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Monday, October 29, 2012

Fellowships on Ancient India

Are you working or willing to work on ascetics and kings in Vedic, Pāli Buddhism and Jaina sources? Or on anthropological and/or artistic sources on the same topic?

Then, consider advertising for the following fellowships.

Some practical information:
—Your constant presence on the island is not required.
—The fellowship will enable you to work in a great environment (I have already praised Tiziana Pontillo, the project's coordinator, here and the other post doc are interesting and charming people).
—You are not expected to know Italian. The working language will be English and you are expected to are fluent in it. (If you need assistence with the Italian application, please consider asking me or Dr. Tiziana Pontillo).
—You will need either a PhD or at least 2 years of research after the attainment of your MA degree.

For further detail on the project, see this post.

The competition for three annual Research Fellowships on the so-called "Vrātya
project" have just been officially announced on the Website of the University of Cagliari (Sardinia, Italy).

The deadline for submitting candidatures is November, the 15th, 2012.

For the relevant pieces of information, please refer to


S.S.D. L-OR/16 Archeologia e storia dell'arte dell'India e dell’Asia


Further two five-months fellowships will be advertised in a close future.

Friday, October 26, 2012

South Asian-philosophical reviews on Amazon

I am listing here the reviews I have posted on Amazon until today. The purpose is to present a short summary of the main good and weak points of a book, so that one can figure out whether to read it or not. Furthermore, I will discuss both "Indological" books and books on philosophy (without geographic boundaries). Who knows, maybe there are other readers out there whose interests are not confined to the arbitrarily chosen geographic boundaries of "India" or "Germany" etc.

Review of The Logic of Commands, by Nicholas Rescher (if you have followed my posts on prescriptions you will know why I picked it up. Rescher's attempt is in many ways comparable to Maṇḍana's way of reducing prescriptions to assertions).

Review of Reflexion und Ritual in der Pūrvamīmāṃsā, by Lars Göhler (a great book, one that is worth reading even if your German is rosty, if only you are interested in Mīmāṃsā and/or the Veda and/or Indian philosophy).

Review of Penser l'Autorité des Écritures, by Vincent Eltschinger (a wonderful attempt of explaining philosophy through history without becoming a reductionist or a Marxist).

Review of The Vākyārthamātṛkā of Śālikanātha Miśra, by Rajendra Nath Sharma (the first English translation of a fundamental text –unfortunately not flawless).

Review of Kumārila on Truth, Omniscience and Killing, by Kei Kataoka (just a great book by a great Mīmāṃsaka, reliable and insightful).

Review of Re-use. The Art and Politics of Integration and Anxiety, by Julia Hegewald and Subrata K. Mitra (eds.) (a very interesting example of bridging disciplines on a thought-provoking topic).

Did you read any of these books? I would be glad to read your comments (here or by the reviews).

For my posts on commands, check the tags "prescription" and "Maṇḍana". For my more detailed comments on Eltschinger's book, see this post and the ones directly following it. For further considerations on reviews in Amazon (etc.), see this post. For further comments on Julia Hegewald and Subrata Mitra's Re-use, see this post.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Re-use in art and politics

Julia A.B. Hegewald and Subrata K. Mitra have edited a ground-breaking volume on a topic I am also working on since some years, namely the re-use. By this term they indicate all sorts of new usage of previous materials. Re-use can be done by reducing the previous materials to their basic constituents (e.g.: re-use of Indian jewelry by melting the gold and produce new jewels out of it) or by significantly taking their history with them (e.g.: re-use of a Jaina statue in a Vaiṣṇava temple to show that the Jainas have been subdued).
Since Hegewald is an art-historian and Mitra a political scientist, the volume interprets the topic of re-use along the lines of art-history and social sciences. Bridging disciplines is in itself one of the qualities of this book, and it requires courage and openness.

