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Dictionary of Bhakti: North-Indian Bhakti Texts into Khari Boli Hindi and English.

Dictionary of Bhakti: North-Indian Bhakti Texts into Khari Boli Hindi and English. By WINAND CALLEWAERT, with the assistance of SWAPNA SHARMA. New Delhi: D. K. PRINTWORLD, 2009. 3 vols. Pp. 2187.

Those interested in the devotional literature of North India, known as bhakti, have had the use of a wonderful tool for translation since 1993: the Oxford Hindi-English Dictionary by R. S. McGregor. While this is usually seen as a superb dictionary of modern Hindi with reliable etymologies, it contains as a bonus a significant amount of lexical items from the older registers of the language, making it the first choice for English-speaking scholars, before turning to the more specialized Old Hindi-Modern Hindi dictionaries. Now, sixteen years later, those scholars have another very welcome dictionary, this one exclusively devoted to Old Hindi (with translations in both Modern Hindi and English): the work under review.

This three-volume dictionary of sixteenth-and seventeenth-century bhakti texts is the magnum opus of Dr. Winand Callewaert (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium). It is the crown on years of hard work in the field of early bhakti literature. Callewaert has long been indefatigably collating manuscripts of early North Indian bhakti texts, editing them so as to establish texts as close to the period of origin as possible, and providing translations to make them available to a larger audience. Callewaert has thus over the course of his productive career compiled a large database and developed computer programs to sort and alphabetically organize the words of these texts. He rightly realized that with such a large data-base at his disposal he was in an excellent position to compile a dictionary. Notwithstanding the warning of his guru, Father Camille Bulcke of English-Hindi Dictionary (1968) fame, he courageously took on the task. Thus came about the work under review, which is really a corpus-based dictionary but on a much larger scale than, for instance, Christopher Shackle's model A Guru Minak Glossary (Vancouver: Univ. of British Columbia Press and London: School of Oriental and African Studies, 1981). The ambitious scale of Callewaert's dictionary is a great virtue, but it also brings a host of problems with it.

While Callewaert has mainly worked on so-called nirguna bhakti (devotion centered on a God without attributes), in particular the DAthipanthi and Sikh traditions, he has always been keen on situating his work within the wider bhakti tradition of North India. He is indeed the "father" of the regularly occurring European "Bhakti Conferences" (first convened by him in Leuven in 1979), in which specialists from all over the world gather to discuss commonalities in their research on early New Indo-Aryan literature of whatever stripe, nirguna, saguna (devotion to God with attributes), Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Jain, or indeed non-religious. For his dictionary Callewaert sought input from colleagues in other bhakti fields, including the saguna tradition (Krishna and Rama poetry). He added their texts to his database and ran them through his computer programs to compile a very large corpus of data. For the processing of these raw materials into a dictionary, he teamed up with Dr. Swapna Sharma (now at Yale), herself born and raised in Vrindaban and a specialist in the Krishna bhakti tradition. The processing of the data took this team about thirteen years.

The result of this herculean (or more appropriately Hanuman-like) effort is a must for any serious translator of any of the manifold bhakti works of North India. In that respect the title of the book, "Dictionary of Bhakti," is apt and addresses a real audience. Lexicographers will immediately object that "Bhakti" is not a language, but a case could be made that the title is informative and characterizes the material treated better than a purely linguistic designation would. Unfortunately Callewaert neglects to make the case in his very short preface. The dictionary is not a dictionary of religion that includes only key theological terms; rather it encompasses all the lexical items from a variety of works thematically concerned with bhakti. The great merit is that these works, which are now claimed to belong to different North Indian linguistic traditions, such as Punjabi, Rajasthani, Sadhukkari, Braj, Avadhi, etc., are brought here under one umbrella. These diverse linguistic traditions are sometimes referred to by the single term "Old Hindi," though such a term is anachronistic and loaded with political implications in a contemporary context. Callewaert's introduction bypasses all such tricky matters by simply not addressing the issue of language at all. That may be a primal sin for a dictionary compiler; still, the lack of linguistic reflection may actually produce practical benefits. Whereas scholars previously would consult the dictionaries in the "language" of the text they were translating (e.g., Punjabi, Braj Bhasa, Avadhi), a practice that leads to a certain isolation and insularity, now they have the opportunity to make comparisons easily with other languages. Indeed the great contribution of this dictionary is that, for each lexical item, samples of the use of the word in texts from these different linguistic traditions are provided. The beauty of the project is that it brings together bhakti texts in all these different idioms and thus makes possible a conversation between the very different "flavors" of what constitutes North Indian bhakti.

