SA Seminar - Srilata Raman

"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.

Thursday, October 10, 2013 - 4:30pm
Foster 103 (1130 East 59th Street)