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  • Forms of Knowledge in Early Modern Asia: Explorations in the Intellectual History of India and Tibet, 1500–1800 ed. by Sheldon Pollock
  • Knut A. Jacobsen
Forms of Knowledge in Early Modern Asia: Explorations in the Intellectual History of India and Tibet, 1500–1800. Edited by Sheldon Pollock. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2011. 392 pp. $89.95 (cloth); $24.95 (paper).

This innovative volume contains thirteen essays on languages, knowledge traditions, and literary cultures in South Asia and Tibet in the three centuries before 1800: ten essays on South Asia and three on Tibet. As the editor, Sheldon Pollock, states in the introduction, the impact of British colonialism has been a dominant area of research in South Asian studies over the last decades. But these studies often presupposed knowledge of the immediately preceding precolonial period in spite of the fact that little knowledge was available. Many of the generalizations on the impact of the British were in reality based on knowledge of the classical traditions and not on knowledge of the centuries immediately preceding the British, and, states Pollock, it is not possible to know “how colonialism changed South Asia if we do not know what was there to be changed” (p. 1). The thirteen essays of this book represent an effort to provide some knowledge based on presentation and analysis of a selection of textual traditions from this period. Too many studies on religious and cultural phenomena in South Asia still treat change as something modern, “invented” in the nineteenth century under the British, and identify the past with an unchanging classical culture. The precolonial period is also often seen as a period of stagnation. The essays in this book give this period the designation “early modern,” which is appropriate for the topics treated. The essays provide much needed knowledge about transformations in the realm of thought in early modern South Asia. Knowledge is expressed in texts, but the study of manuscripts and text production of the early modern period has not been the foremost interest of scholars, and the field is among those less developed.

The book is divided into four parts. The first part, “Communication, Knowledge, and Power,” contains three essays. The first essay, by Sheldon Pollock, investigates the language of science in early modern India. While in Europe the vernaculars became the language of [End Page 198] science, in India Sanskrit remained the dominant language, and only the Sanskrit language was accepted as referring to universals, argues Pollock. Vernacularization took place in literary language, but not in science, unlike in Europe, where there was a linkage between vernacularization of literary and scientific discourse. The essay analyzes arguments by the seventeenth-century scholar Khaṇḍadeva on scriptural hermeneutics and concludes that Sanskrit domination in science in early modern India was a good universalism, unlike the “provincialization of Europe,” and not a failure, but an achievement. However, there are many other aspects that need to be considered. Chapter 2, by Sumit Guha, deals with the very complex history of language awareness in the Marathi-speaking regions and the challenges of Marathi by Sanskrit, Persian, Arabic, and Urdu. Chapter 3, by Velcheru Narayana Rao, David Shulman, and Sanjay Subrahmanyam, analyzes language in the Vijayanagara kingdom and especially a text of emperor Kṛṣṇadevarāja (r. 1509–1529), a section of the Āmukta-mālyada, a text on political ethics that is an example of a rāja-nīti text and of Śrīvaiṣṇava political theology. The essay includes a fresh translation of the rāja-nīti section of Āmukta-mālyada.

The second part, “Literary Consciousness, Practices, and Institutions in North India,” starts with an essay by Allison Busch on literary science in the Hindi rīti tradition and how Brajbhasha began to challenge the traditional dominance of Sanskrit. Chapter 5, by Imre Bangha deals with the early Hindi manuscripts and especially the history of the textual transmissions of Kavitāvalī of Tulsīdās. Tulsīdās wrote books in the vernacular, while the earlier Hindi bhakti poets composed songs that only later were committed to writing, often much later. Interestingly, Bangha suggests that the opposition of many...


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