AAS Annual Meeting

South Asia Session 273

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Session 273: Old Voices, New Visions: Reinterpreting Jain Perspectives in Early Modern India

Organizer: Audrey A. Truschke, Stanford University, USA

Chair: Dipti Khera, Yale University, USA

Discussant: John E. Cort, Denison University, USA

In this panel, we aim to bring together Jain perspectives on early modern India as expressed through different literary genres. Our goals are two-fold. First, we aim to nuance the modern understanding of particular historical events and cultural formations during this period according to the often overlooked perspectives of commentators within Jain traditions. Jain intellectuals have frequently been sidelined in contemporary scholarship, both by those that would relegate them to the margins of a Rajput, Brahmanical, or Persianate dominated historiography and also by those who would treat the Jains as an insular community unto themselves. On the contrary, Jains participated deeply in broader Indic culture in numerous contexts, engaging with multiple histories, languages, and audiences. Second, through specific examples, we aim to reconsider the place of Jains and their literary productions in modern scholarship and accordingly, in India’s cultural past. How might we adapt our research methods and boundaries in order to fairly take account of Jain perspectives? How do Jain writings simultaneously pursue the religious and historical concerns of a specific community and also participate in larger literary cultures? Is it even relevant to call such perspectives “Jain” given that the authors were also Indian, Sanskrit, and vernacular intellectuals? By considering Jain traditions as a constitutive and fluid part of the imagining of early modern India, which has been the subject of much re-conceptualization in recent scholarship, this panel aims to place them more prominently in understanding crucial aspects of that world.

Genres of Power: The Nexus of Politics and Devotion in the Fourteenth-Century Oeuvre of Jinaprabha Suri
Steve Vose, University of Pennsylvania, USA

Jinaprabha Suri led a branch of the Svetambara Kharatara Gaccha during the Delhi Sultanate conquest of Gujarat in the early fourteenth century. He was one of the most prolific and versatile authors of his era, composing in Sanskrit, the Prakrits, Apabhramsa, and even Persian. Over 70 of his works are still extant; his oeuvre includes hymns in high kavya styles, commentaries on hymns and canonical texts, a caritra (verse narrative), works on rituals, yantras and mantras, goddess-worship, and polemics. His best-known work, the Vividhatirthakalpa, is a collection of eulogies about various pilgrimage places and includes two narratives about the monk’s encounter with Sultan Muhammad bin Tughluq. This paper examines several of Jinaprabha Suri’s works to argue that these texts speak to multiple audiences through various registers—devotion and ‘tantra’ were sources of the monk’s ritual power that, in turn, authorized his representative leadership of the Jain community to the Sultan. Concomitantly, Jinaprabha’s use of multiple languages and kavya styles engaged courtly audiences to demonstrate the author’s poetic skill, effectively licensing his engagement with the court. As a result of these engagements, Jinaprabha recovered a plundered image and secured pilgrimage rights from the Sultan, leading the Jains toward productive social, religious and economic relations with the Sultanate state. His work also helped to crystallize theologies of pilgrimage in the Svetambara tradition in the same century in which tirtha-mahatmyas in other traditions were beginning to be composed.

Setting the Record Wrong: A Jain Vision of Mughal Conquests
Audrey A. Truschke, Stanford University, USA

In 1589, Padmasagara composed a small Sanskrit work titled Jagadgurukavya (The Poem of the Teacher of the World). While the work purportedly eulogizes the life of Hiravijaya, a Tapa Gaccha leader, Padmasagara spends nearly half his text offering the first Sanskrit account of early Mughal military conquests in Hindustan. Even more surprisingly, he departs significantly from known Persian historiography and reimagines a startlingly innovative storyline of the early days of the Mughal Empire. Padmasagara rearranges the timetable of when the Mughals first entered India, writes out Babur altogether, and overall transforms what was a messy and uncertain beginning into a smooth, inevitable series of victories. In this paper, I will first detail Padmasagara’s substantial rewriting of Humayun’s and Akbar’s early battles to secure their claim over India and then consider the motivations and implications of such revisionist history. What prompted Padmasagara to so drastically alter the narrative of Mughal expansion? Should we look to specific Jain interests or the wider Sanskrit intellectual tradition in order to explain this literary revision of well-known historical events? How did Padmasagara’s poem influence subsequent writers who were briefer and more circumspect in their treatment of Mughal history? Padmasagara and later Jain authors offer us a number of clues regarding such questions. Above all, Padmasagara expounds a political vision wherein history is not a mere set of unchangeable facts but rather contains a range of potential implications that literature can best develop.

Jain reinterpretations of classical Mahakavyas in the 17th Century
Christine Chojnacki, Independent Scholar, France

Already in early medieval times, Jain works testify that their authors were well-versed in the corpus of classical Indian literature and knew how to masterfully use all the themes and stylistic means of the kavya genre. They used this genre for writing novels that were, however, rarely written only to create aesthetic pleasure, but also to proselytize Jainism and to assert the existence of their minority group. They used it also for composing their universal history and the lives of Jinas. However, lives of monks were at the same time written in the genre of the Prabandhas that mostly followed the simple narrative style of the kathas. What is new in the Mughal period is the use of the classical mahakavya to retrace biographies of the famous monks of the Tapagaccha, who were influential at the Mughal court. In this paper, we intend to explore the ways these mahakavyas are written, to what extent they stick to the ancient model or deviate from it, and what it means for the representation and the role of Jain monks during the Mughal period.

Jain reinterpretations of classical Mahakavyas in the 17th Century
Basile Leclere, Universite Lyon 3, France

***Basile Leclere is giving a joint presentation with Christine Chojnaki. Please see her information for abstract.

Writing, Singing, and Listening about Places: Jains Visualizing Urban Locales in Eighteenth Century Rajasthan
Dipti Khera, Yale University, USA

In the eighteenth century, Khetal, a Kharataragaccha poet, composed a series of gajals, couplets that evoked the towns of Chittor, Udaipur and Ajmer. Intellectuals have given prime importance to imagining sacred space and history within multiple Jain literary traditions. Khetal, however, departs from genres that focused on constructing a Jain religious geography, and instead based his poems on the Indo-Persian ghazal, combining dialects in Rajasthani, Brajbhasha, Khari Boli, Awadhi, Gujarati, and Persian. He visualized Udaipur’s lakes, palaces, and markets, by employing persianate literary motifs such as one of lovers on a lakefront and the city as a beautiful woman. Khetal’s poems in new vernacular intermediary genres evoke the pleasures of seeing new locales, strikingly composed while he traveled with itinerant Jain pontiffs. This paper will firstly consider how Jain intellectuals adapted an Indo-Persianate genre within multilingual registers. Intersections between visual culture related to Jain travels and the gajals suggest that an interest in imagining places broadly possibly enabled poets to engage with aesthetic tropes found within other literary genres in circulation. Secondly, several copies of the gajals reveal that the compositions were sung and remained extremely popular until the end of the nineteenth century. Did the Jains create effective maps and memories of a landscape within performative contexts for multiple audiences? Questioning the “Jainness” of such gajals, this paper seeks to expand the historiography of spatial imagination within literary pursuits – inside and outside Jain traditions – in early modern and early colonial India.