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Friday, October 19, 2012

“Traces of an Heterodox Concept of Kingship in Ancient, Medieval and Modern India: Conference Call

At the University of Cagliari, a three-years project on “Traces of an Heterodox Concept of Kingship in Ancient, Medieval and Modern India ” is now starting. The coordinator of the project is Tiziana Pontillo, who is not only an excellent scholar of Indian Grammar, Rhetorics and of the early India history, as mirrored in texts, but also an intelligent and open-minded scholar, always keen to learn, curious and well-disposed towards the others. She has organized two conferences to which I participated and both were a scientific success and also a very pleasant experience.

The University is planning to organize a short Seminar on this topic on March the 26th and 27th, 2013 and welcomes contribution on the main topics of the project (see immediately below an adaptation of T. Pontillo's presentation of it, with emphasis added by me). I can only add that Cagliari is a wonderful town and worth a visit anyway.

This project mainly aims at singling out the possible traces of a “total social fact of an
agonistic type” (Mauss 1923-24) both in literary and iconographic sources and in the social
patterns and ritual practices of contemporary India, which are assumed to date back to the age preceding the well-known classic hierarchic system. Moreover, a crucial parallel target is to try to reconstruct the assumed ascetic and gnostic non-brahmanic pattern which might have been merely marginalized in Vedic and late Vedic Literature, by stigmatizing it with the name of vrātya.
The following are the main starting operational targets that this project aims at:

We intend to widen the available collection of Vedic and Late Vedic occurrences which testify the existence of a system, whose model has already been adopted by Heesterman from 1962 onward (in particular through the new details and insights added by Falk from 1986 onward), in order to depict the “pre-classic” bloody sacrifices which were supposedly connected with conflictual and reciprocal relations. Special attention should also be paid to the alternative hypothesis according to which the supposed reform was the outcome of a clash between two distinct branches of the immigrant Indo-Āryan population (supposed on the basis of the two-wave theory by Parpola 1983), reconsidered in the light of the late-Vedic fresco recently painted by Bronkhorst 2007 and of the relevant criticisms especially arising from his innovative relative and absolute chronologies (see, e.g., Witzel 2009).
Furthermore we aim at inquiring into the origin of the late Vedic “contestation between brahmins with each other” highlighted, e.g., by Bailey 2011, verifying if it is connected with the opposition between the so-called śrotriyas, who, by the way, refuse any gift (see, e.g., Śatapatha-Brāhmaṇa XIII.4.3.14 and Śāṇkāyana-Śrauta-Sūtra XVI. 28-29) and the officiants who were used to accept and even solicit for donations.

It also seems compulsory to extend an available preliminary collection of Pāli and Jaina occurrences into the context of this same project, testifying the existence of a kind of asceticism which partially matches with that emerging from the Atharvaveda-source on the Vrātya or with some Upaniṣadic passages. For instance, such formulas as “to become Brahman”, “to become god among gods” and “to have brought the Brahmacārya path to an end”, which are included both in Vedic Sources (Yajurveda Saṃhitās, Brāhmaṇas and Upaniṣads) and in the Bhāgavadgītā and in the Pāli Canon, might have hinted at a remote shared religious (and, as a consequence, social) scope of life and of meditation, before than the legitimation of being a brāhmaṇa switched from individual abilities, such as poetical and ritual prowess, to the lineage of birth (Falk 2001, p. 133).

