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Literary Cultures in History

Literary Cultures in History: Reconstructions from South Asia

EDITED BY Sheldon Pollock
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 1105
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  • Book Info
    Literary Cultures in History
    Book Description:

    A grand synthesis of unprecedented scope,Literary Cultures in Historyis the first comprehensive history of the rich literary traditions of South Asia. Together these traditions are unmatched in their combination of antiquity, continuity, and multicultural complexity, and are a unique resource for understanding the development of language and imagination over time. In this unparalleled volume, an international team of renowned scholars considers fifteen South Asian literary traditions-including Hindi, Indian-English, Persian, Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Urdu-in their full historical and cultural variety. The volume is united by a twofold theoretical aim: to understand South Asia by looking at it through the lens of its literary cultures and to rethink the practice of literary history by incorporating non-Western categories and processes. The questions these seventeen essays ask are accordingly broad, ranging from the character of cosmopolitan and vernacular traditions to the impact of colonialism and independence, indigenous literary and aesthetic theory, and modes of performance. A sophisticated assimilation of perspectives from experts in anthropology, political science, history, literary studies, and religion, the book makes a landmark contribution to historical cultural studies and to literary theory in addition to the new perspectives it offers on what literature has meant in South Asia. (Available in South Asia from Oxford University Press--India)

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92673-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xx)
    Sheldon Pollock
    (pp. xxi-xxix)
  7. [Maps]
    (pp. xxx-xxxvi)
  8. Introduction
    (pp. 1-36)
    Sheldon Pollock

    It hardly seems proper to introduce a work about the literatures of South Asia, long known as home of many of the world’s best stories, without telling one:

    Once when the great and all-knowing god Śiva was alone with his wife, she asked to hear a story never told before, and he told her the most wonderful one he knew—one in seven hundred thousand verses called, appropriately, theB̥rhatkathā(Great story). The next day when her handmaiden began to tell her the same story, the goddess knew that the girl’s lover—who was one of Śiva’s attendants—had been...


    • 1 Sanskrit Literary Culture from the Inside Out
      (pp. 39-130)
      Sheldon Pollock

      In contrast to most other literary cultures examined in this book, Sanskrit literature has a long and deep tradition of scholarship. A serious attempt at a comprehensive account appeared by the middle of the nineteenth century, and today many single-and multi-volume histories are available.¹ Without the foundation this impressive body of work provides, the historical study of Sanskrit literature would be hard indeed to undertake. At the same time, this scholarship, like all human works, has been shaped by the categories and assumptions of its times, and these seem especially vulnerable to criticism from the theoretical perspective adopted in the...

    • 2 The Culture and Politics of Persian in Precolonial Hindustan
      (pp. 131-198)
      Muzaffar Alam

      Persian has been an integral part of South Asian culture, and the life of northern India (or Hindustan) in particular, for centuries. Recognizing and appreciating the marks of Persian influence, though these are perhaps less visible today than they were in, say, 1800, are nevertheless crucial for understanding northern Indian literary and political culture. The same is true, if to a lesser degree, for other parts of India, though some regions, such as the Deccan, were also considerably affected by Persian over the centuries. The period examined in this chapter is between the twelfth and the nineteenth centuries, when Persian...

    • 3 The Historical Formation of Indian-English Literature
      (pp. 199-268)
      Vinay Dharwadker

      The first text to be composed in English by an author of Indian origin wasThe Travels of Dean Mahomet, A Native of Patna in Bengal, Through Several Parts of India, While in the Service of The Honourable The East India Company, Written by Himself, In a Series of Letters to a Friend,which appeared in print in two volumes in Cork, Ireland, in 1794.¹ Din Muhammad had emigrated from India a decade earlier at the age of twenty-five, probably had converted to the established Protestant church in Ireland shortly afterward, and had married a young woman from the Anglo-Irish...


    • 4 Three Moments in the Genealogy of Tamil Literary Culture
      (pp. 271-322)
      Norman Cutler

      This essay focuses on a few key moments in the genealogy of Tamil literary culture that are described and enacted in, respectively, (1) the autobiography of the great textual scholar and editor U.Vē. Cāminātaiyar (1855–1942), which treats approximately the first half of his life; (2) histories of Tamil literature that emerged as a genre of scholarship in the twentieth century; and (3) a fifteenth-century literary anthology titledPu̱rattiraṭtu(Anthology of poems on the exterior world). I have chosen each of the three for the insights it affords into ways of cognizing and using literature at particular points in time...

