South Asia Seminar Series

Chicago Tamil Forum Keynote: “The Language of Christians and Christian-Tamil – The Peculiar Journey of the 17th century Śaivite Poet Tāyumāṉavar”

South Asia Seminar and keynote speaker for Chicago Tamil Forum: Srilata Raman, Department of Study of Religion, University of Toronto

The 19th century saw intensive missionary activity in the Tamil region of South India. Particularly enduring proved to be the work of the Scudder family, evangelical Christians preachers from the Dutch Reformed Church of North America, who lived and preached in the North Arcot area of the Madras Presidency from the early 19th – 21st century. Prominent among this family was Henry Martyn Scudder (1822-1895), a fine Tamil scholar who wrote a compilation of preaching tracts called The Bazaar Book or the Vernacular Preacher’s Companion published in 1865. This work dealt extensively with the poetry of the Śaivite poet of the 17th century, Tāyumāṉavar, whose works endured and were immensely popular as part of the oral Tamil tradition in the 19th century. The Bazaar Book sees Tāyumāṉavar as a Crupto-Christian whose religious views are nothing other than Christian truths. This paper discusses the appropriation
of Tāyumāṉavar in the context of the emergence and consolidation of Christian-Tamil as a unique form of Tamil with its own conceptual vocabulary, thus also exploring what this language and the literature that it is embedded in might say about what is to be considered “Tamil” both linguistically and culturally in the second half of the second millennium.

Dates: 
Thursday, May 23, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

The People Follow the Faith of the Ruler: Sovereignty and Popular Politics in Late Mughal Delhi

South Asia Seminar: Abhishek Kaicker, Department of History, UC Berkeley

A long-held preconception in the study of premodern South Asia has been that ordinary people were the passive objects of imperial sovereignty. By contrast, this talk will make the case that by the late seventeenth century, a distinct politics of the people in relation to kingship had become manifest in the cities of the Mughal empire, and particularly its capital Shahjahanabad. Such a popular politics, however, cannot come into view until we both rethink our conceptions of both sovereignty and politics before colonialism.

Dates: 
Thursday, May 16, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

The People Follow the Faith of the Ruler: Sovereignty and Popular Politics in Late Mughal Delhi

South Asia Seminar: Abhishek Kaicker, Department of History, UC Berkeley

A long-held preconception in the study of premodern South Asia has been that ordinary people were the passive objects of imperial sovereignty. By contrast, this talk will make the case that by the late seventeenth century, a distinct politics of the people in relation to kingship had become manifest in the cities of the Mughal empire, and particularly its capital Shahjahanabad. Such a popular politics, however, cannot come into view until we both rethink our conceptions of both sovereignty and politics before colonialism.

Dates: 
Thursday, May 16, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

Technologies of Sexuality in Tibetan Buddhism

South Asia Seminar: Sarah Jacoby, Department of Religious Studies, Northwestern University

In the past year, sex abuse allegations have scandalized some of the most prominent global Tibetan Buddhist communities, raising pressing questions about the role of sexuality in Tibetan Buddhist practice. As a way of shedding light on this too often secretive subject, this talk will examine key Tibetan autobiographical narratives as lenses for better understanding how historical Tibetan figures, namely Sera Khandro Dewé Dorjé (1892-1940) and Lelung Zhedpai Dorjé (1697-1740), negotiated between the at times competing religious dictums of celibacy and ritualized forms of sexuality in Tibetan Buddhism.

Dates: 
Thursday, May 2, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

Syllable Scrambling in Dhivehi Poetry of the Maldives

South Asia Seminar: Garrett Field, School of Interdisciplinary Arts and School of Music, Ohio University

The official language of the Maldives is Dhivehi, an Indo-Aryan language. Prior to the twentieth century the most popular form of Dhivehi poetry was known as raivaru. To create raivaru Maldivians utilized a poetic device termed bas olhuvun. Bas olhuvun literally means “word scrambling” and it refers to the scrambling of syllables. This presentation consists of three parts. Part 1 offers a brief social history of raivaru. Part 2 centers attention on six formal features that function as the playground where syllable scrambling occurs. Part 3 analyzes types of syllable scrambling in raivaru and identifies binary principles that raivaru poets internalized to help them quickly scramble syllables.

Dates: 
Thursday, April 18, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

“A vast sea of slums”: From chawls and “insanitary villages” to zopadpattis in 20th century Bombay

South Asia Seminar: Nikhil Rao, Department of History, Wellesley College

Over the course of the middle decades of the 20th century, the category “slum” underwent important changes in large, fast-growing cities like Bombay. From a descriptive term used to characterize dwellings such as chawls (tenements) or villages on the urban fringe that did not measure up to sanitary standards, “slum” in post-Independence India became a bureaucratic category that invoked the uncertain tenurial status of more makeshift forms such as the zopadpattis of Bombay. This paper traces aspects of this change in meaning, before moving to consider the implications of this change for the pattern of urban expansion in Indian cities.

Dates: 
Thursday, April 4, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

Reason and the Image: On Satyajit Ray’s Shatranj Ke Khilari (The Chess Players)

South Asia Seminar: Keya Ganguly, College of Liberal Arts, University of Minnesota

This talk focuses on Satyajit Ray’s cinematic treatment of an episode from India’s late colonial history in Shatranj Ke Khilari (“The Chess Players,” 1977). I suggest that through his portrait of the betrayal of reason under the pretext of law, Ray makes an appeal on behalf of the visual image as a critique of reason (rather than its lure).

Dates: 
Thursday, March 21, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

On Literary Activism, or a Philosophy of Creativity

South Asia Seminar: Amit Chaudhuri, Writer, Professor of Contemporary Literature at the University of East Anglia

In the last four years, a series of symposiums on "literary activism" took place in Calcutta, Delhi, and Oxford, attempting to open up a fringe space to reconsider creativity in a way that would counter both the market and academic professionalisation. The word "activism" was used semi-ironically, given that part of these symposiums' brief was to enquire into whether creative work comprises an "action" as we ordinarily understand the term. If it doesn't, what kind of "activism" did one mean? This talk will discuss the repercussions of the symposiums so far, what direction they might take in the future, and whether it's possible to rethink the history of creativity and of critique.

Dates: 
Thursday, February 14, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

Surā in her Cups: Writing a History of Alcohol and Drugs in Pre-modern South Asia

South Asia Seminar: James McHugh, University of Southern California, Dornsife

James McHugh discusses his book project on the history of alcohol in South Asia from the Vedas through the early second millennium CE and beyond. He will give some examples of the ways intoxicating substances are described and theorized in texts, noting the challenges of these sources. Given the immensity of this topic, what sorts of things is it possible to say about alcohol and drugs in the region when working mainly with textual sources, primarily ones in Sanskrit?

Dates: 
Thursday, January 24, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

"Visual Amplification and the Remaking of Alandi’s Sacred Skyline"

South Asia Seminar: Anna Schultz, Department of Music, University of Chicago

Every year, hundreds of thousands of varkaris travel to Alandi to visit Sant Dnyaneshwar’s samadhi and listen to devotional songs. For several decades, these songs have been sonically amplified by sound systems, but more recently they have also been visually amplified by an enormous projection screen that transforms one bank of the Indrayani River into a stage for those seated on the other side. This talk addresses how the massive audio-visual structure has reshaped Alandi’s sacred skyline and produced new forms of listening.

Dates: 
Thursday, January 10, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

Pages