Furthermore, we have evaluated till now a small collection of Epic and Purāṇic occurrences, already at our disposal because of some previous inquiries, as possible pieces of evidence for an ephemeral compromise between the gṛhastha-path (as an output of the ancient cyclical sacrificial pattern) and the feared tapas-way, before the rising of the winning and lasting Brahmanical inclusivistic Varṇāśrama-system. In this context, for instance, particularly intriguing seems to be the case-study of the conversion ceremonies which Vaiṣṇava sources seem to hint at, if we assume that they can descend from ritual practices which preceded the so-called “Brahmanic reform” as a more recent
rearrangement. Furthermore we are eager to inquire into the figure of Kṛṣṇa as a very peculiar worshipped god, who, at the same time, plays the role of an important kingly warrior who might have been the leader of a vrāta (i.e., a sort of Männerbund), considered to be the embodiment of a god by his followers. The so-called Brahmanic Reform might have transformed these relevant Cults, so that they result as inherently conforming to the orthodox Brahmanic religion, almost tuning the “low” tradition to the official one. In this context we think that it will be crucial to distinguish the peculiarities of the Early Śaiva and Vaiṣṇava Tamil bhakti 6th-12th c. CE, which is often confronted with Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism in the Tamil tradition itself. In fact, this South-Indian Literature could be assumed as a possible repository for unorthodox speculative and religious features which seem to have been lost in the Indo-Āryan sources, as happened with regard to, e.g., some
Southern traditions of otherwise lost Vedic Schools (cf. Parpola 1984).
Furthermore, we propose to read some specific Kāvya-passages as the consequence of the well-known self-consciousness, so typical of the long and complex Indian tradition, which has interpreted and re-interpreted itself many times. In fact some authors such as Aśvaghoṣa might have tried to remind their listeners that their ancestors’ course of life and religious credo were closer, e.g., to the Buddha’s way, than they were aware of, while it was extremely distant from the contemporary Brāhmaṇa-oriented reform, in order to encourage a fresh relation between Buddhist- and Brāhmaṇic-dharma, based on a supposed shared past.

It is self-evident that any archaeological or artistic piece of evidence which can contribute to revealing the unorthodox kingly tradition and the marginalized non-Vedic asceticism is really intriguing for our purpose. Additionally a research program expressly devoted to creating a catalogue of all the features of the ‘feminine principle’ involved in the legitimation of kingly power seems to be likewise promising, especially in order to compare the Vedic data regarding the ritual context with the votive artistic production, such as the case study of Karṇāṭaka temples dating back to the IX-XIII c. CE (chalukya-hoysala style).

Since the first appearance of Frazer’s The Golden Bough, in 1890, which brought the case study of the Rex Nemorensis to the fore, this type of ascetic agonistic sovereignty became the leading theme for a cluster of researchers, such as J. Harrison, G. Murray and F. Cornford who made a particular effort to highlight a fierce ritual contest behind the framework of ancient Tragedy and Comedy. Later on, special attention was given, e.g., to the figure of Pelops, moving from Lidia to Greece, as the alleged prototype of the king-warrior, magician and god incarnate, tellingly coming from the “barbarian” Aswia. Consistently the notion of orientalism inaugurated by Said (1978) has recently been advocated, while linking the mystical tyrannical sovereignty model to the latter one (Munn 2006). In this field of research where the vrātya king has already been associated with the Teutonic Wotan-band (Heesterman 1957, 1985), papers on the sacred marriage, on the devadāsī institution, on the recurring marginalization of human beings declaring themselves “divine” in ancient Greece and Rome, and on the classical figures of pharmakeis such as Socrates would be of great help.
Shifting from issues of comparative purport to a strictly speaking Indian social reality, the inquiry into the extant jajmānī relationships will naturally play a crucial part in allowing the exploration of the possibility that they can be accounted for as a relic of a ‘non-reformed’ reality, i.e., a sacrificial system based on the symmetrical type of gift giving. Along with the figure of the funeral priest (mahābrāhman) accepting gifts in contexts of sacrificial violence (Parry 1980, 1994), unorthodox marriage alliances should be specifically focused on, by supposing that they mirror an apprehensive strong cultural autonomy with respect to the hindu asymmetrical gift of the virgin” (kānyādān), whose ideological (brahmanical) hallmark, as is well-known, is the institution of hypergamy, stressing inequality between wife-givers and wife-takers. Moreover, with regard to contemporary India, although the research is thus mainly oriented to investigating power relations which function within a kind of social cooperation imbued with a religious semantic which strongly defies all the
alleged socio-economic transformations that occurred during the colonial period and were strengthened by the green revolution, the seminar is not intended as an intellectual place where contributions attuned with the Marxist-Béteille line of investigation are to be dismissed. In this respect, a useful canvas for a seldom practiced dialogue might be provided by MacDougal’s article of 1980, where precisely the interaction between the dominant-caste and the reach-peasant models is precisely taken into account, by wondering whether they really are inspiring tools for everyday practice or are rather merely for theory-construction and comparative research.