The basic idea of the book is the focus on re-use from history of art (where we all know of columns of ancient temples being reused for later buildings) to politics. Further, the book adds a social-sciences interpretation of re-use as a key to deal with the integration of the past or foreigner and as a litmus test to check the level of anxiety felt by a group of people in regard to the past/foreigner.
Chapter 1 is a summary of the other chapters, and is useful insofar as it interprets them in the light of the general idea. In this way, the chapters (which are sometimes not directly about re-use) can be re-read in a way which is perhaps more interesting to the reader. The editors add little or no critical comments to the summary, but the few they add are enlightening. For instance, in fn. 18 they indirectly criticise Nayak's construction of a "pure" folk art in Orissa, contrasted to today's commercial developments of it (see below).
Hegewald and Mitra's contribution in Chapter 2 is very interesting, since it shows how a social-sciences approach can throw light on the re-use in art history. The first parts (on Jaina temples) are really enlightening, whereas the later part (on Jagannātha) is slightly less focused on the topic of re-use.
A much more important lack of focus affects many other contributions, which, interesting as they are, seem to be only a posteriori related to the topic of re-use. An interesting exception is Nick Barnard's contribution on the re-use of Indian jewels in UK during the Empire. Prasanna K. Nayak's depiction of a golden age of pure folk art in Orissa clashes (in this writer's opinion) strikingly against the volume's stress on re-use as a neutral category and goes back to the stereotype of the "good old times".
In general, the other contributions are interesting and well-documented, but, as already hinted at, less closely related to the topic. The introductory chapter is the best way to connect them to the topic.
In sum: a MUST for everyone interested in this less-studied topic.

For a summary of my own research on the topic of re-use (of texts), see this post.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Sequence in the study of Mīmāṃsā and Vedānta in Vedāntadeśika's Seśvaramīmāṃsā

At the beginning of his Seśvaramīmāṃsā, Vedānta Deśika discusses the unity of Pūrva- and Uttara-Mīmāṃsā (also known as Mīmāṃsā and Vedānta). Having established it, he needs to explain why one necessarily comes before the other. It seems that one must start with the Pūrva Mīmāṃsā because one needs to start with what is principal, given that the Vedas themselves start with ritual actions (for the Upaniṣads come at the end of the Vedas). Vedānta Deśika adds an example: "according to the rule of the Sārasvata auxiliary sacrifices".

The passage I am referring to in the Seśvaramīmāṃsā runs as follows:
atha ca karmopakramatayā prāyo vedānāṃ taditikartavyatābhāgayor api sārasvatāṅganyāyena mukhyakramānusārāt […] karmavicāraḥ pūrvabhāvī.

Then, the investigation on the ritual action comes first because one follows (anusāra) the sequence of what is principal (mukhya), according to the rule (nyāya) of the auxiliary [sacrifices] (aṅga) to Sarasvatī  and Sarasvat, among the two parts constituting their procedure (i.e., the PM and the UM?) on the basis of the fact that in general the Vedas start (upakrama) with the ritual action. 

The Śatadūṣaṇī is almost identical:

 kramam apekṣamāṇaṃ svādhyāyānāṃ sarveṣāṃ prāyaśaṃ karmopakramatvāt sārasvatāṅgavat  mukhyakramānurodhena.
What are these sacrifices to Sarasvatī and Sarasvat? Andrew (see comments) and Kei Kataoka (via personal email) made me aware of a debate in the ŚBh (ad 5.1.14) and in further Mīmāṃsā authors. Śabara starts by  discussing the case of a prescription in the Taittirīya Saṃhitā concerning two sacrifices, one to Sarasvatī and one to Sarasvat. The upholder of the prima facie view (aka pūrvapakṣin) states that there is no restriction concerning their order and that one can, hence, perform first either the one or the other, as one wishes. The concluding opinion, however, established that the order of this auxiliary sacrifices should be the same as the order of the primary sacrifices, which is prescribed in an earlier passage of the Taittirīya Saṃhitā. Similarly, although Mīmāṃsā and Vedānta have both to be studied, nonetheless one cannot start with whimsically with either the one or the either.

