Justin Henry, University of Chicago
The Alluring Stylus: Monastic Poets in Medieval Buddhist Sri Lanka”
Recent scholarship has questioned the applicability of legitimation and ideology theories to cultural contexts outside of the modern West, as well as their explanatory utility in general. This paper proceeds from a brief account of Sheldon Pollock’s theory of the political significance of Sanskritic poetry in first millennium India, moving to a discussion of the role of this novel form of “aesthetic power” within the royal courts and Buddhist monasteries of 13th century Sri Lanka. Author monks worked to enhance the prestige of the court through poetic, historiographic, and academic works along with stylized encomia (praśastis) of royal sponsors embedded within them. I argue that these authors were only able to participate in literary production of this sort by simultaneously distancing themselves (if only rhetorically) from the sensual and violent ethos of the court (i.e., the world that they literarily depicted). This close look at symbolic exchanges, issues of identity and moral authority, and the flow of royal patronage aims to make some headway in understanding the subtleties of legitimating exchanges between regents and religieux in one slice of time in one corner of South Asia.
Philip Friedrich, University of Pennsylvania
Regional Circulations and the Remaking of the Buddhasāsana at Gampola Courts
Sri Lankan historiography has treated the Gampola period (roughly 1341 CE-1415 CE) as an epoch of immense political and religious turmoil. This paper argues that placing Gampola and its associated hinterland courts within broader, regional networks of circulation reveals a period of political dynamism. Middling aspirants to power with roots in trade economies and mercantile associations supplanted the figure of the king as the dominant political agents of the time. However, we know remarkably little about these people and their social worlds, particularly outside of Sri Lanka. This paper is an initial foray into the complexity of their engagements through an examination of epigraphic, onomastic, textual, and architectural evidence. It considers how real and imagined connections to South India were not obscured in favor of a new identity, but were made to intersect with and supplement established royal idioms and practices in creative ways. Specifically, these processes resulted in reworked notions of Buddhist polity and, indeed, redefined the boundaries of what could ‘count’ as part of the Buddhasāsana. To suggest that such processes were confined to the fourteenth-century ignores a prior history of relationships between corporate associations (later to be transformed into caste statuses in South India) and Buddhist institutions in Sri Lanka. The paper also argues that placing these associations into their longer historical genealogies produces a richer understanding of their significance for the history of Buddhism— and religious complexity—at Sri Lankan courts.
Kelly Meister, University of Chicago
Buried in Dhammic Sands: Contesting Lanka’s History of the Tooth Relic in a Siamese Chronicle
The tale of Prince Danta and Princess Hemamala, with the relic of the Buddha’s tooth harboured securely in her locks, fleeing India and bound for the shores of Lanka, has for centuries been a fixture in the narrative imaginations of Sri Lankan Buddhists. The relic itself, famously enshrined in the Dalidamaligawa in Kandy, has been a perennial object of veneration and political intrigue within both Sri Lanka and the Buddhist world beyond. While the relic’s historiography is widely attested in renowned Lankan vaṃsas (chronicles), these historiographic claims are challenged by a lesser-known, local Siamese chronicle. This paper will explore the narrative discrepancies and literary parallels between Lankan vaṃsas and The Crystal Sands: The Chronicles of Nagara Sri Dharrmaraja, a vaṃsa text composed on the Southern peninsula of Thailand. The extant versions of Crystal Sands likely date from the 19th century, although they recount events from the12th -16th centuries. By focusing on the portions of these texts attesting to the transmission of the tooth relic from India, I examine how shared and contested literary histories of a religious relic illuminate a local Siamese desire to establish a direct link to the historical Buddha, and thereby locate the town of Nagara on the Buddhist ontological map.# vimeo.com/55045238 Uploaded 157 Plays 0 Likes 0 Comments
Disputed between India and Pakistan since 1947, the border region of Kashmir has tragically become the most contested and militarized zone in the world today. Research on this enduring South Asian conflict has been over-determined by a myopic security perspective, which centers on the changing contours of "Kashmir policy", interstate rivalries, and local insurgencies. But how has ordinary life, relationships between generations, and life prospects been shaped by decades of insecurity, violence, and dispossession? How can we make sense of the multiple lineages of the dispute, and the different ways in which it has imposed itself on political subjectivities in the affected regions? And, most basically, why does the dispute continue to persist?
