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. The royal panegyrics commemorate an important event in Assamese history, when the throne was briefly restored to the Ahom king by the British following the Anglo-Burmese war of 1824-6. The illustrations are remarkable for their quality and originality. The painter delights in concrete details of the narrative and its settings; unusually he also gives precise visual form to abstract accounts of creation and to key metaphors in the text. The manuscript offers us a rare opportunity to gain insight into the process of translation of a major bhakti text from Sanskrit into a regional language and into the process of translation of written text into visual image. It also allows us to see the interaction between a religious donation and the volatile politics of 19th c. Assam.
Bio: Phyllis Granoff joined the Yale faculty on July 1, 2004. She previously taught at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada and has held visiting positions at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Berkeley, and Harvard. She has done research in all of the classical religions of India–Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and has published articles on Indian art and literature. Her interests include contemporary Indian literature and she has published translations of short stories from Bengali and Oriya. She edits the Journal of Indian Philosophy. Her recent publications include The Victorious Ones: Jain Images of Perfection, an edited volume that accompanied the exhibition on Jain art that she curated at the Rubin Museum of Art. With Koichi Shinohara she has edited a number of volumes, including Images in Asian Religions and Pilgrims, Patrons and Place. Most recently they have edited a volume of essays on sin in Asian religions, to appear shortly from Brill. Among her current research projects are a study of Jain and Buddhist monastic rules on the treatment of the sick and a comprehensive examination of Jain manuscripts in American museum collections. She serves as senior advisor to the Jain Heritage Preservation Project which is run by the Jiv Daya Foundation in Dallas, Texas.