 Reading Vedānta Deśika makes me feel (again) like a neophite, who knows little of the background that the author thinks to be obvious and shared by all his readers. This is even more embarassing when I have to find out that he was referring to a Mīmāṃsā rule…

On Vedānta Deśika on the unity of Mīmāṃsā and Vedānta, see this post. On another instance of my lack of comprehension of Vedānta Deśika's background (and on Vidya's help on it), see this post.

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.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

kim pūrvamīmāṃsā, uttaramīmāṃsā ca ekam eva śāstram?

किम्पूर्वमीमांसोत्तरमीमांसा चैकमेव शास्त्रमथवा द्वाौ भिन्नौ शास्त्रौ ? इति वेदान्तदेशिकस्य प्रश्नः स्वसेश्वरमीमांसारम्भे ।
वेदान्तदेशिकमते तावेकमेव शास्त्रम्, तत्कर्तृभिन्नत्वे ऽपि । क्रमश्चोपपद्यते, यतः मुख्यं प्रागेव भाव्यमिति । परन्तु, किमर्थम् पूर्वमीमांसा, तद्विषयो वा मुख्यं भवेत् ? वेदानां कर्मोपक्रमत्वादिति । ("सारस्वतांगवद्"इत्यप्युक्तं किन्तु सारस्वतांगार्थः कः इति न ज्ञातं मया)
अपि च, पूर्वमीमांसा कर्मविषया, उत्तरमीमांसा तूपासनविषया । कर्मविचारपूर्वकश्वोपासनविचारः । किमर्थं न केवलं कर्मणि विचारः इति चेत्, न, कर्ममात्रेण फलस्य न सर्वदा लब्धत्वादित्युत्तरम् । अत एव लोकस्य बुद्धौ "किं कर्म स्वफलप्राप्तये उपयुज्यते, अथवा नोपयुज्यते ?" इतिविचारः उदितः । ततः मीमांसाशास्त्राध्ययनेच्छोदिता । तत्पश्चाल्लोकः "कर्मणा एव न फलः प्राप्त" इति निश्चिनोति । तस्मादुत्तरमीमांसाध्ययनारम्भः ।

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Should you publish your article now?

Is the article ready, or does it need further revision? After having been working for weeks/months on it, one is often no longer in the position to say whether it is "ripe" enough to be sent in the world. In the best cases, one has thoughtful readers one can send one's draft to. If it meets their approval, it is ready. But in some cases, the opinions of the test-readers might significantly diverge (from "it is innovative" to "I don't understand anything in it"). Furthermore, how does one know whether it is time to send the article to one's test-readers?

The following ones are my thumb-rules:

  1. 1. Time: If I have only worked on it one week and already think it is ready, I just refrain from reading it for a couple of days and then go back to it with a fresh mind. I know from experience that nothing is ready so soon and that if I think it is, I am mislead. By contrast, if I have been working on it for two years, it has to become a book and not an article. (My ideal timing for an article lies, thus, between four weeks and eigth months –but this is very subjective and depends on how well one knows the topic).
  2. 2a. Know yourself: Are you a perfectionist? Then remember that a slightly faulted contribution is better than no contribution at all. You have something to add to the discipline and the fact of withdrawing it for months or years because it could be even better, does not do any good to the field of South Asian studies.
  3. 2b. Know yourself: Do you tend to be too superficial? Hold on the article for a little bit longer. Read it again after one or two days, once you are no longer too much into it. Consider possible objections and, more importantly, proof read it. In the age of automatic correction and computer, there are not so many good excuses for a poorly written article.
  4. 3. Consider what has been written on the subject. Do you add something valuable? If yes, (proofread and) have your article published. If you have not taken into account what other scholars have written about the topic you are working on, you ought to do it, at least at this stage. It will, by the way, significantly improve your article.
  5. 4. Don't publish an article if it is merely descriptive. No one needs to know about the plot of a novel, or the outlook of a temple, or the number of lines in a manuscript, unless you have a point to make through it (e.g.: the number of lines increases of one after the tenth folio, just like in similar manuscript of the same area, thus hinting at a distinct scriptorium…).