    • 5 Critical Tensions in the History of Kannada Literary Culture
      (pp. 323-382)
      D. R. Nagaraj

      The first thing one notices about the emergence of Kannada literary culture is that the very notion of literature is linked to the practice of writing; at least it is so according to the Kannada scholars who have considered the literary culture’s beginnings. Invariably, every discussion of the formative period of Kannada literature starts with a reference to the Halmịdi inscription (450 C.E.).¹ The “originary” moment that scholars have posited with Halmịdi should be viewed in the context of a broader discussion of the relationships between writing, literarization, and inscriptions. In the context of premodern Kannada—to be precise, the...

    • 6 Multiple Literary Cultures in Telugu: Court, Temple, and Public
      (pp. 383-436)
      Velcheru Narayana Rao

      History presupposes a narrative, a story of a process motivated by a causality. And as we have come to realize, such a story sometimes creates the object it purports to merely describe. There was no such a thing as “Telugu literature” as we now understand it before literary historians produced its history in the early decades of the twentieth century for the purpose of teaching it in colleges or to fill a perceived gap in knowledge. A history of Telugu literature required a beginning, dates for poets and their patrons, a geography of literary production, and a connected narrative, which...

    • 7 Genre and Society: The Literary Culture of Premodern Kerala
      (pp. 437-500)
      Rich Freeman

      This essay rethinks aspects of the literary culture of premodern Kerala through anthropological reflection on the social and pragmatic contexts in which those genres of textual practices we today call Malayalam literature were apparently produced. I characterize my project in this way because the Kerala materials I survey have led me to reconsider some of the basic assumptions of existing literary histories. Therefore, by way of introduction, I sketch a quick inventory of some problems that Kerala literature raises and the theoretical concerns that inform my reasoning.

      The writings that concern me here were produced in what is now the...


    • 8 The Two Histories of Literary Culture in Bengal
      (pp. 503-566)
      Sudipta Kaviraj

      A general reading of the history of a particular literature requires, first of all, a principle of organization. Histories of Bangla literature usually offer a narrative of continuity: they seek to show, quite legitimately, how the literary culture develops through successive stages—how literary works of one period become the stock on which later stages carry out their productive operations. These studies are less interested in asking how literary mentalities come to be transformed or how a continuing tradition can be interrupted, or in speculating on possible reasons behind these significant literary turns.

      In an attempt to move away from...

    • 9 From Hemacandra to Hind Svarāj: Region and Power in Gujarati Literary Culture
      (pp. 567-611)
      Sitamshu Yashaschandra

      In the twelfth century in Gurjaradeśa, “the place of the Gurjars,” as the area was increasingly called, Ācārya Hemacandra (1106–1173), a Jain monk endowed with great erudition and held in high esteem in the court of the Chaulukya (or Solañ ki) dynasty, wrote a treatise on poetics, theKāvyānuśāsana(The doctrine of literature), in which he observed that literature is written in Sanskrit, Prakrit, or Apabhramsha. Hemacandra was following a convention as old as the beginnings of Indian literary culture, which held that literature should only be composed in these transregional languages.¹ Eight centuries later, in 1960,the State of...

    • 10 At the Crossroads of Indic and Iranian Civilizations: Sindhi Literary Culture
      (pp. 612-646)
      Ali S. Asani

      On account of its unique geographical position as a buffer zone between the Indic and the Iranian-Arab worlds, Sindh has been a place where different cultures have met and interacted with each other for many centuries. Consequently, its literary culture is characterized by convergences: between oral and written genres and forms, and between different languages, literatures, alphabets, scripts, systems of prosody, grammatical structures, and even literary symbols. Not surprisingly, Sindh has been a region where major religious traditions—Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam—have been in dialogue with one another, giving rise to rather unique forms of religious syncretism. Throughout its...


