"I Belong to the Sakyas' Son:" Revisiting Religious Boundary-Making in Ancient India"
This talk discusses the question of how historians of religion can distinguish religions in pre-modern South Asia. It suggests seven aspects of an analysis of religious boundary-making and then presents two examples from ancient India, the concept of the Buddha as an avatāra of Viṣṇu in the Purāṇas and the segregating concept of the Middle Way in the so-called Pāli canon. The analysis of these cases will focus on the plurality and instability of religious boundaries. The talk also discusses the application of the terms “religion” and “religions” and argues that terms widely used to identify the latter are problematic, hybrid terms that are fully contingent upon the demarcation activities of religious actors.
"Anti-Hagiography and Public Controversy in Colonial South India"
The genre of polemical literature collectively known as khaṇḍanas has a long history in both Sanskrit and Tamil literature. Nevertheless, polemical positions long rehearsed and anticipated, through centuries of inter-textuality, had to re-thought and crafted anew with the decisive emergence of Christianity – both Jesuitical and Evangelical – in the Tamil literary scene, both in Jaffna and Southern India, starting from the 17th century. After the mid-19th century much of this polemics, among the traditional elites, was conducted in the new medium of printed books. There was, in general, an increased literary competitiveness in the air as those other than the traditional, religious establishment, who formed a category of self-invented, new and “lay” religious leaders, began to give voice to their views in print, thus provoking the critical response of the former. In this paper I will discuss one such work that repudiated, through savage polemics, the genre of hagiography, as practiced in the Tamil religious context. I call this text an anti-hagiography inasmuch as it questions and subverts hagiographical assumptions through comprehensively containing elements of a genre inversion. The text is attributed to Ārumuka Nāvalar of Jaffna (1822-1879) and is an indictment of his with regard to his contemporary and popular Śaivite religious poet Ramalinga Swamigal (1823-1874). In discussing this text we will also be addressing the broader issues of religious authority, canonicity and the new conceptions of authorship which begin to emerge in the context of the printing of religious literature in colonial South India.
"Representing Self and Site: A new approach to history of the Nayaka period"
In a period of sharp decline in traditional lithic inscriptional activity, inscriptions abound in painted media of the 17th and 18th centuries. Yet text has never been recognized as a distinct and important feature of temple and palace murals, even though the search for narrative content and attribution of patronage dominate the few scholary studies of South Indian Murals. Focusing on a corpus almost completely unknown to scholarship, this paper will explore the intersections of text, portraiture, and topographic images in 17th and 18th-century temple murals of southeastern India. My research suggests that topographic imagery and narratives became of signal interest to writers, painters, and patrons because of broad changes in the political and economic interrelationships of the period. Drawing on heretofore-undiscovered donor portraits and inscriptions, I will focus on how and why diverse donors (royal, merchant, and monastic) inscribed their presence onto sacred sites and into their histories.