I guess some readers will disagree with the last point. I would be grateful if we could start discussing it.

How do you know whether an article/… is ready? What works for you?

For my praise of reading more, see this post. On descriptive articles, see this post.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Hoarding Indological ideas

Do you cover your computer screen if a colleague comes into your room? Or are you ready to see that someone has stolen your ideas? Or somewhere inbetween?

Personally, I like acknowledgement, but I am generally happy to "delegate" ideas, since my projects for South Asian studies, Sanskrit and Philosophy are far too ambitious to be realised by me alone and I would be happy to share their burden with others.

In case you are intrigued by the topic, here is an interesting post about it (reposted from here):

Recently I’ve heard academics say the kind of thing I once heard only from wildly amateurish writers: “I don’t want to reveal too much about my work, because I’m worried about people taking the premise/title/idea/template for themselves.” I’m worried that scholars are being encouraged to be hoarders of ideas.
The academic version of  Hoarding: Buried Alive goes something like this: You had a terrific, groundbreaking idea for a conference paper in 1997. Let’s call it the “Vortex Theory of Sexual Innuendo,” or V.S.I. for short.
That’s how you imagined others would refer to it in their dissertations and footnotes once the theory manifested the intellectually scorching, cross-discipline “wildfire” effect you knew it possessed. The V.S.I. was destined to establish you as one of the leading scholars of your generation.
You still remember the heat with which you wrote the three-page proposal, which was returned by the conference organizers because it had arrived after the deadline. (“So sorry we couldn’t consider your interesting perspective on this important if unusual topic!”) The idea had come to you as you were leaving the library one snowy November morning, after having seen a beautiful undergraduate with almost lashless eyes raise a young face to the dreary sky.
You kept the idea—and the actual pages—in a file crammed into an office cabinet. You also scanned a copy into your computer.
Every couple of months you remember the premise and think, “I should really do something with that.” Then you forget about it until: (1) You read a recently published article or book review touching on a concept with any kind of remote similarity, no matter how broad (for example, the book being reviewed refers to “sex”); or (2) Somebody asks you whatever happened to that theory you had about vacuums and gender, which causes you to launch into a 40-minute explanation of how you arrived at your rationale.
But you’re not going to do anything with it, are you? You’re just dragging it around with you, wiping it off every once in a while but not enjoying it or making actual use of it. It’s not helping you or enriching anyone else’s experience of life. If anything, you feel guilty; it torments you, like the chains Jacob Marley forged in life.
Like the thousand china unicorns the poor souls on Hoarding keep in shoeboxes and the 906 Dunkin’ Donuts travel mugs in the bathtub, inert ideas can clutter the minds of academics until there isn’t room for anything new. That’s when we start tripping over ourselves and falling down on the job.
I believe we need to clear out our ideas on a frequent basis. Anything about which you’ve told yourself more than five times, “I’ll get to that one day, when I have more time” is something to question and, more than likely, relinquish.
Some of those ideas are stale. Many are past their expiration date. You can tell yourself that what now seems out of fashion will one day become stylish, but that happens rarely, and only when what is being rediscovered was fabulous in the first place.
“Classic,” like “vintage,” is not a term used lightly by those in the know. Schiaparelli from 1937 is vintage; Dooney & Bourke from 1990 has just been kicking around for a while.
Certain kinds of cherished but unfinished intellectual projects are much like a 40-pound ball of rubber bands or a box of VHS tapes from 1985. Maybe at some point they had a purpose.
But there comes a time when we should use them, donate them, share them, or toss them. We should stop treating the products of our research, observation, and contemplation as if they were precious objects.
Let them go: Give them to your students, your colleagues, your friends, or anybody who might be able to make something from them.
Imagine what you’ll be able to do when freed from the guilt, the burden, the crowding, the clutter of your old stuff. What might the clarity offer? Say goodbye to your version of V.S.I., and you’ll be thankful you did.
Gina Barreca is a professor of English and feminist theory at the University of Connecticut.

