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. This paper will argue that Purāṇic authors strove to incorporate bhakti into dāna via two fairly distinct strategies. The first and apparently more mainstream of these is exemplified by the Matsya Purāṇa, which simply adds rather superficial Śaiva and especially Vaiṣṇava elements to its highly influential descriptions of the sixteen mahādānas (“great gifts”). The second strategy is exemplified by the Kālikā and Devī Purāṇas, two minor Purāṇas that more thoroughly incorporate the values of bhakti into their gifting rites. Specifically, these texts urge donors to give gifts to ordinary humans as usual, but in conscious dedication to either Śiva or Devī. Moreover, on occasion, they even appear to encourage donors to mentally identify the humans who actually receive their gifts with the cosmic deities to whom they are dedicated. In this way, these Purāṇas effectively transform the long-established practice of gifting into a special form of devotional theistic worship.
Bio: David Brick is Senior Lector of Sanskrit at Yale University. His research deals with diverse aspects of ancient and medieval Sanskrit literature, with a special focus on classical Hind law (Dharmaśāstra). He is the author of several articles on these topics and his book Brahmanical Theories of the Gift: A Critical Edition and Annotated Translation of the Dānakāṇḍa of the Kṛtyakalpataru (2015) was recently published in the Harvard Oriental Series.