Such is the strength of the work. Given the unique value of this dictionary in providing quotations from so many texts, it is unfortunate that Callewaert does not define what he considers to be bhakti and what exactly constitutes the corpus from which the quotations were selected. The introduction is very short (less than two pages), with a general overview of the bhakti movement presented here as a reaction against Islam, without touching on any link with South Indian movements. (Readers would do well to complement this introduction with J. S. Hawley's articles and forthcoming book revising notions of "the bhakti movement.") Amazingly, the introduction not only fails to contextualize the works included in his dictionary, but in fact does not even introduce them. There is only a two-page "list of works in the database" (p. xvii - xviii), whose purpose is to list and explain the sigla used throughout the dictionary. A single glance at the list makes it immediately apparent that the corpus on which the dictionary is based does not really consist of what one might expect: "greatest bhakti hits." Rather it is a quite idiosyncratic selection. Given the focus of Callewaert's research, it is not surprising to find a heavy density of quotes from the nirgwya bhaktas of the Pancavani: Dadii, Kabir (who looms large, with all three major recensions of his works included in their entirety), Namdev, Raiders, and Hardev, and Dadapanthis (such as Sundardds, Jan Gopal, and those included in Gopaldas's anthology Sarvangi), partly overlapping with the bhagats from the Sikh sacred scripture. Most material is from Callewaert's own editions or reprints of older editions; thus one suspects the choices may have been made on practical grounds: include what was easily available. However, why not include others--for instance, the Sikh Gurus themselves, for whom Callewaert also has a database [he published a Devanagari Guru Granth in 1996], and for part of which the aforementioned glossary of Shackle was available? Did he exclude them on the grounds that they are Sikh, considered to be a different religion? Yet he also includes a Sufi work, Jayasi's Padmavat. There, too, the choice seems somewhat haphazard, as no other Sufi romances are included, not even the other ones from the sixteenth century.

The choice of what to include and exclude is even more baffling on the saguna bhakti side. Out of the huge devotional literature dedicated to Rama, Callewaert includes only Tulsidas's Ramcaritmanas, for which he had previously produced a word index (with Lutgendorf in 1997), but none of this famous bhakta's other works. Ramanandis, other than the Ramanand of the Guru Granth, are only represented by the hagiographical texts on nirgunis by Anantas. The situation is similar for Krishna bhakti. One is pleased to see the SardaIs of Kenneth Bryant's forthcoming critical edition included, but, for the rest, only Nanddas (and then again only one of his works) and the rather obscure Kevalram represent the prolific Vallabhan tradition. The Gaudiya tradition is represented solely by the lesser-known Gadadhar Bhatt, but it is not specified (p. xvii) what edition the songs included are based on. Sharma has worked on this author, but her 2010 book does not contain a critical edition of all his works included in the dictionary. Was it based on unpublished materials assembled by Sharma? This should have been mentioned. The three independent poets of the so-called Haritrayi (Hit Harivarpg, Svami Haridas, and Hariram Vyas) are well represented, though only a very small fraction of the work of Hariram Vyas is included (and mischaracterized as padas, rather tripadis).

Mostly these works have been critically edited on the basis of old manuscripts, which might have been a factor in the decision to include them. However, at least a word about the exceptions would help: why include, for instance, the Rarncaritrnanas in an older edition? On a wholly different level is the inclusion of Gorakhnath, whose dates are very uncertain and who seems "an odd man out" among the bhaktas. There may well be good reasons why it is interesting to compare the use of lexical items in his corpus with others, but these are not spelled out. If the date of the extant editions is the main concern, one wonders why Callewaert did not use the so-called Fatehpur Manuscript from the sixteenth century, which was used by Bryant for his Sur edition, and which includes many more Krishna bhakti poets and others and is available in facsimile.

That brings us to the issue of the dates of the lexical items included. The claim is that the dictionary is based on a corpus of works ca. 1600 (p. ix). While it is not intended to provide the earliest attestation of a word in Old Hindi, it still is quite valuable to have at one's disposal a rich treasure trove of lexical items that can be confidently dated to such an early period. Anyone familiar with Callewaert's manuscript research can be confident that for the nirguni side of things he has indeed included lexical items that can be traced back to manuscripts from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, at least for texts he has edited himself. He could have made this explicit in the introduction, so that even users unfamiliar with his work would be fully aware of this valuable aspect of the dictionary. It would also have been useful had he commented on which materials cannot be so confidently dated. For Kabir, for instance, the Bijak and Kahir Granthii vali collections of his work are included, the extant text of which are at least partially based on post-seventeenth-century manuscripts. For several other authors, namely Dada, Hardas, and Gorakhnath, it is indicated that the text included is based on the reprint by Callewaert and op de Beeck (1991), but it is not specified what this is a reprint of. So one has to turn to that work to discover that these editions were based on later textual evidence. Thus the claim that the lexical items in the dictionary date to ca. 1600 cannot be accepted without qualification.