How do you feel about hoarding vs. delegating? I suspect this has very much to do with whether one focuses on one's career or on the advancement of the discipline, but I might be wrong. What do you think?

On delegating ideas, see this post. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A list of dislikes in (Indological) presentations

I have frequently repeated that reading is just not acceptable in conferences. Now, I would like to address the opposite risk: the speaker who has attended a class on public speaking and believes that he has most of all to be entertaining.

I know, in each book and website about how to reach the next level in your presentations and/or blogposts and/or in your speaking skills, you will read that you have to tell stories, be personal, use images. However, if you are like me, you might instead agree with what follows:

  1. 1. Unless you are a dear friend, I do not care about you as a person. I came to listen to you as an intellectual. Don't waste my time (and yours) with stories about your pet, your spouse, your relatives and friends. Go to the point instead. You *can* be interesting and captivate your audience also with your ideas.

Yes, you are right if you object that some stories are pertinent and can make the point appear even more vividly. I am not referring to these ones, but rather to the ones which one inserts because she has been told that she has to do it, and be personal and entertaining.

  1. 2. Just like I don't care about you, I also don't care about anyone else's personal stories. Avoid meaningless photos, images, short films. Also avoid whatever has nothing to do with your message. Don't force me to try to concentrate notwithstanding the music in the background, the smell of cookies and whatever else.

Once again, images can be essential to the message (for instance, if you are talking about manuscripts, or artistic artifacts). I am not referring to these cases.

I know, you might say that I am a highly intellectual and analytical kind of person, and that this is why I do not appreciate sense-stimulations. This is true. But, my main problem with images, etc., is that they shoudl not be off topic. Furthermore: please consider, before backing your cookies, that many listeners in a scholar presentation, will be analytical people.

  1. 3. I am not like you. Don't try to force me to think that we are alike with expressions such as "Does not this sound familiar?" or "I am sure that every morning, when you wake up, the first thing you do is…". This sort of captatio benevolentiae will only make me suspicious.

As already mentioned, this does not apply to real common points. Sven Wortmann recently delivered a very nice talk about the didactic of Sanskrit and described the 19th c. style of teaching, i.e., explanation of grammatical rules and translation of sample sentences. It was really an experience we all shared and he could easily refer to it. I am only against made-up common traits.
  1. 4. This does not mean that you have to be boring.

What do you think? How do you react to this sort of presentations?

On my ideal of conferences, see this post, this one (both with great comments), this one (on the WSC) and this website. On my tips for presentations, see this post and this one (and their comments).

Monday, October 8, 2012

Sanskrit-philosophical reviews on Amazon

I will list here (presumably with frequent updates) the reviews I have posted on Amazon. The purpose is to present a short summary of the main good and weak points of a book, so that one can figure out whether to read it or not. Furthermore, I will discuss both "Indological" books and books on philosophy (without geographic boundaries). Who knows, maybe there are other readers out there whose interests are not confined to the arbitrarily chosen geographic boundaries of "India" or "Germany" etc.

Review of The Logic of Commands, by Nicholas Rescher (if you have followed my posts on prescriptions you will know why I picked it up. Rescher's attempt is in many ways comparable to Maṇḍana's way of reducing prescriptions to assertions).

Review of Reflexion und Ritual in der Pūrvamīmāṃsā, by Lars Göhler (a great book, one that is worth reading even if your German is rosty, if only you are interested in Mīmāṃsā and/or the Veda and/or Indian philosophy).

Review of Penser l'Autorité des Écritures, by Vincent Eltschinger (a wonderful attempt of explaining philosophy through history without becoming a reductionist or a Marxist).

Review of The Vākyārthamātṛkā of Śālikanātha Miśra, by Rajendra Nath Sharma (the first English translation of a fundamental text –unfortunately not flawless).

Review of Kumārila on Truth, Omniscience and Killing, by Kei Kataoka (just a great book by a great Mīmāṃsaka, reliable and insightful).

I have still not received convincing arguments against this project (for the problem of wasting one's time and risking to be hated, see this post). Can you think of other pros and cons? More in general: How would your choice of books look like, if you could open Amazon (or similar engines) and find a short and reliable review of any book you need?