These key concerns will centrally frame the symposium on "Grounding Kashmir." The presentations at the symposium will collectively illuminate the diverse trajectories of the Kashmir dispute through a historical, ethnographic, and literary lens, focusing on social imaginaries, everyday realities, and cultural politics. While South Asian scholarship has richly explored the complexities of partition, grounded investigations of its most pernicious consequence – the Kashmir conflict – have only recently begun to emerge. Yet, there has been no avenue for conversation across the LOC. The symposium will provide an opportunity to unsettle this intellectual line of control, by engaging key speakers who work on Indian and Pakistani Kashmir.# vimeo.com/39732580 Uploaded 55 Plays 0 Likes 0 Comments
Civility, Incivility, and Some Indian Arguments About the West
My talk will focus on how the West figured in cultural debates in India before independence and contrast that with debates today to highlight both the legacy of civility that anti-colonial nationalism in India bequeathed to the nation and its subsequent erosion in postcolonial politics.
Hindu Civility and the Impossibility of Hindutva
In Six Glorious Epochs of Indian History, published in 1971, V.D. Savarkar argues that only those individuals who fully embody the principles of Hindutva exhibit “Hindu civility.” In contrast, he does not consider Hindus who claim to be refined, polite, courteous, and non-violent to have any understanding of civility. In fact, he suggests that these individuals are actually uncivilized. Savarkar’s discussion of “Hindu civility” is connected to a larger discussion of the Hindu codes of conduct during periods of what he calls the “Hindu-Muslim epic wars.” Savarkar’s interpretation of sabhyata challenged the existing contemporary debates on civility in colonial and postcolonial India. His point was not simply to provide counterarguments to the normative or accepted understanding of civility, or to reject the interpretations of his contemporaries who linked civility to passive resistance, satyagraha, or non-violence. Instead, Savarkar wanted to assert his interpretation of Hindu civility within public discourse as a way to promote the essentials of Hindutva. For Savarkar, this means that Hindus need to exhibit bravery, valor, and heroism at every stage of their lives to protect the civilization at all costs. The Hindu code of conduct needs to be at the center of all interactions, especially during periods of warfare—the examples he cites in SGE are Muslim invasions, Muslim conversions, and Muslim rule. In many instances, the use of violence is both virtuous and ethical. However, Savarkar points out that many individuals simply rejected the Hindu code of conduct to promote non-violence and toleration of Muslims. Others converted to Islam without any resistance. In effect, the actions and thoughts of these Hindus was an abandonment of Hindu civilization—of Hindu civility, of Hindu sabhyata.# vimeo.com/39727801 Uploaded 252 Plays 0 Likes 0 Comments
Featuring Nile Green.
South Asia is often regarded as being especially attached to the saints and shrines of Sufi Islam. But between the medieval and early modern periods, Sufi Islam became embedded in societies and states as far apart as Western Africa and Southeast Asia. Whether through the patronage of the Mughal Empire or the devotion of peasants, Sufi leaders and their families emerged as a powerful and self-replicating elite that in turn survived the nineteenth century through close ties with colonial systems. By taking a social science approach that recognizes the powerful and elitist character of Sufi tradition, this lecture shows how the Muslim reformation of the twentieth century cannot be understood unless placed in relation to the religious establishment it tried to depose.
Nile Green is Professor of History at UCLA and founding Director of the UCLA Program on Central Asia. A specialist on the Muslim communities of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and the Indian Ocean, his research brings Islamic history into conversation with global history. He is the author of five monographs, including Bombay Islam: The Religious Economy of the West Indian Ocean (Cambridge, 2011; winner of the Albert Hourani Award for outstanding publishing in Middle East studies) and Sufism: A Global History (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012).# vimeo.com/55559364 Uploaded 281 Plays 1 Like 0 Comments
Center for South Asia at Stanford University
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