The drawbacks of the dictionary have to do with its sheer scale, which may have been too over-whelming to deal with systematically. The main critique of this corpus-based dictionary is that it fails to give the rationale for the many important decisions that went into its making and therefore gives the impression of having been compiled somewhat haphazardly. This is true not just for the macro-level of which works were selected for inclusion and exclusion, but for many significant micro-decisions. While under "Practical Decisions" (p. xiii) a paragraph is provided on the indication of the anusviira and another on the purely scribal distinction with candrabindu, it remains unexplained how the quotes were chosen that are provided under each lexical item. Callewaert offers only this: "Sometimes many quotations are given because of the possible importance of the entry of different areas of research. In other cases I give only one or a few examples, and the number of occurrences of the entry ... If there are many references or if they are not especially relevant, I give only the number of quotations in which the entry is found ... " (p. xiii; the ellipses are specific examples). Perhaps those numbers are useful to some. However, for those who wish to bring the different "bhaktis" into conversation with one another, some further information might have been useful. For example, why are several quotes provided from the nirguni author Sundardas under alekhai 'the invisible' and none from others? Is this a favorite concept of Sundardas that does not occur much elsewhere? Or is it just haphazard? Of course, not all quotes could be included, but how was it decided what did make the final cut? It would have been useful to know the rationale for such decisions, in order to know whether the dictionary can be used to study the frequency of occurrence of certain key terms in different texts of different provenance.

As for the translation of the lexical items, one has to be in awe of the compilers, since much of the material they include had not been previously translated into English. Thus there was a lot of "hidden work" behind the translations in the dictionary, and indeed in one case the authors have published the translation of a set of texts they have used, most notably Anantdas's Parcais (The Hagiographies of Anantadas: The Bhakti Poets of North India [Richmond: Curzon Press, 2000]). While the translations given are certainly competently done, there are some omissions in the list of dictionaries in the bibliography that the authors could have benefited from. For instance, as I worked on the translation of a text attributed to Jayasi, I noticed several words were not included that are found in the excellent work by Ramesh Mathur (Padmiivata: An Etymological Study [Calcutta: Intercultural Research Institute / Simant Publications India, 1974; distributed by National Pub. House, Delhi)). Not just for the words from Padnhavat but overall this source would have benefited the translations.

The dictionary does not pretend to give etymologies, but it does helpfully provide the "Khari Boll Hindi" equivalents of the words listed, usually the most Sanskritic form, as well as the Persian or Arabic words underlying the Old Hindi ones. Thus it does contain some hints for those interested in etymology, though the interested reader will still have to turn to Ralph L. Thrner's famous work (A Comparative Dictionary of the Indo-Aryan Languages [London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1962-66]).

One of the strengths of the dictionary under review is that it includes useful explanatory notes: for instance, the esoteric meaning of the seven oceans (vol. 3, p. 2010 s.v. sagar) and the symbolism of the number seven more generally (vol. 3, p. 2014 s.v. sat), or the culturally specific meaning of sis ugharna 'to uncover the head', as for a widow about to become sati (vol. 3, p. 2056). On the other hand, a certain haphazardness in the editing is again noticeable, as these notes sometimes get too cumbersome and specific. Deep philosophical explanations are not easiy accommodated in the dictionary format, as they tend to be lengthy. Some of the long quotes could have been much abbreviated by just referring to the author and summarizing (e.g., vol 3, p. 1997, the note on sahaj, and p. 1967, the note on somata referring to Vaudeville's explanations). Surprisingly, at other points there is too little, such as for susaman, which is simply transliterated as 'the suutnna channel' without further explanation. The important ras concept is explained very minimally, with little about its importance for aesthetics. Elsewhere the notes seem needlessly detailed while leaving out important information; thus for the entry on the sage gukadeva interesting information on the parrot symbolism of his name is provided, but not that he is seen as the foremost sage reciting the important scripture Bhagavata Purarfa. One might also question the justification for giving very specific information in the translation of general terms, such as the entry for sap in the meaning of 'curse', where a particular curse is retold (Dagaratha's upon shooting the hermit with the blind parents, vol. 3, p. 2018). For words whose meaning is otherwise clear, long speculative notes on their use in puzzling context may not be the best use of space. Callewaert is particularly prone to quote Hawley's notes on Sursagar. While Hawley's work is excellent, and it is well worth quoting his erudite speculations on words little understood (such as sas, vol. 3, p. 2027), it may not be necessary to quote him when the basic meaning of a term is clear, but the context in a particular verse is puzzling (e.g., saraftg, vol. 3, pp. 2020-21). It might have been more useful to provide the reader with bibliographical references to good translations of the quotations provided, especially since the quotations, out of context, are not always immediately transparent in meaning. To be sure, Callewaert does list some translations, under his section "Text-editions" in volume 1, but they are organized alphabetically by translator, and therefore not immediately easy to use for the uninitiated looking for a good translation of a passage quoted.

All in all, however, such quibbles do not detract from the wonderful contribution this dictionary makes. It brings together lexical items in their context in a vast number of texts over a large field of bhakti-related literature, and this opens up a world of opportunities for future generations to bring the different "bhaktis" into conversation with one another. Even for this alone the dictionary can be seen as revolutionary. The academic world can be grateful to Callewaert for his vision in collating all these texts, producing the wordlists and quotations, and securing the funding for the project, and to his loyal collaborator, Sharma, for her painstaking work in sorting through the quotations and providing the translations.

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Author:Pauwels, Heidi
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2012
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