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The Modernity of Sanskrit

The Modernity of Sanskrit

Simona Sawhney
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    The Modernity of Sanskrit
    Book Description:

    Today we witness, Simona Sawhney contends, the near-total appropriation of Sanskrit literature by Hindu nationalism. The Modernity of Sanskrit challenges this appropriation by exploring the complex work of Rabindranath Tagore, M. K. Gandhi, and Mohan Rakesh. Sawhney proposes that Indian nationalist writings about classic Sanskrit became a charged site for postcolonial reflections on politics and art in India.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-6636-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-19)

    At the center of U. R. Anantha Murthy’s Kannada novelSamskara(1965) is a clearing in the forest where the protagonist, the learned and ascetic Brahmin Praneshacharya, gets clumsily entangled with the beautiful lower-caste Chandri, cries out “Amma!” (mother!), and sleeps with her, just as we’ve been expecting him to do since the beginning of the novel. Once this moment of initiation has passed, he recalls the words of Naranappa—his old adversary and Chandri’s old lover—who had scandalized the entire Brahmin community with the ingenuity of his transgressions: “Naranappa had said mockingly: to keep your brahminhood, you must...

  5. 1 Smara: The Memory/Love of Kalidasa
    (pp. 20-50)

    In an essay first published in 1907, the Bengali writer Rabindranath Tagore presents a reading of Kalidasa’s best-known playAbhijñānaśākuntala(The Recognition of Sakuntala; also often referred to asŚakuntalā, after the name of its heroine). Tagore’s essay is concerned with articulating the particular strengths of Sanskrit drama by emphasizing its difference from Western drama, and to this end Tagore compares Kalidasa’s play with Shakespeare’sThe Tempest. For Tagore, Kalidasa’s work is singular in its ability to unite nature with law on the one hand and humanity on the other. Thus nature mediates between the realm of principle and the...

  6. 2 Literary Modernity and Sanskrit Poetry: The Work of Mohan Rakesh
    (pp. 51-85)

    In a short essay written in 1946, the renowned Hindi writer Hazariprasad Dvivedi describes a dream in which he saw the fourth-century Sanskrit poet Kalidasa sitting in front of Dvivedi’s house in Shantiniketan, looking at a Kanchnar tree.¹ Kalidasa would now gaze at the tree in full bloom, now close his eyes, as though in reverie. Dvivedi wonders if Kalidasa is reminded of flowers from his own time—that is to say, from Sanskrit poetry: “In his mind, was he remembering that cluster of flowers from his own time, floating on the tremulous waves of the Sipra river, set afloat...

  7. 3 Allegory and Violence: Gandhi’s Reading of the Bhagavad Gītā
    (pp. 86-124)

    Two armies stand facing each other on the battlefield. On both sides, legions of heroes, broad shouldered, courageous, and serene—but also filled with the desire to fight, eager for blood, ready to pit their strength against each other. Suddenly the most skilled among them all, the archer with the surest aim, is struck with paralyzing despair. What are we fighting for, he asks in dread. How can we slay our enemies who are also our kinsmen and teachers, those to whom we are bound by the bonds of familiarity, family, and friendship? Is victory worth this cost? For what,...

  8. 4 The Lure of Violence: Dharamvir Bharati’s Andhā Yug (The Blind Age)
    (pp. 125-153)

    While theGītāreceived enormous attention during the nationalist period, the story of theMahābhārataas a whole, which had inspired poets, dramatists, and dancers for centuries, gained new relevance in India following the two world wars and the violence of the partition. The complex representation of violence, power, and law in the epic acquired new contemporary significance at a time when the young nation’s triumph appeared to many as a terrifying disaster. It is not surprising that theMahābhārata, perhaps more than any other Sanskrit text, has drawn the attention of modern writers and artists, since the range of...

  9. 5 Poetry beyond Art
    (pp. 154-182)

    In the preceding chapters, we have noted that in attempting to invest Sanskrit texts with contemporary relevance, modern Indian readers often found it necessary to endow the characters (and sometimes writers) of these texts with an interiority that would display some of the dilemmas and desires of their own time. Engagement with such an interiority, which enables characters to emerge as individuals and not as types, emerges as an essential aspect of the pleasure of reading for modern readers. The most frequent complaint voiced against Sanskrit literature, and especially the literature of the “classical” period, is that it is too...

  10. Epilogue: Poetry and Justice
    (pp. 183-192)

    Plato did the decisive thing by casting poetry out. “We must take a lesson from the lover who renounces at any cost a passion which he finds is doing him no good.”¹ Like this lover, who is never so in thrall of passion as to lose sight of the good, the citizens of Plato’s republic must renounce poetry, for she is ever the advocate of passion—that is to say, of the regime of the senses, of pleasure and pain. As Socrates goes on to say to Glaucon: “Much is at stake, more than most people suppose: it is a...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 193-210)
  12. Index
    (pp. 211-214)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 215-215)