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Devotional Literature in South Asia: Current Research, 1985-1988.

Edited by R. S. McGregor. University of Cambridge Oriental Publications, no. 46. Cambridge: Cambrige University Press, 1992. Pp. xv + 322. $99.95.

Like many other collections of conference papers, this is a mixed bag, but anyone concerned with bhakti and post-classical Indian literature should find at least a few articles of interest. Most of the contributions deal with early vernacular bhakti literature, but there are also some on more or less peripheral topics, such as theology, religious practices, sectarian organization, and sacred places. The literature discussed ranges over the past seven centuries and represents various religious traditions and six New Indian Aryan languages, with some reference to Sanskrit, Arabic, and even Chinese sources (viz., Jin Dinghan's comparison of Tulsidas and Confucius). The volume has been ably edited by R. S. McGregor, who has attempted to give coherency to the twenty-seven papers by grouping them into eight thematic sections, three of which consist of just two papers.

The largest section deals with the literary and religious traditions of Maharashtra. V. D. Kulkarni introduces and summarizes Pandit Bhismacarya's Pancavartika (A.D. 1338), arguing that the work should no longer be regarded as an early grammar of Marathi, but as a "grammar of bhakti," since it is in fact a semantic analysis" of the sutras of Cakradhara (the founder of the Mahanubhava movement). Catharina Kiehnle considers the authenticity of songs attributed to Jnandev. She has made use of manuscript sources that contain some 150 additional unpublished songs, and gives further evidence to confirm that Jnandev's Gatha contains many abhangas composed by his real or would-be followers. Erik Reenberg Sand describes how Marathi versions of the Pundalika legend elaborate on Sanskrit mahatmya texts that extol devotion to one's parents and claim that Krsna became manifest at Pandharpur in order to reward this form of devotion. S. G. Tulpule gives a summation of "autobiographical" references in the works of Tukaram, and Christopher Shelke likens Ramdas' concept of the Sadguru to the Holy Spirit, as represented by three Catholic mystics. G. Morje's paper, an assortment of disparate facts about some of the items Varkaris wear or smear on their bodies, gives more details about railway connections to Pandharpur than about literature.

Another Marathi text, the Ekanathi-bhagavat, is dealt with in a section on the interaction between Islamic and Indian religious attitudes. Here H. van Skyhawk speculates on the possibility of Sufi influence, especially with regard to the fusion of the devotee with the guru. Peter Gaeffke's contribution refers to a broad range of texts in order to challenge the notion that there was ever a "golden age" of Hindu-Muslim common culture. He notes that Muslim writings are more concerned with the "magical" aspects of Hinduism, and that, in so far as there was a basis for understanding, it lay in the compatibility of the love mysticism of Hindu bhakti and the Sufis, who were inspired by neo-platonist doctrines.

The other two papers in this section deal with the ginans composed by the Nizari, or Khoja, branch of Ismaili Muslims. Francoise Mallison concentrates on some lesser-known poets, showing how they incorporate popular forms of Hindu mysticism, including Tantric symbolism, the concept of the interior Satguru, the theme of viraha, and even the amorous adventures of Krsna. Ali Asani gives a somewhat more detailed introduction to the ginans and also discusses their Hindu-Muslim syncretism, noting how this has become an embarrassment for modem Ismiili scholars, who either purge the ginans of Hindu elements or attempt to show that they are in fact based on the Quran.

Syncretism is also the subject of one of the three papers on Sufi literature. Denis Matringue cites Krsnaite and Nath elements in the poetry of the eighteenth-century Panjabi Sufi Bulle Sah and S. M. Pandey introduces and summarizes Kutuban's allegorical romance Miragivati. S. C. R. Weightman examines the text of Alakh Bani, a late fifteenth-century Persian risalah that contains some 250 lines of Hindi verse (in Arabic script). By collating six manuscripts, he demonstrates how a much more plausible rendering of the Hindi can be made than was given by S. A. A. Rizvi and S. Zaidi in their Devanagari version of the text (1971), which was based on only two manuscripts.

