Granoff Phyllis

Phyllis Granoff, Yale University

For God and King: The Politics of Bhakti in a 19th c. Assamese Purana
In this paper I discuss a remarkable Assamese illustrated manuscript in the British Library, Or 11387. A translation into Assamese of the Brahmavaivarta Purana, the manuscript is dated 1836 CE. To the translated Sanskrit text this manuscript adds an opening hymn to Kṛiṣṇa and lengthy praise poems to its royal patron at the end of every chapter. This manuscript of the Assamese Brahmavaivarta thus blends devotion to god with devotion to its royal patron, Purandara Sinha.

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Kiyokazu Okita

Kiyokazu Okita, Kyoto University

In this paper, I examine and compare two Hindu-Muslim encounters as described in two prominent Bengali hagiographies of Caitanya, namely the Caitanya Bhāgavata by Vṛndāvana Dāsa Ṭhākura and the Caitanya Caritāmṛta by Kṛṣṇa Dāsa Kavirāja. The first incident is a meeting between Haridāsa, a converted Vaiṣṇava, and the Muslim ruler of Muluka. The king asks why Haridāsa chants Kṛṣṇa’s name even though he was born as a Muslim. In the second incident, Caitanya organizes a massive protest against a local Muslim judge’s prohibition on congregational chanting (saṅkārtana).

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Pinch William

William Pinch, Wesleyan University

This paper will examine the waterscape of north Bihar, particularly as described in the late nineteenth-century account by Bihārī Lāl “Fitrat” (a.k.a. Rāsbihārī Lāl Dās), Āin-i Tirhut (1880). Pre-modern Tirhut was famed for its thousands of manmade tanks and ponds, as well as raging flood waters from the Himalayas—especially the dreaded Kosi, the “River of Sorrow,” which marked the constantly westward moving eastern boundary of the region. Legend, poetry, and folklore, and even inscriptional evidence, concerning the waterscape of Tirhut reach back over a millennium.

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Mann Gurinder Singh

Gurinder Singh Mann

Power and Protest in the Founding of the Sikh Community
Contrary to an image of Guru Nanak (1469-1539) that once held sway, I am convinced that he was intentionally the founder of the community that has come to revere him as its first guru. He responded to specific conditions that surrounded him at the time, many of them explicitly political in nature, and the community he established at Kartarpur around the late 1510s most definitely had a political valence. It may well have been that his personal ties to Daulat Khan Lodhi, the ruler in Lahore (1500[?]-1526), encouraged Nanak’s first followers to rally to his cause.

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Brick David

David Brick, Yale University

The Incorporation of Devotional Theism into Purāṇic Gifting Rites
As a class of texts, the Purāṇas make a major contribution to Brahmanical writing on gifting, primarily because they contain descriptions of numerous specific gifting rites, such as the famous tulāpuruṣadāna (“balance gift”), that texts of other genres, such as Dharmaśāstra, generally fail to discuss. Although largely unstudied, these Purāṇic gifting rites provide unique evidence of a historically significant, yet hitherto ignored, development in gifting in medieval India, namely, the incorporation of the increasingly popular ethos of bhakti (devotional theism) into the much older practice of dāna (gifting), wherein gods traditionally played no prominent role.

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Haberman David L.

David L. Haberman, Indiana University
The word bhakti comes from the Sanskrit root bhaj- and is typically translated as “devotion,” but has a much richer meaning that includes to share, enjoy, love, or participate in. All this seems to imply a distinction between the enjoyer and the enjoyed. But what else might it entail? What is it that one is participating in? I explore in this paper what I have learned about bhakti by studying the intentional anthropomorphic techniques involved in the worship of stones from Mount Govardhan, a sacred hill located in the heart of Braj. In the bhakti traditions of Braj where relationality is highly valued, special importance is not only given to embodiment, but embodiment of a particular nature: the human form (mānuṣha rūpa).

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Novetzke Christian Lee

Christian Lee Novetzke, University of Washington

The Political Theology of Bhakti, or When Devotionalism Meets Vernacularization
Bhakti is an old idea, but it becomes something new when combined with the communicative possibilities of vernacular literary and public expression. When the two met, a new public field of discourse opened up, a nascent public sphere, a precursor to the modern public sphere. What was the ethics of this new public discourse created when bhakti met the vernacular? What “theology” of bhakti came to inform and shape the cultural politics of the nascent vernacular public sphere?

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Williams Tyler

Tyler Williams, University of Chicago

Paper Trails: Money, Manuscripts, Malis and Merchants in Northwestern Bhakti
The question of whether bhakti functioned as an ideology of emancipation from, or submission to, structures of power has occupied scholars for much of the past century. My paper will complicate this question by investigating how the ‘logic’ of bhakti as both a type of network and as a type of personal practice restructured power relations among individuals and groups, and allowed for multiple kinds of power relationships to coexist simultaneously, even within the same community.

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Lee Joel

Joel Lee, Williams College

All the Valmikis are One: Bhakti as Majoritarian Project
Why are the sanitation labor castes – those Dalit castes denoted in the colonial period as ‘Bhangi,’ ‘Halalkhor,’ ‘Lal Begi,’ ‘Mehtar,’ ‘Sweeper,’ among other names – now known as Valmikis or Balmikis? By what operations and under what conditions was the link forged between the Valmiki of the Ramayana, whose Bhargava Brahmin pedigree is attested in that text, and the geographically widespread Dalit caste cluster that supplies almost all of South Asia’s sanitation workers?

