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God, World, and Humanity
In this book, Anantanand Rambachan offers a fresh and detailed perspective on Advaita Vedaµnta, Hinduism’s most influential and revered religious tradition. Rambachan, who is both a scholar and an Advaitin, attends closely to the Upanis|ads and authentic commentaries of Såan³kara to challenge the tradition and to reconsider central aspects of its current teachings. His reconstruction and reinterpretation of Advaita focuses in particular on the nature of brahman, the status of the world in relation to brahman, and the meaning and relevance of liberation. Rambachan queries contemporary representations of an impersonal brahman and the need for popular, hierarchical distinctions such as those between a higher (paraµ) and lower (aparaµ) brahman. Such distinctions, Rambachan argues, are inconsistent with the non-dual nature of brahman and are unnecessary when brahman’s relationship with the world is correctly understood. Questioning Advaita’s traditional emphasis on renunciation and world-denial, Rambachan expands the understanding of suffering (duh|kha) and liberation (moks|a) and addresses socioeconomic as well as gender and caste inequalities. Positing that the world is a celebrative expression of God’s fullness, this book advances Advaita as a universal and uninhibited path to a liberated life committed to compassion, equality, and justice.
Ornamentation and Devotion
Since ancient times, Hindus have expressed their love and devotion to their deities through beautiful ornamentation -- dressing and decorating the deities with elaborate clothing, jewelry, and flowers. In this pioneering study of temples in Vrindaban and Jaipur, India, Cynthia Packert takes readers across temple thresholds and into the god Krishna's sacred domain. She describes what devotees see when they behold gorgeously attired representations of the god and why these images look the way they do. She discusses new media as well as global forms of devotion popular in India and abroad. The Art of Loving Krishna opens a universe of meaning in which art, religious action, and devotion are dynamically intertwined.
Theorizing Authority through Myths of Identity
In Aryans, Jews, Brahmins, Dorothy M. Figueira provides a fascinating account of the construction of the Aryan myth and its uses in both India and Europe from the Enlightenment to the twentieth century. The myth concerns a race that inhabits a utopian past and gives rise first to Brahmin Indian culture and then to European culture. In India, notions of the Aryan were used to develop a national identity under colonialism, one that allowed Indian elites to identify with their British rulers. It also allowed non-elites to set up a counter identity critical of their position in the caste system. In Europe, the Aryan myth provided certain thinkers with an origin story that could compete with the Biblical one and could be used to diminish the importance of the West’s Jewish heritage. European racial hygienists made much of the myth of a pure Aryan race, and the Nazis later looked at India as a cautionary tale of what could happen if a nation did not remain “pure.” As Figueira demonstrates, the history of the Aryan myth is also a history of reading, interpretation, and imaginative construction. Initially, the ideology of the Aryan was imposed upon absent or false texts. Over time, it involved strategies of constructing, evoking, or distorting the canon. Each construction of racial identity was concerned with key issues of reading: canonicity, textual accessibility, interpretive strategies of reading, and ideal readers. The book’s cross-cultural investigation demonstrates how identities can be and are created from texts and illuminates an engrossing, often disturbing history that arose from these creations.
A Comparative Study of Sacrifice
For many Westerners, the term sacrifice is associated with ancient, often primitive ritual practices. It suggests the death—frequently violent, often bloody—of an animal victim, usually with the aim of atoning for human guilt. Sacrifice is a serious ritual, culminating in a dramatic event. The reality of religious sacrificial acts across the globe and throughout history is, however, more expansive and inclusive. In Beyond Sacred Violence, Kathryn McClymond argues that the modern Western world’s reductive understanding of sacrifice simplifies an enormously broad and dynamic cluster of religious activities. Drawing on a comparative study of Vedic and Jewish sacrificial practices, she demonstrates not only that sacrifice has no single, essential, identifying characteristic but also that the elements most frequently attributed to such acts—death and violence—are not universal. McClymond reveals that the world of religious sacrifice varies greatly, including grain-based offerings, precious liquids, and complex interdependent activities. Engagingly argued and written, Beyond Sacred Violence significantly extends our understanding of religious sacrifice and serves as a timely reminder that the field of religious studies is largely framed by Christianity.
Mantra and Ritual in Early Indian Sacrifice
This elegantly written book introduces a new perspective on Indic religious history by rethinking the role of mantra in Vedic ritual. In Bringing the Gods to Mind, Laurie Patton takes a new look at mantra as "performed poetry" and in five case studies draws a portrait of early Indian sacrifice that moves beyond the well-worn categories of "magic" and "magico-religious" thought in Vedic sacrifice. Treating Vedic mantra as a sophisticated form of artistic composition, she develops the idea of metonymy, or associational thought, as a major motivator for the use of mantra in sacrificial performance. Filling a long-standing gap in our understanding, her book provides a history of the Indian interpretive imagination and a study of the mental creativity and hermeneutic sophistication of Vedic religion.