    • 11 What Is Literature in Pali?
      (pp. 649-688)
      Steven Collins

      This chapter describes Pali literature, some of which is not well-known, and asks a question which has not, to my knowledge, been asked before: Why is it that Pali texts from the last few centuries B.C.E. contain some of the earliest examples of literature in thekāvyasense in South Asia, yet there is nothing more in this genre in Pali, with one partial exception(Mahāvạmsa),until the start of the second millennium? There are, of course, modes of literary expression in South Asia other than those codified and defined by the Brahmanical Sanskritic tradition askāvya.An outstanding Pali...

    • 12 Works and Persons in Sinhala Literary Culture
      (pp. 689-746)
      Charles Hallisey

      Throughout history the number of Sinhala speakers has been small in comparison to speakers of languages like Hindi, Bangla, or Tamil, and the space in which Sinhala has been used has always been small in comparison to that for languages like Sanskrit, Persian, or Pali. This is hardly surprising, because the use of Sinhala as a language has been restricted almost exclusively to the island of Sri Lanka, a small part of the South Asian cultural universe.¹ Within this universe, however, Sri Lanka has had a special place as a center of Theravada Buddhism, often attracting admirers from India and...

    • 13 The Indian Literary Identity in Tibet
      (pp. 747-802)
      Matthew T. Kapstein

      The Tibetan language and its literature are at once both of and alien to South Asia. Among the other languages whose literary cultures are considered in this book, Tibetan resembles Persian and English in this respect. Though this comparison is limited, it does underscore two important points: First, from the perspective of language and literature (and much else besides), “South Asia” is not an entirely well-formed conception but one that blurs as its margins are neared; second, the languages occupying the ill-defined marginal territory often have lives of their own outside the realm we would ordinarily consider South Asia. Whereas...


    • 14 A Long History of Urdu Literary Culture, Part 1: Naming and Placing a Literary Culture
      (pp. 805-863)
      Shamsur Rahman Faruqi

      Using the term “early Urdu” is not without its risks. “Urdu” as a language name is of comparatively recent origin, and the question of what was or is early Urdu has long since passed from the realm of history, first into the colonialist constructions of the history of Urdu/Hindi, and then into the political and emotional space of Indian (Hindu) identity in modern India. For the average Hindi user today, it is a matter of faith to believe that the language he knows as “Hindi” is of ancient origin and that its literature originates with Amīr Khusrau (1253–1325), if...

    • 15 A Long History of Urdu Literary Culture, Part 2: Histories, Performances, and Masters
      (pp. 864-911)
      Frances W. Pritchett

      Like almost all other Urdu literary genres, thetaẕkirah(anthology) tradition of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was taken over from Persian; in fact, until well into the nineteenth century mosttaẕkirahsof Urdu poetry were themselves written in Persian.¹ Etymologically,taẕkirahis derived from an Arabic root meaning “to mention, to remember.” Historically, the literarytażkirahgrows out of the ubiquitous little “notebook”(bayạ̄z)that lovers of poetry carried around with them for recording verses that caught their fancy. A typical notebook would include some verses by its owner and others by poets living and dead, both Persian and...

    • 16 The Progress of Hindi, Part 1: The Development of a Transregional Idiom
      (pp. 912-957)
      Stuart McGregor

      This chapter considers the role played by literary culture in defining a north Indian cultural identity that can be seen today as both regional and participating in India’s wider culture. What is this role, and how has it been played? How have literary forms, styles, themes, and languages been perceived, and how have they been employed to express societal concerns and cultural values? In addressing these and similar questions, I discuss aspects of the literary tradition of Hindi from the fourteenth century to the late nineteenth century. The tradition is a complex one involving the participation of several related forms...

    • 17 The Progress of Hindi, Part 2: Hindi and the Nation
      (pp. 958-1022)
      Harish Trivedi

      The current preeminence of Hindi among the modern Indian languages is a phenomenon of surprisingly recent growth and represents a dramatic change in its fortunes. Until about a hundred years ago, Hindi was commonly perceived to be an underdeveloped and underprivileged language, fragmented into several competing dialects, backward and dusty by association with its largely rural constituency, and medievally devout and convention-bound in its literary orientation. Beginning in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, however, Hindi began to refashion itself comprehensively and to assert vigorously its new identity, especially in relation to its sister language, Urdu, which inhabited the...

  14. INDEX
    (pp. 1023-1066)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 1067-1067)