For my posts on commands, check the tags "prescription" and "Maṇḍana". For my more detailed comments on Eltschinger's book, see this post and the ones directly following it. For further considerations on reviews in Amazon (etc.), see this post.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Are Indian philosophers "practical"?

Are Indian philosophers practical? In favour of an affirmative answer lies a long series of statements by modern scholars working on Indian philosophy. Even more importantly, Indian authors start their works by laying down, among other things, what the purpose of their text is and they also discuss the purpose of this purpose. This purpose of the purpose is generally the soteriological relevance of their work. In other words: they claim they wrote in order to reach liberation (or help other people reach it).
This has been restated recently by Aleix Ruiz-Falqués in a very interesting post:

When I say practical, I do not mean "pragmatic" in the common sense of the word. What I mean is that Indian philosophers ALWAYS start a work saying WHY they are writing this. There is always a reason for them to write, and generally, the reason is LIBERATION. 

Now, I agree that the fact of having to put down one's purpose probably enhances the plausibility that you will reflect about it. Furthermore, a society which expects from you to state your purpose is in general more likely to see with favour writing with a purpose and see without favour writing with no apparent purpose (one is lead to think at the opposite example of Aristotle's definition of philosophy as being done for its own sake).
In addition to that, many Indian schools of thought have been developed by people who lived side by side with people practicing religious paths (sometimes the two types of people coalesced in a single one), or practicising yoga, etc.

However, classical Indians were human beings. I do not think that they were so much different from other philosophers, all around the world and the times. I doubt that they wrote about, e.g., logic always and ever keeping in view its ultimate purpose. I think they enjoyed diving deeper and deeper in logical or epistemological problems also for their own sake.

More in general, I tend to think that thinking of Indian philosophy as having distinct categories tends to offer an excuse for those who will say that they are not having programs about Indian philosophy, because this is "indeed" a soteriology (or a theology, or nothing but religion and so on).

What do you think? Are Indian philosophers more "practical"?

The discussion with Aleix started here and has several follow-ups, here and here (on this blog) and here (on his).

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Rahu, Kabandha and Mīmāṃsā

I am currently translating the beginning of Veṅkaṭanātha's Seśvaramīmāṃsā, where the author tries to establish the unity of the Mīmāṃsāśāstra, including the Pūrvamīmāṃsāsūtra, the Uttaramīmāṃsāsūtra and the Saṅkarśakāṇḍa. He discusses the possibility of their having a single author and then says that anyway they have a single meaning, and that this can be achieved either through a single author or not. And even the designation "Karmamīmāṃsā" etc., he continues, hints at the fact that they are branches of the same tree. Next comes, however, something I could not really make sense of, namely:

etau rāhukabandhamīmāṃsakapakṣau praticikṣipāte 

which I first intepreted to mean something like "These two Mīmāṃsā views on the bondage by Rahu have been rejected".

The text then goes on discussing the sequence among karman, etc., within the single Mīmāṃsāśāstra.

Then, Kei Kataoka (thanks!!!!) mentioned the possibility of reading the compound as Rāhu+Kabandha.

I read in Vettam Mani's Purāṇic Encyclopedia (1975) the story of Kabandha, who was hit by Indra's thunderstroke (vajrāyudha) and made into a headless trunk. Thus, the passage might mean "The two Mīmāṃsās (i.e., the Pūrva and Uttara Mīmāṃsā, if kept apart), which are [like] Rāhu (a bodiless head, just like the UM) and Kabandha (a headless body, just like the PM), intensively reject these two points (i.e., the two points regarding the unity of Mīmāṃsā just mentioned)."

N.B. the root must be perfect and not intensive, because the reduplication is made on the basis of the weak stem (whereas the intensive uses the strong stem, and usually adopts the endings of the fourth class, including the suffix -ya).

Do you have any idea about what this Rāhukabandha could mean?

On Veṅkaṭanātha, see this post.