Priests, Kings, and Women in the Early Upanisads
This groundbreaking book is an elegant exploration of the Upanis|ads, often considered the fountainhead of the rich, varied philosophical tradition in India. The Upanis|ads, in addition to their philosophical content, have a number of sections that contain narratives and dialogues—a literary dimension largely ignored by the Indian philosophical tradition, as well as by modern scholars. Brian Black draws attention to these literary elements and demonstrates that they are fundamental to understanding the philosophical claims of the text. Focusing on the Upanishadic notion of the self (aµtman), the book is organized into four main sections that feature a lesson taught by a brahmin teacher to a brahmin student, debates between brahmins, discussions between brahmins and kings, and conversations between brahmins and women. These dialogical situations feature dramatic elements that bring attention to both the participants and the social contexts of Upanishadic philosophy, characterizing philosophy as something achieved through discussion and debate. In addition to making a number of innovative arguments, the author also guides the reader through these profound and engaging texts, offering ways of reading the Upanis|ads that make them more understandable and accessible.
A Love Story from South India
The Demon’s Daughter (Prabhaµvatiµ-praµdyumnamu) is a sixteenth-century novel by the south Indian poet Pin³gal|i Suµranna, originally written in Telugu, the language of present-day Andhra Pradesh. Suµranna begins with a story from classical Hindu mythology in which a demon plans to overthrow the gods. Krishna’s son Pradyumna is sent to foil the plot and must infiltrate the impregnable city of the demons; Krishna helps ensure his success by having a matchmaking goose cause Pradyumna to fall in love with the demon’s daughter. The original story focuses on the ongoing war between gods and anti-gods, but Pin³gal|i Suµranna makes it an exploration of the experience of being and falling in love. In this, the work evinces a modern sensibility, showing love as both an individualized emotion and the fullest realization of a person, transcending social and cultural barriers. The translators include an afterword that explores the cultural setting of the work and its historical and literary contexts. Anyone interested in the literature and mythology of India will find this book compelling, but all readers who love a good story will enjoy this moving book. Velcheru Narayana Rao and David Shulman have provided an elegant translation that will serve well the contemporary reader who wishes to encounter a masterwork of world literature largely unknown in the West.
The Kiratarjuniya of Bharavi
Indira Viswanathan Peterson provides an introduction to the Sanskrit court epic (mahaµkaµvya), an important genre in classical Indian poetry, and the first study of a celebrated sixth-century poem, the Kiraµtaµrjuniµya (Arjuna and the Hunter) of Bhaµravi. Sanskrit court epics are shown to be characterized both by formalism and a deep engagement with enduring Indian values. The Kiraµtaµrjuniµya is the earliest literary treatment of the narrative of the Paµn|d|ava hero Arjuna’s combat with the great god Siva, a seminal episode in the war epic Mahaµbhaµrata. Through a close analysis of the structural strategies of Bhaµravi’s poem, the author illuminates the aesthetic of the mahaµkaµvya genre. Peterson demonstrates that the classical poet uses figurative language, rhetorical devices, and structural design as the primary instruments for advancing his argument, the reconciliation of heroic action, ascetic self-control, social duty, and devotion to God. Her discussion of the Kiraµtaµrjuniµya in relation to its historical setting and to renderings of this epic episode in literary texts and temple sculpture of later periods reveals the existence of complex transactions in Indian civilization between the discourses of heroic epic and court poetry, political ideologies and devotional religion, Sanskrit and the regional languages, and classical and folk traditions. Selections from the Kiraµtaµrjuniµya are presented in poetic translation.
This introductory work proposes a fresh take on the ancient Indian concept dharma. By unfolding how, even in its developments as "law" and custom, dharma participates in nuanced and multifarious understandings of the term that play out in India’s great spiritual traditions, the book offers insights into the innovative character of both Hindu and Buddhist usages of the concept. Alf Hiltebeitel, in an original approach to early Buddhist usages, explores how the Buddhist canon brought out different meanings of dharma. This is followed by an exposition of the hypothesis that most, if not all, of the Hindu law books flowered after the third-century BC emperor Asoka, a Buddhist, made dharma the guiding principle of an entire realm and culture. A discussion built around the author’s expertise on the Sanskrit epics shows how their narratives amplified the new Brahmanical norms and brought out the ethical dilemmas and spiritual teachings that arose from inquiry into dharma. A chapter on the tale of the Life of the Buddha considers the relation between dharma, moksa/nirvana (salvation), and bhakti (devotion). Here, Hiltebeitel ties together a thread that runs through the entire story, which is the Buddha’s tendency to present dharma as a kind of civil discourse. In this sense, dharma challenges people to think critically or at least more creatively about their ethical principles and the foundations of their own spiritual values. A closing chapter on dharma in the twenty-first century explores its new cachet in an era of globalization, its diasporic implications, its openings into American popular culture, some implications for women, and the questions it is still raising for modern India.