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Kuvalayamala: Roman jaina de 779 compose par Uddyotanasuri, vol. 1: Etude; vol II: Traduction et annotations.

Kuvalayatnala: Roman jaina de 779 compose par Uddyotanasuri, vol. 1: Etude; vol II: Traduction et annotations. By CHRISTINE CHOJNACKI. Indica et Tibetica, vol. 50/1 and 50/2. Marburg: INDICA ET TIBETICA VERLAG, 2008. Pp. 393 and 794.

During the first millennium of the common era Jain monks produced three remarkable Prakrit works which scholarship has styled either "romances" or, more daringly, "novels." Satighadasa's Vasudevahindi, Haribhadra's Samaraiccakaha, and Uddyotanasuri's Kuvalayamala (KM) are all extended literary creations blending erotic, marvellous, and religious themes and employing sequences of embedded narratives and subnarratives which enable the authors to connect characters over a large span of rebirths. Building upon the later narrative portions of the Svetambara agama where ornate kavyaesque passages became increasingly common, these Jain authors were able to stake out an autonomous cultural identity by using the techniques of courtly aesthetics to promote the values of their path in a Maharastri Prakrit which for several centuries vied with Sanskrit as the main vehicle for refined literature.

The most fully imagined and impressive of these works in terms of linguistic and stylistic amplitude and narrative emplotment is the KM to which can be assigned the remarkably precise date of 779. Its author Uddyotanasuri's sophisticated blend of prose and verse was greatly influenced by Bana's Kadambari and may even have been an attempt to emulate that great prose kavya. The KM itself, which modern readers might regard as in some respects akin to the fantasy literature which has flourished in the West in recent years, provided a model for subsequent Jain writers, and the work's status can be further gauged by its citation as agama by monastic intellectuals in the eleventh and twelfth centuries disputing over matters of correct practice and by the composition of a Sanskrit abridgement by Ratnaprabhasuri in the thirteenth century to ease access to Uddyotanasuri's masterpiece for an audience for which Prakrit was becoming increasingly intractable as a literary medium. Thereafter the KM seems to have fallen into obscurity, in part because, so the author of the work under review speculates, Uddyotanasuri is equivocal with regard to Hindu deities, who are not described with the censure appropriate to a Jain. It may also have been the case that a work which was startlingly original in its time may have come to seem old-fashioned amid the explosion of Apabhramsa literature, often employing meters deriving from popular song, which gained momentum in the early centuries of the second millennium C.E.

However, enough manuscripts of the KM had survived into the twentieth century to attract the attention of Indian scholars, and the work was particularly fortunate in its editor, A. N. Upadhye, whose fine critical edition of 1959 published in the Singhi Jain Series had been prompted by Muni Jinavijaya. Upadhye supplemented his edition eleven years later with an invaluable analysis and notes, but in general scholarship on the KM has been patchy, concentrating on the evidence which it provides for less common Prakrit dialects such as Paisaci or attempting to extract evidence of realia which can deployed in the reconstruction of Indian socio-economic history in the late first millennium C.E. Certainly there has hitherto been no serious attempt to assess the KM as a sophisticated literary work which evinces a marked degree of self-awareness of its own fictivity.

This situation has now been remedied by Christine Chojnacki, whose fully integrated multidimensional study of the KM not only does full justice to its subject but in its two-volume span of over one thousand pages represents what is perhaps the most extensive scholarly treatment that any single Prakrit work has ever received. The bulk of Chojnacki's study, comprising volume two, is represented by an elegant and accurate French translation of the KM. The notes to this provide a wealth of discussion of the numerous difficult Prakrit forms with which the KM is larded and also propose judicious emendations to the sometimes obscure text. Volume one is devoted to a series of seven micro-studies (supplemented by invaluable indices) in which Chojnacki takes apart the workings of the KM to provide a highly detailed analysis bearing on its structure and status as both kavya and dharmakathd and on the mechanics of the narrative strategies deployed therein. One result of Chojnacki's researches, of some significance for formulating the history of Sanskrit literature, is that the KM can be adjudged to represent a developed example of a campu some considerable time before that important literary genre is generally accepted as having evolved.

Chojnacki cannot be commended too highly for taking the KM seriously on its own aesthetic terms, and thanks to her efforts Uddyotasuri's work now stands full revealed as one of the major literary masterpieces of early medieval India. It is to be hoped that her monumental study will inspire further detailed work on Prakrit literary texts, for, as she points out, the example of the KM demonstrates that Prakrit was perhaps better equipped than Sanskrit to fulfill the demanding requirements of kavya. Steven Moore in his recent breathless but generous-spirited conspectus The Novel: An Alternative History (New York and London, 2010) has managed to find room for a brief reference to the KM and states that it "sounds richly deserving of translation" (p. 438). While Chojnacki does not reflect upon the place of the KM in world literature, her meticulous and enlightening study and, in particular, the verve of her complete translation should ensure that it will eventually find its rightful place in a truly inclusive configuration of premodern global fiction.


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Author:Dundas, Paul
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book review
Date:Apr 1, 2012
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