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. Still, if we truly want to restore agency to the South Asian author (or, more appropriate in the bhakti context, the singer), it behooves us to let these voices speak (or sing) for themselves before we interpret them. Many current misunderstandings of bhakti have been traced to and blamed on the first Western observers whose observations were colored by their own Christian prejudices. However, the orientalists were not the first to misinterpret and see only what fitted their agenda. Each generation of transmitters has added its own preconceptions, whether consciously or unconsciously. The individual bhakti voices come to us mediated through a range of agendas that have not yet been carefully mapped. Current editions of bhakti poetry cannot be taken at face value. When we take the trouble to compare earlier and later manuscripts, it often becomes apparent that there have been significant changes in the message of the poetry. When we contextualize by looking at hagiographies, in which the poems are often quoted or alluded to, we can see how the different understandings of poetry were shaped by sectarian agendas and other generationally shifting concerns. In this presentation, I will try and let two bhakti voices speak in answer the three interrelated questions of community, caste and women. I am asking how a sixteenthcentury and an eighteenth-century Krishna bhakta, expressing themselves in Braj Bhå∑å, saw themselves relate to nirguˆ¥ communities, and in how far they advocated hierarchical and patriarchal structures. I will contextualize the cases of the sixteenth-century bhakta, Hariråm Vyås, who lived in Vrindåban in the Braj area, with the eighteenth-century Någar¥dås from Kishangarh who moved to Braj later in life. As it turns out, listening to these voices changes the way we think about Krishna bhakti.

Bio: Heidi Pauwels is Professor in the Department of Asian Languages and Literature at the University of Washington in Seattle. She teaches Sanskrit and Modern and Old Hindi language and literature, and courses on Hinduism. She studied in Europe (in Belgium with Winand Callewaert and in Germany with Monika Horstmann), India (at the Vrindaban Research Institute), and the USA (in Seattle with Alan Entwistle) and taught at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London (1994-96).

Her publications include various articles in scholarly journals and conference proceedings as well as two monographs on sixteenth-century bhakti: Krishna’s round dance reconsidered (London: Curzon Press 1996) and In praise of holy men (Groningen: Egbert Forsten 2002), and one comparing classical, medieval and contemporary film and television retellings of the stories of Krishna and Rama: The Goddess as Role Model: S¥tå and Rådhå in Scripture and on Screen (New York: Oxford University Press 2008). She is editor of Indian Literature and Popular Cinema (Routledge 2007) , Patronage and Popularisation, Pilgrimage and Procession (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz 2009), and Satire in the age of Early Modernity (with Monika Horstmann; Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz 2012). Her book Cultural Exchange in Eighteenth-Century India: Poetry and Paintings from Kishangarh has just appeared from E.B. Verlag in Berlin.