude on some thoughts on what the outcome of an ‘eclectic’ Śikṣāpatrī has meant for the sampradāya and the reasons behind its production.
By contextualising the Śikṣāpatrī historically, I illuminate how an emerging religious tradition needed to fashion a sectarian identity as an extension or appropriation of various authoritative rubrics. I demonstrate that this text was produced at a particular moment in the history of a developing sampradāya, which probably struggled in introducing new theological concepts to a region accustomed to long-standing traditions. While the Śikṣāpatrī’s commitment to various authoritative symbols served the needs of the early sampradāya, I suggest its purpose seems less necessary now. Thus, this paper will not only demonstrate a nascent sampradāya’s efforts for survival, especially within the immediate years of its founder’s passing, but also highlight the invariable endurance of categories such as ‘scripture’ in such projects of authorisation.
 Several acres of land are dedicated to the Swaminarayan Museum, a multi-hall complex that houses relics Sahajānanda Svāmī used, touched or wrote.
Implicit Anthropologies in Pre-Philosophical Śaivism with Particular Reference to the Netra-tantra
Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies
While there are overt philosophies of the person in both dualistic and non-dualistic Śaivism that developed their doctrines explicitly in relation to each other and to non-Śaiva traditions, especially Buddhism, many Śaiva texts exemplify what might be called a prephilosophical discourse. Such works contain philosophical ideas but do not present systematic arguments (that is the job of later commentators) and are often regarded as divine revelation (namely the tantras but other genres of literature might also be included here such as paddhatis). It is this layer of the articulation of concepts linked to practices that I hope to expose, which the arguments of the philosophers reflect upon and from which they develop. My argument is that through an analysis of pre-philosophical literature we can build a picture of the conceptual universe of the early medieval period that forms the basis for the development of thinking by the philosophers. One way of doing this is through the
micro-study of particular textual passages and from that to build a larger picture of pre- philosophical discourse. Text is an index of wider social attitudes and while this material does not give us direct accounts of how people lived, it does provide evidence for how people thought about their lives, their hopes, fears, and their aspirations.
Fragments and perspectives:
The abduction of the princesses of Kāśī in the Mahābhārata
Charles University/Lancaster University
The story of Ambā and her rebirth as the Pāñcāla warrior Śikhaṇḍin is fully narrated by Bhīṣma in the Ambopākhyāna (5.170-5.193). Some of the most prominent events of the story, namely the abduction of the princesses of Kāśī, Bhīṣma’s victorious fight against the assembled kings, his victory over Rāma Jāmadagnya, Ambā’s austerities and death, her rebirth as Drupada’s daughter and her sex change, are partly narrated in the Ādiparvan (1.96.1-51), and also summarized or alluded to on various occasions in the Udyogaparvan, Bhīṣmaparvan and Anuśāsanaparvan, to name only the most important occurrences. These events are narrated from different perspectives by different narrators to different listeners and with different intentions, and often present a considerably varied set of fictional facts. The event of abducting the princesses of Kāśī can be narrated or alluded to as: 1. the beginning of the story of Ambā (“Ambā and her sisters were abducted by Bhīṣma”); 2. a story about the birth of the Vaicitravīryas (“Bhīṣma secured wives for Vicitravīrya”); 3. a story about Bhīṣma’s greatest deeds (“Bhīṣma defeated all the assembled kings and Rāma Jāmadagnya”). There are traces of all three perspectives in most of the narrations but usually one is prevalent and expanded and the other two are suppressed or even omitted. Different perspectives also continually renegotiate interpretations of the fictional facts without providing any unanimous solution. In this paper, the perspectives used to narrate the abduction of the princesses of Kāśī will be compared to one another in order to describe how the Mahābhārata works with the polyphonic and aspectual nature of its storyworld.