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The Life of a Text

Performing the <i>Ramcaritmanas</i> of Tulsidas

Philip Lutgendorf

Publication Year: 1991

The Life of a Text offers a vivid portrait of one community's interaction with its favorite text—the epic Ramcaritmanas—and the way in which performances of the epic function as a flexible and evolving medium for cultural expression. Anthropologists, historians of religion, and readers interested in the culture of North India and the performance arts will find breadth of subject, careful scholarship, and engaging presentation in this unique and beautifully illustrated examination of Hindi culture.

The most popular and influential text of Hindi-speaking North India, the epic Ramcaritmanas is a sixteenth century retelling of the Ramayana story by the poet Tulsidas. This masterpiece of pre-modern Hindi literature has always reached its largely illiterate audiences primarily through oral performance including ceremonial recitation, folksinging, oral exegesis, and theatrical representation. Drawing on fieldwork in Banaras, Lutgendorf breaks new ground by capturing the range of performance techniques in vivid detail and tracing the impact of the epic in its contemporary cultural context.

Published by: University of California Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiii

The poet Tulsidas wisely commenced his epic with a lengthy passage that has come to be known as the "obeisance to all beings" (samasti vandana)—an effective way of discharging the burden of gratitude every author feels. If the truth be told, I feel scarcely less comprehensive...

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A Note on Transliteration

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pp. xv-xvi

All italicized technical terms from Hindi and Sanskrit and the titles of literary works have been transliterated according to the system followed by the Library of Congress, with the exception that for Hindi words the medial and final vowel a, which is usually not pronounced, has been...

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1. The Text and the Research Context

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pp. 1-52

Anyone interested in the religion and culture of Northern India sooner or later encounters a reference to the epic poem Ramcaritmanas and its remarkable popularity.1 This sixteenth-century retelling of the legend of Ram by the poet Tulsidas has been hailed "not merely as the greatest...

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2. The Text in Recitation and Song

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pp. 53-112

The recitation of Tulsidas's epic is one of the most visible—and audible—forms of religious activity in Banaras. It forms a part of the morning and evening worship of innumerable households, is broadcast by loudspeakers from the spires of many temples, and periodically, at the...

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3. The Text Expounded: The Development of Mānas-Kathā

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pp. 113-164

The preceding chapter discussed the dissemination, beginning in the middle of the nineteenth century, of printed editions of the Manas, and the related phenomenon of the rise of ritualized public recitation. Yet even today, when inexpensive printed editions are readily available, the...

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4. The Art of Mānas-Kathā

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pp. 165-247

It is not uncommon these days to hear the complaint that kathd has become a business, that performers "sell" their exposition, and that the high fees they command reduce the art to just another commodity to be traded in the marketplace. A recent article in a popular Hindi magazine...

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5. Words Made Flesh: The Text Enacted

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pp. 248-339

The annual reenactment of the Ramayan story as a series of folk plays— the Ramllila—is among the world's most popular dramatic traditions: a form of live theater that reckons its audience not in hundreds or thousands, but in millions. Norvin Hein's assertion that "there must have...

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6. The Text in a Changing Society

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pp. 340-439

An implicit theme of this study has been the inseparability, for the North Indian audience, of the Manas text from its realization in performance—a relationship anticipated in the structure of the text and endlessly celebrated in the dialectic of its performance traditions. The focus...

Glossary of Names with Transliteration

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pp. 441-447


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pp. 449-460


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pp. 461-469

E-ISBN-13: 9780520909342
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520066908

Page Count: 450
Publication Year: 1991