UPDATED!! Read the last paragraphs. And don't forget to read the additional explanation in the comments.

Friday, October 5, 2012

abhihitānvayavāda, anvitābhidhānavādaś ca

शब्दस्यार्थो वाच्य इत्युच्यते । यः शब्दो ऽर्थमभिदधाित, सो वाचक इत्युच्यते ।
एकस्मिन् वाक्ये ऽनेकानि पदानि सन्ति । तानि पदान्यर्थवचकानि इति सर्वे मन्यन्ते, स्फोटवादिनो व्यतिरिच्य ।
अपि तु वाक्यमपि महात्वपूर्णमिति मीमांसकमतम्, यतो भिन्नेषु वाक्येष्वेकमेव पदम्भिन्नार्थेषु प्रयुज्यते । उदाहरणम् यथा -- स संस्कृतं पठति,  स पुस्तकं पठति, यजको वेदं पठतीत्यादि ।
प्रथमवाक्यस्य "स संस्कृतभाषायां पुनः पुनरभ्यासं कृत्वा संस्कृतं ज्ञास्यति" इत्यर्थः । द्वितीयवाक्यस्यार्थः "स स्वार्थे पुस्तकं (ममसि) पठति" इति । त्रितीयवाक्यस्यार्थः "याजक उच्चैर्वेदम्पठति" इति ।
अतः "पठति" इतिपदमेकमेव, अर्थास्तु भिन्नाः । कस्मात्करणात् ?
एतस्य प्रश्नस्योत्तरदानार्थं मीमांसादर्शने वादद्वयम् अस्ति, अभिहितान्वयवादः, अन्विताभिदानवादश्चेति ।
मुख्यो ऽभिहितान्वयवादी कुमारिलभट्टः । मुख्यो ऽन्विताभिधानवादी प्राभकरः शालिकनाथमिश्रः ।
अभिहितान्वय इति समासस्य विग्रहः "अभिहितानामर्थानामन्वयः" इति । ये ऽर्थाः शब्दैरभिहिताः, तेषामन्वयः । वस्तुत एकमेकं पदमेकमेकमर्थमभिदधाति । अर्थमभिधाय पदानां को ऽपि प्रयोगो नास्ति यत अर्थानभिधायार्थानामन्वयो भवति । अन्वयः सम्बन्धः ।
अन्विताभिधान इति समासस्य विग्रहः "अन्वितैः पदैरभिधानम्" इति । पदानि परस्परसंबद्धान्येकमेवार्थमभिधाते । यथा "शुक्लां गां दण्डेनानय"  इति वाक्ये शुकलामितिपदस्य विशिष्टार्थो नास्ति । केवलं संपूर्णवाक्यस्यार्थो ऽस्ति । यतः शुक्लामितिपदं गामितिपदास्यार्थं किंचित्परिणामयति । गामितिपदस्य सर्वदा सर्वेषु वाक्येष्वेक एवार्थो नास्ति । अन्यैः पदैर् गामितिपदस्यार्थपरिणामो भवति ।

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Position on South Asian Religions (especially bhakti)

I usually don't post announcements about jobs I do not know nothing about, but in this case Enrico Raffaelli kindly mentioned it to me.

