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The Life of a Text

The Life of a Text: Performing theRamcaritmanasof Tulsidas

Philip Lutgendorf
Copyright Date: 1991
Pages: 450
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  • Book Info
    The Life of a Text
    Book Description:

    The Life of a Textoffers a vivid portrait of one community's interaction with its favorite text-the epicRamcaritmanas-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 epicRamcaritmanasis 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.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-90934-2
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. A Note on Transliteration
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. ONE The Text and the Research Context
    (pp. 1-52)

    INTRODUCTION Anyone interested in the religion and culture of Northern India sooner or later encounters a reference to the epic poem Rāmcaritmānas 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 modern Indian epic, but as something like a living sum of Indian culture,” singled out as “the tallest tree in the magic garden of medieval Hindu poesy,” and acclaimed (by the father of Indian independence, Mahatma Gandhi) as “the greatest book of all devotional literature.”² Western observers have christened it “the Bible of Northern...

  7. TWO The Text in Recitation and Song
    (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 time of major public programs, echoes for hours each day through large sections of the city. Similarly, the singing of the text to musical modes with instrumental accompaniment is a popular evening pastime, and recently, the playing of a commercially recorded version of the sung epic has become a virtually predictable background to functions...

  8. THREE The Text Expounded: The Development of Mānas-Kathā
    (pp. 113-164)

    The preceding chapter discussed the dissemination, beginning in the middle of the nineteenth century, of printed editions of the Mānas, and the related phenomenon of the rise of ritualized public recitation. Yet even today, when inexpensive printed editions are readily available, the major part of the epic's vast and devoted constituency does not gain exposure to the text primarily through reading or even through recitation. Adult male literacy in Uttar Pradesh state, the heartland of the Hindi-speaking region, remains less than 40 percent; female literacy, less than 15 percent. At the beginning of this century the percentages were far lower,...

  9. FOUR The Art of Mānas-Kathā
    (pp. 165-247)

    It is not uncommon these days to hear the complaint that kathā 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 cynically observed that “no intelligent person will deny that now the whole affair is carried on solely as a livelihood.” The prospect of financial gain is seen as a powerful lure and as itself explaining the great proliferation of performers in recent years. Again, to quote the same article: “How many...

  10. Words Made Flesh: The Text Enacted
    (pp. 248-339)

    The annual reenactment of the Ramayan story as a series of folk plays—the Rāmlīā—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 been few North Indian villagers in the first half of the twentieth century who did not live within an evening’s walking distance of a Rāmlīā during the Dashahra season” probably still applies in the century’s latter half.¹ But even though the Rāmlīā is a widespread tradition, it is far from a homogeneous one....

  11. SIX The Text in a Changing Society
    (pp. 340-440)

    An implicit theme of this study has been the inseparability, for the North Indian audience, of the Mānas 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 preceding chapters has been on the stage of epic performance, but we must now turn to the surrounding arena—what was earlier termed the outermost frame of the performance system. Having observed how the text instructs, entertains, and inspires its audiences, we must now grapple with the more difficult question of what it means to...

  12. Glossary of Names with Transliteration
    (pp. 441-448)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 449-460)
  14. Index
    (pp. 461-469)