Speakers will be assured local hospitality and, within the limits of the available funds, financial assistance will be provided to support their travel expenses.
The Proceedings  will be published.
For further information and for applying for the Seminar, please send an email to Dr. Tiziana Pontillo.

On Jainism and its connections with the prehistory of ascetics, see this post and this one (be sure to read the interesting comments). On Āgamas and antagonistic strands, see this post.


windwheel said...

My god! Is this really happening in the 21st century? This is the sort of thing which gives Western Indology a bad name.

elisa freschi said...

What do you mean? Does the form disturb you? Or the content? Or the fact that it only regards Indologists?

windwheel said...

The Catholic Church, uniquely, claimed a monopoly of consecrating Rulers. It did this only briefly. It was defeated. It has had no credibility for centuries. Still, it features in European History.
Indology only knows about texts it can study. But none of those texts were 'Catholic' in any sense. There never was an 'orthodox concept of Kingship' other than a King as favoring one bunch of guys as against another.
The 'form' of this disturbs me- because apart from being stupid, it valorizes Caste based 're-tribalization' such that the very Govt. against which Tribes form in the first place, reappears so as to reduce Democracy to Anarchy. Just looking up wikipedia on tribes ought to be enough to render this nonsense a non-starter.
The 'content'? Misprision is not content- it is a meretricious availability cascade. Granted, those senile Professors who have most succeeded in building jajmani Empires, require such Seminars to fend off the fear of death from their brain dead carcasses- why should you, Elisa Freschi, be complicit?
Is this really rescuing India for Philosophy? Or is it rather reinforcing the stupidity of Western Philosophy- the reason we all despise and disregard it- simply so as to get VERY VERY LITTLE MONEY?
Why do it? What's the point?
What if the Euro collapses? What if the Lombard League or something like that takes power? Would you still be devoting your considerable talents to this nonsense? How does it help Italy?
Okay, if Angela Merkel or her more Socialist or Nationalist or National Socialist successors say they will make an exception for Indologists- would you really take their money?
There was a Methodenstreit between Austria and Germany many years ago. It yielded irrelevance, Sycophancy, and irremediable stupidity on both sides. These were the undesirable immigrants, under the International Scholar Rescue Program, whose poison continues to percolate so as to render Higher Education a sort of reverse Social Mobility.

Indology is not privileged w.r.t my stricture. It never existed as such. There were people who taught grammar and compiled dictionaries. They said stupid things. That was cool. They were 'Professors'. To give you an idea of the status of 'professors' let me tell you a true story. An American Senator, visiting London, was placed opposite a Black Man at the dinner table. The Senator was Southern, he did not wish to appear deficient in politeness. So, instead of addressing the Nigger as 'Sir' or 'Mr'- he called him 'Professor'.

The argument from 'authority', the senseless assemblage of second or third order doxography- such things are the mark of a cult. They are not philosophy.
Yet the questions you ask are philosophical.
But your professed methodology forbids any such outcome.
That scarcely matters. Philosophy can turn upon a dime. So can Indology. 'We are all Sonia Gandhi now' as Don Corleone has said.

Eisel Mazard said...

Although I can say "good luck", it will be difficult (or impossible) for you to find anyone who will discuss the Pali texts honestly.

The gap between the secondary sources and the primary sources (on "kingship") is immense.

The modern study of Theravāda has basically created a fictional universe for scholars to inhabit. One of the surreal planets in that universe, of course, being the "Mandala Hypothesis", that should have been laughed off when it was coined by Stanley Tambiah, but instead it has become an imaginary fact in universities around the world.

This type of abstract theory (based on Tambiah's feelings about Mon/Dvaravati works of art, etc.) dominates the English-language literature... meanwhile, both career-academics and career-monks are extremely uncomfortable dealing with the primary source material on cosmology and kingship found in the Pali canon.

All that I can do is warn you: either you're going to get nobody speaking on behalf of the Pali material at all... or else you're going to get a pack of lies.

It's sad, and part of the shame of it is that we really do have important texts in the Pali corpus dealing with this type of subject (both canonical and para-canonical).

elisa freschi said...

thanks for worrying for me, but although Tiziana is a dear friend, I am not directly part of this project. As for what you fear, why don't you go yourself to Cagliari and explain what they got wrong? I am sure they would welcome you (just like anyone else reading Pāli).

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