The Department of Historical Studies at the University of Toronto Mississauga invites applications for a tenure-stream position in South Asian Religious Literatures at the rank of Assistant Professor. The appointment will begin on July 1, 2013, by which time the candidate must hold a doctoral degree.
Strong candidates will conduct research with a comparative focus, have the requisite competence in the primary source language(s) of their research, and demonstrate expertise in the analysis of the religious, historical, literary, cultural, performative and/or ritual contexts of the materials they study.
Applicants with expertise in Bhakti, Sufi, Sant or similar literatures are especially encouraged to apply. Interests that complement and enhance existing departmental strengths would be an asset. Candidates must demonstrate evidence of excellence in and commitment to both research and teaching, with established or clear promise of distinguished publications in their field. The successful candidate will have the ability to teach a broad range of courses from the introductory to advanced levels about diverse aspects of South Asian Religious Literatures, contributing to the undergraduate program on the Mississauga campus, and will hold a graduate appointment at the Department for the Study of Religion on the St. George campus of the University of Toronto.
All qualified applicants are encouraged to apply by clicking the link: (Position #1201023).
Salary will be commensurate with qualifications and experience. Applications must be submitted by October 15, 2012, and include a cover letter, curriculum vitae, sample of academic writing, statement of research interests, all academic transcripts, and a teaching dossier (i.e. summaries of teaching evaluation for all courses taught; sample syllabi, assignments and tests; descriptions of teaching strategies and innovations, etc.). If you have any questions about this position, please contact
The U of T application system can accommodate up to five attachments (10 MB) per candidate profile; please combine attachments into one or two files in PDF/MS Word format. Submission guidelines can be found at:
Arrangements should be made for three letters of reference, at least one of which must comment on the applicant’s teaching abilities, to be submitted via email to the Chair at Please include the candidate’s name and “South Asian Search” in the subject line.
Information about these two departments is available at: and
The successful applicant will join a vibrant intellectual community of world-class scholars at Canada’s largest university. The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) is one of the most fascinating, diverse and “livable” places in the world.
The University of Toronto is strongly committed to diversity within its community and especially welcomes applications from visible minority group members, women, Aboriginal persons, persons with disabilities, members of sexual minority groups, and others who may contribute to the further diversification of ideas. All qualified candidates are encouraged to apply; however, Canadians and permanent residents will be given priority.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Indological reviews at "Dissertation reviews"?

Dissertation reviews is a website providing "friendly, non-critical reviews of recently defended dissertations". It depends on volunteers who signal and review dissertations. It is nicely designed and allows for comments, which is a major plus, in my opinion.
However, I cannot understand why in order to be "friendly" a review should avoid completely any "direct or indirect" criticism. Constructive criticism seems to me an important part of friendliness. And a reader needs to know whether it is worthwile to do the effort to try to get the dissertation (a difficult enterprise in many cases, and an expensive one in all others).

Nonetheless, as part of my wider project of trying to initiate discussions on Indian philosophy, I am considering reviewing dissertations for the website. And I will be friendly and non-critical (although not a-critical).

What do you think? Do you know the website? Consult it? And do you have dissertations to suggest (including your own one)?

On my other projects on the same line, see this post and this one (about posting book-reviews on Amazon or Philpapers) and this one (on publishing with non-Indological publishers).

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

līlārtham abhyāsārthaṃ ca

Museum Chennai – bunnicula
अहं सम्यक् संस्कृतेन संभाषणं न शक्नोमि, एतत्सर्वेषां स्पष्टम् । परन्तु संस्कृतेन सानन्दं संभाकषणं "सल्लेखनं" च करोमि । अपि च, केषांचिद्विद्यार्थिनां कृते संभाषणं रुचिकारो महात्वपूर्णो ऽभ्यसः । अत एव, लीलार्थम्भ्यासार्थं च, स्वब्लोगस्य एषो नवोंऽशः अारभ्यते ।
करपया, भयं मा भूत !  ये न किंचिदेव कुर्वन्ति, ते एव दोषान् न कुर्वन्ति । यथोक्तं श्रीभगवद्गीतायाम्:

सहजं कर्म काौन्तेय सदोषमपि न त्यजेत् ।
सर्वारमभा हि दोषेण धूमेनाग्निरिवावृताः ।। १८ । ४८ ।

Monday, October 1, 2012

Banal back-covers on books about South Asia

The volume represents the sustained intellectual engagement of the authors and editors with the fascinating world of South Asia, a region whose visual and religious lives are constantly enriched by the social, political and economic process in a reciprocal interaction.

Now, try to substitute "South Asia" with any other region of the world. And, please, let me know if you find a single region (apart perhaps from Antartis) to which the statement above could not apply.

Why does one print on the back cover of a book something so patently non-informative (and not even appealing, in my opinion)?

On titles in books about South Asia, see this post.
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