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Pechilis Karen

Karen Pechilis, Drew University

Before the Difference was Split: Bhakti and Tantra in South India
This conference italicizes a significant comparative question on bhakti and social identity – does the former reify, contest, reject and/or ignore established modes of the latter? – gesturing towards the participatory nature of bhakti, which demands a conscious positionality. The early medieval Tamil poet-saint Kāraikkāl Ammaiyār could certainly be viewed through the spectrum of social power and its lack: She was a partisan of Śiva at the time of “The Śaiva Age” or dominance of Śaivism across India.

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Kaur Manpreet

“Smitten, like Ranjha, they get their ears pierced”: The trope of the Jogi in Punjabi Sufi Poetry

In Waris Shah’s epic rendition of the Heer-Ranjha legend titled Heer, Ranjha takes on the garb of a Jogi so that he can visit Heer after she has been married. This episode has found immense spiritual currency among the poets of Punjab; many Sufis before and after Waris Shah have written about the beloved in the form of jogi, expressed desire in terms of the wanderings of this jogi, or compared his powers to those of the divine. Bulle Shah compares Ranjha to a Jogi and a thief in the same vein. In Shah Hussain’s compositions, the singer wants to follow Ranjha’s meanderings, and coaxes the listener to accompany them on the sufi path, for it is terrifying to be alone on the path of the jogi. Khwaja Ghulam Farid likens Ranjha to a magician with pierced ears and an ashen face. Folks songs abound where Ranjha shows up as a jogi. Ranjha in jogi-garb appears as a simple intertextual reference, just as frequently as he has long poems dedicated especially to him.

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Hawley John Stratton

John Stratton Hawley, Barnard College, Columbia University

Middling Bhakti
Caroline Bynum, the distinguished historian of European Christianity, once pointed out to me that in the West, medieval history is a field where women are far better represented than they are elsewhere. The cause? As I recall, she suggested that it was a mix of sheer competence—once admitted to higher education, women generally had better-developed language skills than men—and a sort of historical type-casting. Ancient history, supported by the classical curriculum that once ruled the roost in humanistic and indeed general education in the West, was validated by the men-only educational institutions built around that curriculum.

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Pouwels Heidi

Heidi Pauwels, University of Washington

Caste and Women in Early Modern India: The Case of Krishna Bhakti in the Sixteenth and Eighteenth Century.
How P.C. is bhakti? Is it to be read as ideological resistance of the subaltern classes? Or should it rather be blamed for providing religious sanction for a hierarchical and patriarchal status quo? The answer depends heavily on which type of bhakti we privilege. Often bhakti voices are heard only partially; in some cases they are stifled to support agendas to be proven, more often the problem is simply that only part of the voice has survived. Sometimes theorizers neglect to carefully contextualize their sources. It is tempting to hear only what fits the agenda.

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Cort John E.

John E. Cort, Denison University

Bhakti As Middle Class Religion And Literature
As the call for papers for this conference rightly notes, a major theme within bhakti literature and practice has involved the expression of criticism of and resistance to forms of domination within Indian society. Many of the stars of scholarship on bhakti, and among those who have most often been translated, represent a subaltern social location: Ravidas, Kabir, Mirabai, Antal, Mahadeviyakka, Namdev, Muktabai, Janabai, Chokhamela, Tukaram—the list goes on.

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Cherian Divya

Divya Cherian, Columbia University

Fall from Grace? Untouchables and Hindus in Eighteenth-Century Marwar
In the course of the seventeenth century, Marwar, like large parts of the Indian subcontinent, had come under the sway of Krishna devotion. The Vallabh Sampraday, in particular, drew the large and active merchant population of the region into its fold. In 1766, Maharaja Vijay Singh, the Rathor king of Marwar, formally joined the Vallabh Sampraday, further cementing the already close ties between his state and the merchant community.

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Ben-Herut Gil

Gil Ben-Herut, University of South Florida

Religious Equity, Social Conservatism: Society and the Kannada Śivabhakti Community as Imagined in Early Thirteenth-Century Hagiographies

The Kannada Śivabhakti tradition, commonly known today as “Vīraśaivism” and “Liṅgāyatism,” is famed for its uncompromising resistance to Brahminical ideology of ritualistic and social supremacy. This resistance has taken different forms in the historical developments of this tradition over the last eight centuries and in the prolific devotional literature it produced during this period

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Davis Richard H.

Richard H. Davis, Bard College

Bhakti in the Classroom: What Do Students Hear?
The ways we present bhakti in undergraduate courses constructs the phenomenon of bhakti for students, and their responses in turn guide our choices as instructors. I propose to consider my own experiences, over nine incarnations of the course “Devotion and Poetry in Medieval India,” of presenting and representing bhakti for students at Yale and Bard College. How well do my pedagogical choices reflect the field of scholarship, and how do they convey my own preferences and predilections?

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Graves Eben

Eben Graves, Yale University

Are You All Coming to the Esplanade?”: Padāvalī-Kīrtan and Political Society
The language of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava padāvalī-kīrtan songs would seem to be devoid of a political register. Focusing on the erotic līlās (“divine episodes”) of Radha and Krishna, the song texts of this musical style lack explicit reference to the contemporary social issues of their period. Nevertheless, beginning in the late nineteenth century the Bengali nationalist elite (bhadralok) began to define the devotional practice of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava kīrtan as a medium of protest.

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Goswami Shrivatsa

Shrivatsa Goswami, Sri Caitanya Prema Samsthana, Vrindavan

Bhakti and Vrindavan: Actor and Theatre
What is Vrindavan? What is its main identity? The question looks frivolous. Who can question its deepest association with Krishna. Vrindavan as Krishna’s playgrounds, most famous for being the theatre of his Rasalila. The Bhagavata Mahatmya has a different point of view: “blessed is Vrindavan where bhakti dances”. Bhakti is the actor and Vrindavan its theatre.

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