Also on the subject of text criticism, Winand Callewaert discusses the relationship between oral and manuscript transmission of devotional lyrics with reference to singers' repertoires in Rajasthan. His arguments are based on the assumption that the singers themselves were mobile and able to adapt their lyrics to different regional languages, rather than that the songs filtered from one region to another or were adapted by local singers who heard them from others who were passing through. Although the process of transmission remains obscure, Callewaert succeeds in undermining the notion that anthologies of devotional lyrics derive from a scribal archetype or that any one repertoire can provide the "best" reading for all the lyrics it contains.

In the only paper on the subject of metrics, K. E. Bryant examines a number of Surdas' poems in order to demonstrate that scansion does not depend on word boundaries or formal typological prescriptions. These conclusions come as no surprise; more noteworthy are his observations concerning the rhythmic elements (laya, gati) that really govern the meter. In particular, he illustrates the interplay between segments of 4+4 and 3+3+2 morae and the syncopating effect of a cretic foot in a basically 4/4 rhythm. His analysis confirms that, given the importance of stress over word boundary, we should think in terms of phrasal rather than lexical units.

Other articles on Hindi poetry include John S. Hawley's perceptive analysis of the rhetoric of Surdas' vinaya poems, in which lists of famous devotees or sinners culminate with the name of the poet himself. R. S. McGregor discusses the authenticity of poems attributed to Nanddas, suggesting the types of pad that are likely to be genuine (among which, apparently, are the more "sectarian" ones that mention Vitthalanatha as the poet's guru). Monika Thiel-Horstmann describes how the homiletic sakhis of Dadu are used in sermons and are accorded the status of revealed text. Since they are the product of the saint's interior revelatory experience, the question of whether Dadu and other Sants had a human guru is of secondary importance.

Several papers present interesting permutations of Vaisnava bhakti. Rupert Snell examines how the Ridhavallabhi poet Dhruvdas, in his Bayalis lila, mediates between the sectarian rasik mode of religion of his own school on the one hand and a broadly defined or generic Vaisnava devotionalism on the other. Like the terms saguna and nirguna, the difference is between complementary viewpoints along a continuum rather than mutually exclusive categories. W. L. Smith discusses the role of Taranisena in Bengali versions of the Ramayana. This apocryphal nephew of Ravana exemplifies dvegabhakti, a virtual parody of normal devotion, whereby a sinner obtains salvation by deliberately acting as an adversary of god so as to compel him to inflict a redemptive punishment. Maya Burger deals with the relationship between caste and sampradaya with reference to the organization of temple worship at Nathdwara. She notes how caste hierarchy is still maintained, despite the purported "egalitarian thrust" of bhakti and the ideal of a spiritual community. Her discussion could have been enhanced, and given more literary relevance, by examining caste roles in the sectarian varta literature. Enzo Turbiani deals briefly with some aspects of the development of bhakti with reference to poems attributed to Rimanand, but without going into the basic question of their authenticity (and readily assuming that they are as old as the no less controversial Prthviraj-raso).

There are two papers on more recent forms of bhakti. Vasudha Dalmia-Luderitz illustrates how `Bhiratendu' Hariscandra expressed Vaisnava themes in a more classical Sanskrit mode and argued for the Vedic origins of Vaisnavism, thereby endorsing the Orientalist view of Indian history and contributing to the formation of a unified Hinduism that would suit national aspirations. R. K. Barz discusses the extent to which the modem Brahma Kumari movement may have borrowed ideas from the Pustimarg, though such borrowings are slight and speculative and the Brahma Kumaris can be seen to have just as much in common with other millennial movements.

Charlotte Vaudevillle and Hans Bakker contribute papers that relate to literature, inasmuch as they deal with sacred places mentioned in myth or hagiography. Vaudeville embroiders on her earlier papers on the cult of Govardhan, submitting tenuous evidence in support of her contention that the bhogi who enjoyed the food offered to the hill was a Niga. Bakker, in a more cogently argued paper, comes up with more convincing deductions about the meaning of bhoga with reference to the name of a temple at Ramtek where Cakradhara is believed to have stayed.
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Author:Entwistle, Alan
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 1994
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